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Letter from Down Under: 'Our attorney general argued that people have the right to be bigots'

I call it home but it’s a shame that Australia is still very much a work in progress, writes Irish emigrant Philip Lynch.

Philip Lynch Irish emigrant in Australia

AFTER YOU GET to Australia, you may be surprised by what you find.

But you’ll need to look past our shiny new cities and the endless freeways. And forget about the confected rivalry between Melbourne and Sydney, to quote a certain orange-haired bloke, that’s just fake news.

Cast your gaze beyond our chic cafes and our stunning sandy beaches. And, while you’re at it, ignore the aphorisms that inhabit the Australian vernacular, the “no worries”, the “she’ll be right mate” and countless other meaningless platitudes.

Australia’s problems

Like Ireland, you’ll find Australia has its fair share of problems. And, with the merest amount of religion remaining in our DNA, the church in Australia can hardly be held up as the whipping boy for our society’s broader woes.

Yes, we’ve had our fair share of “bad priests” as my father used to refer to them and anyway, this week’s charging of Cardinal George Pell with the quaintly titled “historical sex crimes” may well be a sucker punch to the diminishing number of those who regularly kneel in pews.

Blame, if that’s the right word, for our sad state of affairs, should be apportioned to those middle-aged conservative white heterosexual men, who for the most part, remain firmly in control in the political corridors and the boardrooms of this country.

Those same men are loath to tackle climate change, have little or no interest in renewable energies and shifting away from our reliance on fossil fuels. Other countries are far more concerned about our imperilled Great Barrier Reef than our own government. And those same men are furiously swimming against the tide to make sure that same-sex marriage remains a remote possibility, even though the overwhelming majority of Australians support allowing such unions.

An inward-looking country

Homophobic statements like those recently uttered by former tennis great Margaret Court are tolerated and even embraced as representing a necessary part of our right to free speech. Our attorney general, George Brandis, during his government’s ultimately ill-fated campaign to water down the Racial Discrimination Act, argued that people have the right to be bigots.

It’s as if Australia has become an inward-looking country, and therefore more prone to xenophobia, which may explain its unrelenting harsh treatment of asylum seekers who make it to our shores.

We have outsourced these unwanted arrivals to impoverished countries like Nauru and Papua New Guinea, where they are continuing to languish in primitive conditions. These offshore detention centres make Ireland’s direct provision seem like pampered kindergartens. Pleas by the UNHRC that we adopt a more humane approach have been resolutely ignored.

There are no Corbyns Down Under

Our tabloid media wastes no opportunity to fan the flames of Islamophobia. The British brand of tabloid journalism is well ensconced in Australian electronic and print media. It’s not uncommon for burqa or hijab wearing women to be assaulted and racially vilified in public. And yet our former PM Tony Abbott blithely states, as he did recently, that Islamophobia has never killed anyone.

And all the while, the gap between Australia’s wealthy and poor continues to widen. One third of our top corporations pay no tax. Our mining boom has poured significant amounts of money into the coffers of a handful of mining tycoons and yet there is no political will to address these inequalities. Just recently, and somewhat tellingly, one mining magnate, billionaire Andrew Twiggy Forrest opted to donate $400 million to charity.

Needless to say, there are no pale imitations of Jeremy Corbyn on the horizon Down Under. Successive governments have dismally failed to redress the appalling situation of indigenous Australians and there is no cause for optimism that the situation will improve in the foreseeable future.

It’s as if there is an entrenched conservativeness in Australia that’s showing no signs of abating. In a country, where women, ostensibly enjoy as much rights of men, it’s confronting to be reminded that, on average, two women are killed by their partner or ex-partner every week.

But for all that, Australia still has so much to offer migrants. After all, it’s a beautiful massive sprawling continent that was built with the blood and sweat of migrants and it has a rich multicultural history. It will always be an exciting place I’ll call my home. It’s just a shame it’s still very much a work in progress.

Philip Lynch left Ireland back in 1983, mainly due to economic reasons, and has lived in Australia ever since. He works as a nurse. He writes regularly  on emigration and after a long stint in Melbourne, he’s now happily living in Tasmania.

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About the author:

Philip Lynch  / Irish emigrant in Australia

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