“If you look at our prime minister at the moment where he has $270 billion to invest in missiles to displace people, why doesn’t he have billions to house people with dignity and safety? Why isn’t that part of the Covid-19 stimulus package? … here’s your chance to do two things, put billions into social housing, keep Jobseeker at the rate it is now and don’t return people to poverty. Because if you’ve got no way out, if you’ve got no income security and no housing security, that’s how you get those high-rises. They shouldn’t even be there anymore, should they?” Kon Karapanagiotidis, Asylum Seeker Resource Centre commenting on the lockdown in Melbourne’s public housing high-rises on The Briefing podcast, Thursday, 9 July 2020.
If you’re in Australia right now, the Corona situation is starting to feel shaky again. With much of one state on lockdown, many of us are wondering, will it be our turn next? Certainly, in the global scheme of things, Australia has suffered very lightly indeed, so far. Can we continue to be the ‘lucky country’ when it comes to Corona?
At the moment, I sometimes find myself unconsciously holding my breath then unexpectedly sighing it out. It’s a reminder of the stress I’m carrying in my body – a stress I know is not exclusive to me during these unpredictable times.
Some in the spiritual community talk of this as a time of rebalancing the planet and we have a few more years to go yet. When my mind grapples with that concept I feel…challenged…despairing…resolute…hopeful? My feelings shift like the sands on a windy beach.
Then the Universe steps in and sends me a gentle reminder of where I should focus my attention. Today it came through the words of Kon Karapanagiotidis – he was interviewed on The Briefing podcast earlier this week about the public housing lockdown in Victoria. For those of you who don’t know about Kon, he is a community leader who supports and advocates for refugees in Australia. He founded and still runs a charitable, not-for-profit called the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre which is entirely community-funded and has never taken a cent of government money – this is a deliberate strategy to ensure their advocacy remains uncompromised.
I have no doubt that Kon makes many politicians shift uneasily in their well-padded seats. He and his team, along with supporters and partners within the refugee advocacy sector, successfully lobbied for the Medivac Bill which guaranteed people seeking asylum (human beings) transfer to the mainland for medical treatment when assessed and referred by doctors. I still find it gobsmacking that in our ‘lucky country’ we needed a bill to ensure sick people could receive the medical assistance they needed…as instructed by doctors. Equally appalling is the fact the government couldn’t wait to repeal the bill when they had a chance. But let’s face it, even a cursory look at how successive Australian governments (from both sides of the political spectrum) have treated refugees for decades is enough to show just how low politicians will stoop for easy votes and out of sight/out of mind expediency.
I’m sure many politicians would love to dismiss Kon as just another bleeding heart but they couldn’t sustain this argument for long because he is also a well-educated, articulate pragmatist. And that makes him difficult to dismiss or silence.
I wasn’t surprised to hear that he and the ASRC team had stepped in to provide food for the people on hard lockdown in Melbourne’s public housing high-rises. I also wasn’t surprised to hear him encourage people to donate to other local charities for this cause instead of than the ASRC. He feels that supporting the organisations who work with the affected communities in the long-term will have a greater impact. To hear the head of one charity diverting donations to another charity is highly unusual, even in a sector based on giving.
As someone who has long-worked with low socio-economic communities, Kon has used his platform this week to point out one of the issues that Corona has starkly unveiled – the inadequacy of public housing in Victoria. While I don’t live in that state, I don’t doubt the legitimacy of his statements because the evidence seems to indicate he is right.
More broadly, I think Corona is exposing many of the social problems that have been unaddressed for far too long across Australia.
Up in my hometown of Brisbane, a friend says many children from a local school did no work during the last lockdown here – they had no internet at home and their parents either couldn’t get to or couldn’t be bothered to travel to the school to pick up the hard copy work sheets. Some children did no schoolwork for many weeks. This highlights existing socio-economic problems where teachers and schools provide a lifeline for kids who otherwise slip through the cracks. This is not a new problem and reminds me of when they added fluoride to the water here in Brisbane. The government told us it would help prevent rising levels of tooth decay in children and the community. Certainly, over the years, I’ve heard horrific anecdotal stories from dentists who practised in some of the areas most affected. But adding fluoride to the water felt like a bandaid measure. The government added another unnecessary chemical to our water supply instead of addressing the underlying issues of poverty, education and lack of community support.
All these thoughts and many others ran through my head as I listened to Kon’s words and I took away the following Universal message.
When we feel like things are darkest and we don’t know what is coming next, turning our attention to how we can help our communities is one of the most important things we can do. Doing this takes our anxiety and uncertainty and channels it into action to make the world a better place. Find the causes that you feel called to, then find a way to help – donate funds, give your time or increase awareness by talking about the issues on your social media channels. Do whatever you can.
We have a lot of social problems that need to be sorted out. They aren’t new and they aren’t very sexy. But they need to be addressed. Covid-19 and the lockdowns are simply exposing in sharp relief the problems that many were choosing to ignore for too long.
Whatever you are struggling with right now, there is always someone else who is struggling too. Perhaps this time of upheaval is showing us this more clearly so we reach out more often and live more in alignment with that saying, “We’re all in this together”. Our ability to pull together in this way, to make things better for everyone, is what makes us the lucky country.