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Is this Australian?

By Paul Walter
Created 15/04/2010 - 22:55

You know it's struck me, reading the "Afghanistan" thread, that refugees have only be mentioned in passing, since back early. Fair enough, I might have thought at the time. 

As they say, "a week is a long time with politics".

After nearly a fortnight of a national conversation on two interrelated and sadly conflated but seperate issues; "Big Population" in the future irritated by a mistimed announcement  from the PM,  my perspective on these is changing as the views outpour across the country. 

Now, as far as I'm concerned, the immigration debate can wait till later.

The second issue; asylum seekers and refugees, seems to be a rapidly changing one for the worse and one becoming more unpalatable by the hour in certain aspects.

It has simmered or festered for a long time both as a (now rapidly morphing) reality and an issue, but public perceptions might now start to change, since it was hijacked by hard ball, unsavoury politics from political parties and the media. Tony Abbott was first cab of the rank,whining that the Rudd wasn't "hard" enough, but the barbecue stopper was Rudd's clampdown onthese, of last weekend.

As to our politics, It has squeezed Abbott the same way Howard squeezed Beazley back during the Tampa times. Brilliant, venomous, lightning-fast politics and surely excruciatingly sweet for Labor and to the left of hard right generally, as some political commentators have noted. Particularly when capped by the  subsequent departures of their two most significant politicians to survive the 2007 trainwreck, Turnbull and Minchin.

Yet, in the wake of the last couple of weeks, I've started to wonder again what it must be like, or feel, cooped up for a long a time on a  convict hulk, in the claustrophobic hull, in the tropics.

Was it Marilyn Shepherd who once said that even the kids on the First Fleet had to steal a handerchief first to cop that?  "Merak" is of course only the tip of the iceberg for refugee conditions generally in dirt -poor Indonesia. 

My conscience is starting to prick a weeny, with this "Merak" thing.

I begin to think it untenable that a civilised country can do this, over an increasingly protracted time span.

I think Crikey's Bernard Keane and SMH's Peter Hartcher, for example, recently have been about right about the the trajectory of the national politics, from a detached viewpoint. They are just chroniclers. 

But yep, am Joe Average, and am just starting feel a bit uncomfortable as times trickle on, both for us safe and sound here and the surely now pitiable people on "Merak".

People start to talk of "othering" - it's an ugly proposition to contemplate in this actuality, if you ask if we Australians are virtually "taking hostages", as some have put it, to our own uncertainties for our own futures? I begin to wonder, with Merak, how I would react to that suffocating experience after an increasingly prolonged stay and now seemingly indefinite stay. I wonder how I'd feel, if someone from my family was there.

As time goes by, this unsavoury Indonesia/ Australia thing on this becomes as rank as it must be below decks on "Merak" , also. Like a couple of furtive bods hanging around a parklands "gents" in the twilight.

Where is the dignity in this, for Australia and Indonesia?

I'd love to see a snap election called; time for the accumulated political dross of recent times on too many issues to be swept away, as we begin to see more clearly into the future.


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