I hope you’re keen on the Archibald Prize. This week I’m posting an Archibald review and two more Archibald-related pieces as blogs: an ‘Archibald of Archibalds’ historical article, and a review of the 2021 Salon des Refusés. There’s still one more to go: a review of the Art Gallery of NSW’s own historical survey, Archie 100, but it can wait a little while.
The film column looks at Molly Reynolds’s My Name is Gulpilil, a biographical documentary on Australia’s most famous indigenous actor. It’s a pretty sad affair, featuring an aged Gulpilil suffering from lung cancer. The flashbacks to early days only make his current plight all the more poignant. It’s not the most gripping film you’ll experience this year, but Gulpilil is a genuinely important figure in Australian culture and for me this was a ‘must-see’.
I was thinking of raving about quite another matter but – like most of Australia, I expect – I find myself stunned by the government’s treatment of the Murugappan family and the degree to which political madness has overtaken common decency. Could there be a more textboook illustration of the way Scummo and his gang are completely out-of-touch with the general public?
I wont recap the whole, terrible story which has been discussed endlessly in the media, but we’ve arrived at a crisis point. At the expiry of their temporary visas the Sri Lankan Tamil family had been plucked from the Queensland country town of Bileola where they had made friends and become successfully integrated. The government refused to award them refugee status and it was only a last minute legal challenge that prevented the husband, wife and two small daughters (both born in Australia) being deported to Sri Lanka and possible persecution. Instead it was decided the family should be sent to the detention centre on Christmas island while the case was resolved.
Two years later the youngest daughter has come down with septicemia and pneumonia, and, after an unconscionable delay, has been sent to a hospital in Perth. To this point, according to David Crowe in the ‘Herald, the government has spent $6.7 million of taxpayers’ money treating the Murugappans in an inhumane manner.
Now Scummo and his ministers are puffing up their chests and striking heroic attitudes, claiming that the family won’t be getting any special treatment. Well, they’ve already had the special treatment. Two little girls have spent much of their lives in detention. One is seriously ill – most likely because of the circumstances under which she has been detained. The impact on mental health and normal social development must be devastating.
Every aspect of this story does discredit to the government: The hasty way in which refugee status was assessed and denied; the decision to send the family to Christmas Island, not back to the town where they had been living; the attempt to pevent Labor’s Kristina Keneally from visiting them, even after terms had been agreed; the lack of proper medical care and the pathetic lies and excuses; the suggestion the family might be resettled in New Zealand or the US – a suggestion now withdrawn; the outrageous, inexcusable waste of money and resources on a political stunt; and finally, the inability to show basic compassion.
Cast your minds back you’ll remember this is where our God-fearing PM first made his political reputation – with his brutal treatment of refugees and ‘boat people’. Apparently his personal friendship with Jesus allows him to act in a manner that is the very opposite of Christian charity. How good is that?
Now the government are trying to draw on the same old playbook and expect us to admire their tough stance on refos. Well it’s not the same when the TV stations and newspapers keep showing us pictures of a little girl seriously ill in a hospital bed. The new story is: The Australian Government vs. a 3-year Tamil Girl. The tagline: “So far they’ve spent $6.7 million of your money, and will spend a lot more in order to win this titanic struggle!” It’s a shame we’re still so far out from an election as this stuff cuts through more effectively than any Labor Party critique.
When one thinks of the way Liberal Prime Ministers such as Malcolm Fraser welcomed the Vietnamese refugees it’s painful to think how mean and spiteful we’ve become. Naturally we can’t have an open-doors policy on refugees and aslyum seekers, but neither should we be willing to waste vast sums of money on barbaric stunts supposed to play well with the base (a word with more than one meanings). There should be no electoral benefits in acting like bastards. Is that too much to expect?