Bring them home

I’ve sat here for the last minutes wondering how to start this post. The dilemma, I felt, is that I didn’t want to bang the same drum as in numerous other posts in the past. Nor did I want to sound too harsh or critical. Believe it or not, I don’t enjoy writing negative posts. The problem is, there’s a lot of negative stuff to write about – but it’s dispiriting to grizzle.

So what to do? I can only say it as it is – or how it seems to me, anyway. So let’s get the ranting part out of the way early. I’m about to criticise the government again. I can hardly describe how much I deplore them. So many of them terrible people, and I wonder why so many to the right of politics are so ugly – ugly, mean-spirited, narrow-minded and spiteful souls. Add to that racist, which isn’t news to anyone who pays any attention (the sad minority), but this time they’ve made it law.

Covid has been a controversial time, and that’s not really surprising. With so much happening so quickly and so much at stake, it’s terribly difficult and hard to act without making a mistake here or there and with any consensus. If you’re sensible, you accept that. The negativity pisses you off, but you roll with it; the stupid noise made by anti-vaxxers and anti-lockdown protestors you rationalise as a lunatic fringe; even the bungling of the vaccine roll-out is met more with a sigh than with anger.

What can’t be supported are the wilful decisions made for an obscure political cause and the decisions not made for the same reason.

Though the vaccine roll-out is a disaster here, we’re in a pretty healthy state in Australia relatively. We need to pick up our game or else get left behind, but our citizens – those resident at least – have good reason to feel pretty safe.

That’s not the case in many parts of the world, and in some parts, it has become catastrophic – Brazil being one, and India another.

The news services have been full of reports from India where hundreds of thousands are newly infected every day, where the sick spill onto the streets, where there’s a shortage of vaccines and oxygen, and, most horribly, the dead are burnt on makeshift biers in suburban streets. Someone I work with has come down with it, as has his whole family. These are terrible times.

In response, the Australian government announced a travel ban. No one can enter the country from India, not even our own citizens seeking to get home. They then doubled down by announcing that anyone caught flaunting the ban would be subject to huge fines and potential jail time. In effect, they’ve made it illegal for Australian citizens to return to their home country from India. So much for the rights of citizenship.

For me, the single greatest failure over the last year is the inability, and seeming unwillingness, of the Australian government to repatriate citizens to our home in a time of dire crisis.

I think, for the government, it’s another political hot potato that’s easier to deal with by doing nothing. Expat Australians are out of sight and out of mind, they figure, and their votes don’t amount to much anyway. Why exert yourself on their behalf when there’s the risk of Covid?

To be fair, it’s been a long time since an Australian government took responsibility for our citizens abroad. I always had the idealistic notion that as an Australian citizen, if ever I got in trouble overseas, the government would help. How wrong I was! Regardless of stripe, successive Australian governments have failed in this regard. Some of it is political – Julian Assange being an example of an individual whose rights as a citizen have been found wanting when weighed against political alliance (i.e. diplomatic toadyism). The rest is apathy.

I know there are Australians right now who agree with the government, certainly regarding the travel ban from India. They argue the risk of bringing in people from such a dangerous environment risks infecting the broader community at large. That’s a fair argument, but it highlights the abject failure of the government to act before now.

To start with, Australians wishing to come home should have been able to get in long before now. There shouldn’t be a queue, but the stories are rife of ex-pats unable to get flights back, lose bookings because of scarce seats, or be charged a fortune to get back. Remember, the government promised that the backlog would be cleared by last Christmas. Not even close.

Even so, and if we accept that virus of some type will remain in the community for years to come, then we should have made a start on the infrastructure to support that reality. Had we acted last year, we should have been in a position now to bring our people home.

The government did nothing and shows no sign of doing anything. Once more, it’s the state governments who take the lead. Both Queensland and Victoria have proposed purpose-built quarantine facilities in the country. There’s another facility in the NT standing empty. There’s even Christmas Island.

It can hardly be disputed that we need these facilities. They have to be built. As we’ve learned to our cost, Hotels are not made to house sick and contagious people.

We should have these facilities now and, failing that, should be building them now. And a truly inclusive government would be seeking to bring its citizens home by any means – charter flights and the RAAF seem obvious options. No sign of that happening in the foreseeable future, when this is something that should have happened last year.

Now we have made it a crime to come home. Make no mistake, this is a racist act. Most of those affected by this ban are Indian-Australian – people with different skin colour to the Australian prime minister. Can you imagine the same ban being imposed on people from a western country? No. It’s a decision consistent with much in this government. We’ve had hundreds of thousands from western societies overstay tourist visas, while people who come in desperate straits on leaking boats are exiled for years on end to places like Manus Island. The difference? None of them is white.

The government doesn’t care. It’s political for them. It’s a sad thing to admit, but it’s a decision that plays well to their constituency – the casually racist, indifferent, uneducated rump who respond best to slogans and mindless claims of patriotism, which the government specialises in.

It’s shocking, but none of it surprises me anymore. It just makes me sad.

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