The Politics of Compassion

You know something is wrong when our leaders are focussed on scoring political points, at the expense of showing some decency and compassion.

Now I know there’s nothing particularly new about a politician leveraging a situation, story or set of circumstances in order to bolster their own standing, or discredit their opposition. It’s the bread-and-butter of mainstream political discourse (running the country, anyone?), but sometimes it’s a bridge too far.

In an interview on Insiders yesterday,  Minister Scott Morrison – champion of Australian Border Protection and passionate advocate for militant control of our sovereign borders from all those pesky people in need – was asked:

Three days ago an Indian student took his own life at a detention centre in Melbourne. He was in that centre because he overstayed his visa. Could that have been avoided?”

The Minister paused, tilted his head questioningly and replied:

“Could he have avoided overstaying his visa?”

[You can watch the entire exchange here. Be baffled by the Minister’s lack of heart at 9:05] Screen Shot 2014-02-17 at 3.47.09 pm

If this was a debate about some dry, unemotional topic, then perhaps his attempt at deflection might have been successful,  even a touch witty. “Well played, Minister”.

But no. Just…. no. Interviewer Barrie Cassidy was clearly asking whether this young man’s life could have been saved, whether (as he went on to clarify) people in the student’s position needed to be dealt with so harshly. I understand the Minister was never going to concede that Government policy led to this man’s death (and without knowing the facts of the case, I wouldn’t even say that it did). But that’s not the point.

The point is – someone tells you a young man took his own life. Asks you for a bit of an opinion on that. Do you get all technical and literal and respond to the actual statement with the question mark, or do you respect the fact that we are talking about a tragic event and respond as a normal human being? How about a “Firstly, I was saddened to hear that this event took place and my thoughts are with the family he leaves behind. Unfortunately as the matter is under investigation I’m unable to comment any further….”. You know, stock standard deflection but at least coming from a mildly compassionate place.

I knew when I sat down to watch the interview that I was likely to be annoyed – to find the usual “no comment”, “operational matters” rigamarole frustrating, but I was not expecting to find such a lack of basic decency and understanding. How is it that a politician like Scott Morrison can feel it is ok to belittle a tragic death such as this? At what point do you become a politician, and cease to be a human being capable of even a tiny dose of empathy?

Saddened doesn’t even cut it. I was disgusted.

So on behalf of every Australian who isn’t Minister Point-Scoring – my thoughts are with the family of that young man at this very difficult, tragic time.

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