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Tolerance: Baby steps, all the time

Jo Scard

Ten years ago I was in the emergency department of Royal Prince Alfred Children’s Hospital with my two year old son who was having an anaphylactic attack, my six month old daughter in tow.

In a panic I called my husband, Fairfax photographer Andrew Meares, who’d been sent to have a look at what was happening in Cronulla that day. “I need you to come to the hospital”, I told him, as a fully signed up adherent to shared parenting.

“That’s a bit difficult right now – I’m in an ambulance and I’m going to hospital. I just had a full bottle of beer explode on my head so I need stitches”.OK, I thought. I need to tough this one out by myself. Steroids and assorted other medication later the 2 year old was fine and we went home.

Ten years later Andrew penned this about that day.

Andrew chose to take pictures as a young man was attacked by the angry mob in front of him. It was a powerful collection of images about the nasty side of the Lucky Country.

Ten years on and what do we have? No less tolerance than we had on that day 10 years ago.

As we head in to a federal election year we have six new anti-Islamic parties intending to field candidates including the Australian Liberty Alliance, launched recently by controversial Dutch politician Geert Wilders, Rise Up and Nick Folkes’ Party for Freedom. And playing loudly on the sidelines we have Reclaim Australia.

All of them assert they’re not racist, but just articulating a vision of ‘Western values’ and ‘liberty’. There are a lot of Australian flags flown, a questioning of immigration including calls for a lengthy moratorium on resident visa applications from nationals from 56 Islamic states.

There are voices about being “at war with Islam’.

The recently launched Australian Muslim Party is aiming at running candidates after it reaches the 500 member threshold and is registered, and there are mainstream voices like Waleed Aly from The Project with big audiences rejecting this new screeching, explaining calmly how the new ‘all-Australian’ vision is plainly wrong.

If our leaders remain silent on this new thinking we run the risk of heading toward the place the United States finds itself, where a billionaire calling for a ban on all Muslim immigration is a real possibility to be elected as the next president. Long way off here? Maybe. Maybe not.

Where does that leave us, normal punters don’t want to have a bar of the paranoia?

We need to have a voice. We need to make a call when others around us need to be more inclusive.

I’ll give you an example. For decades at my daughter’s government public primary school at Gundaroo it’s been standard practice to have Christian education program pre-Christmas and at Easter. For those of you who know Gundaroo it’s an engaged community with an equally engaged and active community church. Last year some parents expressed a desire for the school to embrace a range of other faiths and so through the year there have been educators from a range of other faiths and cultures come to speak to the children. A step. In the right direction.

I’m a member of a Facebook group for my old school, St George Girls High School, a selective government high school in Sydney’s south. The school has created decades of spirited young women, most of them working class girls, lucky enough to move on to tertiary education. Old girls include the current Editor-In-Chief of the Sydney Morning Herald Judith Whelan.

Last week there was a heated discussion about a YouTube video of this year’s mock assembly, which someone said was remarkable because it was “mainly Asian girls nowadays” and that the school had “really changed”. Someone else said that the reason for that was because these girls were prevented from doing weekend sport and instead were kept inside by their parents to study. You can guess where this was going.

The point is it’s not only our Prime Minister or local federal MP or ACT MLA’s that are responsible for speaking.

We all need to call this when we see it. It’s baby steps, all the time. It’s looking at things with fresh eyes. It’s questioning. It’s not accepting. It’s about Christmas and Hanukkah and Eid.

Happy holidays everyone.

Jo Scard is Managing Director of Fifty Acres – The Communications Agency and tweets at @scardjo

Image by and courtesy of Andrew Meares

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Jo Scard

With over 20 years' experience in communications, political advisory roles and journalism, Jo Scard is one of Australia’s leading advisers to corporates, Not-For-Profits, organisations and government. Managing Director of communications agency, Fifty Acres which is HQ'd in Canberra, Jo is a respected former political journalist in the UK and Australia working with ITV, Associated Press, Seven Network, SBS, ABC and Fairfax. A former senior adviser to the Rudd and Gillard governments and a trained lawyer she is on the Boards of the Australian Women Chamber of Commerce & Industry, Hockey ACT and a Member of the NSW Council of the Public Relations Institute of Australia. Jo is an Ambassador for the global entrepreneur magazine Renegade Collective and a member of the Registered Consultancies Group of the Public Relations Institute of Australia. She has spent over a decade advising corporates and Not-For-Profits at CEO and board level across strategic communications, government relations and public relations and co-authored the best-selling book The Working Mother’s Survival Guide with Seven’s Melissa Doyle. More about the Author

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