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This is Australia, and no-one cares

By Matt Hurley

In my use of social media, I try carefully not to cultivate an echo chamber environment. This is because many friends of mine with whom I share common interests and otherwise enjoy their company may have vastly differing opinions in various matters, including politics. If I were to surround myself solely with those who share my left-libertarian sensibilities then I would be denying myself an accurate barometer for social attitudes, and a cross section of opinions to consider when forming my own. Also, it would get boring pretty quickly. Occasionally though, I might come across some idea from somewhere else on the political spectrum that leaves me stumped.

It was not long ago that the government announced it would increase its intake of Syrian refugees in order to assist with the humanitarian crisis unfolding in that rather troubled part of the world. And in almost the same instant, a good deal of social media users suddenly became passionate advocates for the plights of the homeless and our veterans. This was apparent in the proliferation of memes stating that they would rather the welfare of either the homeless or veterans come before the welfare of refugees.

The true xenophobic motivation behind these bitter, malicious sentiments lacked opacity of any kind; they were the height of insincerity and spite. This was obvious to me for two reasons; firstly, those acquaintances of mine who genuinely do care deeply for the very real and dire predicament of the homeless or the equally valid difficulties facing returned servicemen campaign for their causes regardless of context. It does not take the largely irrelevant threat of approaching brown people for the genuinely altruistic to redouble their efforts. For the most part, these charitable acquaintances possess the empathy and insight to appreciate our shared humanity and sympathise also with refugees. In those who have it, empathy is not a finite resource to be portioned up. Secondly, and most tellingly, these memes were shared almost exclusively by friends who have demonstrated anti-immigration or xenophobic sentiment in the past, but never to my knowledge previously shown any interest in humanitarian matters until these memes popped up.

I wanted so badly to formulate some solid argument which I could mount against these irksome memes, however in spite of the complete transparency of their motive, a good argument would elude me. I could not argue against this notion that local humanitarian issues should be given priority over worldwide issues without coming across as patronising to the homeless / veterans, which is the last thing I want to do as their struggles are equally legitimate. And so this became a bugbear. Every time I saw “Share if you believe our homeless should come before any refugee”, or some similarly atrocious variation on the theme, I would cringe out of both disgust and frustration.

However, my sought after solution came to be.

In the same way as the Abbott led government could sell its insults to our collective intelligence with simple three word slogans, the Turnbull led government has a fondness for buzzwords. Yesterday during my smoko break I read about a buzzword infused initiative coined by foreign minister Julie Bishop called “innovationXchange”. What is “innovationXchange” you may rightly ask? As far as I can tell, apart from being a suspiciously superficial and unintelligible buzzword, it is a $140 million taxpayer funded initiative to turn the Department of Foreign Affairs into a “gorgeous little funky, hipster, Googly, Facebook-type place”, to quote Ms Bishop. Bean bags and table tennis tables, in fact. That’s what our taxes are paying for.

I thought to myself, “Surely this is something everybody could get angry about? Giving a portion of our income to distribute not on worthy causes such as health, education, or social services, but so Julie Bishop’s minions can lounge around on bean bags and play ping pong on our time?”, but then I remembered that this is Australia, and no one here seems to care about anything very much at all, let alone the fact that those who purport to be running the country are taking the piss out of us more or less all of the time. I was riled up about pigs at the trough; burgeoning, decadent government expenditure. Not just the bean bags, its the private choppers, the junkets, the whole expenses circus. Here I was at work operating earthmoving plant in the heat and the dust, where I have a hard time getting basics like drinking water provided on site let alone a bean bag couch, and suddenly, apropos of nothing, it came to me: The moment I see those same friends share a meme to the effect of “Share if you think the homeless should come before Julia Bishop’s bean bag couches” then, and only then, will I believe them to possess even a modicum of sincerity.



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  1. Ruth L

    Thank you Matt Hurley .This is why I am so admiring of Kaye Lee’s blogs ( and envious if I told the whole truth).Kaye has the knack of clearly stating her point of view regarding issues .

  2. Rob

    Hands up all those who pay nearly $600 for a bean bag….none? I thought so. In 2 seconds I found some for $31 on eBay.

    So this is where the $millions of “innovation” money is going eh? Effing tools.

  3. brickbob

    Thanks for a good read Matt,yesit seems the old bag is dipping into the public bag to buy more bags,and yes,nobody seems to care.

  4. townsvilleblog

    it is not malicious to want to look after your own first. We have many people struggling in Australia and we should repair our own situation with regards homelessness and poverty before we bring $700 million commitment to refugees who may turn out to resemble Man Monis or the Parramatta terrorist.

  5. flohri1754

    Trouble is, no country will ever have all of its current problems “solved”. If that was to be held as the greenlight for whether or not a country was to try to extend itself to help others, that extended hand would never/never be allowed.

  6. diannaart

    Can’t we walk and chew gum at the same time?

    Why put any vulnerable people on a list – surely we can help all simultaneously? Or is that too difficult?

    As for Julie Bishop – bean bags the new helicopter ride?

  7. Bacchus

    who may turn out to resemble Man Monis or the Parramatta terrorist.

    “May” is the operative word there townsvilleblog. It seems like you’re buying into the conservatives’ scare campaign that you decried back in July?

  8. Beveldrive

    I think you’ve missed the point townsvilleblog.

  9. paul walter

    I’m glad I read it. It reminds me of how loud the silence on Syrian and other refugees after the peak of attention last month. Winter up there, too.

    Agree with diannart, away with unimaginative binaries and use monies presently wasted by this country on expensive rubbish instead on inclusionist policies for both arrivals and for less well off locals.

  10. Wally

    Great article Matt Hurley

    “the fact that those who purport to be running the country are taking the piss out of us more or less all of the time …. while I have a hard time getting basics like drinking water provided on site let alone a bean bag couch”

    The LNP would have all and sundry believe that the unions are evil, if ever there was a time when workers need unions it is now. At least you get smoko, shop employees and service staff do not get a break until they have worked for 4 hours and all breaks are unpaid.

  11. Loz

    Good article. The taxpayer is paying out millions of dollars year in and year out to keep refugees imprisoned. This huge amount of money could be well spent on incoming refugees, returned servicemen and the homeless.

  12. kerri

    What a stunningly clear and well argued article Matt Hurley! It is frustrating to try to defend charity to refugees when people come up with an argument like that but hey? This government just keeps on giving!

  13. kerri

    Our Julie would do well to take a leaf from Justin Trudeau?

  14. Anonymouse

    I think you all missed the point here. The LNP don’t care an iota about workers welfare so why is Julie supplying bean bags an table tennis tables? Simple working for Julie’s and her LNP cronies is so miiserable and they have reduced their staff so much that these extrodenary measures are necessary to attract the contractors they need to do the work. Remember contractors get payed way more than public servants (over double) but its harder to keep them.

  15. James Zealey

    5 seconds of googling innovationxchange turns up a competition for innovative humanitarian ideas with a 2 million dollar prize pool, making this article lazy journalism at best. Pick a contentious comment, take it out of context with zero research and write 2 paragraphs of uninformed opinion. Murdoch would be proud.

  16. Mercurial

    Thanks Mark. Those people who think we have to ‘look after our own first’, probably also believe that if the government spends more money on one program it has to cut spending on another.

    Everything has to be zero sum. People who promote renewable energy sources ‘hate’ fossil fuels. Similarly those who want a republic are disrespecting the Queen.

    So when they want to make what appears to be a racist statement, they couch it in ‘zero sum’ terms.

  17. mars08

    It’s only a zero sum argument if they sincerely wanted to assist the homeless… otherwise it’s just a pitiful excuse.

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