Monday, 31 August 2015

Papers, Please


On Friday morning my Twitter feed burst into a life of its own. Australia’s Border Force, whatever that is, has announced it will be joining hands with Victoria Police and public transport authorities in Melbourne in order to conduct Operation Fortitude. "Anyone crossing paths" with the Border Force, the press release said, will be asked to demonstrate their visa status.

Several observations came quickly to mind:
  • What happened to due process, as in the assumption of innocence?
  • How is this farce going to be implemented without it turning into a clear case of racial profiling?
  • Where is the common sense in stopping so many people for the sake of catching the infinitesimal percentage of visa violators lurking in the thick of the Melbourne CBD?
As the CEO of the Always Picked at the Airport’s So Called Random Security Checkups Club, this truly pissed me off. I can live with the farce theatrics at the airport because, hey, I hardly fly; but what does this new initiative mean for my daily life? Is each train ride going to be like that airport nightmare?
One can also clearly see where things have to go from here: in the name of efficiency, we will shortly be wearing our IDs on us. It won’t be long till I have a Star of David on my forearm as I am relegated to the carriages normally reserved for cattle.

I wasn’t the only one worried about this initiative. The Friday lunch room at work was shared between a Russian, a Chinese and I (all perfectly legal Australians) when the TV broke the Fortitude news. The Russian noted how even in the lesser parts of Russia he never encountered such attitudes, and commented that when asked for his visa he will ask if MasterCard is accepted, too. The Chinese guy was clearly worried, noting his paperwork is safely at home and wondering what he would have to do when stopped.
You know what this whole thing felt like, for me? It felt like being back in Israel. A country where you have to present yourself at the entrance of each shop. Where not carrying the right paperwork could land you in big trouble (the fact this is almost exclusively implemented against Arabs does not matter in the least).
Me, I agreed with myself on an approach of peaceful protest. I know my rights; officers can stop me if they have reason to believe I have done something wrong or if I am on public transport. Border Force people can ask for my papers if they have reason to believe there is something wrong. Given there is nothing wrong, I made sure my phone is set to take videos with minimum clicks and my Periscope app is up and running. Any delegate of the authorities that stops me will get the Internets to watch them live in the act of unreasonable behaviour.
Oh, and I have my favourite lawyer on my iPhone's Signal app.


But then came Melbourne’s hour of glory.
By 14:00, several hundred protestors surrounded the Flinders Street train station and prevented the Border Force from executing their plans. The latter had to be evacuated after changing to civilian clothing. It was all very Melbourne like: if you look at the photos you will see many if not most of the protestors were holding cups of takeaway coffee. These are my people that fought for me! (While, I should add,  I was away working.)
The whole operation got untangled, then cancelled, very quickly. Soon we heard hiccups from upstairs denying the operation was ever planned (jokers, the lot) but failing to explain the ministerial approvals it had received.
In my opinion, Australia got lucky: the Liberal dummies in charge chose to open their scare campaign at the capital of Australia’s multiculturalism, a Greens seat. Had the Dutton & Abbott comedians initiated their scare campaign at a less tolerant spot – pretty much anywhere else in Australia – chances are I would have ended up wearing my Star of David in a month or two.

I am sure the war is far from over. The Liberals are clearly on a war mongering scare campaign to rescue their ailing polls with. However, what was also demonstrated through this Melbourne Spring demonstration is the power of ordinary people to organise themselves and fight back. Which explains exactly why our government is hot in its pursuit of the implementation of data retention measures with which it can control and oversee our use of the Internet.


Papers Please image copyrights belong to 3909 LLC. I highly recommend this game (I play the iPad version).

1/9/2015 update: Author Richard Flanagan, whose book The Narrow Road to the Deep North I had recently discussed, has some very wise words to pour over this Border Farce.

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