There’s an interesting rhetoric going around Australia at the moment. It seems to have been imported from the US and the UK and has been growing in strength over the last decade and a half.
Ever since Reaganomics and Thatcherite values came to fruition, there has been a growing sense within Australia that being poor is …well, kind of your own fault, something you’ve done to yourself and your family and for which you are to be held accountable.
There is also the view that long-term unemployment, including multi-generational unemployment, is also ‘your fault’, proving that you are lazy, apathetic and scrounging off the state. The word "Loser" is not native to Australia — it is a term imported from the US. Twenty years ago we would have used the term "Battler".
Prime Minister Rudd is not the only Australian politician relentlessly and endlessly using the phrase "tax payers’ money" — as if it is only those who pay income tax that deserve consideration in policy decision making.
There seems to be no consideration for the systemic factors that contribute to the ongoing marginalisation of the poor. If you listen to the councillors from these low-income areas, you hear tales of how Government money for civic projects repeatedly goes to the affluent suburbs; the ‘poorer’ suburbs haven’t received significant infrastructure spending in decades. Once, living in a Government-owned Housing Trust home labelled you as ‘poor’ but not a ‘loser’. These days there is a rampant discrimination against those suburbs where Housing Trust homes are prevalent.
Even when the Government sells off great chunks of the land it owns and allows companies like Delphin to develop greenfield suburbs like Golden Grove and Mawson Lakes , no provision is made to specify a certain percentage of cheaper housing be allocated and spread throughout the whole development, so that ‘ghettos’ don’t form. UPDATE: It turns out I was wrong — see Dagmar’s commentary below.
In case you think that I’m a bleeding heart liberal who wears hair socks and sandals and goes around hugging trees and saying things like "hello clouds, hello sky" like an Australian Basil Fotherington-Thomas, let me assure you that I have a library full of self-development books, tapes, cds and dvds. I strongly believe in the power of education and learning in order to better one’s circumstances in life and to prepare myself for when opportunity knocks.
But I am acutely aware that ‘Luck’ plays a significant part in anyone’s success, too. By current definition, as a full-time doctoral student, were I to receive a stipend from the Government (which I don’t, I’m a self-funding student) I would be living well below the poverty line because of systemic considerations, not my laziness.
Ask any university: one of the biggest challenges they face with their students is that the students are under significant stress because they have to juggle part-time work with full-time study. This impacts on their studies and their learning outputs. The attrition rate amongst undergraduates is worryingly high for a country that believes that university education is a way of preparing for and protecting its future.
I agree that there are truck loads of examples where ample opportunity has been given to the less-fortunate amongst us and they have squandered it. I also know that there is quite probably a much smaller number of ‘success’ cases in these circumstances, where the less-fortunate have broken free of the shackles that bind them and have ‘made it’ in the capitalist, market-driven sense.
But to isolate and denigrate the inhabitants of these fiscal ghettos in the language and rhetoric of both public and private culture is to do a terrible disservice to our fellow lovers of this wide brown land of ours.
What has caused me to rant?
My teenage stepson, actually. The other night we were discussing what it means to be a ‘family’ and the values that each of us hold. No, we don’t normally have such interesting discussions — it was one of those freakish moments when everyone was in earshot and felt like contributing. Normally the family works on the ‘I’ll have dinner in my own room with my own tv program choice, thanks’, but this particular evening the question "What’s the meaning of Life?" rang around the dungeon-situated kitchen of BetterComms Towers.
Stunned silence echoed around the walls as we each contemplated our own reply (I was reasoning to myself that replying "42" would be inappropriate as no-one else would know what I was on about).
To our amazement, from the Manacle Room (aka ‘Lounge’) came the mumbled one-word answer from our teenage ‘Boy Genius’:
Forget riches, forget fame, forget achievement, forget a house of one’s own, nice cars, a beautiful wife, self-actualisation…
From the lips and mind of someone who knows from the inside what excesses of sex, drugs and rock’n'roll can do to a body, dripped wisdom like honey.
We’ve been stunned and in family culture shock ever since.
And so perhaps, rather than us as both citizens and communicators using the rhetoric of the current culture — "tax payers’ money", "loser", inter alia — we begin to think of ways to re-include the systemically marginalised that recognises that perhaps the most important thing in the world is Love — giving it, showing it, respecting it.
What say you?