Gradually Australians are coming around to the fact that governments are different now. There was a time when governments were terrified when Budget Night came around. If there was to be an increase in the price of cigarettes, or a pot of beer, there would likely be a wave of popular disgust.
This form of increase in the excise tax was typically announced once a year, and the next morning’s newspapers either frothed at the mouth, or conversely praised, the decision. It could even decide the fate of the government at the next election.
These days, with an overabundance of ‘data’, technical explanations of reasons for and against, the voter is often left in the dark, because of the sheer volume of information, which is often buried beneath layers of spin, and also by the use of grandfather clauses, and other drafting tricks. So the law can change, unannounced. Or it can be restricted, as “commercial in confidence”, or maybe because it deals with “operational matters”.
Of course that is the stock in trade of most neoliberal governments, because the compact between the governors, and the governed, is fractured. The promise that they will govern for all is now honoured more in the breach, than in the observance. They no longer serve at our discretion. They have moved beyond asking for our permission.
Getting a good go, if you have mates
These days many decisions are explained as a part of a necessary budget repair, or as a vital part of macroeconomic planning. If it pertains to national security then we must agree to take it on trust that getting submarines from Japan, or France, or Timbuktu will turn out to be a masterful decision. Years later, unfulfilled contracts, often with huge amounts of damages, are no-one’s fault. We are asked to look away. Probably the fault of both sides, term after term. All care and no responsibility.
Matters of equity are no longer hot button issues, because if you are doing well in Australia, you like the sound of the cult of competitive capitalism. You send your children to private schools, because you want your children to prosper, and you’d prefer they did not rub shoulders with the plebs.
No problem that the funding you receive is often stolen from the public education budget. Funding formulas are so complex that you must have a degree in mathematics to understand why already wealthy schools need anything from the public purse.
Similarly for health. Get your knee looked after, immediately, in the fancy private hospital, and have the whole thing subsidised by the public health sector. I wonder why these users of the private education, and private health systems want handouts from the government, in the form of subsidy from the public. If you want to go private, then do it properly. Go private!
Not so good if you are not a mate
Of course, if you are not doing well, then you are probably too busy trying to juggle work-shifts and childcare, and finding the basics of life, to worry about reading the fine print of how recent governments will govern. You know that you will be vilified and blamed for your lack of resources, even as they give tax cuts to the rich, and indulge in the cargo cult called “trickle down theory”.
If you suffer a disability, or are disadvantaged in any number of ways, you are probably rorting the system. That is because such governments as ours no longer care, and they distrust the motives of the poor.
Some still pay lip service to the conventions of caring, but you will have noticed that announcements very seldom eventuate, because the news cycle has passed on, and your grant served its purpose as an announcement.
Certain members, even ministers, routinely make statements so distasteful, that only a generation ago, such words would cause immediate shame and resignation, but now it is excused under the banner of free speech, or “our party is a broad church”. This is code for he (mainly men) is an unmannered brute, but he votes for me in the party room, so there’s not much I can do.
For the first time in our history there is a good chance that our parliamentarians are all time-serving careerists, and if there is any guiding principle then it would be “feather your nest, because the good times may not last”.
It looks bad that such hacks are so insanely well paid, considering their obvious lack of skills, empathy, intelligence, or character. Many were political advisers, before they became politicians, and the chief qualifier for that role is that you were a loud mouth at university, or you were related to a politician.
The private sector is even worse. The average multiplier between the salary of a CEO and a shop floor worker is now sitting at 78 times. If you had had experience of some of the CEOs I have worked for, weep again. Most of them couldn’t find their lunch without help.
What can we do?
We have to start paying attention. We have to decide whether this system is good enough. We have to decide if apathy is better than engagement. And we have to stop being nostalgic for the good old days, when the people in power really had the interests of the country, and its people, in their hearts. Those days are gone. Embrace the new realism.
If you want to live in a system which routinely duds the working person, then do nothing. Otherwise, act on your rights. Defend the ABC. Demand explanations for decisions. Pester your local member. Make them work for you, because that is why they are paid so much.
Scott Morrison is not a political genius. He is a chancer, and he has managed to keep one step ahead of the posse so far. He manages to look good because he leads a team which may be the worst, and the shallowest, in living memory.
They are all skating on thin ice, hoping we won’t wake up until their superannuation is safe, and the natural path from government to industry is still available. But as with all things political, the wheel turns.
Biden has replaced Trump. Johnson has so stuffed up the UK that he will eventually be forced to own his stupid mistakes. The world is watching as Trump is brought to book, and all the tin-pot authoritarian leaders are stepping carefully.
The neoliberal fraud has been around for about forty years now, and it must run aground soon. We need to hold them to account. Every day their lies and dishonesty cause more harm, and our fellow citizens need to concentrate.