It’s neither ignorant nor foolish to feel you have been poorly treated and even failed by our government of late. You probably have been and it is no wonder people are disillusioned with both our political system and the major parties that control it. Most of us would probably agree that the government and many of its bureaucrats serve themselves far more than they serve us, but I have to admit I am one of the lucky ones. Those in dying industries and those who can’t find work, or are locked out of the housing industry have far more reason to resent the seemingly out of touch political establishment than I.
This comment does not only apply to our current government. While the Abbott-Turnbull government has set a new standard (at least in the Australian context- let’s not look across the Pacific) for outrageous ineptitude, heartlessness and avarice, they didn’t create our political system complete with its cronyism, its lobbyists and its entitlements on their own. Past Labor governments also have to take responsibility for the conditions they have contributed to in the power duopoly they have enjoyed for decades.
In the face of egregious expense scandals such as Sussan Ley and Bronwyn Bishop, the equally ludicrous expenses of sitting ministers such as Barnaby Joyce and Julie Bishop, and the ridiculously out of touch Ian McDonald raging incoherently at losing his lifetime gold card, how is someone who struggles to pay their bills meant to believe that politicians of any stripe care about them?
There is a Great Deception being perpetuated against the Australian people. We most definitely live in a country of increasing inequality yet The Great Deception blinds or distracts many to it, by turning their fears and anger in another direction.
I don’t need an economics degree to join the links between the fact that the rich are getting richer and that the rest of us are comparatively poorer. Throw in the fact that our politicians are regularly recipients of gifts, hospitality and donations from the wealthy benefactors who benefit most from their policies and it paints a pretty clear picture (ever wondered why the one promise Turnbull seems determined to keep is his 50 billion dollar company tax cut). Minimum wage was once enough to support a family. Now it isn’t. And at the same time, millionaire elites own more and more of the country and cavort in the public eye. Two people in Australia are now wealthier than a fifth of Australians combined!
I am outraged at this. You should be too- even more so if you are under financial duress or have concerns about your employment future. You have every right to be furious. Our government (and this one more than any before it) serves its own interests and that of its benefactors more than it serves everyday Australians. Yet this stark reality doesn’t seem to garner the level of public anger one might expect.
The fact that many Australians are not angrier at this state of affairs is a testament to the effectiveness of this deliberate misdirection. The Great Deception uses exaggeration and spin to redirect the worries and misery of Australians who are being let down by their government to an easy and obvious (but undeserving) target. Like a carnival magician, our government urges us to concentrate fully on the 'threat' of terrorism and the social and financial costs to this country of refugees and Muslim immigration, so that we don't notice the impact of its domestic economic policies.
Refugees, immigration and foreign aid are unjustifiably blamed for everything from unemployment and a shrinking economy, to housing affordability, congestion and crime. At the same time, the worst representatives of the Islamic religion are cherry-picked and used to promote the argument that Australian lives and cultural norms are under threat. The Great Deception itself spawns any number of related lies, usually transmitted as memes of false choices (which I have spoken about in greater detail here) with no substantiating evidence, but large text imploring others to ‘share’ without thinking critically about the subject.
It’s all rhetorical smoke and mirrors though. I have previously covered the exaggerated fears of terrorism in another post, so I won't repeat it here. In this essay I will consider the common refrain about the cost of refugees. In this context, let me say again, two people now own as much as one fifth of Australia combined! A third of Australia’s large corporations paid no tax last year and The Commonwealth Bank just posted a half-yearly profit of 4.9 billion dollars. Let all of that that sink in before you tell me that soft diplomacy programs such as foreign aid and our refugee intake are the reason we can’t afford to house our elderly, homeless and veterans.
Contrary to what people like Hanson and other right wing mouthpieces would like you to believe, refugees accepted into Australia do not get more generous conditions than other Australian welfare recipients. If found to be refugees, they receive the same welfare benefits as other Australians (along with minor initial support such as language lessons to maximise their chances of assimilating and contributing to Australian society).
The Australian newspaper is a strong proponent of The Great Deception (in fact if the paper were to rename itself, The Great Deception, it would be a much more appropriate name) and last year they reported with suitable horror that refugees cost over 100 million dollars in welfare payments a year (this is of course a tenth of what it cost to keep a fraction of this number of refugees in offshore detention for the same year but I’m sure that wasn’t considered relevant). While Fact Check could not verify this claim I’m not going to dispute the figures, I’m disputing the reporting. Fulfilling our humanitarian obligations will cost money and there are many other costs of refugees not even covered in the report. But the paper also didn’t include the context that this cost comes out of a budget of over 434.5 billion for that year, meaning it is roughly 0.0002% of the total budget. That leaves 99.9998% of the budget (or the other 434.4 billion) that could be used to pay for policies to reduce inequality and support Australian families.
The problem isn’t the money we are spending on refugees, it’s what we are doing with the rest of it.
After many years, The Great Deception is developing cracks. The incredible greed and disconnect of people like Joyce, McDonald and Ley, juxtaposed against government indifference to the struggles of many Australian families is becoming too blatant to ignore. Moreover, the market hegemony of commercial media giants such as Newscorp- who as large corporations themselves, benefit from keeping our attention from the inequality that favours them- is slipping. More and more Australians are taking note of the outrageous disparities within our own country and demanding answers.
While one manifestation of this anger is interconnected with the regrettable rise of the detestable alt-right movement, a demand for answers and better government policy isn't a bad thing in itself. We just have to consider the answers we are given critically and rationally. It would be a shame to replace one Great Deception with another.