Buddy or Bully-Boy? Is it time to Boycott Australia over Human Rights Abuses?

In the shadow of our ANZAC commemorations, it is time to ask whether Australia is still our mate.

This year Australia spent A$145 million on ANZAC commemorations, including the new Australian War Memorial over here in New Zealand. 6500 Australian men enlisted in WW1, but like for us in Aotearoa, Gallipoli is particularly significant. In BBC News article describing the pull of ANZAC day commemorations, Wendy Frew says,

 it is Gallipoli that holds a special place in Australian hearts. Many believe it was here Australians proved themselves the equal of any in the world, heralding the young nation’s emergence onto the world stage.

So, unbeatable odds. Mate-ship. Courage under fire.

Being a mate and having courage in adversity are ingredients my Australian Great-Grandfather would have described as character. In the interests of full disclosure, my Pakeha mother hails from Australian Irish roots. Our family lore includes the fabulous tale of how my Great-Great-Grandmother was the midwife that delivered Ned Kelly. Which goes to show that given the right conditions, you can be proud of anything.

You can even build identity out of it.

Because there is no doubt that Gallipoli holds a special place in our national imaginations, and that commemorations are a form of nation-building. In 1983, theorist Benedict Anderson argued that nations are an ‘imagined political community’. He meant that we don’t have relationships with most people in our nation, but nevertheless have a sense of belonging to a group and sharing particular affinities. Our belonging is most keenly felt through larger events, like rugby games. Or like Gallipoli commemorations. Mate-ship. Courage under fire.

But what happens when a nation commits acts that are at odds with the way we think of them? How are we as New Zealanders to make sense of Australia’s human rights abuses?

There are two areas where Australia is drawing international attention for human rights abuses: in the Australian Government’s treatment of refugees and in their treatment of Indigenous Australians. I can’t help but think that these failures in compassion are intrinsically linked; that they relate to an outdated, racist understanding of who an Australian is. That Australia, one of the strongest global economies, is protecting its wealth for the good of white Australian citizens, at the expense of Indigenous communities.

Let’s get real about how bad Australian human rights abuses have got.

As you may know, on May 1st there were 10,000 protestors in Australian cities protesting the threat of closure of remote communities in Western Australia.  The #SOSBLAKAUSTRALIA campaign came about through a call to action from the people of West Kimberley. In November 2014, Colin Barnett, Premier of Western Australia, announced that the State could no longer support 150 remote Aboriginal Communities, which could be removed by the end of 2015. Prime Minister Tony Abbott has backed this statement, saying “What we can’t do, is endlessly subsidise choices, if those lifestyle choices are not conducive to the kind of full participation in Australian society that everyone should have”.

As #SOSBLAKAUSTRALIA have pointed out, it is against UN HUMAN RIGHTS LAW for any people to remove another people from their land. The Commonwealth of Australia signed up to this convention in 2009 and is accountable.

Meanwhile, the treatment of refugees to Australia has gone from bizarre to ridiculous with Australia sending refugees from the processing facility at Nauru to Cambodia. Human Right’s Watch  have argued that Cambodia has a bad record with refugees and it’s own serious human rights abuses. Including torture. Meanwhile, Amnesty reminds us that 107 children are amongst those detained on Nauru, with another 60 are detained in Australia.

It’s gone far enough.

Nothing reminds us of our mate-ship with Australia more than ANZAC day. We are close by, used to skipping over the ditch for holidays or work or shopping trips. According to NZTE, we also have one of the closest and broadest trade relationships in the world. Our two-way trade is worth NZ$24 billion.

So if you thought John Key might have a soft word with Tony Abbott about human right’s abuses while they were watching the cricket, you are sorely mistaken. From Key’s perspective, it’s all about  maintaining our trade relationship. Australia is New Zealand’s second biggest export market, worth NZ$13.18 billion, in things like crude oil, gold, wine and cheese.

What about New Zealand as a nation? Is there anything we can do to tell our closest mate that their behaviour is not okay? Is there anything we can do to support the human rights of Indigenous Australians and refugees? Or is it simply a case of New Zealand being the little guy, a small country without the wealth or status to do anything except bear witness?

So, unbeatable odds.

And something my Australian Great-Grandfather might have called character. When you stand up to a bully, even though he is stronger than you. Or even harder, when you speak out to a friend, knowing that your words might cost you their friendship.

I think it’s time we as New Zealanders start boycotting Australian products. We are less significant to them economically – their 7th largest export market, worth NZ$10.9 billion to the Australian economy in things like aluminium, cars, wheat, chocolate and retail medicines. But we as New Zealanders can vote with our wallets and stop buying Australian chocolates, cars and medicines. Unfortunately, this kind of global attention to human rights abuse might make the Australian Government pay attention.

Because in the shadow of ANZAC, we could remember that some people gave their lives for a sweet ideal they called freedom. And standing up to your mate when he’s being a nong, well it’s what you do when you’re a mate, isn’t it?