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Wednesday, 29 October 2014

Ebola And The Australian Cult Of Selfishness |

Ebola And The Australian Cult Of Selfishness |

Ebola And The Australian Cult Of Selfishness

By Stuart Rees

Australia's response to the ebola epidemic has been found wanting, and not for the first time, writes Stuart Rees.

Minister Tony Abbott has labelled ISIS a death cult. In terms of ISIS
fighters’ indifference to human life, his observation is apt.

But the Prime Minister should condemn another cult – of selfishness. Instead he encourages it.

The most recent example of this cult concerns the Australian
Government’s response to the Ebola epidemic. We will help if there is no
risk to our personnel. We will make a response when the disease comes
to our region. We will give paltry financial aid but in the same breath
attempt to deceive ourselves by claiming that we are making an
appropriate contribution.

Other examples of selfishness can be observed in Ministers’ belief
that everyone and every service – health, justice, education, social
welfare is a commodity – whose existence should only be justified if the
right kind of market price can be paid by a consumer; with little or no
reference to citizens with shared responsibilities and entitlements. 

This reverence for commercialization and competition – a sort of
increasing epidemic of American ‘every person for themselves’ values –
becomes a justification for giving up on the responsibilities of
government, as illustrated by the following questions.

Why shouldn’t Australia dispatch asylum seekers from Nauru to
Cambodia, one of the world’s poorest and most corrupt countries ? Why
should Australia take a lead in responding to the threat of climate
change, let’s concentrate on protecting our economy? Why should those
who don’t go to university pay taxes which could benefit those who do
go? Why shouldn’t those least able to afford it make a co-payment to

Taken to extremes, the cult of selfishness produces an anarchy of
self-interest in which the prime motive is to reward your country, your
organization or yourself at the expense of others. Accountability to
principles of fairness and justice is irrelevant. Allegiance is owed to
oneself or one’s tribe, and entrepreneurial characters can do almost
anything if they can get away with it.

Australia justifies spying on the East Timorese politicians in order
to gain advantage in negotiations over revenues to be obtained from oil
and gas reserves in the Timor Sea. Corporations may pay no taxes or as
little as possible, and may justify such conduct as sound business
practice. Federal MP’s rort their travel and accommodation expenses, NSW
State MP’s from both major parties engage in corrupt conduct over
election funding. For Eddie Obeid and his cohorts, political and
business dealings are the same because the main objective is to maximise
power, control and profit.

Doing what you can get away with also means that those with power and
resources can foster their influence, but poorer, less influential
citizens must realize that life has to be about competition to attain
economic efficiency. Therefore they should pay more for health services,
for the care of the elderly, for child care, for various forms of
primary, secondary let alone tertiary education. But if it comes to
payment for involvement in a war, the values change. Militarism is the
proud part of our history, so funds can be found. In military
initiatives mateship blossoms, selfishness has no place.

As with any other country, Australian culture can be understood and
passed on in the stock of stories we like to tell about ourselves: the
resistance of gold miners at Eureka; gallantry at Gallipoli or on the
Western Front; Chifley’s light on the hill; Whitlam inspired universal
health insurance; Rudd’s apology to the Stolen Generations.

What stories shall we tell about current events?  We don’t really
care about Africans suffering an Ebola epidemic. With almost no debate
from the major parties, we passed as much anti-terrorist legislation as
possible. Partly to foment fear, some politicians and media outlets
deflected attention from searching questions about the need for such
legislation by encouraging  Islamophobia, as in scapegoating Muslim

Until a grass roots movement protested, we even proposed the
absurdity that unemployed people’s entitlement to welfare assistance
would depend on whether they applied for at least 40 jobs per month.

The responses to the Ebola epidemic are the most immediate indication
of the values which influence the Australian government’s – not the
Australian people’s - concerns and policies.

Oxfam forecasts that the Ebola epidemic could become “the definitive
humanitarian disaster of our generation”. Australian medical personnel
have been pleading that they are ready to help and the deputy leader of
the opposition, Tania Plibersek, has at least acknowledged that
Australia’s response has been ‘short sighted and inadequate.’

We may live in a tough, market driven, terrorist-threatened world,
but if leaders think only of protecting privileged interests, the notion
of a civil society is eroded: selfishness in policies and in terms of
individual traits opposes the idea of a social world.

Australia must realize the consequences of the cult of selfishness,
not just in terms of the response to Ebola. The Government, with the aid
of the Opposition, could determine that it will re-invent itself as an
international citizen and will recover generosity as a key value to
influence its local, national and global objectives.

* Stuart Rees is the founder of the Sydney Peace Foundation.