RICHARD Flanagan has just explained to me (via The Book Show, ABC RN, 23/11/06) what it was that moved him to write The Unknown Terrorist.

Flanagan radiates a force for reason that, I sense, should be feared by those who, either through ignorance or intent, do not wish Australia well. I do not know the man, but for me he epitomises the type of person every decent Australian would want to be. Yet, in his home state he finds himself reviled by personalities and entities to whom the people should be able to turn for protection and guidance.

His crime was to suggest a “curiously close” link between government and business.

Flanagan’s pain — over rejection by powerful fellow Tasmanians and his confusion at finding himself simultaneously disliking yet still loving his country — is palpable. His reaction to being scorned is a reflection of the despair many Australians are feeling as they see being swept aside decades of social progress.

I am a new Australian, an early 1960s drop-by Pom who was on a global hike after two fabulous yet disillusioning years in the service of Her Majesty Elizabeth II of Britain (Elizabeth I of Australia), defending a remnant of empire in South-East Asia. I know now that I have loved this country from the day — January 8, 1961 — I first set foot in the country.

Over the next decade, after to-ing and fro-ing between Sydney and, first, the Pacific, and then East Asia, I came home to stay. Within a few years I committed myself to Australian citizenship. It was a time of great hope, even though Australians had just suffered the indignity of having their democratically elected government expelled from office by a drunken viceroy.

I was by then a diplomatic representative of Australia in the Pacific and I worked — confident in the knowledge that my homeland had thrown off the shackles of White Australia — to enhance Australia’s improving reputation beyond its shores.

Surprisingly, the man who on November 11, 1975 had skulked in a wing of Yarralumla — after a lacklustre prime ministership — was to become a beacon of the generosity and humanitarian decency that were to be hallmarks of Australia’s worldwide efforts through the years of the Fraser, Hawke and Keating administrations.

Through those years, I proudly brandished my Aussie passport wherever I went. I was a representative of a nation that was working for global cohesion, that was ever ready to build bridges between enemies or to provide help when requested; a nation that honoured UN conventions and promoted the world body as our planet’s only real hope for global understanding.

I am disgusted

I was a proud Australian, aware of the value of, and respect afforded, my citizenship. Today, I still love my country with undimmed intensity, but, like Richard Flanagan, I don’t much like it any more, my pride is faltering and, should I venture overseas, I would find it impossible to walk with my head held high.

I am disgusted with its leader and its chief lawmaker. Each I believe is shameful; Each I believe is shameless; and each, I believe, should be charged with child abuse and human-rights violations over their actions vis-à-vis the treatment of refugees.

I am appalled that decent Australian military personnel — on the orders of John Howard as a lackey of a deranged, intellectually inept US president — are unwelcome combatants in Iraq and Afghanistan. I dream of the day that America’s George W. Bush, Britain’s narcissistic Tony Blair and Australia’s megalomaniacal John Howard — like Iraq’s Saddam Hussein — will stand before a court charged with war crimes for their actions over Iraq.

I am alarmed, like Richard Flanagan, that Australians, in the name of the “war on terror”, can, by law, be “disappeared”. I am infuriated that those unjustly arrested and then released cannot tell even their families where they have been.

And I am tormented by the knowledge that Australians in general are so wimpish, or apathetic, or both, that they are not protesting in unison that John Howard, ably abetted by his confused and confusing “opposition leader, is embarked upon a methodical policy of exacting the obedience of voters by instilling in them an insidious fear that their safety and well-being are imperilled by a never-ending threat of terrorist attack.

John Howard — as the United States has been terrorising the people of this planet somewhere throughout all my 68 years — is terrorising me and my fellow Australians today.

It is for these reasons that, like Richard Flanagan — though I love my country dearly — I am neither proud of it, nor do I like what is happening.

Most of us are likely to survive John Howard (my contemporary), but I have no such certainty that we will survive the cancers the likes of Howard, Bush and Blair have implanted in the global body politic and the very fibres of our communities.

Bob Hawkins

I was a proud Australian, aware of the value of, and respect afforded, my citizenship. Today, I still love my country with undimmed intensity, but, like Richard Flanagan, I don’t much like it any more, my pride is faltering and, should I venture overseas, I would find it impossible to walk with my head held high.

I am disgusted with its leader and its chief lawmaker. Each I believe is shameful; Each I believe is shameless; and each, I believe, should be charged with child abuse and human-rights violations over their actions vis-à-vis the treatment of refugees.