Tag Archives: australia

Why I’d prefer you not to vote for Tony Abbott as Australian Prime Minister

Kallista, Victoria

Before leaving Australia in 2006, I told my family that I wouldn’t return until there was a change of government.  Sure, I was being a petulant 20-something, but I really meant it.  John Howard’s xenophobia embarrassed me and it was causing real harm to others.  I spent a lot of time feeling disaffected and bitching about him with fellow Australians in South East Asian guesthouses.

In the blink of an eye, nearly two years passed and I found myself drinking champagne in London at 8am to celebrate ‘Kevin 07’s’ resounding election victory.  The old prime minister had lost his own seat, the new one promptly apologised to the Aborigines and then iced the cake with a speech delivered in Mandarin.  It was all very exciting – but temporary, perhaps.  As I’m yet to come home, I’ve been following the run-up to tomorrow’s federal election from Bangladesh.  I was appalled to read the following statement made by the opposition leader Tony Abbott:

“We will determine who comes to this country and the circumstances in which they come.”

Uh-oh.  Talk about echoes of the dark and distant past.  John Howard uttered those exact same words in parliament on 6 December 2001.  “Little Johnny” was the second-longest serving prime minister in our history (shame!), and therefore had the opportunity to achieve a great number of things, but Google him today and you will find that the fifth hit, after the encyclopaedic styled-entries, is an article called “John Howard: Muslims Out of Australia.”  And so forth.  With an online legacy like that, it wouldn’t surprise me if the International Cricket Council was able to find a more suitable candidate for the post of vice-president.

I’ve noticed other alarming sentiments expressed by Mr Abbott, and feel compelled to address them, midnight-hour though it may be…

Tony Abbott on people smuggling: 25 July 2010

“Stamping out people smuggling is a way to alleviate people’s anxieties and to reassure them that we are, in fact, sovereign in our country.”

Oh please.  If Tony Abbott was concerned with reassuring “people” (which people? his people??) about Australia’s sovereignty, he wouldn’t be opposed to reopening the debate on becoming a republic.  And he might want to alter the words on the first page of our passports, in order to alleviate any confusion on the part of immigration officials in overseas nations when they read the following:

“The Governor-General of the Commonwealth of Australia, being the representative in Australia of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth the Second, requests all those whom it may concern to allow the bearer to pass freely without let or hindrance and to afford him or her every assistance and protection of which he or she may stand in need.”

But he won’t do anything so rash, because he’s a staunch monarchist.

Flinders Street Station, Melbourne. A cabbie told me that this station was meant to be built in India, but the architectural plans were swapped by mistake!

However it’s true that the thought of people being smuggled to Australia makes me anxious – particularly when they arrive on boats.  Are those people dehydrated or malnourished?  Were they tortured?  Have they been separated from their children or partners?  Are we capable and willing to fulfil our legal obligations under international laws as well as our moral obligations to them as fellow human beings?  When the debate between the two prime ministerial candidates degenerated to arguing over whether it is physically possible to turn boats away, I became very anxious indeed.

Labor leader and incumbent PM Julia Gillard, despite also having a tough stance on the issue, gave a response to “the boat people” [refugees] question that I admire:

“I say to those engaged in this type of rhetoric: ‘Stop selling our national character short. We are better than this. We are much better than this.”

At the time when John Howard was accusing asylum seekers of “throwing their babies overboard,” I was a law student at Monash University and I came to know a group of refugees from Afghanistan.  I picked them up from a legal aid centre in Collingwood and drove them to their new home in Dandenong, as they didn’t have money for a train ticket.  I like to think that the favour was returned when three Pashtun men took me along the Khyber Pass to the border with Afghanistan in 2007.   I know it’s corny, but I remembered one of the guys in the car talking about the mountains in Afghanistan when he first saw the Dandenongs in Victoria.

Over the next few months I became good friends with a young man called Habib, who had paid a lot of money to be smuggled to Australia.  He eventually told me why he did it – but not how he got the scars on his face.  He’s now working as a taxi driver in Melbourne and he’s doing really well.

Case study of a person who was smuggled to Australia

Habib was a teenager when the Taliban arrived in his home city of Kabul in the 1990s.  He and his family were kicked out of their home and forced to live in a house with several of their neighbours.  The Taliban installed themselves in this way along most of the main streets, and Habib said that none of the locals knew who the Taliban were, because they shared no particular ethnicity.  This was especially terrifying.  After living in cramped and stressful conditions for many months, Habib’s uncle arrived in the mail – chopped up into small pieces.  Habib decided to leave Afghanistan and he reached Indonesia, mostly by overland routes, several months later.  He paid a hefty amount to spend six months living in a room with around 40 other people who were also waiting to be smuggled – to no country in particular.  Habib did say, however, that the smugglers tried their best to feed everyone adequately.  One morning, the people smuggler boss announced to the group that they would set sail that day.  When Habib saw the size of the boat and the number of people that were attempting to board it, he became very frightened.  The boat sank before it reached Australia, but a Norwegian vessel rescued more than 400 people and placed them onboard the MV Tampa.  The Australian government refused to allow the rescued people onto Australian soil, and quickly passed a new law called the Border Protection Act, which aimed to “determine who will enter and reside in Australia.

Habib spent the next two years in a detention centre on the coral atoll of Nauru (NB: also a sovereign nation) waiting for Australia to determine whether he could enter.  Of course he was grateful to be accepted, but Habib said that those last two years were tougher than the Taliban and worse than anything else he went through.

Rye Beach on a Tuesday morning

It’s my belief that, like his party predecessor John Howard and a growing number of Australians, Tony Abbott suffers from “island mentality.”  Unlike the vast majority of nations, Australia doesn’t share a border with anyone – yet it’s as though we’re turning into the only-child who never learnt to share.  If Australia could somehow spend a year located next to a porous border it could do us a world of good – pardon the pun.  I lived in London for two-and-a-half-years, and was struck by the UK’s (mostly) liberal attitude to immigration.  The government there didn’t even know how many people had arrived, let alone how to stop them!  Tony Abbott has complained that under Labor leadership, the net migration to Australia increased from 210,000 to 300,000.  That’s a few football stadiums worth of people, so we should be worried, right?  Well, at least not until the UK starts freaking out.  Every year, the UK accepts 510,000 people – yet it’s less than a thirtieth of the size of Australia.  And anecdotally speaking, it didn’t seem too crowded to me…  If anything, the diversity and energy, especially in London, was one of its greatest strengths, both economically and culturally.  Furthermore, the UK has granted 250,000 Australians the right to reside in the UK at present, which is nearly the same number of immigrants that Tony Abbott would permit to enter Australia in an entire year.  I’ve not heard him comment on the fact that there are currently 1.3 million Britons living in Australia, but presumably this should also be a cause for concern?

Whilst it’s possible to play around with numbers all day, I’ll add just two further statistics in conclusion.  According to UN figures, in 2009 there were 44 million displaced people around the world.  Last year, Australia accepted less than 3,000.

And finally, I’d just like to say that I know many talented and creative people here in Bangladesh who would be thrilled to live, work or study in Australia.  In my mind, it would only be our loss not to welcome them.


A few weeks later….

I hope the clever person who designed this will regard its reproduction as 'fair use'!!

Google helped me see the light: I have a thing for Christian hymns

When I was about 13 years old, I wrote two poems on cardboard, covered them in a sticky, shiny, plastic wrap and stuck them on my wall.  They stayed there, next to my bed, for years.

This was the first poem:

The trumpet shall be heard on high,
The dead shall live, the living die,
And music shall untune the sky.

I think I loved it because it smelt of anarchy.  But eventually I forgot about it.  Last night the words suddenly popped into my head  after almost a decade of forgetting them.  Today I googled the three lines to learn the name of the poet.  I don’t have a good memory, but I can usually remember the authors of quotes I like.   And it’s weird that I don’t know it, because  I can count on one hand the number of poems (however short, like this one) I know by memory.  If I had to guess, I thought it could have been Virgil or someone like that.

These days I'm fascinated by Muslim societies, and I've spent about two years living in or visiting Bangladesh (pictured), Iran, Pakistan, the Palestinian Territories, Turkey and the Indian state ofIndia.

I was  so surprised to discover that my favourite childhood (and adulthood, for that matter)  poem is actually part of the ‘grand chorus’ of a Christian hymn written in 1687.  So I decided to write a blog about it, which is a big step up from a link  posted on Facebook.  Or maybe I just don’t want to forget it again.   Anyway, a highly influential Englishman called John Dryden composed it for the festival of St. Cecilia, the patron saint of music.  In his portrait, he is nearly-smiling and has waist-length, light brown hair (or perhaps a wig), as was the custom way back then.   He died in 1700.

The Literature Review Network writes of Dryden’s “A Song for St. Cecilia’s Day 1687”, “To be appreciated, it must be read aloud.”

This is the full chorus – SING IT LOUD!!



    As from the power of sacred lays                      55
      The spheres began to move,
    And sung the great Creator's praise
      To all the blest above:
    So, when the last and dreadful hour[11]
    This crumbling pageant shall devour,                  60
    The trumpet shall be heard on high,
    The dead shall live, the living die,
    And Music shall untune the sky.

I suspect that I may have come across the verse during Christian religious studies in primary school or early high school.  I'm not sure how else I would have found it.  I hope it wasn't a funeral...  But it's funny to think how after all these years, I thought I was humming about freedom and disorder, whereas I was supposed to be thinking about God.  Or rather, Hell, if I am interpreting it correctly.  I'm amused because I'm an atheist and have been for a long time - and whenever I first found the hymn, I sliced out the references to God.  After a relatively brief stint as an overly enthusiastic 10-year-old Christian (I started a war against swearing that started and ended with my big sister), I decided that it wasn't for me.  I was actually put off by my religious studies teacher, who used to always come to class with a picnic basket for some reason (though it wasn't the picnic basket that put me off, but rather the way she answered a single question).

A smartass put up his hand and said, “What about the Buddhists – they don’t believe this stuff, do they?”

The teacher said, “The Buddhists are wrong.”

Buddhist monks in Thailand, July 2010

True story – this was the early 1990s, and maybe that wouldn’t happen in Australian state education today.  Anyway after that I flirted with Buddhism (possibly just to rebel against my teacher), but converted to Science and Reason after a guy who I can’t remember told me that Buddhism actually encourages a self-focused state of being (the author does not necessarily agree with the views expressed on this page).

That’s all I wanted to say about that.  If you’re still interested, this is the second poem that was plastered to the wall of my bedroom:

There is pleasure in the pathless woods,
There is rapture in the lonely shore,
There is society where none intrudes,
I love not man less;
But nature more.

– George Gordon, Lord Byron (I still remember writing it out, thinking what an incredible name he had…)

An Australian reflects on the last World Cup

Mudslide during the football match in Don Det, Laos

The Weekend Independent Magazine, 11 June 2010

Jessica Mudditt

Amongst the kaleidoscope of national flags dotting Dhaka’s skyline in preparation for the World Cup, I’ve not seen a single Australian one. Not that it ever occurred to me to look—everyone knows that Australia is no football heavyweight. When one of my Bangladeshi friends politely asked whether Australia had qualified for the World Cup 2010, I was ashamed to admit that I didn’t know. But I’ve just checked on the internet: yes we did. In fact, Australia topped their group in the qualification round and was one of the first nations to qualify for the finals tournament without conceding a goal. But I still think that cricket will always be our thing.

Although my interest in Australia’s performance in the World Cup 2010 has so far been lacklustre, in 2006 it was an entirely different story. The “Socceroos” were competing for the second time in the competition’s history and it was very exciting – even if we were the last team to qualify and the second-lowest ranked team. I was in Cambodia’s capital Phnom Penh at the time Australia was scheduled to play the mighty Croatians. My travel guidebook conveniently informed me that there was a sports bar across town that boasted a massive TV screen. Under normal circumstances I would not have had the faintest interest in going to a sports bar, but it was perfect for the occasion and I figured that other Aussies in town might have the same idea. So I set off in a tuk-tuk (CNG) just as the June evening rains set in. The monsoon was just beginning and I had been in Cambodia for just a few days, so I had no comprehension of how quickly the waters rise. In less than a quarter of an hour, the bottom of the tuk-tuk was submerged – at which point the driver turned off the engine and refused to take me any further. So I hopped out and started walking – or rather, wading. The water, which had reached waist level, was dark brown and full of debris. Pretty soon one of my rubber flip-flops broke, so I was forced to walk barefoot. It wasn’t the sharp objects under my feet that bothered me so much as the soft, squishy ones. Was it a dead rat, a baby’s nappy or perhaps some spoiled fruit I trod on? I don’t ever want to know.

It was difficult to read my map as the streets were poorly lit, but after some frustrating backtracking and with the assistance of some rain-friendly locals, I eventually spotted the bar’s glowing neon sign and stumbled in. I was panting heavily and drenched from head to toe. I like to think I looked like a model patriot… All eyes turned to my bedraggled state – but why were there so few pairs of eyes? Where were my fellow Australians? A young man eyed me cautiously and I deliberately mistook that as an invitation to sit opposite him.

“Are you here for the game?” I asked over the steady drip-drip from my clothes.

“Dunno. Not sure if I’ll hang around here long enough.”

I interpreted this to mean that he was finding my presence so offensive that he might leave within the next ten minutes. Although he probably did find me foul smelling, his answer was related to the fact that the match wasn’t due to begin for another two hours. I’d muddled my calculations of the time difference between Germany and Cambodia and thus I had walked through water for nothing. I ordered a beer and tried to feel grateful that I wasn’t two hours late. The match itself was pretty dull and riddled with inconsistencies by the referees – the result was a two-all draw.

A few weeks later – long after Australia had been knocked out by Italy – I found myself playing an international football match in the most unlikely of places. I was on a tiny island called Don Det in Laos, which had no electricity, save for an hour a day. Spectating was therefore out of the question, but opportunities to play the beautiful game were rich. A rumour was circulating amongst backpackers that three members of Laos’ national football team were living on the island. So a group of us bicycled across a rickety bridge to a clearing containing a raggedy field and goal posts. And sure enough, a group of Laotian men in red and white uniforms had gathered under a palm tree to escape the light drizzle. They were wearing shin-guards and stretching. As I recall, the ratio of female to male players was 2:20 and to make things just that bit more challenging, I hadn’t exercised properly for two months. Anyhow, our motley group of nationalities and coloured t-shirts took up our positions as we made self-deprecating jokes. I was on the wing – my favourite position for hockey and football alike. Within a few minutes after kick-off, the field had morphed into a mud pit. It was so slippery that it was difficult to maintain an upright position, let alone connect a foot with a ball. A couple of mangy dogs were sent off for interference, only to return at inopportune moments. Each time the Laotians scored a goal, one of them would leap up a nearby palm tree, whooping victoriously. Despite the fact that some of the backpackers were remarkably good players, we suffered an ignominious defeat. The score is too shameful to publish.

Backpackers vs Laos - that's me in the blue trousers

Unlike many Bangladeshis, I can’t honestly say that I have World Cup fever this time around. I will enjoy watching a few matches, and I might even visit the Australian Club for the first time, so that I can cheer on the Socceroos. But what would truly excite me would be watching an African nation win the World Cup. I’m backing the whole continent.