A 2021 reflection

The challenge for 2022 is to build on the remarkable collective strengths we have seen in 2021 – it is time to disrupt the power of those seeking to silence and divide us, writes CEO David Crosbie in Pro Bono News.

A 2021 reflection, Pro Bono News, 16 December 2021

“You are more than what you have become”. – Mufasa to Simba in the Lion King.

This is my last Pro Bono Australia article for this year – number 24 – and what a year it has been. Like so many others in our sector, I find myself falling over the finish line, tired and not quite sure what just happened. In 2021 we have all found ourselves having to accept and respond to what would have been inconceivable only a couple of years ago.

The world has changed. The pandemic has shone a light on who we are, as individuals, as families, as workplaces, as communities, as a country. Much could and will be written on what the pandemic has meant. 

For me, the bright flame of 2021 was the uplifting behaviour of people supporting each other. There was a unity, a “no-one left behind” sense of collectively working to achieve a safer community. We saw it in the countless positive news stories, the neighbours looking after neighbours, different groups reaching out and helping each other, the many who continued to put themselves in harm’s way to support us all, the way so many people followed the guidelines and achieved unprecedented rates of vaccination across incredibly diverse communities. 

There are outliers who have their own reasons for their more self-centred behaviour, but in Australia in 2021, when the going got tough, we were there for each other.  

There are many overlapping reasons for Australia’s success to date in ensuring comparatively few people have died from COVID, but no-one could suggest our achievements are not related to the countless sacrifices made by many for our collective good.

It is easy to lose sight of this uplifting human endeavour when a global pandemic continues to rage.

Within our sector we have seen the best of many organisations. I cannot begin to list the innumerable ways charities across Australia have risen to the challenge of delivering on their purpose despite major obstacles. In the technology space alone, there has been 10 years of digital transformation in 18 months. I have seen organisations stretched beyond breaking point somehow still finding a way to help others in need. Flexibility and adaptability have driven new levels of innovation and engagement.

But it has not all been good news. 2021 has also often been a year of anger, frustration and disappointment, not so much in our people or our communities, but in the way a small minority, tacitly supported by some in our federal government, have reinforced division rather than unity. 

Many have pointed out how the pandemic has highlighted existing inequalities, and to some degree that is true. We all faced the same storms, but some were barely touched while others sheltered in secure luxury; four-bedroom two-bathroom, internet connected houses with space in the backyard and local shops and parkland within walking distance. Some had no shelter, or shelter that was not safe or secure.

Many of us kept our jobs and our incomes and our capacity to plan for our futures. Others had to face the prospect of no income and an entirely different future.

There are inequalities that could have been relatively easily addressed by the federal government as they did when significantly increasing the JobSeeker payments last year. Unfortunately, this was not the approach taken by our government in 2021. Instead, the government largely contracted within itself while offering generous support for some groups (mostly the preferred industries) and cutting others adrift to face the storm alone.

The government made clear who they thought were the deserving Australians: builders and tradespeople with utes; the people that dig up our minerals and fossil fuels; sportspeople; the quiet farmers; our defence personnel; doctors, nurses, teachers, emergency workers, company owners and executives, investors, all of these people have been praised and many have been supported by the government in 2021. They are the “have a go and get a go” “quiet” egalitarian people that many see as quintessentially Australian.  

Not quite so supported were artists and performers of all kinds, academics, and most of the more marginalised themselves, including foreign visa holders, Indigenous Australians, the aged, the incarcerated, those living with a disability, and those unable to find work.

Noisy women were another group the government was not really interested in engaging with in 2021, despite the fact that it was women who disproportionately bore the cost of the pandemic across our economy.

If we take a male, blokey, white-Anglo, pro-sport, anti-intellectual, anti-environmental, anti-arts, view of the world, the decisions of our government during the pandemic can be seen to make sense. From that narrow and dated perspective, we can also understand why we might reject the troublesome noisy Australians who challenge our view of ourselves by making us feel uncomfortable with our past, our present and our future. The Australia we should all aspire to is apparently about being “relaxed and comfortable” with who we are, not seeking to highlight or address harms and inequality, and not seeking to play a key role in tackling global priorities like climate change (Glasgow was another 2021 low point).

We have seen some of the best of Australia in 2021, but we have also seen some deplorable decisions and self-serving myopic behaviour from some of our leaders. 

The Australia we want to live in is not the ignorant blokey “she’ll be right” caricature some seek to play to. Australia is so much more than what we have become. And that is the 2022 challenge for us all. Building on the remarkable collective strengths we have seen in 2021, it is time to disrupt the power of those seeking to silence and divide us. 

Read on Pro Bono News: a-2021-reflection