We have seen ourselves as “The Lucky Country” for the past forty years. A high standard of living, a good and affordable education system, a well maintained and accessible health system, plentiful supplies of reasonably priced energy and a high standard of civil liberties in an incorruptible political system were all accepted as just part of life. 

Now we are being confronted with features of Australian life which we thought were either buried, or “would not happen here.”

As we developed an accepting, diverse multicultural society, with a great deal of agreement between both the political left and right, it seemed that the days of the White Australia Policy were gone forever.  We welcomed Vietnamese asylum seekers who arrived in their thousands by boat.  We established a superb well funded English teaching system to allow them to take full part in Australian life. Similarly with the 1967 referendum, we thought that the old  exclusionist attitude to our First Nations people was on the way out.

For a time, tertiary education was free. Families which had never had access to higher education produced children with masters and doctorates. A national health system was introduced, with some rumblings from the doctors union, but it got through. There was a real attempt to introduce equality of educational opportunity and the Schools Commission spent millions of dollars and years of work to create an inclusive society with a highly skilled workforce.

One of the headlines which with we were confronted on 22 August 2015 gives stark illustration of where we are now headed. “One woman lies catatonic in hospital after being raped and beaten. Another was raped and immolated. This is the world awaiting refugees released from detention on Nauru.”  [Martin McKenzie-Murray in The Saturday Paper].

The journalist put it very succinctly in his account of this “war on women” on Nauru, in our camps:

“We have built camps in our name that house damaged children, yet denude privacy and employ guards without background checks. Camps that encourage abuse, intimidation and the hypersexualisation of children. Camps that cannot provide nominal release dates to its subjects, creating purgatories. …….. . “If I see child abuse in Australia and I don’t report it, I can get into enormous trouble,” David Isaacs, a paediatrician, said last week. “If I see child abuse on Nauru and I do report it, I might go to prison for two years.”

Secrecy is used by totalitarian regimes afraid of opposition from public opinion. This is now being used in Australia.

Regimes fearful of their people also attack civil liberties and the judiciary. Daniel Ellery deals with this in “Abbott’s fear-mongering threatens our civil liberties” [Independent Australia 21 August 2015]. It is intended to put mining projects beyond the power of the courts while the fear campaign on terror continues to be useful in justifying reductions in civil liberties. He calls on Australians to be vigilant in defense of democracy, concluding: “If Tony Abbott and the Liberal Party can be given one concession, it is that they have hopefully shaken the trappings of apathy and indifference from the Australian public.”

Apathy and ignorance are our greatest enemies.

Bilal Cleland is a keen reader, a prolific writer and a regular columnist of AMUST based in Melbourne.