Twirling towards freedom

Cold as ice
Proponents of anti-poor policies have ice in their veins

Over the past few weeks, as all of North America and Instagram have been taken over by people dumping buckets of iced water over their heads, I’ve been trying desperately to figure out how Charlie Sheen isn’t the voice of reason in all of this. For once though, he appears to be on point. While the media were busy griping about who really started the Ice Bucket Challenge that became a successful fundraiser for motor neurone disease, Sheen pointed out that a bucket of cash is worth a whole lot more than a bucket of ice.

As aptly summarised by Vice, the real problem with the Ice Bucket Challenge is that “it’s like a game of Would-You-Rather involving the entire internet where, appallingly, most Americans would rather dump ice water on their head than donate to charity. There are a lot of things wrong with the Ice Bucket Challenge, but most the annoying is that it’s basically narcissism masked as altruism.”

These sentiments are no doubt being hashed out in media advising units across Australia, as the challenge will inevitably extend to our politicians. Both the prime minister’s and treasurer’s offices have declined to comment on whether either minister will take it up, but for a government that seems to place more value on spectacles and stunts (especially ones that can legitimately be undertaken while wearing a swimsuit) than it does actual achievement, you can be sure that somewhere in Canberra a room of hollowmen are doing that maths on it.

The Ice Bucket Challenge may be misguided, grandstanding and narcissistic, yet it’s still a widespread and large-scale act of generosity. Meanwhile Victorian police are cracking down on the smallest acts of compassion and seizing the spare change given to Melbourne’s homeless as “proceeds of crime”. It's a measure which aims, presumably, to eliminate the scourge of panhandling from genteel streets, and one that explicitly criminalises and demonises those in greatest poverty. No, you can’t catch a bus with a dollar; yes, you can put it towards a cap of heroin – but that’s neither here nor there.

“I was crap at crime so I chose begging," a homeless man told the ABC recently. "A lot of it went on drugs – but either way I’d get the money, so would you rather me beg for it or steal your stereo?” He further elaborated: “Other times you’d have to go for court for begging and get a $100 fine, then I’d have to go begging to pay that back.” That's as succinct a summary of the divided views as we might hope to get.

In the wake of this year’s cruel federal budget, the government is still labouring until the false impression that looking after the least of its citizens is somehow detrimental to society. As Centrelink claimants are faced with a six month waiting period before they can start receiving benefits, homelessness – which has already risen 40 per cent in Melbourne’s CBD in the past 12 months – will only continue to climb. Stripping the safety net from the bottom rung of society in order to make a chequebook balance further up won’t make the poor better citizens or more productive workers. It'll just drive them into the dust.

Instead of ourselves, how about we start pouring buckets of ice over policies which kick people when they're down?

Michaela McGuire

Michaela McGuire is a journalist and the author of Last Bets: A True Story of Gambling, Morality and the Law and the Penguin Special A Story of Grief. Visit her blog, Twirling Towards Freedom.


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