Happy New Year, everyone. I hope you are taking the opportunity to rest up and relax. Because if we thought 2018 was a difficult and disturbing year, 2019 is shaping up to be even bigger. It looks like Australia will have one of the most savage and partisan federal elections in generations.
Of course, the stakes are high, as they are for every election. In addition, the stability of our region is shakier than it has been for most of the last 70 years; our greatest allies, the US and the UK, are – to put it delicately – in significant disarray; and climate change is ramping up the fire and fury along with the temperatures.
So perhaps it is no wonder that anger, outrage and the thirst for revenge against partisan enemies will likely mark election campaigning.
I don’t want us to remove passion from the public debate this year. Anger is important, contestation is important. It is these emotions that have driven the greatest progress in human society. Without anger, there has been no movement for justice.
Yet as Charles Duhigg tells us in a timely piece in The Atlantic (The Real Roots of American Rage) ordinary anger can deepen into moral indignation – “a more combustible form of the emotion” – and if people lose faith that their anger is being heard, “it can produce a third type of anger: a desire for revenge …”
It is a year for judgement yes, but let’s rise above the outrage; it delivers nothing but more shouty stupidity. In 2019, let’s harness our anger to create dialogue and deliver stronger, more robust outcomes and not abandon our own values.
One of the clearest areas where this contest is being played out is in our aid program. For the last five years the aid program has been savagely cut, and it now sits at its lowest level ever – accounting for less than one per cent of government spending. Australia is shirking its responsibilities and leaving fellow human beings in the most desperate conditions.
A mere $25 is enough to protect the health of a child with a lifesaving immunisation, which will help stop the spread of disease. CARE and non-government organisations like us deliver programs that support the world’s poorest and most vulnerable to achieve justice, dignity and equality. Can we really not afford this?
But it’s not just about the money: it points to who we are as a nation, as a people, and what our values are. We all know we humans are capable of the greatest empathy and the greatest inhumanity, but each generation needs to choose which values will drive us. My mum was born in Texas, Queensland 85 years ago. She taught me to feed your dogs before yourself, always welcome guests, and look out for people less well off than yourself. And that’s how I choose to live.
Let us as Australians choose generosity, justice and equality, and live these values now in our region and through our aid program. Politicians tell us there are no votes in aid, and no political downside in cutting the aid program. For exactly this reason it is a values decision.
We need to rebuild our aid program because it is the right thing to do, it reflects who we are: wealthy, generous and kind.
Sally Moyle is Chief Executive of CARE Australia.