This article in the Guardian by Adam Brereton has intruded heavily on my thoughts this afternoon. The thesis – the cruel treatment of asylum seekers and its place and connection to Australian history – is one I have not considered before. As my knowledge of pre-federation Australian history is so poor, I immediately felt lost even thinking about it.
However re-reading the article, what jumped off the page was my personal interpretation of the language used. These days, I am not shocked anymore when I see Australian government policy described as cruel. Sometime in the recent past, cruel became normal. I like to think this isn’t acceptance however I’d be wrong. These policies simply are what occurs, what else could there be?
Perhaps I didn’t think closely about the treatment of asylum seekers while a government I supported was in power. Perhaps the severity of Operation Sovereign Borders has smacked me across the face over the past months. Yet something about the juxtaposition of Australian history and asylum policy stuck a chord. The hurt of Rufus Dawes especially. Reading this article, I felt uncomfortable and I felt disappointment about Australian policies governing asylum seekers.
These previously distant emotions were forcefully driven home by the final sentences:
“Yes they have, they came illegally.” Even if that were the case, so did your ancestors – and they were treated the same way. That’s the trained outburst of a broken person, who identifies with the authority that dominates him rather than with justice – not the words of a natural bigot.
Why is Australian culture cruel? Because that’s the behaviour our cruel state demands from us to show loyalty.
As a younger adult, my tendency was to believe the average Australian was a natural bigot. I have changed my mind since then, where I instead see a complexity of social and cultural forces shaping public attitudes.
To me, these complexities scream modern Australian culture is confused as opposed to cruel. I see much evidence to support this when I look across the political and social institutions of Australia, where cruelness is not the defining feature.
From this, I still draw hope the Australian public is not well symbolised by a broken person with regard to asylum seekers.
So while the hope remains, for the first time in too long a time, I am also uncomfortable once again. Thank you Adam Brereton for your excellent contribution.