WELCOME TO 2021

Posted by SCA on  January 1, 2021 |
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Precisely one year ago today I posted my last essay on this site. The year’s silence more a product of depression and trauma than calculated protest but a fitting reflection of the Morrison Government’s ambitions to silence us. I started that last essay of 1 January 2020 with this sentence, “My family survived 2019. We are grateful we survived. Many did not make it through the past year – property and life were lost – we at least continue to maintain breath and shelter.”

I cannot claim to be as optimistic or embrace the same sense of serenity as I write precisely one year to the day on this 1 January 2021. Too many years of suffering that we do not deserve have been permitted to pass and I weigh heavy the old axiom that justice delayed is justice denied. I am moved to call out that long leaned upon pillar of the Liberal Party – the one supporting the claim we are a nation of immigrants whose equality and inclusion is reflected in the fair go. We are living proof that messaging is meaningless when it tenders no truth.

My family have been traumatised by the Liberal led Coalition and the immigration policies they’ve weaved since John Howard chose to quietly raid the immigration space of the nation for short term treasure. He did so by amending existing and quite dull sounding legislation with amendments few noticed but law that would create sub-citizens and non-citizens left to rot in a land Down Under. Twenty three years of short term plunder and where are we as a nation? I mean honestly? This has been a road 20 years in the making – the pandemic made it worse and gave the government an excuse but the road to ruin has been a work in progress for twenty years now. My family is living proof of the broken values and rusted moral compass successive Liberal led governments have used to walk about.

The trauma we’ve endured is as profound as that experienced by any assault, abduction or systemic abuse and our doctors will confirm the veracity of my comments where a journalist would like to make further enquiry. But our misery is meaningless when meted for measure by the Liberal led Coalitions appetites for a years incomings to treasury; an outcome that has subordinated, dare I say it – liberal values – and a level playing field towards which to pursue equity, equality and aspiration. Slick and not-so-slick advertising campaigns, photo opportunities, and cliche drenched press conferences by government ministers have long replaced genuine values. Rumours of such values deaths now a verifiable fact. The best we can hope for is a kind of “miracle”; a form of resurrection of said values to be transmutated from a form greater than their current superficial life in government. This is Australia in the year 2021.

Our son, Dylan, is sick. At least he is in the eyes of the LNP Government. I think it’s important that people know his name because he’s human and not a number or an algorithm on a computational spreadsheet – the kind the modern Liberal Party rely upon like a junkie relies on heroin.

Dylan is disabled (and setting aside policy law sophistry, being disabled is a sickness to this government and more so still, one worthy of punishment). He wasn’t disabled when he arrived (per the Australian Health Officers who vetted him closely), but he is now, and the current Morrison Government has no use for “cripples”, so they craft interesting exclusions to weave policy protocols that deem his value worthless and leave our family segregated in the only nation we call home.

Yes, even Stephen Hawking would be useless to Scott Morrison because he fails the current government’s value modelling; research methods that feed into a populist narrative the 21st Century Liberal Party relies upon to show it is superficial strength. I have a very different definition of strength.

I know our son, Dylan, is clearly more than “crippled” (at least to humane people and parties) and his gifts could be an asset if we weren’t being so appallingly treated for the sins of our sacrifice, in service to a son of Australia, whose ancestors predate federation – by a very long and quite verifiable time, but he’s branded a “visitor” forever or until the Coalition crumbles from power and fairer minds steward the nation. I have been called “entitled” and “expectant” for advocating for my family. I take saccharine solace in the fact such bile is usually thrown at me by people whose own ties to country are both shallow and laced with disrespect for this continent that gave their own family entry, usually after Dylan’s own ancestors arrived on these shores hundreds of years ago. Only First Nations People and a small number of convict descendants hold longer association. The irony is not lost upon us.

Until such time a new government forms and reconciles the injustice we endure, Dylan is of no worth to the sitting government of the day and so he – and we – are totally expendable. Our very capacity to submit our permanent residency visa, the ‘Skilled Independent visa (subclass 189) (New Zealand) stream’, has been frozen for years, as I shall grant fuller detail shortly.

I know these have not been easy times for anyone but they’ve been a hard layer of misery upon our house we could scarcely be expected to endure. Eight months of Covid has been rough on the entire nation but the unending federal affliction upon our house has been unbearable. Our lockdown has not lasted eight weeks or even eight months but eight years. Imagine an eight-year draught, an eight-year separation, an eight-year lockdown: An eight-year prison sentence (with no indication of end time – murders with life sentences have higher hopes for freedom than we four souls of this house).

What we want for 2021 is quite simple. We came home eight years ago to four generations of living Australian citizen family with roots of elders that run even deeper – our family’s place within country predating federation and the very name Australia (but my wife and I, like our children were born offshore – despite virtually all of the children’s lives lived exclusively in Australia and most of our immediate family very much Australian citizens). The consequences of this were initially minor. When we arrived we were cleared for entry. The rules had changed but we knew that with hard work, time and more fees to endure permanent residency would come (as it has for every other member of our family who ever arrived upon these shores over the centuries). It would take us a few more hoops but it would be followed by fair dinkum citizenship; that is until our son’s disability was diagnosed – onshore within Australia – after we settled near parents and a twin brother’s family. Hell began eight years ago and there is no Virgil to guide us from the flames to a place called Purgatory and an ultimate journey’s ending in Paradise. There are only the fires.

People speak of holiday stress or pandemic lockdown anxiety, and those are valid and real troubles, but I plead with anyone and everyone to consider eight years in a crushing mental, financial, social and emotional segregation from which there is no promise of release. I ask anyone to consider being employed whilst also providing unpaid, uncompensated and unrecognized care duties for our son amidst such segregation and misery. An eight year period of profound comittment in which only more misery harvested and no hope is on the horizon. My good wife and I think ever less about ourselves with each day and year (if at all, anymore) but I’d ask you to imagine such consequences inflicted upon our children – who are by any rational, meaningful, sane and humane definition as Australian as any Australian.

Our misery is compounded when one considers that had we not queued up and honourably complied with all procedural expectations some eleven years ago (when our migration journey to Australia began) we’d be citizens this year, when our daughter Maya turns 10 (she has lived nowhere else but Australia since she was a 1-year old baby). But filings, paperwork and wait times nearing two years consumed our life before we finally landed at the Darwin International Airport eight years ago. We walked down the steps and across the tarmac at five minutes to midnight as I held Dylan and my wife Marilyn cradled Maya.

We had no idea we were walking into a fate few will ever fully comprehend for measured misery, despite doing everything and more that should have seen us “aspire” as the Prime Minister likes to say on a regular basis as he announces and encourages work – this later issue something this house has undertaken with a determination and success no one could besmirch, even amidst the worst months of the pandemic. But there is no hope for any of our long work hours and no aspirational dividend for our capital gained for we fuel an economy’s fire whose federal managers are quite poor when it comes to pyres, fires, and their management.

If we had touristed in to stay with my parents or twin brother or any of our many Australian family we’d have given birth to Maya onshore and made egress whilst our paperwork followed the serpentine process that is the bureaucracy (recall, we were living in metro Manila at the time). My wife, Marilyn, could have flown in under the same sophistry of law used against us before a certain time in her pregnancy but we saw no merit, need or integrity in such sophistry, no matter how legal it would have been.

I should also note that in our very Trans-Tasman family my parents were Kiwis before they were Aussies in a time before John Howard when the distinction did not matter. Because my wife and I arrived post Howard industrialisation of the immigration policy space for treasure; and despite our verifiable ties to country, we were set upon for the sins of not surrendering a disabled child.

And still we are not done being traumatised, for we are disposable people in “The New Australia”. Our circumstances are not binary: which is to say, we are not asylum seekers, nor do we seek refuge and we sure didn’t just rock up because it seemed like a “lucky country” (the words of Donald Horne’s great book a warning not a praise that was never lost upon me). Nor are we genuine visitors hoping to find a hopscotch pathway to a permanent residency visa or partnership with an Australian citizen. We actually came home.

As the frequently trumpeted song intones,

“We are one, but we are many

And from all the lands on earth we come

We’ll share a dream and sing with one voice

I am, you are, we are Australian”

But we do not all sing with one voice in the modern Australia that flirts with exclusions and segregations of the old White Australia policy: Today it’s colour blind but the same ugly sophistry of exclusion upon those that form country is crystal clear – or it is to anyone willing to look.

Sadly now, as then, amidst the White Australia policy days, there are those unaffected who too often apathetically look the other way or worse still, turn an intentional blind eye to protect their own advantage – often even those recently granted inclusion. One is heartbroken but it’s hardly surprising as the nation’s leader, Scott Morrison, embodies a toxic populism fuelled by divisive moves whilst gassed messages of inclusion are mythologized in song, advertising slogans and endless photo opportunities that promise much but deliver little and leave many to expire…usually after they’re work, and taxation product has been fully exploited and they’re broken.

Some will be granted inclusion, that the myth may be perpetuated, and the harvesting allowed to continue. Since Howard the immigration space has not been a tale of migration so much as immigration (a very important distinction) in which the story revolves around the mandate of bait-and-hunt or carrot-and-stick. Exorbitant foreign student fees paid, not for a glowing liberal arts degree (now often price prohibitive to even the well capitalised) but a lure by which the prize is permanent residency and then Australian citizenship. The same can be said for genuinely temporary workers who have no ambition of being here temporary and seek permanence, often through partnership, and are rife for exploitation in employment and other relationships who game their vulnerable position and tease with their ambitions to be more than visitors.

The system is broken – it is in fact, quite shattered – but similar manipulation of education and temporary work as an export is done in the UK, Canada and America, to name but a few within the OECD. The genie, as they say, is out of the bottle. The money’s just too good to bother with ethics, moral probity or the unintended consequences that fall upon a house like ours.

Immigration agents and other legal human traffickers (let us not mince words) can bring a whole new crop into country when the last have been harvested or expired who’ll be ripe for exploitation and, as noted, a few may even be legally admitted as genuine permanent residents that become citizens, in service to fuelling the fable so necessary to Morrison’s populism and economic fires. The rest are brushed away like ash or thrown out as too charcoaled because they are of no further use as fuel.

Unlike foreign students, genuinely temporary workers, asylum seekers, students and others who will (rightly or wrongly, for better or for worse) find binary resolution in the verdict, “yes you shall be made [legally] permanent” or “no you must go”, we are left in a state of limbo for life because Dylan is disabled. To those who find no problem with such simple costing cleavers I’d ask you how such simple math’s holds any promise a “clean skin” won’t produce generations of disabled descendants – to say nothing of the previously mentioned morally bankruptcy of such simplistic metrics.

Dylan’s disability generates an error message each time we have attempted to submit our permanent residency visa, the Skilled Independent visa (subclass 189) (New Zealand) stream. A permanent residency application that Home Affairs can verify has been “stuck” in “error message mode” since July 2017 (should any journalist wish to confirm). Waiting where hope is tendered is hard. Living in limbo bereft of hope and even concern is a misery I cannot explain to you sufficiently unless you have lived it – it is a dark and cold place amidst the sun and heat.

I don’t think anyone needs to be reminded of the profound consequences to a child’s wellbeing or question the affect upon their future (mentally, educationally, and even physically) when they’re cast into such abject misery through no fault of either their own or their parents. When a family genuinely forms country and does so permanently the sophistry of policy law that permits them to be badged “visitors” in perpetuity is a sick deviation from the values the Australian nation was earnestly seeking to make fairer of field in the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s… then John Howard became Prime Minister, raided the immigration space for treasure, reset the compass and we’ve lost our way as a nation. Successive Liberal governments have only perpetuated the Howard ethos, though none more gravely or willingly than Morrison. He’s tapped into something dark in that half of the national psyche that likes such messaging and he’s seen fit to exploit it.

There is a dark and dreadful irony to being “permanently” stuck in our quest for permanent residency. For the record, where this once procedural action, now something better defining a probabilistic “miracle” were to actually happen we strongly believe being placed at front of a queue would not see us “jumping” so much as granting us a position in the queue we should have vacated and found us as citizens years ago. There is no hubris or expectation in that or this essay as a whole: Only a modest explainer and plea for something approximating justice (a state that has already been too long delayed to be anything but genuinely denied).

 

The act of applying for permanent residency was once a modest ask but denial of due process, so integral to a liberal democracy, has been voided by Liberal led Coalition legalise that would – and has – made many a solicitor’s head spin; a fact I can confirm from actual experience.

We want nothing more than to submit our permanent residency application to department, a legal capacity of process thwarted by crafting a field of digital play whose algorithms render no fair field for even submission. This is Australia under Scott Morrison in the year 2021.

Heaven may often be found in announcements, but the Devil is always in the details. Within the small print of our permanent residency visa is a “health waiver” (or so defenders of the visa application will tell you). But there is no health waiver for our autistic son. Where the sophistry of exclusion had not made my care of Dylan and his disability a disqualifier we would have been citizens today. Yes, it’s that simple: We’ve been back HOME eight years but all it would have taken was four years of residence (one of those four as a permanent resident) and application for Australian citizenship would be actionable.

The ‘Skilled Independent visa (subclass 189) (New Zealand) stream’ permanent residency visa is an online-only instrument.

Requests to Home Affairs to submit the application in a non-digital form (paper, to be precise and keep this all clear), would avoid the permanent “error message” that we’ve gotten for over three years at the Home Affairs Immigration portal; a dark place where our 19-page application rots. Our request for help from actual human beings at Home Affairs have been rebuffed at every turn year after year after year (as earlier essays will confirm). If I had a dollar for every time someone at Home Affairs told me, “I am only authorised to provide the details available online” I’d have sufficient resources to apply for an “investor visa” (subclass 891) and we could skip all of this rubbish. The Morrison Government likes money – it’s a necessary thing but it should not trump the moral probity, ethics and integrity of a genuine liberal democracy (keyword being genuine).

Our pleas have always fallen flat whether rebuffed with niceties, nonsense, nastiness or plain old absence-of-acknowledgement (the latter being Mr. Morrison’s “reply” at a score of 15 for 15 over the years). On a high watermark (for this Government) I have been “referred to tech support” and told no further assistance could be tendered. I have been blocked from discourse on social media by Alan Tudge (Coleman’s one year “temporary” replacement until a fortnight ago when backbencher Alex Hawke was promoted to run the portfolio). I have similarly been blocked by the Minister for Home Affairs, Peter Dutton. I’ve had enough encounters with my federal MP, Andrew WaIlace and his electoral officers to fill a book – literally – and for my efforts nothing has come to pass but passing of the parcel to another party in an endless game we no longer have the strength or required madness to play. The end is always the same: Goodbye. I’ve been told worse, but you get the point. Shut down. Fist to face. Off you go and speak not again of such matters… but do pay your taxes and mind the gap.

I don’t know how much I fancy our odds with Alex Hawke, this latest immigration minister who was sworn in 10 days ago on 22 December. Alex was elevated from the backbench and shares community at the Hillsong Church with his party leader Scott Morrison and fellow congregant, Stuart Robert. I’m not on good terms with either Morrison or Robert for my advocacy and it appears Hawke left his Anglican roots and joined Hillsong at a time of what can only call a coincidence of timing in his political ascendancy. I leave one to draw their own conclusions as I have similarly avoided anything that would appear salacious or worse so still, libellous.

In 1971, as Mr. Hawkes grandparents celebrated their 18th year in country, Malcolm Fraser famously said, “life wasn’t meant to be easy”. Fair enough, but it should never be an impossible proposition.

Thirty-nine years later, on Monday 23 March 2020 Scott Morrison’s LNP Government drove a relief package through Parliament that does not protect thousands of people whose only genuine home is Australia – people like us. The numbers to oppose it were short by a handful and so no opposition of significance was actioned (thwarting aid to the public in a crisis is political poison anyways, and the Labor Opposition knew it – their amendments would find not vote and their protest seen as an action of disruption to too many people and so they too were quite wedged). But in the act thousands were left to fall to despair, homelessness or even suicide. The consequences bleed into the new year. This is Australia in the year 2021.

To paraphrase Mr. Morrison’s own words from that dark March, “Stop it! Just stop it! It’s un-Australian”!

 

We simply want to submit our permanent residency application in paper form, so it may find actual submission. We know it won’t be approved but in being denied by the immigration department we are granted statutory ability to seek appeal to the Administrative Appeals Tribunal (again, no rejection at the department level means no ability to appeal to the AAT). The tribunal is often quite considerate of applicants and no doubt one reason why the current LNP Government does its best to keep people from seeking appeal by denying the capacity to even apply. Also, as noted, a reason they so vigorously attempt to pack the tribunal with Liberal loyalists. A feat they have not quite succeeded in achieving… yet.

 

It is of course a most ugly form of strongman populism that plays the multicultural inclusion card as it simultaneously plays the value of a disabled child as a costing concern in which the economy always takes superior value to human life. The likes of Steven Hawking, Franklin D. Roosevelt, Marlee Matlin, Frida Kahlo, Helen Keller, Ralph Braun and countless others would have seen their conditions deny them inclusion or capacity to contribute because the LNP Government has no value for “cripples”. In point of fact had Australian legends Stela Young been our daughter or Dylan Alcott our son, their conditions would have seen us denied inclusion. There is something gravely wrong with our treatment, but we are a single house of four souls who hold very limited political force – the only thing towards which the LNP Government bends. When the children become adults, in the only nation they know, they will either be cut adrift and treated as foreigners in their only home. They’ll be expected to pay foreign student fees and only marriage will save them. Only letting Dylan be adopted by an Australian family would save us, now. This is Australia in the year 2021.

 

Heraclitus, the Greek philosopher said, “The only constant in life is change”. Laws change, language, even the spelling and meaning of words metamorphoses over time but Heraclitus undervalued duplicity – that unwelcomed but persistent rudder that drags against the better currents of our species. There is nothing in the law or it’s language that should see a family left “permanently temporary” in the only nation they call home, but such is our fate after eight long years. That’s not just law (just, as in justice), that’s legal equivocation and it’s been very successful to manipulators of words and language by the authors of law since the profession’s origins in ancient Greece and Rome. It’s been taken to a whole new level in recent years, Down Under.

 

There was one moment of profoundly positive consequence this most dark year that was 2020. Amidst the pandemic the Crown Minister of New Zealand’s Department of Internal Affairs granted the children New Zealand citizenship on 26 May 2020. The news came after a nearly two-year campaign waged from my kitchen table on a twelve-year-old laptop.  It was astonishing news and we were profoundly heartened. But I’d ask anyone who’s only lived in Australia if they could cut all ties and move across the ditch, now more than ever. This is, after all, really the equivalence of what would be asked of us. Could you do that? Yes, again, now more than ever, but could you financially, mentally, emotionally affect such an undertaking and tear your children and family apart for the sins of sacrifice and a conduct within community that would have once seen us indisputable examples of the best of Australia. Could you just pull the pin and exit to points genuinely unknown, leave everything and have nothing waiting for you on the other side? The pandemic has cast such choices, hard as they were, into an impossibly deep abyss.

The grant of New Zealand citizenship however meant the children were allowed inclusion to Medicare in Australia, for the first time in their lives (imagine that for a moment when you’re doing it not just tough but incompressible hard). We must continue shouldering Marilyn’s “visitor cover” at a base cost of almost $3,000 a year and then pay for every service and fight tooth and nail to claim back some of what we must pay up front.

There is much saccharine solace in the grant of New Zealand citizenship upon the children and so too much respect for that Tasman nation to the west that has long formed the roots, trunk and branches of our large family tree. While we are a proud Trans-Tasman family it is a grim reflection upon the current government of Australia that we’re left segregated within the only nation we make home whilst the children were recognised by another government in New Zealand, where we do not make such a home.

The integrity of the New Zealand nation’s current government on stunning display whilst the absence of same by the other in Canberra quite naked in both presentment and cruelty. My good wife remains excluded from both countries and maintains only the surety of her Philippine citizenship that tenders grave risk to the children where I fell ill or became incapacitated. She has no right of refuge in Australia or New Zealand where I were to fall and so the children remain exposed and this house left in a level of anxiety equal to that of people seeking to escape and become refugees as they flee impossible lives. Again, the irony of any house in this nation feeling such crippling anxiety as that of people under tyranny can only be fully understood where it has been lived – and where it’s miseries visited upon children it is a perverse cruelty with which even I struggle.

Jacinda Ardern’s Government recognised and agreed with my legal position and showed profound consideration in granting the children their New Zealand citizenship; whilst the Morrison government crafts sophistry to deny even our basic submission for a permanent residency visa. This is Australia in the year 2021.

 

The Liberal led Coalition of Australia has taken everything from us even as we have repeatedly exceeded expectations. Whilst Scott Morrison will likely not know my name nor care about our predicament he is no less liable for the violations that would have destroyed most people, and which are, make no doubt, slowly killing us.

We want only to lodge our permanent residency application by paper form and let the process play out over a further painful period of years that will continue to see us segregated. It’s a modest expectation in a nation that claims to respect due process and equal access to consideration under law. Will someone, somewhere help make this thus? It is a meagre ask and grants no urgently needed relief but, at least in that submission, there is procedural hope. We can’t go anywhere else and besides,we are already home.

May this letter reflect better lights in one year’s time.

2020 was a year no one will ever forget but I don’t know how many more 2020s this house can endure.

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