From the desk of Roland Rocchiccioli – 16 May
What is the point of the Commonwealth of Nations if, when push comes to shove, we do not rally-round to support our fellow members?
THROUGHOUT her reign The Queen has championed the Commonwealth of Nations. Established, in its current form in 1949, by her father, the late King George VI, and known simply as the Commonwealth, it is a political association of 54 member states, almost all of whom are former territories of the British Empire. Elizabeth is, amongst all her other titles, Head of the Commonwealth. It is a role she takes seriously and one which she has ensured The Prince of Wales will inherit when he becomes king.
The unfolding COVID disaster in India is an international tragedy of gargantuan proportion. The pandemic has brought India to its knees. Doctors and medical staff are at breaking point. It has been reported there are hospital wards with no nursing staff and more dead patients than live ones. People are dying in hospital corridors, on roads, and in their homes. Crematoria have run out of firewood. Desperate people are using whatever kindling is available. Open spaces, including parks and car parks, are being used as cremation grounds.
Curiously, India played a vital role in the large-scale supply of COVID-19 vaccines across the world, including the United Kingdom, who took delivery of 10 million doses from the Serum Institute of India. While isolationism is to be avoided, a nation as populous as India, and where poverty is both generational and grinding, might have looked first to the welfare and safety of its 1.4 billion people before selling to the rest of the world.
The Indian author, Arundhati Roy, has stridently criticised India’s Prime Minister, Narendra Modi, and his government’s handling of the coronavirus crisis. She wrote in the Guardian newspaper, “The system hasn’t collapsed. The government has failed. Perhaps ‘failed’ is an inaccurate word, because what we are witnessing is not criminal negligence, but an outright crime against humanity.”
Viewing the images emanating from India, it is a conclusion with which it would be difficult to disagree.
Curiously, The Queen has commented on the demise of the religious Israelis caught in the human crush but has made no public mention of India’s predicament; nor has she recorded a message for the Commonwealth. As its head, it would, in the circumstances, be the least she could do and it would draw international attention to the prevailing dire conditions. More so than any other leader in the world today, the gravitas of Her Majesty’s reassuringly measured tones has the capacity to generate an immediate reaction for good. The silence is an unfortunate oversight.
When did we become such a hard-hearted nation? Have we always been so uncaring and introspective; or is it a manifestation of the generation who sauntered through the greedy 80s. It seems those politicians in position of influence, including the Prime Minister, Scott Morrison, the Minister for Health, Greg Hunt, and the Minister for Defence, Peter Dutton, are concerned more about populist opinion and staying in power than they are about the plight of those less fortunate. We have a responsibility.
We have come to this impossible pass because successive governments have, in their lack of wisdom and foresight, elected to close-down the country’s long-serving and successful quarantine stations.
The Government’s threat to imprison, or fine heavily, those Australian citizens returning home from India is a political judgement which requires explanation. A Federal Court challenge has been lodged. Australia is not a fiefdom, and it is impossible to envisage any circumstances under which any one of its people would be denied entry. While the COVID pandemic demands extraordinary protocols, a pariah mentality has no place in our society. Arguably, there is an element of inherent racism in the highly controversial decision.
It leaves one wondering if this is the Australia in which we want to live.
Roland can be heard each Monday at 10am: radio 3BA with Brett Macdonald and contacted via [email protected].