Politics Opinion

The disadvantaged face the brunt of COVID-related hardship

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Over several days, there have been protests held in Melbourne (image via YouTube)

Recent protests in Melbourne underline that Australia has a serious problem with economic inequality, writes Duncan Storrar

AS I SIT on my bush block in far north Queensland, I've watched from afar the events in Melbourne over the last few days.

Listening to the university-educated elite explain what is going on. 

The privileged see the protesters as anti-vaxers and far-right extremists. I see a disaffected poor being exploited by the privileged right and the privileged left the have ridden off the back of fighting for the poor.

But they never really wanted to come down to "poverty street" and get to know us.

I left school at 13 years old. Five years ago, while getting a bus to a save public housing rally, I noticed graphite on the bus stop. It was swastika: that’s normal where I lived, it's what some silly 14-year-old boys do.

But what scared me was it came with a political message that migrants are taking our future jobs. This means that the right are actively recruiting, as it isn't normal for youth to include a message with that sign.

The next week, a man told a story of how a group came and mowed his mum's lawn and fixed her taps. This was a Proud Boys-esque group. 

Since then, I have told anybody I could that the left has to become part of the poor community and not just see us as bloc of votes.

At Australian Council of Social Service (ACOSS) events, I’ve tried to tell anybody that would listen that the far-right is recruiting youth in my community. Nobody did.

Now COVID has come along and our so-called leaders have used it to divide us. We have been so willing to be divided. We talk of empathy then share stories about someone who didn’t believe in COVID and is now on a respirator, as if that justifies their severe illness.

Our parliaments, both state and federal, have spent two yrs doing this to us. It has brought out the worst in all of us.

Now, this is all a good, political game. But I was raised in poverty and will never be able to wash that stench off. I am still proud of my class.

Now, this is why I'm sad for my community. We had a chance to stop all this: we could have raised social security to above the poverty line and invested in public housing. Parliament could have had a bipartisan plan to end poverty. Instead, we got a cashless welfare card.

The poor have always had each others' backs. But the rest of society have used us for talking points: that we are scared, undereducated and fear a society that seems to not care about us. 

I fear that my community is about to rip itself apart, because the privileged has abandoned us.

We down here at the bottom are about to tear ourselves apart because both sides of politics have used us in their ideological games.

We need to pull back and end poverty now. The Marching in the streets about masks is just a symptom; its what happens when you deprive generations of the poor an education and a path out of poverty.

I sit up here now in my paradise watching from afar the craziness of the last few days. Nobody sees poverty as the root cause of what is happening.

COVID is just the spark leaving me in fear that the poor once again will be both the scapegoat and receive society's anger. I also fear we can't stop all this now.

We have to welcome empathy, invest to end poverty now, not just talk about it for another generation.

Social security is called that because it keeps society secure when it no longer provides a decent safety net accessible for all.

Society becomes unstable where support isn't provided to all and this can manifest itself in events like those in Melbourne. The poor see this as the only choice.

But it isn’t really the poor's choice. It’s all of the rest of you that get to make the choice of where we go now.

Duncan Storrar is an anti-poverty advocate and has started an advocacy service for children in care and their families.

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