– By Deanne James
As March in March approaches and the daily emetic that is reading/listening to the “news” and any associated commentary gets stronger, I find myself increasingly wondering: where the bloody hell are we? Much to my dismay, I think the answer might be somewhat out of Lara Bingle’s league to discern. Although at this point, I’d be willing to consider anything that anyone might be able to offer up in order to understand what has happened in this country since that awful September evening in 2013, when Australian voters cut off their collective noses to spite their own face.
I am the great-granddaughter of Julia, whose family originates from El Mina in Tripoli, and who travelled from her home to Cuba, Melbourne and Dunedin before settling with her husband in Tasmania where my grandmother Amy was born. I grew up in Chester Hill, when the Villawood Detention Centre was still a Migrant Hostel. As a student of Chester Hill North Public School and Chester Hill High School, I had many classmates of Vietnamese origin. Quite a few of them would recount tales of being ushered into a tinny by their parents under cover of darkness and making the journey from their homeland to Australia to seek refuge. These were kids who grew up to be doctors, lawyers, teachers – valuable and proud citizens; citizens who never forgot where they came from, yet embraced Australia as their new home. Their stories joined with mine to make up the fabric of the Australia that I loved so much in my younger days.
With all this in mind, it is our treatment of refugees – and in particular the death of Reza Berati – that fills me with the most shame right now. Our country was founded and settled by boat people, many of them considered to be the dregs of English society, but a great many of whom were simply trying to survive – stealing bread to feed your starving family? Off to the colonies you go with the murderers, rapists and a few aristocrats. I’ll wager the Indigenous caretakers of this land weren’t asked if they minded the British getting off their boats.
In economic terms, offshore processing is a huge waste of money – those taxpayer dollars people are always bleating about. If you happen to possess some small measure of a conscience, you will see it for the unspeakably cruel and ideologically dangerous solution that it is. Segregation, secrecy, rations. Men, women and children locked up indefinitely, hidden away, in order to satisfy the rabid desire of the ill-informed to see “queue jumpers” punished just for wanting a better life, one free from war, famine, civil unrest. If there is no one in your homeland to whom you can apply for asylum, you just GO. Only when you get there, you are treated with contempt, stripped of your dignity, separated from family and kept in the dark in regards to your request for asylum. How we have failed those who have reached the point of such desperation that they would sell all that they own, risk their lives and the lives of their loved ones, that they would get on a those boats in the first place.
I have a big problem with people being used as bargaining chips with which to score political points. Comparative to the rest of the world, we receive very few arrivals; we are more than capable of doing our share. With continued civil unrest, famine, war, and looming environmental disasters, we will see more, not less, people willing to risk everything for a chance at a better and safer life; will we close our doors to all of them?
People are reduced to numbers and statistics to lower the risk of them being seen as actual human beings. Politicians, Shock Jocks and journos whip the masses into a frenzy using language better suited to times of war, creating a culture of fear. Anyone who dares to question is threatened or abused – the National Broadcaster copped a beating for its reporting of claims by asylum seekers that Naval personnel abused them during a tow-back to Indonesia. And whilst the pitchforks were out on that issue, scant mention was made of those who were lost and/or perished in the Indonesian jungle after being towed back by our Navy.
In an attempt to find whatever nuggets of truth are left lying around, we take to social media and independent news outlets. For it’s not just asylum seekers that we are being led a merry dance over; it’s a whole range of social, economic and environment issues.
So it is that this coming Sunday, I will march for those who came from far and wide seeking our help and whose voices are silenced by politicians who seek only to use them for their own political gain. But I will also march for those who will be further disadvantaged by cuts to benefits that already see them living below the poverty line; for those who will have to work longer – but who may find themselves unemployed at 65 with only basic skills and a workforce that doesn’t actually want to hire the elderly; for those who could end up homeless as a result of policy that forces them to sell the family home and live off those funds before being eligible for a pension (where on earth do you go if you’ve sold your house, given the price of rentals? Your car?); for those who are waiting on the NDIS; for those who can’t afford Private Health Insurance and rely on Medicare; for our fragile environment which is under attack by the logging industry and mining magnates hell-bent on dumping their sludge in one of the world’s most beautiful marine parks; for the ABC and SBS, whose services provide a vital alternative to the Murdoch empire’s one-eyed, inflammatory style of journalism.
I’m marching because I don’t think businessmen and women of unspeakable wealth have a right to dictate to us the things we should and shouldn’t do to improve our financial standing, when many of them did nothing but be born to “earn” theirs; because I believe that science, education, health (both mental and physical), technology and renewable energy are worth investing in. I’m marching for the workers of SPC, Toyota, Ford and QANTAS who were told to accept that the “age of entitlement” is over, despite Cadburys getting a bail out, and the Tasmanian logging industry getting a promised boost of some 75000 hectares of forest for them to destroy (if the petition to remove it from World Heritage Listing is successful), and despite the mining sector continuing to receive subsidies and incentives to assist them. It seems that those who chide the rest of us for feeling “entitled” are the ones who feel the biggest sense of entitlement of all.
I am marching because I care about the country my children will grow up in. We are part of the world, not apart from it. This planet is it – there is nowhere else to go. We need to treat one another with respect and dignity whether we were born here or not; whether we have money or not; whether we are well educated or not. We cannot punish people for their social standing, where they were born, the colour of their skin, the god or gods they worship (or don’t worship), their gender, or their sexuality. For all these things, I march on Sunday. For what was once the good name of my country and my fellow citizens; for my children, for me. The dismantling of this country as a fair and equitable place for all people to live and prosper will not be carried out in silence; not in my name, and certainly not in any of theirs.
I am not a member of, nor affiliated with, any particular political Party. I have during my life voted Labor, Liberal, Green, Independent and many things in between. As someone who takes their right to vote seriously, I believe that a swinging voter is a conscious voter; and I believe that voting for party over policy is lazy dangerous. Just look at what happened when people voted for “the other guy” because they were pissed at Labor.
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