If we use Western history as a sort of roadmap to ending human misery, we see that there is a basic, minimum set of pre-conditions which might contribute to a full, non-miserable life. We can easily guess what they are, even if we have never really suffered.
We have seen them gradually introduced, over centuries. They generally have an element of serving the public good, which ends up serving us all. Think of the introduction of sewerage systems, and where our lives would be without them. Or famine – feeding the hungry when food runs out. Even the Romans did that.
They would include these basic human rights, which we in Australia are supposedly guaranteed: they are freedom of speech, freedom of association, freedom of assembly, freedom of religion, and freedom of movement. These freedoms are fine, but they are somewhat peripheral to the aim of escaping misery.
The list of desirable conditions for a reasonably livable life could presumably also cater to the body, and to the spirit. Our five existing rights are nice, but they are sort of like truffles on a turnip; ‘a little bit fancy’, but marginal to the ‘main game’; they deal more with intellectual and political freedom than the essentials of life. Food, shelter, meaningful work, freedom from fear, freedom from persecution, freedom from arbitrary laws are some that I think are essential.
Jimmy Carter said it very well, “We have already found a high degree of personal liberty, and we are now struggling to enhance equality of opportunity. Our commitment to human rights must be absolute, our laws fair, our natural beauty preserved; the powerful must not persecute the weak, and human dignity must be enhanced.” Jimmy Carter’s Inaugural Address, January 20, 1977.
When we look at the current government, and that of Abbott and Turnbull, there is a discernible retreat from the goal of removing misery from Australians’ lives, and those unlucky enough to be second class in our ‘egalitarian paradise’.
In 2020, research by the Australian Council of Social Services (ACOSS) found of the three million people living in poverty in Australia, 731,000 are children and a total of 1.2 million are under the age of 24.
Without wishing to draw too much attention to our politicians and their waist-lines, Scott Morrison and Josh Frydenberg look like they have never missed a feed in their entire, cossetted lives. Is that why they have so casually pushed a further 155,000 people into poverty – including 20,000 children, with their recent cuts to Jobseeker? Those figures are from the Australia Institute. I cannot understand how the Morrison Government can live with itself, when it consciously causes so much misery, in plain sight.
Homelessness is another curse in this wealthy country. On any given night 116,000 individuals will be without a bed to call their own. Of course the main reason for this curse is poverty. The Federal Minister for Housing, Michael Sukkar, has a spectacularly anti-social voting record in Parliament. He has consistently voted against any form of social improvement measures; he wants to increase subsidised medicine costs, remove penalty rates, increase cashless welfare cards, limit access to welfare, and he even voted against increasing housing affordability. He is the proud owner of a home in Melbourne, and one extra, in Canberra.
As Jimmy Carter said, “the powerful must not persecute the weak”. He (Sukkar) gets paid $291 extra, for every night he spends at work (in Canberra), and we wonder why these people are so out of touch. In his maiden speech, he said, “I want to help make Australia strong, prosperous and generous.” Show us how, Michael. And when it comes to equality of opportunity, research proves, time and time again, that hungry and stressed children fall behind their peers in learning.
When we have Government Ministers with such narrow, elitist, socially regressive attitudes we are travelling in the wrong direction. See here for more on homelessness Homeless? – No help from this Government
It is a truism that people get the government they deserve. The Morrison Government is run on PR principles, colour and movement, lots of empty announcements, scare up a war with China if all else fails, but remember that they are attempting to take us back to a class-riven society, of haves and have-nots, of preferential treatment for the wealthy, and a return to misery for the masses. I must say I never expected an Australian government to remind me of the bad old days, so much as this one does.