SOMEWHERE this week in Australia a baby was born. Or maybe a plane landed carrying someone from another part of the world ready to make a new start here. It doesn’t really matter. For according to our statisticians, we have now welcomed the 25 millionth Australian into the fold.
By Paul Syvret
In roughly half a century, or close to how long I’ve been around, we have doubled our population. In recent years, though, we have also shrunk.
Our physical numbers may not have waned, but the Australian soul has shrivelled and wizened as we increasingly exclude rather than accept, seek to blame rather than to solve, and to divide where once there was common ground.
At regular citizenship ceremonies across the land this week, our new Australians will stand for the national anthem at the end of proceedings, where in some cases they may even be treated to the second verse, part of which goes as follows:
For those who’ve come across the seas
We’ve boundless plains to share;
With courage let us all combine
To Advance Australia Fair.
We usually don’t get that far with the anthem these days, that second verse being basically obsolete.
I’m not sure what exactly the catalyst has been, but in recent years we have debased ourselves to the point where race, religion and gender – the very fibre of personal identity – has become the currency of the most partisan of politics, something to be weaponised and used regardless of the collateral damage.
We have become an Australia where inordinate, and in some cases fawning, attention is given to visiting social media wannabes whose stock in trade is the language of white supremacists and Islamophobes, narcissists whose ugly cynicism is surpassed only by their desire for attention.
We have become an Australia where not just those with somewhat extreme views, but a full-blown bloody Nazi who wants Hitler and Mein Kampf in our classrooms, is given time on national television to air his views on immigration, praising Minister Peter Dutton in the process.
This in the same short few days in which newspaper columnists have warned darkly of ethnic and religious ghettos, blamed migrants for traffic congestion, and all but called for a return of the White Australia policy.
This is the same Australia where the likes of Dutton, aided and abetted by even Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, have sought to whip up fear, loathing and racial hatred over so-called “African gangs” in Melbourne, a city so tremulous no-one is apparently game to go out for dinner at night.
It is an Australia that then shrugs its shoulders as a Sydney bus driver is suspended after abusing Asian passengers for not speaking English and refusing to let them off the bus, or a Pakistani university student in Newcastle has his nose broken in a knuckle-duster attack and is told to “go back to your f—ing country, you don’t belong here”.
This is an Australia where our anthem welcomes those from across the seas, but if you arrive by boat, calls you an “illegal” and dooms you to indefinite detention in a tropical prison camp on Nauru or Manus.
It is an Australia where the slightest show of compassion is deemed either weak or condemned as “virtue signalling”, where belonging to a trade union makes you a militant thug, and hoping your kids have a habitable planet in years to come puts you in the ranks of the hysterical leftists, warmists and climate-change alarmists.
This is my last column for The Courier-Mail, and I would have liked to have been more upbeat. But I grew up in a world where facts were immutable and opinions relatively cheap. The old journalistic cliche – and it is a meme that still circulates today – was that if one person you interview tells you it is howling down with rain, and another tells you the sun is shining, it is not your job to quote both of them, but to look out the bloody window and learn the truth.
It was an era where if the world’s brightest scientists warned we really need to do something about the hole in the ozone layer, the ensuing debate was about how to fix the problem, not a race to find some fringe dweller who would say there was no problem.
It was an era where adjectives didn’t make it into news stories unless it was the colour of the getaway car, and “balance” certainly did not mean giving equal space to the various flat-earthers, vaccination sceptics, creationists, racists and other loons out there.
It was a less ugly Australia, and certainly a more civilised conversation.
First published at The Courier-Mail. Thursday 9 August 2019.