Making Australia Safer – Really?
13 September 2018 at 7:45 am
Safety is part of Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s three-point plan to win the next election, but what is he doing to create a safer Australia, asks Community Council for Australia CEO David Crosbie.
Repeating the same short slogans many times over is now considered effective political messaging. I am not sure it works, but there must be good political science behind this approach to justify the sense of patronising superficiality many of us experience when we hear our politicians endlessly parroting the same poll-tested lines.
Our new prime minister’s approach is to repeatedly emphasise that “keeping Australians safe” is one of his highest priorities. The popular media tell us safety is part of the prime minister’s three-point plan to win the next election.
It is not surprising or new that “safety” tests well in political polling or that a politician seeking to be elected would emphasise safety. As Maslow pointed out 75 years ago in his hierarchy of human needs, safety is the number two priority for humans after we have met our survival requirements for food, water, and warmth. We all need to feel safe. We especially need to feel safe if we are to grow and develop as individuals and communities.
When CCA brought leaders from the charities sector together in 2015 to talk about the kind of Australia they wanted to live in, there was unanimous agreement that an ideal Australia would be one where people felt safe.
In writing the first Australia We Want report (2016), the indicator CCA used for safety was “how safe people felt walking alone at night” – a measure applied across 38 countries as part of the OECD Better Life Index. At the time, Australia was in the bottom third of countries for feeling safe. What was particularly interesting was that Australian men felt safer than the OECD average and Australian women felt less safe than the OECD average. This situation has continued.
In the latest OECD figures around 20 per cent of Australian men and 50 per cent of Australian women feel unsafe walking alone at night. The gap between men and women’s perceptions of safety is the highest in any OECD country; we rank bottom out of 38 countries for the differential between men and women. These findings very clearly tell us that Australia has a major problem with how safe our women feel.
If our prime minister is genuinely committed to keeping Australians safe, he might start with more measures to end domestic violence including; more support for women reporting crimes, more support for women seeking to leave situations of domestic violence, and most importantly, challenging the overly blokey male sub-culture within which women are often treated as less than equal. The prime minister needs to be very careful in playing the mate card – apparently mates always look out for each other, but they do not always look out for their partners.
Addressing long-held cultural norms and delivering greater safety for Australian women will not happen without significant government investment. We need much higher levels of sustained support and encouragement for charities and community groups working with both men and women in developing and implementing community responses to violence.
We may also need to prioritise the greater involvement of women in key decision-making roles across business, politics and government, and communities.
Despite recent tragic family violence events, change can and is happening, Australian women can be better protected. With a prime minister committed to improving the safety of women, a great deal more could be done.
Safety is also a critical issue for Indigenous Australians. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples are grossly over-represented in every measure of violence and imprisonment. The solutions are not just about enabling Indigenous people to play a greater role in our economy (education, jobs, housing, etc), but also acknowledging the unacceptable levels of violence experienced by too many Indigenous people.
Like most people who have worked with Indigenous people, I cannot understand why any government would refuse to even seriously consider the Uluru Statement from the Heart including the call for a “Makarrata Commission to supervise a process of agreement-making between governments and First Nations and truth-telling about our history”. (The Yolngu concept of Makarrata captures the idea of two parties coming together after a struggle, healing the divisions of the past.) If we are to reduce Indigenous violence, we must embrace a truthful dialogue about the violence of the past and legitimise the place and role of Indigenous people in all our communities.
Some will argue that when Prime Minister Morrison is telling us he will keep Australians safe, he is primarily referring to the need to defend Australia from terrorism and international threats. In this arena, the critical role played by Australian aid and development assistance in building and sustaining international trust and co-operation cannot be overstated. If Australia wants to increase our international standing and decrease potential threats to our safety, the best strategy would be to significantly and strategically increase Australian development funding.
Unfortunately, this is not the approach of the current government which seems determined to undermine our international reputation, our capacity to trade and work collaboratively with other nations, by cutting our development spending.
It is difficult to reconcile any prime minister standing up for the safety of their nation while at the same time cutting international development and aid.
It is even more difficult to accept the strategies of some political leaders who seek to exaggerate perceived threats and increase fear, so they can successfully campaign to a vulnerable electorate by offering increased security.
The biggest challenge faced by any politician seeking power is how to build and sustain the authority of authenticity, to not just mouth platitudes and slogans, but say things that mean something to people, to demonstrate that their words are connected to both their values and their actions.
I want to live in a safer Australia. What are you going to do about that prime minister?
About the author: David Crosbie is CEO of the Community Council for Australia. He has spent more than 20 years as CEO of significant charities including five years in his current role, four years as CEO of the Mental Health Council of Australia, seven years as CEO of the Alcohol and other Drugs Council of Australia, and seven years as CEO of Odyssey House Victoria.
David Crosbie writes exclusively for Pro Bono News on a fortnightly basis, covering issues of importance to the broader not-for-profit sector.