The Guardian July 18, 2001


Down and out? It's your own fault!

Tony Abbott, Howard's Minister for Industrial Relations, revealed the 
true colours of the Liberal Government on the ABC's Four Corners program 
shown on Monday, July 9.

"We can't abolish poverty because poverty, in part, is a function of 
individual behaviour ... We can't stop people from making mistakes that 
cause them to be less well-off than they might otherwise be", he declared.

So, if you are poor and cannot make ends meet, if your children go to 
school with holes in their shoes and without lunch, or if you lose your job 
and get thrown out of your house it is not the fault of the employer or 
economic policies or the social system or the landlord  it is a result of 
your own "behaviour" or the fact that you make "mistakes".

Tony Abbott claimed that the proposition that the rich are getting richer 
is a "myth". He said that people in the lowest-income bracket are "getting 
better off".

His assertion was immediately followed by the presentation of figures which 
showed that the top 50 per cent of Australians have 90 per cent of all 
wealth leaving the bottom-half of the population to divide up 10 per cent 
of the nation's wealth.

Four Corners held a mirror up to society to show that many, even with a 
job, remain poor.

"I run to the bank on Friday morning, pay my bills, pay the rent ... how 
can I buy my food? How are we going to survive for the whole week? ... If I 
have $10 I buy vegetables. I cook stir-fry and the kids are happy eating 
vegetables. We have a stack of sardines ... it's 75c a little tin", said 
Zenny, a hotel worker.

"I went and got one tooth out about a month ago and that cost $150. I don't 
know when I'll get the other ones (teeth) done", said Mara, a call centre 
worker. "In the last six months we found out we are going to be replaced by 
voice-interactive computers. And so our jobs aren't secure anymore".

"I haven't saved any money ever. I can't remember the last time I saved any 
money", said Maro who works in a food processing factory.

"The statistics don't show that people are being left behind", said Tony 

"We've got 17 shops planned to be open in the next 12-18 months", said Ted 
Greenaway for the Salvation Army. "That's just for western Sydney."

Tony Abbott, who is a pretender for the position of Prime Minister or 
Deputy Prime Minister, had no hesitation in lying about the widening gap 
between rich and poor and the growing strata of working poor. But he was 
unusually frank in expressing the capitalist's contempt for the poor. By 
blaming the victims he abdicates any responsibility of his Government and 
the system of capitalism for the well-being of the people and the poverty 
that is spreading in the community.

But what was offered on the Four Corners program as a way out? A royal 
commission into poverty? But we don't need a royal commission to find out 
about poverty. The facts are already known.

The program reporter then trotted out Milton Friedman's proposition that 
unemployment would shrink if the market were allowed to freely set wages. 
This nonsensical idea is disproved by the fact that millions and millions 
of people are unemployed, even in those countries where wage levels are 
very low.

Then there was the idea of "tax credits" which is just another part of 
Milton Friedman's economic rationalist ideas and amounts to a form of 
employer welfare.

No-one came up with the idea that if workers had more money in their 
pockets they would be able to buy more and, thereby, create more jobs or 
that if hours of work were reduced without loss of pay at least some of the 
unemployed would find work.

Four Corners mirrored the reality of the working poor but did not provide 
any solutions. Perhaps that is too much to ask at this time.
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