“Love and compassion are necessities, not luxuries. Without them, humanity cannot survive.” The Dalai Lama
Just over a week ago, I attended the March in March in Melbourne.
This was “a peaceful, non-partisan citizens’ march and rally at Federal Parliament to protest against the current [Australian] government’s policy decisions that are against the common good of our nation … the people’s vote of no confidence in policies of the government that go against common principles of humanity, decency, fairness social justice and equity, democratic governance, responsible global citizenship and conserving our natural heritage.”
And while I normally wouldn’t stray into politics on my ‘travel’ blog, I feel the need to share some of my own thoughts, in particular about the treatment of asylum seekers, as well as sharing some of the photographs from the march.
Really, the impetus for this piece came about because I saw an argument on the Channel 10 news program, The Project. Two of the hosts – Charlie Pickering and Steve Price – were discussing the latest statement from Immigration Minister Scott Morrison about Manus Island (for non-Australian readers, this is where asylum seekers are currently being held in detention in Papua New Guinea and where a recent riot occurred, resulting in the death of one asylum seeker and the injury of many others). Steve Price was challenging Charlie Pickering to say that the government was lying, which implied, to me, that Steve Price believes everything the government says. I just about choked on my dinner.
We live in a country where our government has lied to us time and time again; and frequently kept us in the dark about some of their more dubious policies. How anyone could have blind faith in what comes out of the mouth of any politician in this country is totally beyond me.
Here are a few examples just off the top of my head where we’ve been lied to or misled about – the bombing of Darwin during World War II; the Stolen Generations; the child migration scheme between Australia and Great Britain; the Children Overboard affair; and the Gonski school funding reforms.
In my two years of writing this blog, the article I’m most proud of is My journey with The Black Arm Band. I hoped that people would read it and be inspired to learn something about our history and the shameful treatment of Indigenous Australians, like I did through the music of The Black Arm Band.
In the article, I talked about how embarrassed I was that I knew nothing about the Stolen Generations until I left this country to travel in South Africa. It is rather ironic that my eyes were opened to our governments own failings by a group of young students in a country condemned for its human rights abuses during Apartheid.
It was a great day, on 13 February 2008, when the then Prime Minister Kevin Rudd issued an apology to the Stolen Generations. Finally, we could move forward with reconciliation and bridging the gap (which, I should also note, still has a very long way to go, and is not being greatly assisted by our current government).
On 16 November 2009, another apology was made by Prime Minister Rudd to the Forgotten Australians – those who had been sent to Australia in the 1950s and 60s as part of the British Government’s child migration scheme. Children were taken from their families and transported to Australia; where they were often placed in institutions. Many of these children were abused and many have never been reunited with their families.
Like the Stolen Generations, this was not something I was aware of until well after the fact. It certainly wasn’t taught to us at school, as part of Australian history. I’m also not sure when this became public knowledge, but it was a policy that was known about by successive governments.
In August 2013, Australia was found guilty of 143 human rights violations by the United Nations Human Rights Committee. It related to the indefinite detention of 46 refugees for four years, on the basis of ASIO’s ‘adverse security assessments’. Even more recently, China criticised Australia for its treatment of asylum seekers, especially children … and this, coming from a country that also has a poor track record in human rights.
Lately, I’ve been following the work of the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre that “works to protect and uphold the human rights of people seeking asylum in Australia”. They define an asylum seeker as a person who:
- has had to leave their country because it is too dangerous to stay there; and
- who is in danger in their country because they are being seriously harmed or at risk of serious harm because of either their political opinion, religion, race, nationality or social group; and
- their government can’t or won’t protect them from that serious harm.
These are people who are desperate, who need help, who need compassion. But, here, thanks to the policies of successive governments, these people (including children) get locked away indefinitely. They have no knowledge about when, if ever, they will be processed, or if they will ever have the opportunity to live a normal life. It’s utterly disgraceful.
People talk about Australia as the ‘lucky country’ and I do feel lucky to have been born into a country that has never had to endure famine or mass murder or civil unrest. We’ve never felt the need to flee our country in fear of our lives or place our trust in complete strangers hoping, beyond hope, that they will show us some compassion and understanding.
I can’t help but wonder how many years it’ll be before the Australian government makes another apology to the many asylum seekers that were mistreated under their watch.
On the weekend of 15–17 March 2014, approximately 85,000–100,000 people attended the March in March across Australia. The numbers reported vary so much because mainstream media did an appalling job of covering the event (which is another failure, in my opinion). Melbourne had the greatest numbers – 40,000–50,000 – and I know it was a lot, because I stood on one street corner taking photographs for at least 45 minutes as the crowds surged past me. They were still coming when I joined the march and headed up to Parliament House.
This was a bright day in what I consider a dark time for Australia. I was on my own, but fortunately I wasn’t alone. There were a lot of other like-minded people who were saying that this has to stop; that our government cannot behave in this way – not in our names!
Later, when Prime Minister Tony Abbott was asked about the Australia-wide rallies, he joked that the only march he knew about was the St Patrick’s Day march. To which I would’ve responded, “SERIOUSLY!! That’s all you can say?”
We are only six months into Tony Abbott’s term as leader and he has the ignominy of having thousands of people already taking to the streets to protest against his government’s policies. This is not something to be proud of … but I was very proud to see so many people marching; holding banners that were protesting not just the treatment of asylum seekers but a range of other issues. People do care.
I truly hope that these types of protests continue. I, for one, am sick of the lies. I’m also sick of the scare campaigns that seem to happen at every election – of hearing politicians telling voters that we need a hard-line policy on asylum seekers to protect us.
Give me a break. Protect us from what? Our own misguided fears …
The vast majority of asylum seekers are fleeing for their lives and need our help. So why the hell can’t we show some compassion and do just that?
“I would rather make mistakes in kindness and compassion than work miracles in unkindness and hardness.” Mother Teresa