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Wednesday, August 01, 2007

What we haven't learned

This afternoon, I have been watching the 1985 television movie, The Dunera Boys. Now, movies based on true stories can be heavily fictionalised for dramatic impact and my guess is that this is the case with The Dunera Boys.

But the real story of the Dunera boys is cemented in Australian history and is legendary.

It is the story of Jewish men, refugees in England, who were victims of an overzealous government who forced them to endure horrors and indignities that they never should have suffered when they were rounded up by the British government and transported to Australia to be imprisoned on the stark, bare plains of western New South Wales.

The picture below, from the National Library of Australia, is a photograph by Henry Talbot taken at a re-union of the Dunera boys in 1997. Read more here.

Of those Dunera boys who, on release in 1942, opted to remain in Australia, many went onto become distinguished, even famous, citizens. We might have locked them up as we went along with Britain's error, but they generously paid Australia back many times over by their contribution to building a young nation.
Otto Marx, Fred Gruen, Felix Behrend, and Leonhard Adam provide an idea of the brilliant minds rounded up in the Dunera Affair and we thank them for becoming part of Australian life and culture with such outstanding contributions.

But, oh, how we forget.

We made a grave mistake then. We continue to do so in modern times as Phillip Adams reminds us.

Chester Porter QC reminded us again on Radio National to-day.

Chester is a proponent of continual improvement in investigative policing. Police, Chester warns, will always seek increased powers. Incompetent police are most likely to ask for increased powers. Executive government, he reminds us, can abuse these powers: in World War II, Labor rounded up right wing people, the United Australia Party rounded up communists. None of these people committed an offence.

The case of Dr Mohamed Haneef and its legal fall-out has called into question what Australia's government is doing in the name of terror. Many citizens are questioning what the limiting of democratic freedoms is doing to us, will do to us.

We have become a nation that is not afraid to use concentration camps for refugees, immigrants, and its own citizens. We have become a nation that is not afraid to use high security imprisonment and deportation - even without speedy trial - for suspicion with little real and admissible evidence.

It would be good if The Dunera Boys could hit the television screens again - particularly the tabloid type screens of Channels 9, 7 and 10.

Australians have to question who they are as a people and a nation and who are they electing to office to govern in their name.