DEAR Mr Rudd,
As the new Prime Minister of Australia and the man leading the Labor Party into the next election, I would like to ask you a question.
What do you think we stand for as a nation?
What does it mean to be Australian?
In essence, how would you like Australia to identify itself and be viewed by the rest of the world?
I live in London, you see. Been here for about 6 years and, it being a multi-national, global city, I’m constantly meeting people from all over the world. A common question I get is “Why are you here?! When you could be in a beautiful, warm place like Australia?”
The question both bores me (I get it about once a week) and gives me a small sense of national pride. I know Australia is a great place with friendly people. I’m proud of its natural wonders and there’s nothing I look forward to more than going home once every couple of years and sitting in a rainforest or on a beach for a day and enjoying its beauty.
Then there are the questions from those with a more thorough understanding of Australia — those who read papers, listen to the news and who are up-to-date with global current affairs. These people ask me other questions.
They ask me how I feel about the way asylum seekers are treated.
They ask me what I think about the Australian Aboriginals and the fast growing opinion that Australia is a racist country.
They ask me about the position of women in Australia and what my feelings are on the way Julia Gillard was treated during her time in office.
They ask me about the mining boom and what the general attitude is to digging up natural resources at the expense of natural beauty.
These questions are very difficult to answer in a positive way. Often I can only shrug my shoulders and shake my head and wonder what has become of my country. Shame replaces pride and I ask myself the question that I am asking you: “What do we stand for as a nation?”
We’ve struggled with questions of identity ever since Europeans landed on Australia’s shores. In a way it’s brought about an endearing quality in the people – a fun loving bunch of larrikins who are always up for a beer and a laugh.
An outspoken nation of vagabonds who live free from a class system. A rabble of travelers roaming the world to see as much as we can. A young colony of underdogs eager to show the rest of the world what we can do on the sporting field and “stick it up the poms” (no joy in that lately).
These are all fine traits and, however superficial, I’m happy to claim them. More important however are the qualities, ideals and values drilled into me like the Ten Commandments growing up in Brisbane – giving people a fair go, helping out a mate, being fair dinkum and honest. It’s what gives Australia its heart and soul. The spirit of Australia, and Australians.
When you signed the agreement with Papua New Guinea that ensured all asylum seekers arriving by boat would be sent to PNG with absolutely no chance of ever getting refugee status in Australia, not only did you turn my country’s back on the world’s most vulnerable people, you jeopardised these very qualities and values of an Australia I hold dear. Instead of giving people a fair go, and helping out a mate, and backing the underdog, you have perpetuated a growing global attitude that Australia is a selfish, racist, fearful country.
I know there are many people in support of this policy, and it’s easier to bow to popular belief than it is to change the minds and attitudes of a people — especially only weeks away from an election. I know things are good in Australia at the moment, and there is actually very little to fix and few opportunities to make your mark. I know it’s probably futile to argue the pros of making it easier for people to seek refuge in Australia, or question the cost on taxpayers of running the detention centres. I know that you know how horrible those places are, and how inhumane it is to detain men, women and children under those conditions. I know that it’s pointless to highlight the insane irony of a nation founded by boat people refusing to help those desperately seeking a home “girt by sea”.
However, I also know there are many Australians out there, like myself, who still hold on to the values and beliefs that make us “True Blue”. And I know that we will not go away and that we will keep trying to represent an Australia that cares about more than just itself. And I believe that one day we will look back on these times and these policies and say to our children, “Never Again”.
The question still remains: What does our nation stand for? I very much hope you can answer that, because at the moment I just don’t know.