Sunday, 1 February 2009

A Paranoid Nation

I just got back from a cruise from Helsinki to Stockholm. On that cruise, I left one country, entered then left another, then came back to the first country - all the while enjoying duty-free goods and doing whatever I wanted really as long as it was in the law. The strangest thing, I didn't even need to show my passport! Not once did I even have to pull it out of my pocket, even to get in either country. I didn't even have to go through security, I've had more thorough screenings at minor airports in Australia! What this has left me to conclude is that Australia is way too paranoid for what it needs to be.

Australia is very geographically isolated compared to anywhere in Europe. Apart from Indonesia being a very long boat-ride away, Australia is almost impossible to get to except by international ships and aircraft. Because of that geographic isolation, I can understand the need for strict quarantine procedures - we have an important ecosystem that has been damaged by foreign invaders in the past (rabbits, foxes, cane toads, etc.) So that I can understand. But what happens in Australia in terms of foreign movement seems to go well beyond what is needed.

Take my initial trip. In Australia I had to go through a security checkpoint where I couldn't use my mobile phone past it, then had to fill out a form detailing where exactly I'm going and the purposes for my trip. Instead of just asking me, they had me go back and spend 5 minutes filling out a form that would have taken 2 questions and 30 seconds for me to answer. By contrast at Helsinki airport, I just rocked up with my passport, they asked me what my purpose of stay was and for how long and that was it. I was out of Helsinki airport bag and all quicker than any domestic travel! I even had meat to declare (Kangaroo Jerky - it was a gift) and they had a look at it then gave it back and let me pass through without a fuss. By contrast getting back into Australia from Thailand had me in a long line and it eventuated in customs cutting a padlock off my mother's baggage.

Likewise at the harbour in Helsinki, it was a matter of collecting my ticket then walking straight on the ship. Then the same happened in Stockholm. No questions, no fuss, it was straight out then in. I'm really liking the freedom of it all, it's trusting and non-invasive. Yet given the geographic location and ability for migration, there would be far more reason for the Australian customs to be in Finland and for the Finnish customs to be in Australia.

It speaks wonders about the Australian psyche. We are a paranoid nation, fiercely xenophobic and incredibly isolationist. When I see the manifestation of patriotic violence, it feels like a microcosm of the paranoid self-identity we've signed onto with the ANZUS alliance. As we move towards a more global society, the self-proclaimed restrictions take the national identity back to a tribal state of affairs. All this points for me to one basic truth: an EU passport is a valuable document to obtain.

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