Australia Day

Today, I’m taking a break from talking about writing & poetry, to reflect on my country.

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Our nation is one of paradoxes.

‘Australia Day’ / ‘Invasion Day,’ is only the first and most obvious: a celebration and condemnation rolled into one. Some of us decry the day that marked the beginning of our bloody, genocidal foundation. Others say, without a note of irony, ‘Why can’t I just celebrate my country?’

We like to portray ourselves as a progressive, liberal democracy, and yet the arrival of our first female Prime Minister saw a prolonged and vicious attack on her gender and a ludicrous, obviously biased media campaign to dislodge her in favour of corporate interests. We’re so progressive and liberal and democratic that we haven’t legalised gay marriage even though a majority, some 70% of Australians, are in favour of it.

We stand behind the Netherlands, Belgium, Spain, Canada, South Africa, Norway, Sweden, Portugal, Iceland, Argentina, Denmark, France, Brazil, Uruguay, New Zealand, Britain, and a growing number of American states on this issue.

Why? Because, although we like to say we are a secular nation, our politicians – even atheists like former PM Julia Gillard – stand staunchly with Christian lobbying groups and mouth, at best, nonsensical reasons like “tradition”, or talk about a “Judea-Christian culture” which doesn’t exist. At worst, they actively quote the Bible or devolve into hate speech or wildly inappropriate and dehumanising comparisons.

We also like to portray ourselves as compassionate, as patrons of the ‘fair go’, yet turn on the most needy and most desperate – refugees – to lock them away in island jails. Worse, polls suggest most Australians are in favour of crueller treatment of these women, children and families fleeing war-torn countries, countries we have more than ably helped destabilise in the first place.

There are two main components to this that break my heart: A) We are paying up to $1000+ more, per day, to jail refugees in such inhospitable conditions they will be forced to actively go back and face home-grown persecution, rather than process their requests within our community. For a political climate stupidly fixated on a so-called budget crises, you would think – in lieu of common decency and compassion – that such an outstanding fiscal cost would be enough to warrant a re-think on this issue, but no. We actively choose to pay extra just to be cruel.

B) Hundreds of kids are self-harming and are trying, or have already tried, to kill themselves while in our care. War and sustained persecution wasn’t enough to break them, but our cruelty was more than up to the task. Some of these children have known nothing but warfare; are more familiar with the sounds of bombs falling than an ice-cream truck rounding the corner, and yet still hadn’t faced such poor treatment as they receive at our hands on a daily basis.

We like to relentlessly champion our rugged masculinity and promote our binge-drinking culture, but decry the violence that spews from the resulting unbalanced-youths and the recent spate of “king-hit/coward-punches” without addressing either the underlying culture or the far greater and more insidious rate of violence against women. “Every week in Australia, a woman dies at the hands of her partner or ex-partner. In Victoria, it’s the leading contributor to preventable death, illness and disability in women aged 15-44 years.”

Unsurprisingly, this issue hasn’t received even a fraction of the media coverage being given to alcohol-fuelled youth violence, and our Prime Minister, a man with a long history of sexism and misogyny, has said nothing about it, despite also being the Minister for Women. Just writing that sentence made my head spin.

Our multi-cultural nation, ridden with racism; our progressive liberal democracy, kept consistently stagnant thanks to entrenched corporate interests and religious institutions; our beer-crazed advocacy of two dimensional masculinity coupled with hysterical disbelief to the resulting violence of young men against other young men, a violence which has been statistically falling while women are killed every day by men without so much as a collective blink.

Our fair-go mantra is a hideous joke in the face of our sustained and illegal mistreatment of desperate and downtrodden people seeking refuge. Everywhere, I see hypocrisy blighting our values. How we can say one thing and do another so often without the resulting cognitive dissonance blanketing reality with static or else splitting in two is beyond me.

Often, when speaking out about our continued systemic failures on the treatment of women, on indigenous rights, on gay rights, on human rights, people will say, “Well, if it’s so bad, go live somewhere else,” or “It’s better than fucking Sudan, right?” Yes, by all means, let’s engage in a race to the bottom. Therein lies the death of progress. Imagine if someone had said of the horse, forever and always, “Well, it’s better than walking, right?” Sure. But we wouldn’t have bothered with the wheel, with cars, or trains or planes then. With progress. And we’d have a helluva lot of shit to clean up, too.

We can always do better. We should always do better.

We can always aim higher and we always should – if it’s not being done elsewhere, we should lead the damn way. Not hide from our responsibility. Not shirk our duty of care. Not live such a blinkered existence, beholden to now, unable to look to later or constantly distracted by the latest spin.

For a nation as bountiful as ours, as stable and full of opportunity, there are no excuses. Every year, for me, this is neither Australia Day or Invasion Day, it’s just another day in a calendar of failures to move forward. Some years are better than others. Some are worse. It would seem – with a few exceptions, like gold strands in an otherwise rotten tapestry – the latter type are the trend. While that remains the case, I just can’t muster the will to care about what we call this day. What matters the label if the product is so faulty?

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