Flat White

Conservative compassion

26 March 2018

8:19 AM

26 March 2018

8:19 AM

One of the strange quirks of modern politics is the perception that it’s the Left who are concerned with justice and mercy, whereas the Right are only focused on the economy and the defence. As Marvin Olasky argues in his book, The Tragedy of American Compassion, the reality is there is a “compassionate conservatism” that lies at the centre of all true conservative political policy and practice.

Just take Exhibit A: Karina Okotel, the Liberal Party President of Victoria. Okotel is an out and out conservative. And as such, she was one of the major public voices to defend the ‘No’ case last year. And yet, observe how the Sydney Morning Herald chose to describe Okotel in their reporting:

Okotel’s CV … could easily read as the resume of a stereotypical bleeding heart.

She is the daughter of hard-working Sri Lankan immigrants who worked menial jobs before becoming owners of a liquor store.

“We spent a lot of time at the bottle shop,” she says of her childhood.

After studying arts/law at Melbourne University, Okotel did a stint at an orphanage on the Thai/Myanmar border, in a community of displaced Karen people.

She completed her articles as a solicitor and then travelled to Uganda with Baptist World Aid, where she helped with goat rearing projects and peanut farming.

There, she met her husband David, a Ugandan who was also working for Baptist World Aid.

The pair went on to make a documentary about Uganda’s internally displaced people and child soldiers.

“It’s horrific, absolute human rights abuse,” she says of Uganda’s brutally anti-LGBTI regime.

So, let me get this straight… Okotel has devoted her life to serving others—both in Australia and overseas—including showing compassion to people of the LGBTI community. She is intelligent, serving as a lawyer in a number of different humanitarian settings such as orphanages. What’s more, she is married to someone from Africa, with whom she has three young children, and her parents are hard-working immigrants. And all the SMH can say is her “CV could easily read as the resume of a stereotypical bleeding heart.” Really?

How many on the Left have done even half of what Okotel has achieved in her lifetime (and she’s still a long way off turning 40)? But let’s not just stop there. What about the recent tragic events involving South African farmers? In an opinion piece for The Australian Sherry Sufi, wrote:

For those who’ve come across the seas, we’ve boundless plains to share. We have a long history of resettling people in this country and it works out well in most cases.

In case you missed it, Sufi is the chairman of the West Australian Liberal Party’s policy committee. I haven’t heard of the Labor, let alone the Greens, making similar commitments. But regardless, compassion is clearly a conservative value. As Sufi went on to write:

On November 11, last year, I had the pleasure of moving the following policy motion at a West Australian Liberal Party State Council meeting: “That the Liberal Party of Australia (WA division) calls on the federal government to introduce offering rite of passage to persecuted European minorities of South Africa and Zimbabwe enabling them to resettle in Australia.” There was some debate and disagreement, as is to be expected in a democracy, but the motion passed comprehensively when put to a vote.

Minister Dutton is doing the right thing as an Australian.

We should all look forward to sharing our land with those who will ultimately make great Australians.


Why is it then that Julie Bishop, the Minister for Foreign Affairs, won’t come out strongly in support of the Immigration Minister? Especially when it was her own colleagues in the WA Liberals who successfully moved a motion that offers special humanitarian assistance to the oppressed minorities of South Africa.

To be fair, while Bishop didn’t directly contradict Dutton, she could have shown a bit more compassion by displaying a stronger commitment to a policy that can potentially save numerous lives.

All of which brings me to, Exhibit B: WA Liberal MP Andrew Hastie, who was quoted in The West Australian as saying:

They share our values, have long experience on the land and would give our regional economies a much-needed boost…Our agricultural sector is crying out for reliable workers.

What’s happening in South Africa to these farmers is disturbing. Hundreds of people have contacted me to say they are very concerned at the systematic violent persecution of South African farmers. The community wants action, and rightly so.

If the Australian government is not careful—and both sides of politics will have blood on their hands if they don’t—then we could very quickly find ourselves on the wrong side of history. ‘Genocide’ is not a term to be thrown around lightly, but as Jennifer Oriel argues— in one of the most measured, accurate, and also perceptive analysis of the issues—this is precisely what is occurring. As Oriel wrote in The Australian:

If reports are accurate, the man who moved South Africa’s parliamentary motion to expropriate land without compensation is inciting genocide. White farmers should leave South Africa.

Denial and rationalisation ­accompany the emergence of terrorist regimes and genocide. When possible, terrorists use physical characteristics to divide people and isolate a group for persecution. Skin colour is a blunt and effective tool for sowing ­social discord and fomenting revolution against dissidents. In South Africa, the horror of white-on-black racism is being reversed. The new racism is as foul as the old but human rights activists are slow to denounce it.

This is a key opportunity for the Liberal government to show compassion, and courage, to those who are clearly a ‘persecuted minority’. It doesn’t matter whether they’re black or white. All lives matter, no matter what country they come from. And its compassionate conservatives who are courageously committed to doing just that.

Mark Powell is the Associate Pastor of Cornerstone Presbyterian Church, Strathfield.

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