John Falzon. Time to stand and fight

May 27, 2014

There are measures in this Budget that rip the guts out of what remains of a fair and egalitarian Australia. These measures will not help people into jobs but they will force people into poverty.

You don’t help young people or older people or people with a disability or single mums into jobs by making them poor. You don’t build people up by putting them down.

This Budget is deeply offensive to the people who wage a daily battle to survive. The content of the Budget is offensive. The lies told to justify the Budget are offensive.

As philosopher Slavoj Zizek explains:  “…we are told again and again that we live in a critical time of deficit and debts where we all have to share a burden and accept a lower standard of living – all with the exception of the (very) rich. The idea of taxing them more is an absolute taboo: if we do this, so we are told, the rich will lose the incentive to invest and create new jobs, and we will all suffer the consequences. The only way to escape the hard times is for the poor to get poorer and for the rich to get richer.”

The government wanted us to believe that its first Budget was tough but fair. It has since explained that its outright cruelty to people living in poverty is actually good for them because by strengthening the economy everyone, especially the poor, will benefit. Wealth, you see, trickles down, when the wealthy are treated well and their privilege preserved. Thus goes the message it has been trying to dangle before us.

It is still trying.

But all we can hear is the sound of the excluded still waiting for the trickle-down to trickle down.

Budget 2014, you see, has the wealth trickling up! Not that this is all that unusual when market forces are allowed to trample on the lives of people who bear the brunt of inequality.

Even Pope Francis has something to say about this: “Some people continue to defend trickle-down theories which assume that economic growth, encouraged by a free market, will inevitably succeed in bringing about greater justice and inclusiveness in the world. This opinion, which has never been confirmed by the facts, expresses a crude and naïve trust in the goodness of those wielding economic power and in the sacralised workings of the prevailing economic system. Meanwhile, the excluded are still waiting.”

When you’ve got a rich country like ours “unable” to afford to ensure that the more than 100,000 people experiencing homelessness or the more than 200,000 people on the waiting list for social housing have a place to call home, it is not a misfortune or a mistake. It is the sound of the excluded still waiting

When you’ve got more than 700,000 people unemployed and around 900,000 underemployed, on top of those who are set to lose their jobs due to company closures, the dismembering of the public service and government cuts to social spending, it is also the sound of the excluded still waiting. Let us not forget the woeful inadequacy of the Newstart payment, at only 40% of the minimum wage. Neither let us forget the single mums who were forced onto the Newstart payment at the beginning of last year, and let us not forget the working poor for there are some who would like to squeeze them even more by reducing the minimum wage and taking away what little rights they have.

When you’ve got David Gonski, not generally seen as representing the vanguard of the working class, working alongside his fellow review panellists to recommend a package of education funding reforms to address the outrageous inequality that besmirches education funding in Australia, and then the government does a triple back-flip and declares it is not committed to seeing this redistribution of resources through, you loudly hear the sound of the excluded still waiting.

The long, fruitless wait of the excluded for some of the wealth, some of the resources, some of the hope, to trickle down, is one of the most audacious and sadly successful con jobs in modern history. It is not misfortune. It is not a mistake. It is certainly not, as perversely asserted by those who put the boot in, the fault of the excluded themselves! Rather, it is an attack, sometimes by omission as well as by commission, against ordinary people, from the First Peoples to the most recently arrived asylum seekers and everyone in-between who has been residualised and demonised and made to bear the burden of inequality.  That is why there is absolutely nothing unusual about understanding this as an issue of class. And why Warren Buffett was quite correct when he said: “There’s class warfare alright, but it’s my class, the rich class, that’s making war, and we’re winning.”

The public response to the Budget reflects the deep feeling of injustice in the community. The powerful thing about the Budget response is that people are banding together to defend our egalitarian values of fairness and respect. People are saddened not only because the Budget affects them but because it hurts and humiliates the people they love and care about: young people, older people, people with a disability, single mums, struggling families. As we can see from the strength of the response to it, now is the time not to watch and weep but rather to stand and fight.


Dr John Falzon is Chief Executive of the St Vincent de Paul Society and the author of The language of the Unheard.

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