The Australian silence has unique features. It affects our national life, the way we see the world, and the way we are manipulated by great power which speaks through an invisible government of propaganda that subdues and limits our political imagination and ensures we are always at war - against our own first people and those seeking refuge, or in someone else's country.
Last July Kevin Rudd said: ''It's important for us all to remember here in Australia that Afghanistan has been a training ground for terrorists worldwide, a training ground also for terrorists in South-East Asia, reminding us of the reasons that we are in the field of combat and reaffirming our resolve to remain committed to that cause.''
There is no truth in this statement. It is the equivalent of John Howard's lie that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction. Rudd was standing outside a church on a Sunday when he said this. No reporter challenged him. No one said: "Prime Minister, 'There is no war on terror. It's a hoax. But there is a war of terror waged by governments, including the Australian Government, in our name.'"
Over a century ago, Lord Curzon, viceroy of India, wrote: ''I confess that countries are pieces on a chessboard on which is being played out a great game for the domination of the world."
Do the young people who wrap themselves in the flag at Gallipoli every April understand that only the lies have changed? Like Kevin Rudd's stage-managed press conferences outside his church, the symbols of Anzac are constantly manipulated in this way. Marches. Medals. Flags. The pain of a fallen soldier's family. Serving in the military, says the Prime Minister, is Australia's highest calling. The squalor of war, the killing of civilians, has no reference in this higher calling. What matters is the illusion.
The aim is to ensure our silent complicity in a war of terror and in a massive increase in Australia's military arsenal, as the recent white paper calls for. The Rudd Government and the Pentagon have launched a competition to build military robots which, it is said, will do the ''army's dirty work'' in ''urban combat zones''. What urban combat zones? What dirty work? Silence.
In an essay for The Monthly entitled Faith in Politics, Kevin Rudd wrote this about refugees: ''The biblical injunction to care for the stranger in our midst is clear. The parable of the Good Samaritan is but one of many which deal with the matter of how we should respond to a vulnerable stranger in our midst … We should never forget that the reason we have a United Nations convention on the protection of refugees is in large part because of the horror of the Holocaust when the West (including Australia) turned its back on the Jewish people of occupied Europe who sought asylum.''
Compare that with Rudd's words the other day. ''I make absolutely no apology whatsoever," he said, ''for taking a hard line on illegal immigration to Australia …"
Are we not fed up with this kind of hypocrisy? The use of the term ''illegal immigrants'' is both false and craven. The few people struggling to reach our shores are not illegal. International law is clear - they are legal. How ironic; the people in those leaking boats demonstrate the kind of guts Australians are said to admire.
And yet Rudd, like Howard, sends the navy against them and runs what is effectively a concentration camp on Christmas Island. Imagine a shipload of white people fleeing a catastrophe being treated like this. No Indonesian solution for them.
One of my favourite Harold Pinter plays is Party Time. It is set in an apartment in a city like Sydney or Melbourne. A party is in progress. People are drinking good wine and eating canapes. They seem happy. They are chatting and affirming and smiling. They are very self-aware. But something is happening outside in the street, something terrible and oppressive and unjust, for which the people at the party share responsibility. There is a fleeting sense of discomfort, a silence, before the chatting and laughing resume. How many of us live in that apartment? A friend of mine is the very fine Israeli journalist Amira Hass. She went to Gaza to live and to report for her newspaper, Ha'aretz. She explained that her mother, Hannah, was being marched from a cattle train to the Nazi concentration camp at Bergen-Belsen when she saw a group of German women looking at the prisoners, just looking, saying nothing. Her mother never forgot what she called this despicable ''looking from the side''.
The suffering of the besieged people of Gaza, and of the ordinary people of Afghanistan, and of the people of Iraq, whose rapacious invader, General David Petraeus, was awarded one of Australia's highest honours in Washington on Wednesday, all lead us to the question: are we to continue to ''look from the side'', in silence?
In my lifetime, Australia has become one of the most culturally diverse places on earth, and it has happened peacefully, by and large.
That is a remarkable achievement - until we look for those whose Australian civilisation has seldom been acknowledged, whose genius for survival and generosity and forgiving have rarely been a source of pride.
I believe the key to our national self-respect, and our legacy for future generations, is the inclusion, by way of a treaty, and reparation for the First Australians, and the wider
understanding of justice as a right directed at all human beings, no matter who they are. Only then can we feel a pride that comes not from flags and war and silence.
This is an edited extract from Breaking the Australian Silence,the City of Sydney lecture last night at the Opera House by John Pilger, the 2009 recipient of the Sydney Peace Prize.
The Sydney Morning Herald November 6, 2009