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Treating people well in Abbott's Australia

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Andrew Hamilton |  11 September 2013

Map of Australia with a 'Welcome' signWhen power passes from one political party to another we do well to reflect on the shape of the times. The way any party will deal with the challenges it faces is often shaped less by the distinctive attitudes of its leader or members than by those it shares with its opponents. These are likely to represent the prevailing winds in society. And if they are inhumane, they will not be countered by leader or politician bashing but only by persevering advocacy of a better way.

The election campaign showed that in Australia there is little sense of a shared humanity. When we put weight on the shared humanity that binds us to others we become ready to allow strangers to make a claim on our generosity. Now the bipartisan support for excluding asylum seekers from making this claim and the decisions by both parties to cut overseas aid or divert it to prisons and camps have been met by general approval.

This argues that a shared humanity is restricted to people like us. People do not make a claim on us because they are human beings, but because they are human beings of a particular nationality, religion, race or fate. Our kindness to strangers will not express a principle but a sentiment.

In coming years we might expect the categories of those excluded from the claims of our shared humanity to become broader. They will include other unpopular, excluded and disadvantaged people within the community. The ageing of the population, the pressure on revenue and the expectation that we shall continue to enjoy the same wealth and services as before will mean that governments will be unable to meet all their commitments.

It is natural for governments in such circumstances to cut the support it gives to the disadvantaged, whether they be Indigenous communities, unemployed or addicted. This is easier when the sense of a shared humanity is weak. They can then be portrayed as other than us, and their claim to a shared humanity to be diminished by such qualities we attribute to them as laziness, addiction, innate stupidity and antisocial tendencies. Their support will then be measured, not by their need as human beings, but by their lesser status. It can be measured out to them as a gift conditioned by compliance with whatever conditions we impose on them.

The sense of a shared humanity is further weakened by another feature of Australian culture. Emphasis is placed on the individual, and particularly on their choice through economic activity. The priority of economic relationships is reflected in the rhetoric and practices of government.

In coming years this emphasis may be reflected in a diminished awareness of the importance of connections within human life, a disregard for the place that relationships have in encouraging disadvantaged people to participate in society, and a further hollowing out of the small groups and community organisations that help people to belong. Services will increasingly be left to private enterprise, and contracts for work within the community won by multinational contacts.

This may be economically effective, but it will reduce the part of the community in building connections with the disadvantaged. Such exclusion can be expected to result in increased expenditure on prisons, police, security, hospitals and mind altering drugs.

The election campaign, in which the two major parties competed to treat asylum seekers in ways incompatible with their humanity, showed that these trends would be reflected in the way both the major parties governed. They reflect the conventional wisdom of society. So there is little to be gained in indulging personal resentment against the Prime Minister and political resentment against the Coalition except the sour consolations of self-righteousness.

The real challenge is to persuade our fellow Australians that each person matters, not because of the choices they make or the qualities they possess, but because they are human, and that a society is measured by the quality of its relationships.

That is a hard task in which there will be no large gains. It is done best through personal conversations and informal discussion. It will involve showing the shared humanity of people from whom it is being withdrawn, and by inviting others to make that humanity a matter of personal experience not of abstraction. It will also be necessary to point out the human consequences and the brutal assumptions of policies that effectively deny the humanity of unliked groups of people and reduce human wellbeing to increased economic activity.

It will be a slow process to persuade people to want a better Australian way of treating people. When the desire is enkindled we may be able to speak of a better way.


Andrew Hamilton headshotAndrew Hamilton is consulting editor of Eureka Street.

Welcome to Australia image from Shutterstock

 



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Submitted comments

We should all learn from ambassadors like the Wiggles who collected and donated thousands of nappies to babies subsisting on bridging visas.

Marilyn 11 September 2013

If anything, Tony Abbott could learn a thing or two from Cecilia Malmström. http://www.dw.de/sweden-opens-doors-to-syrian-refugees/a-17072567

Annoying Orange 11 September 2013

This election demonstrated that our society has been reduced to the will to power. Truth was ignored in favour of repeated and absurd sayings. It indicated that our sense of being a community has been further thinned to the point that only the individual exists and he is controlled either by government or big business.

Peter Sellick 12 September 2013

Our shared humanity is what binds us together. A young boy with reading difficulties I see weekly said to me earlier in the year "You've been gone for a few weeks, where did you go?" I replied, "I visited a country called Egypt." He responded, "I think I've heard of it. Is it a nice place?" "Very nice" I said. Best conversation I've ever had about Egypt.

Pam 12 September 2013

"The real challenge is to persuade our fellow Australians that each person matters, not because of the choices they make or the qualities they possess, but because they are human, and that a society is measured by the quality of its relationships." Thank you Andrew. The challenge is for those skilled in telling stories to use their skills in print, blog, You tube clip and audio pod to saturate new and old media with the stories, and photographs of those who are currently considered as "other". It is through life- stories that we recognise that the other is like me.

John Francis Collins 12 September 2013

I agree that we need a sense of shared humanity. Many groups have been trying to engage the broader public in understanding this and advocating on behalf of the poor. However I believe you have let our so-called leaders off the hook a bit and I resent the term "self-righteous' to describe those who have tried to call our politicians to account. Our disappointment and despair at the cruelty of the major parties especially the Coalition and the robust expression of this should be a little more respected in this article.

Marg 12 September 2013

It was this selective approval of an exclusive class of people by the Nazi party that led straight to Aushwitz. Nevertheless, what price the Riverview College boys that went public in support of the refugees against their "old boy" politicians who send the refugees to Manus and Nauru/ They attracted considerable public support.

jim macken 12 September 2013

I suppose if we're to imagine a Tony Abbott Australia we might begin with Tony Abbott. Let's see: for years he's spent his holiday time volunteering in remote aboriginal communities. He's also a long time volunteer firefighter and surf lifesaver. Plus, he's spent a huge amount of time raising money to combat breast cancer. But we're all doing that sort of thing, aren't we? And in spite of his principled opposition to same sex marriage, his lesbian sister who lives with a same sex partner likes him so much she enthusiastically campaigned for him in the election. Furthermore, in the face of malicious campaigns attempting to smear him as misogynist and racist (remember the Australia day riot that was instigated from Julia Gillard's own office?) he just shrugs his shoulders and gets on with the job. Ah, but he doesn't believe in big government running our lives. And he has a different view on how to stop deaths of boat people and bring asylum seekers into Australia than do Eureka Street columnists.Well that's it: Tony Abbott just doesn't think each person matters. Are the Jesuits going to issue an apology on the steps of Parliament House for having produced this appalling specimen of humanity?

HH 12 September 2013

I agree with Andrew, as usual, but while working on the personal level we can't ignore the political: even though people have worked to change attitudes to issues like euthanasia and gay marriage, and succeeded, the politics is lagging, so we always need to work on that level too. And it's not all despair - we have a party, the Greens, which fights the good fight, and many in both parties who try to.

Name 12 September 2013

This is perhaps the most Christlike opinion I have read on ES, Father Andrew. Would that all humanity was indeed Christlike. However, I suppose it is that fatal flaw, namely our humanity, that imposes itself on the humanity that emulates the love of Christ. Unlike Christ, who we are told loves all that he has created, we would not be human if we didn't find it difficult to love some of our fellow human species, particularly those amongst us who are themselves inhumane and thrive on hate rather than on love. The human state is indeed forlorn without Christ. Damned if I can understand why God in the person of Jesus Christ ever decided to have a crack at being human. Once he discovered how imperfect humanity was it is a great pity that he didn't sort it out while he was here!! Pity we are not all perfect images of God. Todays article, however, Andrew, is a damned good approximation.

john frawley 12 September 2013

Perhaps there are some lessons to be learnt from our readership survey prior to the election. Whereas Eureka Street readers left the ALP in droves – 59.4% voting Labor last election, and only 36.1% intending to vote Labor this election – the general population showed a swing against Labor of 4.18% from 37.99% to 33.81%. Whereas Eureka Street readers flocked to the Greens in even greater numbers - 17.7% voting Green at the last election and 25.4% intending to vote Green at this election, the general population showed a strong swing away from the Greens with their vote falling from 11.8% to 8.4%. Whereas Eureka Street readers have never been keen on the Coalition, women readers were even less likely to vote for the Coalition this time with a fall in voter intention from 12.8% to 11.6%. Meanwhile the Coalition’s primary vote went up another 1.7% to 45.4%. Like the general population Eureka Street readers showed a stronger inclination to vote for other minor parties and Independents (men up from 5.7% to 9%, and women up from 5.1% to 7.9%). The general population increased its support for other minor parties and Independents from 6.6% to 12.4%. Compared with the general population, our readership is very disillusioned with Labor, is anti-Coalition and is pro-Green. Eureka Street readers (and dare I say, writers, myself included) need to become more inclusive with the general voting population in discussing these critical issues raised by Andy.

Frank Brennan SJ 12 September 2013

As a ( octogenarian) farmer , a National voter , a Eureka observer ---- in response to ‘Treating people well …. … ‘ I submit part of a “thank you “ email from the very worthy leader of the Nationals --- Last weekend The Nationals made history. But it was only by the good grace and faith of the Australian people that it was possible. On Saturday we took back government to get Australia back on track. To the army of Nationals volunteers and supporters, I thank you for all your efforts--- around hundreds of communities... you have played an important part in this election success. It is due to so many who have given of their time and effort that, together, we have brought six years in opposition to such an emphatic end. We will welcome more Nationals and new Nationals as Members of Parliament, strengthening the voice of regional Australia in the new government. It's been a long road. Now the real work of rebuilding our nation and the confidence of its people begins. A key part of that new beginning is revitalising regional Australia. Ensuring families, businesses and entire communities get a fairer share and a better future. That’s the major part of what we as Nationals are about in government. And it’s the yard stick by which we will be measured. The eyes of regional Australia are upon us. They expect us to deliver. We will not let them down.

Placid Pete 12 September 2013

More power to HH. His/her balanced view of Tony Abbott is refreshing. Let us not forget that much of the negativity surrounding Abbott had its birth in the bigotted minds of the so called elite of this nation who still harbour anti Catholic views in their poisoned marrow. Let's give the man the opportunity to demonstrate who he really is.

Martin Loney 12 September 2013

As Martin Loney has raised the sectarian spectre, let me observe the following. The last Roman Catholic Prime Minister of Australia was Paul Keating. Did his Catholicism jeopardise his chances at the election? I think most voters thought it a political curiosity. Joseph Lyons was PM at a time (1939) when the Church of England was described as the conservative parties at prayer. Never mind that this saying itself is a myth, but the likelihood of the head of the Menzies Party being a Roman Catholic was thin, to put it delicately. Tony Abbott is PM is because the Methodist John Howard made sure he became leader of the Liberal Party and this had nothing to do with Howard’s “bigoted mind” or “poisoned marrow”. Abbott shares the Conservative Sydney views of the Anglican power clique in that city much more than he agrees with the enlightened social vision of Anglicans elsewhere in Australia. He’s there not because he had to fight anti-Catholic prejudice but because he holds the correct right-wing views. Our leaders all have religious positions (Julia Gillard was raised a Welsh Baptist and doesn’t it tell!) but it’s not why they become PM. Let’s put the sectarianism back in the history books of the last century, where it belongs

Contra Martin Loney 12 September 2013

Very refreshing ,Father Frank, to see a recognition of the bias towards humanist/secular philosophy in some opinion pieces and commentary expressed in Eureka Street away from the Christian ethic that not so long ago existed in both the Labor and Coalition parties and towards the Greens. HH'S comment today will no doubt cause much weeping and gnashing of teeth in ESland!

john frawley 12 September 2013

The author states "...in Australia there is little sense of shared humanity...it is restricted to people like us." Indeed! Except for hard-working charities, it is restricted: to those who eat as we do, not experiencing hunger; to those who sleep as we do, in a bed, under a roof; to those who can afford medical care, as we can; to those who are mentally well, as we are; not those who have a voice in their head telling them, that man coming wants to kill you. The homeless, the poor, the acutely mentally ill remain so .This is NOW, not the future! It is farcical to believe our leaders will see refugees as worth saving when they won't see our brothers and sisters who suffer, die.. How many persons want to know fewer than 40% of our severely mentally ill receive any specialised care; that , therefore, their life expectancy is 55 years, 30 fewer than we expect! How many people noted the suggestion, here, that we should open our halls and churches to shelter our homeless through the winter? Is anybody there? Will anybody care?

Caroline Storm 12 September 2013

Our two major parties are driven by racist populism and deny the humanity of victims of war. Only 1 in every 210,000 people on the planet ever ask us for help yet we waste billions trying to stop them.

Marilyn 12 September 2013

Tony Abbott is a man of action not of endless moralizing. As his mate in the fire-fighting service said after the election, “He is the first person to get in there and clean the toilets and I’m sure that will still be the case. He is just a do-er.”

Ross Howard 12 September 2013

The anonymous Contra Martin Loney may well be correct however he has often been referred to as an ex-seminarian and the Mad Monk, criticised for his "right wing" Catholic views and ridiculed for his friendship with Cardinal Pell and other members of the Church. I seem to have touched upon a very sensitive nerve in the anonymous writer.

Martin Loney 12 September 2013

I have taken my vote seriously for over fifty years. This election is the first time I have been unable to find any party whose policies I can feel completely comfortable supporting. I found this to be an extraordinarily difficult election, and I can't yet see any 'light on the hill'. No, I have never been an ardent supporter of any particular party.

Margaret McDonald 12 September 2013

“there is little to be gained in indulging personal resentment against the Prime Minister and political resentment against the Coalition except the sour consolations of self-righteousness.” There is no doubt that Tony Abbott and the Liberal Party did little or nothing to correct the inhumane mood present in many of the Australian Community of disregarding the plight of many desperate and despairing men, women, and children. Instead they fanned the flames by referring to them as “illegals” and “queue-jumpers”, and so on, and took advantage of the lack of understanding and compassion in many people to help achieve their own personal political power. While it would rank low in the terrible list of crimes against humanity we have witnessed throughout the world in recent times, it is still on the list. Perhaps they will not be called to account in Australia at the present time, but history may take a less tolerant view.

Robert Liddy 12 September 2013

Tony Abbott said, "This is our country and we determine who comes here". Jean-Jacques Rousseau, who's political philosophy influenced the French Revolution, as well as the overall development of modern political, sociological, and educational thought, wrote about similar unchristian, uncivilized and barbaric political views, in his Discourse on Inequality: The first man who had fenced in a piece of land, said "This is mine."...Beware of listening to this impostor; you are undone if you once forget that the fruits of the earth belong to all...For those who have forgotten, during the French Revolution they had a couple of years of bad crops so they couldn't produce enough wheat. Therefore the prices grew. For the poor at that time one loaf of bread was equivalent to 1 months pay for work.

Annoying Orange 12 September 2013

Last night I had the privilege of attending a lecture in Hobart given by Julian Burnside. The large lecture theatre at the University was packed. He was given rapturous applause after dissecting the shameful election policies of both Coalition and Labor parties. He also spoke about how several appeal processes had been handled in recent times. He proposed some humane approaches which would save the Government billions of dollars in implementation as well as boosting the regional economies of the States. His talk revealed a gross lack of humanity in the way these people are being treated. The old image that Australia used to project to the world is a thing of the past. Before the talk a friend introduced me to several refugees she was assisting and told me short versions of their experiences. I realised we need to know more of these stories so that these people's experiences become known to Australians at large. What possibility is there of Eureka Street opening a column which records the individual experiences of people seeking our help, so the inhumane policies of both political parties are put to shame. Let us give them a voice to speak for themselves.

Paddy Byers 13 September 2013

Paddy Byers 13 September 2013 "What possibility is there of Eureka Street opening a column which records the individual experiences of people seeking our help, so the inhumane policies of both political parties are put to shame. Let us give them a voice to speak for themselves. " ******** Bravo.Let's see it.

Robert Liddy 13 September 2013

Thanks Martin. The only sensitive nerve in my body is the nerve that detects religious hatred and division in the very people who say they don’t like religious prejudice, mainly if it’s seen as a prejudice towards their form of religion. We don’t need to go back to the sectarian attitudes that divided family and nation in the 20th century. We have enough trouble today demonstrating to some Australians that Muslims are human beings. Why should that even be necessary? For the record, Tony Abbott did study in a seminary. It is my understanding that it is his own Liberal Party colleagues who call him the Mad Monk, an obvious joke reference to his surname. If someone doesn’t like right-wing Catholic ideas then it’s a free country and people can criticise those views. Even Tony Abbott would agree with me there. He’s not Joseph Stalin who would send you to Siberia for speaking out of line, though the first thing he did in power was take away Steven Bracks’ job in New York. Do you think that’s a sign of things to come in the workplace? Tony Abbott’s friendship with Cardinal Pell confirms the old adage that you can tell a lot about a person by the company he keeps

Contra Martin Loney 13 September 2013

Contra Martin Loney chastens me with a lecture on hatred and bigotry which caused me to closely and genuinely examine my conscience. My personal growth was going really well until the concluding sentence offered by CML was "Tony Abbott’s friendship with Cardinal Pell confirms the old adage that you can tell a lot about a person by the company he keeps". Time to look for the log in your own eye CML while I continue to pray for my enlightenment,

Martin Loney 13 September 2013

Dear Martin, there is no one kind of Catholicism. Tony's friendship with George is on the record, this is not some shock horror moment. Birds of a feather can be the elephant in the room. There are many Catholicisms, which is just as well because that's what Catholic means.

Contra Martin Loney 13 September 2013

What we try to do in Catholic schools is to give students experiences and knowledge that the "stranger" is just the same as us. It was a very sobering thing to be exploring the issue of asylum seekers and Catholic social teaching with a class of Year 12 students in the midst of the election campaign. Our hope for a kinder Australia lies in education.

Andree Rice 14 September 2013

...Gina could feed for a year the world’s hungriest billion people. But why should she and her mates bother? Let them eat cake? Photo : Gina, Tony and mates. http://wf360.typepad.com/.a/6a00d83452408569e2017ee93bffb3970d-pi

Annoying Orange 15 September 2013

What we try to do in Catholic schools is to give students experiences and knowledge that the "stranger" is just the same as us. Let's not be naive.The Coalition's treatment of refugees will go down in history as a modern day Holocaust. What difference does it make on who's land other human beings ( not "strangers" ) are caged in, whether it be Papua New Guinea, Germany or Australia? Whoever causes such cruelty, causes innocent children to be shocked and horrified by their scandalous behavior. Were an child to ask a member of the Coalition "why they won't let refugee women, children and men seeking help into Australia?" His or her reply would corrupt the pure heart and mind of the child into believing what they are doing is legitimate. By their reply and example children would believe cruel treatment towards other human beings is not sinful but acceptable and as adults be tempted to do likewise. "Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin....woe to the one through whom they come". Shalom.

peter bohm 15 September 2013

Since Bob Hawke coined the phrase queue jumpers in 1989 when Cambodians didn't believe the lies that the Khmer Rouge were just naughty boys Australia has been disgusting towards refugees. Rudd tried to right the balance for a few years but was over ridden by Gillard and others who hate refugees arriving here. They whinge about border protection but most are over 5,40 0 kum from Christmas Island and those good people aren't scared of the refugees, only the morons in Sydney and Brisbane are. Gillard went far further to the far right because that has always been her position - both major parties are depraved and forget history. WE are denying refuge to victims of wars we started, we are denying Tamils from the killing fields, the Syrians for god's sake. As a nation we are rightly condemned as cruel, inhuman, degrading and lawless.

Marilyn 15 September 2013

Why are there only men in the Liberal Cabinet?

Annoying Orange 16 September 2013

As Tony Abbott and another Riverview alumnus, Barnaby Joyce, prepare for the prospect of filling two of the most senior positions in a Coalition government after September 7, students at their Alma mater are alarmed that they have forsaken the Jesuit values that underpinned their educations. "We think it's important to remind Tony Abbott, as a very outspoken Catholic, that he should take Jesuit ideals into account in his decisions." Although he did not expect to change the policies of the major parties before the September election, he did hope to encourage a conversation inside the party rooms on both sides on the need for moral courage and generosity of spirit. He also urged the politicians to apply Jesuit principles to other policy questions. "This is a very disheartening time for us. But your stance on this issue simply impels us to live out our Ignatian heritage in a more authentic way," Henry writes in the letter. "It is imperative that we show our support if we want to push for a more moral, and a more just Australia. Remember how Jesus said our lives would be judged: 'I was a stranger and you welcomed me'." One less than encouraging omen is that, two weeks after writing, he is yet to receive a reply from any of the politicians. Read more: http://www.smh.com.au/federal-politics/federal-election-2013/tony-abbotts-old-school-hits-out-at-asylum-seeker-stance-as-betraying-moral-values-20130821-2savt.html#ixzz2cbpR2CSb

John Ward 17 September 2013

My 2 year old niece summed it up when she recently said "Everyone's a people".

Meg McKeown 18 September 2013

“Oxford gave the world marmalade and a manner, Riverview a snag and a beer" http://seringa.files.wordpress.com/2010/03/851ak-marie-antoinette_l.jpg

Annoying Orange 18 September 2013

I hope my shared humanity is not restricted to plu's.Rather it is focussed on those who have been in refugee camps in Asia for 10 to 15 years and many of my friends agree. These people have been pretty well shut out by those who can afford to pay people smugglers. Australia should have a programme where people are brought from these camps and given 3 months orientation and preparation for life in Australia. WIthin two hours train rides from capital cities complexes should be built to run 3 or 4 months intensive English, numeracy, literacy, health and civics programmes. There are many generous skilled retirees and others who would be prepared to assist in programmes for periods of weeks or months if the facilities were public transport accessible. They would be permanent facilities and Australia could embark on an annual programme of bringing in 20,000 or more people per year and helping them from the word go to obtain the skills to facilitate their social integration into Australian society. If I were living in the societies people are fleeing from I would quite likely try to bypass the system too but that doesn't make it right and it should be stopped.

Mary Hoban 18 September 2013

Dear Henry Gallagher, Dan Weber and Andrew Bouffler, what has amazed me about you letter to Tony Abbott and company- was not it contents nor the fact Tony Abbott is yet to reply. Rather, your generation spends some much time on facebook, yet, nowhere have we read about the biggest protest you and your friends from Riverview- and indeed all Catholic , Muslim, Jewish , non-denominational, private and public schools around Sydney are planning to take to the streets of Sydney, to express strong objection. towards Tony Abbot’s inhuman asylum seeker policies. Surely you have read about the truly concerned youth took to the streets 10 years ago?...But they who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles; they shall run and not be weary; they shall walk and not faint: The Iraq- anti war protest in Sydney was the biggest demonstration in Australia's history, surpassing even the record set by Friday's demonstration in Melbourne. Around 250,000 marchers were addressed by American singer Jackson Browne, journalist John Pilger and Green party senator Bob Brown. Millions worldwide rally for peace. Huge turnout at 600 marches from Berlin to Baghdad. The Guardian, Monday 17 February 2003 . If you take up this challenge, as the whole world will be watching. I, for one, am looking forward to joining you at the biggest demonstration Sydney is yet to see. What say you? Shalom.

peter bohm 19 September 2013

I hope these young lads answer this letter, EUREKASTREET, and implement a Sydney protest via Facebook- and other means. Via their organizational skills eloquence and determination on being 'heard' and receiving a reply as a result of the protest ( this time) an acknowledgment from the current government- would make it to world headlines ( hopefully also via Georgetown Uni and other Jesuits schools around the globe ) ...Tony Abbott- would finally acknowledge the erroneous surperbia of his refugee polices. By agreeing to take on "the sharing of the burden"- together. By justly 'hearing' and recognizing the importance of the plea for justice and humanity all voice's would be proclaiming .Shalom.

peter bohm 19 September 2013

If Peter Bohm thinks demonstrations are effective,why does he not organise one himself instead of urging school students to do so? And what effect did the demonstrations against the Iraq war have?

Dan McGonnigal 19 September 2013

And what words have you said to your refugee friends lately, Dan McGonnigal, 'Abandon hope all ye who enter here' ?

peter bohm 19 September 2013

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