Remember the old saying ‘sticks and stone may break my bones, but names will never hurt me’? It’s time Australian voters worried less about the stupid, insensitive, nasty, judgemental, heartless, shameless, inaccurate, bigoted, moronic, offensive things Abbott and members of his government say and focus more of what these words show us about these peoples’ values, or lack thereof, and importantly, the outcomes these lack of values have on the lives of Australians. Because these people are running the country and what they say is just a reflection of how they make decisions. We should be really seriously scared! Forget about the words, worry about the sticks and stones because they really are breaking bones! Here are some examples:
I wrote last week about Hockey’s ‘Double Dipping’, fraudster, rorting description of mothers of newborns who quite legally and legitimately receive their privately negotiated maternity leave along with the government scheme which was always set out to top up existing leave and not to replace it. As a pregnant woman myself, I found the accusation that I’m slovenly, greedily stealing from tax-payers through rorting, fraudster behaviour while I take leave from my job, incredibly offensive. But looking past this outrage, what about the outrage about the consequence this policy outcome will have on new mothers? For many, it will mean having to go back to work weeks or even months earlier than they would like to, possibly giving up on breastfeeding and forgoing the time they would have liked to spend with their newborn, but can’t afford to spend without government paid maternity leave. This is the outrage – the consequences the policy change will have on the lives of working women, their financial stress and their precious first few months at home with their newborns.
The thing about Tony Abbott is that there’s never a shortage of outrageous comments flying around that are just as offensive as Hockey’s ‘Double Dipping’ and also just as hurtful as being struck with sticks and stones when you haven’t even had time to get over the last assault. Another example from this week was Abbott’s statement to a Queensland small business group that his ‘work for the dole’ policy will allow business owners to ‘try before you buy’. Yes, he’s talking about trying people, workers, employees, before hiring them. As if they’re cars being taken for a test spin or a pair of shoes, as noted by an ABC interviewer who called him out on this phrase. You’ll notice though, that it’s the phrase the interviewer was worried about, and not the policy itself. Yes, it’s absolutely revolting that Abbott would refer to unemployed workers being farmed out to work for the dole schemes, who get paid no more than they get on the dole ($37 a day, or $4.60 per hour for an 8 hour day) as being ‘tried before they are bought’. But what’s more disgusting than this characteristic Abbott-way of talking about desperate and vulnerable unemployed people is the policy itself. We already know through Abbott’s decision to throw unemployed youth off welfare for 6 months, which was then changed to 1 month to try to get it through the Senate, he doesn’t have an inch of compassion for the perilous situation people find themselves in when unemployed. But now he’s proving that he has absolutely no qualms with people working at slave labour rates, which he no doubt wishes was the minimum wage if there had to be one at all, and that he has no concerns that this free month of work will actually keep the unemployed person from having the time available to find a job. A real job that actually pays them a salary. He knows as well as any person that if you give businesses free workers, they have zero incentive to actually employ, and pay workers. What would stop these businesses from ‘trying’ a new worker every month, every year forever and never having to actually employ anyone ever again? Is this Abbott’s job creation strategy? To create an underclass of working poor by bypassing the minimum wage and allowing businesses to treat people like slaves? Take a look Australia. This is the man you put in charge. It’s depressing beyond belief.
Finally, my last example, also from this week, once again shows the outrage at Abbott’s ineloquent, nastily worded sound bites is misplaced when you consider the actions behind the statement. When asked if Australia would, on the urging of the United Nations, work with regional neighbours to find a solution to the displacement of thousands of Rohingya refugees, Abbott’s reponse was, like a three year old child rejecting broccoli – ‘Nope, nope, nope’. He then went on to say that ‘To start a new life, come through the front door, not the back door’ and that ‘Australia is ‘a good international citizen’. Let’s look at the values behind these words and the outcomes. The first obvious outcome is that, whether Abbott believes it or not, Australia is not a good international citizen. And the citizens of Australia have let the citizens of the world down by electing a man who lacks even the basic compassion for families so terrified of being killed that they’ve jumped on boats to escape and nearly starved on the open waters while they wait for someone to show enough compassion to help them. What is clear from Abbott’s ‘front door’ versus ‘back door’ statement is that he only wants privileged people migrating to Australia. He only wants those who come from countries with migration channels, who can afford visas, or who have the education for skilled migration status. He doesn’t want poor people. Especially if they are brown. Because Abbott hates poor people. For someone who describes himself as a Catholic, he’s decidedly unchristian. And the depressing part is, Australia, in the majority, loves him for it.
Words are important, but only because they launch the sticks and stones that break people’s bones. I’m just as guilty as everyone else who is reading this thinking that they are liable to let their outrage of what Abbott and his government colleagues say overshadow the outrage at these people’s actions. Being outraged at words is easy, but let’s look deeper and call out the outrageous values and actions that are signposted by these outrageous comments. And let’s work at electing a government that doesn’t bash its people with sticks and stones on a daily basis.