Allan Takes Aim Blog

Fifth Columnists and the homeless

Posted on: 18 June 2010

Emilio Mola Vidal a nationalist general in the Spanish Civil War coined the phrase fifth column as his army of four columns moved to capture Madrid. Vidal said he had a fifth column inside Madrid who would help him when he got there and in doing so established that a fifth column was a group of subversive but sympathetic agents intent on undermining the authority of a nation’s governing power.  

There have been some famous fifth columnists since the Spanish Civil War; the IRA had many. The USSR and Iraq had many whose subversive exploits enjoyed mixed success. Whilst true that war has always bred fifth columnists, they also exist in political parties, large businesses and religious organisations.

In Australia, no doubt some fifth columnists are active within these groups. One can only hope their activities are motivated by an abhorrence of the lies made by leaders whose main objective of maintaining power contributes to the poverty of society. 

My personal view is that we don’t have enough fifth columnists. Occasionally, and with the tacit support of colleagues some people have been brave enough to face the consequences of being whistleblowers. As it turned out, they needed to be brave because when the time came for that support to be voiced, suddenly their colleagues were struck dumb.

The following is an edited version of the column “Homeless Ambassadors” published in The Chronicle, 17 July 2009 

In July 2009, 220 Sydney CEOs did a “sleep out” for one night in Luna Park to help the St Vincent De Paul Society (Vinnies) raise money for the homeless. Reports say they raised $500,000 and spent an uncomfortable night although how uncomfortable can only be guessed at, considering each had a sleeping bag and a large piece of cardboard with which to cover themselves, plus tea, coffee and soup to help keep discomfort at bay.

By all accounts they also had mobile phones and transistor radios etc. Some said that although their one night – stand wasn’t a hard lesson, it was tough. A question: if the sleep out wasn’t hard how could it be tough? Let me also paraphrase Dick Smith, one of the CEOs involved who said: …if times aren’t good and many people have to live in the streets, I think it’s important we understand that.

I put these and the comments of other participants in a Chronicle column “Homeless Ambassadors” and challenged Canberra CEOs to do the same.  Some took up that challenge on 17 June 2010. Without wishing to diminish the value of their generosity I wonder if a one night lie down in the Garden of Australian Dreams at the National Gallery will create that understanding? If it does, one hopes the participants will fraternise with the homeless and give them a home for month and also a job to help prevent their continuing homelessness.

Although well intentioned I think a sleep out would also have been more effective had it lasted for a week during which the participants were denied personal hygiene facilities – a piece of soap and toothbrush excepted. They should also have been left in different suburbs without sleeping bag, money, food, mobile, or any means of contacting family or friends? Had that been the case I think they would have acquired a better understanding of what tough means and how tough it is to be homeless.

Canberra having fewer homeless than Sydney is not something to be proud about: it should have none. An affluent city the Capital is also generous to people in need when required to be. But homelessness and its causes are special and need special treatment.

That said, I’d like to suggest also that Canberra CEOs and some MLAs, help finance and train a corps of homeless people, male and female, to become Ambassadors for Human Dignity.

Perhaps these Ambassadors, who have walked the walk and can talk the talk about homelessness better than anyone else, can also be given regular spots in the press, radio and TV, to say what it really means.


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