Folau Service Watch
Folau Service Watch

Australia’s belief in “a fair go” has been seriously eroded

RENDEZVIEW: From Scott Morrison to Israel Folau and even Ivanka Trump, it seems many Australians still believe in a concept central to our national identity. But the real problem is that it never existed to begin with, writes Tory Shepherd.

Yet the slavishly adored daughter of US President Donald Trump spent the weekend at the G20 Summit awkwardly trying to talk turkey with world leaders.

The 37-year-old failed fashion entrepreneur has previously met the Queen, another unelected toff who at least has experience in diplomacy.

Meanwhile, her equally really ridiculously good-looking husband Jared Kushner is inexplicably in charge of peace in the Middle East.

The First Daughter's invasion of high-level talks is a result of her erratic father's reign, of course. But she is able to remain utterly oblivious because she is blinded by privilege. Privilege is like an invisible protective coating, helping its wearer get through life with ease. And it's not limited to First Daughters. It festers through Australian society, too.

The "fair go" we're so fond of never really existed, and it still doesn't.

Whenever a politician repeats some variation of "if you have a go, you'll get a go", it rings hollow.

Of course there are exceptions. Many people defy "the odds" to overcome disadvantage. But the odds exist, and they are measurable and pervasive.

The poor and the marginalised are sicker and die earlier. A third-generation unemployed kid has far less chance of a fulfilling career than a spooner from a good suburb, with the "right" parents and the "right" schooling.

The latest Closing the Gap report shows Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders are more likely to die young, to miss out on education, and to be unemployed.

Life is harder if you live further from a city.

Women are at higher risk of poverty.

People on Newstart struggle daily.

In general, the poor stay poor and the rich stay rich.

A new report shows Australians in disadvantaged areas are more likely to end up in hospital with injuries such as car crashes and assaults.

The richer you are, the safer.

The Australian Institute of Health and Welfare report points out that in general people who are better off have better food and housing, better health care.

The idea of a "fair go" was coined in 1891, when police seized striking shearers without showing them an arrest warrant.

"Do you call this a fair go?" they reportedly cried.

Sacked Rugby Australia player Israel Folau says he’s seeking a fair go. Picture: Flavio Brancaleone
Sacked Rugby Australia player Israel Folau says he’s seeking a fair go. Picture: Flavio Brancaleone

Our Prime Minister Scott Morrison is fond of calling for a fair go, as was Bill Shorten as opposition leader. Former leaders Malcolm Turnbull, Julia Gillard, and Robert Menzies have all used it.

It gets trotted out in all sorts of contexts. Including when rich people don't want to pay more tax.

Failed politician Clive Palmer pleaded to be given a "fair go" after his Queensland nickel refinery collapsed, leaving hundreds of workers out of pocket.

Adani wants a "fair go" on its coal mine.

Israel Folau wants a "fair go".

The meaning of the phrase has been seriously eroded.

On the bright side, we're a wealthy nation.

And, as the Productivity Commission has said, the inequality between stonking rich and weeping poor has only got a little bit bigger.

There were some positive signs at the opening of the 46th parliament yesterday that both sides remain committed to reconciliation. Opposition Leader Anthony Albanese said that was the first thing he spoke about with the newly re-elected Mr Morrison.

There are a few more women in the new parliament, but overall it's not much more diverse when it used to be.

Prime Minister Morrison’s claim that Australians who have a go get a go simply isn’t true. Picture: AAP/Lukas Coch
Prime Minister Morrison’s claim that Australians who have a go get a go simply isn’t true. Picture: AAP/Lukas Coch

That matters not just because it's nice to include people, and it's nice for parliament to be representative, but because when you have more diverse people involved in policymaking, there's less chance of that blindness to privilege.

Our fickle human brains want us to believe we got to a position of power through sheer hard work and talent even when that's quite often not the case.

It's a myopic inability to grasp just how much families, education, gender, sexuality, skin colour, able-bodiedness, even a posh accent or a nice pair of pins, all play a role.

The obvious flip side of that is to believe that anyone who has not found success is at fault, and should just try harder. They should have a go to get a go.

The inimitable Christopher Pyne, in his Parliamentary resignation speech, showed an insight rare in politics.

"I've had a fortunate life. I don't have a log cabin story like so many people in this place," he said.

"Although I once did have to get my own lemon for a gin and tonic."

It's easy to laugh at Ivanka Trump because the situation at the G20 was laughable. But the entirely unqualified Trump also visited the North Korean hermit kingdom and met the notoriously unpredictable despotic leader Kim Jong-un, who has the power to blow half of Earth to smithereens.

It's not clear if she used the time to argue for female equality or a closure of deadly gulags. Hopefully she gave it a fair go.


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