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What price a quiet heart?

By Daemon Singer - posted Friday, 13 September 2013

It began with a radio program here in Brisbane, asking the question "what makes an Australian?" It was premised on the requirement for people going to citizenship ceremonies and being given a piece of paper making them "Australian", and as part of that process, having to "swear allegiance to Australia".

There were many suggestions about how somebody who is actually an Australian by birth could indicate their "Australian-ness", and among the things shared by ordinary everyday listeners, was a love of country, knowing all verses of the National anthem, knowing who Sir Don Bradman was, and other somewhat sensible ideas, none of which really did it for me.

Eventually, I rang up and said that rather than measure Australian people, why don't we measure Australia, and find ways not so much to codify Australia, as much as to quantify our country's "Australian-ness".


I cast my mind back to my days in the Navy in the 1970s, and the regular arrival by fishing boat of people displaced by that first misadventure we entered into with the Americans, frequently referred to as the "undeclared war", Vietnam.

Where, I wonder, are the similarities? Let's write them down just so that we can see them:

  • Both wars were started by America, for reasons which later/have now proved spurious.
  • Both wars resulted in huge numbers of displaced persons, none of whom needed to be/are managed by America. Displaced persons are normally handled by countries in the region.
  • Both wars changed people's view of America as "the great saviour".
  • Both wars have almost bankrupted the United States.
  • Both wars put the Australian government at the time in an invidious position with the population.
  • Many Australians hated the government of the day for what they had done on behalf of the United States, and expressed that hatred by unfairly spitting on returning diggers, who had done exactly as they were told.

In a recent letter to the then Prime Minister, Mr Rudd and now Prime Minister Abbott, his Excellency Bishop Hurley of Darwin noted the "brutal, uncompassionate and immoral stance towards refugees". He noted his personal sadness after having visited a couple of onshore detention centres in Darwin, noting that his own father was an immigrant to Australia.

My question remains; what cost to us as a people, this despicable, cruel, politically motivated handling of a crisis which is of our own making?

I thought back to the radio program and my view that what I miss as an Australian is a country which for decades, demonstrated the generosity of spirit which saw those Vietnamese "boat people", arrive on our shores and be taken into the bosom of the land and made one with it. Where now, those "boat people"?


Well, a few of them represent us in our parliaments. Others are well known and widely respected business people, employing "native" Australians, in their companies. I must confess I use the expression "native", with some trepidation because many of us regard the first people as natives, and those of us pale skinned, round eyed European usurpers, as the real "boat people".

As I listen now to the goggle eyed madness of 2 GB morning "talkback", reported occasionally by the American owned rubbish to which many of us turn for "news", ranting about which party will provide the most for the media barons, I wonder where that generosity of spirit has gone?

It certainly doesn't live in Western Sydney, where the original "criminality" of Suspected Illegal Entry Vessels began. It is certainly not part of the experience of the multiple, bipartisan, focus groups which were conducted by both the left and right of politics, in an effort to gain traction with a naive and self-serving electorate, mainly amongst fourth-generation unemployed Australians, worried about the impact of "boaties and reffo's, on their "jobs". People who had been called to the focus groups because they had nothing to do after going to the dole office, and the $70 they got for the focus group was not taxable and did not have to be reported to centre link.

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About the Author

Daemon Singer is an executive member of the Queensland Council for Civil Liberties. His views expressed here are his own and do not represent the formal views of the Council. For more information on the QCCL, visit their website:

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