Friday, January 29, 2010

Days and Rights

My last blog entry was adorned with a santa hat.  It's nearly February now so Purple Orange is really overdue for a fresh posting.  This lapse reflects the apparent fact that all of Australia goes into summer hibernation from Christmas through to late January (this of course would be the optimal time for New Zealand to come in and take over the country while no one's looking, but for the fact that NZ is enjoying the same summer siesta, only with thicker socks).

The country returns to business, for some with a patriotic hangover, the day after Australia Day.  Though I wasn't born in Australia I'm proud to live here, and I am attracted to this idea of a day of national celebration.  However, I humbly note that this day is not without its controversy, given the date reflects the landing of the first fleet which, for many Australians, is a date that marks a period of oppression, pain, loss, exclusion and alienation.

I can't help but wonder whether, in the pursuit of a more inclusive sense of nationhood, it perhaps might be better to put a national day somewhere else in the calendar, to a date that every Australian feels can be celebrated joyously.

And what is the nature of celebration?  Forgetting for a moment that the current date marks the arrival of the first fleet, the sentiment of Australia Day seems to be about a sense of national pride, good living, a feeling of belonging.  Well, wherever the day might appear in the calendar, such sentiments can only truly be celebrated if they apply to everyone.  For many Australians living with disability, there is not yet much to celebrate in terms of good living or a sense of belonging. So it seems difficult to celebrate such sentiments when they do not yet apply to everyone (its a bit like celebrating victory before the game is actually won - disastrously premature).  The Australian Government's 2009 publication Shut Out (click here for a copy) gives clear testimony to the continued experience of poverty and exclusion by many Australians living with disability.  Can we really afford the luxury of such national celebration when so many Australians live a struggle that is not of their making? 

There remains hope. The United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (click here for a copy) reflects the momentum of the rights movement worldwide, and is an important milestone in the pursuit of social justice, a fair go, for people living with disability.  However, even though Australia has ratified the Convention, the fact is that Australia is the only developed nation not to have a national Bill of Rights, which is a list of the rights that are considered by a nation to be important and essential. The purpose of such a bill is to protect these rights against infringement. 

So here's a thought.  Were Australia to enshrine a set of human rights into its national legislation, rights that echo the above UN Convention, then maybe that would be the moment when Australia truly commits to the value and potential of its diverse citizenry.  Such a moment could, we may hope, herald a genuine uplift in the life chances for people living with disability.  

If so, Australia will truly have matured as a nation, and the date that such legislation was passed would be a most worthy day for annual celebration by everyone.