Public First Program


Shane Elson


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+61-4-1349 7828

March 2007 # 4

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Tears, Perks and People

A few weeks ago one of my favourite whipping posts, Amanda Vanstone, was sacked from the Howard government ministry. As Minister for Immigration and Multicultural Affairs she continued the Ruddock legacy of dehumanising the victims of persecution who sought refuge on our shores. She also ruled over a department that was not hesitant in press ganging people (seriously ill people) off shore. She was not prepared to sack her bureaucratic masters who oversaw the incarceration of the mentally ill. Nor was she adverse to the notion of locking up people who were falsely accused of overstaying their visas.

What I find disturbing is that while she oversaw a department that seemed intent on denying people their basic human rights and did all it could to strip their humanity from them, I never saw her once shed a tear. However, at the press conference at which she pondered her sacking, she finally broke down. No, not over the evil she perpetrated on others. Not a tear was shed for the people she harmed by her inaction and frankly, incompetence, as the head of the department. 

What she did cry over was the end of her own career. She cried because she had lost her plum job and with it all the perks she enjoyed. A pay decrease and loss of access to the centre of power were the only things she cried over. Her whole focus was on her and not once did we hear of her remorse at the suffering and pain she had caused others. 

Then there’s good old Santo. Seems he was quite a player when it came to share trading – something I am sure requires a great deal of attention to detail and fine print. His resignation was one of those kicking and screaming ones in which, while he could not remember to fill out the paper work required for probity in government or how many companies he owned shares in, it seems he was quite able to line his pockets while on the tax payer’s payroll. 

It seems Santoro just doesn’t get it. He had the gall to stand up in the Senate and declare that, “I stand here tonight with a heavy heart to address an institution that I hold most dear.” It’s obvious how “dear” to his heart his duty as an elected official is. It’s so “dear” he was willing to ignore his responsibilities and rort the system for his own and his close friend’s advantage. 

However, given the effort that has gone into protecting him from public scrutiny he has gotten off rather lightly. As an elected official, had he stayed on, he would have had to face an investigation, one which by all indicators would have shown just how corrupt and dishonest he was. So, by falling on his own sword, he gets to bury his crimes and not have to face the consequences of them. 

But it seems that not only does Santoro not get it, his defenders in the big house also don’t get it. I was munching on some cornflakes when I heard Alexander Downer, perhaps our most appalling politician, say that we had to lay off Santoro and, “leave him alone now. He's resigned. Think about him as a human being”.  Just think about this statement, “Think about him as a human being”. 

I remind you of Andrew from last week. He has been breached for not fulfilling his “obligations” to the dole office. For eight weeks he will not have any income. He lost his benefit because he was trying to advance himself and committed a ‘technical oversight’ by not getting the required signatures in his job diary. But he is not alone in his suffering at the hands of these dangerous buffoons. 

I’ll call her Debby. Debby is somewhere over 60 and for most of her life has lived in supported accommodation. Her recurring mental illnesses have not been well managed or medicated. Under successive governments and their bureaucratic regimes she has been pushed from pillar to post and now she finds she has to rely on the good will of a local church to keep her occupied and off the streets. While businesses such as the failing Grand Prix are subsidised to the tune of $30 million a year, mental health care is under resourced and failing those who need it most. 

Then there’s Fred. He arrived on a boat in 2001 and has been ‘resettled’ in a rural town. While he has found work and he shares a house with four other men, he is faced with a dilemma. He told his wife and children that when he got to safe place and established himself he would come back and get them. However, he can’t do that. Under his visa conditions if he returns to the refugee camp he fled from to collect his family he will not be able to return to Australia, let alone bring those he loves with him. His life is torn. Ruined by the false ‘war on terror’ and a government too scared of shadows to act humanely. 

What about Tania? She’s a single mum with two preschoolers. Since the council turned the local childcare centre over to a multinational company she can no longer afford to send her four year old there. Since her boyfriend of ten years walked out, taking the car and all the savings from their joint account, she has had to fend for herself. Her family is in another state and while they send money from time to time, her will to support herself and her pride means that it is only when she really doesn’t have any food left in the cupboard that she calls them. 

Then their’s Phil. He is a small businessman and employs four others in his cleaning business. However with the multinationals gobbling up the lucrative contracts with the large businesses and government departments he used to service, coupled with the rising costs of compliance, GST paperwork and regulatory red tape, it seems to him that his business does not have long to go. While he is forced to pay his bills within 30 days or accrue ‘late payment terms’ he finds that the big businesses he services don’t hesitate to wait three or four months before paying him. Cash flow is tight, overheads rising and the effects of a deregulated market mean his dream is slowly being extinguished. 

So while the politicians argue about trivia and protect their own backs, where is their concern for the humanity of others? Andrew can’t resign from being unemployed and get out of his obligations. Debby doesn’t have a multimillion dollar taxpayer funded pension to fall back on. Fred can’t find a quiet place to hide his tears and anguish. Tania cannot rely on the perks of office to support her in her hour of need and Phil is denied the opportunity to fulfil his dream as capital is preferenced over real human endeavour. 

Amanda Vanstone’s tears, Santoro’s lack of remorse and Downer’s pitiful remarks should be condemned and howled down for the self righteous, self serving acts they are. A pox on them all. 

Someone once said you cannot rely on what a person says to know them. You have to watch what they do to find out their true intentions. Our politicians have demonstrated their true hearts. Demonstrably, their only allegiance is to themselves and the power their position brings. Unlike those they rule over, who are subject to their whims and fantasies, their time for judgment will come and their punishments will be far worse than even we can imagine.

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