Australia: a country of vengeful malcontents

24 Jan



In this piece titled “Manus Island: what will it take to shock us?” Julian Burnside, barrister and refugee advocate, gives a powerful synopsis of the cruelty the Australian public is prepared to tolerate its governments inflicting on asylum seekers, in the crazed collective desire to “stop the boats” and protect the country’s “sovereign borders.”

The answer to Mr Burnside’s question is, of course, that the only thing that will shock anyone at this point is a government that is prepared to cease and desist from using asylum seekers as human fodder in election campaigns. We have reached the stage in this matter where the only possibility for provoking shock is decent behaviour.

The contempt in which the Australian public holds asylum seekers who arrive here by boat is sickening. As has been noted on other occasions, we treat people who are far more threatening to us individually and collectively much better than we treat unarmed people seeking sanctuary who travel here by boat. The unexamined hatred, prejudice, loathing and contempt directed towards asylum seekers, chillingly orchestrated by political leaders of both major parties, is mind numbing, and it has numbed the minds of the Australian public in general to the degree that many believe we aren’t harsh enough. 60% of Australians, according to a poll conducted in September 2014, (see link) believe we are not treating waterborne asylum seekers badly enough.

From a psychological perspective, this leads me to believe that we are a nation of desperately unhappy, dissatisfied people who for many reasons, some of them undeniably sound, live with a sense of profound grievance that has to negatively express itself towards somebody and something. I draw this conclusion because people who are living lives in which they find satisfaction and enjoyment at least some of the time, are not inclined to desire the persecution of others, let alone bay for blood like rabid wolves because a few thousand stateless persons have turned up looking for sanctuary.

Regrettably, it would seem that these miserably vengeful Australians are in the majority, and one has to ask, why is this so? What has gone so awry in this lucky country that so many of us need to take out our apparently endemic discontent on the helpless and the vulnerable? Because it is not only asylum seekers towards whom this loathing is directed, although they are the extreme example of its concrete manifestation at this moment in time. In reality, any individual and group that can be defined as less than what the miserable majority  consider the “norm” are targeted for persecution in some way, and our politicians lead the ranting, bloodthirsty, vengeful pack.

“Fair go” is a principle inherent in the Australian “character?” My arse it is. My arse it ever has been. If it was, we would not have politicians who seek election and re-election on the backs of the most vulnerable in the first place, because it wouldn’t win them votes.

What will it take for us to be shocked? Common sense and decency in our political leaders. That’s what it will take to shock us. Don’t hold your breath. Neither of those things is coming to a marketplace near you anytime soon.

This blog on The Monthly on conditions on Manus as reported by workers there is well worth a read. Thanks to Robyn here for the link.



27 Responses to “Australia: a country of vengeful malcontents”

  1. Elisabeth January 24, 2015 at 8:59 am #

    I’m appalled to think that so many of us embrace this cruelty. I don’t want to believe it and yet it must be true. There are days when I can barely think about it for more than a few minutes at a time, whenever I see another asylum seeker with lips sewn together or try to imagine what it must be like living in limbo day after day and not knowing what will happen to me. It’s the callous disregard that gets to me. I want to say to the 60 percent of people who reckon it’s okay to do this to people who come there to seek asylum, what if it were you or yours? Would you still carry on about queue jumping and false documents? I want a government that will stand up to this cruelty and say no. We do not behave like this. We are better than that.

    Liked by 2 people

    • helvityni January 24, 2015 at 9:26 am #

      I don’t want to believe that the percentage is as high as 60, but I’m starting to think it might be even higher…
      The asylum seeker numbers are not that high, we could stop/or cut down the ordinary immigration, and let in more of the that neediest.

      We were not too friendly towards the Greeks, Italians, Yugoslavs or Hungarians either ; according to hubby the Dutch, and Germans were accepted, well they looked like Aussies after all…

      It was Howard who used the policies of Pauline to nurture xenophobia.

      Liked by 2 people

      • Elisabeth January 24, 2015 at 9:50 am #

        Helvi, like your husband, my parents were Dutch. They came to Australia in the early fifties. The Dutch were known as good assimilators. Maybe it was easier for them in some ways. My parents already had a reasonable command of English. They learned at school. But their accents were thick, especially my father’s and he did not find it easy to relate to the Australians, as did my mother. In any case, my mother tells the story of how hard it was for my father to find suitable work.
        ‘You have to be ten times better than the Australians to get a job,’ he said.

        Anecdotal, I know, and not necessarily characteristic of everyone else’s expense, but I remember myself in the sixties and seventies how cruel people were to the more dark-skinned mediterranean migrants and how impatient we can be even today with people whose accents are less familiar.

        I feel most ashamed that we expect others to learn english and mock them for their accents and halting speech when they in fact are so much more capable than we the monolinguals who cannot possibly know how hard it is to try to straddle two or more languages, two or more cultures, two or more ways of life. and increasingly our way of life is looking more and more dodgy. More one of self interest and disregard for the suffering of others.

        I relish your blog Jennifer, for your ability to articulate these concerns in ways that are forthright, intelligent and accessible. You call a spade a spade and I’m grateful.

        Liked by 4 people

        • Jennifer Wilson January 24, 2015 at 10:01 am #

          Mrs Chook’s husband was Dutch and his experience was very similar to that of your parents.

          We have everything in this country, we are up there with the safest places in the world to live, we could do so much better with our attitudes to Indigenous people, people who are vulnerable for all kinds of reasons, but our politicians have no vision, no backbone, no interest in anything other than seizing and holding onto power. as long as this continues the cruelty will continue.

          Thank you for your kind comments, I’m so pleased you feel that way about the blog.

          Liked by 1 person

        • helvityni January 24, 2015 at 10:08 am #

          Elizabeth, it was easier for my mother in law to assimilate, she was a true pioneer woman; she visited the neighbours who were not used to this kind of informal ‘popping in’ ,and therefore stood in the kitchen…hoping she would leave.
          She did not : Let’s sit down and have a nice cup( kopje) tea…

          Now the old neighbours remember her with fondness, they miss her, she was a kind of a cheerful positive go-between in that neighbourhood.

          Liked by 2 people

  2. paul walter January 24, 2015 at 11:08 am #

    I think you are your mum’s daughter Helvi and that is a beautiful thing, from where I stand.

    Liked by 2 people

    • helvityni January 24, 2015 at 2:10 pm #

      Than you, paul, for your kindness…


      • paul walter January 24, 2015 at 2:54 pm #

        No. I beleive it’s a realistic assessment.

        It’s a shame when society reaches the stage that “normal” can stand out like a beacon, against the greater darkness,

        Liked by 1 person

  3. paul walter January 24, 2015 at 11:54 am #

    Re the thread, I thought a hint came this morning in an article in the Saturday Paper, by Deborah Jopson, on how new US legislation (ITAR), applied universally, has enabled a US defence company to override local anti discrimination legislation at federal and state level as to hiring/firing practices.

    The Australian outlook is not unique, also observe the paranioa that festers,often nurtured, drives life in the Deep South or in Israel, also back during the apartheid times in South Africa. This now grows like a cancer in Europe with disastrous consequences for both Muslims and Jews, and ordinary Europeans, an example of an issue initially misrepresented for base motives, combined with something akin to the reactive fear and loathing you talk of, which is surely (maintainning of) a sort of mass psychosis, but prevented money being “wasted” on the global poor and maintaining decent labor laws at home, for Big Capital.

    In a nutshell, it involves anomie and a dreadful fear of disempowerment and things like local cvommunities overruled on desructive gas fracking, for example, can only exacerbate the uncertainty. Btw, the last chapters of 1984 give a lovely description of it and how it can be played out by those with power against those who wake up (Manning, Snowden, Assange, Aaron Schwarz) to the point of obliteration of ordinary people, “up against it”.

    Now, the powers that be have realised that it finds an identity in race issues that has been perversely encouraged and acts as a wonderful diversion from any recognition of where any real threat may arrive from within or withoutt, as well as damaging Australians themselves by interfering with their ability to see things as they are, free of an information vaccum and ideology onslaught. We are kept soul-sick because it’s to the benefit of a few, some of whom don’t even live here.

    A tendency to exploit race issues was once a thing decried by the political parties, but these days it’s a race to the bottom.. for my part, Í think John Howard and Murdoch are the ones most to blame, for setting fire to the kero at the beginning of the century.


  4. Graeme Swincer January 24, 2015 at 4:16 pm #

    The British thought slavery was OK and gave their government a huge mandate to support it. When William Wilberforce entered parliament the year after the First Fleet arrived in Australia he was ridiculed for opposing this institutionalised cruelty. It took 18 years to win through with a bill opposing slavery by the English and another 26 years for approval of the Slavery Abolition Act 1833 which granted freedom of all the slaves in the British Empire. It took a further 40 years for Lincoln to take political risks and decisive steps to end slavery in the USA. Another 100 years later it took the march of 250,000 people to the Lincoln Memorial national monument in Washington, led by Martin Luther King with his historic speech “I have a dream”, to break through legally and culturally entrenched injustice in the United States and beyond. We could be in for a long haul.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Nick January 24, 2015 at 5:49 pm #

    Hmm, interesting to note UMR Research is “the primary private pollster to the Labor Party both federally and in every state and territory, as well as the New Zealand Labour Party, for the last 10 years”.

    For some balance, here’s the July 2014 Essential Report:

    “Do you think the Federal Liberal/ National Government is too tough or too soft on asylum seekers or is it taking the right approach?”

    27% responded ‘too tough’ (compared to 25% in March)
    36% ‘taking the right approach’ (34% in March)
    18% ‘too soft’ (28% in March)
    18% ‘don’t know’ (13% in March).

    The ‘too tough’ option was indicated by 71% Greens, 46% Labor, and 5% Lib/ Nat. ‘Taking the right approach was indicated by 7% Greens voters, 19% Labor, and 65% Lib/Nat. ‘Too soft’ was indicated by 8% Greens, 17% Labor, 20% and Lib/Nat.

    So, one polling company finds 60% of Australians think we need tougher border protection policies – and convinced Gillard/Rudd of the need to pour billions of dollars more into our security and military industries to solve this “perception problem”.

    Another finds a mere 18% of Australians think we need tougher border protection policies. In January 2014, before the Manus Island riots and Reza Berati’s murder, that figure was 25%.

    (The March figure of 28% referred to above was actually from late-Feb – it was recorded in the week directly following the riots)


    • Nick January 24, 2015 at 5:56 pm #

      “60% of Australians, according to a poll conducted in September 2014, (see link) believe we are not treating waterborne asylum seekers badly enough.”

      Jennifer, just to clarify, that UMR poll was conducted in December 2013, not September 2014…


      • Jennifer Wilson January 24, 2015 at 6:01 pm #

        Thank you for clarifying that, Nick.

        I don’t see much evidence that attitudes are changing for the better towards asylum seekers, certainly not in LNP government policies. I agree with Julian Burnside, nobody much cares what is happening on Manus, and the government seems to believe it is acting on the wishes of the majority of Australians


        • Nick January 24, 2015 at 6:38 pm #

          Governments will always claim to be “acting on the wishes of the majority of Australians”.

          The biggest problem in Australia is one of complacency. Border security, treatment of asylum seekers, terrorism, all consistently fail to make it into the top 10 issues people say they’ll be voting on…

          But that’s a long way from the majority of Australians wanting asylum seekers to suffer more.

          Unfortunately, in the 2013 election they weren’t given a choice. Rudd’s campaign was over the second he announced Labor’s PNG policy.


          • Jennifer Wilson January 24, 2015 at 6:39 pm #

            Nick, I actually think complacency is no different to wanting to see more suffering, and may even be worse. Complacency says don’t care.


            • Nick January 24, 2015 at 9:49 pm #

              I won’t start defending it as a good thing. But I can’t agree it’s as bad as “The majority of Australians want boat arrivals treated more harshly”, which is what The Age irresponsibly claimed.

              People who ‘don’t care’ can have their minds changed, as Doug mentions below. According to Essential, even a third of the people who did think “the Federal Liberal/National Government is too soft on asylum seekers”, had modified that view within a few months of the events on Manus Island…

              I’m sorry, but I can’t accept that UMR poll as evidence for what you’re saying. The director of UMR is from a military family. His personal youtube account subscribes to several military channels. Eg, this one:

              This is someone we should trust to tell us “what the Australian public thinks” about their Government shovelling more money into the military? With professional advisors like that, no wonder Gillard and Rudd got it so wrong.

              People want to be inspired to think beyond themselves, and vote for something other than their hip pocket. I honestly believe that. But, as you say, Jennifer, it’s just not happening.



              • Jennifer Wilson January 25, 2015 at 4:33 am #

                I don’t accept any poll as being definitive, they are polls, taken at a particular moment in time. nothing more than good or inadequate guides, depending on the pollster you favour, to that particular moment.

                What I do see is an increasingly barbaric treatment of human beings by both major parties, and this consistently failing to be enough of an issue with the voting public to stop them. Indeed, “stop the boats” was like Abbott’s “we will decide who comes to this country” moment, and Rudd’s and Gillard’s moments, they all took this same course on the issue because it appealed to voters. It still does. The worse it gets, the less interested voters seem to be in it.

                I don’t agree that people necessarily want to be inspired beyond themselves. Some people do. Others seem to suffer from a type of narcissism that prevents them ever looking outside of themselves, and they seem to be in control at the moment.


      • Marilyn January 25, 2015 at 7:25 pm #

        A poll of 1,000 people is not the frigging gospels, why do any media or writers take them as facts?

        There was no strife and little need to protest while Rudd was pretty much upholding the refugee convention, much to protest against the racist Gillard and worse Abbott.

        Two vicious, racist, scumbag boat people.


    • doug quixote January 24, 2015 at 6:30 pm #

      The figures aren’t all that different, if you add “just right” to ” too soft” and then distribute the “don’t knows”. A figure of 60% for “tougher than Labor’s policies” is then easily obtained.

      I don’t like it either, but that’s how it is.

      We need better information and education of the mass of voters; programs like “Go Back to Where You Came From” are a fine start but they need to be backed up by a more relentless campaign. That would cost money, a lot of money.

      Liked by 1 person

      • helvityni January 25, 2015 at 8:38 am #

        Did it cost Howard a lot of money to make Oz xenophobic, did it cost Abbott a lot of money to repeat his three word slogans: stop the boats.
        . It is costing Australia plenty to keep the poor bastards in detention forever..

        Liked by 1 person

        • paul walter January 25, 2015 at 10:57 am #

          If you add up the $billions splurged including through the contracts racket, then add the phony wars and the weird defence procurements processes ( don’t buy it unless it is a crock), you begin to wonder at what an illusion the so called buget crisis is.


        • Mayan January 25, 2015 at 5:49 pm #

          Oddly, immigration increased quite markedly during the Howard junta, including immigration from the Middle East.


          • Marilyn January 25, 2015 at 7:25 pm #

            Yes but immigration is nothing to do with refugees seeking asylum.


            • Mayan January 26, 2015 at 8:55 am #

              Indeed, but it doesn’t comport with helvityni’s assertion of xenophobia.


  6. Poirot January 25, 2015 at 11:51 am #

    I’m afraid they’ve collectively tapped the nation’s basest instincts.

    Goering explains here how to do it…remains ever true.

    “…..But, after all, it is the leaders of the country who determine the policy and it is always a simple matter to drag the people along, whether it is a democracy or a fascist dictatorship or a Parliament or a Communist dictatorship.”

    “There is one difference,” I pointed out. “In a democracy the people have some say in the matter through their elected representatives, and in the United States only Congress can declare wars.”

    “Oh, that is all well and good, but, voice or no voice, the people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. That is easy. All you have to do is tell them they are being attacked and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger. It works the same way in any country.”

    Liked by 1 person

    • paul walter January 25, 2015 at 11:58 am #

      Poirot…a timely reminder. I agree with it and think that a huge chunk of Australia’s population wouldn’t know shit from clay.

      What can you for the nous of a nation on the verge of being sold Paulone Hanson yet again?

      Liked by 1 person

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