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IT’S driving me to distraction. All those transparently mendacious, slippery politicians. All those ignorant, baying hounds of the media. All those self-centred, gullible voters. It’s hard to bring myself to tune in to radio or TV. And I’m giving the national and state newsprint circuses a miss until the day of judgment is past. It’s all too hideous. It’s all too dispiriting.

Out there, all those bleating, whingeing, whining, self-serving, greedy “fellow Australians”.  The lonely voices calling for reason, generosity to fellow humans, co-existence, racial harmony and caring for the environment are drowned in a cacophony of “Me, me, me . . .”

Out there, all those hideous child-abusing, human rights-violating, warmongering Liberal pollies, many of them former devotees of the shameless John Howard, the PM who did so much to undermine the hitherto improving moral reputation of the country he ruled so destructively for a decade.

And, out there, a Labor Party that — having abandoned yet another of the pillars upon which this once proud organisation was founded (compassion for the poor and helpless) — is gutlessly failing to tell voters like it is: that the few thousand desperate “boat people” who try to approach our shores — as well as not being a threat to our border security — in no way match in numbers the thousands of immigrant “queue jumpers” who arrive by air and disappear from view.

Liberals, Nationals and an obscenely large rump of “Aussie battler” Labor are all out there once again peddling barely camouflaged racist lies that Australia’s security is endangered by these tiny motley bands of human flotsam and jetsam, many of whom are homeless as a consequence of Anglo-Western military and economic aggression spearheaded by Uncle Sam.

Are we all such a bunch of moral cowards that we can even start to believe that a few boats full of people fleeing their battered homelands in hideously deplorable circumstances are compromising our sovereignty and are a threat to “our way of life”?

“I think the boat people are a big problem,” said what sounded like a perfectly sweet little old lady when asked by a reporter. “I’ll vote Liberal.” So it seems that what appeals to “decent” people is the easy fix offered by Liberal leader Tony Abbott, who simultaneously says he will stop the boats and reopen the Nauru concentration camp. Why would a detention centre on Nauru be necessary given that there would be “no more boats”? The man really is a caricature of himself — or Mickey Mouse.

Just think about it? Could any of you out there in your armchair comfort even begin to imagine what guts its takes for these wretched of the earth to embark upon such a huge gamble on a better future by putting themselves at the mercy of anyone they might meet as they pass through foreign, often hostile, lands in search of a haven from their suffering?

To me, these brave adventurers sound like just the kind of material Australia needs to drag itself back from the precipice of moral bankruptcy and to infuse a bit of spine into our largely sloppy, lazy, self-interested, hip-pocket society.

And they look to me like the kind of people that would help us wake up to the need to confront the real challenge that none of our big-party politicians has the spinal fortitude to confront: how to cope with post-peak oil and global warming.

And yet our politicians use the arrival of “illegals” in our waters to foster extreme fear in otherwise fairly stable citizens.

I am saddened by the lily-livered tactics our politicians pursue to exploit for electoral gain the refugee flows that, in large part, ironically, have been generated by our great ally, USA, via George W. Bush’s knee-jerk and insanely murderous reaction to the embarrassment he suffered on September 11, 2001.

It saddens me, too, to think that out there are so many black-hearted, mealy-mouthed, deceitful politicians ready to exploit a xenophobia that has lodged itself deep in the heart of our nation since the day the people of the land of my birth blazed their way onto this continent and set about trying kill the spirit of — and eventually, to achieve a creeping genocide of — its defenceless owners of probably 60,000 years.

(With the benefit of hindsight, I believe it was only the mid-20th century collapse of Western colonialism — or, rather, its transition from imperial to economic colonialism — that saved us whites from achieving, through abject neglect, a total creeping genocide of the Aboriginal people.)

The saga of racist atrocities goes all the way back to 1788. But we need go back only to the late 1990s to find the seeds of the irrational hatred that now is in the hearts of an electorally significant number of Australians.

The last Labor government of the 20th century started it. And then the succession of Liberal governments that followed made a meal of what should really have been nothing more than a minor irritant in the administration of our national borders.

A few voices out there in the political wilderness have relentlessly fought — to no avail — the festering xenophobia that has been wielded as a destructive political weapon for more than a decade. It has been surreptitiously fostered by the likes of John Howard and Philip Ruddock.

And the xenophobia has not been fought with any real vigour or enthusiasm by the succession of Labor leaders through these early years of what so many hoped would be a century of enlightenment.

Undoubtedly, September 11 was one of the catalysts that produced the fear and loathing that has gripped the Anglo-West since 2001. None of this might have happened had the West’s leadership been blessed with even a mite’s worth of moral fortitude on the day that the USA suffered its greatest embarrassment since Pearl Harbour.

Sadly, at the time, a fundamentally religious village idiot was running the United States, a sycophantic PM was strutting his stuff in Britain and in Australia we had a little man with a big friend who was dying to go to war. What a globally tragic triangulation!

Now, nine years later — while George W. Bush has the good sense to keep his simpleton head down in his coward’s foxhole — war-criminal accomplice Tony Blair continues to masturbate his own ego as a “peace” envoy in the Middle East; Alexander Downer, former foreign-minister clown and unashamed supporter of the Liberals’ “illegals” policies, has been charged with the responsibility of pursuing an unlikely Mediterranean island peace; and the ever-mindlessly-belligerent Howard has had the temerity to take umbrage at being branded racist and rejected by the black cricketing nations. (They were far too generous in stating their case against his appointment to leadership of the game’s peak body. Several more of his moral inadequacies could have been cited against his bid for cricketing supremacy.)

In the early 1970s, Labor’s Gough Whitlam, by taking a stand against the US’s role in Vietnam, did his best to drag the country out of its racist White Australia morass. By the time he became PM in 1972, the White Australia policy was officially dead and Australia’s participation in Vietnam had virtually ended. Both of these decisions were largely encouraged by Labor’s policies while in opposition. (But then Whitlam blotted his copybook over East Timor — as Robert Menzies had over Dutch West New Guinea, now Indonesian West Papua.)

Liberal PM Malcolm Fraser made a huge contribution towards persuading the wider world that the White Australia policy — as well as having been officially abandoned — was showing signs of being quite seriously dead.

His government accepted scores of thousands of Vietnamese who did not want to be part of a united and communist Vietnam. Vietnamese arrivals in Australia were like a cyclone when compared with the pitter-patter droplets from the passing clouds of Iraqi/Afghan/Sri Lankan arrivals.

And what did all those Indochinese “illegals” of the 1970s and early ’80s do after arriving on our shores? They set about putting their lives together — and today Australia is all the better for their presence.

Labor’s Bob Hawke did our international reputation no harm by weeping over the Tiananmen massacre and proclaiming that any student from China in Australia could stay on if they wanted to.

Unfortunately, Labor under Paul Keating — though still internationally constructive — obliquely acknowledged our latent xenophobia by making changes to refugee-processing policies. These would be a trigger for the “illegals” nightmare that lay ahead.

Along came John Howard — and the fuses blew on nearly three decades of moral enlightenment. Howard, an astute, amoral politician, knew he had only to lightly scratch the surface of a frighteningly large segment of our population to find racism beneath. So he scratched it, several times: SIEV X (suspected illegal entry vehicle 10), children overboard, Manus Island, Nauru, Afghanistan, Iraq . . . He was up to all the kind of tricks used by those who believe some humans are less equal than others, and, therefore, are not welcome.

In 2007, along came poor old Kevin Rudd. He did his best to moderate the worst atrocities of Howard’s refugee policy. For a while he looked as if he might get away with it. Manus and Nauru were closed and there was a lull in boat arrivals. But Rudd didn’t have the guts to come right out and tell Australians to grow up and face the fact that “illegal” arrivals are not a serious problem; that they represent only a saltcellar shake over the total annual immigration; and that he would bring refugee processing back to the mainland.

The moral cowardice is fairly equally shared by both big parties. It only causes Labor a moral dilemma because, traditionally, its platform has a component called compassion. That’s not a problem for most Liberals.

Worse was to come for Labor. As much as it ridicules every Liberal leader, it probably didn’t bargain on a reasonable and humanitarian Malcolm Turnbull being rolled by a Howard disciple.

Ever since Tony Abbott — flanked by John Howard lieutenants, among them Philip Ruddock, Kevin Andrews, Joe Hockey, Julie Bishop, Christopher Pyne, Eric Abetz and Andrew Robb — launched his crusade to rush Australia right back into its immorally racist past, Labor (first under Rudd, now under Julia Gillard) has dodged and weaved to fine-tune its “illegals” policy settings.

Labor has tried, on the one hand, not to lose the vote of all those uglies who will decide the election outcome on August 21; on the other, not to alienate all those who despair that, beneath it all, Australia is a sadly and deeply racist society. Labor has failed in each endeavour. The populist Liberals are winning by appealing to all the base instincts of an otherwise largely apathetic electorate.

For all the years of South Africa’s official apartheid, Australia was able to dodge the racist tag quite well. When apartheid imploded in the early 1990s, well, we just didn’t look so good any more. In fact, we began to look pretty awful — and it’s getting worse.

As I write this, I recall the catchcries of my early years in Australia, starting in 1961: mateship, fair go, fair dinkum, egalitarianism. They rang truly to me then. Later I realised they were largely hogwash; that we were no better than the Brits. Today, they ring more hollowly than ever.

Australia is not a land of the fair go. That’s a myth we kid ourselves about, perhaps to help us suppress our real knowledge that we are an insular mob of frightened people. We huddle together in our collapsing cities all the while having our paranoias massaged by self-serving leaders, who — in increasingly short cycles after taking the reins of office on a wave of sectionalised public euphoria or party popularity — are soon on the nose for having failed to deliver (with not a care for the huge consumption of the finite resources of our beleaguered planet) promises of ever more self-indulgent First World luxuries.

(It’s always struck me as strange that, while we constantly demand smaller government, less official intrusion in our lives and smaller taxes, we also demand ever more public services. Obviously, we are more in need of our nanny state than we are prepared to admit.)

Now, as the poll campaign runs into its final days, would someone in the Labor Party dare to stand up and say, bluntly, that the flow of “illegals” into Australia (well over 90% of whom are eventually judged to be genuine refugees) presents no threat to our borders — to you, to me, or to anyone else?

Our innate conservatism tells us we must not sweep away the past until we have something with which to replace it. Yet we always seem to end up getting more of the same — each time wrapped in more hypocrisy, more dishonesty, and ever more lashings of spin and secrecy.

Just for once, let us take the risk and throw ourselves into political chaos. Don’t worry, we have a disciplined enough public service to keep things ticking over while we sort out a new and more decent way of running our society, via a motley bunch of small-party and independent members of parliament.

And, just for once, let us, by our behaviour, tell the world we really are aspiring to be the type of people we keep telling ourselves that we are: decent, generous, welcoming, non-racist, and, above all, morally courageous.

Pigs might fly.

Bob Hawkins
August 10, 2010