AUSTRALIA, THE GREAT DUMMY SPIT
After suffering through an unusually tough, wet winter, don’t you just love turning up to dinner and getting stuck next to the suntanned bore who has been in some warm spot north of the Equator?
“Blah blah blah, we were so hot, blah blah blah, you could always find a quiet beach, blah blah blah, everything was so cheap, blah blah blah, check out this wallet − it’s made of cork. Fancy.”
I realised the other day that I’ve become one of those blow-ins from the north. A house swap in Spain and another in Portugal, plus an indulgent month in Greece where we actually had to pay for our accommodation (you know, if you get away from Athens it is really cheap blah blah blah – oops, sorry) has made me someone to avoid, at least until my tan fades.
Don’t ask if I’m glad to be back.
I’ve tried to keep a low profile regarding the state of the nation but, when I turn on the radio or pick up a paper, I wonder why it won’t leave me alone.
The media noise in this country, the pessimism, the shrieking ignorance of talkback, the witlessness of truckies with too much time on their hands, radio announcers proclaiming it would be a good idea to murder the PM. The doomsaying of our media, egged on by Tony Abbott (an empty suit good for only three-word slogans)… It is relentless.
Fair dinkum, when will this country ever grow up? It’s like coming home to a giant creche full of self-entitled dummy spitters.
By any measure, Australia is doing well economically. Unemployment is low, our debt is so small it barely rates a mention. We have a massive minerals boom and the future is bright.
The view from Europe is: what are you whinging about? We should be so lucky.
I spent time in three countries with severe economic problems. Greece is an official basket case, Spain’s in trouble and Portugal is said to have problems – but much of it is because of dopey rating agencies and the bond market drinking their own bathwater. This mob missed the GFC coming down the turnpike but feel they still have credibility.
Unarguably, Greece is in intensive care; it may have actually died a year ago and is being kept alive artificially.
Did I detect the same level of negativity and pessimism in Greece as I do from the well-off denizens of this country? No, I did not.
There was a shrug and wry smile and they just got on with it.
Sure, they think the politicians have dropped them in the moussaka but they tend not to blame the current government. The previous one is in the frame after it cooked the books, with help from Goldman Sachs, to convince the European authorities that they were ready to have the euro.
(I’ve always wondered about that. You only have to spend a little time in Greece to know that the government is a bit like a film set: looks good but not much behind it.)
Greeks opted out of the political system years ago, except in kafeneions (coffee shops), where, when three Greeks gather together they constitute three political parties.
It is no accident that “anarkismo” is a Greek word.
Most of them don’t pay tax, so finding the money to repay debts to Germany is not seen as a pressing issue. Many Greeks still haven’t forgiven the Germans for their appalling behaviour during World War II and they’re not too fussed if Angela Merkel can’t sleep at night.
Most think they should default and go back to the drachma. My Greek friends say, “We are not Europeans.” They aren’t. They are Greeks.
In Portugal and, especially, Spain, there is anger and they are facing big upheavals. But they bat on. Europe generally is struggling with problems which, if replicated here, would have the whole country on suicide watch.
It is pretty clear that, with the exception of industrialised Germany, Western Europe has fallen for the three-card economic trick of shifting the engines of mass employment offshore to Asia and Eastern Europe.
So the jobs that fuel the economies and provide the sort of environment in which the middle class flourishes are gone. In their place will be a banking and high-tech elite, leaving a mass of discontented unemployed or under-employed people.
We don’t have those problems. Yet.
But if we allow the mining boom to roll on and mining companies to exploit our minerals and energy without exacting a good whack for Australian taxpayers, that is the future facing us. We will be left with a lot of unfilled holes and nothing to drive our economy. This is an important debate and wouldn’t it be great if it were occupying the air space and columns of our media?
Instead, we have a lot of self-entitled people elbowing each other out of the way to grab a microphone to tell us that, while they might earn more than $150,000 a year, they “don’t feel well off”. They should be laughed off the platform but the media gives them air.
We have the head of David Jones trying to blame his inept performance as a manager on the carbon tax, which hasn’t even been legislated yet. Gerry Harvey thinks the internet is killing him, yet he was happy to kill off Australian manufacturing and source his goods from cheap Asian countries, then charge a huge mark-up.
Ask Apple why, if the Aussie dollar is so high, it is charging outlandish prices for its products here? The Housing Industry Association blames poor house sales on the carbon tax.
BlueScope Steel is putting off some 1000 workers. Before it blackmailed the government into giving it a massive handout, the company was hinting that it was all the fault of the (non-existent) carbon tax. It was poor management and the high Australian dollar, which would come down markedly if we taxed the mining companies more heavily.
The carbon tax will add about 0.7 per cent to the cost of living and most Australians will get compensation for it.
Everyone is moving to a carbon tax. Yes, even China.
California, the US’s largest economy, has a carbon tax. But I can see it is depressing, people – after all, they have been scared spitless by the media and a political campaign of untruths.
And if it is not the self-entitled whinging, we have endless noise about a few asylum seekers.
The ALP has gone from bad to worse to diabolical in its policies, when the only path was really to set out for the moral high ground. Diving deeper into the racist muck that smears the asylum-seeker debate in this country is a zero sum game.
I note that in Athens at the moment they are processing the claims of 40,000 asylum seekers. Last year, less than 7000 arrived in Australia. Now the High Court has told the Government that offshore processing is not only morally reprehensible but legally not-on, and indeed that the Nauru option set up by Howard was illegal too.
It’s time the Government grew a spine and stared down the gibberers of talk back radio, their supporters and the Labor and Liberal parties and just processed onshore. Like adult countries do. If not for humanitarian reasons but for the reason that it is so much bloody cheaper.
The political debate is like tinnitus, to the point where our brain blocks out all other sounds, leaving us in a state of permanent anxiety.
It’s time to grow up, people.
We live in the fastest-growing region in the world. We are well off and have a future. We need to have some important debates on reshaping the economy. Arm yourself with facts and information and demand your politicians get back to doing their jobs.
And, yes, thanks for asking, I had a great time overseas and I love most things about being back.
If only someone would shut down the white noise.
*Alan Kennedy has been a journalist for 40 years and has worked at Sydney’s Daily Telegraph and in London. For nearly 20 years he was with the Sydney Morning Herald; as motoring editor, stay in touch editor, sports editor, features editor and letters editor. He was president of the journalists’ union for 10 years, a member of Australian press council and on the Walkley Advisory Board for 10 years. Now he writes a blog called Sense Of Entitlement.