Is it class warfare or an appeal for fairness? John Menadue

Sep 26, 2013

It depends on your point of view. Conservatives and the wealthy often see attacks on their privileged position as class war. Others see it as the pursuit of justice and fairness.

Let’s look at some who have recently spoken about class warfare.

  • Andrew Forrest said that the Mining Super Profits Tax was class warfare.
  • Christopher Pyne said that asking privately funded schools to reveal financial details was class warfare.
  • The education activist, Kevin Donnelly said that the Gonski Report was class warfare.
  • Some business representatives have described the new Fair Work Act as class warfare.
  • Both Mathias Cormann,  and journalist Robert Gottliebsen, described government reforms to reduce tax concessions for high income earners as class warfare.
  • Peter Dutton, the new Minister for Health said that reducing the tax concessions for high income earners in private health insurance was class warfare.
  • Piers Akerman said that the government’s attempt to reduce abuse under the Medicare Chronic Disease Dental Scheme was class warfare.

But some senior ALP members have also joined in the fray.

  • Martin Ferguson warned his colleagues that ‘the class warfare rhetoric that started with the mining dispute of 2010 must cease’. The mining industry admited Martin Ferguson.
  • Simon Crean said that the Gillard Government’s continual amendments to superannuation were class war.

I have no doubt that the slogan ‘class warfare’ is designed to divert attention from privilege, particularly inherited privilege and middle-class welfare in Australia.

  • The tax concessions for superannuation contributions and tax-free payouts for those over 60 massively favours the wealthy. It is estimated that the cost to revenue is about $5 billion p.a. At every step attempts to chip away at these benefits for high income groups has been greeted with shrillness by the banking and superannuation industry. Tony Abbott has said that he will not change superannuation arrangements for three years. Chris Bowen from the western suburbs  topped this by proposing not to do anything about this middle-class welfare for the next five years.
  • Tony Abbott’s paid maternity leave scheme will massively benefit high income mothers.
  • Tony Abbott has promised to remove the means testing on the private health insurance rebate which will again overwhelmingly benefit high income earners.
  • The CEO of Telstra has a salary of $8 million p.a. The CEO of the Commonwealth Bank gets $7.8 million. The US citizen with disproportionate media power in Australia Rupert Murdoch gets $30 million p.a. plus dividends. A high school principal receives $150,000 p.a., a senior nurse $72,500 and a receptionist $47,000 p.a.
  • Andrew Leigh has pointed out that since 1980 Australian inequality has risen. The income share of the richest 1% (those today with incomes over $200,000) has doubled while the share of the top 0.1% (incomes above $700,000) has tripled. The ratio of CEO pay to the pay of an average worker has quadrupled. Ten people on the latest BRW rich list would qualify for the all-time Australian rich list.
  • Yet income support for people who can’t find work, Newstart, has fallen from 54% to 40% of the minimum wage since 1996. Australia has the fifth lowest unemployment benefit rate among OECD countries.

Whilst the economy has been growing strongly and most Australians have improved their standard of living, there is not much doubt who has been winning the class warfare. Warren Buffett, the mega-rich US investor, put it recently ‘There’s class warfare all right, but it’s my class, the rich class, that’s making war and we’re winning’. It’s not as bad in Australia as the US but the trend is the same.

The rich and the powerful are winning the class warfare in Australia, but they do their level best to divert attention and suggest that their critics are jealous.

We should not be diverted by the defenders of wealth and privilege attacking those who criticize them. What is important is the common good – that fairness and equal opportunities are important for economic, social and personal reasons.


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