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.