This is the text of my introduction to a lively panel discussion at Wesley Mission, Sydney on 20 March 2014. The other panellists were former senior editor of The Australian, Nick Cater, NSW Treasurer, Mike Baird, and the Director of Social Business at the Centre for Social Impact, UNSW and former Federal MP, Cheryl Kernot. The panel was chaired by the Rev. Dr Keith Garner, the CEO of Wesley Mission.
In the world today, I am a minority woman. I am a middle-class, well-educated, fully employed, white woman. I live in a very comfortable house in an increasingly gentrified inner city suburb in one of the most expensive cities in the world. I’m surrounded by friends, family and colleagues who uphold and support me. My formal education is ongoing (although I do hope I reach the end soon). I am healthy, if starting to feel my age… just a little.
By Australian standards, I’m not among such a small minority, but the gap between the quality of my life and the life of so many others should keep a lot more of us awake at night than it does. Walk out of this building and around the neighbouring few blocks and have a look around.
We could spend tonight arguing over the stats and how we should or shouldn’t measure inequality, but I don’t think that’s why we’re here.
While good numbers can be helpful (and bad numbers totally misleading), we’re here tonight because organisations like Wesley Mission pay profound attention to the reality of people’s lives. And those stories of people experiencing disadvantage and exclusion across the country are sobering and alarming.
Australia is not the land of the ‘Fair Go’ for all of us. It’s not the land of the ‘Fair Go’ for First Peoples. It’s not the land of the fair go for families living with intergenerational disadvantage, not for people who are homeless, for women who suffer domestic violence, for so many people with disabilities, mental illness… and I could go on.
I believe that human flourishing depends on relationship – our life together in society, and our relationship with the planet. Systems and structures that are built on the myth that any single individual can succeed if only they make right and sensible choices, deny this that is most deeply human about us. And economic agendas based on the drive to never-ending growth and which assume that we can continue to plunder and pollute the planet at whim, only doom future generations to a level of disadvantage we can’t really imagine.
But today, right now, the reality of the lives of too many people in this country tell a story about systems, structures and policies that favour the already wealthy over those who are poor, and the strong over the weak. They tell of a society which has built its systems on the fundamentally flawed principles of individualism and materialism, competition and greed, and the commodification of life.
We must begin to re-set and transform the way we understand our progress as a nation. To do that we need to re-imagine our society based on the principles of community, generosity, co-operation, equity, inclusion and sustainability. We have a responsibility to each other to ensure that everyone has enough, and that no-one has too much at the expense of those who have too little. And we must continually remind our governments of their responsibility to ensure that policies don’t further entrench disadvantage but rather contribute to the wellbeing and flourishing of every person. We have a lot of work to do in this land of the not-so-fair-go-for-everyone.