by: Kaye Lee
One of the things that has defined Australia in the past, given us a sense of pride, and made this country such a wonderful place to live, is our sense of community be it local, regional, or global.When hard times strike, be it a death in the family, a town destroyed by bushfires or floods, a Pacific island devastated by a cyclone, a world torn apart by war, Australians have traditionally rallied around, sharing what they have and pitching in to help.The help was given freely and with a generosity that did not ask for recognition – a knock on the door which, when opened, revealed a freshly cooked cake left on the verandah; toys and clothing and blankets and canned food delivered by the truck load; children adding their pocket money to millions donated by Australians in aid to rebuild after natural disasters; welcoming those fleeing from war and oppression and offering them a new life in safety and hope for a better future for themselves and their children.
When Sabra Lane interviewed our newly appointed Minister assisting the Prime Minister on Counter Terrorism, Michael Keenan, they had the following exchange:
SABRA LANE: The Government is considering stripping citizenship of those citizens who have become foreign fighters, making them stateless. Where would these people go?
MICHAEL KEENAN: Well, look, can I say it’s the Minister for Immigration and Border Protection who will be making some further announcements about this in the next few days. But as a broad principle, we think that citizenship is a privilege, it is not a right, and if you abuse that privilege, then we want to look about what action we can take to remove it from you.
SABRA LANE: If you deport them and send them somewhere else, is Australia effectively handballing the problem to another country? …..does a person become less dangerous when you send them somewhere else?
MICHAEL KEENAN: No, but obviously if somebody’s not in Australia, they don’t have the ability to threaten the security of the Australian people in quite the same way.
SABRA LANE: But are we abrogating our responsibility by giving the problem to someone else and not dealing with it?
MICHAEL KEENAN: Well our responsibility always and the primary responsibility always is the security of the Australian people. And obviously if we’re removing people from Australia who might pose a threat to Australian security, we are doing exactly that.
SABRA LANE: But you’re removing it to somewhere else.
MICHAEL KEENAN: Well our primary responsibility is the security of Australia.
It seems we have become the nation of “I’m all right Jack!”
The phrase, originally “Fuck you, Jack, I’m all right!!”, described the bitter dismay of sailors (“jacks”) returning home after wartime in the Navy to find themselves not treated as patriots or heroes, but ignored or sneered at by a selfish, complacent, get-ahead society.
It implies an attitude of “every man for himself, survival of the fittest, devil take the hindmost”, … but also, that all the possible advantages (however gained), success (however won) and satisfaction (whatever the cost to others) belong to me first!
The Urban Dictionary describes it as “Narrow-focus, narrow-gauge pseudo-Darwinian selfishness glorified as a sensible philosophy of society and life.”
Wikidictionary says it means “Not worried about any problems your friends and neighbours might have.”
And it seems to me, that’s where we are at.
As our government struts and preens and holds itself up as a model for “stopping the boats”, we read endless stories of overcrowded refugee camps, boats sinking on the way to Italy, or drifting around the Andaman Sea, or being turned back from our shores. Clearly the boats haven’t stopped, and never will while wars and persecution and poverty and inequality exist.
Throughout most of the industrialised world, political violence has been steadily declining for many decades. According to the Global Terrorism Database, terrorist incidents in the USA peaked around 1970 – between 1968 and 1972, commercial aircraft in the US were skyjacked at an astonishing rate of nearly one plane per week. While terrorist incidents have been declining in most developed nations, there are countries where deaths from terrorism have skyrocketed since 9/11. The most spectacular examples are those nations invaded by the US during the War on Terror – in particular, Iraq and Afghanistan.
Why, then, do we accept without question the notion that the threat of terrorism now necessitates a fundamental shift in the powers we allow the state, in a way that would never have been politically palatable during eras in which political violence was far more common?
Why are we prepared to spend hundreds of billions on wars and armaments and turning away those fleeing from countries we have helped decimate?
Why aren’t we devoting those resources to combatting and protecting the victims of domestic violence?
Why are we slashing foreign aid and ignoring the tearful pleas of our Pacific neighbours whose countries are being lost to rising seas while we ramp up our coal exports?
Why are we giving billions in subsidies to fossil fuel companies who actively avoid paying tax?
Why are we employing police to investigate the unemployed and pensioners while cutting staff at the ATO who investigate tax evasion by big business?
Why are we penalising every employee in Australia by delaying/discarding the increase in the superannuation guarantee while we give tax cuts and deductions for companies?
Why are we making new mothers and families take cuts to pay for the government’s supposed largesse in childcare?
Why are we slashing funding for Indigenous programs?
Because I’m alright Jack.