The Queen is dead

As everyone knows by now, the queen is dead. Indeed, you’d be hard put to escape the news of it. Coverage of her life, her death, and what comes after is so pervasive that a random switching of the TV channel is likely to bring up another account of it. Much as I liked the queen – as, it seems, most did – there is something obscene about the wall-to-wall coverage. To my eye, it has become more than a celebration and commiseration of her life and death. There becomes something cynical and opportunistic, cloaked in mournful tones.

I liked the Queen. Most Australians did, even those advocates for a republic, as I am. We recognised her devotion to duty and common decency, her sense of humour and stout human values. She was a strong woman and ever-present in our cultural life. She embodied a view of Britain and Britishness which has perhaps become archaic in recent decades but which remained true in her. Whether it survives, her death will be interesting to see.

Though I don’t believe in the concept of monarchy, no one could claim she didn’t fulfil her ‘duty’ in the highest sense of the word. She was on the side of the people and shared herself with us.

I believe that inherited authority and privilege, as is embodied in a monarch, is an abomination. That it’s anti-democratic never gets a mention these days. And why should one set of people, one family, as such, be accorded such devotion and power by virtue of lucky birth?

Speaking for myself, I can’t recognise that authority over me. I find it mildly sickening how so many fawn over regals, but then it seems something human nature needs in some form. Like religion, it’s the craving for belief in a higher, benevolent power. I’ve never had that need, neither emotionally nor spiritually, and intellectually I can’t believe in it. Every man is entire to himself. You may choose to subvert yourself or choose independence.

I say all that and recognise at the same time that the queen gave herself to the institution. Perhaps she understood the privilege she was born into and was determined to repay it in public service. No one could ask anything more of her than what she gave. She was a great leader in her way and a splendid human being. A non-believer, I respect and admire her. I mourn her loss, and the world will be a lesser place without her.

In truth, I’ve always felt some sympathy for the royals. Much as I might decry their unearned privilege, much is expected of them. They’re born, live and die in the public eye. Every move they make is recorded in minute detail by the media – there’s even a scabrous set called ‘royal watchers’. They’re expected to do their duty, often at the cost of any private or personal life. They are hijacked from birth by an expectation they never asked for. For the most part, they give themselves over to it. There are few, like Harry, who escape it – though he still rides its coattails, nonetheless.

We have now entered into an absurd twilight with her death. Though it’s sad, it isn’t the tragedy some might think. I said to a friend a month ago that I had the feeling that the queen would die within a month. That I was right doesn’t make me Nostradamus – the Queen was 96, and this moment was coming. She led a full life and had a good go at it.

Aside from the media coverage, which we’ll have to endure until after her funeral, there are other absurdities, such as parliament shutting down – as if the world stops with her death. There was no sport played in England to honour her. And it’s been announced today that even here, in faraway Oz, there will be a once-off public holiday to mark her passing. I love a day off, but it’s becoming ridiculous.

When the dust settles finally, it will be interesting what the new world order that will emerge. While the Queen’s role was largely ceremonial, she was a great figurehead, and her personality was the glue that held much of the commonwealth together.

It’s long been said that Australia would never become a republic while the Queen still lived. The clamour for it has never gone away and has become louder in recent years. After a seemly pause, it will come again, and I suspect some of the coverage in recent days will drive more to the cause.

I suspect it will have further ramifications for the UK. I expect the case for Scottish Nationalism will re-surface. And there are already signs of a burgeoning Welsh independence group. Then there’s Ireland.

The monarch now is King Charles III. He’s a different character from his mum, but I’ve always liked him. I expect in his reign that we’ll witness much that changes.

It’s done

There was a chill in the air last night when I walked out the door, and the comforting tang of woodsmoke. It was quiet, peaceful. The sun had just set, leaving – for the moment – a fiery golden line on the western horizon. I walked down the street to collect my take-away Thai rugged up in a fur lined leather jacket, well aware of the moment and the gravity before us in the night ahead. I returned home to watch it unfold.

Long story short, we won. By we, I mean the people of Australia, and I think that’s probably true regardless of who you voted for. Gone is the government demonstrably corrupt and generally out of touch. It was a government of mediocre talent that achieved remarkably little of note through its tenure. They leave us worse off than when they began. They quadrupled our debt and have left nothing to show for it. Heavy industry has gone, and we have more holes in the ground. It was a government that narrowed our moral and ethical horizons and put self interest above the greater good. It was a dirty, incompetent government lead by a dirty, incompetent prime minister.

Now they are gone.

Just as I have for many years, I sat before my tv and watched as the story unfolded seat by seat. The two big stories of the night are the utter decimation of the Liberal party, and the irresistible rise of the independents. They add up to a change in government and a new PM – Anthony Albanese.

I feel we are witnessing a watershed moment in Australian politics. The Liberal party are on their way to irrelevance unless they change their ways. Judging by the post election commentary, the solution is to move further to the right. That defies logic and sense. They lost because they abandoned the moderate heartland of the Liberal party of old, leaving it to the independents to fill the void.

There’s nothing to the right for them except further irrelevance. It’s a cold, harsh and meaningless wasteland. It doesn’t work in Australia. Leave it to the nutters.

I wrote when Turnbull was deposed that I could see the Liberal party splintering because of the nonsensical conservative push within the party. In a sense, that has happened. There are few remaining Liberal moderates remaining after yesterday. The true moderates are wearing teal. The remaining members are grouchy conservatives, partnered with a National Party conservative by nature, but unable to ever claim power in their own right. After this, the LNP have become fringe. They won’t ever reclaim power until they broaden their church again, or if.

What this election tells us is that there’s a split between metropolitan and country Australia and, more roughly, a divide between north and south. Labor hold the cities more or less. Once their constituency was the working class; now it’s the educated professional class.

The outer suburbs trend more conservative the further you get out, right into the bush, we’re the National party holds sway for the most part. That’s true for North Queensland as well, and anywhere with a latitude above Brisbane.

Queensland has always been a strong bastion of LNP support, but surprisingly the Greens took some seats from them in Brisbane and in the south of the state.

Then there the independents. I think they’re a great thing. I think democracy thrives on diversity and questions being asked of the ruling power. By all appearances the independents- all women – are an outstanding bunch of candidates. They’re high achievers in life who are grounded in experience without the burden of overweening ego. I expect them to be reasonable and to push strongly for a fairer society better equipped to address the issues we face today. I voted for one, and she got up.

The big issue is climate change, and was a central point of difference between the Liberal government and the Labor party and independents campaigning against them. It will be priority number one with the new government, supported by the independent and Greens. I expect a bold and ambitious plan.

The other popular policy is regarding integrity in politics, aka corruption. There’s strong support to do something about that also, and it appears we’ll have a federal integrity commission before too long. This is big. I know, I don’t want to see or hear from Morrison again, until he appears in the dock before a federal ICAC. They’ll be selling tickets for that.

The cost of living and the economy generally are big issues, but harder to address. We’re buffeted by world events and have been saddled with public debt of about a trillion dollars. It’s an amazing amount when you consider nothing has been built or created from the 800 billion the LNP government added to it.

Debt must be managed, as must cost of living and housing affordability. The fortunate thing is that we have the best qualified treasurer for many years assume the position in Jim Chalmers. He’s a deeply impressive person and will be prime minister one day, in my opinion.

There are myriad other challenges. It won’t be easy. I think I speak for many Australians though when I say I fell I can breathe again. It’s like a dark cloud that has hovered above us for years has finally cleared. I can begin to hope again, and maybe begin to feel some pride once more that I’m an Aussie.

It’s time

Today is Election Day in Australia. A lot of us have been waiting for this day for a long time – three years to be precise, after the great disappointment of last time. I feel sure the result will be different this time, and finally, we’ll be rid of the worst, most corrupt government in our history. It’s a moment to savour – though I shouldn’t get ahead of the result.

With the Election Day finally, there’s no more campaigning, no more political advertising, rabid journalism, no more sham, pretence and dishonesty. Not for a little while, anyway. Truly, election campaigns are a thing from hell, dispiriting and overwhelming. I’m a political animal, but I switch channels when a political ad shows on TV or political news comes on. I can’t stomach the inanity and shallow, often biased commentary. Now we’re free of it.

Much in that nature, Scott Morrison was heard to say early in the campaign that Australia was the greatest country in the world. Lest he is exposed as a turncoat in tabloid headlines across the nation, the opposition leader, Anthony Albanese, was heard to pronounce the same soon after.

These are motherhood statements. By ritual, I reckon most leaders and would-be leaders say much the same thing in countless countries across the world. It’s meaningless drivel, of course, but I guess it’s intended to confirm their bona fides as a leader and affirm their commitment.

Not every country can be the greatest. I don’t even know what the criteria for the ‘greatest’ is. It’s an empty sentiment made up of bluster and insincerity. I don’t even know if it matters much, but, in any case, surely what defines the best and greatest is a matter of subjectivity?

It’s my subjective analysis that Australia is not the greatest country in the world. It pains my partisan heart to admit that, though it’s pretty clear that any claims to such a position have gone downhill in the last 10 years.

There was a time when I might have proudly believed there was no better place on earth than the lucky country. Even now, with the benefit of hindsight, it seems fair to claim that Australia of the late eighties and early nineties was not only a great place to be but a genuinely decent, egalitarian, progressive nation on top of it.

All that changed when Howard came into power in 1996. He was a small man in mind and body who seemed to resent the years his ambition had been thwarted. I don’t doubt that he was always innately conservative, but the years watching shinier, more articulate candidates get ahead of him had formed a view of the world that was crimped and narrow, and brewed a suspicion of anything original or daring or interesting. He set us back decades by discouraging progressive opinion and encouraging a bigoted, paternalistic perspective. He started the rot that has led us to the obnoxious, corrupt politics of the current government. It’s no wonder I hate John Howard, though I despise Morrison also and think him clearly the worst prime minister we’ve ever had.

Now that we’re on the cusp of electing a new government, there’s hope that everything will be different. Indeed, in key aspects, there’s strong evidence that long-overdue action will be taken concerning climate change, integrity, aged care, and so on. We await with bated breath.

I want to return to the concept of the ‘greatest’ nation for a moment. I know it’s a bit silly and spurious, but I also believe that, as a nation, as well as individuals, we should always strive to be better. A little ambition is no bad thing, and it’s been too long since we had some authentic national aspirations. The thing is, it doesn’t happen by accident. High minded speeches won’t do it. It takes action. And it takes belief – the belief that we can all share in and shoulder our portion of the quest.

That’s the challenge now. I hope we have that ambition as a government. We know what not to do – anything the government of the last ten years has done, which has made us petty and small-minded and reduced the stature of our nation in the global community. So, that’s the easy part, and there are obvious pathways towards becoming a healthier nation.

Despite all the positive policies and progressive initiatives, it seems to me we can never be anything like great until we mend our society. There are too many rifts and divisions, many of them actively fostered by a government that has favoured political advantage over the greater good.

We treat our poor, disadvantaged and elderly with disrespect and disgrace. Add to that the treatment of refugees and our first nations people. In many instances, they have been used as political pawns. I’m sad to say, it’s an attitude that has permeated sections of society.

We’re to blame for that. It takes authentic leadership to light the flame and show the true way forward. We haven’t had that for many years. It’s true in much of the world. The disenfranchised have been neglected and left to brood and rebel, exiled from the benefits of society.

It explains Trump, the rise of the extreme right and white supremacy, and it explains the anti-vaxxers.

In Victoria, in the last couple of years, we saw the value of a community that pulled together in service of the common good. We made hard sacrifices knowing what we did was for something bigger than our individual selves. In many ways, it was inspiring.

That’s what we can be. What it takes is a narrative we can all believe in and share, knowing that we are part of it. There are many policy levers that must be pulled if Albanese becomes PM later tonight, but over and around, that is healing the wounds of our community, tending to our national weal.

It’s a tall order, but I think it’s mighty helpful that we appear on the verge of electing a genuinely decent human being to the top job to replace a man who is nothing more than a contemptible turd. Example counts for much. Time will tell. It’s time.

Life inside a lie | The Saturday Paper

The government Scott Morrison leads has achieved less in three terms than perhaps any other in Australian history. What it has accomplished has largely made the country worse. It has dismantled an effective carbon price, antagonised China, cowed the national broadcaster, diminished the broadband network. It has confected a national circus on gay rights, alienated allies,
— Read on

Every word of this is true. I couldn’t have said it better myself. Today is our chance to remove this stain on on our society.

Celebrity slapping celebrity

A couple of hours ago Will Smith walked up on stage at the Oscars and slapped the host, Chris Rock, because of jokes Rock had made about Will Smith’s wife, Jada. In the scheme of things, not a momentous event, but as you can imagine, it’s set off a sea of commentary and bad takes. Very 2022.

I must confess, my first reaction on seeing it was respect for Will Smith for putting himself out there for his wife. It was not so much the action, which was crazy and impulsive, but the unashamed, unfiltered reaction of a man clearly deeply hurt and much in love. It was in no way measured, and it certainly paid no heed to public opinion. It was raw and natural.

I wouldn’t have done it. I might have thought about waiting until the afterparty, but the more sensible part of myself would expect that by then I’d have calmed down and taken a more reasonable approach – basically, collaring Chris Rock and telling him it’s not on.

Most of the reaction has been negative towards Smith, and I understand that. It’s not a good look slapping someone on live TV and certainly isn’t to be encouraged – though it’s very entertaining.

It seems to me though that much of the commentary is seen through a lens. As a civilised society, we filter out perspective through a common understanding, but what is lost in that is nuance and the raw visceral sense. I don’t condone Smith for what he did, but I understand it. It was primitive but, for me, in a world where everything is processed, emotion included, it was refreshing.

I’ll probably cop shit for this, but that’s okay. I don’t need you to agree with me.

Everyone has a take these days, and everyone shares it thanks to the ubiquity of social media – look, I’m doing it too! They’re packaged reactions, with outrage being a fave. It’s the nature of this discourse that it gravitate’s to the extremes. I hope I’m more reasoned.

I read one person state that they’d never felt entitled to strike another person, despite the many times it might have been justified. I found the term ‘entitled’ interesting. What does it mean? Entitled in what sense? As a responsible citizen, or as an individual? As a cypher, or a person? At what point would they feel entitled? Never?

I disagree. Ultimately, we should aspire to be ourselves truly, without the cultural jargon or baggage. There’s an individual in each of us. If we feel it honestly, and without bias, then we’re entitled.

I think there are occasions when a smack on the nose is probably quite a reasonable response. I like to think I’m cultured and civilised, but I’m no pacifist. Sometimes it’s necessary. What Will Smith did was way over the top and doesn’t meet the criteria of being reasonable. But then, it’s not my place to judge what he should feel in that moment. I can regret his action, but I won’t condemn the man. Nor will I join the pile-on.

I suspect Chris Rock takes a similar view.

Battles then and now

I don’t know what’s going to happen in Ukraine. Like most people, I’ve been immensely inspired by their spirit and resistance to the Russian invaders. I think it’s pretty clear it’s not gone as Putin expected. Coupled with the scale of sanctions arraigned against Russia, Putin finds himself in a big hole.

It’s hard to predict the actions of an autocrat like Putin. This whole venture has a whiff of irrationality about it, but perhaps it just seems that way because Ukraine has been a lot harder to conquer than expected. A quick victory and he would have been making demands of the world. Instead, he’s mired in a war going nowhere while his reputation and the Russian economy tanks.

Given the desperate situation he finds himself in, how will he respond – and where will this end? He’s already mentioned nuclear weapons. He’s now bombing maternity hospitals. Are biological weapons a possibility? No matter how inspiring the Ukrainian resistance has been, it’s very likely to get a whole lot uglier.

I would like to see peace talks brokered by the UN, just to prove they’re good for something. A man like Putin has to be given a way out of the mess he’s in. Men like him rely on their reputation; ‘face’ is important to them, both personally and politically. I would like to see him destroyed, but more realistically, a way out needs to be negotiated in which some pride is retained.

Longer-term, I suspect Putin will become more vulnerable domestically, particularly as the sanctions bite the people, and the oligarchs. He’s been shown as fallible.

I’ve been watching it unfold very keenly. As a student of WW2, I’ve found it fascinating as the conflict ranges across great battlefields of the last world war. Kharkov, as it was called in the history books I read (as opposed to the Ukrainian Kharkiv), was the site of huge encounters between German and Russian troops – as the Germans advanced (and won big), and as they retreated (fighting a handy rearguard action).

Just over the Russian border is Belgorod. Nearby is Kursk. Together they were the site of the greatest tank battle in history.

What may be significant is that once the Germans occupied Ukraine an effective resistance went underground, tying up German forces and inflicting damage. The partisans were fierce and brave back then – I would expect nothing different now if it comes to that.

My say

It’s been a while since I’ve posted anything but about my personal circumstances. I’ve not had the energy much to write about anything else, but it doesn’t mean I’ve lost interest in the wider world. I’m just as opinionated as ever.

Today, I want to write about what’s happening in Ukraine. Yesterday, after a lot of posturing and diplomatic to and fro, Russie – Putin – invaded Ukraine. There’ll be resistance, but it’s inevitable that Russia will occupy Ukraine unless something is done.

The build-up to the invasion has many echoes of Europe in 1938 and 1939 as the European community sought to reign in Hitler. As history tells us, they failed. In the years since, many of the participants have been condemned for their naive and infectual acts, not least for the appeasement that allowed Hitler the room to gobble up Europe. It will be interesting how history judges this.

For me, the strongest parallel is with the Sudetenland, in what was Czechoslovakia. Hitler claimed that Sudetenland Germans, of which there was a large population, were being persecuted by the Czech authorities. That was the pretext for war, much as Putin now claims that the treatment of Russians within Ukraine is his excuse for invasion.

For now, the west is outraged – or most of it. Widespread sanctions are being announced, which will likely bite hard in time, but not yet. There’s little possibility of practical assistance to Ukraine, despite the fact potential membership of Nato has been one of the flash points.

I don’t know what should happen, though I know this is an evil thing. I doubt that Putin, unlike Hitler, has territorial ambitions beyond this, but that doesn’t mean that we should allow a sovereign nation be conquered in this day and age. The west can’t afford to be weak, not just for the people of Ukraine, but for what it means for global society. I’m sure China is watching very closely, with Taiwan in it’s sights.

Quite bizarrely, there appears solid support for Russia in sections of the community. Predictably, many are the obvious ratbags, which may now include the GOP. Morally, it’s indefensible, but any are seeking political advantage from this, regardless of ethics. Plus, there are some seriously screwed up people on the right these days. Seems so strange when you consider that once upon a time – not so long ago – that Russia was the evil empire. Many who decried it then support it today. That’s the crazy world we live in.

Time to do better

The Federal budget was handed down on Tuesday, and most of the chatter about it generated was about the size of the deficit, which is pretty big. It’s not surprising. There’s been so much ill-informed nonsense about the perils of a budget deficit that it’s a bloody big issue – much bigger than it should be. Ironically, most of the nonsense has come from the conservative side of government attacking the irresponsibility of the progressive side. This time, it’s the progressives attacking the conservatives.

I think talk about budget deficits is one of the biggest furphies in Australian politics. Though generally, you wouldn’t know it, a deficit is necessary to spark economic activity. Sure, it means that you spend more than you’ve got coming in, but most of that extra cash goes out into the community, who then go out and spend it. That’s the theory, anyway.

The Libs demonised it for years and successfully, so much so that it has a distinct narrative of its own. For the great unwashed, and reference to a budget deficit must mean fiscal irresponsibility, not economic wisdom. It’s worked well for the Libs politically, though the irony is that historically we incur more debt under LNP governments than ALP.

For years, the LNP espoused the neo-liberal doctrine, as have most conservative governments around the world. Now, most of that is nonsense. We went through the destructive phase of austerity globally (a trend the Australian government, under ALP, successfully bucked in the GFC). In more recent times, it’s been about tax cuts, generally to business and the top income earners, and a crackdown on working conditions – wages, penalty rates, and so on. For Australia, this has seen us plunge from being the top-ranked economy in the world to middle-ranked, at best. We’ve had a succession of terrible treasurers.

I don’t rate Frydenburg as a good treasurer – in fact, I often wonder if he knows what he’s talking about. But in this instance, I reckon he’s done the right thing.

It’s quite a turn around in thinking in the government, probably helped by the fact that it’s an election year and people like having money spent on them. The money is well spent, though perhaps it could have been divvied up a bit differently. The fact of the matter is that there’s a time to spend big, and recovering from a pandemic is one of them.

Having got the bit of grudging praise out of the way, there’s a couple of things coming out of this budget that have me seething.

For the life of me, I can’t comprehend why you’d cut money going to health after – and during – the biggest health crisis for many a generation. I was startled to hear that the government had cut the health budget for Victoria.- its least favourite state – by $93m. What gives?

Somewhat related, the Vic government went to the feds a couple of months ago with a proposal to co-fund a new purpose-built quarantine facility on the outskirts of town rather than in the middle. It’s something we desperately need, and everyone knows it except the government, who pledged nothing towards it in the budget on Tuesday. Instead, they included half a billion to continued financing of offshore detention facilities – a terrible waste of taxpayer money and utterly inhumane as well.

What angered me most was the statement that we wouldn’t open our borders until the middle of next year. I’m surprised it hasn’t created more outrage. It would be more appropriate to channel the misguided outrage from budget deficits to how we’re managing the transition back into the world economy.

I struggle to understand why the government would make such a pledge. Is it political? Have they seen how stringent border controls have worked for state premiers and want a piece of that? Or is this some lofty goal to achieve elimination? Why set a date? Why not just make it flexible, as common sense would clearly dictate?

I’ve been supportive of the cautious approach, and the results seem to bear that out. But it’s ridiculous, when swathes of the world are now looking to re-open, that our government has made a pledge to remain closed.

This, for me, is a clear outcome of the failed vaccination program. I reckon the number one priority for the government should be to get every Australian vaccinated by September/October, by whatever means. Instead, they’ve made a vague commitment about the end of the year, though not both doses.

This is going to cost us economically. We did brilliantly through the pandemic to contain it, while in the rest of the world, it pretty well ran riot. But then we utterly fudged the vaccination program when most of the world have done so well with it. The result is that the countries that suffered most will open up much sooner than us, one of the countries that suffered least. If that’s not mismanagement, what is it?

As I said, the economic cost will be significant – but it’s the social costs that bite deepest. I’m getting antsy about travelling. I feel locked up, and sure, I was willing to accept that – but for another year-plus? No way. But look, it’s relatively easy for me. I don’t have family abroad I haven’t seen for years. I can manage. For those separated from loved ones, this is a catastrophe. Who thinks about them?

Clearly, the vaccination program must get a push on, by hell or high-water. An obvious corollary to that is the construction of dedicated quarantine facilities to manage incoming travellers and further outbreaks of the virus. There must be a clear plan, and there isn’t. It’s absurd.

The risk is that we may not manage to open without this. There’s sure to be further outbreaks, and the virus will continue to mutate, and others will emerge. We’re in this for the long haul, and we have to build for that. I’m furious.

Edit 18/5: I’ve been thinking about the issue of opening our borders sooner and concluded this is actually a wily plan to downplay their failures around the vaccine rollout. We know they only care about the politics and how they look, and the vaccination program has been a well-publicised disaster. One way to reframe the conversation is to announce that international borders won’t be opening until Covid is effectively gone, making the failures around vaccinations less critical.

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.