Thursday, 27 September 2007

A Spot of Doctoring

Immigration Minister Kevin Andrews has been fighting the good fight again this week. He is demanding an inquiry into how foreign GPs are vetted after discrepancies were found in one doctor's work history. Can we guess the doctor's ethnicity? Of course! An Arab! (boooo! hisss!)
The dodgy CV was discovered because the said doctor was a friend of Dr Haneef (remember him? The GP who was slandered, accused of terrorism and then found completely innocent but had his visa revoked by Mr Andrews anyway) and so he was investigated.

Now let us set something straight, the doctor did not lie about his qualifications, he did not neglect his duties but he did fudge his CV. Hmm, I wonder if this minor transgression had been undertaken by a white Australian doctor we would be hearing quite so much about it. I doubt it, Andrews is yet again shamelessly playing the race card.

Of course it is important that doctors are closely regulated but this was not a major issue, it has been blown out of proportion to stoke up distrust and fearing of foreign doctors (and by association all foreigners) to play to the Coalition's strategy of vote-winning through dirty racial slurring. This is a desperate clammer by a discredited politician to find something, anything to justify his heavy-handed attitude to Dr Haneef. The message is: 'well he may have been innocent but we still can't trust these other Muslims.'

The tragedy is that the doctors are providing vital services to the same remote communities that the government is hoping to turn against them. If Andrews successfully invokes paranoia about doctors then they won't come here anymore, they will go to America, to the UK, to New Zealand or somewhere else they are valued and not pelted with state-sanctioned racial abuse, and the people who will pay are the rural communities, because no Australian doctor wants to go to the outback. Shamefully the Labor Party has backed Andrews stance, because it knows that challenging it would lose votes. Yet another indicator of how twisted and intolerant this country is at the moment. If I seem to have been unusually harsh recently then it's because election fever has brought out even more of the unpleasantness underlying the jolly Australian image. I still like it here but only a thug or fool could not be disturbed by the atmosphere in contemporary Australia. There is little room for a positive spin.

In other news, whilst Kevin Andrews is busy slagging off doctors I just purchased my 'ambulance cover', without which I would have been charged for an ambulance. So should I keel over with anger whilst writing this blog I won't be landed with a hefty bill. And that's not just because I'm a foreigner, that's for everyone. So you have to pay for the most basic health care, yet the government boasts of its billions of dollars in surplus tax revenue and feels it a valid use of tax-money to send leaflets aimed at families to every single address in the country (two in two months). Sometimes I feel like I'm in the Australia in the Beano and the Dandy, where everything 'Down Under' is topsy turvy.

The AFL Grand Final is this weekend and the weather should be nice, so perhaps some beer and sunshine will return a little light into my currently gloomy take on the state of the nation.

Tuesday, 25 September 2007

Oedipus Waves His Flag

I am currently reading Kingdom Come by JG Ballard. One of the recurring motifs in the novel is Ballard's growing unease at the seemingly inexorable rise of the St George flag in small town England. He is right to be concerned about the political implications of this rise in patriotism, but if a few England flags are making Ballard twitch then a couple of months in Australia would give the poor man an aneurysm. Australian flags bedeck all manner of shops from bakeries to newsagents with no apparent purpose other than to display their Australianism, the unspoken message being that this means white Australianism. While shopping for souvenirs the other day I came across two car stickers, one read "Australia: Love it or leave it!", quite a stark choice with not much room for rational debate or contemplation, yet this implied ignorance and xenophobia was carefully hidden behind a fairly innocuous slogan. The same could not be said for the next sticker, which proudly declared "Australia: Support it or fuck off!". I'm not sure what the sticker was defining as "support" but I'm fairly certain that even daring to question it would have earned me a rousing 'fuck off'. The kind of climate that allows this sticker to made, sold, and proudly displayed does not welcome self-reflection or critical questioning, especially not from outsiders. This type of nationalistic fervour is everywhere with barely anyone bringing it to ask.

A few months ago Channel Seven's Sunrise featured a report on a young Muslim man who burned the Australian flag and his ensuing "journey to redemption"(or was that assimilation?). Clips of the flag-burning incident also featured clips of drunken thugs wrapped in Australian flags with provocative slogans like "you've flown here, we've grown here" written on them. However we weren't treated to a story on the redemption of these slobs, in fact no-one criticised them in the whole report. I can't speak for the motives of the young Muslim's attack on the flag, but by the end of the report I felt like burning the bastard flag myself. You feel alienated enough being an Anglo-Saxon non-Australian, I can only imagine how it feels to come from the Middle East or Asia. Whenever I hear the Neanderthal cry of "Aussie! Aussie! Aussie! Oi! Oi! Oi!" it send a chill down my spine like a "Heil! Heil!", and it's certainly an equally brainless and pathetic chant as the Nazi call. It is a rally cry for the hate-filled and frustrated, and a lot of people are answering it.

Hyperbolic words like 'fascism' are thrown around often without proper thought, especially towards America, but in Australia's case it may not be too far wide of the mark. It is certainly closer to fascism than any other Western nation. America is in the grip of a repressive conservatism too, no doubt about it, but America is different. Its patriotism is the hubristic triumphalism found in any empire at its height. The flag waving belies a genuine confidence, some might say arrogance in its power. Fascism does not thrive in these conditions, it feeds on self-loathing and insecurity, traits that Australia has in spades.

America severed itself from the British Empire and stepped boldly forward with its own flag, its own identity. It set out created a new country and succeeded. Australia by contrast sort of stumbled into being, inexorably tied to 'the Mother Land' even now. If Australia is so sure of itself why does it still have to have a Union Jack on its flag? If it is so forceful and independent why did it vote to keep a foreign monarch as head of state? The answer is that behind the tough talk Australia has a terrible lack of confidence in itself. It fails to stand aloft on its own terms and so collapses into imbecilic, unquestioning rhetoric about being "the greatest country on earth" without considering what that means. The best country in the world surely wouldn't need to keep telling itself that it was the best, but Australia pumps its national ego up again again with cheap patriotic pep-talks because otherwise it would collapse. Rarely is the question of why Australia is supposedly go great explored as the self-relection would be too complex, too ambiguous. Yes it is beautiful, but it would be a pretty bleak country with no beauty spots at all. Europe, Asia, the Americas and Africa are all beautiful too, earth is beautiful so why is Australia special? Yes it is a stable country nicer to live in than, say Zimbabwe, but so are Europe, New Zealand and North America, so why is Australia singled out? The patriots shun such difficult questions and prefer instead to use sport as a measure of who's 'best', because that's something easy and tangible you can measure. If you win the most gold medals you must be the best country right?

America is the brash, independent offspring and Australia is the boy who likes to act hard in the playground but in reality likes holding Mummy's hand and secretly wishes he was still on the teat. We see it all the time in the obsession with Britain that is not reciprocated. Brits like Australia and Australians, but they also like Americans, Irish, Canadians and other nationalities. Australia holds no 'special place'. Similarly Australia has a place in the national consciousness as nice place to live, but so do New Zealand, Tuscany, Spain and the south of France. Australia is not given any special priority. In Australia by contrast Britain is held up a a sort of obsessive love/hate object. Whenever they beat us at sport (which is admittedly quite a lot) the nation goes into a Oedipal frenzy, but they still cling to our flag, to our Queen and to the idea that we are desperate with envy of them. A recent advert show hordes of Brits flocking to Australia from drizzly old Blighty to sample the wonders of Bundy Rum in the sunshine. Thus Australia is defied as a desirable place not because it is nice in and of itself, but because the Poms want to come, so it must be good. It's the national equivalent of self-esteem coming from being liked by the cool kids.

Hitler thrived on Germany's lack of esteem after defeat in the great war. Mussolini appealed to Italians' jealously of the other European nations' empires. John Howard's ugly, xenophobic policies thrive in a nation with only a half-formed idea of itself. Until Australia becomes truly independent it will continue with its destructive bipolar nationalism, with its fear of change, with its hatred of non-Anglo-Saxons. My fear is that the rot has already set in too far.

Thursday, 6 September 2007

Stop Press

Pavarotti is dead. Bono was first on the scene with a tribute;

"Some can sing opera, Luciano Pavarotti was an opera."

Makes you wonder why bulemics use their fingers to be sick when they could simply type 'Bono' and 'quotes' into Google.

(Apologies to Anna)

APEC on the cheek

I read yesterday that two thirds of blog entries posted on the Internet begin along the lines of "sorry for the lack of posts recently". I'm not sure who calculated this or how, or even if it is true, but rather than add to the pile I shall make like John Howard and issue no apologies.

Speaking of the Great Satan, he has been in the news a lot the last few days as Australia is hosting the APEC conference. Half of Sydney has been shut down behind a huge metal wall and security forces patrol the streets below thundering military aircraft. Howard has been widely criticised for imposing this over-zealous Diet Coke version of martial law, but think of it another way, perhaps he was just trying to make the other Asia-Pacific leaders feel at home.

Of course Johnny's friend George was in town too, and looking quite jolly after some recent press conferences where his "serious" face went into overdrive. It seems a little incongruous to be so upbeat when the 'surge strategy' is looking increasingly ineffective and it appears that his successor, whether Republican or Democrat is not going to continue his Iraq mission. Perhaps he has realised that with only a year to go his reputation is fucked, so he may as well enjoy the ride while he can. Certainly his response to a question about the situation in Iraq ("We're kicking ass!") smacked of someone sticking a defiant finger up at the liberals, a dead man going to the gallows with a smile on his face.

No-one seems to have explained any of this to poor old Johnny though. He has taken every opportunity to pose with George and Condi, gleaming his rodent toothed smile as though every camera flash were another swinging voter coming over to him. It's certainly a vote winning strategy, but unfortunately for the Prime Minister it's a vote winning strategy from 2004. The whole thing feels a bit like someone bringing a mangy stripper to breakfast after a drunken lads' night out, "that was last night Johnny, we're past that now and slightly ashamed."

While Johnny makes his moves on yesterday's babe, Kevin has been cosying up to the sexiest new human rights abuser in town. His speech to the Chinese delegates proved that it is possible to speak Mandarin with your tongue up someone's arsehole. Still, while a communist behemoth keeps the Australian economy afloat it doesn't do to upset them (even left-wing students seems to recognise this, being strangely uncritical of a genuine dictator while working themselves into a pant wetting fury over Bush).

Reading a transcript of the speech though, it seems Mr Rudd's Mandarin vocabulary may not be as extensive as we have been led to believe. "You have many, many friends here in Australia" he told them "many, many friends, many, many real friends" , before adding "I went to work in Beijing in the 1980s. My wife and I have a particular love for Beijing — we love the feeling of Beijing, we love the people of Beijing." It sounds like Kevin knows a few phrases, a few key phrases, a few very key phrases.

Of course the ABC's Chaser have been on the scene, dressed as (who else?) Osama and highlighting the spectacular incompetency behind the stern facade of security. Predictably condemnation has ensued with APEC's chief security policeman saying "I enjoy a big laugh, but this isn't funny." Well it's never very funny when the whole world realises that you haven't done your job properly is it? Particularly when you've spent $150 million doing it. But I doubt whether someone who describes themselves as enjoying "a big laugh" has much of a sense of humour anyway. It implies a face permanently twisted in a hate filled grimace but occasionally allowing a chortle to escape, perhaps during Last of the Summer Wine or a prisoner beating.

The people involved in the Chaser stunt have apparently been arrested, so with the conference ending soon it seems that a few comedians will sit in jail, while a ramshackle bunch of war-mongers and despots are flown back home in luxury. Wither satire?