After 20 years of war in Afghanistan, Australian troops will be back home within months.
They will not all return. Forty-one Australians died in the battle against a terror group that created mayhem on September 11, 2001.
Ten Australians were among the nearly 3000 people killed when Al-Qaeda hijacked planes smashed into the World Trade Centre in New York.
With Osama bin Laden captured and killed in 2011 and his organisation somewhat stymied, the allied task was broadly accomplished. They have been called to come home.
But what kind of Australia will our troops return to?
On his decision to send soldiers, then prime minister John Howard told the Australian Parliament that they would go to war to protect “the great, decent, freedom loving, fair minded Australian nation.”
They have done that. They fought for all of us.
They fought for our ability to run free on a beach, to set up a tent in the bush, to be educated, to read, to watch ballerinas dance or vocalists sing.
They fought for the Murray River, the opal mines in Coober Pedy, the awe of feeding dolphins at Monkey Myer, for endless paddocks of golden grain, for the sounds and sights of Sydney Harbour on New Year’s Eve, for coal mines in the Hunter, a surf at Bondi, a Melbourne coffee, a wine in the Barossa, watching the sunrise over Uluru or fish dart through coral on the Barrier Reef, for the ribbons of tulip colour on Tasmania’s Table Cape, for laughter, for quiet starry nights.
They fought for your right to have a say, to engage in respectful debate, to challenge the status quo, to believe in more.
They fought for the right to agree or disagree. To whisper or to shout. To say yes or no.
They fought for our right to believe in God, any God, or even the power of turmeric latte.
They fought so we could vote without fear and speak without derision. To love who you choose. To hope for better, knowing it is possible.
That is Australia.
That is what these men and women gave their all for – and 41 gave their lives.
They gave it for Australia – a nation in total – not in part. But do they return to something familiar or foreign?
Are they returning to a nation – or a nation of states – a nation of fiefdoms, of ego-centric emperors, of Machiavellian mischief makers who ply the people with fear in return for their vote?
The Machiavellian comparison is not a stretch.
In his 1513 writing, The Prince, Machiavelli wrote: “Making an example of one or two offenders is kinder than being too compassionate and allowing disorders to develop into murder and chaos which affects the whole community”.
Would the troops travelling towards terror 20 years ago have thought it possible that the Australia to which they would return would be a place in which a premier’s penchant for power would result in a Ballarat mum being charged with incitement for merely suggesting a gathering to fight for freedom?
In this new Australia – while Zoe Buhler was handcuffed in her pyjamas – 10,000 others made it to the streets behind a BLM banner, a Marxist mob, with not one arrest and just a handful of fines. The law is applied to some and not others.
COVID-19 was not around when our soldiers went to Afghanistan.
But in their absence, the virus brewed a native battle waged over state borders: Queensland hospitals for Queenslanders, WA isolated for the sake of one case. Permits have been required to cross state lines, there are zones, codes and traffic lights.
Borders have become barricades — symbols of power.
Is this the nation our soldiers fought for? Did they nominate a day to fight for each of our states? On Mondays we fight for Victoria, Tuesdays are for NSW and Sundays are for Tasmania?
No, they fought for a unified nation.
And yet, our soldiers’ homecoming will be to a country where the woke rage on our streets, where verbal slingshots are fired across technology bows and twits on Twitter ride low in sleaze and high on hypocrisy.
That hypocrisy marks our nation’s most reverent day, Anzac Day.
This year, the return of dawn services and marches is welcome.
But in a nation where the virus is contained behind closed doors, our veterans have been forced to register for limited spaces to remember the fallen and the reasons why they sacrificed.
In Melbourne, just 1,400 tickets have been made available for the city’s dawn service. Yet hours later, 75,000, maybe even 100,000 can attend the MCG for a game of footy.
In Sydney, 1200 are allowed at the dawn service. In Canberra, just 80 people will march when 5000 would normally bow their heads respectfully.
Registrations and QR codes are everywhere, a turnoff for the elderly and veterans in small towns and cities across Australia. Such is the disgust, even the limited spots aren’t filling.
There is a clear annoyance factor. Having faced their share of bombs and bullets – veterans are battle weary and cranky they must wage yet another – like Zoe Buhler – for their right to reflect on freedom.
This is not a war against the Commonwealth Government. This is a battle against the states.
The Federal Defence Minister Peter Dutton wants Anzac Day restrictions relieved. It is, after all, a national day and the community transmission threat is negligible.
But in the fiefdom stronghold of Victoria, the Acting Premier James Merlino argues that Victoria doesn’t “take public health advice from Minister Dutton, we take public health advice from public health officials”.
No one is yet to see the public health advice. The Merlino phrase is Politics 101 and the preachers love it.
One way or other, on Anzac Day, Australians will consider what our soldiers fought for 100 years ago, or in Afghanistan today.
In this sense we all march on Anzac Day. We consider an eternal dawn that breaks for us all: for liberty, opportunity, equality, for freedom.
For one nation.
Beverley McArthur is a Liberal Legislative Councillor for the Western Victoria Region.
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