I always thought that I lived in a lucky country. Lucky in the sense that I thought we were all free from oppression here.
In this country, I had the opportunity to receive an education through public schooling. In this country, I never had too much trouble finding full-time paid employment. In this country, I can afford private health insurance but even if I couldn’t afford it I would still be able to get access to public health care.
Here, I am also surrounded by mostly like-minded people who treat me as an equal (for the most part). But ‘I’ am a thirty-something, white, middle-income person with little obvious disability. Not everyone in this country is in the same privileged position as me.
Recently, in this country, not ‘my’ country/ not anyone’s country/ just land as it formed over billions of years, we had a change of government. The new government was noticeably more right-wing than its predecessor.
I was shocked when the new government was elected. Shocked when they disassembled the independent climate change commission and acted toward removing environmental protections, shocked when only one women was appointed to a ministerial position even though we had recently had a female prime minister and shocked when they appointed a new human rights commissioner that had once called for the abolition of the human rights commission and intends to repeal recently introduced anti-racial discrimination laws (under the guise of freedom of speech) Those among other things.
People in this country (and from other countries wishing to seek asylum here) from the least privileged positions, who may be emerging from oppression in the past (or trying to escape from immediate threat) are now finding their path to freedom sucked from underneath them.
During secondary schooling, when I learned about one of the most infamous of oppressive regimes, Nazi Germany, I was horrified. I did not understand how such a thing could happen and in my naïvety I assumed it was an anomaly and that it could never happen again.
However, comparable oppressive regimes exist now in many countries around the globe. A comparable oppressive regime existed in this country during white settlement (oppressive to indigenous Australians) and could easily establish itself in this country again.
Some people think that education is a barrier to oppression, it probably is, but it is not impervious. Even in countries where people are well-educated, they can still remain ignorant and have that ignorance exploited.
I have just finished reading two autobiographies (given to me as Christmas presents) Nelson Mandela’s ‘Long Walk to Freedom’ and Malala Yousafzai’s ‘I am Malala’. From these books and what little else I know of global politics, I saw a disturbing pattern emerge. It became clear to me that oppressive regimes can occur anywhere, at any time.
I can’t succinctly describe the underlying pattern that supported the oppressive regimes described in the books I was given, but I feel it. I feel it now in present day Australia. It’s a combination of discrimination, imbalance of power, biased media (in whatever form) coverage and finally mob mentality.
Just look at the way our government is treating asylum seekers who arrive here by boat. Demonizing them by insisting that they be called “illegals“, removing their access to Government funded legal aid, disbanding the Immigration Health Advisory Group overseeing asylum seeker health care and detaining them indefinitely in inadequate offshore facilities. Don’t start making excuses or you are facilitating oppression; nobody should be treated like that.
When oppression sets in, everyday people lose their freedom and find themselves committing, facilitating and turning a blind eye to atrocities that they never thought possible; as Nelson Mandela puts it the ‘The oppressed and the oppressor alike are robbed of their humanity’.
Malala Yousafzai noted of her people after the Taliban insidiously took control of her home in Swat Valley ‘Funny when I was little we always said Swatis were so peace-loving it was hard to find a man to slaughter a chicken’.
What freedom we have we do not owe to luck; we owe it to activists and everyday people who risk standing up for the liberties of the those most in need. These are the people who can bring down oppressive regimes and importantly prevent them from establishing or re-establishing themselves.
If we want freedom for ourselves, our children and our children’s children, we are also responsible for promoting it. We should not look to others to preserve our freedom. We need to become those activists, those everyday people who risk standing up for the liberties of those most in need.
As Nelson Mandela so eloquently states ‘For to be free is not merely to cast off one’s chains but to live in a way that respects and enhances the freedom of others’.
Malala Yousafzai’s father, an enormous influence in the young activists life, carried around with him the following poem written by Martin Niemöller (who had lived in Nazi Germany):
First they came for the communists,
and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a communist.
Then they came for the socialists,
and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a socialist.
Then they came for the trade unionists,
and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a trade unionist.
Then they came for the Jews,
and I didn’t speak out because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for the Catholics,
and I didn’t speak out because I was not a Catholic.
Then they came for me,
and there was no one left to speak for me.
I sincerely hope that there are enough activists, enough people unwilling to be passive bystanders in this country who can open the eyes of the majority that voted the new government in, so that crucial mistakes are not made in our country that will gradually take us down the well-worn path of oppression.
First they oppressed the asylum seekers,
and I did not speak out because I was not an asylum seeker…