Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Tony Kevin: "Australia is still evolving"

I have been aware of Tony Kevin's thoughts on refugee issues for some time. He is the author of a book on the SIEV X tragedy. His thoughts strike a chord with me as I have been going through a similar reassessment of the state of the nation.

Following is an excerpt from his piece in On Line Opinion:

"I began to think about issues of personal accountability for the deeds and complicities of one’s own government. I began to look past the glossy Qantas image of Australia, to see much more complicated and unsettling realities. I began to see what we had really done to our Aboriginal people. I discovered moral issues to do with the US alliance, Australian conduct in our region, multiculturalism, minorities.

My 30-year public service career ended in 1998, at age 55, and I began to explore the Australia in which I was to spend the rest of my life.

It was a very different place, especially after the 1996 Coalition victory, from the Australia I had grown up in and believed I was representing all those years. Over the next ten years, I had to learn many bitter lessons. Ministers and senior public servants could not be relied on to tell the truth or to conduct themselves with honour. There was increasing corruption and acceptance of corruption among our elites. “Whatever it takes but don’t get caught” had become a defining characteristic of public life.

Our socio-economic elites were no longer standard-setters - they were no better or wiser, simply richer and more cynical. In our overgrown cities, the old suburban ideal of the good life had been tarnished. The public infrastructure of health and education and transport, so new and fresh in the confident 1960s, was already decaying.

There weren’t so many happy families around any more. There were fewer children. Too many of them were being neglected or abused in dysfunctional domestic set-ups where mothers or fathers or their new partners were putting themselves first and their kids’ welfare and security a long way behind. People were drawing in on themselves, becoming more self-centred, reluctant to engage in community. The old churches were wilting, and new (and sometimes quite creepy) American-style happy-clappy groups were moving into the vacuum.

And there was racism - not so much against Aborigines anymore, but against darker-skinned immigrants - Muslims or those who might look so. The cancer of the ever-worsening Israel-Palestinian conflict had spread to Australia. Somehow we had become Israel’s and the US’s military ally in their never-ending brutal wars and proxy wars on Middle Eastern people.

We had become a more militarised country, though our defence forces were more and more detached from our mainstream society in a professional military sub-culture that the rest of us did not quite connect with any more.

We were routinely visiting terrible bureaucratic cruelties in our own country and offshore on boat people asylum-seekers.

We were obviously now a complex multicultural society (I believe that as many as one in two Australians today was either born overseas, or has a partner or parent or parent-in-law born overseas), but not a particularly happy or well-integrated one.

No one could seem to agree on what our national values were any more: we no longer could even find agreed meanings for words, there had been so much spin already that many of our most important words now had to be put in quotation marks when we used them. (Think about: “work choices”, “tolerance” , “mateship”, “fair go”, “national cohesion”, “national pride”, “national security”, “sovereignty”, “war on terror”, “integrity of our borders”, “security risk”, “conscience vote”, “moral issues”, “sustainable economic growth”, “processing”.)

We couldn’t agree on our own history any more. We seemed to be losing our sense of who we were, as our major media and national assets passed into foreign ownership and as we fell more and more into the American socio-cultural orbit.

By 2006, our Australian nation was at more and more risk of becoming simply another large territorial appendage of the United States. Many of us, finding the world’s huge challenges all too much, simply wanted to sink into the illusory protection of US-armed global hegemony, as the US military-industrial complex quietly exploited our gullibility and our remaining resources.

My Australian dream has finally shattered. I still love my country - more than ever - but I realise now that it has many serious and interconnected problems. Quite late in my life - I am now 63 - I realised the need to take up burdens of public involvement, working with other people of goodwill and integrity and knowledge, to try to help our country rebuild some of what it has lost in the past 60 years: trying to make this a better country; a country that does not make war on others; that does not scapegoat any of its own citizens; that behaves as a responsible and less selfish global citizen in the coming battle to save a decent human environment on this planet.

There is a huge agenda now. The situation may seem hopeless but we have to make a start. I’ll be spending the remaining years of my active life working on those things."

As I listen to the dishonest propagandising of the Bush speech on the 9/11 anniversary I find Tony's clarity refreshing and honest. We are diminished as a nation on all fronts by slavishly following the tragic idiocy of the Bush doctrine. I hope we can retrieve the worst setbacks of the Howard years but it will be difficult.

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