Despite being on Long Service Leave, remote from phone reception and hearing only occasional snatches of ABC radio when we are driving close enough to towns, we have not been able to avoid hearing about many of the tragedies that are currently unfolding around the globe.
While the senseless aggression in (insert the region of your choice) is appalling, what has me angry at the moment is the words of our current treasurer. Costello says the poor don’t drive, therefore the tax changes won’t affect them so much. He neglects to consider how the price of the petrol needed to maintain a job is actually a greater proportion of their income than for a better paid person. In fact he continues to show a complete lack of understanding about what it means to live on a small and limited income, enjoying his expensive cigar every day.
The Liberal ideology (for international readers, the Liberals in Australia are a conservative party, not a liberal party – tells you something about the way they operate, doesn’t it?) says that people will rise to their natural level – in other words, if you’re poor it’s your fault. But it’s wrong. Advantage gained from higher social standing accrues with the generations. Poverty entrenches itself.
I have gained a “middle” level in society, the first in my family to attend university (thanks to the Whitlam years), but I have dealt with generational poverty professionally. Behaviours learned from your environment can be hard to shift, even if they aren’t helping. And the reasoning is not always bad. “Family comes first” is a reason for much truancy among disadvantaged kids. After all, someone has to support a parent, or take care of siblings while the parent is drunk or mad (a harsh word, but reality is often a harsh struggle).
I do not believe Costello has ever had to consider whether he will be able to keep his family fed. To “make ends meet” people will often do whatever it takes, even if that is something society condemns.
Yes, we all may possibly rise in the world. But it’s so much easier when you’re already half way there. I would prefer to live in a country where the prevailing ideology is one of compassion. Where I am happy to pay my taxes because I know they will be spent helping people in need rather than subsidising wealthy mining corporations.
Meanwhile, back on the road trip . . . I was chatting with a Canadian couple on the Escarpment Walk off the Victoria Highway between Katherine and Kununurra. They commented that Canada does not have so many wild places to walk – it’s all tamed. I replied that it was only because the farmers couldn’t use the land. A rather cynical response, but one with a grain of truth. The places that have stayed wild and become national parks are generally in rough or infertile areas that are not very useful for farmers.
As I travel my country I can’t help but wonder what the arid plains looked like before they were fenced and overrun with cattle and cane toads.