I HAVE DISCUSSED PREVIOUSLY and at length the merits of the Australian values of ‘mateship’ and ‘fair go’ from a Melanesian perspective.
I described their humble nautical origins and essential veracity from a convict mariner’s perspective, and how then prime minister John Howard attempted to squeeze from the survival catchcries of convicts in cramped, crowded and disease infested convict ships, a set of values that would become the rite of passage for a modern state and its people.
What has become increasingly clear about these egalitarian notions of “mateship” and “fair go” is the underlying admission that everybody is not having a fair go in Australian post-convict society.
This is certainly true in the case of Aborigines, Torres Strait Islanders, refugees and other minority groups in terms of health, education, social services, social justice, criminal justice, human rights, and social equity. They are not treated like mates and accorded the basic minimum of a fair go.
Australia has one of the worst social justice and human rights records of any country in the developed world in its treatment of indigenous citizens, and the magnitude of oppression meted out to them is right up there with history’s hand on Jews, Kurds, Armenians, Tibetans and, closer to home the East Timorese and West Papuans.
A dismal human rights record has been exacerbated by successive governments, both Liberal and Labor, who treat boat people cum refugees with contempt and brand them as “illegals”.
The treatment meted out to boat people who are fleeing injustice and turmoil in their own countries is nothing short of criminal. I don’t know of any instance in history where it has been made a criminal act for an individual or a family of oppressed persons, fleeing persecution, and in some cases possible death, to seek a better life in another land.
This is particularly so if, for instance, where these are people from war ravaged areas like Afghanistan, Iraq and Sri Lanka.
In the case of Afghanistan and Iraq, Australia parades itself as the liberator, a beacon of freedom, bringing the hope of democracy to these countries by waging war against them, ostensibly to liberate them.
In what appeared to be a noble quest, which started in Iraq, to rid the world of weapons of mass destruction, Australia is partly responsible for slaughtering, or causing to be slaughtered, half a million people in under ten years, bombed to rubble the cities and villages of Iraq and destroyed the way of life of millions.
The WMD basis for the invasion of Iraq has now been discredited as a huge lie perpetrated by the US government and its Coalition of the Willing (to lie and cover up). There were no WMDs, and the US knew this, but chose to lie to the whole world.
Bishop Tutu is taking issue with the US and UK governments because of the blatant lies they told the world to give them license to kill and destroy a nation. Bishop Tutu says that was absolutely un-Christian conduct on the part of the US and UK.
In Afghanistan, in a bid to rid the world of Talibanism Australia, has participated in the slaughtering of well over 300,000 people. The number of people slaughtered is increasing every day, and is justified on the basis of the Coalition partners wanting to give these people the noble and wonderful gift of democracy.
Looking at the number of deaths, you have to ask, is democracy so noble that it has to be paid for by the blood of innocent children, mothers, fathers and grandmothers?
When Afghan people flee their homes and turn up at the doorstep of Australia to be part of this democratic utopia, this paradise of freedom, they are either allowed to drown at sea or captured and imprisoned either in Australia or in some remote Pacific location such as Manus Island, where they will have no access to Australian media and Australian courts.
Even the once independent Australian media has been compromised. With the active encouragement of their government, the Australian media have joined the Canberra chorus, seeking to demonise genuine refugees by calling them illegals, queue-jumpers, or wealthy middle-class Arabs, Iraqis or Afghans bribing boat captains and crew in Indonesian ports to claw their way into Australia.
It is curious that, apart from the Aboriginal landowners of the Australian continent, the convict settlement of Australia was by people who arrived illegally and uninvited. They were the first boatpeople. They were the first illegals. They have no better standing or claim to Australia than others who came subsequently by boat.
Yet they seek to haul their offensive layers of lies and trickery before us in Melanesia, masquerading as just laws by a just government to give them dignity beyond their true status, all the while living off the fat of Aboriginal lands in the existing Aboriginal nations.
The slaughter of ancient Aboriginal nations, the shifting of tribes away from their homelands, the taking of children and the creation of internment camps were all organised by the British under what they believed to be correct legal premises.
Such premises never made allowance for the law of the land (Aboriginal law) to determine the rightness or wrongness of this trespass upon Australia.
It has been stated that this was the fundamental miscarriage of justice upon which Australian society was founded. To this day, without proper recognition of this wrong, without just and fair recompense to the Aboriginal tribes of Australia, the government and its institutions are based upon a felony. The very notion is a continuous act of criminality. White Australia has taken what the Aboriginal people never gave.
It is true that white Australia has not in recent times carried out raiding parties on Aboriginal communities with guns and bayonets as it did in the massacres of the late 1800s and early 1900s. It does not have to.
It has set up a system of government and welfare that annihilates a people just the same, a system that condemns indigenous people to illiteracy, poor health, substance abuse, dysfunctionalism, hopelessness, and gradual but certain death.
The current human rights record of Australia toward its indigenous people is such that there is very little hope in sight for these people who currently fall way below any internationally accepted standard and indicator.
Just go out to Alice Springs on a summer’s night by the Todd River course and you will see played out before you this ritual of deprivation and subjugation that has become an acceptable way of life. Today, many groups are calling upon the Australian government to increase the dole so that people can simply afford a loaf of bread every day.
In the country town of Nowra, just south of Sydney, once bustling with orchards and dairy farms, there is a flood of indigenous former dwellers of inner city Redfern, forced from their place because Howard’s Australia didn’t want Olympic visitors to see indigenous people living in squalor in city slums.
They line up in the dole queues of dysfunctional Nowra, a town where you can even smell death and despair in the breeze knifing up Junction Street.
In Walgett, a country town in western New South Wales, there is 99% unemployment amongst indigenous people; many of them third, fourth and fifth generation indigenous unemployed.
They are mostly illiterate and given birth to children who form a whole new generation of dysfunctional and illiterate people, addicted to substances and subject to every other abuse imaginable.
Almost 95% percent of indigenous youth in Australia have little or no chance of advancement to university, nor completing high school. The healthcare and sanitation standards among indigenous Australians are third world and nothing like what most white folk take for granted.
For many remote indigenous communities around Australia a quick audit of basic human rights compliance will reveal that Australia, as a first world developed country, has failed miserably in its treatment of its black people.
Australian families in suburbia treat their pets better than their government treats the original landowners. This is a sad indictment on a country that is seeking to bring health, education, law and order, equal opportunity and rights advocacy to the Pacific.
It has no solid foundation to work from in terms of real successes with its own black people. Australia practices symbolism with indigenous people, but is not serious about addressing its own real injustices, discrimination, prejudice, inequality and race based social injustice.
Some 20 years ago, over 95 Aboriginal deaths in custody were reported by a Royal Commission of Inquiry. In each case it recommended the prosecution of members of the Police for causing the deaths. To this day not one single Australian policeman has been charged. That is hardly what one would call a fair go.
In the recent case of a Palm Island Aboriginal death in police custody, Cameron Doomadgee died of broken ribs and a torn liver within half an hour of being arrested. The Queensland Director of Public Prosecutions attributed the death to an “accidental fall” and concluded the police had no case to answer.
This decision was totally contrary to findings of a detailed coronial inquest that suggested foul play by Police. How does a person ‘accidentally’ die of four broken ribs, a ruptured portal vein, a liver almost cleaved in two, a black eye, bruising to the forehead and back of his head, bruising to the upper part of his back and on both his hands, all taking place in a police station where a very fit and disproportionately large policeman had earlier in as much as confessed to a ‘fight’ between himself and the deceased on a videotaped police interview?
The policeman, who had earlier confessed to falling on the victim, was later allowed to change his story to falling beside him.
How does a slightly built man, slightly inebriated but happy moments earlier, whistling and singing, ‘accidentally fall’ and sustain such a large number of injuries, most of which could not be sustained or explained either scientifically or clinically by a single fall from a stand up position?
The events and the incongruous findings smack of funny business in the Australian justice system and are well documented by Chloe Hooper in her book, The Tall Man.
The predominantly white police force in Queensland, as a sign of solidarity and mateship, threatened to boycott police services to Aboriginal communities in protest over the subsequent prosecution of the white Palm Island police officer.
What about the case of David Hicks, five years incarceration without any charges in a foreign prison? Hicks, an Australian who confessed to training with terrorists, was allowed to languish in Guantanamo Bay by then Australian foreign minister, Alexander Downer, without any due process of law.
Nowhere in the case of Hicks was the spirit and values of “mateship” and a “fair go”. Whatever happened to democracy and the law that requires a fair and speedy trial, let alone the presumption of innocence until proven guilty in a proper court system?
It was curious that most of the judges on the US Supreme Court appointed by successive Bush (father and son) administrations were disturbed enough to find it judicially profane to endorse the antics in Guantanamo.
If Australia believed in the rule of the law in a democracy, then the ruling of the US Supreme Court should have bothered both John Howard and Alexander Downer. .It obviously did not.
What is the content of ‘fair go’ and “mateship” in a modern democracy if it does not consist of due process for the likes of Hicks and the likes of boat people arriving on the shores of Australia?
What could possibly be at the heart of this generation of politicians, both Liberal and Labor, that compels them to instantly abandon the values of democracy, human rights and due process, let alone mateship and fair go, and summon such capacity for callous indifference?
What has become of the condition of man that he abandons his state of enlightenment, the gains of the last 200 years, and takes on the cloak of profanity, of a wayward and misguided being, and retraces his footsteps into that long forgotten darkness of the Stone Age and the Middle Ages from which we have evolved?
For the Pacific countries, especially the Melanesian States, Australia’s human rights record and its treatment of its indigenous people is a measuring stick for realising that no matter how much money Australia spends on the Pacific, it has no real values to guide it as a nation.
It has had little or no practical or policy success in dealing with its indigenous people, especially in education, health, economic advancement, social justice and equality.
If Australia does not understand and care for its own indigenous people, with successful and humane policies that work, how can the Pacific people, especially Melanesians, expect that anything good will come out of Canberra, in particular for Melanesian people?
How can Melanesians trust a white Australian government that does not deal fairly and equitably with its own black people?
How can Melanesian landowners and resource owners trust Australian companies and the Australian government who have stripped the black people of Australia of their lands, their resources and their way of life?
How can we trust a nation of people with no values, whose only affinity is to dollars and cents?