My Daily Advertiser Op Ed column for Tuesday 23 April 2019

by ray goodlass

Morrison’s election Fair Go mantra really benefits the few, not the many

Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s endlessly repeated election campaign mantra of “A fair go for those who have a go” is not only becoming mind numbingly boring it is also a quite deliberate attempt to mislead voters into believing his government will implement policies to significantly improve the lot of the ordinary people, the ‘many’, when in fact what he really means is that his policies will enrich the privileged ‘few’.

So let’s examine Mr Morrison’s game so as to make clear how his word play works and what it really means.

The first point to make is that as a sound bite repeated ad infinitum is meant to be taken at face value. Anyone who is prepared to do a bit of work will get a fair go and therefore advance their financial standing. As Dr Goebbels, the Nazis’ Minister for Propaganda taught us, a lie repeated often enough will be believed, and Mr Morrison has clearly learnt that lesson.

Mr Morrison’s ‘Fair Go’ mantra was first articulated during his opening press conference of the 2019 election. He was asked by a journalist how he intended to counter Labor’s campaign messaging about the importance of fairness.

His answer was “I believe in a fair go for those who have a go, and what that means is part of the promise that we all keep as Australians is that we make a contribution and don’t seek to take one. And that involves an obligation on all of us to be able to bring what we have to the table.

“Under my government, under our government, under a Liberal Nationals government, we will always be backing those Australians who are looking to make a contribution, not take one and, together, that’s how we make our country stronger” he concluded.

My initial response on first hearing was that the PM was, among other things, revisiting former Liberal Treasurer Joe Hockey’s condemnation of the ‘leaners’ who weren’t ‘learners’, and took rather than gave to the well-being of the country.

My suspicion was confirmed when Katherine Murphy pointed out in the Guardian Australia that “The prime minister of Australia believes the fair go is conditional”. The fair go applies if you have a go and if you don’t seek to “take” a contribution. It doesn’t automatically apply to everyone equally.

While Morrison’s construction is designed to prompt a nod of belief from the listener, to confirm a resting pre-disposition in the community about conniving welfare cheats and dole bludgers, and encourage ‘strivers’ to feel good about themselves and vaguely resentful about the circumstances of others. If we unpack it, it’s actually a contradiction of what makes our society work.

Many of us “take” contributions frequently through public education and universal health care and family payments and childcare assistance. We do that because it is our Australian way. And throughout our lifetimes we have ‘given’, that is, paid for what we have taken, through taxation. What Mr Morrison deliberately ignores is that there may be some points in everyone’s life when they can’t be earning and so can’t be tax payers. It’s a fundamental construct of modern democratic societies with any semblance of social justice.

And of course many can’t get even a semblance of a fair go if they come from a dysfunctional family blighted by violence and poverty, have a crippling disability, are trying to live on Newstart, or have suffered from a poor education, just to name a few disincentives.

Now the really important point is that these are priorities Australia has set for itself in the way we conceive government, and what it does. Making a contribution without taking one is not what happens in reality. Not in this and many other countries.

Australians work if we can, pay taxes if we are fortune enough to be employed and use a range of government services throughout our lives. If we fall on hard times we look to government to support us. Those are the realities of a long-established social contract, and for many Australians these expectations are not conditional, but instead are the very basis of how societies should work for everyone, the many, not the few.