Refugees landing on Australian soil only to be thrown in offshore detention centers. Heads of state promoting their mistresses to highly paid positions behind the public eye. An indigenous history, forgotten.
Australian politics claim to be moderate, democratic, and most remarkably, “better than America.” However, within the first few days of arriving on Australian land, I realized that there are some serious flaws to the way things are run around here. First of all, despite the fact that every citizen is mandated to vote, whatever party is currently in power has the authority to remove the ruling Prime Minister at a moment’s notice and replace them with a random candidate of their choosing. Overnight, the general population loses control of their vote and their say in democracy. Meanwhile, major human rights atrocities of past and present are being acknowledged by the public yet ignored by legislation and policy. And salacious personal scandals, such as Barnaby Joyce’s secret family, proliferate Australian media––disproving the assertion that the media is less tabloidic than in the United States. Overall, the political landscape seems just as messy, complicated, and perhaps even more backwards than the screwed up country I left behind.
Worst of all, Australians tout their environmental consciousness, yet continue to destroy their precious natural landscape. The Great Barrier Reef is facing a rapid decline, deforestation rates are one of the highest globally, and the country is the world’s leading coal exporter. Of course, America (particularly under Trump) is not far behind, so I can’t sit here and claim that we’re some kind of guardian angel for the planet. However, my question to both of these nations is how can they pretend to be global superpowers when they are destroying their own fragile habitats?
The irony doesn’t stop: Australia, a nation of immigrants, has one of the worst policies on refugee admittance in the world. “Boat people” who wash up to the shores of Australia seeking asylum are not welcomed––in fact, just the opposite. They are thrown into offshore processing centers and treated like criminals, and then banned from Australia for life. On these island camps, authorities determine whether or not the immigrants should be considered “refugees,” which theoretically should change their legal status. Instead, however, even those deemed in need of asylum are settled on distant islands such as Nauru or Papua New Guinea where many of the camps are set up. As BBC News reported, these encampments have been inspected by human rights groups and found to be “totally inadequate, citing poor hygiene, cramped conditions, unrelenting heat and a lack of facilities.” In fact, the situation is so bad that the Supreme Court of Papua New Guinea decided to close one of the facilities, deeming the holding of asylum seekers in detention centers unconstitutional, as these refugees have committed no crimes. This leaves Australia with a dilemma that they previously pushed aside as far as they could––literally sending innocent people (and a national issue) to rot on islands thousands of miles offshore.
In case you couldn’t tell, I’m pretty cynical towards Australian politics. Perhaps this is my fault––I had higher expectations and an idealized view of the country, particularly since current politics in the United States is all sorts of wrong. Like I’ve said in my previous blog posts, I feel like sometimes Australia and the U.S. run so parallel that it can get confusing and a bit disappointing. However, I think that this semester is an opportunity to use my privilege and angle as an American student abroad to dig into the politics of this country and maybe become a catalyst for change.