Although I consider myself originally a Kiwi, I spent many, many years in Australia. I lived in major cities like Sydney and Perth, and I lived in small, remote mining communities like Weipa. What I observed everywhere was that there appeared to be at least three parallel societies within the country as a whole.
There was a vibrant, multicultural, mostly born overseas, group of people that rejoiced in their diversity and genuinely enjoyed being together, celebrating each other’s festivals and feeling part of a wider international community. It was a delight to sit around a dinner table and discover that almost everyone there had been born in a different country, adding their own unique cultural background to the mix. Our ‘pot luck’ meals were fantastic! That was MY Australia.
Then there was a group that wanted to turn the clock back – to return to the White Australia policy of the past, to harden their hearts and deny compassion to desperate people fleeing unconscionable violence in their homelands, a group that were suspicious of anyone slightly different, that wanted to obliterate any cultural differences and insist on uniformity based on their own views. They were vociferous in their intolerance, and this was the group that the politicians sought to woo whenever it came to elections, pandering to racist tendencies and narrow minded attitudes. These people did not represent my Australia and sickened me.
The third parallel society was that of the indigenous people who struggle to have a voice and are mostly pushed into the shadows. They have an incredibly long and proud history, and I sincerely hope they will one day also have a future they can be proud of, though sadly I can’t see it happening any time soon.
Geographically, Australia lies off the shores of Asia. When Australians want to go on holiday, they buy a plane ticket and off they go – to Bali, to Malaysia, to Thailand – and all they have to worry about is what clothes to pack and how much dutyfree they can bring back.
When citizens of those Asian countries want to visit Australia though, it’s not so simple. My brother has a Thai partner who has to jump through hoops if she wants to visit him in Australia – a trip to the Embassy, showing all her bank account and business details, paying a significant sum for a visa, all under the scrutiny of a suspicious Immigration official who doubts everything she says. What gives Australians the right to travel freely to their neighbouring countries, while citizens of those countries are denied reciprocal rights?
So where am I going with this?
Well, one of the reasons I moved to Wales was that it was part of Europe. I saw it as a place that was proud of its own history, culture and language but was also proud to take its place amongst a group of neighbouring nations that were intent on moving closer together and building mutual respect and consideration.
To me the European Union represents the relationship that Australia should be having with its neighbours. Yes, it’s not perfect and there are obvious areas of bureaucracy that need to be streamlined and sorted out, but we should be doing that for the benefit of all, not just for the benefit of the UK.
I cringed every time I read that the UK was asking for special consideration and to be different to everyone else. Why? The whole focus of the Leave campaign seemed to be what do WE get out of it? It was reflecting the attitude prevalent in the second group of Australians mentioned above.
Well, I’m sorry, but I tend to look at it the other way round.
What can we contribute that will lead to an increased benefit for all? How can we add our skills and create a more unified and stable region, while encouraging and supporting diversity like the myriad of minority languages that exist within the member countries? How can we, as a group of diverse nations, be a shining example to the rest of the world showing that differences can be overcome and we can all work together for the better good?
I don’t know what the next few months hold, but I feel a sense of great sadness. Politicians with their own agenda have yet again manipulated large numbers of people by appealing to their basest instincts and feeding them misinformation. Welsh voters have had facts about the real effect on Wales totally obliterated by the hysteria in some of the English press. Our politicans have let us down by not making sure that all Welsh people made a decision based on accurate information, not emotional harping back to some glorious imagined past.
“Give us our country back?” – when, in the last 500 years, did Wales actually belong to the Welsh?