Selfishness and Generosity

A banker is someone who will lend you an umbrella when it’s sunny, but demand it back when it rains

In late December 2004 a massive earthquake and subsequent tsunami killed and injured hundreds of thousands in South East Asia. Australia responded quickly and generously, providing troops, materiel, experts, and later foreign aid.

We were, collectively, proud of our humanitarian response.

Fourteen years later, in 2018 an earthquake and tsunami off Sulawesi drew a similar swift response, over a thousand tents, beds and blankets, and $10 million in aid.

We are a generous people, no?


At the same time as these occasional acts of kindness, we had and have been spending literally billions and billions of dollars to indefinitely incarcerate a few hundred innocent people whose one and only mistake in life was to seek asylum here by boat. That’s thousands of millions. Every year.

Going back in time, in 2001 we had the Tampa, followed by “Children overboard” which was followed immediately by an election, because for some politicians there is no moral bottom. Howard famously declared that we would decide whom we welcomed, and, bizarrely, the only real criterion for that decision ever since was whether you arrived on a boat.

By the time of the 2018 Sulawesi tsunami, eleven asylum seekers we had imprisoned for arriving on boats had died while in our care.

In 2019 Morrison spent $184 million dollars to momentarily reopen Christmas Island. It was closed, then opened again to house four, yes, four asylum seekers, the family from Biloela that everyone in Australia but Peter Dutton and Scott Morrison want to be allowed to stay.

That’s $46 million per person, just to turn on the lights. That doesn’t count running costs.

Morrison also, with much fanfare, pledged $11 million for firefighting planes, a request he’d ignored for eighteen months until the need was literally burning in front of him.

The entire bushfire relief fund for the whole of Australia, of which not a dollar appears to have been spent, is $2 billion. The bill for keeping asylum seekers locked up is around $1.4 billion, every year.

And our irrational hatred for people on boats who desperately need our help continues.

Back to the present day. March 23rd: “Police and Border Force officers will meet a cruise ship at the port in Fremantle at 5am on Tuesday to ensure no one leaves the vessel while it is refuelling.”

Leave and go home

WA Premier Mark McGowan, March 25th

“Premier Mark McGowan wants two cruise ships sailing off the WA coast out of the state’s waters and has left open the possibility of asking the Commonwealth to provide military assistance to stop them attempting to dock in Fremantle.”

A day later he had backed away from this rhetoric, but the statement and intent was out there.

In Sydney on the 31st NSW Police Commissioner Mick Fuller was singing a similar song.

They don’t pay taxes in Australia, they don’t park their boats in Australia … time to go home. […] There are thousands of people, potentially, in cruise ships off our coasts that aren’t members of our state and if we take them in, then that could well flood our system unnecessarily. All the hard work we’ve done could be over. We will continue to allow them to have fuel and food … but it is time to go to your port of origin.

NSW Police Commissioner Mick Fuller, ethicist, taxation and health expert

This is our response to people in distress. People whose dollars we’d been happy to take a few weeks ago, people trapped on a floating incubator on our doorstep, tens of thousands of kilometres from home.

Quite apart from the absolute immorality of it all, it took a couple of maritime legal experts, Professor Donald Rothwell and Mr. John Kavanagh to point out the bleeding obvious quid pro quo.

Professor Rothwell said the Federal Government should consider that there were Australians trapped in similar circumstances overseas. Mr Kavanagh echoed his warning. “If we want Australian citizens stranded overseas to be treated well, we should consider that here,” he said.

In other words, do unto others as you would have them do unto you. Not even generosity, just enlightened self-interest, but we couldn’t even muster that.

Generous? No, not really. Give us back our umbrella and go and die somewhere else.