Thursday, February 17, 2011

Whistling up the Hellhounds...

So shadow immigration minister Scott Morrison apologises. Not for the basic and fundamental inhumanity of his suggestion that those refugees who recently lost family members in the Christmas Island boat wreck (including the 9 year old boy who lost both of his parents and his brother in the disaster) not be allowed to attend the funerals of their family members, but he apologises for the timing of his comments for the same day of said funerals.

Gutter politics at its finest, Scott.

In this post, I'm not going to delve into murky depths of why I'm so socially and politically outraged over this. Other people have already done that very nicely, and far more politely than I could.

Instead, though, I want to offer a couple of tangential thoughts and observations on the whole thing:

Firstly, Mr. Morrison raised as his chief objection the $300,000 cost to the taxpayer of chartering a plane to bring the refugees from Christmas Island to Sydney for the funeral. Well, I guess that, viewed from a certain perspectives*, this might be seen as a fair enough point for any taxpayer, even a member of the Opposition, to make.

So I'll pay him that one.

And I mean that quite literally. According to the World Bank, Australia currently has a population of 21,874,900 people. That flight, therefore, cost us roughly $0.0137 AUD per person. Bearing in mind that not all of those counted in the population figures will be taxpayers, let's round that up to $0.02 a head. And given that we no longer have 0.02c coins in the Australian currency, I'll round it up again to 0.05c.

Because Mr Morrison is so upset at the cost, I'll volunteer, here and now, to pitch in his 5c for him. I'll drop a 5c coin in the post this afternoon, addressed to his electoral office. That ought to help him calm down a little.

He can even keep the change. He might be able to use it to buy his soul back.

In the meantime, here are a couple of little pictures, and one story, you (and Mr. Morrison) might be interested in:

This is a photograph of Christmas Island, taken about two or three kilometres along the coast from the Australian Immigration Detention Centre:

This is one of the Island's few beaches. I took this picture a few years ago, when I was lucky enough to do a tour of the Indian Ocean Territories, one of which I grew up on. Christmas Island is one of the most beautiful, but also frighteningly remote and inaccessible places I've ever been. To get to this 'beach' I had to 4wd and hike through dense tropical rainforest for about half an hour, before climbing down the cliffs you can see. This particular beach is only accessible on calm days at low tide. The rest of the time it's underwater.

As is most of the Island's waterline. In fact, the vast majority of the coast of Christmas Island looks like this:

Or, from close-up:

Those photos were also taken on a relatively calm day. When the seas are up, as they were on the day the refugee boat smashed against the rocks, it's far more savage. Far less forgiving. Far more brutal. It's one of the most stunning places but also one of the most psychologically daunting landscapes I've ever visited.

It's also isolated - Christmas Island was, for many years, the resting place of an unknown sailor, generally believed to have been one of the survivors of the sinking of the HMAS Sydney in 1941**. The body of the sailor, which was pulled out of the ocean at Christmas Island in 1942, was buried in an unmarked grave in the Island cemetery and within just a few short years, even the grave itself had vanished; swallowed up by the remorseless encroachment of the rainforest. Not until 2006 was the body found again and returned, still unidentified, to Australia. I was told about this story during my visit and it struck me at the time as one of the most sad and lonely tales I'd ever heard. The terrible isolation of that death and the inability of anyone to honour that sailor's memory with even passing remembrance was, I thought, as much a quirk of geography as it was the fortunes of war. For so many years, that man lay in a lost grave; unknown, unvisited, and unremarked. Even had he been identified, those who'd known and loved him would have been unable to visit his grave, thanks to the isolation and remoteness of his resting place.

And it saddens me that, 70 years later, there are still people in our community, including some of our 'leaders', who'd consign the survivors of that ill fated refugee boat to a similar burial - in a place so remote and inaccessable that their deaths would also, eventually, go unremembered and unacknowledged by those closest to them. Or, alternatively, who'd deny those who survived the tragedy the catharsis of closure - who'd attempt to score political points by denying those survivors, including that little boy, the opportunity to properly farewell their loved ones. Their mothers and fathers and brothers and sisters and children. And all for less than 1 cent of their taxes. All to appeal to 'popular' sentiment.

But it's not just Mr. Morrison who's attracted my ire.

One more picture:

This is a photograph I took, during my visit, of the Australian Immigration Detention Centre under construction. It's built at the far end of the island, as far as it's possible to get from the main settlement at Flying Fish Cove. It's surrounded on three sides, as you can see, by dense tropical rainforest which ends abruptly at those sheer coastal cliffs. On the fourth side, it's separated from the rest of the Island by barbed wire fences.

And, at 9.00 this morning, the minister for Immigration, Chris Bowen M.P, allowed that 9 year old boy, who'd been orphaned on the wild coast of Christmas Island, to be taken from Sydney, where he'd just buried his parents and brother and where he has living relatives, and put on a plane back to Christmas Island.

And at that particular piece of inhumanity, words fail me.

*the point of view of a rabble rousing bottom feeder, for example

** Survivor of the battle and sinking. Clearly not a survivor in the broader sense of the term.


  1. On a somewhat related note, my parents met on Christmas Island about 35 years ago - he was a land surveyor and she was a nurse. They've always talked about how beautiful it was there, and I definitely want to visit at some point.

    Not so keen on the swarms of red crabs migrating across the island, though!

  2. Great work, Tony. Needed to be said, and you've said it very well.



Blog Widget by LinkWithin