The Good. The Bad. The Asinine.

Ummm… is it Stop the Boats or Hire the Boats?

So the UNHCR and the Indonesian police have accused us of paying people smugglers to go back to where they came from. The response from various members of cabinet was “No we didn’t! Ur… I mean, um… no comment. Boats. Stopped. Us. Quack quack quack.” Which is up to our government’s usual high standards of communication, so nothing unusual’s going on there, clearly. Our response internationally was along the lines of “I know you are, but what am I?”. Ms Bishop, reacting rather like an angry life partner accused of negligence, or a Soviet era Foreign Minister, answered allegations of iniquity by passive-aggressively accusing Indonesia of being too messy to be worth discussing it with. And as for the PM, it’s business as usual. Quackspeak and vague comments about “on water” matters. “On water”, by the way, is meaningless. The only time any fleet unit isn’t on the water is when it’s in the graving dock, which would mean that the government should also refuse to comment on the ceremonies of Colours and Sunset and the operations of the ship’s welfare fund. Why oh why did we elect a government that doesn’t speak English?

As the allegations currently stand, we have some witnesses of intermediate credibility claiming that Australian Customs officials paid out over 30000USD in order to persuade a boat crew to turn back. Now, I don’t mean to cast doubts on the honesty of asylum seekers – it’s just that, in my experience, they’re generally very tired, sick, confused and non-English speaking: not the best qualifications for understanding exactly what is going on around them. But, assuming that the unanimity of their testimony and the supporting testimony of the crew and the Indonesian police add up to this allegation being true, what does it all mean?

Common sense would dictate that contributing money to an ongoing illegal enterprise must be against the law, but the fact that everybody is very carefully avoiding the word “illegal” would suggest that it is perhaps a little more complex than that. I don’t really see how, but there it is. What it tells us definitively, however, is that this country is being run by irresponsible, unprincipled cowboys. And that these same cowboys, when confronted with their misdeeds, will react with spectacular unintelligence. None of which is new information.

So no, I’m not particularly excited by this issue. Whether our egregious and embarrassing government paid people smugglers or not, the fact remains that our asylum seeker policy is xenophobic, inhumane, questionably legal, unjust and, viewing the issue of “boat people” in its wider context as an actual problem, deeply, deeply stupid.


Unprotected Transit

I catch public transport a lot. Over the years, I’ve developed a coping strategy which involves headphones and Rage Against the Machine playing very loud indeed. This blots out the ugliness and inanity of the world and allows me to view my fellow passengers with a kindly eye. Even weird beards in purple tracksuits attain a kind of grace when viewed with the right soundtrack. It occurred to me, however, that years of doing this had deprived me of quite a lot of incidental data, so I decided to try an experiment. For one week I did the trains and buses of Sydney shorn of my auditory armour.

Apart from the constant drone of petrol and diesel engines, the absolutely everything that beeps at disturbing intervals and the ever-present white noise made up of tyre roar, wind, footfalls on concrete and the tinny drumbeats of other people’s headphones, what I heard quite a lot of was other people’s conversations.

Two schoolgirls discussing some kind of political crisis within their tutor group:

“I’d be totally happy to do what she wants, but why does it have to be like just after recess? That’s like the worst time of the day. Noone can ever get back on time and there’s like a double free the next period. What the hell are they thinking?”

A shamble of junkies complaining about the iniquities of Centrelink requirements:

“How’m I s’posed to get a fuckin’ job when they keep hasslin’ us to prove that I’m tryin’ to get a fuckin’ job? I spend more fuckin’ time fillin’ in their forms than I’d spend at fuckin’ work.”

A suit quacking endlessly into his phone:

“Look, if that’s their take on it then I’d suggest that we just roll with it – we can’t be expected to pick up every little thing there is and the way they seem to understand the agreement would indicate to me that there’s a mismatch between their understanding of our deliverables and ours, and, at the end of the day, it’s ours that really counts.”

What all these people are saying, albeit in very different language, is: “It’s not my fault”. And it’s not just these people. Over my headphoneless week I heard the same motif, in different words, again and again and again. It’s not my fault because ‘politics’. It’s not my fault because ‘other people’. It’s not my fault because ‘the system’. This is all wrong. Always and forever, no matter what, everything in our lives is emphatically our fault and nobody else’s. Here, in the disproportionately affluent West, the fact that I’m not a super-rich rock star must come down to either a lack of capacity or a lack of effort – mine in both cases. The reason that after 25 odd years in the workforce I am still as poor as a church mouse has nothing to do with artistic temperament or arts funding or any of that guff. It’s simply because I have never once attempted to manage either myself or my money. It is my fault.

The same principle applies to the nation at large. If we do not have the economy, the laws or the government that we would prefer, we can’t really look to anyone but ourselves when it comes to laying blame. Assuming, of course, that we are interested in living in a reality untempered by self-delusion. Why we are so terrible at doing this is a mystery to me, and one which I intend to resolve as follows: Tomorrow, the headphones are going back in.