Wake up and smell the stinkweed

However much designer rhetoric you may use to package it, elitism by any other name still smells like stinkweed to most Australians, and the smell after last week’s budget was overpowering.

Perhaps this attitude is a legacy of our early DNA: the indigenous people that nobody respected or understood; the lawless of Britain’s underclass that nobody wanted; the militia that nobody restrained; the remittance men that nobody acknowledged… the whole unsavoury mess of early European settlement that led to a robust irreverence towards petty authority, a ferocious determination to survive, a commitment to mateship and equality… and a total contempt for those we consider to be up themselves.

The Australian principle of ‘a fair go’ may seem like a piece of ocker bullshit to outsiders, but to those of us who live here, it’s the rock on which we’re built. Couch it in more elegant terms if you wish, but what it means is that we look after each other, and we expect everyone to be given a fair chance. The basic requirements for this are universally affordable healthcare, free access to a good education, and social security in times of trouble: keep us healthy, let us learn, and protect the vulnerable. This is equality of opportunity, and no amount of semantic quick-stepping can make the current budget resemble it in any way.

The Abbott government’s so-called ‘end to the age of entitlement’ is in fact the end to a fair go.

However the Liberal Party might like to beat it up, economic analysts all agree that Australia is not facing a budget emergency. However they also agree that it will if it does nothing to decrease its deficit in a timely manner. But at the same time, the OECD’s latest report, while applauding Australia’s relative financial wellbeing, also points out that income inequality has been steadily on the rise for the past 15 years, and now exceeds the OECD average: 20% of households control 62% of the wealth, and the bottom 20% of households have less than 1%. It therefore follows as the night the day, you might say, that in the treasurer’s policy of ‘sharing the pain‘, the top 20% can afford to contribute more than the bottom 20% – and yet it’s the bottom 20% that the Abbott government has decided should carry the giant’s share.

But despite the outrageous, insulting hypocrisy – that a man who is paid almost half a million dollars a year from the public purse, and has $10 million dollars in private assets, can stand there and imply that those of us in the bottom 20% are lazy freeloaders who must ‘do our bit’ – despite this, what worries me most is that it’s only the thin end of a wedge that will kill the Australian ethos as we know it.

Because in the midst of all the headline-grabbing inequities and injustices meted out last week, there is one small, barely-mentioned item that to me, says it all: that leaves us in no doubt of the ideology driving this treasurer, this prime minister, this budget, and will drive Australia unless we stop it now: school chaplains are slated to receive 245 million dollars. Not a lot, you might think, in the big picture, and you’d be right. Until you realise that school chaplains are only attached to wealthy, independent Christian schools (such as St Aloysius College, attended by both Mssrs Abbott and Hockey) and that the fee level in these schools precludes all but the children of the top 20% from attending. And until you add to that the fact that in the next 10 years, $80 billion will be cut from public schools and hospitals – the healthcare and three Rs of the vast majority of the population.

This measure, above all others, exudes the noxious aroma of elitism.

We are not an elitist society. We don’t want to be an elitist society. But unless we wake up and take long, hard sniff of the putrid odour emanating from this budget – long enough and hard enough to stay with us and ward off any threat of complacency before the next election – that is exactly what Australia will be: a society geared to the rich getting richer, where the only path to power and opportunity is paved with money, and to hell with the rest of us.

This post is prompted by http://jenniferann1970.wordpress.com/2014/05/21/australia-not-for-much-longer-if-abbott-stays-in-power/ on the blog http://jenniferann1970.wordpress.com/. Jenni is far better informed and far more articulate than I am, but I’m working on the principle that the more people who scream, the more likely we are to be heard.

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13 Responses to Wake up and smell the stinkweed

  1. A very interesting little detail you have uncovered, Helen.

    I think the same move is afoot regarding our public school system. More and more basic essentials like textbooks are paid for by volunteer fundraisers. Teachers are asked to do more with less and the quality of a student’s education is laughable. Employers are bemoaning the fact that new hires are very poorly trained/educated/prepared. My theory is this: it is a deliberate act to weaken the public school system to the point where governments can (rightly) say, “It’s broken.” However, instead of saying “We need to fix it”, they will say, “Let’s scrap it.” In the mean time, private schools will flourish, of course.

    • I don’t think they’ll manage to scrap it, just ignore it to the point where only the ‘upper class’ will be well enough educated to qualify for university – which by then only the wealthy will be able to afford anyway. It breaks my heart.

  2. bkpyett says:

    Brilliant Helen! I hope you send it into the paper too. That is a very revealing fact about the money wasted on elitist schools. I can’t see how Abbott will last, nor Hockey for that matter either.

  3. Jenni says:

    Reblogged this on Unload and Unwind and commented:
    It’s always heartening to hear that your work inspires others to speak their mind about things. It is worth visiting Helen’s site to read her full article as well as her other interesting and thoughtful posts. So thank you for letting me know that you found something of value to you in my post as well as for the excellent article you wrote as a result of it.

  4. ashokbhatia says:

    The Pareto Law appears to be at work in most economies!

  5. bkpyett says:

    I’m glad Jenni has reblogged this as she has a large following. It deserves a wide audience.

  6. elainecanham says:

    Thanks for that. It’s a very powerful piece. Maybe you’ll be able to vote him out before he does too much damage.

  7. Great post.
    I was sent by Jenni 🙂

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