Australia, the lucky country ?
Australia likes to call and see itself as the lucky country. And it has many reasons to feel that way. Anyone who has ever visited is struck by it’s natural beauty in great diversity from it’s beaches to the red centre. There are so many iconic picture postcard images identifiable as unique Australian to make most other countries envious.
However, even the breathtaking natural beauty comes increasingly with a serious downside. The weather extremes seem to give us either severe droughts or floods. There are (lack of) water problems not only in the most populous part of the Murray/Darling river catchment of the Eastern part but even more serious in Western Australia. All this of course aggravated by climate change.
It is an irony that one of the riches of Australia they are exploiting on a massive scale is coal, which directly contributes to climate change. Australia does not only export coal but also uses it extensively for local power generation despite having ideal conditions for sustainable energy production like solar.
Another of Australia’s riches is space. A whole continent sparsely populated, which could do with more people.
How come then that the Australians are so paranoid about the arrival of a few hundred boat people that they ship them off to far away islands in the Indian and Pacific Ocean including women and children ? Of course not all Australians suffer this condition and many are actually appalled by what is done in their name. However, it seems to be a sizeable majority as both major parties seem to outdo each other especially at election times to stem the “flood” of boat-people by treating them extra harshly and inhumanely.
Not only did the colonial history of Australia start as a British penal colony being settled by the low life and petty criminals from England but it was a extremely racist country from it’s conception. When the first English settlers arrived they regarded Australia as ‘terra nullius‘ a land that nobody owned. In International Law ‘terra nullius’ describes territory that nobody owns so that the first nation to discover it is entitled to take it over, as “finders keepers”. This despite the fact that the British boat people were greeted at the beach by Aborigines who had lived there for around forty thousand years. The indigenous people where not even regarded as human but listed under Australian fauna. They then became one of the first victims of British genocide.
These extreme racist attitudes and policies continued over time till today. Since Australia became an independent self-governing country it had a British only immigration policy. After WWII when Europe was full of refugees and displaced people the then immigration minister had to trick the Australian people into accepting non-British immigrants. He send his officials to the camps across northern Europe to select the most beautiful Aryan specimen the Nazis could not have chosen better for their breeding programme to fill the first immigrant ship. When she arrived in Melbourne the news reel cameras were rolling and the Australian people were pleased with what they saw and accepted immigrant who looked like them or even better. It took many more years to let Southern Europeans in. The White Australia policy lasted many more decades. Even Asians who had come to help defend Australia during war were not allowed to stay.
Only through a referendum in 1967 did Aborigines who had lived there for 40,000 years become Australian citizens some of them having already fought under the Australian flag in WWII. In the 1950s and 60s murdering indigenous people without punity called Abo-Hunting was still considered a sport in some places.
This is the history we have to take into account to understand today’s Australian ingrained racist attitudes.
Experience of Australian Racism
From my personal experience with Australian people I just want to recall a few events.
In 1992 the Australian Hight Court in the landmark Mabo vs Queensland decision for the first time recognised native land title. The ‘terra nullius’ doctrine was overturned for Australia. I was among the group of the Australian Prime Minister Paul Keating visiting a West Auckland Marae. A huge pack of Australian media where quizzing their prime minister over the decision as if the sky was falling in over Australia and what it all was going to cost the commonwealth. Nobody mentioned that with this court decision centuries of injustice could come to an end.
In 1998 we did a cruise around the Yasawa Islands of Fiji. Unfortunately the small local cruise ship was dominated by a group of racist rednecks from Queensland who made the experience almost intolerable. To be fair to the Australians it has to be said that the expat New Zealanders among the group were as bad if not worse.
At present among our friends and family who live across the ditch many plan to come home giving the intolerance and racist xenophobia in Australia as one of the reasons.
Today’s Human Rights Abuses
The Australian human rights abuses in today’s headlines are mostly directed against asylum seekers. The indefinite detention policy was already in breach of Australia’s obligation under international law. As a further deterrent against desperate refugees risking their lives in leaky boats to reach Australian shores they are now shipped off to remote islands in the Indian and Pacific oceans with no access to legal representation or hope to be treated humanely and fairly. (See Pamela Curr in Left Turn: Political Essays for the New Left)
New Zealand was forced to take notice when our citizens ended up in the same modern day concentration camps run by the infamous private prison company SERCO. Late last year in another knee jerk reaction to perceived muslim terrorist threats Australia passed a law allowing them to deport any non Australian citizen with a criminal record of one year or more imprisonment even if the person had lived in Australia since he was an infant and any other person the minister deemed undesirable. These people had done the time often years back and were picked up from the street and in early morning raids ripped from their families and some ended up on remote Christmas Island.
When opposition MPs in the New Zealand Parliament raised concerns about these human rights violations against New Zealand citizens Prime Minister John Key tried the old “dead cat” trick to distract from his failings by deviously accusing his critics of supporting rapist, murderers and child molesters even if none of them were.
If that was not bad enough creating a huge furore his alter ago and media personality Mike Hosking in a rant a few days later trying to distract from his master’s lying and insults in parliament basically defended the human right abuses as nobody wanted and cared for those people anyway.
However, what really should offend every single New Zealander is last years joint statement by the Australian and New Zealand PMs as quoted by Toby Manhire :
“No other bilateral relationship has the same immediacy and commonality as the links between Australia and New Zealand. We share common values, including a strong commitment to democracy, human rights, and the rule of law.”
Our Prime Minister has again shown that he has no knowledge nor sense of history. I like to think that Kiwis have no immediacy and commonality with racists, xenophobe human rights abusers.