Australia is not for its people but for its plutocrats: for the billionaires, for the coal barons, for the media oligarchs, and for the corrupt politicians who represent them. It doesn’t have to be this way, writes Liam McLoughlin.
At first, the answer is simple. Straya’s for strayans, and who still says whom anyway? But perhaps it’s a question worth a little more thinking music… Let’s begin with an elimination round. For whom does Australia exist?
Not for the 500 nations of Aboriginal people living on “nobody’s land” as the First Fleet arrived at Botany Bay. Not for a 70,000-plus-year-old culture that fought a colonial onslaught which decimated a population of about 750,000, with only tens of thousands remaining by the early 1900s. Not for those killed in the Tasmanian genocide or slaughtered in 500 massacres around the country. Not for the imperial subjects marched into slave labour or forced into reserves, missions and abusive homes for their “protection”. Not for those deprived entry to swimming pools, footy ovals, town halls, pubs and hotels for much of the 20th century. Not for the 6,000 Aboriginal Diggers denied land grants, pensions and gratuities, or prevented access to RSL clubs and their own children, nor for those discounted until 1967.
Not for the one in three Indigenous kids taken from their families between 1910 and 1970, nor for the second generation stolen between the apology of 2008 and the reality of 2020. Not for the more than 430 Aboriginal people who have died in custody since the 1991 Royal Commission, nor for the families of TJ Hickey, Ms Dhu and David Dungay Junior. Not for the Territorians denied the protections of the Racial Discrimination Act, nor those relying on ever-disappearing Aboriginal service budgets for life expectancy, child mortality, employment, mental health, incarceration and education outcomes which still languish far behind those of their fellow Australians. Not for communities so scarred by intergenerational trauma that 10-year old children are ending their own lives. Not for Aboriginal sports stars booed for taking too much pride in their heritage, and certainly not for anyone demanding “voice, treaty, truth”.
Not for many of those who’ve come across the seas to live in an “Australia for the White Man”, official policy until the 1970s and unofficial doctrine ever since. Not for Asian immigrants targeted in Howard’s One Australia policy of the 1980s and Hanson’s One Nation Party of the 1990s. Not for the international students facing food insecurity and subjected to resurgent Sinophobia, now the nation’s second most popular sport. Not for the Chinese-Australians bullied into the Two Minutes Hate for the Communist Party every second Tuesday.
Not for the 600,000 Muslims across the nation, public enemy number one in a two-decade media/government war on Islam. Not for communities at the sharp end of propaganda which teaches their fellow citizens that demonising, imprisoning, torturing, bombing, injuring and killing Muslims is all part of a righteous War on Terror. Not for those young adults who’ve seen civilian practitioners of their faith locked away in offshore concentration camps, killed in Afghanistan, Somalia, Libya, Syria and Yemen, struck down by drone strikes in Pakistan, physically and sexually abused in Iraq, rendered, tortured and imprisoned indefinitely in Guantanamo Bay, occupied and terrorised in Palestine, gunned down in Christchurch mosques, and relentlessly attacked in a global war taking an estimated four million Muslim lives. Not for families whose identity is a punching bag used by shock jocks inciting race riots, columnists warning of “the foreign invasion”, politicians claiming a Muslim ban would be the “final solution” to the immigration problem, and media moguls publishing 2,891 anti-Islam articles in a single year.
Not for refugees, because “we will decide who comes to this country and the circumstances in which they come”. Not for Shahraz Kayani, waiting five years for the Immigration Department to allow his wife and children to join him in Australia, before setting himself on fire on the steps of Parliament House in April 2001, and dying weeks later from his burns. Not for Reza Barati, murdered by at least two security guards and other staff during Manus Island riots in February 2014. Not for Omid Masoumali, whose self-immolation during a UN Nauru monitoring visit and delayed medical transfer cost him his life. Not for the children of the Nauru files whose stories of assault, sexual abuse and self-harm were dismissed as “hype” by the Australian Government. Not for the thousands of refugees held hostage to domestic political machinations at the hands of successive governments for the first two decades of the 21st century. Not for those whose human rights are nothing compared to the promise of a more generous parliamentary pension.
Not for its workers, whose share of GDP sank from 58% in 1975 to 47% in 2018, a loss of $17,000 per person per year. Not for those experiencing what the Reserve Bank governor described as a “crisis of low pay”, still trapped in poverty despite earning a full-time minimum wage. Not for regional workers experiencing high joblessness and economic insecurity, neglected by a National Party serving big agriculture and mining. Not for urban workers, blessed with more job opportunities but who face obscenely expensive housing markets fuelled by cheaper and riskier lending, a tax system conducive to property speculation, and disinvestment in public housing. Not for the underemployed, with rates among the worst in the OECD, nor for the large temporary visa workforce enduring unsafe conditions and below minimum wage pay.
Not for those fighting these declining conditions in a nation where union membership has fallen from above 50% of the workforce in the 1970s, to around 15% today. Not for workers in a country which the International Trade Union Confederation categorises as a “regular violator” of union rights. Not for the essential workers on the frontlines of a global pandemic, who would likely trade the morale boost of a grateful public for a single improvement in their material circumstances.
Not for the poor and unemployed, lifted above and then dumped below the poverty line in their millions as pawns of pandemic politics. Not for those sitting on long waiting lists for social housing in each state and territory. Not for the old, 700 of whom were failed by federal politicians abrogating their duty of care to victims of a deadly virus and an even more virulent ideology. Not for the 80% of young people who feel anxious about the climate emergency, nor for the hundreds of thousands of school strikers who promise to be “less activist” if their government is “less shit”.
Not for people with disabilities, carers, artists and academics, all excluded from pandemic payment, nor for the bushfire victims yet to receive much more than a burnt fig leaflet. Not for the close to half of Australians who will suffer a mental disorder in their lifetime and will try to access mental health services which the peak medical body says are “grossly underfunded”. Not for young LGBTI people who are five times more likely to attempt suicide, nor the trans folks who are 11 times more likely to do so. Not for the hundreds of ABC journalists made redundant by years of conservative attacks, nor for those reporters threatened with jail time for doing their jobs. Not for climate activists fighting for a future, nor for black lives demanding truth-telling about the past and justice in the present. Not for the one woman a week murdered by her current or former partner, not for the women who live in one of only two developed countries where the gender pay gap rose in recent decades, and not for the women grossly under-represented and under-served by their governments. Not for the publicly educated, with private schools capturing 75% of federal funding and Australia’s system ranked as the fourth most privatised in the OECD. Not for students with a critical interest in Liberal Party history, blocked by that party just randomly doubling tertiary humanities fees. Not for the nurses, doctors and patients endangered by billions in hospital cuts.
I’m starting to think this country isn’t so much for its people at all.
So, for whom does Australia exist?
For the 200 richest individuals and families, enjoying a 66-fold wealth increase in the last 36 years and whose combined fortune has soared $82 billion over the past 12 months, to a total of $424 billion. For the 104 billionaires, up from 91 in 2019. For the property tycoons, now amassing wealth of $81.56 billion, just as an October 2020 Foodbank report showed food relief requests had risen 47% since the pandemic began. For the newly minted tech billionaires like Mike Cannon-Brookes, who owns the only $100 million house in Australia, a fun fact for the 100,000 homeless Australians.
For the fossil fuel companies, whose money floods our political system, whose lobbyists crowd the corridors of power, and whose former representatives now staff the Prime Minister’s office. For the two richest Australians, mining magnates Gina Rinehart and Andrew Forrest, who have doubled their money over the past year to a combined total of $52 billion. For mining tycoon Clive Palmer, who spent $83m spreading misinformation which may have cost Labor the 2019 federal election, since punished by a fortune which has risen from four to nine billion. For ExxonMobil Australia, paying no income tax on the $42 billion they made over the most recent five years of tax data. For the Minerals Council of Australia, whose millions in advertising killed the mining tax and whose millions in donations secure billions in coal subsidies from all their favourite political parties. For the Australian Petroleum Production and Exploration Association, whose expenditure as the country’s fourth biggest political donor is still great value for expanding the oil and gas industries which may cost the Earth. For the gas executives of the COVID Commission who have objectively concluded that what a country still recovering from an apocalyptic climate-fuelled fire season really needs is a national network of big, beautiful gas pipelines.
For old media oligarchs like Rupert Murdoch, amassing $18 billion purely through grit, determination, climate denial, misogyny and race hate. For his personal political whims, sabotaging social and environmental reforms for generations. For his monopolistic ambitions, which have helped create the third most concentrated media market in the world behind Egypt and China. For News Corp, which regularly avoids paying any corporate tax on billions in revenue. For the Liberal Party speechwriters and advisors who once called News Corp home. For new media oligarchs like Mark Zuckerberg, granted billions in tax breaks and pumping conservative venom throughout the veins of the polity in return.
For big business, taking the lion’s share of $400 billion in subsidies, incentives and cheap loans received since March 2020. For the banks, insurance companies, hedge funds and other financial institutions which between 2005 and 2010 alone increased their asset value from $3 trillion to $4.6 trillion, or 340% of GDP. For these institutions who have since been exposed by a Royal Commission for charging the dead, deliberately misleading regulators, and pushing dodgy financial advice and insurance products, yet continue to lobby successfully against meaningful reform. For the CEOs, whose wages have risen as a proportion of the median worker’s wage from 15:1 to over 180:1 in the last four decades.
For the major party politicians who have capitulated to the corporate takeover of our democracy. For the Prime Minister paid half a million dollars a year to fuel the fires of climate destruction and for the Opposition Leader paid $390,000 for failing to oppose him. For those who’ve spent 20 years switching off lights on hills nationwide with their positions on offshore processing, boat turnbacks, the NT intervention, welfare, surveillance, civil liberties, police powers, Israel, military spending, trade, lobbying, donations, The Greens, migration, and fossil fuels. For those whose corruption grows more pungent by the hour, and for those whose daily failure to call it out reeks just as much.
But, for whom could Australia exist?
How about a straya for strayans?
Not just for the 200 richest gaming the system in their favour, whose wealth belongs to all of us and should be taxed accordingly.
Not just for the fossil fuel companies polluting our politics and poisoning our planet, and which should be held responsible.
Not just for old and new media oligarchs profiting from lies and division, whose power should be dissolved to the people.
Not just for big business privatising social wealth, not just for finance sharks in a feeding frenzy, not just for CEOs whose self-valuation at 180 times the ordinary worker surely has all the hallmarks of a forever cocaine binge.
Not just for corrupt politicians and their spineless colleagues, who serve their donors far better than their constituents.
But for the First Australians, whose 232-year struggle for justice continues with almighty strength, resilience, dignity, patience and grace. For Charlie Perkins and the freedom riders of the 1960s, for the cattle workers of the Wave Hill Walk-Off, for those who pitched the tent embassy in the name of land rights, for the tens of thousands who marched in ‘88 to mark Survival Day, for Eddie Mabo and his defeat of terra nullius, for the indomitable spirit of resistance which drives the Black Lives Matter and Djab Wurrang activists of today.
For migrants and refugees who, far from occupying our welfare queues while also stealing our jobs, are some of the greatest contributors to Australian society. For Behrouz Boochani, who texts a bestselling, award-winning book from prison but is denied residency, more than for Peter Dutton, who can’t even text his misogyny to the right contact, yet somehow retains his.
For its workers, whose unions have given us everything from annual leave to awards, penalty rates to meal breaks, compensation to unfair dismissal protection. For the shelf stackers, pharmacists, nurses and schoolteachers, whose pandemic efforts have made Scott Cam look somewhat less than essential. For the low wage earner and the casual, for the underemployed and insecure, for those working in unsafe conditions or just made redundant, all of whom deserve a high-wage Jobs Guarantee far more than Gina, Twiggy and Clive deserve their multi-billion-dollar pandemic pay rise.
For the poor and unemployed, whose dinner should not depend on the day’s job applications. For the homeless, who have a right to a roof over their heads, for the old, who deserve generously funded and well-staffed care, and for the young, who need to believe in their own futures. For people with disabilities and their carers, for whom support should not depend on finishing a bureaucratic Tough Mudder. For the artists who tend to the nation’s soul and for the academics who open our minds. For those fighting the fiery devastation of climate change as much as for those drowning in their own thoughts. For LGBTQI communities, for whom the right to equal love and respect should not be conditional on a national vote. For journalists speaking truth to power and for activists supporting their right to do so. For women to feel safe, well-paid and forcefully represented. For all Australians who, like every other human being on the planet, deserve the high-quality, publicly-funded education, healthcare, housing, transport, and other services of a decarbonised economy which is embedded within a thriving natural world as we all live rich, meaningful, dignified and fulfilling lives.
For the Australian people, not just for the Australian plutocracy.
So, for whom does Australia exist?
As it turns out, Straya’s not for strayans, but it bloody well should be.
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