The Wonderful Land of Oz

Hi. Thanks for coming. Please, take a seat.

Now, I want you to close your eyes for a moment. And imagine that the world we live in does not exist. The politics, the problems, the media, the celebrities and the sport. Not even the history. There is nothing.

Australia is a blank slate.

Now, when you open your eyes you will be are here in Australia again, however it is the blank slate nation. And now, I will tell you some things about Australia. (Remember, everything that you have lived up until now does not exist.) I will fill in the slate of the nation for you.

Every week here in Australia, a woman is killed by her current or former partner. Also, a frightening military force is terrorising parts of the globe, with an army of somewhere between 30,000 and 200,000 fighters. Scientists world-wide have concurred that ocean water temperatures have risen due to human-caused emissions, and this could be catastrophic for weather patterns, ecosystems and species of flora and fauna worldwide. Australia is actually the highest emitter per capita of developed nations! Meanwhile, people in dire need of refuge are seeking asylum on our shores. We turn them away, resettle them in developing nations with questionable adherence to human rights, or lock them away in detention, invisible to the public’s eye. In some sections of our community, suicide rates are 8 times higher than the national average. (Yes EIGHT.) And finally, whilst sexual orientation is understood to be a character element you are born with, people whose love does not fit into the conventional heterosexual category are denied the right to marry.

So that is how things are looking here in Australia, just a few things to get you thinking. How do you feel about these things?

Not great. What is my nation doing about these things?

Well. Your government speaks about TERRORISM as the greatest issue. NATIONAL SECURITY they say. We MUST KEEP OUR CITIZENS SAFE, they say. We must put money into stopping radicalisation. We will spend 35 BILLION DOLLARS on “defence, national security and law enforcement”. This includes intelligence gathering, metadata watching and fighting the propaganda of terrorists cells. You will be happy to know that 750 MILLION DOLLARS will help “extend and expand Australia’s military operations in Afghanistan, Iraq and the Middle East.” Good, eh?

But wait – sorry – ummm what about the domestic violence issue? You know, the whole, one woman being murdered each week thing? Is that not something that all that money can be put into? I mean, aren’t the women CITIZENS as well? And also, that suicidal community – wtf? Is my government doing something about that?

Great question.

Well, as I heard a Minister say on the radio this week, National Security is THE most important thing for the government to deal with. I mean after all, all Australians should feel safe and protected. But (now how did he put it…? something like) the Government can certainly chew gum and walk at the same time, so ahh, other stuff like domestic violence etc are certainly major issues but they can be dealt with concurrently.

So billions of dollars are being put into those issues right? … Right? 

Um. Hmmm I will take that question on notice. How about I tell you about the environment? So, your Prime Minister is not a big fan (ha! pun intended) of Wind Turbines. So, they will spin no more! It is all COAL! COAL! COAAAAALLLLL!!!!

What? You said we are one of the worst polluters!? I don’t like broccoli, but sometimes we have to deal with things we don’t like for the greater good!

Nope, nope, nope. No wind turbines, your PM likes Coal. Good for humanity.

That’s crazy! What’s my environment minister doing about this? Surely they are doing something to promote renewable energy? I mean, Australia is a fragile ecosystem we can’t let the oceans rise 2 degrees even – we’ll all be screwed!

Yes, Greg um, Hunt. Yeah, hmmm. You know, funny thing is, I’ve never heard him say anything about the environment. And he IS approving that coal mine in the prime agricultural lands of the Liverpool Plains… But hey – we know for sure that there will be no Carbon Tax ever again!

Isn’t the point of a price on Carbon to help lower the amount of emissions of business as well as the general public? I mean shouldn’t he be arguing FOR the environment and leave finance to the Treasurer and Immigration to the Immigration minister?

You mean Border Protection.

Sorry?

Border Protection. It’s not so much Immigration any more as it is about protecting our borders.

From what? People wanting to live here?

Yes.

You said they are being put in detention? Is the public okay with that? I mean what are these centres like? What happens there?

Well… we don’t really know… You see no one is allowed to report from the centres… But, hey! We trust the government! When they say it’s all fine, it’s all fine! If the Treasurer says tighten our belts, we say how many notches, Gov? Am I right? (Except when I helicopter instead of drive, but hey, we all have our indulgences, right?)

Wake me up I want to leave! Why is my country like this? What is this? 1930s Germany? Communist Russia? 

Hey! Clean slate remember? That stuff never happened!

Why did you do this to me? Why hypnotise me just to enrage me? Why did you do that? I was fine before, just living my life happily, not even caring about all these things! 

 

Oh Dorothy, you’ve always been able to return. But without the clean slate, you never would have realised what was happening in this country – and you never would have believed me if I had told you. Sometimes you need to back away from a situation so that you realise how crazy our world has become. Now my friend, with this rage, maybe you will feel that it is time for a change. And you will do something about it.

abbott wizard

Would you like Children with that?

Children used to be considered a commodity – in a good way. In a sacred, protect-at-all-costs way. In the way of capital that you save and preserve for a rainy day, tucking away a stash of money knowing that one day it will be used for something wonderful. We feed them, clothe them and educate them because children are us. Children are not a separate species – they are PEOPLE, US, but just in the future. Young people are the future. Children used to be safe guarded from harm, sacrificed for, sent away to protect lineages and future generations. They were treasured. (Cue images of Children of Men, when the only baby in the world is carried untouched from the warzone.) They were not targets, not collateral damage. They were not victims. But sadly, now – they are. They have become a commodity in a disgusting way, and our desensitization towards the loss of, or harm to children is increasingly worrying.

Three Israeli teenagers were murdered last week. TEENAGERS. MURDERED. With every news report sprinkled with death, sometimes I think the words flow over us so easily that they don’t stick as we listen.

In suspected response to this, six Jewish people then slayed an Arab teenager. They burnt him to death.  He was abducted whilst waiting outside a mosque for dawn prayers. His body was found later in the morning with burns to 90 percent of it.

These teenagers had names. Naftali, Gilad, Eyal, Mohammed. They could be four of my favourite rascals of year 10 or year 12 who I teach.  They could be your sons, your brothers, your cousins or your nephews. They could be you.

Yesterday a video surfaced of Mohammed’s cousin Tariq, being bashed brutally by Israeli policemen. They pummel his face (which is out of the shot) for some time, then kick him as they carry his limp body away. He was visiting from the US – an American citizen, not that his citizenship matters. He is pictured with his mother below. tariq

As I searched for the names of the young men who have died, various websites appeared, telling me the estimated numbers of children killed during the Israeli-Palestinian crisis.

rememberthesechildren.org tells me that since September 2000, 131 Israeli children have died in the conflict, and 1,526 Palestinians. These numbers are used to further divide, to further incite hatred between the two sides. “You’ve killed more of our children than we have of yours!” Who could have thought that children’s deaths could be used to win an argument? Commodities.

In a similar vein, currently, somewhere in the ocean, or somewhere in Sri Lanka (I don’t know, my government won’t tell me) there are children seeking asylum with their families, seeking Australian shores. Seeking protection. But we have sent them back to the country from which they were wanting protection. Certainly, these children may not be persecuted as their parents might be, may not be sexually tortured like their parents might be, but they will still suffer. Because children suffer when others around them do, and these families are displaced, abandoned, lost.

And if they had arrived in Australia, what would be their fate? According to the Australian Human Rights Commission (humanrights.gov.au), in January this year there were 1,631 children in community detention, and 1,006 in immigration detention facilities.  (I know I have used dots before, but I like the gross simplification it produces.) This is around this many:

……………………………………………………………………………………….……………………………………………………………………………………….……………………………………………………………………………………….……………………………………………………………………………………….……………………………………………………………………………………….……………………………………………………………………………………….……………………………………………………………………………………….……………………………………………………………………………………….……………………………………………………………………………………….……………………………………………………………………………………….

How can we allow this to happen? I don’t understand how this is happening in my country. My country – whose wonderful, multi-cultural society has been strengthened and enriched by so many refugees escaping war and conflict. But now, we watch their bodies float in the ocean, or we watch them arrive – cold, wet, some near death, chaperoned by government officials into their new ‘home’. We watch them waste away in detention. More needs to be done. More places, more options. The politicians are using ‘these people’ as pawns in their policy games, and noone in the two major parties seem to care for the children.

Children don’t deserve heartache – and they didn’t ask for it. They don’t come out of their mothers, waving Palestinian flags or as little Shiites or Sunnis. They don’t choose to be born in Syria or Sri Lanka, and they don’t choose to be born in Australia, where I sit, all cushy-like, writing this (ironically as Dr Phil allows adults to fight over the ownership of two children).

Picture drawn by a child in detention

Each dot is a child. Each dot a wasted opportunity. Each dot has a name, a personality, future hopes, a sense of humour, a life, a family, friends, favourite pastimes, hobbies and talents. The 1,000 children in detention in Australia are being robbed of their childhood. Likewise, and more frightening, is the one million children who are refugees as a result of the Syrian conflict. These children may live in refugee camps for the entirety of their childhood. The time when they should be playing, learning, travelling, laughing. Education is everything, and these ONE MILLION children may not have the chance to an education.

Here you can see more pictures drawn by children in detention:

http://www.sbs.com.au/news/gallery/pictures-drawn-children-immigration-detention

What will happen to all these children though, when they are no longer children? What will happen to the world when all these children, who are growing up in detention centres, who are growing up in refugee camps, who are being abused in institutions, who are living in disadvantaged communities, who are being sold as young wives or into the sex trade, become adults? Will they feel safe and happy? Will they be good citizens? Will they perpetuate the wars or misery into which they were born?

And how, will we be able to look them in the eye when they ask why life didn’t offer them the chances that every child deserves?

Compassion Seekers and the Quickness to Forget

I thought Australians were caring people. I thought we were all about ‘helping out the battler’ and ‘the underdog’, ‘mateship’, and all that. We have shown amazing generosity in years gone by as natural disasters have shattered neighbouring countries such as Indonesia and Thailand, and even contributed millions to those further away such as Haiti, Japan, and African nations.

But when it comes to ‘boat people’ – asylum seekers, refugees – I am just so sick of the lack of compassion. Have we forgotten how most of us got here? Millions of us are descendants of people who fled from a wide array of continents and countries to this nation for a new life.

How quick we are to judge those arriving on boats – one reporter the other day talked of people smugglers preying on the ‘unwitting and unwary’ refugees. What?!

Do you think people would climb onto a leaky boat and sail across an ocean without knowing the dangers they might face? Do you think they are deliberately flouting the system because they have a choice? If anything, those seeking refuge on Australian soil by way of these terribly dilapidated boats, run by shady people, are showing their absolute desperation.

If someone arrived on your doorstep, fleeing a dispute, domestic violence, a robbery or unfair persecution, would you turn them away and say they should have applied properly for your help, should have gone through the proper avenues?

I love Australia, and especially Melbourne, for its array of people who have turned this country into a multifaceted thing, of cultures, foods, people, personality and styles of which we should be proud.

But the xenophobic rubbish that is coming out of politicians’ mouths, being emanated from the media, and being supported by so many of Australia’s citizens is frightening, and shameful.

The Australian government, which so happily welcomed European settlers post World War Two, and allowed fleeing refugees from Vietnam in the seventies and eighties to emigrate, now detains and ‘processes’ refugees seeking asylum for so long that mental illnesses are ripe, suicides are frequent and anyone being passed through the system has to live with the horrors and memory of their detention on top of their already existing trauma of that from which they fled.

A book exists about new Australian emigrants from the 50s, in which there is a picture of my father’s family – A Dutch family of then, 6 children, sitting around a kitchen table at the refugee camp at Bathurst. They look happy. They are together. They have hope because they are in Australia now, narrowly escaping the bombing of Rotterdam which ravaged the streets around their home. They know they are safe now, and that people care. They will be looked after and supported.

Fast forward to today, and refugees are suffering. Leaving their homeland, and facing pain and uncertainty – the parts of life they were trying to escape.

So many times as a child, I was told to ‘put myself in someone else’s shoes’. I thought this was a common, completely non-religiously affiliated plea made by many a parent, many a teacher. How would you feel…? Think about if that was you…

I am frustrated, ashamed, sad and despaired by the tragedies that are occurring in our detention centres, and in the oceans surrounding our nation. I just wonder, if conflict, famine, war, disaster or dictatorship suddenly arose here, and we decided to flee to our neighbouring countries, who, of those around us, could honestly say: “Well, you showed us compassion when we were seeking it, so we will show it to you…”?

I can’t believe this – but I found the picture on the internet! http://completepeter.blogspot.com/2009_03_01_archive.html had the photo on his blog, which he had found through national archives http://www.naa.gov.au/collection

* The final Dateline episode on SBS this week will highlight the story of Les Murray, famed Soccer reporter and commentator, and explore his family’s escape from Hungary, aided by people smugglers. He is eternally and wholly grateful for their role in helping his family, and mentioned on the 744 radio this week that these people responsible for his family’s escape from Hungary, at that time, faced death if caught.