In my last two instalments I have discussed the merits of ‘mate-ship’ and ‘fair go’ as Australian values, from a Melanesian perspective. I described their humble nautical origins and essential veracity from convict mariner’s perspective, and how Howard attempted to rally out of the survival catch-cries of convicts in cramped, crowded and disease infested hulls and decks of early convict ships, a set of values that would become the rite of passage for a modern state and its people.
What has also become increasingly clear in these egalitarian notions of “mate-ship” and “fair go” from Howard’s Australia Day speech in 2007, 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 now in health, education, social services, social justice, criminal justice, human rights, social equity, and the list goes on. In these they are not treated like mates, and accorded the basic minimum in the notion of fair go.
Australia has one of the worst social justice and human rights records in treatment of its indigenous citizens of any country in the developed world, 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 the West Papuans in Indonesia, to name but some.
This dismal human rights record is further 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 in itself. 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, this beacon of freedom, to bring the hope of democracy to these countries by waging war against them, to liberate them.
In what appears to be a noble quest, which initially started, in Iraq, as a quest to rid the world of Weapons of Mass Destruction, Australia is partly responsible for slaughtering, or causing to be slaughtered, well over a million people in under ten years, bombed to rubble the cities and villages of Iraq and destroyed a way of life for tens of millions of people. The WMD basis for the invasion of Iraq has now been discredited as a huge lie by the US government and its Coalition of the Willing (to lie and cover up). There were no WMDs, and the US knew about this, but chose to lie to the whole world.
Bishop Desmond Tutu of South Africa recently announced that he is prepared to sue, and put on trial the then US President and then British Prime Minister for war crimes against the people of Iraq. He is taking issue with the US and the UK governments because of the blatant lie that the US and the British governments 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 US and UK.
In Afghanistan, so far, in a bid to rid the world of Taliban-ism 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 caused by such invasion, 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 doorsteps 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 has joined the chorus of Canberra, seeking to demonize 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 a curious fact that apart from the Aborigine landowners of the Australian continent, the Convict settlement of Australia giving birth to the nation state of Australia is 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 come to Australia subsequently by boat. Yet they seek to haul their offensive layers of lies and trickery before us in Melanesia, masquerading them as government, and as just laws by just governments, to give them dignity beyond their true status, all the while living off the fat of Aborigine lands and existing Aborigine nations.
The slaughter of ancient Aborigine nations throughout Australia, the shifting of tribes away from their homelands, the taking of children and the creation of internment camps, were all organized by the British under what they believed to be correct legal premises. Such premises never made allowance for the law of the land (Aborigine law) prevailing at that time to determine the rightness or the wrongness of the early boatpeople trespassing in Australia, or the legality of their convict taking of Aborigine lands, their continued existence on Aborigine soil, or systems of government imposed on Aborigine soil.
It has been stated that this has to be the most fundamental foundation, the mother of miscarriage of justice, upon which the Australian society as we know today is founded upon. To this day, without proper recognition of this wrong, without just and fair recompense to the Aborigine tribes of Australia, the government of Australia and its institutions- these many a layered lies, these organized organs of oppression, are all organized around and based upon a felony. The very notion of its existence is a continuous act of criminality. White Australia has taken what the Aborigine never gave.
It is true white Australia has not in recent times carried out raiding parties on Aborigine communities with guns and bayonets as it did in massacre parties 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 all the same, a system that condemns indigenous people to illiteracy, unhealthy existence, substance abuse and dysfunctional-ism, hopelessness, and gradually, but surely, 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 the poverty line and way below any internationally accepted standards and indicators in terms of health, education, sanitation, shelter and social and criminal justice. Just go out to Alice Springs on a summer’s night by the old river course and you will see played out before you this substandard ritual of deprivation and subjugation that has become an acceptable way of life. Today, many NGO groups are calling upon the Australian government to increase the dole so that people can simply afford a loaf of bread every day.
In country towns like Nowra, just South of Sydney, once bustling with orchards and dairy farmers, today flooded with former indigenous dwellers of inner city Redfern, descendants of Bennelong, forced from their place because Howard’s Australia didn’t want Olympic visitors to see Indigenous people living in squalor in city slums of Sydney. They line up the dole queues of dysfunctional Nowra, a town where you can even smell death and despair in the breeze knifing up the main street of Nowra today.
In Walget, a country town in Western New South Wales, there is 99% unemployment of Indigenous people. These people are third, fourth and fifth generation indigenous unemployed, who are mostly illiterate, given birth to children who form a whole new generation of dysfunctional and illiterate people, addicted to substance abuse and every other abuse imaginable. Almost 95% percent of the indigenous youth in Australia have little or no chance of advancement to University, let alone completing High School certificate. The health-care and sanitation standards among indigenous Australia are third world in comparison to what most white folk live in and take for granted. For many remote indigenous communities all 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 treat their pets in suburbia better than their government treats the original landowners of Australia. This is a sad indictment on a country that is seeking to bring health, education, law and order, equal opportunity and other 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 the real injustices, discrimination, prejudice, inequality and race based social injustice.
Take for instance; some 20 years ago in over 95 Aborigine Deaths in Custody cases reported by the Einfeld Royal Commission of Inquiry (in each case recommending prosecution of members of the various white Australian Police for causing the deaths), to this day not one single white Australian policeman cited has been charged.
That is hardly what one would call a fair go is it? Considering for a moment that for over eleven of those 20 years John Howard was the Prime Minister of Australia, how he could explain the fact that he did nothing about Aborigine deaths in custody, and the clearly detailed findings of the Einfeld Report is a mystery.
Rudd went slightly better in making Pat Dodson, Indigenous agitator and then Counsel Assisting Justice Marcus Einfeld in that Inquiry, Australian of the year in 2009. Sadly enough Rudd conspicuously omitted to address the causes for Dodson’s life of agitation such as the findings of that Inquiry which remains to be acted upon by the Federal Government of Australia to this day. Is it any wonder why Dodson was not particularly excited about the occasion which other indigenous people either saw as meaningless political platitude or a clever Mr Rudd trying to curry favor with a possible source of sustained agitation? Dodson used the opportunity to call for justice in education of the young indigenous people which he correctly surmised as carrying the hope of the emancipation of the Aborigine.
Einfeld, on the other hand, has been singled out by white conservative Australia for $75 traffic fines, and deliberately vilified and hung out to dry for daring to prick the conscience of a nation that would rather not be reminded. He serves as an example and warning to Judges and judicial types who choose not to back the right horse; the system will get them sooner or later, and it is all legitimate of course. The messenger being shot, the message he sought to convey appears to have been lost in the sands of time with his enforced infamy.
In a recent case of a Palm Island Aborigine death in police custody case, the man died of broken ribs and a torn liver, within half an hour of being taken into custody by police. The Queensland Director of Public Prosecutions attributed the death to an “accidental fall” and concluded that the police had no case to answer.
This decision was totally contrary to earlier findings of a detailed Coronal Inquest that suggested serious foul play by the 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 his 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 earlier confessed to falling on the victim, and was later allowed to change his story to falling beside him.
How does a slightly built man, who was slightly inebriated but happy moments earlier, whistling and singing ‘accidentally fall’ and sustain such diverse 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, irrespectively of whether he was facing up or downward? The events and the incongruous findings which smacks of funny business in Australian Justice System are well documented by Chloe Hooper in her book entitled ‘The Tall Man’.
The predominantly white police force in Queensland, as a sign of solidarity and mate-ship, threatened to boycott police services to Aboriginal communities in protest over the subsequent prosecution of the Palm Island based white Police Officer investigated for the death of the Aborigine man.
The collective boycott by the Police was a heart-warming demonstration of true “mate-ship,” you might say. However, what about the Aboriginal community of Palm Island and the next of kin of the deceased man? Don’t they have a right to a “fair go” in terms of justice; or is it the case that justice has become the exclusive preserve of race, the select, and the powerful and the rich, but ever elusive to the poor Indigenous minority?
How can a man happily inebriated and singing ‘who let the dogs out’ in one moment finds himself arrested the next moment and dead in police custody from serious injuries, all within a space of 30 minutes of being arrested. His crime necessitating the arrest was that he was singing. The cause of death was that he fell down.
Cameron Doomadgee was a slightly built man, and as such, how he could fall in such a way to bruise his whole body, simultaneously give himself a black eye, and absolutely smash his liver into two halves against the wall of his vertebra, without any help from the big white policeman who arrested him is a mystery. We can only surmise that it must have been the greatest fall ever since the great fall of Lucifer, the father of all liars!
What about the case of David Hicks, 5 years incarceration without any charges in a foreign prison? Hicks, an Australian who confessed to training with terrorists, was allowed to languish in a foreign prison by then Australian Foreign Minister, Alexander Downer, without any due process of law. Nowhere was the spirit and values of “mate-ship” and “fair go” shown in the case of Hicks. Whatever happened to democracy and the rule of law that requires a fair and speedy trial, let alone the presumption of innocence until proven guilty in a proper court system?
What is the content of mate-ship and fair go in a legal democracy if the minimum requirements of due process are not? If Alexander Downer, standing next to Howard when he espoused the values of mate-ship and fair go in that 2007 Australia Day speech, as Foreign Minister, could not see the practical outworking and application of these values to an unfortunate David Hicks in a US prison, what hope is there to expect any resonance for these values in greater Australian community?
Recently, after sustained media scrutiny and when it became political suicide in an election year to keep Hicks in Guantanamo Bay, Downer was forced to relent. He asked the US to release Mr. Hicks to an Adelaide prison for his own political interests, which the US promptly did.
Why did Downer take 5 torturous years to do this? You have to wonder about the basic value system and moral constitution, if any, of leaders of a country who engage in such elaborate policy gymnastics with human lives, and about the system of democracy that allows such to go unsanctioned.
You have to wonder about the general ethos of the population of Australia, whether they have lost their humanity, like salt that loses its saltiness. Did Hicks somehow became a lesser human being, or lesser Australian, that he was deliberately abandoned and discarded by his own Government to be openly tortured by another government under a penal system that was declared illegal, even by the much venerated US Supreme Court, and the people of Australia would not even raise one eyebrow?
It is curious that most of the judges on the US Supreme Court were appointed by successive Bush (father and son) administrations but they were disturbed enough to find it judicially profane to endorse the then President’s antics in Guantanamo. If Australia believes 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 concerning Hicks. .It obviously did not.
What is the content of ‘fair go’ and “mate-ship” 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?
The then Federal Labor Opposition in Australia, now in government, stood back and cheered to the tortured screams of men like Hicks, Habib and others in Guantanamo. It was certainly a funny way to sow the seeds of mate-ship and fair go for both Howard and Downer.
What could possibly be at the heart of this generation of politicians, both Liberal and Labor, across the full spectrum of Australian politics that compels them to instantly abandon the values of democracy, human rights and due process, let alone mate-ship and fair go, and summon such capacity for callous indifference? They could almost hear in Canberra the screams of anguish from the torture of their own citizens in Guantanamo, and yet chose to tune out, and acquiesce to the work of the American torturers and their government. You cannot help but ask, ultimately, to what greater good, and to whose gain?
President Obama since coming into office, with better judgment, declared Guantanamo shut. Had Australian politicians possessed any real sense for rights of human beings, they could have offered guidance and counsel to the much erring Bush Administration earlier in the piece. Regrettably that was not to be. With the onset of Obama Administration’s call on Guantanamo to be quietly phased out, we have to ask what now becomes of persons held unreasonably without trial and tortured over many years without any real cause. Have these people ceased being human? How does one subsequently guarantee these people a fair trial let alone recompense and restore the innocent that have been psychologically and financially destroyed?
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 re-traces his footsteps into that long forgotten darkness of the Stone Age and the Middle Ages from which we have evolved?
The essential quandary which Howard’s Australia has painted itself into with the mariners’ catch cries is that if “mate-ship” and “fair go” do not find their outworking in human rights, justice, fairness and due process for its indigenous people and for boatpeople (including access to Australian Lawyers and Australian Courts which comes from being processed on Australian soil), then Howard’s values are but hollow platitudes. Australia will be a country devoid of any real values if these phrases crafted out of Convict Mariners’ survival catch cries, these so called “values,” cannot be humanely applied to the Indigenous population of Australia or the current refugees arriving in boats.
Australia has no basis to treat these new arrivals as criminals or illegals. It has every basis to treat them as refugees, and process them according to the normal international rules under the UN Refugee Convention, which it is obligated to apply.
The Australian government is legally and morally obliged to accept and process the boat people on Australian soil, treat them fairly and accord them respect and due process, because it and its people (apart from Aborigine people) are not in a higher, better or more legal position than these.
Alexander Downer will be judged by history and nature for his part in the Hicks case. As for Hicks, he stands a judged and condemned man whether in or out of prison, and will never know whatever happened to mate-ship, fair go and due process; let alone democracy and freedom the causes for which the West has waged war against Afghanistan and Iraq and continues to slaughter hundreds of thousands of people. He will never forget as long as he lives that his own government abandoned him to another government to be tortured and treated inhumanely. He, along with Mahmud Habib and others, will remain an emblem and a reminder to every Australian child of what their government is capable of doing to them when they are at their most vulnerable.
For the Pacific countries, especially the Melanesian States, Australia’s human rights record and its treatment of its Indigenous people is a real measuring stick for realizing that, no matter how much Aborigine blood money Australia spends on the Pacific (and in Canberra in the name of the Pacific), Australia has no real values to guide it as a nation. It has 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 for the Indigenous people, how can the Pacific people, especially Melanesians, expect that anything good would come out of Canberra for the Pacific, and 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 off 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?