I’ve been thinking about Australia’s refugee dilemma and wondering: why is this issue so difficult for so many?
It’s not as though we’re against those seeking a better life; not only have we signed all sorts of international commitments to accept refugees but it’s a big part of who we are; look back into your own family history and you’ll see that’s why most of us are here.
And so far as I know, no-one has advocated opening our doors to anyone and everyone; I think we’d all agree any country has a right to determine who is welcome and who isn’t.
But you can’t really choose who stays and who goes if you’re not sure what it means to be ‘one of us’. We talk a lot about ‘Australian values’ but so far no-one’s been able to tell me what the hell that means.
Maybe that’s why we’ve resorted to irrational criteria like Where You Were Born or How You Got Here, instead of what really matters, such as Who You Are.
What qualifies someone as ‘Australian’? (If it’s a love of football, beer and meat pies then that disqualifies me straight away).
Is it a belief in mateship? Possibly. Or the principle of the ‘Fair Go’ for all? Probably.
Or the ideal of a classless, egalitarian society? Hopefully.
I’ve always thought of Australia as a grand experiment; a big, young empty country with little or none of the awful historical baggage of the Old World, a place where we can make whatever future we want.
We’re a clean slate, a fresh start, a second chance. So why not invite people who genuinely want that opportunity for themselves and others… and reject those who don’t? (And why not apply that rule to everyone… even if they were born here?)
Let’s invite everyone to bring the best their old culture has to offer; their food, music, art and celebrations and insist they leave the worst – the old squabbles, resentments, superstitions and prejudices – behind.
That’s the beauty of a Welcome Mat:
It says ‘come on in, make yourself at home… but wipe your feet first.’