STEPHANIE DOWRICK. What should we do?

In the few days since Election 2019, each time I have walked down the main street of my Sydney suburb I have been stopped by people asking me, “What should we do?” I wish I could give one simple answer. I cannot. But two things about the question bring hope. First is the use of “we”: a recognition that positive social change comes when people place at least as much value on their collective interests as their (deceptively) personal/individual concerns. Second is the recognition that this is a time for skilful, thoughtful action, not cynicism or passivity. And certainly not for despair.

That the election results were disappointing or even devastating for many is an understatement. Genuine social progress on key issues positively affecting most Australians including the most vulnerable – as well as around climate change – was on offer. And was rejected. But if you fear that this is what the “vast majority” wanted, note that a national two-party preferred count (as at 21 May, reported on the Australian Electoral Commission website) puts the Liberal/National Coalition vote at 5,285,313, and the ALP vote at 5,096,259. Add in the national first preference Greens vote of 1,190,754 and perhaps the convey of barges to socially progressive New Zealand could be halted. At least for a moment. The take-out from this for me is several-fold.

1. We need to take better care of ourselves and one another. We cannot afford to slump. Nor can we afford to be persuaded by any toxic elements in the media – and there are many – that this is a “landslide” victory for conservative and Far Right forces. It is not.

2. Taking better care of ourselves will mean different things to different people. But I strongly suspect we have some simple factors in common. In my role as an interfaith minister I am privileged to work with and listen to an exceptionally diverse range of people across Australia and also New Zealand, many of whom have been seriously wounded by fundamentalism in political ideologies as well as in some factions within virtually all religions. Fear is the common weapon – and emotion – in fundamentalism. The outcome is divisiveness. As well as inevitable “othering” of the vulnerable. We can refuse any part of that.

3. Building community around shared values and the common good is more than a social responsibility; it saves our own sanity and wellbeing. There are many opportunities to do this effectively. The crucial element is identifying what moves, even enrages you, then doing something about it. My husband, Dr Paul Bauert, is a paediatrician living in the NT, working for four decades now in Darwin and some of the most remote communities on earth. He is also a national advocate for better health for First Peoples and for all of Australia’s children. I know first-hand from him how vital it is that we support, through staying informed, why the Uluru Statement of the Heart matters; what “Closing the [health and life expectancy] Gap really means; what shockingly adverse social factors keep that Gap wide open; and why it is so vital for our national wellbeing and maturity that we acknowledge and go beyond a long history of active, institutionalised silencing, particularly around race.

4. You and I may be hurting. However, it is the silenced and the shunned most adversely affected by these election results. The ALP took a huge risk in speaking up about removing financial subsidies from some to distribute those increasing billions more widely. Bill Shorten also spoke up strongly for implementing the Uluru Statement and, had they won, promised Senator Pat Dodson as Minister for Indigenous Affairs. The First Peoples of Australia are our primary “silenced”; there are others.

5. If anyone doubts that race is still being used to create fear and entrench profound injustice in this nation, please turn your mind to those women and men still abandoned on Manus or Nauru, or the women, men and children abandoned in detention centres or without security in Australia for the “crime” of fleeing violence and seeking safety. Their treatment is inexcusable by any measure. And the accelerating despair reported by prize-winning writer Behrouz Boochani (No Friend But the Mountain) from Manus is urgent and horrifying. So, let’s ask whether this prolonged incarceration and denial of hope could possibly be dished out to people who were not brown? Who were not largely Muslim? Who were not pilloried and dehumanised by white supremacists? And by powerful sections of the Australian political and media communities?

6. Outrage is not enough. That’s useful as a catalyst but not as a place of landing. Wherever we see injustice flourishing, it’s effective self-informing and engagement that’s needed. There are many organisations more than worthy of our time and money. I support the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre. And the International Women’s Development Agency, based in Melbourne but working across the Pacific. GetUp do first-class work in refugee advocacy. There is the Father Bob Maguire Foundation working with the destitute and homeless. And the vital Human Rights Law Centre. You may have a grassroots group in your community, building decency and relationships where it most counts – perhaps around homelessness, disability or children’s rights, or bringing an end to any form of violence. When you support positive actions, we all benefit.

7. In my retreat and ministry leadership, I frequently say, “We will protect what we most love.” Loving our planet more genuinely, appreciating its magnificence, variety and subtlety, we will protect it – and nourish ourselves. Beauty, courage and meaningful care are the qualities that most faithfully sustain us. We can be their expression. Now more than ever.

Rev Dr Stephanie Dowrick’s books include Seeking the Sacred: Transforming Our View of Ourselves and One Another.


Rev Dr Stephanie Dowrick is a New Zealand-born writer, social activist and interfaith minister. She has written many influential books, was co-founder and first MD of The Women's Press, London; has been a contributor to Australian media in many forms, including as "Inner Life" columnist for Good Weekend; she has led "Interfaith in Sydney", a global spiritually inclusive congregation, since 2006; she teaches widely both on writing and spiritual/ethical living; she is a mother and grandmother.

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6 Responses to STEPHANIE DOWRICK. What should we do?

  1. Avatar Charles Lowe says:

    To directly answer the Reverend Doctor’s quietly impassioned question:

    Use what we’ve got.

    Generate such an overwhelming degree of public pressure (including outrage) that the Coalition’s internal surveys will quickly tell it that it has no electoral choice but to instigate the sorts of policies that we had been hoping that Labor would.

  2. Avatar Stuart Schultz says:

    Disappointed by the result of the election. In some ways I am not surprised, I am a mature age student at a Sydney university, reading psychology. There are so many factors playing into this that we, people are not paying attention to. For people not trained in critical thinking, fear can be a major factor. For evolutionary reasons it is more salient, it is known to make people more ‘conservative’. For some people, global warming is still a distant threat. In Sydney, it is stupid the number of cars on the road picking up children that would benefit from walking, not many ride a bicycle to work. Saturation of media has shifted our perspective on moral behaviour. High house prices and university fees mean we are focused on paying that of before thinking of others. Science is poorly understood by a lot of people, even the economist that are quite adept at manipulating statistics cannot get their heads around the idea that the environment is limited. We need to be more active to stimulate critical thinking the use of lazy heuristics like “tax = bad” to something like “tax can be good for services like hospitals” or feeding the poor so they don’t rob you. Teach people that the world is more complex and interesting than feeding another $20 into the poker machine.

  3. Avatar Janette Wilcox says:

    You probably won’t agree with me but we urgently need to address the global deep-rooted systemic reliance on fossil fuels; in other words, the current climate emergency. We have 415 ppm CO2 in the biosphere at present. This is the highest it has been since way before humans were walking this planet. There is no carbon budget left. The big polluters need to stop. Why are the institutions such as the UN and the International Criminal Court not taking action? I refer you to Ian Dunlop and David Spratt’s important critique of the underestimation of the risk of extinction under the IPPC goals. ‘What Lies Beneath’ is a quick read and available free online.

  4. Avatar J Knight says:

    The author seems to think things would have been immediately better under the ALP and that a paper change and appointment of an individual indigenous person would reverse centuries of government ineptitude.

    The problem is that modern society places too much emphasis on an individuals need to define themselves as different and that their unique circumstances and characteristics trump universal norms and Natural Law.

    The incapacity of many to distinguish between respect for differences but acknowledgement that not all differences are culturally beneficial is of concern.

  5. Avatar jo Vallentine says:

    Thanks Stephanie for your wisdom….outrage, followed by action. We must not be cowed into apathy. Stronger than ever must community groups be, as we continue to work together for justice and peace. Standup! Speak out! Look after each other, ourselves, and our precious little planet: there is much to appreciate!

  6. As it turned out, the public polls all overstated Labor’s two party preferred position. By extension, they obviously overstated Bill Shorten’s preferred PM rating.

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