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Dismantling Australia’s Decency

By Loz Lawrey

In 2014, some six months after the Abbott Coalition government came to power, a wave of community outrage found expression in the March in March rallies.

Some 100,000 Australians took part in protest marches at 29 locations nationwide to decry the new government’s right-wing policies and neoliberal agenda.

Organised on social media, March in March was in a sense a pop-up people’s movement, a grassroots response to a government which many progressive Australians perceived to be toxic to the common good.

As its online organisers sought to articulate and define what drove the collective outrage, the catchphrase “the people, united for better government” emerged as a war cry for the March in March movement.

One word which kept reappearing in those discussions, however (and later on placards at the rallies), was “decency”.

There was a prevailing sense that our national character had always been imbued with decency and that decency should always inform the policies enacted by our governments.

It was equally clear that our new government had little concept or understanding of the word, dismissing it as just another leftie snowflakey term like “empathy”.

Where had Australian decency gone?

Many progressives believe that decency in our country has been eroded and diminished over time and that its devaluation began in 2001 with the Tampa affair, a shameful episode in Australian history in which the Howard government abrogated its responsibilities to the United Nations under international law.

Several weeks later the Children Overboard affair served to normalise the demonisation of asylum seekers who, overnight it seemed, went from being innocent refugees in the public mind to “illegals” invading our borders.

Poorer, disadvantaged Australians, like asylum seekers, also became targets of ever-increasing government mistreatment (think cashless “welfare” cards and Newstart payment rates frozen since the 1990’s).

Meanwhile, the (mainly Murdoch) media worked tirelessly to reinforce the public’s contempt, using the well-worn tropes of “dole bludgers” and “lazy welfare cheats”.

In 2001, in response to a question from an ABC journalist on a Four Corners program about Australia’s working poor (who, despite being in full time employment, struggled to pay their bills and meet the cost of living), then Education Minister Tony Abbott planted a seed of contempt for the poor with this statement:

“Poverty is, in part, a function of individual behaviour. We can’t stop people drinking, we can’t stop people gambling, we can’t stop people having substance problems, um… we can’t stop people making mistakes, ah… that cause them to be less well off than they might otherwise be”.

Thus spoke the same Tony Abbott who in 2014 so contemptuously dismissed the concerns of the 100,000 Australians who marched in March.

His statement caused such outrage in Australia’s social services community that it can still be heard on YouTube today:


There it is – the old subtext of contempt for the less well-off that has underpinned the Coalition’s approach to governance throughout the Howard years and which truly found its champions in the right wing Coalition government Australians have been enduring since September 2013.

I once heard it expressed as an adage in a speech by a conservative accountant, who put it this way: “no one enjoys poverty more than the poor themselves”.

As with Abbott’s statement, the implication is that poverty is a choice, and that if you find yourself in dire financial straits, you have no one to blame but yourself.

This article, published in response to Abbott’s Four Corners statement, highlights some of the toxic fallacies that, to this day, inform Coalition ideology.

Abbott led a hollowman government, one without empathy or consideration for those it considered to be not “having a go”.

It was clear to many that Abbott came to power and immediately set about implementing the antisocial free market libertarian agenda of the Institute of Public Affairs (IPA): business and profit first, the people and their needs last.

The common good? The public interest? Thrown overboard, for greed and profit.

The conservative agenda drives our nation relentlessly towards becoming more and more like Trump’s America where the rich are “winners” and the poor are “losers”.

In a land where the “winner takes all”, our poor find themselves excluded from enjoying the tiniest share of the wealth of our nation, a share to which, as citizens, they are surely entitled.

In Australia, our “social security” safety net has morphed into “welfare”, U.S. style. We’ve gone from “social safety net” to “alms for the poor”.

Public health and education are under constant attack as the Morrison government prioritises huge tax cuts to business while disenfranchising our needy and de-funding the NGOs that assist them.

Environmental protection? Addressing climate change? Let’s not go there.

This Coalition government, which treats human rights as an inconvenience, maintains a world view underpinned by an ideological disregard and contempt for marginalised and disadvantaged Australians.

Sadly, the citizens of our first world nation can no longer depend upon human rights remaining an essential foundation stone in our social democracy.

It could be said that like human rights, decency has also been under constant attack these past twenty years.

Lies and misrepresentation have been blatantly deployed with ever-increasing arrogance by successive Liberal/National Coalition governments, from Howard’s “children overboard” (2001), to his “which party do you trust to keep interest rates down?” (2004) (nb. governments have no control over interest rates), to Abbott’s “no cuts to the ABC or SBS” (election eve 2013) to Morrison’s “Labor death tax” (2019).

This disregard for truth, for decency, for empathy, for social inclusion and equity is still evident in the strident shoutings of the now re-elected PM Morrison and the Trumpian rhetoric of so many of his ministers.

Could there be a more cruel and divisive slogan than Morrison’s mantra “a fair go for those who have a go”?

Organisers of the March in March 2014 rallies were amazed at the variety of messages and slogans on the placards of participants.

They knew thinking Australians were unhappy and angry at the Abbott government’s direction, but what took them by surprise was the variety of issues being raised.

It seemed as though people across the board from all social sectors felt negatively impacted by many of Abbott’s policies.

They felt personally affronted by what they saw as the contemptuous de-funding of so many public services that Australians have always held dear, in areas such as science, education, health, social security, environmental protection… even our own ABC.

They felt disgust at the shameful normalisation of cruelty which underpinned Abbott’s regime of inhumane detention in offshore gulags, a regime of which our current PM “On-Water-Matters” Morrison was so proudly an architect.

They knew that this was the thin end of a very thick wedge and they sensed that the hammering-in had only just begun…

For six years since then Australia has become ever more a floundering nation of diminishing empathy, leaving so many of its own behind.

And yet we still have both government and media telling us that that’s acceptable, that it’s quite OK to throw a percentage of us under a bus.

Why? Because some of us are unworthy, apparently.

The seed of contempt Tony Abbott planted in 2001 is now a tree.

And now, it seems, decency is lost.

Have so many Australians really forgotten what the word “decency” means?

Are we really now a decency-free Australia?

Nearly half the nation wonders: Why, Australia? Why the selfishness? Why the contempt for your fellows? Why the hatred of others? Why the increasing bigotry? Why did you re-elect this government without decency?


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  1. Brad Golding

    All part of the deep state plan to make Australia a compliant vassal of DC and Tel Aviv. Murdoch is merely a tool of these bastards!

  2. Kaye Lee

    I don’t have any room left for despair. It would cripple me when I most need to work harder to hold this government to account.

  3. Michael Taylor

    Kaye, nobody works harder than you as it is. What the country needs is thousands of you.

  4. Kronomex


    What a load of rubbish! Provide some verifiable evidence (not right wing conspiracy theories or Alex Jones fear monger types), to back up your spurious comment.

  5. Kaye Lee

    If there were thousands of me we would all starve. Thank god my neglect, which I like to call independence training, turned my daughter into a great cook. My family was hoping for a Labor win so I would maybe start doing some housework. (Was never gonna happen – the housework I mean).

  6. Frances

    Where is Australian decency to help Julian Assange, in confinement in UK prison, not well after years in Ecuador embassy without sunshine, poor food, etc. and the Australian govt. will not say a word to bring him home and to prevent him from being incarcerated in a US prison for revealing the war crimes of the US, UK governments. So shameful.

  7. Baby Jewels

    Kaye, I feel the same way. There are days I could just give up. But we need to work harder to hold this government to account if that’s at all possible, now that they are emboldened in their agenda. I think decency, social justice, fairness, have all but disappeared.

  8. Dr Tristan Ewins

    The NCC, Lyons forum old guard types – their idea of ‘decency’ is stopping equal marriage ; but it has nothing to do with responsibility and care for the most vulnerable. The disabled, the mentally ill, the unemployed – as you say, they are “thrown under a bus”. Sometimes the old ‘Christian [RCC] centrism’ led to fascism. Eg: in Austria 1934. But at least the RCC used to have some kind of position on welfare and union rights. The right-wing Ideological warriors today couldn’t give a toss about the poor and vulnerable ; let alone trade union rights. And those who came out of the of RCC ‘Centrism’ – they are just the worst – utter hypocrites. As are the DLP types who have turned to neo-liberalism as a cover to promote social conservatism.

    But here’s for Decency! Labor had decent policy. It just needs to reconsider its strategy and tactics – selling the message. And sadly – maybe a bit more negative. It would be good to get mutual agreement to steer clear of the politics of fear and lies. But Labor has to appeal to peoples’ fears where consecutive Liberal governments could lead. Flat taxes ; unfair spread of the tax burden ; destruction of the welfare safety net ; undermining Medicare ; wrecking the NDIS.

    But remember people eventually woke up to Abbott’s wrecking negativity. We need a positive message to sell as well. But in the ‘campaign mainstream’ ; maybe a simpler message?

  9. Andrew Smith

    Good luck with Labor trying to promote or highlight serious policies for all Australians in our mainstream media. Appears that the LNP and/or high media profile RWNJs including Joyce, Fiarravanti-Wells etc. are planning another rumble on religious freedom:

    ‘Conservative Coalition MPs emboldened by strong support from religious voters at the election are pushing the Morrison government for more radical and far-reaching religious freedom provisions in forthcoming laws.’

    Apart from fact that only about half of the population claim to be Christian while those practising etc. would be a quarter (? including other religions, but declining), we need ‘freedom from religion’ and a ‘bill of rights’.

    Of course this would not be about using cultural issues to occupy people and/or media space while ignoring more serious and concrete issues of the day that may not be in the interest of most Australians….

    PS The SMH quoted Joyce verbatim without any challenge on the facts of the Folau case….. thought they were employing sub-editors?

  10. Dr Tristan Ewins

    Andrew ; freedom of speech is always for those who think differently. (except perhaps the worst extremes ; Holocaust denial ; incitement to racial violence) Freedom from (Conservative) religion won out with the equal marriage victory. There’s no need for suppression. The reaction is on the run when it comes to sexual liberties – and it’s not coming back. Religious groups need to work through the contradictions in beliefs themselves. Suppression of discussion of scripture will just mean criminalisation ; and probably polarisation and growth of the religious right.

  11. New England Cocky

    Really, I don’t know why you all are surprised that the Liarbrals and Notional$ remain a self-serving elitist minority manipulating government largesse for their own private advantage. It has ever been thus, just as successive Lazy Nasty People misgovernments have engaged Australian military personnel in wars for the benefit of other people to assuage the consciences of those Australian Prim Monsters who resigned their Army commissions on the first day of WWI (Menzies), missed the Korean draft (Howard) or simply like the look of men in uniforms (RAbbott).

    The decency of the Lazy Nasty People is glaring at Australians in the treatment of legal refugees who fled for their lives from persecution only to be jailed for being legal refugees, the treatment of David ?? who was sold the the US Army for torture and persecution without the intervention of any Australian government that instead played lapdog to the government of the USA (United States of Apartheid).

    Julian Assange, hero of free speech and campaigner for honest government, provided the means for whistle-blowers to expose the lies and atrocities conducted as daily rituals by US troops flying drones from America into the Middle East with fatal effect on alleged suspects. In other times these actions proposed by the US fascist Trumpery government would be considered war crimes!!

  12. whatever

    Dutton is claiming that a recently intercepted Sri Lankan refugee boat only took to the water because the ‘people smugglers were expecting a Labor victory’.

  13. Karen Kyle

    Since when did we not have freedom of speech, or freedom of religion? all other freedoms are circumscribed i.e. incitments to violence and racial hate speech, and yes Tristan Holocaust denial. It seems that Australian christians,or some of the extremists among them are taking a leaf from the American playbook and adopting victimhood as a strategy to enforce their views and warped values on society at large.. The Culture War has arrived. And the ALP should take note. Mainstream Christians won’t abandon Labor. And do we really want the HillSong crowd? Surely they belong with the radical right.They will never vote Labor,so we should forget them I say..For God’s sake don’t pander to them.

  14. Jon Chesterson

    That was six years ago and nothing has changed, it has just got worse ‘…and yet we still have both government and media telling us that that’s acceptable, that it’s quite OK to throw a percentage of us under a bus’. But that percentage is growing, eventually more than half the nation will be under that bus, and still it will keep growing.

  15. Max Gross

    It has taken me two weeks to renew an interest in online political commentary and this is one of the best I have read but I still don’t have the stomach to switch on the TV for news or current affairs. Hope died on March 18. Six years of LNP mediocrity and corruption were rewarded by gullible and lazy voters. I and others are still in mourning

  16. Keitha Granville

    People eventually woke up to Abbott’s wrecking negativity ? No, they didn’t. His party worked out that he was a serious liability, but they continued with exactly the same policies and plans just in a different way. They found a way to lie more effectively, more humanely, with more fervour, so that all those who were being swayed away by TA would come back to the fold, safe in the knowledge that their nest eggs, their future, their brand of hypocrisy, their bigotry and xenophobia would be protected and validated.
    It’s so much easier to dismiss poor people, sick people, old people and foreigners when your government tells you they’d all be ok if they just had a go. Then you don’t have to take any responsibility.

  17. Zathras

    If the government demonstrably no longer cares about human rights, the environment, social justice or the long-term future of the country why should individuals?

    Defending the indefensible is now a way of life for many and when young people take to the streets to show concern for their own future they are invariably howled down by by both the official and social media.

    Hate groups are now comfortable enough to come out from under their collective rocks and make public displays.

    Maybe it’s just become a case of “if you can’t beat them, join them” and many are resigned to get their share while they can.

    The pencil of democracy made it’s choice.

  18. Dr Tristan Ewins

    Karen Kyle ; my concern – as I’ve written elsewhere – is just that open discussion of scripture remain legal. Regardless of being a Christian/liberal/socialist myelf , Some of that is scripture I do not like ; and could not bring myself to uphold. But I’m afraid polarisation will see others flock to their cause. It’s the Amercianisation of Australian politics that I’m worried about. Many of these people were already marginalised ; but a fight around freedom of religion would see them at the center of attention. Another problem I think is there was a swing ; part of it coming from people convinced by freedom of religion arguments. So we were losing other people too – other than the usual ‘Fred Nile’ crowd. We have to stop certain scripture finding reflection in secular law. But we also have to allow religious communities to work out their own contradictions. Concede enough to neutralize the issue – and don’t allow an Americanisation of the debate. Of course I cannot abide by some of the more extreme views. But I’ll admit as a Christian who has suffered a lot I’m afraid of ‘getting this wrong’ ; fear is an element ; but I’m also a liberal (as well as a socialist) and that’s also an influence. I say let people have their liberties ; but keep pressing forward with sexual liberalisation. Think the Left has the momentum and there won’t be any turning back.

  19. Pingback: SCOTT MORRISON PM: BURNING DOWN THE HOUSE | The Max Gross Archive

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