We seem beset on all sides by confusion and dissension, not least in the political realm. It’s as if we’ve lost any sense of how to act, as if we’ve lost our way and forgotten what it is we stand for and the hard-won values we once held dear.
There were two major examples of this from the past week.
First, the live export of cattle to Indonesia, where the unspeakable treatment inflicted upon them caused widespread outrage. We have as one of our values the humane treatment of animals, as evidenced by the care taken for their welfare on Australian cattle farms and on the transport ships, and by the outrage unleashed by the Four Corners documentary.
Sadly, the revelations were met also with mealy-mouthed apologists who were somehow able to reconcile the mistreatment of cattle with excuses for the perpetrators. “Much has been done to improve …“, “we are working closely with …“, etc. Which in a sense makes it worse, because if those people knew of the conditions and still allowed the trade, they are as responsible as the abattoir workers who, as the excuse ran, “knew no better”.
The second example concerns the “live export” of human beings, with the proposal to send asylum seekers to Malaysia. The best one can say about this deal is that a larger number of refugees will be taken by Australia in return. As we have seen this week, however, conditions in Malaysia for refugees range from bad to appalling. Couple this with revelations that orphaned children may be sent there, and the “solution” starts to sound morally untenable. And yet our elected government, made up of people we voted for because they appeared to embody our values, continues to pursue this option.
In both cases, what we are seeing is a lack of moral courage. I don’t believe the people involved are bad, evil or corrupt. I believe most people are fundamentally nice, caring individuals. But what seems to happen, time and again, is that they lose sight of their values, or at least allow them to be sidelined, in pursuit of expedient solutions. This is a lack of moral courage, of the courage of one’s convictions, of the strength to hold fast to what we believe in.
The correct action in relation to cattle exports would have been to make sure we knew what would happen to them in Indonesia before we sent them. The Minster has taken action, post revelation, and that is to his credit. But it should not have happened in the first place.
The correct action in relation to refugees is to hold fast to our belief in fundamental human rights, including the right to seek a better life for oneself and one’s family. Shipping these people offshore is an act of cowardice, in essence a washing of our hands of them. But sending them to Malaysia, in the full knowledge of the likely outcome, would be an act of bastardry. And to contemplate sending unaccompanied children, as is still being debated, is unthinkable. In all, what we see here is, again, a complete loss of moral courage.
The mainstream political parties have lost our respect, because they demonstrate, time after time, a lack of moral courage, compromising their own (and our) declared values for the sake of expediency. The Liberals espouse individualism and personal initiative, and Labor espouses a fair go for all, yet when people come to our shores, at great personal cost and at the risk of their lives, seeking a better life for themselves and their children, both sides want to ship them out to be some other country’s problem. Both parties lack the courage of their convictions.
The moral compass is spinning wildly. Perhaps our government and opposition need a new one.