Some time in the last few decades, we started treating coal, livestock, woodchips and washing machines as more important than human beings. Labor and Liberal governments suddenly decided that turning back boats full of human beings (or imprisoning them forever) is a good idea, but that it would be a terrible infringement on liberty to restrict boatloads of coal, livestock, woodchips and consumer goods.
What went wrong with our priorities? In a word, neoliberalism -- which reduces human beings to being mere instruments of production, and which elevates materials of production to semi-divine, untouchable status. It a perverse philosophy that predictably results in perverse outcomes for people.
In other words, when we turn back the boats, we turn our backs on our own humanity.
They were welcomed by Australia and Australians. My grandfather soon gained employment at the iron foundry in Annandale and they began the painful but hopeful task of starting a new life free of persecution. My father soon came along and they moved to the mid-north coast, as far from their persecutors as they thought they could get (they were right, the Nazis never made it as far a Bulahdelah).
If my grandparents journeyed to Australia in this fashion today, they would be sent to Manus Island. There, they would learn no English and soon contract malaria. My aunt would fail to thrive and, god forbid, might have been preyed upon by abusive guards. My father would never have be born.
I cannot and will not stand for this. Australia will one day, soon, be able to stand again with dignity among the community of nations -- it will be again the Australia that welcomed so many like my grandparents, like the millions of postwar migrants and refugees and the generations since. This is a commitment we must all make together, to reclaim our humanity from the neoliberal thrall into which the Liberals and Labor have cast our nation.