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The Australian bureaucratic Mean Virus is epidemic

  • 27 January 2017


'Take that out of your mouth, I have to touch that,' barked the Border Protection officer, glaring at me. I'd been juggling bags, boarding tickets, and a passenger exit card, so my passport was positioned precariously between my lips.

Shame-faced, I put my bags down, took the passport out of my mouth and repositioned my belongings so I could hold it while I waited for Officer Border Protection to finish shuffling the papers in front of him.

I wondered if there was a class for teaching them how to be that special mix of forcefully domineering and nasty. We've all experienced it — whether waiting in line to enter or leave Australia — that tangible feeling as you approach the Border Protection counters, that here are people with the power to make your life a temporary nightmare if they don't like the cut of your jib.

They have the authority to disrupt your travel plans in an instant and they know it. I'm a true-blue, fair-skinned Aussie; God help the people who have exotic accents and more melanin that me.

It's not just at airports that ordinary people are increasingly feeling a sense of helplessness in the face of bureaucratic antagonism. Our governing and public service bodies more and more seem to be succumbing to a Mean Virus.

We have long failed to properly address restitution for our Indigenous brothers and sisters; we lock up innocent asylum seekers and refugees in degrading and deplorable conditions; our politicians have eagerly taken up anti-Muslim fear mongering to gain votes; and castigating welfare recipients and those who need a bit of extra help as dole-bludgers is regular shock-jock fare.

Penny-pinching seems to be the raison d'etre of all government departments. Imagine if our Department of Health was told to look for ways to increase its spending on providing healthcare, particularly for the most vulnerable in our community.

The reason we have this Mean Virus spreading is a fundamental breakdown of trust between institutions and individuals.


"Trust between government and society's institutional bodies, and the individuals that make up our nation is being severely eroded to our collective detriment."


When my friend Melissa* was packing her son Daniel's* bag for summer camp, space was at a premium. Along with the myriad necessary items a young teenager requires was a card with his asthma preventer tablets along with the original pharmacy sticker detailing his name and prescription details that Melissa had carefully snipped away