Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Australia's hypocrisy, its current dark trajectory, and how we can change this

Australia is a signatory to the UN Refugee Convention (the photo of the signers of the 1951 convention on the UNHCR webpage appears to show people of entirely European origin, about 20 are men, possibly 3 are female) and also of the Convention on the Rights of the Child. Last financial year the federal government spent more than $1 billion to house about 2200 asylum seekers in offshore detention centres in Papua New Guinea and Nauru. The children of adults who seek asylum in Australia experience considerable mental health problems; these are consistently downplayed and hidden by Australian authorities.

We now flout both Conventions. No one expels us. No other country even seems to criticise our flagrant disregard, approaching contempt, especially for the refugee convention, even though many Australians seem to look down on nations that have not signed it. No refugee, harmed by our actions, has the means to take us to court, and even if they did, no international court yet exists that would rule in their favour. So, this situation is likely to continue.

Although it would be more honest for Australia to withdraw from these conventions (that we once did a much better job of observing), most of us still appear to think of Australians as a humane, "First World" country. In some ways we are, but in many ways that is not so. I think we are now not so different to Nazi Germany. There were winners and losers there and then, there are winners and losers here and now. It is a question of where to focus our gaze. Most of us prefer to look away from those who suffer due to our policies, just as many in Nazi Germany seemed to ignore the victims of Nazi racial and cultural hygiene policy, such as Jews, Jehovah's Witnesses, gypsies and the disabled.

Australia's record is increasingly blemished (though White Australia's invasion of Aboriginal Australia is evidence that we have never been benign) and our trajectory looks darker every year, for example as shown by yet deeper cuts to our already miserly foreign aid budget. For over fifteen years (before 9-11) I have published articles (eg "Inequality, Global Change and the Sustainability of Civilisation", published in 2000) (a free version is here) and chapters arguing that such selfishness will increasingly drive resentment and terrorism, both external and home-grown. 

Somehow, collectively, people in Australia who want to promote and defend the rights, health and well-being of the "other" need to struggle on. To do so not only protects the other, but it also - in the long run - protects us.

How can we change? Enough people need to realise that  it is in our collective self-interest to change. We also need to be a lot more generous, especially to people in low-income countries. If we disregard international law, then, one day, which nation will come to protect us?
 

The siege in Sydney has just ended. There is an outpouring of grief over its victims, which occurred around the same day as foreign aid was cut further. Yet, too many companies pay too little tax (according to the Economist, $20 trillion is held in tax havens). Collectively, Australia is prepared to spend billions subsidising fossil fuels that poison our common future. Instead of cutting aid we could raise taxes from the rich and well-lawyered.

My view that forms of inequality drive terrorism is virtually completely unrepresented in the mainstream media. Instead, I repeatedly hear claims to the effect that "nothing can be done to prevent such events" (eg the Martin Place siege). But a lot could be done. Yet, for the time being I am forced to conclude that my views appear to be in a tiny minority.

PS Oct 13, 2016: Nothing has improved since I wrote this. Doctors are banned from speaking out about conditions offshore. Australia's cheating of Timor Leste is better understood, and China's contempt for the Law of the Sea is clear. Fear of China is rising, and Australia's bullying behaviour towards Timor Leste is like that of China towards its neighbours. I hope I am wrong, but feel World War III is evolving.