The Politics Of Lovelessness

By Alyssa Rodrigo

CW: Self-harm, suicide, death

Author and intellectual Cornel West once said, “Justice is what love looks like in public.” He speaks of a love that is healing, restorative, and nurturing. One which is unifying against division.

And yet, in turning to the public sphere of this nation, with the designer of the torturous and widely condemned “Operation Sovereign Borders” as prime minister, we do not see love, or healing, or restoration. Instead, we see the permeation of lovelessness, and an abolition of care and empathy and all the things that make us good.

In mid-August, Buzzfeed reporter Lane Sainty wrote about how children on Nauru were descending into a catatonic state known as ‘resignation syndrome’.  Children in detention centres are reported to have lost hope, some no longer eating or moving from their beds. Children as young as ten are committing self-harm and attempting suicide—a twelve-year-old girl reportedly set herself on fire. The conditions on Nauru have been described as “dangerously chaotic” with doctors and lawyers warning politicians and policy makers that if urgent action is not taken soon, a child is going to die.

While reading the article, there is a constant search for hope. Perhaps somewhere between the lines there is a distant hope for change and a willingness on behalf of politicians to make it happen. This hope is left unrequited.

Instead, a week after news of the children on Nauru broke, the Liberal Party descended into a chaos of its own.

Peter Dutton, Australia’s leading example of lovelessness personified, challenged Malcolm Turnbull for the position of Prime Minister. This is a man who is complicit in the death of twelve refugees. A former policeman who built his political career on xenophobia, racism, and fear.

After first losing the attempted spill 48 to 35 in Turnbull’s favour, Dutton once more challenged Turnbull, only this time the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Julie Bishop, and the Treasurer, Scott Morrison threw their name in the ring.

What ensued was an embarrassing mess of partisan politics and factional drama, a mess made all the more atrocious in light of the responsibility these ministers were elected to fulfil. In a scathing speech, Greens leader Richard Di Natale called the Liberal Party out on their bullshit, saying, “You are so focused on yourself, that you have forgotten what you have been elected to do. And that is to govern for them, not for you. You don’t deserve to govern. You deserve to be turfed out.”

In his speech, Di Natale mentions a slew of more pressing issues the government should be paying attention to, one of which was the prevalence of domestic violence and the fear women face going home to an abusive partner. The spill led the coalition to adjourn parliament, meaning the government was unable to debate a reform bill which would put an end to the harmful practice of domestic violence victims being directly cross-examined by abusers.

Again and again, the government, including the Labor Party, has failed to exemplify basic principles of love and care. And it extends far beyond policies related to refugees. The inaction on climate change and the pillaging and contamination of this nation’s soil, oceans, and air is loveless. The complete and utter disregard for homelessness in Australia is loveless. The push for neoliberal policies which alienate and further entrench poverty is loveless. The coalition’s denial of the Uluru Statement From The Heart, which calls for a constitutionally enshrined voice to parliament for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities, is loveless.

In a political era marred by racism, xenophobia, and homophobia, it is difficult to be positive about the future. Though few and far between, there are instances of politicians, activists, and policy makers who are fighting to imbue love, empathy, and hope back into our cultural and political zeitgeist. The utopianism of the Black Lives Matter policy platform, which calls for the defunding of prisons, the demilitarization of the police force, free college education, and the abolishment of student debt. The rise of democratic socialist style policies in Bernie Sanders’ presidential campaign, which offers an antidote to the dehumanising American healthcare system that prioritises profit over people. Over in the United Kingdom, Jeremy Corbyn, leader of the Labour Party, runs on a policy platform demanding the renationalisation of transport, water, and energy services, and remains steadfastly against war and nuclear weapons. Back home, we see the galvanisation of the grassroots Stop Adani movement, where Indigenous organisations such as SEED rally against the destruction of sacred Indigenous land.

Australia’s new prime minister, Scott Morrison is a devout Christian and regular layman at the Pentecostal Horizon Church.

Philippians 2:3 reads, “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves.”

Across the waters, refugees on Manus and Nauru stir anxiously, waiting for a miracle.