This Australia Day I’m doing what I’ve done pretty much every Australia Day since I became a citizen, and what thousands of other Aussies will be doing too: having a barbie with some mates, listening to TripleJ’s Hottest 100 and drinking more than is good for me. There’ll be more than 12 of us, and there’s a high likelihood that we’ll swear and make noise.
In a short time this will be the sort of behaviour that gets you locked up in Queensland.
The Police Powers and Responsibilities and Other Legislation Amendment Bill, currently before Qld State Parliament, proposes jail terms and fines of more than $12,000 for the organisers of events that are deemed to be out-of-control. It defines an out-of-control event as “a gathering of 12 people or more if three of them interfere with the public by swearing, making excessive noise or being drunk in a public place”. It will become law as the LNP have a huge majority here.
This is what we’ve become. Even something as Australian as a BBQ can be twisted into criminal behaviour.
There’s something apt about Australia’s national day being held on the date that whitefellas arrived, looked around and said “Rightio, we’ll have this then”, ignoring the fact that one of the world’s oldest and longest surviving civilisations was already here.
It’s a great reminder of the dark origins of the modern state and the throbbing vein of bile than runs through this nation’s heart.
I became an Australian by choice. I chose this country, an immigrant who already had dual citizenship of two prosperous nations, because I believed the rhetoric about the Australian identity. This was the future: we would throw off our colonial shackles and lead the way: a proud nation where everyone got a fair go, and everyone prospered. By the time I became a citizen, I had been shocked to learn that the first Bill passed by the brand new nation of Australia was the White Australia policy. But that was in the past, I thought. We were making bold steps towards reconciliation with the First Peoples. The same month I became a citizen, I walked in the first Sorry Day. I genuinely believed that we would continue on the trajectory towards true equality.
In those days Australia Day was a lot less jingoistic. Nobody celebrated by buying up foreign made tat and hanging it out the car window. Supermarkets did not pimp inaccurate and offensive t-shirts. There were no race riots. Nobody said “Fuck off, we’re full.”
In those days we didn’t demonise asylum seekers. Even in Qld, the Joh-era anti-association laws were a thing of the past. We embraced multiculturalism, celebrated the fact we had one the world’s biggest Gay Pride celebrations, had young women in high profile political roles.
I don’t think it was a coincidence.
Mean-spirited, ignorant racism was always festering under the skin of the nation. The people who’d excluded Aboriginals and women from bars and called Italian and Greek immigrants wops and wogs were part a long tradition of white men asserting their dominion over women and brown people. The British Empire was built on it. The wealthy threw crumbs to the white working man in order to keep him working for their gain. Two World Wars where ordinary men died in their thousands broke the spell for a while. The myth that the rich were intrinsically superior was destroyed.
But memories fade quickly and unemployment was high. Interest rates were high. Fear of losing what little had been gained needed a target. Pauline Hanson gave it one. John Howard gave it legitimacy.
Since then both Labour and the Liberal National Coalition have been poisoning our national culture with the politics of hate and our press have joined them, amplifying division and silencing dissent. We’re going backwards. This great nation is being sold cheap for the sake of corporate profit and human rights are being trampled in the process.
Those who fought for the end of the White Australia policy, who voted Yes in the referendum that finally gave Indigenous Australians the vote, those of us who are aghast at the things being done in our name need to stand up and be counted, drown out the baying of the hate-filled minority that are determined to turn mate against mate.
So today I’ll be rowdy if I like and have fun with my mates without fear while I can. For the rest of this year I’m going to speak out about the fact that this Australian wants better for Australia. I’m going to take action and fight for the Australia I want, an Australia where all people are free and equal. Before they take that right away from us, too.