The Government's creed of 'personal responsibility' is all about fobbing off its responsibilities and putting them in the hands of the public, writes Jeff Schiller.
ONE OF THE OFT-REPEATED MANTRAS of this government is 'personal responsibility'.
As far as I can tell, no-one with even the smallest shred of social conscience could place so much weight on personal responsibility within such complex and dynamic societies.
Who believes that Mr Abbott would have raised himself to the level of prime minister of Australia had he been born as one of five siblings to a single mother in one of the lowest socio-economic suburbs? Could we honestly believe that it fell to 'child Tony' to know how to focus and excel – regardless of all the social barriers – and achieve the heights he has?
I wouldn’t be surprised if such people actually do believe that.
There is compelling evidence that privilege undermines not only social conscience but the capacity for an individual to distinguish between their efforts and their privileges.
Sure, personal responsibility plays a role. Yet one's socio-economic status is clearly a major influence.
Knowing the limits of personal responsibility within societies is no new thing.
The fossil records of our own species shows that people with disabilities or the very old lived for many years due to the efforts of others. Even our cave dwelling ancestors rejected the notion that it is up to the individual to fend for themselves. They understood the value of social groups working together before even inventing writing.
Giving up your seat or donating to charity is an acknowledgement of the value of a community.
Personal responsibility: A lonely road
Personal responsibility as central lore to prosperity only makes sense if an individual is able to create all the essential goods and services that he or she requires for a fulfilling life. True individualism is very different to the conservative mantra by the same name.
This quite clearly stands in contrast to reality.
The most successful individuals today could not have possibly achieved all they have without a workforce consisting of skills that such people lack. A prime minister could only achieve an annual pay cheque of half a million dollars because the country worked and paid taxes to fund such wages.
Is it really a case of 'personal responsibility'?
We have laws designed to achieve a fair sense of autonomy. This is genuine personal responsibility in action.
Alongside 'freedom' and 'individualism' this slogan of 'personal responsibility' is merely code language to reduce measures that protect us against exploitation. It is not really a question of personal responsibility, but rather a hope of reducing accountability.
For instance, it is the individual's 'personal responsibility' to ensure they are not exploited by employers, or that they don't ask for wages that “force” an employer to downsize.
If you doubt me, think of this government's comments on Holden and SPC wages, and recall the removal of employee protection under WorkChoices.
Investing in happy, healthy, professional Australians
Treasurer Joe Hockey has already suggested that he wants the Australian economy to look more like Hong Kong. 'Personal responsibility' reigns supreme here as does growing inequality and the “working poor”.
Having Hockey’s annual income of around $360,000 would mean that his wife and children could enjoy better healthcare and education than that hypothetical – yet realistic – family of a single mother with five children mentioned above.
Fair taxes, however, could allow all of these children to experience the same high level of healthcare and education.
This would mean that the next generation would have eight healthy professionals.
Hong Kong-styled Australia would have only three professionals. These would live alongside five others with a higher likelihood of resorting to illegal activities or defeatism (such as living on social benefits). Of course, Joe's kids would be in a more competitive job market, whether that factors into Hockey's thinking or not.
Greater social investment leads to greater potential for the society as a whole and clearly an empowered workforce.
Scrap the slogan and do the job!
In essence, taxes are legislated 'whip-rounds' so that, collectively, we can achieve shared objectives that individually we never could.
Apart from the sinister ideology behind these slogans, the message 'personal responsibility' gives is a simple one ― our public representatives wish to wash their hands of their obligation to the people who elected them.
They choose to leave people to fend for themselves, with whatever purchasing power they find themselves. It is an erosion of all that a community aspires to achieve as a group with shared hopes and goals.
Personal responsibility, in this instance, has nothing to do with the law.
If someone breaks the law, they are held accountable as they always have been.
No, we have a Government trying to pawn off the responsibilities of their role to the public. We mustn't let them.
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