When I was a child, I used to hold my hand on my heart at school assembly and chant: I am an Australian. I love my country. I salute her flag. I honour her queen. I promise to obey her laws. If we were naughty in class, we received a whack with the cane but there were no cages.
Now I say: I am an Australian. Our flag is dishonoured and so is our name. I cannot condone my country’s inhumane laws. I am ashamed.
I AM ASHAMED that our government and opposition endorse stop-gap policies that discriminate against desperate and vulnerable people who come to our shores seeking protection from war and persecution.
I AM ASHAMED that these policies are both immoral and illegal, and seek to punish one group of people in order to send a message to others.
I AM ASHAMED that our government and opposition pander to the racist underbelly of our country by locking asylum seekers away on off-shore islands without charge or trial where they go mad and kill themselves.
I AM ASHAMED that these island prisons, originally intended for short-term use while asylum seekers had their claims processed, now hold people who have been there for over three years without charge or trial.
I AM ASHAMED that because we have no provisions in our own constitution we have to rely on a young country like Papua New Guinea with a relatively new justice system to tell us we have been guilty of a flagrant violation of the most fundamental human right – the right to liberty.
I AM ASHAMED that we are not moved to cry out in rage at the plight of Reza Berati, killed in our country’s care when his head was crushed by a rock. By Hamid Khazaei who died of sepsis from a scratch because the bureaucrats in our Immigration Department denied him medical treatment until it was too late. By the rape of a young woman who was not removed to a safe place for an abortion before she was sent to other ports and hospitals where abortion is illegal and where she had no interpreter.
I AM ASHAMED of the lies and excuses and double-speak used by our Immigration Minister to disclaim responsibility and blame.
I AM ASHAMED of having a Prime Minister who tells us not to get misty eyed about a young man who lost his ability to cope on an island prison and was driven to immolate himself in front of his young wife who later sat at his bedside and cried and watched him die.
I AM ASHAMED that my taxes are used as bribes to prop up corrupt regimes of our neighbours in order to remove the problem from our sight.
I AM ASHAMED that we no longer have leaders with the courage of Malcolm Fraser who was able to persuade the better side of Australians to welcome over 200,000 immigrants fleeing Asian countries, including 56,000 from Vietnam alone.
I AM ASHAMED that we all too easily stereotype Muslims seeking Australia’s protection as potential terrorists.
I AM ASHAMED that we have not worked with our regional neighbours to find a better, fairer way to solve the world-wide problem of displaced people fleeing wars and terrorism and persecution.
I DO NOT have all the answers but I know that SHAME is a slippery word that thrives on secrecy, silence and lies. I know IT IS TIME to stop using vulnerable and damaged people for political point scoring. IT IS TIME to close down the island prisons and end the inhumanity of detention for the people on Nauru and Manus. IT IS TIME they were brought to the mainland and their claims processed without delay. IT IS TIME to show our better side.