Gough Whitlam had many flaws. When, some years ago, I read Margaret Whitlam’s biography, I realised that she was the rock behind him, a strong woman who shared his vision and tried to temper his tendency to do too much, all at once.
And that vision was for a better Australia.
‘Better’ is a very subjective word.
Growing up in a family where his father, Fred, was a lawyer in the public service and his uncle George, also a Public Servant, and who shared their house in Whitlam’s early years, was a staunch Baptist, he was provided with a strong sense of right and wrong – in a moral not a purely legal and material sense.
This early conditioning was the underpinning for his vision, in which he saw Australia as a country offering equality of opportunity to all, in health, in education and in access to the arts and all other ways of enriching life.
A massive ambition and one he felt driven to fulfill all at once.
He did not choose wisely among his Ministers and his haste to achieve so much so quickly, paid scant attention to budgetary constraints.
But in his legacy of Medicare, we all continue to benefit, and there would be many Ministers in the Coalition government who have benefitted from the free university education he established – which they now deny to later generations!
Just pause a moment. Look at the experience in the USA where people are dying because they cannot afford health treatment – yet the USA used to see itself as the leader of the world. It is possible that the current POTUS is still of that opinion. They are certainly ahead of everyone else in terms of their statistics on the Covid-19 infections and death rates.
When it comes to education, Finland puts most other countries to shame, yet it offers fee-free tertiary education to both citizens and non-citizens and to become a school teacher requires a Masters degree!
A few moments thought confirms the idea that education is actually an investment in the future.
For too long, Australian politics has been dominated by neoliberalism, which relies on letting the market drive policy. A total cop-out for any government which claims to believe in democracy.
How democratic is it to hand responsibility over to global corporations for which there is only one reason for existence – making profits?
“The poor are always with us” is recorded as having been said over 2000 years ago and it is a truism demanding attention. The reasons for poverty, disability and ill-health are many and varied, but, whatever might be the history of any individual case, it does not release us from a moral obligation to assist those unable to assist themselves.
In Australia, when the states handed Corporations Law over to the Commonwealth, they failed to use the opportunity to include protections for the clients of corporations. The duty of Directors is to protect their shareholders and nowhere in the legislation is there spelt out any protections owed to those served by the Corporation. The Financial Institutions RC paid clear testimony to that fact. And what has the government done to remedy the matter?
Of course – it is another issue to add to the list of what has been put on hold indefinitely because of the infection crisis – as if it had even been lined up already for attention!
And mention of morality requires some explanation. You do not need to believe in the existence of a god or gods, or an afterlife, in order to have an awareness that every member of a community has a moral obligation to, at least to some extent, help other members of the community in which we live. Live and let live is a very basic philosophy but many will attest to the fact that that more satisfaction is derived from helping other people than from hurting them.
We might do it directly, one on one, or we might do it by paying taxes which the government uses to assist in offering equal opportunity for all its citizens.
The current interregnum, when Parliament has been – wrongly, IMHO – sidelined, and normal life has been put on hold, gives us an excellent opportunity to review our own vision.
We are a unique country, in being not just a country, but also a continent and an island.
This latter attribute has, to quite a large extent, protected us from having more significant Covid-19 infection rates. Certainly where I live in the NT, we have had fewer than 30 cases – all originating overseas, we have had no deaths and no community transmissions – which, with one-third of our population being Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders – many of whom have compromised immune systems – is a source of great relief which we hope will continue.
Australia used to rate highly among developed countries, but in recent years it has been steadily sliding backwards. Whether it be educational, financial or cultural measures, what is very clear is that we have far more people in government talking about religion than has ever preciously been the case, and yet the evidence that their claimed religious values actually link much more closely with a cult are becoming increasingly apparent.
I grew up in a Protestant, verging on puritanical, household and studied at a C of E secondary school, but the basic message of Christianity that I was hearing was of inclusivity, the Good Samaritan and love
There is much in our current government processes which could be improved, including the fact that our Constitution, designed to join existing states into a federation, was written before ideas about human rights were even discussed. Certainly the First Nations were paid no positive attention and subsequent amendments have done little to establish their rights and their proper place in our history.
Once more – let’s take a step back and think again about vision.
For many of us, during this lock down period, we have been dependent on entertainment in all its aspects. TV dramas, sport, recorded music, to name a few – that is for those of us who have not had to educate and entertain our children!
But the creators of much of that entertainment are among the people who are being disregarded by government in determining who, while previously in employment, but no longer so because their employment has been discontinued by Covid-19, should receive what level of financial assistance.
Those in theatre, seasonal workers, foreign backpackers, visa holders sought by Australia to do work for which no Australians are stepping forward, all people regarded as essential in normal times, are being ignored or told to go home. How???? When Australia is hardly working its butt off to repatriate its own citizens, how does it imagine that people who are not well paid will be able to just book a flight and go?
And that still does not take into account people held in close confinement in prisons and detention centres – in the former case including many on remand and assumed innocent – who are at at greater risk of contracting the novel corona virus infection than those in lock down at home.
THESE are the issues for which Parliament should be looking for solutions, while the National Cabinet concentrates on the financial issues. As well as looking at total tax reform where those who have most, contribute most.
There are two, in my opinion, major misconceptions which need to be corrected.
- If people work hard and make more money than their fellow citizens, they should not pay higher rates of tax because it will disincentivise them. Has any trial even been conducted to test this assumption?
- If people are struggling without paid employment and in need of help, giving them welfare will discourage them from looking for work. And this has been regularly pressed into use, even when there were 19 applicants for every new job!
IF we had a government with a known vision which incorporated governing for the benefit of the entire population, these and many other issues would be being discussed by Parliament so that, when the lock down is lifted, we could start afresh with a more positive outlook – NOT snap back to the previously existing inequalities.
AND if our politicians are halfway decent people, they would undertake to forego any pay increases and travel allowance claims until at least 12 months after the crisis is declared to be over.
OUR needs are far greater than theirs and the least able of us deserves as much attention as all others.
I end as always – this is my 2020 New Year Resolution:
“I will do everything in my power to enable Australia to be restored to responsible government.”
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