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Who are the humanitarians when they are 'at home': Disaster management to Disability Support – domestic humanitarianism in Australia

Presentation Description

In the Australian context, to what extent and how do humanitarians apply their humanitarian experience, ethics and values when working in areas as diverse as refugee settlement, bushfire recovery, COVID-19 response, aged-care settings and support services? Calls to decolonise the humanitarian ecosystem and for increased localisation have become prominent in recent years. This panel questions a significant but underexamined aspect of humanitarianism that reflects its colonialist origins - namely its construction as an international endeavour. For the last 70 years humanitarianism has to a large extent been uncritically conceived as an international endeavour. This is reflected in Alex de Waal, (1999) conceptualisation of the humanitarian international which describes the international elite of the staff of international relief agencies who travel from north to south and west to east, in order to deliver and administer humanitarian assistance to populations in need. Until recently, debates and discourses related to humanitarianism have been dominated by voices from the West even as it has overwhelming focused on humanitarian needs and challenges located externally usually in the global South. By examining the notion of humanitarianism at home this panel explores who humanitarian are and what work they do at home. This may include examples from a range of roles ranging from aged care settings to disaster risk reduction and emergency management. By focusing on examples from contexts such as Australia, this panel may also open up a discussion related to how aspiring humanitarians can and do deploy their humanitarian values in their own communities.Humanitarianism is often considered to be something that happens out there. Much of the language used in the humanitarian sector implies that humanitarian action is something that is inherently international. 2020 with its bushfires and COVID-19 has highlighted the need for skilled humanitarian workers in Australia. Aside from the events of 2020, Humanitarian principles are needed to deal with one of Australias most pressing humanitarian issues the enduring inequity of First Nations people. The structural inequalities that exist between Australias Indigenous and non-Indigenous population are well documented. A history of colonialism, institutional racism, dispossession and forced disconnection with culture and language have all contributed to creating these enduring structural inequalities. While empowering communities and addressing structural inequalities may be spoken about using different language and terms in Australia, the global push for localisation may provide additional impetus at home too. The diversity that exists in Australia as a whole, and among our First Nations People, calls for more localised and adaptive emergency management approaches. Emergency management systems in Australia are making efforts to shift to a more collaborative model that involves working with communities rather than simply delivering to communities. There is however still work to be done to shift from a service delivery approach to a more localised, participatory and consultative model that acknowledges and harnesses local knowledge and creates opportunities for community driven and fit-for-purpose emergency management for all Australians.

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