Public First Program


Shane Elson


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+61-3-5952 5780

+61-4-1349 7828

Dec 2007 # 1

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Back to Editorials 2007

A Return to Day Zero

One wonders what will become of those who come after us. After so much hullabaloo, cheering, flag waving and chest beating, will we become a more just and equitable society? Will we be able to turn around the prevailing orthodoxies and reclaim the ‘fair go’ as our own? Will we, in the face of adversity and hardship, be able take back our futures and be able to leave a grand legacy for those that come after us? 

I was reminded recently of the way our former Prime Minister, John Howard, disgraced himself when he had the privilege and honour of addressing a gathering of Indigenous people. His display of arrogance and down right rudeness, if it had been enacted at a gathering of high flying business people, would have seen him thrown out of office and hounded into obscurity. But that didn’t happen. 

Certainly most commentators remarked that his behaviour was not ‘statesman’ like but very few condemned him for insulting the First Australians. The fist banging and shouting were driven off the front pages in short order by some new intrigue or other and the matter was wiped from the public consciousness. Just like the black map he held up on the 7:30 Report some time prior to his public outburst, Howard’s racist attitude was ignored or excused. 

Now we have Kevin “and I’m from Queensland” Rudd acting as our chief overseer and “leader”. But have we returned to Day Zero, a day when history restarts itself? I wonder if the real rulers will allow him and his party to truly restore some grace and dignity into the public domain. 

As the real rulers of Australia go about digging up the common wealth and sending it off shore for reprocessing and ‘value adding’ can we expect justice, equity and a ‘fair go’ for all? 

If we are to believe those who ‘lead’ us, Australia is a place full of wealth and opportunity. It’s a place where anyone, even Kevin from Queensland, can become Prime Minister. Why, we are a place where tolerance and freedom make us the most open democracy on the planet, or so we are told. 

However, and I hate to spoil the party, but if this is correct, why are more Australians requiring financial assistance (food vouchers, emergency relief and the like) than they were ten years ago? According to the prevailing orthodoxy, we’re all better off and anyone who claims they aren’t is rorting the system. According to this logic, there are tens of thousands who are rorting it! With somewhere in the order of 15 percent of Australians relying on welfare support, surely the problem is structural in nature and not down to individual recidivism?

Interestingly, in Michael Pusey’s book, “The Experience of Middle Australia” he notes that 82 percent of Australians “say that the country is run by ‘a few big interests’ rather than for ‘all the people’”. Pusey concludes that the overwhelming majority of Australians reject the ‘prosperity’ rhetoric espoused by the elites and hold grave concerns about the influence of what he terms “illegitimate power”. 

On page 160 of his book, Pusey shows us a table that ranks who people thought it was that were causing “Australia’s economic problems”. Almost twice as many who Pusey ranks as being “middle Australia” identified “Big business, big companies, multinational corporations” (39%) as did those who identified “Governments and politicians” (22%). In other words, most of us know there is something terribly wrong yet we don’t seem to actively engage with those processes that may allow us to change our situation. 

With only about 100,000 members between them, the two biggest parties in Australia constitute a very small group within our population. However, such are the institutional arrangements, that the nexus between big business and its interests and the interests of the ruling classes is firmly entrenched in the political process so as to make alternatives difficult to institute. The amount of resources and cash directed at ensuring the prevailing orthodoxy remains just that is staggering. If and when the final amounts spent on this past election are revealed it will be interesting to note how it stacks up against the outcomes we have been promised. 

So, will we be able to turn around the prevailing orthodoxies and reclaim the ‘fair go’ so that the legacy we leave will be as grand as we hope it can be when we depart this mortal coil? I believe it can. 

So much time is spent, like Howard, shouting at each other and attempting to disclaim the credibility of the ‘other side’. I suggest that it’s about time we began to listen. If over 80 percent of our fellow travellers are already on ‘our side’ why should we decry their attempts to better themselves in the existing system? After all it is the majority of this 80 percent who also acknowledge where the real problems lie. 

I’ve been to too many meetings in which speaker after speaker has got up and decried “the system” and those who are “slave to it” to think that shouting at the ‘great unwashed’ will do anything other than drive them away. Howard tried that and look how he was treated by the First Australians. They turned their backs on him. Should we be so surprised if Mr and Mrs Average Australia do the same when dissenters shout at them? Of course not. 

The time is right to engage with the vast majority of Australians who feel something is ‘wrong’ in their ‘waters’ (to quote that doyen of Fountain Lakes, Kath Day-Knight). This middle ground is where all the action is at if we believe the political parties. The idea of buying votes has obviously had its day. Voters are no longer prepared to accept a dollar hand out in exchange for more of the same. It’s my firm belief that people are truly looking for a ‘fair go’ and when push comes to shove they know they will find it only among their family, peer group and small group of close friends. 

This turning away from the larger institutional reassurances that ‘all is well’ seems to indicate that while people are going out in larger numbers to enjoy the recreational pursuits increased wealth brings, at the same time, they are retreating to those things that reassure them they are valued and important – family, peer groups and close friendship circles. 

I guess for those of us concerned about the future direction of our country, the trick is to learn the new language of comfort and trepidation being spoken around us. Once we begin to understand this seeming contradiction and the expressions of it, maybe then, we can begin a dialogue that will move people from a sense of helplessness to one of empowerment, a place where they can reclaim the political and economic processes for the benefit of all. 

Perhaps then the land of the ‘fair go’ will also become a place where justice and equity become the benchmarks by which we judge our ‘success’ and ‘progress’. Maybe then, we can be assured that this generation’s legacy is truly one we want to leave for those who come after us.

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