Congratulations on your victory. Your campaign was a bit dull and underdone, but that’s all history now. Winning was all that mattered, and you did it.
The value of the victory, however, will be measured by what you are going to do with it. How do you go about unravelling the Howard legacy which permeated all aspects of Australian society in order to set the stage for a new chapter in Australia’s history?
It is a big job so why not start with this: my humble essential wishlist for 2008.
Abolish the extreme elements of Howard’s anti-terror legislation. Howard grossly exaggerated the terror threat for political gain. Does Australia really need ‘sedition’ and ‘control order’ legislation? Is it "Australian" for a citizen who has not been charged with any crime at all to be placed under curfew or statutory surveillance by the State? The Law Council of Australia opposed this, so did every Law Society in Australia. Restore decency. Resist the calls from the zealots in the intelligence industry, and get rid of this affront to the rule of law.
Dump Howard’s citizenship test, and don’t ever mention "Australian values" again. This was not a policy but a wedge played by Howard to demonise minorities while encouraging the worst prejudices of the majority. We don’t need to ask a migrant about Don Bradman, the colour of the flag, or what "mateship" means before accepting them as citizens. There was no evidence that Howard’s test would make anyone a better citizen. The process to gain Australian citizenship must be race-blind and prejudice-free. Don’t call for another committee on the matter; just get rid of it, and quickly.
Don’t wrap yourself around the Australian flag or wear any Australian national team jerseys again. Australia is a liberal and secular democracy, not the sporting democracy that Howard fostered so shamelessly. Don’t turn up again at the ABC commentary box to say that cricket is the Australian sport. You are the Prime Minister of a multicultural nation and cricket – to the many millions of migrants who live in this country – epitomises the old country, the white picket fence mentality that Howard pushed so divisively. Go the Mandela way: use sport to unite us, not to divide us.
Attend cultural events and praise Australian films, plays, operas and concerts. Give us a sign that you will abandon the disgraceful antagonism that Howard, and his toadies in the media, displayed towards intellectuals and artists. Culturally, we are in a parlous state. This country is much more than beach, sun, surf and beer. Make us feel proud of our artists and cultural industry again.
Demolish the detention camps for asylum-seekers. But don’t do it quietly. Call a media conference, hire bulldozers and let the cameras register the symbolic moment when these hideous monuments of intolerance come down. Let’s tell the world that Australia will never again treat the weakest and the needy in this way. Make our own society reflect on the shame we ought to feel for having condoned this affront to humanity.
Change the name of the Department of Immigration and Citizenship back to the Department of Immigration, Indigenous and Multicultural Affairs. And then call in the heads of all its departments and tell them – in front of the cameras and the whole country – that the days when they were the enforcers of Howard’s Fortress Australia policy are over. Tell them we are ashamed of what happened, and that Australia will no longer tolerate human rights abuses in the name of the Migration Act ever again.
Prime Minister, this list could be longer and I know that there are other pressing economic and social priorities to attend. But the damage done to the fabric of our society was so great that time is of the essence. Only after you are done will we be able to start feeling good about being Australian again.
Perhaps then we can begin to feel relaxed and comfortable.
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