The bitter aftertaste of the ‘democracy sausage’ (or ‘Becoming an Aussie’ Part 2)

Ballot-boxesHaving blogged – to mild interest – about my 14-year ‘odyssey’ to becoming an Aussie, I thought a few words on the by-product of my newly established dual citizenship status – VOTING – should follow.

Funnily enough, shortly after I arrived in Australia in September 2004 at the start of my odyssey, a Federal Election was called, (won comfortably by John Howard’s Liberals) and which I still recall through the imagery of opposition leader Mark Latham’s very vigorous up close and personal concessionary handshake with his diminutive opponent.

I also distinctly remember sitting outside a school somewhere nearby Canberra like an unwelcome outcast (still on a tourist visa), whilst my then girlfriend went inside to cast her ballot. No doubt it was for John Howard (she was quite the fan I later discovered); and not surprisingly we parted ways soon after.

I’ve actually voted twice since taking the pledge at Kyneton Town Hall in October and receiving the customary native pot plant ( a wattle still surviving in the garden).

First there was the Victorian state election in November, where I apparently made the fundamental novice error of voting “above the line” for candidates in the state’s upper house, and then more recently at last weekend’s Federal Election.

I’ve apparently also committed a double un-Australian transgression by voting early on both occasions, rather then on election day, thus missing out on the final pitches for my vote by the competing parties and perhaps more importantly, not taking a literal bite of the ‘democracy sausage’.

For those non-Australian readers out there, it is customary to chomp on the simple pleasure of a barbequed sausage in white bread whilst waiting to fill out your ballot.

While I defend my decision to vote early as prudent (no queues, less hassling from party zealots) perhaps I did miss out on some of the circus-like atmosphere of election day, not least of all the sounds and smells of fatty sausages grilling away and the banter and chatter of this very Aussie ritual.

I did though correct my other ‘error’ – voting above the line – by going ‘below the line’ and giving all 12 of my required preferences to Labor and Greens candidates in the Federal election, six each in the pattern of Labor, Green, Labor, Green etc etc.

(Yes, I am a progressive voter, no mystery there. You’d probably have to hold a gun to my head to make me vote for a Conservative party.)

Of the experience of voting itself, it was quite odd.

While I found the process of casting my ballot about as thrilling as mailing a letter at the Post Office, I closely followed, with some excitement, the results as they flowed in, and was surprisingly elated when Labor won the state election in a landslide.

Similarly voting federally in a vacant shop in a mall in Sunbury was rather uninspiring (I dealt with the zealots and their pamphlet waving with a firm “I’ve already made up my mind’ and purposeful stride into the voting room).

But again, my emotions took hold as the results came in and it became clear the Liberals had surged to a Trump-style victory against the odds. As such a mild depression set in on Sunday at the realisation that another three more years of conservative policies, further neglect of the environment and inaction on climate change would follow.

Wasn’t this supposed to be an election about climate action?

By Monday, I was thankfully back to my cheerfully cynical self, joining in the banter about ‘ScoMo and Albo’ with my work colleagues and coming to terms with our ‘miraculously’ re-elected PM, the so-called #messiahfromtheshire ( Or if you prefer, the #liarfromtheshire,)

Both Aussie voting experiences were quite a contrast to the last time I voted in a national election, 25 years ago, when the emotion of simply casting one’s ballot that day was overwhelmingly wonderful and I cared very little for the outcome, knowing it was basically a fait accompli.

That was in 1994, when a free and democratic South Africa voted as one, with all creeds and colours forming joyous lines that snaked for miles in city suburbs and country hillsides, in a momentous (and remarkably peaceful) day for the country and the world.

Of course, back then there were true political leaders to admire, most notably the global statesman and freedom warrior Nelson Mandela, who went on to become the Rainbow Nation’s first democratically elected leader when his African National Congress (ANC) swept to power.

Compare the stature of the great ‘Madiba’ and all that he stood for with the mendacious, spiteful and dishonest grab for power that categorised this Federal Election, on both sides of the political divide, and it’s surprising I cared at all about the final outcome.

Truly, I must be an Aussie now!

The Australian (and Australia’s) propaganda war against boat people

boat peopleI was dismayed – no gutted – to read a story in The Australian newspaper last week.

The story ran under the headline “Lowy Institute poll shows strong support for asylum-seeker policies”.

It’s first paragraph said: “More than 70 per cent of Australians support the Abbott government’s Sovereign Borders Policy, including the idea that boats should be turned back when safe to do so.”

This information was correctly reported and seemed to confirm that, depressingly, most Australians have bought the propaganda – dished out regularly from both sides of politics about asylum seekers.

This is, that asylum seekers are queue jumpers, possibly terrorists and that if they want to come to this country, they should get in line and wait their turn – regardless of the circumstances in their home country. If they arrive by boat, they should be sent back to where they came from.

This sentiment was spelled out 13 years ago when former prime minister John Howard said in his election victory speech: “We will decide who comes here and the circumstances under which they come.”

He was referencing the Tampa affair, where a Norwegian freighter carrying rescued asylum seekers was denied access to Australia. This hard line attitude has been stamped into the heads of the voting public ever since.

But The Australian article conveniently forgot to mention another finding of the same Lowy Institute survey.

This was that the majority of Australians (57%) polled disagreed with the former Rudd government and current Liberal Party government policy that ‘no asylum seeker coming to Australia by boat should be allowed to settle in Australia’.

This statistic is nowhere to be found in Rowan Callick’s article – and which, if it were included, might have led to a different headline or at least told the full story.

Now, the margin of error in the poll was 3% so it could be that as many as 60% of Australians believe that asylum seekers who arrive by boat should be allowed to come and live in Australia, should there claims be genuine.

At worst 54% of Australians are opposed to the policy which is seeking to settle asylum seekers who arrive by boat on Papa New Guinea, Nauru or possibly even Cambodia in grubby cash-for-people deals.

So the end result is that I feel a little bit better about my country (of adoption) and my fellow countrymen.

But then again, reading numerous other articles and following the social media conversations, it is clear there are many Australians who feel like I do – that we are behaving abominably to the most desperate and needy in society.

For more balanced views, try:

Sadly though too many people appear to have been brainwashed following years of propaganda and believe – against all factual evidence – that asylum seekers arriving by boat are the first wave of potential invading hoards.

boatproportion

Source: Crikey.com.au

This is in no part due to the aforementioned article in The Australian, but also do to News Corp popular columnists like Andrew Bolt who regularly rounds of his tirades against Labor, the ABC, Fairfax, the Greens etc with thoughts like: “it is grossly irresponsible to allow thousands of illegal immigrants from countries very different from our own to crash our borders when we know it exposes Australians to extra risks they don’t want and never accepted.”

Or comments like this: ” Tens of thousands of ‘refugees’ would swarm each year through the Greens’ open door, more than we could safely accept, and the thousands rejected as refugees would not just go home.

All designed to stir up fear and hysteria of invading hoards and keeping John Howard’s 2001 message alive and well.

Reject the propaganda and form you own, educated view. Don’t be an ignorant fool.

(For more of my articles on this topic, go here.)

Why I won’t be voting on September 7

Electoral-Commission-Pic

I won’t be voting next weekend because I can’t. I’m not yet an Australian citizen.

When I found out in March, to my surprise, that I was eligible  to apply for citizenship, I was thrilled. Nine years of waiting. Four visas. Enough paperwork to fill a jumbo jet and the moment had finally arrived.

So I printed out the 84 page booklet Australian Citizenship: Our Common Bond” that tells you all you need to know about this great land to prepare for your citizenship test and read it cover to cover.

Then I downloaded all the forms that I would have to fill in.

I had this great idea that I’d write to all the different political parties asking why I should give them my valuable vote and then turn that into a story for this blog or maybe Crikey (the editor was keen, “a new citizen’s guide to Australian politics” or something like that was how I pitched it).

But then there came the complicated instructions that are standard with anything that has to do with the Department of Immigration. You read them, read them again, ponder them, but still you’re left scratching your head and perhaps heading for the liquor cabinet.

Once again there’s the obligatory police clearance? I must have gained police clearance half a dozen times now for my various visas, surely they know me better than my own mother? Then’s there’s finding people to sign statutory declarations and certifying documents and photocopying.

And remembering!

Once again, I must account for my movements over the past nine years into and out of Australia. Honestly, its all become a blur: who can remember every trip they’ve taken? To make matters worse I lost my previous passport and the one before that is in a box somewhere in my parent’s home in Johannesburg, which means there’s yet another form I have to fill in.

Further dampening my enthusiasm was news that I would have to send off two forms and $43 to the South African Department of Home Affairs if I wanted to have dual citizenship. Approval has to be gained first from South Africa before taking the oath in Australia or you lose your South African citizenship. And the time to process these two forms – three to six months!

So the end result is that the paperwork lies in yellow plastic folder on the big desk in the spare room waiting for me to summon up a degree of enthusiasm to fill in all the details and painstakingly try to sort out what documents I need and who needs to sign what.

It’s hardly the response I’d expected of myself  because the truth is I’ve always wanted to vote in this country. Becoming a permanent resident was a big deal (I even cherished my pale green Medicare card) and gaining citizenship is even more of a badge of honour.

Perhaps it has something to do with my arrival in Australia almost a decade ago, which happened to be just a few weeks before the 2004 election, the last federal poll won by glum John Howard and his cronies. My girlfriend at the time, her sisters, their partners and everyone else lined up to vote, while I milled about the polling station in some backwater country town eating a sausage roll and getting funny looks from the locals (He’s white, he looks Australian so why isn’t he voting?). If that wasn’t enough, we stopped the car to vote on our way to Canberra for the annual flower shower (the Floriade), a trip which included an obligatory visit to Parliament house and a walk past those solemn paintings of past prime ministers.

But now that the opportunity has come – and I probably could have voted in a week’s time if I’d made a big effort on the paperwork front – I could hardly care.

Who the hell would I vote for? There’s very little to inspire me among the neo-conservative Coalition, directionless and clueless Labor and the loopy Greens. There’s the smaller parties with their eccentric candidates so maybe I’d chose them and preference the bigger parties last, but then what would be the point? A protest vote perhaps?

All quite different from when I voted for the first time in South Africa in 1994. That wonderful sunny autumn day when there was hope and belief and joy in the air and as the newspapers rang out “Vote, the beloved country” with photos of lines of people snaking endlessly down city streets, amongst the leafy suburbs and through country side and hilltops.

APTOPIX South Africa Elections

A queue of voters in South Africa, 1994

It was a glorious moment, history in the making, and one of my finest memories.

But there’s nothing to inspire me now, in fact its far more enjoyable watching the circus from the sidelines (so to speak).

The truth is, I’ll eventually find the time and energy to put all the paperwork together and put my application in because to steal from Peter Allen, I also want to call Australia home (in an official capacity).

Indeed, it will be a proud day when they hand me a tree, offer me a lamington and a tiny tub of Vegemite.

But as for voting, I’m happy to wait another three years.

An Australia Day contemplation on becoming an Australian

australia dayA week ago, I rang up the Department of Immigration to enquire about a passport matter.

Whilst on the phone, I asked the woman on the end of the line if she could tell me when I would be eligible for Australian citizenship.

To my surprise, she told me it was mid-March…this year.

I’d expected to be told it would be a couple of years off.

Despite having lived here for over 8 years (and qualified enough in my eyes as my tax returns can attest) I know all too well that there are convoluted rules about how long you must be in the country on certain visas before you can, in the words of Peter Allen (or Qantas), “call Australia home”.

Forests in Tasmania have been decimated to supply the paperwork to complete previous visa applications: two for a work permits and one for my spouse visa.

But that of course is the Australian way.

Finding out about my upcoming dual citizenship opportunity has got me thinking a bit more about what it will mean to be an Australian, provided the spooks (ASIO) don’t deem me a security risk, and send me to the Ecuadorian embassy in London to join Julian Assange, or worse, Pretoria.

Should I pledge my allegiance to Dick Smith and only buy Australian-made products, even if they cost more?

Do I now support the Wallabies, the Kangaroos, the Baggy Greens, the Socceroos, the Olyroos, the Hockeyroos, the Boomers, the Diamonds, the Matildas, the Opals and the Koalas?

Do I have to shout for Lleyton Hewitt? Do I? Do I?

And must I call the mayor the “mare”?

So much to ponder!

Finding out about becoming an oke ‘Stralian has also coincided with the run up to Australia Day tomorrow (January 26) with the nation getting the day off on Monday.

I’ve always had mixed feelings about Australia Day.

My mind always seems to conjure up images of drunken yobbos, Australian flags draped over their shoulders like capes, stomping on cars and hurling abuse at anyone not white enough, as happened in Manly a couple of years back.

And I also tend to think of that famous Australian “pride” t-shirt. You know the one that says:

“This Is Australia – We eat meat, we drink beer and we speak f#ckin english!”

Losely translated it means:

“Unless you’re white, kindly f*ck off”

Strangely enough, this Howard-era slogan has not quite disappeared under the slightly left-leaning Labor government.

Instead, it’s morphed into:

“This is Australia: We  eat meat, we speak English, but if you have $5 million, we couldn’t give a f*ck”

Not quite as catchy I admit, but true.

The ‘$5 million, no English’ required refers to the new ‘Golden ticket’ visa – or the more official sounding Significant Investor Visa – the government is giving out to anyone who can stump up a wad of cash, no matter if they speak Martian.

At the same time, they’re deporting refugees who arrive by boat to remote island hell-holes or forcing them into poverty on the mainland, by not allowing them to work.

Which of course brings me to the issue of who I am going to vote for, since voting is compulsory (a strange phenomenon I have yet to get my head around) and there is an election coming up towards the end of the year.

I was never  a fan John Howard and Mr Speedo (Tony Abbott), Shrek (Joe Hockey) and Condeleeza Rice’s cousin-from-another-mother (Julie Bishop) hardly seem much better.

Perhaps if Malcolm Turnbull took charge I’d consider it. Or maybe I’ll have consider the Greens. I’ll have to do some reading.

On that note, I’ve been reading up about what Australia Day really is all about.

Officially, it serves to commemorate the arrival of the first British fleet of convict ships in 1788 and the laying of the foundations for modern day Australia.

But it seems to mean different things to different people, or nothing at all.

The white bogans in the far outer burbs, rusty cars parked on unkept lawns, pit-bulls at the ready, use the occasion to lament the days when Australian culture was whiter the washing washed in OMO.

The aborigines call it invasion day, and who can blame them.

The government talks about celebrating everything that’s great about Australia, but usually just end up in fisticuffs with the opposition, or as happened last year, with the prime minister being unceremoniously dragged off by her security personnel after Tony Abbott had fanned the flames of aboriginal anger.

As for new citizens-to-be like me?

We’re still trying to figure out the bloody rules to Australian football, ponder why football is called soccer and rugby football, and why that red-faced balding geezer who once coached the Wallabies is still on the radio.

Perhaps on Australia Day this year, I’ll just take inspiration from that marvellous Paul Hogan ad from the 1980s – you know the one where he talks about:

“The land  of wonder, the land down under“.

And throw a couple of shrimps on the barbie.