When confronted by serious matters such as threats to public health and safety, the default position of rightwingers is to wash their hands of it.
This is as much to dispel any unpleasantness that might stick to their person as the fact that they are more interested in benefiting themselves and their benefactors than they are in the public.
This is true of both conservative leaders and their disciples. The premise of this philosophy is an allegiance to the survival of the fittest. To competition, not cooperation.
WASHING HANDS OF THE POOR
It is essentially a heartless narrative comprising such comments as:
- "The starting point for a first home buyer is to get a good job that pays good money." ~ Former Treasurer Joe Hockey
- “Poor people don’t drive cars”~ Also Hockey
- “I will not engage in … unfunded empathy” ~ Prime Minister Scott Morrison
- “There is nothing wrong with retailers increasing prices. It ensures products can be bought by those who value them the most.” ~ IPA adjunct fellow Matthew Lesh
- “You could go out and give a million dollars to a charity tomorrow to help the homeless. You could argue that it is just wasted. They are not putting anything back into the community.” ~ Harvey Norman CEO Gerry Harvey
This, of course, is the basis upon which neoliberalism has survived and flourished in recent years. An overarching belief that everything, including empathy, must be paid for. The misfortune of others is hardly our fault and so we shouldn’t worry about it, or lift a finger to help. If anything, it’s an opportunity. We should capitalise, by spiking prices when there are shortages, by blaming everyone else for our mistakes and victims for not being savvier, and by lying.
The only time the conservative consider the public is when all-important public relations, the kind that affects business and profits, is threatened.
In the past, it has usually been conservatives that resisted medical advice on smoking, on asbestos and on lead content in petrol. All of these things threatened profits. They threatened the elites and so had to be resisted at all costs.
Today, this is true of the bushfire crisis, the climate emergency, the economic crisis and in most (if not all) day to day activities of the current Coalition Government.
Most recently, it is about the COVID-19 response.
FOUR NEOLIBERAL STEPS
In governance, the expression of this allegiance to Darwinian adherence takes the form of the following four steps, perhaps best illustrated by the most recent Centrelink debacle (as indicated under each step):
- Ignore disaster until there is no avoiding it any longer
The Federal Government closes businesses in response to pandemic (months after first warnings) when it becomes obvious that doing nothing is no longer working.
- When negative PR becomes untenable and the peasants rebel, do as little as possible
It is then dragged kicking and screaming to offer financial relief for the many people now out of work due to the business closures.
- Do not provide anything extra
The Department of Human Services (led by Stuart Robert) makes no allowances, staff increases, or technological improvements to already overloaded systems in order to implement said relief.
- When everything hits the fan, adopt the "Bart Simpson" approach — blame everyone else, distract, lie
The system crashes, people have to queue for hours outside Centrelink awaiting assistance, crowded together during the enforced “social distancing” phase and the online MyGov system crashes. Robert comes up with an elaborate lie about a vague “cyberattack” and after he’s found out, simply shrugs and says, “My bad”.
In the case of our PM, neoliberalism is even at the core of his religion — an evangelical brand of Christianity based on a “prosperity doctrine”. This doctrine equates material, and particularly financial, success as God’s reward for the faithful. And it is what makes Morrison tick.
THE COVID-19 WASH-UP
It is evident in Morrison’s painstakingly slow response to the coronavirus, despite our geographic advantage to its overseas origins. Indeed, it is more than a little ironic that the man who claims to have "stopped the boats" didn't bat an eyelid when cruise ships carrying thousands of passengers and including confirmed cases of COVID-19, were allowed to dock and passengers disembarked without so much as needing to wash their hands.
If the coronavirus was brown and came from the Middle East, of course, it would already be have been deported to Christmas Island.
It is abundantly clear in Morrison's persistent advice – against that of the W.H.O., as well the lived reality in other countries – that children (and teachers) are perfectly safe, while everyone else must go into lockdown.
And it is most evident in the manner in which, when he updates the nation on the crisis, he even tells us to “wash our hands” in an aggressive and condescending tone. It is our fault for being unwashed. For being poor. For getting sick. And for dying and affecting the economy.
The party whose benefactors hold them to ransom must always put the needs of the rich first. This same pattern of behaviour may be seen in the responses of Tory governments everywhere.
This all adds up to the inescapable conclusion that conservatives will do the right thing but only when a more profitable choice fails to materialise. It is about pushing survival of the fittest, one hand-wash at a time.
The grossly inadequate and slow response from Australia has been primarily only about washing hands. It has not been about stringent quarantine procedures, the production of testing kits, investing in cures or vaccines.
Today they are telling us to wash our hands while they wash their hands of the great unwashed.
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