Ah, Summer. The time of slow news days, photo opportunities for local pollies in their own electorate, and the occasional human interest story about Opposition Leader Tony Abbott just missing out on a close call with a shark down at Manly Beach. Unfortunately, it’s also a time when politicians tend to get a little … indiscreet with their words.
Exhibit A: Opposition MP Teresa Gambaro.
Ms Gambaro’s got it all worked out – and by ‘it’, I mean that pesky immigrant problem. You know, the one that apparently affects every facet of our lives, yet somehow fails to make much more than the slightest blip on people’s personal radars. And just what is that problem?
Yes, you read that right. According to Gambaro, immigrants just doesn’t understand ‘Australian norms’. They don’t know how to line up in a queue, or wear deodorant on public transport. These things are part of our Australian way of life, gosh darn it, and it’s about time these immigrants were taught how to fit in. Cultural awareness classes, that’s what they need. But how to do it?
Perhaps we could offer a Certificate I in Being Australian at TAFE, specifically target at migrants. We could teach them the time-honoured traditions of the sausage sizzle and the post-footy booze-up. We could instruct them in the proper way to apply white zinc and yell at cricket umpires. Special practical classes could teach them how to hold the deodorant spray the required few inches from the armpit, and just how long to hold down the trigger. For advanced students, elective units in using roll-ons might be a good idea. And while we’re at it, we can practice lining up – perhaps at the canteen at lunchtime.
Of course, we’ll have to employ only the most qualified teachers for such an important course. The government could look at offering incentives to encourage tertiary students to take up a career in Cultural Awareness Training.
But why stop there? After all, learning shouldn’t stop when people leave school, right? We need to put community initiatives in place, and while we’re at it, we can cut the jobless numbers at the same time.
We’ll need Bath Inspectors to make sure people are taking the required number of baths or showers each week. We can’t trust those immigrants to self-report on this issue – it’s far too important. For that matter, there should be Handwashing Monitors installed in all schools and public toilets, just to make sure proper procedure is followed. (Hmm, perhaps we’ll also need to teach them how much soap to use, and how to shampoo their hair.)
Then there’s public transport. Obviously, we’ll need a Whiff Patrol to travel at peak times, with the ability to issue infringement notices compelling those with un-deodorised armpits to undertake refresher courses in hygiene.
We’re also going to need Queue Police. We can’t have those dastardly immigrants spoiling our orderly queue culture. It could undermine our whole way of life. They need to know their place.
Or wait, perhaps Gambaro is in the pocket of Big Deodorant, and this is all designed to push Rexona sales …
… I’m sorry, I can’t do this anymore.
What the hell was Gambaro thinking?!
It would be nice to believe this was just the result of a really bad communication skills day. Unfortunately, it seems far more likely it was simply unthinking racism on her part. No doubt Gambaro would say that she didn’t intend to be offensive; she genuinely wants people to be part of ‘our’ culture. And in a way, that’s more worrying than if she had meant to offend. This is the Coalition’s citizenship spokesperson, effectively telling those who wish to become part of our society that they are dirty and ill-mannered, and need to learn civilised behaviour.
Sounds just a tad colonial, doesn’t it?
To be fair, Gambaro also pointed out that many immigrants aren’t aware of some rather more crucial aspects of living in Australian society, such as their rights under a tenancy agreement or Medicare. Had she confined her remarks to these issues, there might even have been some value in the whole interview – because there are real problems with our migration and citizenship program, not least of which is our insistence that migrants be able to spell English words, while we do nothing to prepare them for dealing with our bureaucracies and legal systems.
As it stands, Gambaro’s offensive remarks put her right up there with Senator Cory ‘Islamicisation-by-stealth-through-halal-meat’ Bernardi. It’s utterly shameful that an elected representative – and one charged with the important task of ensuring the government provides the best possible immigration system – uses her ability to command media attention to send a message any even remotely sensible person would regard as nonsensical at best, highly insulting at worst.
It’s not hygiene lessons that are needed here … it’s lessons in basic empathy and good manners. And it isn’t immigrants who should be taking them, Ms Gambaro. It’s you.
(And FYI … telling people you’re the child of migrant parents doesn’t excuse you, either.)