Australian Politics & Current Affairs
By Nick Kenny
“For those who’ve come across the seas, we’ve boundless plains to share” – Advance Australia Fair, second verse.
Thousands upon thousands, impoverished and desperate, climbing onboard some awkward boats and setting sail for some foreign island down under. Having suffered their whole lives in hunger and misery under governments of tyranny, their voyage could almost be anticipated as a welcome relief. No such luck. The boats are poorly built, the people packed in like sardines, food and fresh water scarce, disease rife, and the paralysis of fear dominating the entire atmosphere. But they have no choice.
Off they go, to some island halfway around the world, at the mercy of their crews. They land ashore. They are immediately incarcerated. They then eke out their time here in wretched misery, languishing, while the world looks away. For these suffering souls, “human rights” is a ridiculous novelty. Welcome to Australia, 26th January, 1788. Our First Fleet. Such was the story of our destitute convict ancestors, whom we look back upon today with respect and admiration, drawing an odd sense of national pride unfathomable to the rest of the world.
Meanwhile, we look down on refugees with disdain.
A few thousand men, women, and children, cut from the same cloth as our destitute forefathers, are arriving on our shores each year, and are being greeted with the same heartless arrogance that His Majesty dished out 225 years ago. These people have put everything on the line to flee the political infernos of their homelands. Unlike those of us fortunate enough to be born here, they have risen to the occasion on nothing but a wing and a prayer.
Much like the convicts of the First, Second, and Third Fleets and thereafter, their lives have been choked into sheer desperation, they have been punished by the Commonwealth for having the audacity to clutch at survival, and they struggle on with the faint hope that they will one day find solace and freedom in this alien land.
We incarcerate them, we deport them, we villainise them. We pigeon-hole them into any category that fits our need to look away. Greedy opportunists. Queue-jumpers. Reckless idiots. Willing to risk their families’ lives for “economic” reasons. We have never met these people. We have never spoken to, or heard from these people. Yet somehow, we have created an image in our collective mind’s eye of foreign hordes, to be shunned at all costs, all the while ignoring obvious parallels with our own history.
How do we come up with these labels? How have we done a complete 180 since the respectable days of Fraser and Hawke, where we settled refugees without hesitation? How have our hearts become so cold? We have, quite simply, forgotten what it is like to do it tough. We turn our heads away because we must. The truth is too confronting, for a country that has had it too good, for too long. It’s like we’re holding a lavish party with 23 million people, a few thousand show up looking for nothing but safety and a decent, stable life for their families, and we stare them down with nothing but greed and hatred in our eyes.
But sooner or later, this greed and hatred turn inwards, and both become a part of us. We can build all the barbed wire fences and detention centres we like. We can turn back every boat at gunpoint, intimidate every neighbouring country into accepting our “turn back the boats” policy, or lock up every single person that comes to this shore. We can block our ears, shut our eyes, and turn our heads away, but this is eroding our national soul. This is a scar upon our true blue Australian character, growing deeper and uglier the more we stab at it with callous emotion. This is redefining who we are and how we treat one another, and it is a harsh condemnation of where our culture is headed. The resilience, generosity, and goodwill that built this country lasted us generations, and we are now letting our greatest virtues evaporate. For a nation so proud of its history, we ought to be disgusted with our present.
Our border policies have been sculpted from the most vile emotions of fear and loathing, ever since the grand architect of “GTFOH border control”, John Howard, scraped an election miracle off the back of the Angry Bogan vote back in 2001. Labor, disgustingly spineless, followed suit. Since then, both parties have used people’s lives as political footballs, people no different from ourselves or our resilient forefathers. Four successive governments have kicked the teeth down the throats of the most vulnerable and desperate people on the planet, and we stand by and applaud whichever side can deliver the hardest kick. We now have a bipartisan race to the bottom, with both Labor and Liberal pandering to the animal instincts of a mob they created. It is a selfish perversion of our true national character, solely for cheap political gain, and it is a sick mentality. It’s time to grow up.
There are no easy solutions to this problem. But surely, we can do a damn sight better than we are now. We are the Lucky Country. Lucky enough today to be unscathed by the insanities of war, poverty, oppression. The Lucky Country that, once upon a time, looked upon the deadly gamble of the seven seas, and gave it a different name – ticker. In fifty years time, what do we want to read about in our history books? An Australia intoxicated by fear, greed, and hatred? Or a country with an empathy for struggle, an admiration of courage, and a sense of freedom worth sharing?
It’s going to take a strong leader to turn the nation’s back on the low-hanging fruit of the Angry Bogan vote. Until then, expect to see our national soul wither away, as more political football is played, more self-proclaimed “Christian” prime ministers ask us to hate thy neighbour, and more people drown to death.
This article is dedicated to the Guzman and Arrarte families, who had the sense and vision to flee the political violence of Chile and Peru in the 1980s, had the fortune to arrive here in a more enlightened age, and had the character to help make this country a better place.