His hot pink, red and blue striped Dolce & Gabbana shirt, a steal at a mere $850, is tailor-made for the occasion. Top-shelf apostolic poverty. What better to wear for his performance of St Mal of Compassion in Sydney’s Wayside Chapel’s annual morality play and nosh-up? Charitable Mal knows how to bling up Christmas; flaunt his self-effacing humanity.
And what better get-up for a post ironic, Trumpian era? Too flash? Fuddy-duddy literalists. You know what you can do.
Too attention-getting? Impossible. Charity suffereth long, and is kind; charity envieth not; charity vaunteth not itself, is not puffed up, may well be what St Paul penned to The Corinthians but what did Paul or Saul of Tarsus (as he was before the scales fell from his eyes) know of post-modern disruption, subversion, trickle-down or NewsPoll?
Renaissance Mal and his mob need all the media applause they can get for their work, as they say “in this space”.
Every night over 130,000 Australians are homeless after Abbot and Turnbull cut $500 million from homelessness services as Former Greens Senator Scott Ludlum documented two years ago.
$44 million representing all new homelessness shelters was cut from the National Partnership on Homelessness.
All peak bodies on homelessness have been abolished: Homeless Australia, National Shelter and Community Housing Federation of Australia, inexplicably cut. The PM’s Council on Homelessness is no more. So too, are the COAG Reform group on Housing Affordability and the Homelessness Research Strategy funding axed, saving a paltry $3.1 million
Worse, The National Rental Affordability Scheme was axed, scrapping funding for 12,000 new affordable rental homes worth $235.2m. The Housing Help for Seniors pilot program was abolished to save $173.1m.
The First Home Saver Accounts scheme was cut to save $134.3 million over five years while a new program to sell off “surplus commonwealth property” is introduced with no affordable housing outcomes or any criteria. The National Housing Supply Council, the only body providing data on the gap of affordable and available housing is no more.
It’s impossible to fully document here the government’s war on the poor and homeless. Yet, as work becomes increasingly part-time, underpaid and casual and as the Coalition aims to see all penalty rates are stripped away, the battle to afford rent let alone save to buy a home becomes a desperate struggle. Yet Mal wants us all to keep working.
He’s even got a beaut new slogan, Let’s Keep Australia Working. What better match than his imported high-end fashion statement, worth a month’s Newstart Allowance to help launch The Coalition’s latest four word clanger?
Rank a Brand research reveals that Mal’s D&G shirt of many stripes is most likely to have been made in a Chinese sweatshop which does not report its policies for the environment or its labour conditions.
Nor do they keep Italians working. Most Tuscan factories that produce the region’s legendary luxury goods are Chinese operated and staffed. Fantasma, Italians call the 50,000 Chinese workers, ghosts who may work for $A4.60 per day.
Wages are typically not taxed and around $A 1 billion a year is remitted back to China in a process that only ScoMo or those funky funny-money Tea-Party libertarians at the IPA or in cabinet could claim is good for Italy’s economy.
Ugliness is in the eye of the beholder, of course. Workplaces are often in beautiful surrounds; located in picturesque regions on the tourist trail but most are simply primitive sweatshops with virtually indentured workers. Life is nasty, brutish, miserable and short. Our bilateral trade agreement with China, ChAFTA, allows the same to happen here.
ChAFTA’s “investment facilitation arrangement” allows some projects worth more than $150m to be built in Australia but backed by Chinese companies and staffed by workers hired in China without advertising the jobs in Australia first.
Normally, The Guardian’s Van Badham reports, companies must show that they can’t find locals to fill jobs before hiring foreign workers. ChAFTA removes this obligation for “infrastructure development projects within food and agribusiness, resources and energy, transport, telecommunications, power supply and generation, environment, or tourism sectors”.
Of course Mal’s gig is not a full morality play. More of a grotesque sketch, a bad Francis of Assisi 2.0 parody with a nod to commedia dell’arte where St Mal, a hybrid Pantalone cum Harlequin character flings a few bread rolls to indigent, itinerant Sydney-siders for whom Christmas is otherwise insufferably miserable, lonely and depressing.
The loud shirt? A play on Joseph and his coat of many colours? Or a practical way to save the camera any bother tracking the PM? It works. Any dream will do. St Mal’s garish ministry to the needy is an instant hit on all channels.
So dazzling is Mal’s show that many mis-hear the government’s new slogan for the election it will spring halfway through the New Year. “Let’s keep Australia twerking”?
But Clive Palmer is off the beltway; out of politics now. Others hear “Australia shirking”. Is it a timely dig at the one third of Australian companies the ATO reports that pay no tax?
Key villains include reptilian Rupert Murdoch, a man with a goanna swagger, who pays no tax on $2.9 billion earned by his News Australia Holdings. Turnbull’s former boss, Goldman Sachs put nothing in the Christmas box. Chevron and Exxon Mobile export huge quantities of gas mainly to Japan. They rake in $2.1 billion without paying a cent to the ATO.
Company tax evasion is costing government revenue $2.5 billion. Nippon Gas Co customers spend less on Bass Strait LNG than Victorians. Worse, Japan makes a killing on the trade as our government is bled dry.
“Japan, the single-biggest buyer of Australian LNG at 30 million tonnes a year, levies an import tax that will deliver $2.9 billion to its national coffers over the next four years”, according to Heath Aston in “The Sydney Morning Herald”.
Ominously, the slogan’s last word turns out to be “working”, after all. It is part of government’s fetishisation of work betrayed daily in the phrase “hard-working Australians”. Lately Treasurer Morrison has taken to intoning the mantra “1000 jobs a day”. Loco ScoMo knows that if he says it often enough, punters may believe that the government is creating jobs.
Bizarrely, ScoMo seems to channel David Cameron who was using the same slogan seven years ago. He’s also hoping we don’t notice that the population grew 388,000 in the year until June — which is more than 1,000 people being added to our population every day. Even a 1000 jobs per diem equals only 377,000. We’re not even keeping up with our nation’s growth.
Jobs and growth has got the chop. But how much better is the four word slogan, “Let’s Keep Australia Working”?
Keep Australia working? Researcher Gary Morgan says the government’s official unemployment figures are nonsense. The ABS stopped its yearly count of workers not in the labour force in 2014. Now, the ABS considers someone unemployed only if they have “actively” looked for a job in the previous four weeks and are available immediately. It’s clear that we need to proceed cautiously.
Roy Morgan reports that 1.288 million Australians or 9.8% of the workforce are unemployed. Unemployment has grown by 89,000, or 0.6% in a year, in a workforce of 13,174,000 comprising employed and unemployed, (up 128,000 in a year).
In Sept. 2013, Australia’s jobless rate was 5.7% 7th of 35 wealthy OECD members, Alan Austin points out . After 3 years of surging global trade & corporate profits, our jobless rate has fallen to just 5.4%. We now rank 17th in OECD, our lowest place, since records have been kept. Keeping Australia working?
In addition, 1.106 million Australians (8.4% of the workforce) are now under-employed, working part-time and looking for more work, a rise of 6,000 in a year.
11,886,000 Australians were employed in November – an increase of 39,000 over the past year – or about 3,000 jobs per month as a result of the growth in part-time employment which rose 70,000 to 3,967,000.
Full-time employment, however, decreased 31,000 to 7,919,000. Yet there has been a massive increase in the amount of unpaid overtime. The Australia Institute Researchers calculate (TAI) that Australians work an average of 5.1 hours of unpaid labour per week (up from 4.6 hours in 2016).
This unpaid labour represents 14 percent to 20 percent of the total time spent working by Australian employees. The aggregate value of this “time theft” is large and growing. TAI estimates the total value of unpaid overtime in the national economy at over $130 billion in 2016-2017, up from $116 billion last year.
In his own small show-boating way, with practised ease, time-thief Turnbull effortlessly exploits the mob at Wayside.
Hapless chapel-goers up for a free feed are quickly put to work on the Turnbull ™ razzle-dazzle PR chain-gang as ecstatic, unpaid extras. “It is an event where people arrive as strangers and leave as friends” harps a po-faced assistant pastor.
In other words it’s a QLD LNP shadow cabinet election post-mortem or a Nationals party-room meeting in reverse.
Peace on earth? It’s a blitzkrieg of goodwill. Mal’s PR machine assails the nation with a gonzo charm offensive; a postmodern selfie on a stick travesty of Christian humility. St Mal the alms-giver and compulsive selfie-taker mugs for the camera, dances badly, makes prawn cocktails and doles out bread rolls to the poor whose destitution his government’s policies help perpetuate.
Once the cameras are packed away the PM’s off like a bucket of prawns in the sun.
Three million Australians at least live in poverty. One third of all pensioners live below the poverty line. ACOSS’ Poverty in Australia 2016, published with the Social Policy Research Centre at the University of NSW, reveals that 2.9 million people, or 13.3% of the total population, live in poverty. 731,300, or 17.4% of all our children, live in poverty.
Tough-love Turnbull’s government’s response is to make war on the poor by mulcting allowances, cutting benefits and – in a myriad of creative ways making it harder to obtain welfare – including Centrelink’s notorious Robo-call automated debt recovery extortion system which is poised to terrify any welfare recipient at any time with allegations of fraud.
Reversing legal principle, the onus of proof is now on the accused to prove he or she is innocent. Next comes a wild-goose chase for lost or missing documentation. Women, who are most likely to work several part-time jobs and who have more paper-work to chase are particularly vulnerable to the tyranny of the automated bully, whose accuracy has been shown to be notoriously fallible.
Dispensing with the principle of the assumption of innocence is allied to the demonisation of the poor. This week Scott Morrison’s office leaks disinformation about the “burden of welfare” to News Corp and other Liberal Party lickspittles and Coalition megaphones including Our ABC. The story appears in a more moderate form in The Guardian.
Channel Nine repeats ScoMo’s nonsense that the average Australian works for three hours to pay Australia’s welfare bill. It does not note the $30 billion which is lost because a third of companies evade or avoid paying any tax.
Unemployment benefits, family payments, pensions, were part of this calculation – but excluded were the expensive subsidies tax-payers provide to mining ($4 billion plus state taxes of about $3 billion PA) or the $6.5 billion The Australia Institute calculates goes to the private health insurance industry.
Estimates from the federal government’s Tax Expenditure Statement and Treasury paper show that tax-payers help subsidise fossil fuel production and use to the tune of $12 billion each year. Yet ScoMo’s basic premise is false.
Figures from 2016 show, Australia spends 19.1% of its Gross Domestic Product (GDP) on social welfare, while in the US it is 19.3%; in the UK, 21.5%; Norway, 25.1%; Germany, 25.3%; Sweden, 27.1%; Denmark, 28.7%; Finland, 30.8%, France, 31.5%3. Australia’s welfare bill as a proportion of GDP is modest. Again, the government lies by omission.
Other policies and programs help keep Australians out of work. Our Work for the Dole program is a poverty trap. 90% of participants are not in full-time work after three months.
Even the feral, profit-crazed crony capitalist class-warriors at the Business Council of Australia concede that rates for the dole are far too low, and impede jobseekers’ efforts to look for work. Yet the demonisation is working.
This week even some of our religious leaders claim the spirit of Christmas is wasted on the poor.
“To be blunt — do homeless people need tickets to Paul McCartney or do they need a roof over their head?”
Salvation Army CEO Major Nottle upstages the PM’s carefully choreographed Sydney show when, instead of giving two donated tickets to the homeless, he gives them instead to his daughter and her partner.
“You really got me,” Sir Ray Davies’ driving anthem to separation anxiety plays loudly in the foreground. Mal sings along lustily, poignantly revealing a neediness all his own: “Don’t ever set me free/I always want to be by your side”
“Nothing is more invisible than what is truly awesome,” says Rev Graham Long. His last gig. He pulls no punches. “You will miss the awesome if you’re the centre of the universe. Just stand back and realise that it’s not all about you.”
Christmas is a time to spare a thought for the needy and less unfortunate. Charity is a tricky routine for Mal to bring off with his narcissistic ego and his being a bit of a duffer in reading people and his wilful ignorance of the hardships faced by the homeless. True, on ABC 7:30, he can crack hardy about his childhood poverty and hard times as he and his real-estate salesman and hotel broker father Bruce endured the privations of Eastern suburbs Sydney. But the shirt’s the real deal.
Loud? It’s deafening. Perfect for a Hi-Viz deck-chair or an optometrist’s colour blindness test chart. More than a hint of a Sydney to Hobart spinnaker. Punters puzzle over it. Are the many stripes symbolic? A foppish D&G homage to Flip-Flop, our leader’s signature political position? Or is it simply the Yuletide Mal for all seasons-festive outfit?
Certainly, some of Turnbull’s messaging is unmistakable. Social welfare is under attack by a neoliberal government eager to outsource its social obligations to charity, the way schools, hospitals and other public institutions have now become so accustomed to begging for the funds they need to operate, it’s known as local fund-raising.
We’ve just spent a lazy $10 billion on US arms over four years, we’re told. No hint of any cake stalls, chook raffles or trivia nights. Imagine what a pickle we’d get into if we put people first; gave welfare the unfettered access to federal funds enjoyed by the armed forces while the ADF is told to start baking cakes if it wants a multi-mission helicopter.
Turnbull’s Christmas charity pantomime at Sydney’s Wayside Chapel simply highlights his government’s hypocrisy and tokenism. The Coalition does not give a fig for the homeless. Since Abbott it has done its level best to tear down the limited support that more enlightened and compassionate Australians were attempting to provide.
Similarly the government’s hollow injunction “Let’s Keep Australia Working” masks a range of policies and practices which have done nothing to arrest the growth in unemployment and under-employment while promoting the growth of an increasingly casualised and underpaid workforce which has not enough work and less job security.
While full-time workers find themselves increasingly working extra hours for nothing, the government is doing nothing to promote gender equality. Women in full-time work receive only 84% of their male counterparts’ wage, an inequality which has remained for twenty years.
Increasingly, it is women who bear the brunt of a decline in hours and conditions of work. One chief consequence is that women are more exposed to poverty and disadvantage than men at every age. If the Turnbull government could do one thing immediately it would be to ditch its banal and dishonest Let’s Keep Australia Working in favour of let’s implement equal pay. It’s not that we can’t afford it. We can’t afford not to.
As for the homeless, there is no time for token patronising public displays of philanthropy at Christmas; what is needed is an urgent re-allocation of funds. The money is there in unpaid corporate taxes and wasted subsidies on fossil fuel, mining and private health insurance. We could begin to provide shelter tomorrow if only our government could recognise that welfare is an imperative in a just and civil society, an investment in social cohesion and not an expenditure item.
But for that to take place, our government MPs would have to stop blaming the victim; stop their scurrilous ideological class war on the poor and begin to acknowledge that neoliberal economics have failed.
What is required is that we confront the consequences of decades of neoliberal inhumanity and the worship of “the economy”; comprehend the reality of a world where the gospel of free trade and globalisation has led to poor Chinese workers in Tuscany trying to get by on $4.60 per day; virtual slaves working to produce luxury goods like Dolce and Gabbana $850 shirts for millionaire would-be Australian Prime Ministers who lack the very empathy, compassion, self-awareness and moral integrity that are the essential prerequisites to even contemplate running for the office.