For some time I have wanted to write a piece on the virtue of doing certain things properly, and the final stimulus came on the occasion of a bus trip to Lightning Ridge, which was great fun, educational and most enjoyable. In the bathroom of a certain motel I saw this little sign.
In the course of a year we wash thousands of towels, and doing so uses thousands and thousands of litres of water and tons of detergents that can be harmful to the environment. If you care about the environment as we do, you may wish to help. If you are happy to use your towels again, please hang them on the rail. If you want them washed, please leave them on the floor.
Over many years I have seen lots of little signs with this underlying message. As it happens, we put our towels on the rail to use again because that is what we do at home, so we appear as good environmentalists. But part of me objects to the sign, on principle. The principle is that if the motel were doing its job properly it would have provided a real incentive for hanging the towels up on the rail. After all, if we hang up the towels we are saving the motel money. What is the motel doing in return? Try this alternative.
…if you hang the towels up we will donate a dollar to the local Landcare group. Last year we donated $xxx to the local Landcare group… If you want the towels washed, however, …
I don’t recall ever see any such sign in my travels, though doubtless there is a motel somewhere that takes seriously its environmental responsibilities, if that is what they are. What I see in the signs that I do see is an appeal to some higher cause to assist the enterprise in cutting costs. I sometimes wonder how many other people are put off by these signs.
While I am on the subject of Lightning Ridge, I was fascinated to learn that the town has a population of just under 2500 (2011 census), but the bowling club has a membership of 4,200. There is no postal service within the town, but the post office has 1800 post boxes. Something odd? Yes. The town itself is neatly delimited and looks like any other outback town. But around it is an astonishing scrubland with little roads carved out of the bush with signs saying Keep Out, No Entry and similar indications of a hearty welcome. These are mines and the dwelling is most likely an old bus or caravan. In one such place we saw a house made of old beer cans and bottles.
The local view is that there as many people living outside the town in these opal-mining areas as there are within it, which accords with the bowling club membership. And ‘Lightning Ridge’, with respect to the census, is not just the town. It is a large rural (but not farming) area stretching to the Queensland border, about the size of the Australian Capital Territory. It seems plain to me that the 2011 census missed a couple of thousand people there. The Census provides three measures of ‘real’ population, but they all cluster around the same figure. In short, these numbers are not accurate. I’m not blaming the census collectors. You have to see the area to realise just how difficult it would be to find the miner and then get him (or her, there are a few women miners) to complete the form. As with temperature data, you need to know just what is being measured and the difficulties involved in doing do. I’m not suggesting that the census people didn’t do the job properly. Rather, it cannot be done properly, and they did the best they could.
Let me turn to another example. We are deluged from time to time with appeals to let refugees enter our country, as though there is some magic way in which refugees (always agreeing that they are bona fide refugees) can arrive, find accommodation and employment and learn the new culture in a matter of days. It ain’t like that. Sanctuary Australia is one of a number of organisations that try to ensure that newly admitted refugees are in fact supported by Australians who live around them.
Sanctuary Australia sets out the kinds of support that newly arrived refugees will need:
- Family Sponsorship advice and help
- Education referral and information
- Business startup advice
- Banking and personal finance assistance and advice
- Police and law services available
- Children’s services and how to access them
- Interpreter and document translation referral and advice
- Medical services available
- Dealing with rental/lease problems
- Driving/License information referral and advice
- Citizenship advice
Can government do all this? Government certainly has to provide the setting, the rules and the regulations, and some help. But a lot of it requires local knowledge and advice, best provided by people who will live near and around the new arrivals. Sanctuary Australia provides the fares for those who are winners in the great refugee lottery, fares that get them from the settlement camp somewhere in Africa to Australia. The immigrants agree to pay back the money expended on their behalf over time, so that another family can be given the same assistance. The organisation receives no government assistance at all.
This is not to say that our Government does nothing. It does have a Human Settlement Service, and it does provide support of many kinds. You can read about it here. But the real work of human resettlement ultimately works best if the refugees are surrounded from the beginning by Australians who take responsibility for the new family, and do their best to assist its members to find their way into this new society, so that they soon feel that they can and will belong. Church groups seem to do this well.
And, so far as I am able to judge, they do so without talking loudly. The ones who talk loudly may be involved in such real human encounters themselves, but what I mostly see are placards, marchers and chanting. And behind all that is, at least so it seems to me, the view that there is not only a money tree to pay for all this, but a human services tree as well, composed of hitherto underused public servants just waiting to do all that is necessary to integrate these people into a diverse, multi-ethnic, secular, democratic society, whose scale and richness must be almost overwhelming to many new arrivals.
To make the point again, integrating new arrivals into Australia is not something that can be done by governments, though their support is important. It has to be done by us, the longstanding members of Australian society. To clamour for entry for refugees without being prepared to support them, with time, care and knowledge, is an empty form of progressive behaviour. I think there is far too much of it, and it reminds me of the motel towels example with which I started.
OK, my last example will be familiar to most readers. There is a small but strident call for us all to save the planet by avoiding fossil fuels, not eating meat, living sustainably, and the like. Leonard di Caprio is one of those who has the star status to make to him a spokesperson for the CAGW moment. But he flies about in a private jet airliner. Al Gore apparently had a large energy-consuming house when he was the champion of the movement in 2007. They don’t seem to practise what they preach.
How many of those who comment here on the disaster ahead are living according to their beliefs? It would be interesting to know. Because of my upbringing I have been a recycler from the start, have a worm farm, and tread reasonably lightly. But I spend what I have to spend to stay warm in Canberra’s cold winters (particularly cold this year). But then, I think, most of the hostility to fossil fuels is just silly.
I suspect that most of those who campaign publicly and noisily on behalf of refugees have no real involvement in settling new arrivals into out society, just as those who create a great fuss about the Thermageddon awaiting us are doing nothing of real consequence to reduce the risk through their own behaviour. Rather, they want government to compel the rest of us to behave as they want us to behave.