According to today’s Age, police have identified a man thought to have burned down the town of Marysville.

If, as seems likely, this individual lives locally, will politicians and shock jocks now start whispering about how country Victorians started the bushfire disaster themselves? Will they insinuate that such people don’t deserve sympathy or assistance, that any comfort provided to them will simply encourage more fires? Will they hint that, rather than resettling residents of Marysville, we should simply push them back to fend for themselves among the debris from their homes, since “people like that” are obviously a menace to the community?

Or will they instead note that, at this stage, the allegations haven’t been tested in court? Will they point out that, even if the suspect proves guilty, only a fool would draw conclusions about an entire population based on the psychological problems of an individual? Will they add that if, as seems likely, the occasional bushfire survivor manifest antisocial behaviour in the aftermath of the ordeal, that only makes clearer the need for counselling and other support?

Will they further suggest that the overwhelming response to the bushfire victims — the outpouring of generosity flooding into charities — represents human nature at its finest, a trait that should be encouraged whenever we encounter people in distress? And if so, will they extend the same argument to the unfortunate refugees off Ashmore Reef? Or does it only work for white people?

Peter Fray

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