Thursday, August 5, 2010

Would it feel different if you knew them?

I tend to watch SBS for my TV evening news.  It used to be a better quality bulletin than it is these days but at least it still has some sort of global perspective.  It's because I don't really want or need to know about the latest local sensation - if it's that important I'll hear about it elsewhere or on SBS anyway.  But the vast majority of Australians still get their news and current affairs from the 'mainstream' commercial media, with its typically parochial and variously partisan biases.  And that of course does much to shape how the electorate talks to itself, the stories we tell ourselves, what we understand the 'norm' is that we must find a way to fit in with, or be content to be in some way an outsider.  Just saying, is all.

The other day on an internet forum I frequent (a special-interest one about Blended Diets and such for us tubey people) I mentioned something about my Australianism and in response got a "g'day!" from some sort-of expats, with a bit of their story.  It squeezed my compassion glands somewhat, and admittedly made me a little ashamed (again) that I've not done a better job of shaping the government that serves me into a more humane organ.  But it also got me thinking.

What happened was this, in brief.  An American couple, let's call them the K family, had been in Australia working for a couple of years, in Sydney.  Wanted to stay here, as they fell in love with it.  Happens all the time as we know, and these were the sorts of skilled and good people we say we want and need to live here.  They had been told that should they apply for permanent residency they would be a dead cert, it would be just a formality.  Then they had a son, a new little Aussie; let's call him O.  O was born with some problems and disabilities.  As is so often the case with these sorts of kids, the prognosis takes a while to develop.  The K family do not have the benefit of Medicare, being American, despite O being born here.  Mr K is still working and paying big tax dollars and buying the groceries and so on.  They have applied for permanent residency too, but now there's a hiccup - little O the Aussie.  Basically, the run-around began.  Delays asking for further medical reports in so many months time, then when the reports were submitted no-one would ever get back to the Ks about progress.  Insert all the usual horror stories about bureaucracy you can think of here.  The immigration folks seemed to be putting every log in the track they could without actually formally completing a denial of application.  In time the K's immigration lawyers advised them that they would eventually be denied and would then be faced with a long and expensive legal battle with no guaranteed outcome.  All because this little boy was born with medical issues that may affect him for an unknown number of years into the future.  Had he been a healthy little guy, or had he not been born, we'd have some good new Australians right now, rather than one little native-born guy we have deported to a country with the sorts of interesting healthcare outcomes we all know they get in the USA.  Without Medicare support and far from the help of family they had to pack up, quit Mr K's excellent job, and move back to the US.  Good one, Australia.

Apparently, this is far from unusual.  The only way I can properly describe this as a systemic approach is as economic eugenicism.  Interestingly, had they been refugees, O's condition would not have been an issue at all, born here or not.

No problem for these kids (once the detention nightmare is over), regardless of their possible health issues.

Now I don't really know the K family except from a few forum posts and a couple of emails with Mrs K asking if I could share their story here anonymously.  But regardless of that I felt ashamed at their treatment, that we civilised humans can behave in this dishonest way.  I would have felt completely different if there had just been a simple, outright, cut-and-dried policy saying "no disabled kids.  Take him to where you guys came from or lose him and then you can stay, just the two of you."  That would suck, but be honest at least.

What do you think?  And does it make a difference how the story comes to you?  Might you for example read some stats about how many folks are denied entry each year based on the medical situation of their children (and consequent social/taxpayer costs) and think "that's a bit unfortunate, but really we already have enough kids who need help and it's good to create a healthier society where we can.  Got to draw a line somewhere"?  Or might you read such a story such as this, or see it on a current affairs program with repeated emphasis on "Aussie O" and tearful parents, and their contribution to society here, (subliminally also their whiteness - if they're white, I don't know - and their English-speakingness) and the underhand ways of immigration delaying tactics and legal system parasites and have a moment of outrage at the inhumanity of it?  Or how about if you met Mr and Mrs K and little O (O.K., ha!) and heard their story, and looked at their faces, and held his tiny, uncomprehending hand.  Could you then still easily rationalise the economic eugenicist argument of social cost?

I know in myself that I'm susceptible to such first-impression filtering.  The local news about a missing child with graphic shots of a tearful mother, unspoken suspicions of her possible complicity or guilt perhaps, serious police faces, a streetscape near's all designed to elicit a response in us that apparently consumers of such news want to have - or they wouldn't make it that way.  On the other hand we could view it through the filter that someone goes missing every 15 minutes in this country and hundreds of these case go unsolved every year.  Tens, perhaps hundreds of thousands of children go missing and meet unknown fates worldwide every year and their parents are no less mauled and wrenched by the experience than any other.  Yet Madeleine McCann was a worldwide sensation.  How she disappeared is not even all that unusual in a global sense.

So I wonder, since we are the ones who demand to be fed the emotive stories we seem to crave, why we do not have the stories such as little Aussie O more often on our screens.  When the Gulf oil spill happened, BP effectively occupied the affected beaches and banned media to avoid oiled pelican shots hitting our screens. Well at least they tried every trick in the book.  But that's different, this is like a conspiracy of silence.

Is it that we are actually ashamed, en masse, by consensus, yet are so mired in not knowing what to do about this stuff that we just shut it all out?

Can we only talk about asylum seekers in polarised terms as either deeply desperate refugees; all 14 million of whom worldwide who must all be given safe shelter here immediately, or as illegal queue jumpers and suspected terrorists carrying foot and mouth disease?

Perhaps we lack the will to let this stuff out into the open genuinely.  Sure, there are lots of voices I'm hearing seeking a heartfelt and rational conversation, and urging action on the core issues of how we treat each other and ourselves, but the inertia and gravitational pull of the dumb-sensation media feedback loop we use as a substitute for genuine emotional and spiritual engagement with our brethren humans and natural environment still seems king.  Truly, in this light we are Borg.

And it is this last that gives me greatest comfort, oddly enough.  When enough of us decide to stop just tolerating the status quo that passes for movement towards a better shared future, the tipping point will be reached.  Surely.  So tolerate those who wish to remain asleep to this, of course, but do give them every chance to be helped awake, should they see a light.

Again, here endeth the rant.

For now.

1 comment:

  1. Interesting post. I know a woman whose brother was sent back to the UK after a car accident that left him a quadraplegic...thirty years after he first arrived here as a child, because he was not officially an Aussie.

    Our propaganda regarding 'carer help telephone lines' can't cover up the fact that families are caring around the clock for free, until the child or carer dies.

    The child then often faces a very uncertain future.

    It's a shocking situation in this country, and one that many people 'solve' by actually leaving.

    The UK has a mandate whereby it MUST help disabled people... it's a far superior system, apparently.

    We all deserve adequate personal liability insurance. And carers deserve a much better deal. This is an area that I feel strongly about.

    What is government for, if not disabled people and their families?

    My brother, who is diagnosed with PERMANENT cerebral palsy (obvi!!), has to prove his continued disability every year or so for a continuance of his lousy disability pension.

    When, nonplussed, he doesn't stashes this letter and doesn't reply, Centrelink - what a name - cuts him off!!