Whether it was ever a myth or not there has been – until recently – an ingrained belief that Australians value fairness and the fair go, as the concept was often characterised.
If it was still a powerful message it would be an appropriate campaign framing for the ALP to use in an ongoing campaign leading to the 2022 election. Instead of the mish-mash of policies it took to the 2019 election – all of which would have promoted a more equitable society but lacking a cohesive narrative – such a message may have been effective.
Instead the campaign promises were open to being exploited by the LNP as ‘unfair’ simply because they were taking away some of the egregious tax rorts which deliver benefits to the already comfortable middle class like those negatively gearing property or receiving dividend imputation credits.
If the Government pulls forward its tax cuts, as is expected, the Australia Institute has found that a whopping 91% of the benefit from the Coalition’s 2022 tax cuts would go to the richest 20% of Australians. Company tax cuts would end up boosting increased executive remuneration and share buybacks in the medium and longer term while tax havens would continue to prosper.
The fair go concept has been transmogrified into the Morrison dog whistle “have a go to get a go” sending an unsubtle message about all those who allegedly don’t have a go.
Successive LNP governments have also re-framed the definition of fairness into a sense that it is unfair to real Australians to accept our legal responsibility for refugees; to concede that minorities have rights; for ‘dole bludgers’ to get benefits; and, for single mothers to have children and draw benefits.
It is also, in this alternative world, fair for large corporations to evade or avoid taxation and receive massive subsidies while the unemployed face illegal robo-debt harassment; privatised job placement agencies get paid millions just for registering job seekers; and, the unemployed are required to keep applying for job after job even though jobs for them are largely non-existent.
The current problems around labour for fruit-picking and other agricultural activities, which allows governments and employers to be scathing of job snobs who aren’t prepared to undertake the backbreaking work for low wages and sub-standard accommodation, is another example. The work condition problems are compounded by the pandemic keeping short term immigrant Pacific Islands labour out; supermarkets putting pressure on suppliers to keep their prices low while maintaining high profits; and, the steady erosion of trade union coverage, pay and secure working conditions.
But essentially the problem with fairness is the systematic use of the ‘Other’ by right wing political parties around the world to invert its meaning from notions of equity to notions of exclusion. It doesn’t even matter if there are not a lot of ‘others’. What is more important is for the witch hunters to find new suspects to blame for any troubles in the land.
As more and more evidence of the UK Government’s incompetent handling of the pandemic mounts hysteria is being prompted around a few boats with a few refugees trying to make their way across the Channel. At the same time the impending disaster of no deal Brexit lack of preparedness, breaching of international law and delusions about the benefits of free ports, get far less attention.
In Australia the LNP Government has dropped its snap back rhetoric but all the indications are that as the pandemic eases its priorities will be more of the same sort of policies it has pursued since 2013 with inequitable sacrifices which will target the young, the arts, the ABC, the public sector, the unemployed, the lowly paid, education and alleged hotbeds of progressive thinking.
Is the fairness concept rescuable? It’s easy to suspect that in Australia, as in the US, the concept has been distorted so profoundly that it is not.
But then, right wing parties have always sought to foster fear. Fear of radicals, the different, migrants, communists, Chinese communists, climate emergency activists and many other ‘threats’ have all featured in decades since WWII. Their definition of hope has been the hope that we can defeat these terrible existential threats before they subvert our way of life.
Hope, as a result, has been a rare quality in political discourse. The Attlee-Bevin post-war UK plans, JFK, Reagan, Whitlam and other individuals and movements have countered dystopian fear campaigns with hope.
Post-pandemic the ALP and progressives ought to try it again. Hope that any recovery is fair for all Australians. It couldn’t be any less successful than the 2019 policy platform and with current opinion polls showing a 50-50 split LNP-ALP it might just tip the balance – despite the conventional wisdom about Morrison politically dominating into the years ahead.
After all, when considering the consensus about the LNP electoral prospects the comment of Kingsley Martin in his memoir about the New Statesman, is pertinent: “When a great many very important people say something over and over again, very solemnly, you can be pretty sure they are wrong.” And from the other side of the political spectrum, is Hugh Trevor-Roper with “Heresy is the only guarantee of continuing thought.”
Noel Turnbull is retired and blogs at http://noelturnbull.com/blog/