This afternoon I returned from the small town of Springsure back to Emerald, the economic hub of the Central Highlands region in Queensland. Before heading back to the motel to start uploading the pictures from today's community My Space/Our Place workshop, I decided to visit the local art gallery. As I walked through the main doors of the council building, a man joked to me that he was here to get his piece of paper. I didn't quite understand what he meant, he then added that he had been here for forty years, having built the Alice Springs Post Office in 1978, and never returned to New Zealand. And now, in only a few minutes he would officially be one of the newest Australian citizens.
I followed the man up the foyer stairs (I never did get his name), where a few other people were waiting outside the council chambers. A family of Indian appearance, another man from New Zealand with his daughter, a man of African appearance and another man of Indian appearance were all to take the oath to become Australian citizens, along with this unknown man from NZ. I joined the public gallery and watched as Mayor Peter Maguire introduced himself to the (immediate) future Australian citizens and handed them their official papers. I can't remember ever attending a citizenship ceremony before, and I was strangely eager to witness these people become Australian by law.
Four of the eight people gaining citizenship sat around the councillors' tables facing the public gallery, where elected officials normally sit and debate local legislation and other matters. As I sat there watching, it dawned on me that this is what I hoped local councils, local governments, state governments and our federal government would one day look like. Our parliaments are currently dominated by white, Anglo-Saxon men. Sure, they have diverse and opposing views representing the breadth of our society, but one day I hope that governments all over Australia will be more diverse, with gender equality and appearances representative of the diverse nation that is Australia. Change is in the air.
The recent outpouring of public support for Australia to receive refugees from the Syrian crisis has warmed my heart and given me hope that our country does indeed have a moral compass that is not completely haywire. I strongly support Australia receiving more refugees, and us playing a role in this terrible humanitarian time of need. Not only do we need to help Germany and countries like Finland that are pledging to welcome awesome numbers of refugees into their countries, but we also need to make sure that the way in which refugees and people seeking asylum are housed are not detained or resettled on the shores of our poorer Pacific nation friends. It is our responsibility as a first world nation, with a strong economy, to start really thinking hard about these issues, and how we as a country treat people who are in search of a safe and prosperous life for themselves and their family.
Our Prime Minister Tony Abbott has done somewhat of a backflip in only a few days on this horrible situation, now sending Immigration Minister (and Border Protection Minister) Dutton to Geneva to talk to the UNHCR about how Australia will assist in this crisis. But Abbott stumbled and hesitated on this, first saying that he was unmoved to take in any people fleeing from the war in Syria. He stumbled, and I think he knows it. Change in the air.
AFR's Chief Political Correspondent Laura Tingle was interviewed by Andrew West on Late Night Live last night, and when referring to the upcoming Canning by-election in Western Australia, one could hear in her voice the honesty in which she said that Abbott is in deep trouble. The PM is losing support not only from the public (the latest poll suggests Labor is 8 points in front of the coalition), but indeed from people in his own party. NSW Premier Mike Baird was on ABC's latest episode of Q&A (also last night) and he suggested that even more refugees may need help than the ten thousand Labor's Anthony Albanese mentioned on the same program. Was I hearing properly? A Liberal Premier in essence saying that Labor's number will not be high enough. Change is in the air.
After declaring an allegiance to Australia, Mayor Peter Maguire asked the eight new Australians and the the ten of us in the public gallery to stand and sing the national anthem. After making a few pictures, I put my camera down and I sung Advance Australia Fair with my new country men and women, and as I looked at each one of them, I smiled and thought, 'Change is in the air'.