A number of times I have heard Julia Gillard refer to the Labor Party’s commitment to protecting ‘The Australian Way of Life’. Every time she mentions it, it comes capitalised and in quotation marks.
The most recent occurrence was over the weekend when she was out on the hustings with Peter Garrett, announcing that should the Federal Government be re-elected they would hand back Malabar Headland to the NSW State Government for public use. This was, apparently, an excellent example of the Labor Party commitment to ‘protecting’ The Australian Way of Life (TAWOL).
It appears that TAWOL is best epitomised by families picnicking on parklands near the sea at the weekend. Hmmm.
The Centre for Work + Life at the University of South Australia, also over the weekend, released the 2010 Australian Work Life Index. As it was reported in the Sydney Morning Herald (‘A hard-working nation that’s losing its balance’, 1 August 2010), more and more Australians are experiencing a working life that increasingly impinges on the rest of their life. The work-life balance of many Australians is not healthy. Australians have accrued over $33 billion dollars worth of leave. I think that, at least for many people I know, a relaxed weekend picnic at a park overlooking the sea is more of a luxury than a way of life.
When I look around at TAWOL here are some of the things I see:
- the continued abuse by governments of the human rights of Indigenous Australians and Indigenous communities with no access to healthcare, running water and electricity
- overflowing prisons because it’s apparently better to be ‘tough on crime’ than it is to be focussed on rehabilitation and social inclusion
- $18 billion a year lost by Australians on gambling
- ANZAC Day as an occasion when young people around the country pay their respects to Australians who have lost their lives in wars by getting blind drunk (I know this as fact because I live in a suburb that has 2 pubs on every block)
- an ugly, soul-destroying, unplanned, ill-considered suburban sprawl that locks people into their cars for hours everyday
- a defence budget that is greater than any other department budget – we seem to be able to find billions for new fighter planes but finding a few million for health and education programs is much tougher.
- a political discourse of the disengaged and disenchanted that feeds off fear and plays on the small and insignificant while it refuses to engage with what will matter in the long-term (better to spend time playing on a weird fear of a few thousand asylum seekers coming by boat than tackle the legitimate fear of the climate collapsing)
- people who work too often on weekends
- already vulnerable and traumatised asylum seekers held in detention centres indefinitely because as a nation we seem to be incapable of imagining what it must be like to live in conflict ridden countries and suffer persecution. (Apparently The Queue is an essential aspect of TAWOL. Who knew?)
- welfare for those who work but not for those who struggle to work – let’s increase family tax benefits but ‘get tough’ on people who struggle to make ends meet on a pitiful level of unemployment benefits
- elderly parents who care for their children with multiple disabilities with little support from the community, desperate about what will happen to their children when they die
- small independent local businesses being swallowed up by large multinationals
- the rise of gated communities where we can be sure we only have to mix with ‘people like us’.
Are these the markers of TAWOL that our politicians are swearing to protect?
Or maybe they are thinking about our fabulously diverse multicultural and increasingly multi-faith society? Maybe they are promising to do all they can to foster a mature, vibrant society that upholds the dignity of all people, promotes justice and equity, celebrates and values its own diversity, values art and culture, science and scholarship across all disciplines, and promotes the development of green and sustainable cities and inclusive, life-affirming communities. This is the TAWOL that I value. Maybe they value it too and I’ve just missed it.