An important message, not from the Prime Minister

Dear fellow Australian,

I am writing to you because I believe you and your family should know more about some key issues affecting the security of our country and how we can all play a part in protecting our way of life.

Australia is a strong and vigorous democracy. We value our individual rights and we respect our obligations to other Australians because we know that only by doing so can our security, prosperity and freedom endure.

In response to the increased threat of terrorist attack, my Government has made a number of important policy decisions. I am sure you will share our conviction that, at last, we have found a way for Australia to make a significant contribution to the effort to bring peace to our troubled world.

Here is how we aim to fight terrorism, at home and abroad.

We will not invade other countries.

We were almost sucked in by George Bush's rhetoric about the "coalition of the willing", but we realised, just in time, that invading another country and slaughtering its civilians is not the best way to sort out our differences with its leaders, and is certainly no way to minimise the threat of terrorism at home.

We do not trust Saddam Hussein, but we admit that our use of the term "appeasement" amounted to a ham-fisted attempt to connect him, in your mind, with Hitler and the rise of the Third Reich. The two situations could hardly be more different, and although we have no respect for Saddam, we will resolutely refuse to use force against him unless it is in defence of ourselves or another country attacked by him. That was our approach when he invaded Kuwait; it remains our approach.

If we were to invade Iraq, the precedent would be compelling: where would we strike next? The Middle East? Zimbabwe? China? Northern Ireland? Libya? North Korea? No, we have decided that an increasingly bellicose Australia would hardly encourage other nations to reach peaceful solutions to their problems.

We will not be slavishly following the US.

America is a great and powerful friend, and we value that relationship highly. But we can see how the arrogance of US foreign policy has often brought disastrous consequences, and we can understand why America is regarded with deep suspicion in many parts of the world.

So we will continue to be friends with America but, like true friends, we will not be afraid to disagree, nor to act independently when that seems right for us.

We want Australians to become famous as humanitarian peacekeepers.

My Government has decided to shift the emphasis of the defence budget away from combat capability. We will maintain our capacity to defend ourselves, of course, and we will keep sharpening our anti-terrorist skills. But the best way to avoid becoming a terrorist target is to resist involvement in military conflicts that do not concern us. Instead, we intend to become world leaders in the development of peacekeeping strategies, including the provision of medical care, food and housing for the civilian victims of war - especially children.

We want the world community to look to Australia not as a potential military ally or enemy, but as a beacon of sanity, compassion and practical help for those whose lives have been ravaged by war and terrorism.

We want to rebuild a society based on tolerance, compassion and fairness.

I am pleased to announce a new deal for refugees. Existing detention centres will be replaced by well-run camps where all refugees - legitimate and otherwise - will be treated with respect and care. No children will be imprisoned. (How embarrassing even to have to say that!) Applications for residency will be processed as quickly as humanly possible: where there is no reliable information about the status of an asylum seeker, that person will be given the benefit of the doubt. We will make some mistakes, but the risk to our security will be minuscule when compared to the previous risks to our cultural integrity.

We will not become a soft touch, but we will restore our self-respect by treating refugees and their children as we would want us and our children to be treated on a foreign shore.

We can all play a part.

It is time to stand up for the values that have made Australia great. If you hear someone condemning all Muslims, be alarmed. If people call for tougher treatment of "illegals", explain the need for compassion towards the world's 25 million refugees. If you suspect someone of bigotry, racism or religious intolerance, confront them. Do not be afraid to occupy the moral high ground. Be alert to opportunities to speak up for virtue. Be kind to strangers.

I would be proud to be the leader of a country like that.

Yours sincerely,

Not the Prime Minister

This arrived in my inbox this week (it originally appeared in The Age), and is by Hugh Mackay. It was written in response to An important message from the Prime Minister, which was sent to every Australian household in February 2003.

Hugh Mackay is an author and social researcher.

Yes, I realise this is cut and paste, but it succinctly captures a lot of the feeling and public opinion at the moment in Australia.