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Parable of the unwelcome strangers

  • 20 June 2011

The year is 2001. You live in a large sharehouse on the south side of town. The place has millions of rooms and people are always coming and going. One day a stranger knocks on the door. 'Help!' he shouts. 'The people in my house are trying to kill me! I need to hide here for a while.'

Instinctively, you reach for the door handle. A wrinkled hand, old yet firm, grabs your wrist. You look up and see your landlord, a bald man with thick rectangular glasses and bushy eyebrows. 'We will decide who comes to this house and the circumstances in which they come,' he says, sternly.

He locks the door.

Later, you watch as workers erect a chicken wire enclosure on the traffic island near your neighbour's place. A sign reads 'Processing Centre'. The stranger is placed inside.

Every morning for the next seven years, you stand by the window, watching. Thousands of strangers are now crammed into the small enclosure. They wrap their fingers around the chicken wire and shake it. They say they want to be let out, to see a lawyer, to live and work in the house. They say they have done nothing wrong; they are simply fleeing for their lives.

The old landlord steps in front of you and closes the curtains. 'Just ignore them,' he says. 'They're lying. They should have waited their turn.'


Then, in 2007, something astonishing happens. The old landlord dies. He's gone, just like that. A new landlord takes charge, a nerdy man with square spectacles who speaks a different language. He opens the curtains and points at the enclosure on the traffic island. 'We have a moral imperative to prioritise the streamlined decommissioning of that facility,' he announces. Nobody is quite sure what he means.

But it doesn't matter, because he keeps his oddly worded promise. You sit by the window, watching as the enclosure is boarded up, a smile spreading across your face.


The year is 2010. The new landlord has been murdered. Stabbed in the back. A house meeting is called to elect a replacement. You sit among your fellow permanent residents — more than 20 million of them — gauging the discussion.

The first candidate stands. He's a bronzed, blokey guy with