Indian Ocean tsunami: The Australian response to the Tsunami disaster

Massive response from ordinary people in Australia to the disaster puts corporate Australia and Government to shame.

The public has donated about A$40 million (US$ 50.8m) so far (up to 2nd January) with much more to come as big events such as the special international cricket match at the MCG and a music concert to be telecast on all three commercial TV stations and radio station MMM have been organised, all of which will collect millions through telephone and online donations.

This deep compassion by ordinary people towards those in need who they have never met is an antidote to the capitalist propaganda that socialists face everyday – that people are too greedy to build a better, socialist society and that the dog-eat-dog mentality prevails in the majority of people.

Even prisoners at Goulburn Jail in New South Wales collected A$2000 (US$ 2,540) and prison wardens another A$4000 (US$ 5,080)!

Workers were outraged by the comments of Christian fundamentalists like the Anglican Dean of Sydney, Phillip Jensen, who said the tsunami was caused by God’s anger with human immorality. Presumably he was not referring to the actions of some of his priests and officials against young people in their care.

Initially Prime Minister John Howard only pledged A$10 million (US$ 12.7m) to the aid effort – later, sensing the public mood, he increased that six fold.

Corporate Australia has, in the most part, been even more stingy than the State and Federal Governments. Australia’s largest company, Telstra, which made A$4.12 billion in profits last year, has donated only A$100,000! Even the Murdoch-owned Weekend Australian newspaper headlined an article: "Companies slow to show they care". It continued: "Individual Australians are easily outstripping corporate Australia in donating money to tsunami victims. Despite booming corporate profits and a soaring share market, less than A$8 million of the estimated A$51 million donated so far has come from corporate Australia. The A$7.8 million donated by 25 companies by the close of business yesterday (31-12-04) compared with their last published annual net profits of more than A$30 billion combined".

This reflects similar processes internationally, especially in the US where at first the Bush administration pledged next to nothing and the President stayed on holiday on his Texas ranch – as did British Prime Minister Tony Blair. The article from our Swedish comrades on our web site shows the same initial reaction from that Government.

Also on our web site is a fascinating article ("Tsunamis and warning systems") which explains: "Although no early warning system can predict the timing of an earthquake, a tsunami is predictable. An earthquake below the ocean floor sets up waves of water that move at speeds of 500-700 kilometres/hour. Out at sea their height may be as little as a centimetre, but when these waves reach shallow water they slow down and grow in height and destructive power.

"When an earthquake occurs it is detectable with seismographic recorders, even thousands of miles away. The epicentre can be identified quickly and an estimate made of the likely risk of tsunami waves. Other equipment can measure the presence of such waves when they are still small in height and far out to sea."

The mainly rich countries surrounding the Pacific have early warning systems in place, but not so the poorer countries hit by this tsunami. It would only cost A$2 million to employ or 0.04% of Telstra’s profits last year.

Chcheep Mahachan of the Thailand seismological bureau said "A proper warning was not given. If we had given the warning and then it hadn’t happened, then it would have been the death of tourism in those areas."

The bureau chief, Sulamee Prachuab, said, "Five years ago, the meteorological department issued a warning of a possible wave after an earthquake in Papua New Guinea, but the tourism authority complained that such a warning would hurt tourism." (UK Guardian, London, 29.12.04).

The Australian newspaper reported (3-1-05) that the Thai government "ignored warnings that tsunamis stemming from an earthquake on the seabed could hit southwest Thailand for fear of frightening off tourists and investors." Capitalism’s need for profits takes precedence over human safety.

Most of those who died were working people and their families who lived in low lying areas surviving off the fishing or tourist industries. They lived in flimsy homes and had few social services and poor infrastructure as is becoming so clear now. The right wing governments in the region, who faithfully carry out the bidding of the IMF and world capitalism, have little interest in such people and their needs.

On top of this class disinterest is the political barrier to aid for Aceh from a Jakarta government that uses military brutality to keep the Ache people tied to the Indonesian state against their will. For days Indonesian troops held guns instead of tools and only helped their own family members. However in Jakarta the poor organised collections for their Aceh brothers and sisters.

In Sri Lanka and India, victims from Tamil areas and Muslim/Christian backgrounds respectively were treated shabbily by the central governments.

The Socialist Party, Australia, sends condolences to our comrades in Sri Lanka (United Socialist Party) who lost family members. We congratulate the CWI on its swift response in establishing a financial appeal for our comrades to rebuild their movement. We note that Irish TD (Member of Parliament) Joe Higgins, who visited Australia last August, has led the way by organising an emergency shipment of water-purifying tablets for the USP comrades in Sri Lanka.

In the next few days the Socialist Party in Australia will be organising to raise money here for the appeal with information going out soon on our web page and supporters’ email list.

Special financial appeal to all readers of

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January 2005