Jana Favero has travelled more than 2,800 kilometres over the past 10 days through rural and urban Victoria, New South Wales and Queensland as part of The Hot Potato Campaign run by the Melbourne-based Asylum Seeker Resource Centre (ASRC).
Its aim: to visit 10 towns in 10 days, bust 10 myths, serve 10,000 hot potatoes and participate in 10 million conversations.
Jana reports below on the trip which is set to wind up in Brisbane tomorrow night, but you can continue to follow the Hot Potato journey at www.thehotpotato.com.au.
The ASRC is not alone, of coursee, in its concerns about the ‘race to the bottom’ on asylum seeker policy in Australia. The Australian Medical Students’ Association (AMSA) is also deeply troubled by the Federal Government’s Papua New Guinea settlement policy. See this article by AMSA President Benjamin Veness, published recently in Australian Medicine (and follow on Twitter @venessb and @yourAMSAA).
Asylum Seekers Resource Centre Director Jana Favero writes….
It’s day 10 on the Hot Potato journey and we’re about to hit the streets of Brisbane. It’s hard to believe that is has only been over a week since we launched in Melbourne as the conversations, insight and honesty we have encountered makes the journey feel as if it has been much longer.
The dominant thought that I have at the end of each day is that I wish the journey could continue for 1,000 days, not just 10. While there has been such a diversity of people, opinions and beliefs there have been some very strong themes highlighting the need for the Hot Potato campaign to continue to help shape awareness based on facts, not fibs and fears.
People are hungry for facts.
Whatever a person’s opinion, every one has asked for more information and has happily taken our myth buster and information sheet. My inbox has been inundated with requests from teachers, schools, and community groups for more information to share and help raise awareness. The hot potato van has been invited to Tasmania, Western Australia, and further north in Queensland to Cairns, to continue the journey.
The majority of opinion (especially in the country areas) is based on what is seen on TV and read in the papers. People have continually expressed frustration about not feeling like they really knew the full story. Asking some Grade 5 children in Dubbo what they thought of asylum seekers, they all talked about ‘boats’, ‘drownings’ and ‘illegal’ as they had only heard about them on the news. This was echoed in Echuca where Year 12 students were hungry for more facts, but didn’t know where to get such information, as they don’t trust the information coming from politicians and the media.
Everyone has an opinion on asylum seekers.
We have rarely countered anyone who does not have an opinion. This makes starting a conversation easy, which is the first step towards awareness raising and attitude change. This provides hope for future policies, as people are ready and willing to engage on the issue – they just need the opportunity, time for a conversation and accurate, easily accessible information.
Australians are compassionate.
From Dale in Queanbeyan to Reg in Newcastle to vox pops in Parramatta, people express their sympathy and understanding that asylum seekers are fleeing terrible conditions. This is not something that people doubt. However this statement is quickly followed by a BUT. We are compassionate, but only towards those who deserve compassion. If someone has done something wrong then that’s where compassion stops and there is an overwhelming feeling on the street that asylum seekers have done something wrong. The sad thing is that asylum seekers have been so demonised by our leaders that, currently, we cannot extend our compassion to them.
We need to go beyond politics and find a solution.
This really is a race to the bottom. This comment has been heard each day in each town along with the feeling that the major parties are not dealing with the issue. While people do not know what the solution is, they feel our current policies are not it and are keen to see alternatives to how we are currently treating asylum seekers. There was strong consensus that a humane, realistic approach to asylum seekers is not part of the current debate and dialogue and that is what the Hot Potato brings.
All of these common themes bring hope and the chance to change the narrative of the current debate. They key is conversations and education, which can be delivered by the Hot Potato continuing on its important journey.
About the Hot Potato
The ASRC was fortunate enough to receive funding to run a time-bound campaign to change social attitudes towards asylum seekers between now and the election. We engaged the highly reputable agency, Republic of Everyone, to develop and implement the campaign. The campaign is a creative approach meant to get attention, encourage conversation, and give us an opportunity to bring the debate where it is needed most.
We have created a food truck, skinned as a ‘Hot Potato’, which serves actual hot potatoes (using recipes from asylum seeker countries and famous former asylum seekers). The potatoes are served with a visually appealing wrapper that tells stories of refugees and illustrates some of the key issues at stake when people consider the current situation. The aim is also to find out why the issue is such a ‘hot potato’ and how we can cool it down.
We have engaged actor Imogen Bailey as anchor and key facilitator for the campaign. We have filmed the food truck on the journey as it visits locations around the country, having conversations and making news leading up to election day on September 7. Each day we are releasing a short clip showing the conversations focusing on a different myth each day.
There is a digital component of this campaign, which encourages people to come to the microsite, sign on and share the campaign (via Facebook and Twitter – @ASRC1).
Whilst this is a 2013 election campaign, we believe it may – with continued funding – have a shelf life that outlives this particular political environment.