In the many tributes that flowed to Gough Whitlam, we were reminded of his impact on the geo-cultural-political map of Australia. As Cate Blanchett put it:
“I am the beneficiary of free, tertiary education. When I went to university I could explore different courses and engage with the student union in extracurricular activity. It was through that that I discovered acting.
I am the product of an Australia that wanted, and was encouraged, to explore its voice culturally.
I am the beneficiary of good, free healthcare, and that meant the little I earned after tax and rent could go towards seeing shows, bands, and living inside my generation’s expression. I am a product of the Australia Council.
I am the beneficiary of a foreign policy that put us on the world stage and on the front foot in our region. I am the product of an Australia that engages with the globe and engages honestly with its history and its indigenous peoples.”
The contrast between that optimistic era when Australia stood up and took its place on the world stage, and the pessimism and fear the nation feels now, could not be more stark.
We have Christopher Pyne fighting tooth and nail to make university education a commodity, for sale to the highest bidder. Private colleges are rubbing their hands in glee as they line up to reap the rewards of privatising tertiary education while the universities meekly fall in line under threats of having their research funding cut if they don’t.
The budget also slashed $110 million in funding from the cultural sector. Screen Australia was cut by $25.1 million, while the Australia Council lost $28.2 million.
However, George Brandis was happy to give a $1 million grant to the Australian Ballet School, to help with its purchase of a new boarding residence. Armed with that taxpayer money, the school spent more than $4.7 million on a mansion.
On the board of the Australian Ballet School is Daniele Kemp, the high-profile wife of former Liberal arts minister Rod Kemp, a predecessor of George Brandis as arts minister. Mr Kemp is now the chairman of the Institute of Public Affairs, a right-wing lobby group.
Despite the obvious productivity benefits of having a healthy population, and the oft repeated promise not to cut health funding, we saw $368 million cut from preventative health measures, the closure of Medicare locals, tens of billions cut from hospital funding to the states, and the closure of groups like the Alcohol and Drug Advisory Council.
Sending a “price signal” to stop people from seeing a GP has been condemned by all health experts as being counter-productive yet, once again, the short term budget bottom line is all this government cares about.
Not content with attacking health, education, welfare, and the arts on the domestic scene, this government is systematically drawing away from our obligations as a global citizen.
Foreign Aid has been slashed by $7.6 billion with speculation that it will be further cut to pay for Tony’s war on terror both here and abroad.
We have refused to contribute to the United Nations Green Climate Fund to assist developing nations cope with global warming, cut $4 million from the UN Environment Program (UNEP), which provides advice on environmental policies and climate change negotiations, and declared coal the saviour of humanity which will lift the world from poverty.
In response to the urgent Ebola crisis, we donated a miniscule amount of money while refusing to send health workers. Excuses abounded but as they were stripped away, we still saw our government unwilling to send any physical help, outsourcing the job to one of their donors who will no doubt employ local Africans to maximise their profits.
Joe Hockey has been making noise about joining a global effort to crack down on tax avoidance while announcing an amnesty for offshore tax cheats, delaying signing the information-sharing deal signed by 40 countries while they consult with business, and slashing thousands of jobs from the ATO leaving them without the staff or expertise to pursue evaders.
Scott Morrison continues to pursue border security and immigration policies that do nothing to help the tens of millions of refugees that other countries are coping with. Instead, we are bribing officials in the world’s poorest countries to take the problem off our hands and refusing to work with the transit countries clogged with people seeking our help.
And as for our Prime Minister for Indigenous Affairs, they have been some of the hardest hit. The budget cut $534 million from Indigenous programs. Changing the pension age to 70, charging a GP co-payment, cuts to Family Benefits and changes to Newstart – all of these measures will have a huge impact on the Indigenous community.
Tony Abbott has made so many disrespectful remarks about Australia being “unsettled” before the European invasion when Australian history began and has been constantly negative about Aboriginal communities.
“Whenever I’m asked about what we’re trying to do in Indigenous policy, I say it’s really quite simple; get the kids to school, get the adults to work and keep communities safe,” Abbott said.
Former Australian of the Year, Professor Mick Dodson, responded to this by saying it perpetuated negativity about Indigenous people.
“It’s a three-piece mantra, as if we don’t have social and cultural needs, as if we don’t have linguistic needs, as if we don’t exist as a people,” Professor Dodson said. “It’s a three-trick pony – and a very small pony at that. I mean, all of those three things are about our failure, supposedly, because we’re Aboriginal. I mean the negativity actually makes people sick. The reality is many, many of us are very successful. We never hear about them from you guys [the media]. You’re too busy on the entertainment of black failure and that’s where the government’s mind seems to be and where the public discourse seems to be.”
So frustrated are the Indigenous people, they recently held a Freedom Summit in Alice Springs to elect leaders to speak for them.
Amy McQuire writes
The summit comes a few months after NT Chief Minister Adam Giles made calls to water down the NT Aboriginal Land Rights Act, the first land rights law in Australia, in the name of “economic development”.
Tauto Sansbury is one of the organisers of the summit, and has a long history in Aboriginal affairs, including working with commissioners for the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody.
He told New Matilda the current political climate had forced Aboriginal Australia to act.
“The political climate for Aboriginal people across Australia is not good. The Abbott government has cut $543 million and is looking to cut more out of the federal budget…
“The Barnett government in WA is planning to move up to 12 000 Aboriginal people off their traditional lands and South Australia is talking about the same thing.
“We have high incarceration rates, high suicide rates, Aboriginal kids being taken off their parents and placed in out-of-home care.
“We have major issues and no one in government is listening. We don’t have people to speak on behalf of their own communities. We’ve got a problem of a very selective representation that has been picked by the federal government and that’s not acceptable to us. That’s not the outcome we’re seeking.
“Tony Abbott is supposed to be the Prime Minister for Indigenous affairs but he’s not listening to us.”
Tony is listening to Peta Credlin, Rupert Murdoch, Gina Rinehart, Maurice Newman, Tony Shepherd, Dick Warburton, Jim Molan, Warren Mundine, Kevin Donnelly, Christopher Monckton, George Pell, and the combined mining companies and armaments manufacturers of the world. He is listening to James Packer and Phillip Morris and the AHA. He is listening to big pharmaceutical firms and private hospital providers.
But he is deaf to the pleas for help from those who really need it.
When Tony Abbott said in his speech to the IPA “but Gough Whitlam I will never be!” he could not have been more accurate.
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