It’s hard to believe that almost fifty years have passed since Martin Luther King made his impassioned speech I Have A Dream. It resonates just as powerfully today as it did the day he delivered it at a Civil Rights march in Washington in April 1963. It’s fifty years since he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. Fifty years of turmoil and struggle, not only in the US, but around the world.
One wonders: how much progress have we really made in human conditions?
As head of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, Dr King championed non-violent resistance to racial oppression, yet was gunned down in 1968. Were his efforts in vain?
His dedication led to the Civil rights Act of 1964, and the Voting rights act in 1965. But his legacy didn’t stop there. How proud he would have been to see Barack Obama elected to the White House. A black President might have seemed unimaginable in his lifetime.
The denial of civil rights and oppression take many forms, from skin color to women being treated as second-class citizens. Many are caught up in wars or living under tyrannical regimes, struggling to achieve the rights and privileges most Australians take for granted. Many fear for their lives should they come from the wrong ethnic group. Many need help and compassion.
From the earliest days of our Colony, Australia lied in calling herself terra nullius. As settlement increased, and more land was needed by we white invaders, appalling treatment of indigenous people became common. It took until February 13th, 2008, under the auspices of Kevin Rudd, to make a long-overdue apology to our original Australians, which helped to ease their loss and grief.
Now, modern Australia has seen the birth of a new outrage: Manus Island. Anyone who has seen footage of conditions in the refugee centre would need a heart of steel not to be appalled by what was shown. Politicians and those who support this handling of human desperation should be hanging their heads in shame.
Men, women and children exist in filthy conditions behind bars. They not only suffer mental and physical abuse at the hands of those supposedly protecting them: one young man was bashed to death. No wonder the Government tries to keep it all hidden. To have Abbott bragging of keeping the boats back beggars belief.
The Government talks of a budget crisis, then wastes billions of taxpayer dollars on warships, lifeboats, off-shore buildings and staff. Most of the people in these situations will eventually be granted refugee status. Instead of having them rotting away in conditions worse than prison, and developing mental disorders which may last for decades, or cause permanent damage, it would make far more sense for us to use those dollars to build centres on the mainland. Letting newcomers work would help the community and economy, rather than them becoming a drain on it.
A small country like Lebanon deserves praise, accepting far more refugees than big, boastful Australia. We must stop demonizing those who risk their lives to arrive in leaky boats. It’s time to shoulder our responsibilities, set up local interviewing panels to prevent their need to flee, and invite these distressed people to begin new lives in our peaceful, democratic country.