With the first load of asylum-seekers being airlifted to Manus Island today, it seems our "boundless plains" are no longer for sharing, especially with those coming by boat, writes Saman Shad.
It's a verse familiar to us all, from a song all Australians have sung at one point in our lives:
“For those who've come across the seas, We've boundless plains to share; With courage let us all combine, To Advance Australia Fair”.
As children especially, these words are repeated often at school assemblies and at sporting carnivals.
And while as adults we may hastily roll off the words we once learned many years ago, our children pay special attention to what is actually being said.
It's for this reason that a mother recently wrote to a parenting forum of which I'm a member.
Her son had come home from school and asked why our Prime Minister was sending people away from our shores when our national anthem clearly states “we've boundless plains to share”.
She didn't have an answer for him.
As a fellow mother, I would also be stumped.
With the first load of asylum-seekers being airlifted to Manus Island today, thereby launching the so-called PNG solution, it seems our boundless plains are no longer for sharing, especially with those coming by boat.
But what sort of impression is this leaving on our children?
Children view the world in black and white. They don't see greys but plainly judge what they hold to be right and wrong. Morally, we all know that the PNG solution is an act of cruelty. It's one that is not only unjust but in breach of International law. It's also an extreme act of NIMBYism – if we send them off to another country, then they cease to be our problem - even though under International law Australia retains legal responsibility for people it resettles offshore.
Despite all this, a recent poll has shown that a majority of Australians support this PNG “solution”. As adults, it seems we are able to swallow our morals if it means we don't have to hear about boat people again.
But in the eyes of a child this is setting a dangerous example – one that says our nation's hearts and arms are open for some, but not for others. We're still living in the fallout of the White Australia policy – a policy that demonstrated to a nation that we were accepting of migrants as long as they were white. It's a legacy of racism that still stings many of us to this day.
What then will be the legacy of the PNG solution? What sort of country will this set up for our children in the future? Will it harden their hearts towards those seeking mercy? Will it inadvertently tell them to show empathy for those who look like them but show nothing for the brow-beaten, scrawny brown folk coming off a boat?
I sincerely hope not.
It is hard to explain to a child that we currently have a Prime Minister who will do anything to win votes. This includes sending people who have every right to flee persecution and seek asylum in a safe country to a nation that ranks as one of the poorest countries on earth.
We must tell our children that no matter how short-sighted and hard-hearted our current policy towards asylum-seekers and refugees may be, they must not become like those who are currently in power.
We must instil in our children morals and good judgement, so that one day they can grow up to rule a country that we can all be proud of:
“To make this Commonwealth of ours, Renowned of all the lands”.