This one is about Australian politics. International readers may ignore it.
There has been a lot of media and internet hype and fun had about the silly and unfair Australian government and its abortion of a budget in which the poor, the unemployed and the future of our nation, students, are unfairly targeted while the rich are “penalised to the extent of having to maybe cut back on their fine wine purchases a bit. Yes, John Oliver had fun pointing out the idiocy perpetrated by Tony Abbott, but this is not about fairness, or rather, this is about justice (and fair behaviour that is just).
Our government, which came in as an ideological hard line government (voters who say now “I didn’t expect this” have no excuse; it was all flagged years back, and you ignored it), has refused to increase taxation upon those who can best afford to contribute to the Common wealth they exploit. It permits the very rich to save on taxation by allowing them to use superannuation funds, which were designed to provide the less-well-off a retirement income, and to use the purchase of housing they do not intend to live in (“negative gearing”), as taxation breaks. Hence, all the so-called deficit in government spending, which could be recouped directly by abolishing both measures, is foregone.
It has refused to cut the vast amount of government aid to the least deserving of all our economic activities – mining – to the tune of at least $4.5 billion per annum. It has, however, cut subsidies to employee-heavy industries like manufacturing, with a loss of tens of thousands of jobs.
It has made the cost of getting an education, which was made the prerequisite for every career over the past twenty years, so high that only the well-off can now get one. This takes us beyond the days before education was made free by the Whitlam government in the 1970s, because at least then there was an extensive merit-based scholarship scheme run by the government. Now there is none, unless the universities offer a few. And vocational training is now offered by shonky private operators whose primary interest is getting federal money, not actually, you know, teaching students how to do stuff.
It has made the cost of just going to the doctor a choice between medical treatment and food for the least well-off. A $7 copayment doesn’t seem much until you realise that those with long term illnesses must go to the doctor, get tests, have x-rays, etc., literally dozens of times a month, blowing out the cost to them to hundreds of dollars that, as chronically ill people, they probably cannot cover. It also increased the cost of pharmaceuticals for all.
It has told the most vulnerable – young people – they must somehow get by for six months of every year without any unemployment benefits if they can’t find a job (see above, loss of jobs) or study (see above, cost of education). Kids who for no fault of their own cannot find any work must live on the streets. The kids who have any kind of mental illness will be the most harmed, as they are the most vulnerable. These are the kids who cannot manipulate the rather nasty bureaucratic barriers to getting help.
This is not how a wealthy and democratic nation behaves. This is not how a decent society behaves. So we have to ask: why are we behaving this way?
Partly we do so because this is how the media (run largely by Murdoch, because a past Labor government piked out from preventing media monopolies) tells us to behave. Daily there are overblown stories about how the unemployed are ”rorting” the system (shades of Reagan’s fictional “welfare queen”), so that the employed, who have no unemployed family members, are given permission to hate the unemployed.
Partly we do so because the identifiable groups who most need help are the groups our politicians slyly point towards without using overtly racist language: aborigines, refugees, and the underclass of the “not of English ancestry”. Australia is a deeply and ubiquitously racist country, but we do it shamefacedly, without admitting that we are racists. Our politicians (on both sides) have played this race card again and again; so often in fact that we do not even realise we are being racist when we say “turn back the boats” of “illegal” refugees (no refugee is illegal; and the language is deliberate).
So we now have a society that treats the poor and vulnerable worse than we did in the days of paternalism and institutionalisation. We don’t even provide medical care for refugees in our concentration camps. What. The. Fuck.
This happened slowly, with the willing cooperation of both sides of politics. The once-progressive Labor party became a corporatist economic party. Corporate interests have no concern for people; they care only about profits, and we have seen increasingly immoral behaviours by corporations in Australia as they test the water and wait for the backlash, which, not forthcoming, encourages them to act even worse. Our banks are the leaders, taking fees where no service or cost is incurred.
We became acclimatised to behaviours and policies that a few decades earlier would have been rejected even by conservatives as fascist. Basically, we live now in a fascist culture, where corporations and governments act without concern for real people, in favour of abstractions like “nation” or “the economy”.
There is some hope, in the rise of minor parties. Even the Palmer United Party is better than the conservatives or Labor, because at least Palmer recognises that the “budget emergency” is bullshit, and that the extreme measures in the recent budget are acts of ideological bastardry. The major parties represent only the interests of the “big end of town” (and have done, in my view, since 1980), and some people are waking up to this. But unless Labor stands firm and blocks the budget – the whole budget, not just the bits they personally wouldn’t have put in – it makes no difference. The corporatists have won. We now live, if we can live, at their pleasure. It’s the new feudalism.
This is unjust. The reason it is unjust has to do with the best (and in my view only viable) definition of justice, by John Rawls. A just law or policy is one that is framed without reference to a knowledge of one’s own position in society. According to Rawls, you must draw a “veil of ignorance” over yourself when drafting policies. You mustn’t make laws that favour your own. This government, however, is doing nothing else. All the beneficiaries of this government’s policies (and only most of the beneficiaries of the previous government) are the well-off, the high income earners and the investors. They know themselves and make policies to serve their own interests. That is why it is unjust to do these things.
When faced with an unjust government and society, there are few options. Peaceful protest will go only as far as those in power permit, and at least two state governments have legislated to remove the rights of protest when it doesn’t suit government (Victoria and Queensland). This repressive behaviour has only one outcome: riots. If people are not permitted to protest, and protests are ignored, violence will result. I don’t like it, and I don’t condone it, but it is inevitable. If they don’t back down, there will be riots in Australia before the end of this year, I warrant.
In March I joined a spontaneous protest (March in March) at which over a quarter of a million Australians protested across the nation. It was barely even mentioned by the media, and when it was they focused on a few extremists. Abbott even joked about it. When you ignore that much of the population, you can expect bad results. In public relations we are told one letter equals 100 attitudes. Even supposing one attendee represented only two oppositions, that’s nearly 1 in 28 voters. Assume each protester represented ten objectors, and you have 1 in 7. Objections in the polls to these policies, however, run at over 50% (58% in yesterday’s poll). When more than one in two voters hate what you are doing, attention must be paid.
How it will work out I cannot say. I hate how my country has abandoned the decency of the sixties and the principles of a fair and just society. I don’t know if any other countries outside Scandinavia are any better, but that’s besides the point: I want my country to be one I can be proud of, as I used to be when I was a youth, even during the Vietnam era.