Finding Compassion

All our Prime Minister can say is “Stop the boats!”

But stopping the boats does not stop the death.

Stopping the boats does not stop the torture.

Stopping the boats does not free prisoners, prevent rape, or feed the hungry.

Stopping the boats means they don’t die inconveniently within sight of our shores. Stopping the boats means they die elsewhere, while we rest easy in our privileged beds.

So we march. And the government closes its ears and covers its eyes.

So we sign petitions. And the government covers its eyes and closes its ears.

So we share photos of the doomed and the dying. And the government says it has solved the problem because it has Stopped the Boats. And the dying continues where we can’t see it.

I’m tired of marching. I’m tired of signing. I’m tired of sharing the photos. Above all I am tired of the torture and the dying, and the complete absence of compassion and humanity.

But compassion exists.

Humanity exists.

People are making a difference.

So rather than march and be ignored, I am going to put my credit card where my marching would be.

I am going to find compassion by funding compassion.

If my government won’t open its arms, I will fund those who will.

Please join me in funding compassion. Fund the UNHCR to shelter refugees. Families. People like us. People who are fleeing war zones, terror, and trauma. People who are just trying to find safety for their families. People who just want to be safe.

As yourself this: If your family was at risk, what would you do to protect them?

You can protect a family at risk right now. Fund Compassion today.

Together we can make a difference.

I’ve got the power

We are truly a funny old species. The existence of climate controlled cars and a million labour saving devices has persuaded us that we can’t get wet, mustn’t get cold, and that most activities are beyond the reach of our puny muscles.

Yet it is possible to ride a bicycle to work even when it’s cold, wet, and windy.

It is possible to mow your lawn, cut branches off trees, and cut up firewood all without the aid of power tools.

It is possible to calculate without the aid of a calculating machine – or so I am told – the calculating portion of my brain seems to have atrophied.

And that’s just the point, isn’t it? Power is a “use it or lose it” phenomenon.

Yesterday morning, amid dire forecasts for wind, rain, hail, and general unpleasantness in the Melbourne weather forecast, I elected not to ride to work the way I usually would, and instead texted a local friend asking for a lift. I waited, and I waited, but I got no response. I texted again. Then I called. All to no avail, because his phone was on silent and he wasn’t looking at it. By then it was time to leave or be late, and so I had to bite the cold, windy, wet bullet and ride. I donned my voluminous rain cape, my waterproof trousers, and my knee high boots, and rode off into the rain.

And you know what?

I enjoyed it. True, there were times when I thought I was in a scene from Finding Nemo. “Just keep swimming. Just keep swimming. Just keep swimming, swimming, swimming…” But by the time I got to work I was radiating the dedicated commuting cyclist’s extreme smug field. I was warm from the exercise. I had made it to work under my own steam in unpleasant conditions. I had power. I had self esteem. I was surprisingly dry. And my colleagues universally thought me insane – no change there.

Throughout the day the weather worsened and I swore I would beg, borrow, or if necessary steal a lift home, even if it meant coming in on my day off to pick up my bike. But by the time I was ready to leave everyone else had gone, the rain had stopped, and the wind had eased. So I rode home again, and this time didn’t even need the wet weather gear.

Here’s the thing: skin is mostly waterproof, and getting rained on is rarely fatal. Admittedly the weather in Melbourne yesterday was a touch extreme, and I would not have ridden in the 100kph winds we endured in the middle of the day. But even though the wind had settled, people were still aghast that I had done something so extreme as ride in the rain.

With decent wet weather gear, riding in the rain is no big deal, but we persuade ourselves that we need our climate control, our heating, our air con, and our isolation from the world. I persuaded myself that I needed a lift to work this morning, but when my lift failed to materialize, I rode to work just fine.

I had also persuaded myself that I couldn’t do anything about our treatment of asylum seekers. I’m just one person. Just one voice. One keyboard – albeit fairly strident. But I watched a friend become increasingly active, and it began to make my muscles twitch, until almost without thinking I stepped over the line and did something concrete for a family of refugees. Burning with their story, I came home and wrote about it, and in just over a week more than 700 people have read my piece about actually stepping up and helping.

I have power. One voice can reach many ears, if it’s willing to try.

Today I went to the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre in Dandenong and signed up to teach computer skills there once a fortnight next term. Another thing I can do. And each person I teach can teach others in turn. I’m starting small, but who knows what impact this will have on the lives of the people our government wants us to abandon?

I’ve already noticed the impact on my cycling route of stopping to pick up the occasional piece of rubbish. I have power here, too.

We can walk or ride in the rain, much further than we think we can. We can pick up a little rubbish every day and leave the world a cleaner place. We can offer a little support to those most in need. And the magic of muscles is that the more we do, the more we can do. Which also means that the less we do, the less we can do.

So maybe it’s time to ask ourselves what we can really do.

What can you do?



I will not be ashamed, but I will be ANGRY



27 gay couples got married in the ACT in the brief window between it becoming legal for them to do so and the High Court declaring it unlawful.

27 couples experienced, oh so fleetingly, equality with heterosexual couples in the eyes of the law.

27 couples, none of whom I knew, as it happens, but whose emotions I nonetheless recognized, felt a full part of society, just before Tony Abbott made it quite clear it was a glitch that should never have happened. A declaration of humanity that was swept away in a heartbeat.

Tony wants it well understood: gays are not normal. They are not human. They are not full members of society. They have a problem.

Yes, Tony, they do have a problem – and it is you, and all of your ilk.

Tony also wants us to be very clear that asylum seekers, or “illegals” as he would like them, entirely erroneously, to be known, are not human. They are therefore not deserving of respect, compassion, or care from those of us who entered the country legally, or at least by plane, which apparently is the same thing. Luxury yachts we can probably also make allowances for.

It’s only a matter of time before Tony starts gunning for the poor (minimum wage, anyone?), single parents (especially mums, because goodness me, women are scary), public schools (helloooooo & goodbye Gonski), public health, and the environment (who wants a reef anyway? It just gets in the way of all that coal. Hell, there’s probably oil under it somewhere.).

Tony is coming for them. And sooner or later he is coming for you, unless you happen to be male, white, heterosexual and loaded.

Today I am deeply ashamed of our courts and of our government. But I refuse to let them make me ashamed to be Australian. We are compassionate, egalitarian, and fair. We are people, just like gays, refugees and people on the minimum wage. We will not pass by on the other side, and we will not allow Tony Abbott to make us in to something so much less than we can be.

Marriage equality is inevitable, and history will vilify Abbott for his role in delaying it, just as it will one day vilify him for his incredible inhumanity towards people in desperate crisis.

Today I spelt my feelings out in henna on my arm. Love for All. It will fade in 2 or 3 weeks, but my feelings won’t.

Calling a spade a gun

The astonishingly dishonourable Scott Morrison, MP, has directed the staff of the Australian Department of Immigration to refer to asylum seekers who arrive by boat as “Illegal Maritime Arrivals”, or “IMA”s. This piece of breathtaking demonisation sparked a predictable outcry from the thinking, feeling, caring public, prompting Mr Morrison to rather huffily declare that he was merely calling “a spade a spade”. Being direct. Saying it like it is.

People who have entered Australia illegally by boat have illegally entered by boat,” he said.

I’ve never said that it is illegal to claim asylum. That’s not what the term refers to. It refers to their mode of entry.’

It’s fascinating, then, that the directive fails to refer to those who arrive by plane and then illegally overstay their visas as “Illegal Visa Overstayers” (IVOs). That’s not a big surprise, though, because IVOs are People Like Us. They are cashed up people taking advantage of a legal kind of domestic blindness to stay in the country and spend their glorious wads of cash.

Boat people, in contrast, are scary people from scary places. They jumped non-existent queues to get here. Clearly they are a threat to our very way of life. They are IMAs. Second only to WMDs in their power to wreak imaginary havoc and conjure up the demons of fear with every hysterical political utterance.

This is so clearly not a case of calling a spade a spade. It is calling a spade a gun. Conjuring up a threat where none exists. Creating fear and harsh judgement where only compassion belongs.

Years ago my friend James told me a story about a time just after he moved into his very middle class suburb of Camberwell. There was an auction in his street, and when it was won by a very excited Italian couple there was a muttering in the background along the lines of “there goes the neighbourhood” and “bloody Eye-ties, invading our turf” and words to that effect.

Time went on and the Italian family was joined by Greek families and differences were forgotten. 20 years later there was another auction, and the house went to a thrilled Vietnamese couple. My friend James, spectating in the crowd, heard the muttering again. When he looked around, the perpetrators of the “there goes the neighbourhood” style comments were, you guessed it, the very same Italian couple. This was now their turf, and they didn’t want to see it invaded by people who aren’t “like us”.

Ultimately we are all “people like us”. We have mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters, sons and daughters. We have hopes, fears and dreams. We will do anything to protect our loved ones. Having experienced unimaginable horrors, who among us could swear that we would not take a chance at freedom if it were held out to us?

I hope that if life throws its worst at me, there will be people nearby who will hold out their hands to help me up. Who will offer shoulders for me to cry on, and arms to lean on. Who will recognise that regardless of the colour of my skin, the country I was born in, the language I speak, and the way I got here, I am a human being just like them. Nothing more, and nothing less.

I hope that I would never pass by someone who needed my help.

If only I could say the same of my Government.

The drowning of compassion

I was trying to explain the problem of asylum seekers to my 7 year old today.  It wasn’t easy.

Miss 7: “What are asylum seekers, mum?”

Me: “They’re people who are escaping from terrible situations in their own countries – like wars – and they’re asking us for help. So we lock them up.”

Miss 7 (with withering scorn, worthy of a teenager): “Can’t we just let them in?? They’re just from another country. It’s not like they’re going to invade us.”

It’s almost hard to add anything to that. The hysteria surrounding asylum seekers is incomprehensible to me. The idea of demonising people who have escaped from horrors worse than any nightmare is just so breathtakingly, devastatingly wrong that I can’t process it. It makes no sense. And to use them for political advantage, the way successive governments have repeatedly done – well. The mind doesn’t even boggle. It just crawls into a corner and rocks, whimpering.

You can try, as politicians have done, to turn it into a moral war against people smugglers. Against the appalling conditions that people suffer in trying to get here. You can argue that it’s about saving lives. But as long as there are traumatic conditions elsewhere, people will try to come here. People will ask for help. You can’t police every kilometre of every coastline and stamp out the people smuggling trade – there is demand. There will be supply.

So here’s a radical thought. Why don’t we learn from my 7 year old? Why don’t we actually make it easier to come here? In the past we have called asylum seekers queue jumpers, notwithstanding the fact that there is no queue. For most of these people, there is no legal, safe way for them to apply for asylum until they reach our borders. So why don’t we setup queues? People will try to come here. Why don’t we help them?

We have this terrible fear of being overrun, whether it’s by the yellow peril, the darkies, or the purple skinned. But here’s the thing – people don’t choose to leave their homes lightly. To abandon their friends, families, lifestyle and language – it’s not a step they take on a whim. Australia has it pretty good, I don’t deny, but I don’t believe for a moment that the rest of the world would leap here if they could.

I’m not suggesting we have no rules – we could still process asylum seekers’ claims and try to determine whether they have a justifiable fear of persecution, and whatever other rules we work on (although a little more compassion would not go astray). But why force them onto rickety wooden boats that sink at the slightest wave, in order to apply? Setup real queues, as close as possible to the major troublespots. Actually seek to help people. Show real compassion.

Sure, there are refugee camps where people can seek help from organisations such as MSF and Oxfam. But there is clearly a huge sense of desperation among people who can’t find the queue, and need help. Why don’t we seek them out? Put the people smugglers out of business by reaching out with compassion to the poor, the persecuted, and the desperate.

Now that’s something I’d be happy to explain to my kids!