2015, not such a good year (part 4: domestic politics and refugees)

Domestic politics

Speaking of Islamic head coverings, that most inappropriate speaker Bronwyn Bishop (see www.bronwyn.com.au) fell off the perch. Three weeks into Choppergate, Ms Bishop acknowledged that after commandeering a chopper at your and my expense to a Liberal fundraiser in Geelong of all places was ‘completely ridiculous’, leading to close analysis of her previous expense claims. (Now she’s back in the game, hoping to contest the next election in order to ‘fight terrorism’, crowing about her ‘exoneration’ in the Choppergate affair, apparently evidenced by the Federal Police’s decision not to press charges.  How you can be exonerated of behaviour you describe yourself as completely ridiculous is a puzzle.) Clive Palmer, whom Donald Trump made look Natasha Stott-Despojaesque by comparison last year, was funny in response, all the funnier for jumping the gun. Ms Bishop’s boss, Peta Credlin, fell off her perch too, and Tony Abbott with them after Ms B. Bishop and other Liberal MPs voted against Mr Abbott. He was succeeded as PM by Malcolm and Lucy Turnbull, but not before:

  1. Asking the Queen of England on Australia Day to knight her 93-year old husband, Prince Phillip, who is already worshipped as a God by some of the inhabitants of the beautiful isleand of Vanuatu, Tanna (see earlier posts in this series). The Murdoch Press ran a story by Mr Abbott’s friend Greg Sheridan that he was just responding to a request from the Queen because her husband was grumpy about the honours Australia had bestowed on Prince Charles (whom I caught up with (extremely briefly: I expect he and his bodyguards were in a rush) outside the Palace in 2015, incidentally), but I did not see it repeated elsewhere. Mr Abbott certainly never gave the story any oxygen, probably because it was not a very exculpatory exculpation even if it is true.
  2. Eating an unpeeled raw onion on tv, which remains in my mind one of the most mystifying news stories ever;
  3. Laughing at Minister Dutton’s joke about South Pacific islanders who are ‘about to have water lapping at their doors’ (see, the government really does accept the reality of climate change!), and
  4. Saying ‘Nope. Nope. Nope’, one of his last three word witticisms, to the poor old Rohingyas.

Mr Turnbull was refreshing when he said ‘We need advocacy, not slogans’ instead of ‘Advocacy Not Slogans!’ So refreshing as to be almost sexy, or so the people suggested Leigh Sales thought (but if you chewed your pen in an interview, the tabloids accused you of flirting last year).

Refugees

The miserable Rohingya, Sunni Moslems, who emigrated to Burma from Bengal (part of which is now Bangladesh) a long time ago, were fleeing persecution by genocidal Buddhists watched over by an oddly silent Nobel Peace Prize winner, Aung San Suu Kyi who swept to power in Myanmar in 2015, and did not get thrown into jail for her efforts this time. She will not actually inherit the power until this year however, and then only through a proxy, since the military passed a law which precluded her from running for President. Like Mr Turnbull, she ought be given some time before being judged.

It might be the most exciting time to be an Australian despite the terrifying invasions by ‘the boats’ and despite the death cult’s activities, but it sure wasn’t a good time to be a Rohingya. The new level of pathos arrived at as thousands of them floated around in the sea as Asian country after Asian country repelled them could not really have been imagined in advance. As The Monthly’s Richard Cooke explained in ‘Nope, Nope, Nope’:

‘Instead, democracy has gestated a proto-genocidal mood in Myanmar. Cataloguing the discriminations and violence visited on the Rohingya would fill this article many times over. But it is also easy to summarise: their persecution is total. Rohingya cannot freely work, marry, travel, move, have children, go to school, farm, own land, own houses, eat, shop, or worship. They are taxed arbitrarily – levies on “animal slaughter” extend even to pets dying of natural causes. Their homes and businesses have been destroyed, and they have been herded into camps where almost all humanitarian organisations are banned. Burmese officials, and many Burmese people, refuse to even use the word “Rohingya”. They call them “Bengalis” instead, or “kalar”, a colonial-era epithet that means something like “nigger”. This terminology is used with regularity on state television.’

But they were a blip in the sea of displaced people in 2015. There were more of them than ever, at least since WWII, 60 million of them. And one photo of the drowned corpse of little Alan Kurdi changed things quite suddenly. Suddenly, Labor got up its first bit of pluck since prior to Kim Beazley’s leadership, and suggested on Q&A that we might take 10,000 Syrians fleeing the violence described in previous posts. I was watching and could not believe my ears when the Liberal Premier of NSW, Mike Baird, said on the same show ‘Who is to say we can’t do more?’ A Liberal backbencher from Queensland of all places later suggested we take 50,000, despite the fact that his party had slashed Australia’s annual intake of refugees to 14,000, and his leader had made clear that even if a significant number of Syrians were taken, that intake would not be increased (with the result that all the people who had supposedly been waiting patiently in the queue would miss out, presumably). Ewen Jones said it was because he had been chilled by the photo of the ‘lifeless tot’. Justin Trudeau, a liberal, repeated his pre-photo election promise to bring 25,000 Syrians to Canada, and went on to win the election in the land-slide described in a previous post, deposing the right-wing government of Stephen Harper.

The ex-Queensland policeman Peter Dutton trotted out in response the old lie, albeit in a mangled delivery, that ‘On a per-capita basis, we are the most generous nation in the world when it comes to providing a new home to people who are seeking a better life, who would be persecuted in their homeland’.

(Speaking of Queensland, what got into the water in Queensland there last year? Labor regained power after one term of Campbell Newman, and Jarod Bleijie, despite being led by a woman of Polish and German ancestry with an all but unpronounceable name, Annastacia Palaszczuk, and installed more women than men in Cabinet. And that experiment in the untraditional catapaulting of a party man, Tim Carmody, to Chief Justice produced its results when he resigned to put an end to the uproar and was shuffled off to QCAT.)

Minister Dutton’s claim is the biggest load of bollocks ever. Some small countries like Lebanon host more than a million refugees. Germany, with a population only 3.3 times bigger than Australia’s, is preparing to take 800,000 in one year. America will take 100,000 a year, 30,000 more per year than previously.

But within a few days, this Alan Kurdi mood swept the government off its feet and we eventually agreed to take a once-off additional 12,000 Syrians, as well as give many millions of dollars to Syrian refugees in neighbouring countries.

When Reza Berati’s head was (in 2014) allegedly smashed to pulp with a bit of wood by the Salvation Army and some Australians, his photo was widely published, and thousands turned out in candle-lit vigils. I am sure that expression of sympathy was also possible only by virtue of the publication of his photo, and the attachment to it in our minds of his name. (The Australians allegedly involved have not been charged, and have not been extradited to PNG despite New Guinean attempts. The trial of the New Guineans did not take place in 2015, and stands adjourned, again, because the eye witness refused to testify for fear of his life).

So it was, too, that the affixation of a name, and a photo to little Alan Kurdi, and a bit of family background, profoundly moved people all over the world, making it crystal clear why the government parks the refugees in camps on islands where journalists and Human Rights Commissioners are not allowed.

In 2015, a refugee from Yugoslavia, Blanka Dudas, decided to do something about this propaganda success in dehumanizing refugees, crowdfunding an advertising campaign (‘I Came by Boat’) which essentially seeks to put positive photos of successful refugees in communters’ faces. Melbourne lawyer Shen Narayanasamy got pretty inventive too, commencing a shareholder activism campaign against Transfield, the government contractor at the forefront of the success of which is yet to be tested.

Back to your year now.  Make sure you enjoy the constancy of your tranquillity.

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