An interesting aspect of the Coalition’s suggestion that the ALP had committed to restoring $19 billion to the Australian Aid budget is that pro-Aid campaigners themselves had previously only mentioned $11 billion of cuts. That is, they intentionally inflate the level of cuts to more powerfully demonstrate their commitment to balancing the budget on the backs of the world’s poor. While politicians and Australia’s humanitarians war over the dollar figures in the forward estimates there’s another battle that’s less about our national budget and more about our national character – a war on generosity.
The commentary has covered the state of our material generosity – we’re now at the lowest levels of Australian Aid at any time in our history – but the fact that this is a point of pride for our Government, something they’d intentionally exaggerate to make a political point, says even more about our spiritual generosity. We are not only being financially mean, we are mean-spirited.
In the same vein, Immigration Minister Dutton’s logic-denying comments about illiterate and innumerate refugees who would “take Australian jobs” – while at the same time languishing on welfare for years – were depressing not only for their calculated fear-mongering but also because they announced that even the illusion of generosity towards refugees no longer has a place in the Coalition’s narrative. The good refugee / bad asylum seeker dichotomy once employed to maintain some claim to compassion has been abandoned. No longer are dehumanising deterrence measures an ugly necessity that allows Australia to generously welcome more (carefully-vetted, individually selected) refugees but EVEN THESE refugees are here to rob Australians of work, drain our resources and undermine our living standards. When it comes to refugees, compassion is a weakness rather than a virtue.
The truth of this is most fully evidenced by the farcical witch hunt for any candidate who has shown an ounce of generosity towards asylum seekers, ever. Anyone who has, at any time in their history, posted a pro-refugee tweet, signed a petition to get kids out of detention, attended a pro-refugee event or even questioned a contentious aspect of Labor’s policy is proof of disfunction, disunity and rebellion – rather than proof of possessing some humanity.
Case in point – Tim Kurylowicz, Labor candidate for the Riverina, has been a staunch supporter of the asylum seeker and refugee policy Labor settled upon at their National Conference in 2015. However, many months earlier, in December 2014, he tweeted “I wonder what would happen to #stoptheboats if #illridewithyou became a part of the asylum seeker experience?” – enough for The Australian to include him in “Shorten’s growing band of asylum rebels” and for the Coalition to include him in their aggregate of “soft on border security” candidates.
In other words, it doesn’t matter what your position on the policy might be, generosity of spirit will be punished and – just like believing the Australian Aid budget should be higher – your generosity will be portrayed by the Government as a threat to Australia’s future prosperity.
The insinuation that being on the side of generosity is akin to undermining the national interest is an indication of the kind of future the war on generosity anticipates: mean, self-interested and profit-driven at the expense of healthy communities where all people can equally belong, participate and thrive.
Not only does the war on generosity visit physical destruction on the world’s most vulnerable people – at home and abroad – it also contaminates our culture with nastiness and fear while making our future less fair, equal and enjoyable. The world where cold-heartedness is a virtue and generosity is a flaw is not a world anyone wants to inhabit.
Brad Chilcott, Founder, Welcome to Australia