We have a government led by a former Minister for Immigration that’s obsessed with playing power games around the idea of security: who has it, who threatens it, and – most especially – who should define and control it. But while those games grind on, true “insecurity” is being lived daily by hundreds of thousands of vulnerable Australians lacking security in housing, safety – and food.
We all know that the Coalition has won power several times over through calculated, dehumanising rhetoric about refugees and asylum seekers threatening or endangering our security. In May this year, with refugees not quite the hot ticket they’d once been, the fear card was flipped to the ALP’s “plans” for non-existent taxes – as well as to their audaciousness in offering slightly fewer protections to the wealthy and slightly more to those in greatest need. Their sins in conservative eyes also included “too costly” protections to the global environment that we all share and depend upon. At least in part, fear yet again got the Coalition across the line. But if the beating of the fear drums around refugees was temporarily quieter, it has never gone away. Indeed, around Medevac it is as deafening – and mendacious – as it ever was.
What this adds up to is clear. While raising the punitive levels of so-called Newstart, or adequately funding a raft of urgent social, environmental and justice programs remains “unjustifiable”, no sum of tax-payer dollars is too great to be spent “protecting our borders”, at least from those who years ago arrived by boat. The grotesque decision to re-open Australia’s detention centre on Christmas Island, and to maroon there a sole desperate family with two tiny Australian-born children, is simply one instance of the utter illogic that breeds so robustly in Canberra.
Additional millions have of course also been spent to keep those in off-shore detention as far from Australia as possible, promoting the fantasy that bringing them here from PNG or Nauru even for necessary medical treatment will further threaten our safety. (THEIR safety, or survival, has never been a consideration for this or any other Coalition government.) We are even supposed to believe that repealing the AMA-supported Medevac process is essential if we are to sleep soundly at night. Why? Because in Coalition-speak, treating broken people humanely after more than six years of incarceration will bring new boats to our shores, despite repeatedly-documented evidence that either 65 or 80 people a day (depending on the figures) are arriving by plane, seeking asylum that will take years to process, and meanwhile being abandoned to the wolves running the cheap or even slave labour syndicates.
By the time you read this, Medevac may have been killed off, despite the urgings of not just the AMA but every professional medical body in the land. The outcome will depend on a single Senator, Jacqui Lambie. How can this possibly be reasonable? How can the insistent politicisation of every aspect of refugee care be deemed reasonable? It cannot.
That particular travesty of sense as well as decency reaches new heights when we consider that, as a nation, the greatest threats to our collective security and wellbeing are not from those who fled violence, wars or destitution, just as you or I might. Indeed, for all the dehumanisation of those seeking asylum by boat (almost all of whom are genuine refugees), the greatest insecurities experienced in our nation are here. They are now. And they concern the absolute essentials of life. Beyond the massive insecurity caused by global warming and the climate catastrophe, there is this:
Over the last 12-month period, more than one in five Australians has been hungry. One. In. Five. Hungry. Three out of 10 of those people report going a whole day eating nothing at all. It’s called “food insecurity”. It goes along with “housing insecurity” and, in some instances, with total homelessness. There’s been a 22 per cent increase in those seeking support from charities. Only 37 per cent of charities, however, can meet the “full needs” of those coming to them for help.
This is Australia, 2019. And 22 is also the percentage of the “food insecure” who are CHILDREN.
I had to write that paragraph above several times. Read it again. Feel my fury. Try to imagine their pain, panic, humiliation. (The figures are all on public record, Sun-Herald, 13 October 2019.) And it gets worse. Women and children are, predictably, most badly affected. Twenty-seven per cent of women compared to 18 per cent of men have endured food insecurity in the 12 months measured. This means, running out of food and without the means to purchase more. Women are one and half times more likely to have gone hungry in the last 12 months and women are going without food to give their children more.
How good is Australia? Well, not good. And particularly neither good nor remotely morally intelligent when 22 per cent of those experiencing “not enough to eat” are children whose growth, development, education, entire wellbeing will be grossly affected, as will their perception of fairness in an increasingly unfair, often calculatedly cruel world. This is a health issue. It is a decency issue. It is a scandalous issue. But who among the current crop of grossly-padded government ministers will be touring the country to speak up for the poor? None of them. Not one of them.
Housing insecurity is just as real. Again, women are especially badly off. The fastest growing group of homeless in Australia are older women, the “lucky” ones among them having a car to call “home”. This, too, is obscene. The Department of Social Services clearly has a tiny piggy bank when compared to Home Affairs. They have announced that the Government will spend $5.95million on “critical funding” for food relief over FOUR YEARS. Please compare this to the $185 million simply to re-open Christmas Island’s near-empty detention centre, never mind the untold millions to Serco, Paladin and other companies wallowing in detention mud (our tax dollars, their profits, refugees harmed and further harmed). You may also wish to compare this piddling sum to the $250 million of your tax dollars and mine that Scott Morrison offered Donald Trump for the Mars idiocy. In the 12 months that Morrison has been Prime Minister there’s been an increase of 22 per cent in the numbers of people seeking food help from charities. So where are the enquiries? Who is going to be held accountable? Who cares?
We need new and far more credible definitions of what security means in reality, rather than through an ideological prism. We need far greater scrutiny of how this or any government is spending our collective funds to protect those who most need it. Such scrutiny is happening via savvy stalwarts on social media, especially Twitter. It is, though, happening far less than it should in the mainstream media. Or on our national broadcaster.
Few of us would knowingly choose for our tax dollars to be making previously-insignificant companies and LibNat “mates” rich on the back of refugee misery. Or through “privatising” essential social services at home. We need to know when and why that’s happening. We need to call that to full account. While the unforgivable misery of hunger, food- and housing-insecurity, and the devastating losses of safety, hope and wellbeing that go with it, continue unrelieved – even unremarked – for so very, very many, we cannot be silent. And we won’t be.
Rev Dr Stephanie Dowrick is a writer, interfaith minister and social commentator. You are welcome to follow her via her public Facebook page or via twitter: @stephaniedowric