Australia Has No Business Helping Rebuild Notre Dame
Like most people yesterday, I watched as flames engulfed the Notre Dame Cathedral, overcome with shock, disbelief, horror and helplessness.
Like most people, I watched as this architectural masterpiece and historical landmark was ravaged by fire before the world’s eyes; breathing a collective sigh of relief when the blaze was declared under control and no further destruction of the building likely to occur.
However, unlike most people, I then continued on with my day; unaffected.
Not because it wasn’t a tragic loss of one of the world’s most sacred pieces of history, but because -- perspective. This wasn’t a natural disaster where an entire city was lost and thousands were killed; nor a humanitarian crisis or a terrorist attack or anything of such catastrophic scale.
Nobody died; the majority of the Cathedral was saved.
Perhaps that makes me sound cold-hearted; I assure you, I’m not. I truly understand the emotion and grief of those who have this Cathedral woven into their story, who are still trying to process such significant loss. I understand the history of this Cathedral and what it meant to so many; the beauty, faith, art, the representation of freedom and democracy.
But for me, who can tend to err on the side of irrational fear and anxiety, I have learned to mindfully consider everything with rational perspective: while historical buildings are important, lives matter more.
So, when Scott Morrison announced he would be rejecting the calls to establish a tax-free fund so that the government and Australian individuals and foundations could contribute to Notre Dame's reconstruction, I agreed with his decision.
It was a ballsy decision, really, to go against such peer pressure when the US has pledged assistance and billionaires around the world are throwing their money at the rebuilding fund, including Gucci owner François-Henri Pinault, Bernard Arnault, owner of Louis Vuitton, as well as the CEO of company giant, Apple, also pledging to donate.
But ScoMo? Nope. He’s decided if Australians want to make donations, they can go right ahead. But as for a government contribution, he’s gone against the opinion of both the Opposition Leader and Treasurer, both of whom voiced support, stating that instead of donating, the government's focus will be to help Australian farmers.
Which has, of course, thrown the internet into a maelstrom of debate -- some applauding the PM's priorities, others condemning his lack of solidarity and support for Paris.
But is this really a lack of support, or is ScoMo’s perspective actually on point here?
Earlier in our pre-children lives, my husband and I didn’t hesitate to donate money to those in need; we sponsored children in famine, regularly gave to a number of charities, offered financial assistance to those in our local community who were less fortunate; neither of us materialistic and both in agreeance that anything surplus to our needs was better spent on those who were without.
However, as our family grew we soon had the expense of raising four children on one income; the income of a farming family at that. An income which suffered alongside so many other farming families in the wake of drought and fluctuating industry prices. Our finances continued to stretch tighter; we had our overdraft extended numerous times then struggled to pay the monthly overdraft interest, let alone find money for the daily living expenses for a family of six.
Through these hardest financial times, we endeavoured to continue giving to others, but struggled. We reached the point where the needs of our own family were being neglected to give to others; others who essentially had other financial support from those who were in a better position to give than we were during that season of our lives. We made the decision to discontinue our giving for a time. Not from lack of empathy, compassion, care, solidarity or support for others. But from the understanding and awareness we had a compromised budget and our first priority was to meet the needs of our family before others.
France is the world’s sixth largest economy; the Catholic Church is also one of the wealthiest organisations in the world. Meanwhile, here in Australia, we are witnessing one of the greatest droughts our country has seen, causing the financial ruin of farmers, devastation to farming families, and detriment to our economy.
We have an epidemic of homelessness, a domestic violence crisis, a shortage of public housing, imminent environmental disasters caused by climate change, a lack of financial and community support for Indigenous communities, for NDIS and for mental health care patients. Worldwide, people are suffering: from third world living conditions, from persecution, from slavery, from human trafficking, from natural disaster, from humanitarian crisis, from terrorism.
Yesterday, teenage activist, Greta Thunberg, stood before the European Parliament, pleading for leaders to save the planet in the same way they are pledging to rebuild Notre Dame, saying, “Yesterday, the whole world witnessed with sadness and despair the fire at Notre Dame de Paris, but Notre Dame will be rebuilt.”
Notre Dame will be rebuilt, yes. Already, there is more than one billion dollars pledged for this to happen. And if the Australian government has funds sitting around, is the rebuilding of a Catholic Church Cathedral in an already wealthy country the best place to spend this money when we could be alleviating actual suffering in the world?
ScoMo choosing not to make a government donation to the rebuilding of Notre Dame is not an act of rebellion toward Paris; it is not a lack of solidarity or support, it is not a lack of empathy or care for what has been lost.
It is perspective.
It is recognising the needs of our own country -- our own family -- and choosing to put them first, knowing Notre Dame will gather enough funding to be rebuilt from those in a better financial position than we are at this time.
It is the Prime Minister saying buildings are important, but lives matter more. And like him or hate him, it’s pretty hard to argue with that.