Proud second generation Australian Rob Idol was left disgusted with the Australian Border Force fiasco, not only for his country, but for his family.
Like a large number of people my age, I am a proud second generation Australian. My paternal grandparents made the arduous journey to our country to escape the Second World War. Hailing from a country that provided a strategic benefit to both the Russians and the Germans, at different points during the war it was occupied by both. Approximately 25% of the population of this country lost their lives during the war. That alone makes it easy to understand why they made the decision to start a new life on the other side of the globe.
I’ll never truly understand what they went through. The fear of occupation and potentially losing their lives, while not relatable, is an easily understood fear. But there was persecution that I could not fathom nor understand. In fact, I can’t even get details of what it was, such is the fear almost a century later.
I recall doing a school project on WW2 when I was a teenager. I chose to interview my paternal Grandmother as she had seen it firsthand. She was prepared to give me surface level answers, particularly focussing my attention towards the affinity she developed for her adopted homeland whilst indicating a sense of loss towards her birthplace. Then I asked about Nazis. She went very quiet, and her eyes widened with fear. I asked again, and she refused to answer. Her reluctance wasn’t a flashback to the persecution she may have endured, it was a present and very real fear that it was still not safe to talk about what she had experienced or witnessed.
It also gave me a fantastic understanding of why she has so much pride in Australia. It didn’t just represent escape, it represented a safe haven where the things she had been exposed to in Europe would never again happen; to her, her son or her grandchildren. Her life in Australia hasn’t been devoid of persecution. She experienced her fair share of racism as an Eastern-European with a heavy accent; my Father did also in early life. I never have. I’ve been blessed to have never been targeted or discriminated against based on my ethnicity. I’m very aware of how lucky I am; and the history of my family has ingrained a passionate desire to speak out against this type of discrimination or persecution wherever it rears its ugly head.
It is for this reason I can’t stay silent on what was proposed and almost happened in Melbourne last Friday. As I’ve maintained in all of my writing, I firmly believe that most of the major issues in this country have their solutions in the middle; an area where the focus is on fair and reasonable solutions devoid of ideological rhetoric. Unfortunately the proposed actions of the Australian Border Force in Melbourne last week were a slap in the face to every single victim of persecution that has made Australia their home based on the promise that it represented; the promise that the level of oppression, persecution and fascism that they witnessed or experienced would never be repeated. There is no balanced argument on measures like this; everyone from the Right, Left and Middle need to make it very clear that this almost crossed a very dangerous and unacceptable line.
The Australian Public were overwhelmingly shocked and appalled by an announcement last week that Abbott’s newly formed “Australian Border Force”, the armed upgrade to our Customs Department, would be patrolling the Melbourne CBD with the Victorian Police, “speaking with any individuals we cross paths with”. That’s right, in 2015 in Australia, we were going to have armed government employees on the streets of one of our largest cities randomly asking members of the public to prove that they were legally entitled to be in this country. It wasn’t a stretch to see some terrifying parallels between this and certain regimes of the past that were in the habit of asking people on the street for their “papers’.
Unsurprisingly, and hearteningly, the Australian public mobilised immediately in protest. Within hours, a mass protest was underway in the Melbourne CBD sending a clear message. Social Media was filled with a combination of pleas and memes comparing Abbott to Hitler and Stalin. Memes that not long ago would have been the most extreme form of satire, but now were not that far from the truth. The Australian public ferociously echoed a sentiment that the Government should have already known to be true…..never again. The operation was cancelled within hours.
We were told that it was just a big misunderstanding. No-one was going to be randomly checked; it would only be those that were already identified as “persons of interest”. We were then told that the press release was badly worded with the blame being shifted onto low level employees; the governmental equivalent of blaming faceless middle management.
No-one is suggesting that the potential consequences of being found breaching border protection laws were akin to those of being identified as Jewish by the SS. The truth is, it doesn’t matter. The parallel is simply too close for comfort. The intention and the method were eerily similar to those from one of the darkest chapters in human history. Let alone the fact that our detention centres, a potential destination for offenders, are only a slightly more PC version of internment camps.
Border protection and supposed “illegal” immigration is not a black and white issue. It is a multilayered problem without a clear solution. We have to balance our own needs with our basic human requirement and duty to help those in need. However, the operation that almost went ahead on Friday is not multilayered, it’s not grey; it is unequivocally wrong.
Anyone walking down the street in Australia has the basic right to not be singled out and harassed without strong cause. No innocent person in this country should ever be faced with the fear that was still so present in my Grandmother’s eyes. The fear of an armed officer singling them out and asking them to prove the validity of their presence without justifiable cause. The reality is, no matter how the Government try to spin it, innocent members of the public were going to be subjected to exactly that. If there was justifiable cause for any of the “persons of interest” to be suspected of breaching border protection law, then they could have been investigated and prosecuted in the normal way. The way that our system of justice is supposedly built on; where innocence is presumed and guilt has to be proven. This kind of operation stinks of Fascism, it stinks of Persecution, it stinks of Racism and it stinks of Bigotry.
Quite frankly, it just stinks.