MARK BUCKLEY. Unfunded Empathy

We have become accustomed, in Australia, through long adherence to a shared system of values, to governments which would always put ‘the people’ first. We Australians, it was understood, would always adhere to international norms and standards, and we would conduct our day to day political affairs according to equality and fairness. That was until Tony Abbott ascended to the Prime Ministership, and he let the likes of Joe Hockey, Scott Morrison and Mathias Cormann ‘off the lead’.

No matter how mean and tricky governments have been, they have, until 2013, generally governed for the whole of the country, with an unofficial motto of ‘no-one left behind’.

Perhaps the rot set in when Joe Hockey described Australia as a nation of ‘lifters and leaners’. Which mis-reads the nation’s egalitarian aspirations, and history. It applies a Victorian era division to society, between those who give, and those who take. It is unloving charity, judgemental and harsh. Not to mention realistically nonsensical.

The social security system is designed to act as a safety net. “The gap between social security and welfare is precisely the gap between entitlement and stigma.” It is designed to act as a safety net, which props up citizens, rich and poor, when something goes horribly wrong, or when they reach retirement age, or when they get sick, or lose their jobs. So they tend to give and take over a lifetime; I can’t imagine anyone choosing welfare as a lifelong income source.

This thinking is a regression, a riff on the British Chancellor of the Exchequer’s phrase “strivers and skivers”. It is being used by a man who really fell into his parliamentary career, when the sitting independent unexpectedly resigned, leaving the seat virtually ripe for the plucking. At the first sign of stormy weather, when he was about to lose the Treasurer’s job, he resigned from the Government. If he is a ‘lifter’ he has very little heft in his lift. Mention his name to the Australian public and all they see is Joe Hockey, sitting in the Parliamentary garden, smoking a fat cigar, with his mate, Mathias Cormann.

The next step in his seemingly lucky life was as the Ambassador to the U.S., a job for which he was untrained and unsuitable, but a ‘mate’, so of course he got the job. Not surprising, because he replaced another ‘mate’, Kim Beasley, a friend to the previous Labor Government.

Let us just agree that this particular position now seems to reside in the pocket of the sitting Prime Minister, to be given to the latest ‘mate’ to resign. In breaking news, but hardly a surprise, Arthur Sinodinus has just been appointed to the role. Luck appears to follow hard on their heels for these ex-politicians. Out of one high paying job, and into another. Not even an interview, and I bet no-one asked him about Australian Water Holdings.

If we continue down this murky path we encounter Scott Morrison. He recognised middle Australia’s fear of the ‘outsider’ and turned it into something we thought we had left behind, along with the White Australia Policy.

In our anxiety about floods of not-quite-white refugees we were able to be manipulated by a self-satisfied marketing man who turned our Immigration officials into quasi-military types, decked out in their military uniforms and boots, and the minister refusing to confirm or deny ‘on-water matters’, as if they were anything other than tales of a professional Navy catching wretches in fishing boats, doing their best to better themselves and their families. I suppose they were classic ‘leaners’, to his frantic mind.

Fast forward to Scott Morrison again, now our current Prime Minister. He only dresses up in military gear when he visits American warships, but he is suffering compassion fatigue, it seems. Before the election he spoke of “a fair go for those who have a go” which says it all. We will assist you if you have a go, or if you are not suffering from a mental or physical illness which handicaps your efforts at living a productive life, or if you are old, or suffering from a disability, or you struggle to make ends meet. Help is conditional, and we set the conditions.

But that is not the worst of what this person will stoop to: He has now introduced the notion of Funded, and Unfunded, Empathy into our political lexicon. This was in response to calls being made, from across the political spectrum, for a rise in the Newstart Allowance.

This is not the Australia I know. This attitude to those who are not going so well is despicable, and in the worst sense, bullying. It is taking advantage of those who cannot stand up for themselves. It drives our opinion of this Government even lower, and it brings into sharp relief the hypocrisy of the Ministry.

Recently one of them suggested that if you can’t get a job in your home town, then re-locate. This from someone who is paid $290 for every single night that he stays in Canberra, which is where he works. This figure is tax free, and is more than the weekly rate for a single on Newstart.

Yes, that is correct. Their job is in Canberra, and they are paid to go and stay in a luxury hotel, or in their own home, and we compensate them more than an unemployed person is paid for an entire week, to go to work.

So if you are a retired Minister, you are in a good position to be able to be appointed to a plum Ambassadorial role, on top of your parliamentary pension. You will have no training, and you will leapfrog over suitably qualified persons who have worked as diplomats for their entire lives.

This Government is led by a person who feels empathy if it is paid for. He only wants to help people who help themselves. He unashamedly passes out gifts of highly desirable jobs to people who are not qualified, and he leads the worst, do-nothing Government in Australian history. He is not fit to serve the people of Australia.

Mark Buckley is a Melbourne writer, interested in politics, history and ethics. See


Mark Buckley is a writer based in regional Victoria. He has a particular interest in politics, history and ethics in public life. He blogs at

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6 Responses to MARK BUCKLEY. Unfunded Empathy

  1. Avatar Rob Stewart says:

    Agree Mark. Unfunded empathy. Yep, 25 years of stagnating Newstart. Labor was in power for 8 of those years too. Meanwhile Dick Smith continues to get $500000 every year in franking credits he says he doesn’t want or need. But this must remain, to do otherwise would involve indulging in the politics of envy in our classless (but definitely not pinko) utopia.

    Unfunded empathy says a lot, so does “you’ll get a FAIR go IF…..etc”. Conditional ‘fairness’ implies the obvious converse, that people will actually be treated unfairly, by design, if they are determined to be not having the rather subjectively interpretable “go” as it where. Perhaps that was why Smokin Joe and Matthias were looking so smug after the 2013-2014 Budget, smoking the havana’s out in the courtyard.

    Unfunded empathy shares some similarity to Ayn Rand’s notion of optimistic cruelty. The vowel rolling, cigar smoking, gravalax munching set of the born to rule class (in our classless society….err, sorry, I mean our economy, as we all know there is no such thing as society) love Rand and Friedman and Smith and Hayek and Buchanan…..But I’ll bet most have never actually read any of that pifle. Anyway they’re certainly doing well on the cruelty bit, not so sure about the optimism though.

  2. Avatar Charles Lowe says:

    Mark – I so enjoy sharing your sentiment.

    Yet, like foregoing a particularly luscious cheesecake ice cream (I have a waistline all too willing to expand immediately!), I must point out that a warm inner glow in the heart and the mind is simply NOT what we need.

    What we DO need is to get rid of these bastards. We need to put pressure – on the one hand – on Australia’s tyrant and we need to put the harshest possible pressure on the weakest Parliamentarians who support him.

    There’s enough intellectual and experiential talent contributing to this blog to potentially engineer such a campaign.

    Sentiment’s wonderful. Actions count.

  3. Avatar Jim KABLE says:

    Beautifully and articulately expressed – traitors one and all to the notion of a fair Australia – towards which we might once have argued we were making reasonable progress – until the rise of the selfish bastards – these selfish bastards in particular – blessed with ability to unsee our society in all its diversity of abilities and talents – reduced to the having a go lifters and the not having a go leaners. “Having a go” – such an ugly little commercial slogan – worthy of “stop-the-boats” (from the one who described himself as “the suppository of wisdom”) or of crocodile tears over modern times Oskar Schindlers or Otto Weidts or Chiune Sugiharas from the spiv (last week-end’s Weekend Magazine in The Australian) sent off to Washington DC – Joe Hockey. Or of the – as you writer – secrecy indulged in of the “on water matters” nonsense of the man most instrumental in the ugliness of Manus and Nauru – now PM of the country – soon to sup with his buddy – that pussy-grabber mate of under-age-girls Epstein chap – the US President. All tainted. As we roll over to US bases and other idiocy. Australia – whither are these rotters and rorters taking us? Talk about Augean stables needing a river to flush them out – similar is required in Canberra!

  4. Avatar Ed Cory says:

    Mark, my thanks for your powerful belling of this particular cat. More power to your pen!

    That our current PM (certainly not ‘leader’) is an avowedly and very public ‘Christian’ only rubs salt into the wound. Do unto others, as you would have them do to you? Not while I control the levers of power! Rather, to those who have, more; to those who haven’t, I haven’t a care.

  5. Wonderful article.

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