We aren’t America, right?

We don’t even have a Presidential system so yesterday’s election of Donald Trump, while potentially concerning from a global perspective, isn’t likely to happen in Australia.

Isn’t it?

While we may reason that Australian politics exists in a different paradigm to those playing out in America, the reality is that there are many parallels between our country and the USA.

And more importantly, there are some very urgent lessons Australians must heed from what we have seen unfold there over the last year.

Trump’s political campaign was relatively simple – demonise a few specific groups and blame them for all the ills of society. The actual group chosen is fairly irrelevant but Trump, like many, chose ethnicities and immigrants. We saw such a method used to great effect by sections of the Leave campaign in the UK’s Brexit vote.

“You’re doing it tough. It’s hard going isn’t it?” they whisper in seductive, sympathetic tones. “Well, you can blame those [insert vilified group of choice] people over there.” But Australians are different, right? We pride ourselves on egalitarianism and a fair go?

Wrong. This is exactly the kind of tool used by politicians in our country (and, to be clear, in most Western democracies). It is meant to divide and point blame. It’s a tool as old as politics itself.

And ominously, the influence of divisive politics is growing in Australia because, I believe, we have become so disconnected from the hardship in some parts of our society.

Tolerance and understanding comes of experience. Without a diverse mix of people living within our community we are becoming more polarised in our views and less empathetic towards our neighbours. They become the 'other ' and it is easy to demonise the other when they are anonymous.

Our cities and major towns are becoming so expensive to live in, with even the cheapest accommodation being out of reach for so many, that we are creating ghettos to house the have-nots. Ghettos where the more affluent never, ever go.

The gulf of inequality is growing, the cycle of disadvantage continues to turn and many of us are totally disconnected from this world.

Hands up the last time you had a proper conversation with an Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander person? Or a newly arrived immigrant? Or just simply someone who wasn’t from the same ethnic group as you?

It’s easy to love thy neighbour if they look, talk and act like you. But what if they speak a different language, eat different food, worship a different God or live so far out of reach you only see them fleetingly?

And the reality is those people ‘over there’ are likely doing it way tougher than what we could ever imagine.

I have the privilege, if that’s the right word, to know what this other world is like because of the role I do. It’s tough and it’s tiring but somehow people retain hope. I see people trying so hard to pull themselves out of difficult situations. I see people struggling to find work, to find a safe and secure place for their family to live. I see mothers going without dinner - not to buy drugs or alcohol as some in the media would have you believe, but so their children can eat a nutritious meal.

We are not so different to America or Europe. Alas, we too have politicians and commentators espousing racist, sexist and other dubious views on all manner of issues that would make Trump proud.

We have to open our eyes, Australia. We have to challenge the politics of division wherever we see it.

Now is not the time to let this be some other country’s problem. Because if we do, we risk sleep-walking into something similarly catastrophic.

Catherine Yeomans


Catherine Yeomans
CEO Mission Australia


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