Grinding the face of the poor


Bootprint'What do you mean by crushing my people, by grinding the face of the poor?' — Isaiah chapter 3 verse 15

The Budget was one of most vicious attacks on ordinary people that we have seen in recent Australian history.

We are not in the throes of a fiscal crisis but if we embark on this treacherous path of US-style austerity we will be staring down the barrel of a social crisis.

We will be facing a social crisis if the people who bear the burden of inequality, especially the people who are forced into poverty and even homelessness, are made to pay so that the generous tax concessions enjoyed by the wealthy are preserved.

We will be facing a social crisis if the Government seeks to grind down people's lives, humiliating them and hurting them instead of helping them.

But make no mistake. In the face of the social crisis we have a secret weapon. It is called solidarity. And don't worry. It remains a secret weapon even though we name it openly and proudly. It remains a secret weapon because those who do not practise it can never understand it.

Solidarity is growing strong. It is being taught by the experts; by the people who suffer most from the toxic fruits of poverty and inequality, from the First Peoples of Australia to the most recent arrivals who seek asylum in this beautiful country and everyone in between, all who are attacked, all who are derided and despised.

These are the ordinary people, the great people, who have achieved on the ground the greatest and most progressive social change by analysing and agitating under the guiding stars of struggle and hope. Good social policy might be formulated and legislated from above but it is always created and fought for from below by ordinary people who will not allow the purveyors of injustice and inequality and greed to grind them down.

Our struggle is for a society in which no one is oppressed or humiliated by structures of inequality. It will be a long struggle, a hard struggle. But just as our struggle is enormous, so too is our hope.

As Brecht put it: 'The most beautiful of all doubts is when the downtrodden and despondent stop believing in the strength of their oppressors.'

This Budget will not discomfit the comfortable, but for those who struggle to make ends meet it will cause great suffering. This is not a Budget that repairs a nation. It is a Budget that has broken a nation's heart.

Our problem in Australia is not the 'idleness of the poor', as proposed by those who refuse to let the truth get in the way of ideology. Putting the boot into disadvantaged Australians might be therapeutic for welfare bashers but it will not help even one person into employment. Our problem is inequality.

This is a social question, not a question of behavior. We do irreparable harm when we turn it into a question of individual behavior, blaming people for their own poverty, as is so often the case with people who are homeless or in jail because of society's failure to provide them with opportunities and to nurture their talents.

We build massive walls around people on the basis of their race, class, gender or disability. The same people are then condemned for lacking the 'aspiration' to scale these walls.

Our task is to have the humility to listen to the people who can teach us what it is that needs to change. It is about committing ourselves to join in the long-haul project of tearing down the walls that we have built around people, locking them out, or locking them up.

'What counts today,' wrote Franz Fanon back in 1961, 'the question which is looming on the horizon, is the need for a redistribution of wealth. Humanity must reply to this question, or be shaken to pieces by it.'

Fanon wrote eloquently of the 'systematic negation of the other person and the furious determination to deny the other person all attributes of humanity.'

Sadly, the Federal Budget will result in a further redistribution of resources away from the already-poor towards the already-rich. This attempt at wealth redistribution can only occur on the basis of that 'systematic negation' of humanity typified by attacks on people who are pushed to the margins. Warren Buffett was right when he said: 'There's class warfare alright, but it's my class, the rich class, that's making war, and we're winning.'

Unemployment, homelessness, inequality and poverty will not be reduced by reducing social expenditure. As philosopher Slavoj Zizek explains:

We are told again and again that we live in a critical time of deficit and debts where we all have to share a burden and accept a lower standard of living — all with the exception of the (very) rich. The idea of taxing them more is an absolute taboo: if we do this, so we are told, the rich will lose the incentive to invest and create new jobs, and we will all suffer the consequences. The only way to escape the hard times is for the poor to get poorer and for the rich to get richer.

But we are not easily deterred from our struggle for a more equitable society. And it would appear that large sections of the community are feeling a growing sense of solidarity and love. Brecht put it so well:

The compassion of the oppressed for the
oppressed is indispensable. It is the world's one hope.


John FalzonDr John Falzon is Chief Executive of the St Vincent de Paul Society National Council and is author of The Language of the Unheard.

Footprint image from Shutterstock

Topic tags: John Falzon, Budget 2014, Slavoj Zizek, Brecht



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Existing comments

Thank you John for touching upon some principles of humanity which will be much needed to stem the consequences of this appalling budget. It is a budget geared to undermining the value of many citizens in our society. But it is also a budget that is provoking a national discussion and hopefully practical action to bring about a fairer, more just and equal society.

Name | 28 May 2014  

Just about every country dedicated to pursuing equality has found itself building walls to stop people getting OUT. Countries dedicated to economic freedom often try to stop people getting IN. Forget the words of those rusted-on Marxists Dr Falzon quotes above: the track record of equality vs. economic freedom as a political ideal speaks for itself. (Note: one of those Marxists, Brecht, was one of the few East Germans with money stashed away in a Swiss bank account. "All animals are equal, but some are more equal than others".) Could it be that Dr Falzon loves the poor so much, he wants there to be more of them?

HH | 28 May 2014  

Well said, HH. I am amazed at the number of people who cling to socialism. Has there ever been a theory proven to be a failure so often as socialism? Yet people like Dr Falzon cling to it as if this time they can get it right. If Dr Falcon travelled back in time to Stalin's Russia, he might then know what it is like to have agovernment grind the faces of the poor and every other person whois not a party member.

marg | 28 May 2014  

Watch Paxman and Brand clash during a Newsnight interview:

Annoying Orange | 28 May 2014  

To H.H. The real collapse is happening in the democratic structures we used to believe held us together.

Annoying Orange | 28 May 2014  

Those who attack John Falzon's perspective and warning of where the proposed Federal Budget could take us only have to look at the recent results of elections to the European Parliament. The surge from unity in the political centre to the extremes of nationalist right and extremist left is a direct result of the beggaring of southern nations and Ireland by the comfortable economic ideology of Germany as the power-broker. Add to this the attitude of the wealthier nations to asylum seekers which requires that, throughout Europe, asylum-seekers be returned to where they first arrived in boats on European shores: read Italy, Greece, Spain. Sound familiar?

Ian Fraser | 28 May 2014  

My father and grandfather went to war for this country and to stand up for our way of life. Abbott and company are bringing American and British values to our country and i dont like it. Remember that the UK and the USA are STILL getting over the GFC that we have come out of fairly well so their policies must be wrong - not ours. I earn a good salary and am happy to 'do the lifting' but I despise the LNP for getting stuck into those less fortunate than me.

John | 28 May 2014  

I.F. We're all ears! Why not disclose for us uninitiated this wonderful, concrete, viable economic regime that eschews whatever you loathe in market capitalism, yet avoids the historically brutal outcomes that rusted-­on Marxist statesmen have implemented? Why hold back the proof that the armchair Marxists (cum Swiss bank accounts) that Dr Falzon routinely channels - unlike all their comrades who’ve actually tried to put theory into practice, with disastrous results ­- have tweaked the knobs exactly right?

HH | 29 May 2014  

Marg, I seem to recall a certain Person saying a couple of thousand years ago, something to the effect that if we have more than we need, we must share what we have. His early followers in Jerusalem went on to live in a socialist community far more rigorous than anything we have seen in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. I lived in the Soviet Union from 1984 to 1986, and, yes it was brutal, and it was a living insult to the memory of Marx, but no more an insult than the NSW ALP is to the memory of the workers who founded it.

Peter Downie | 29 May 2014  

Thank you John ! Frederick O"s spiritual son you truly are ! Anne

Anne | 29 May 2014  

Big on rhetoric, short on facts. "Massive walls around people", Dr Falzon this is precisely what you are doing, creating a gulf between rich and poor. without offering any solutions. It's so easy to criticise and demonise the rich and unrealistically blame them for all social ills. I'm not rich, but I pay my way and work hard. Instead of all the "bash the government", a little positive constructive brainstorming would be welcome. All the negative talk crushes the spirit of the poor, instead of uplifting and enlightening all of us.

Jane Penseur | 29 May 2014  

Well said. Thank you for putting the problems so well.

MTF | 29 May 2014  

PD, as has been pointed out many times, the early Christian communities were examples of VOLUNTARY "socialism", so nothing like the coercive regimes Dr Falzon's Marxist heroes advocate and defend. Meanwhile,St Paul (eg) ran his own business as a tentmaker to finance his missions, so obviously making a profit for oneself wasn't considered immoral. Most importantly those voluntary "socialist" experiments, even though made up of fervent Christians filled with the fire of Pentecost, clearly FAILED: perhaps because of the perennial feature of such communities: freeloading, which Paul's letters indicate was a problem ("He who does not work does not eat.") The same thing happened to the Mayflower Pilgrims' experiment in Massachusetts imitating that of the early Christians - again, all fired up with Christian principles, but reduced to famine and starvation within a couple of years of voluntary communism. So these examples (and others) raise the sixty-four dollar question: If socialism proves such a miserable flop when it's voluntary, when its members are highly motivated and it's a small tightly knit community, how can it possibly work when it is coercive and the population is by comparison huge and of diverse, often conflicting, values? As history grimly shows, it can't.

HH | 29 May 2014  

Thank you John.As usual your support for the poor helps to remind us of our responsibilities in trying to address problems .but ,I am speechless at some of the responses. Speechless and saddened. Stop playing politics.and blind adherence to political parties and false economies. Let's use all the passion to work out the kind of Australian society we want. The Lot of the ordinary Aussie is being made untenable,our treatment of those seeking refuge is abominable , our media is biased,our politicians misguided. Basic human principles are being eroded. Reflect , pray and act Australia . The person branded a " dole bludger" on a tv program last night May one day be your child.

Celia | 29 May 2014  

HH and Marg seem to confuse Stalin's Russia with what true socialism looks like. Stalin was not a socialist. He was a brutal authoritarian dictator. And HH, people are not lining up to leave countries such as Sweden, Finland and Denmark. Those nations have made equality a major emphasis and are reaping rich rewards. Thank you John for another insightful column. I believe you are absoulutely right when you state that, "Our struggle is for a society in which no one is oppressed or humiliated by structures of inequality. It will be a long struggle, a hard struggle. But just as our struggle is enormous, so too is our hope." I'm really sorry that so many readers misunderstand you, John. Please keep speaking up on behalf of the poor and oppressed in our nation.

Robert | 29 May 2014  

HH, while I think Marx had something valid to say about the economic ills of his time, the Leninist and Maoist applications of his ideas proved that commitment to an economic philosophy without regard for the well-being of all in society causes great injustice, misery and premature deaths. The problem with market capitalism is the same. Where any government withdraws support for the people who miss out on the rewards that market capitalism offers, again you have great injustice, misery and premature deaths. Rather than have government-caused poverty as in Thatcher's Britain following Friedman's market-capitalist theories - I argue for a more balanced Australia. As a retired professional, I do not need the middle-class welfare which has been given as political bribes over the last two, perhaps three decades - by Coalition and Labor governments. I abhor the fact that the just released Federal budget includes apparently permanent reduction of support for people in weaker economic position, including a fee for GP consultations and setting the scene for pricing poorer families out of tertiary education, only slightly mitigated by a temporary levy on the richest Australians. The budget is one-sided, cutting expenditure with no significant change in collecting revenue.

Ian Fraser | 29 May 2014  

Has Marx replaced Christ?

john frawley | 29 May 2014  

The first two of this morning's comments are simply appalling. Quoting a great writer like Brecht (it simply will not do, in logic or fairness, to dismiss him as a "rusted-on Marxist") does not -- pace "HH"and "Marg" -- make Dr Falzon a "Marxist" (a term used here, by the way, simply as denigration deployed instead of sensible thinking). And the line by "HH" -- "Could it be that Dr Falzon loves the poor so much, he wants there to be more of them?" -- is one of the most gratuitously offensive which I have seen in a very long time. Some of these comments remind me of the injunction, in the New Testament, about keeping the difference between "motes" and "beams" in the forefront of our thinking. There's very little compassion or Christian Charity in such responses.

Dr John CARMODY | 29 May 2014  

John this is uplifting John. Ian for your comments thank you. One just needs to look to the streets - this budget has caused enormous concern in our society. The budget is unjust and inequitable. It favours the wealthy and will cost families ,youth and the vulnerable more so.. Do not dispose of universal health care. The LNP seem out of touch with the people they are meant to serve. We are not economic beings but human beings, doing our best. Given the right opportunity all will be lifted in ways that give back to society- be it in paid work, parenthood or in carrying out responsibilities to country and community, or in volunteering. The latter contributions by families and others including the First Australians so misunderstood and undervalued. A healthy family and community are the cell of society. Scripture, Catholic Social Teaching principals / human rights conventions are guides to be followed in public /social policy. The dignity of each human being must be at its core. RESPECT. Do not lean on the poor /vulnerable, do not push them down any further- address the root causes of poverty, homelessness, depression and unemployment.

Georgina | 29 May 2014  

'Rusted-on Marxists'? Some responses seem obsessed with Marxism, to the extent that they don't engage with Dr. Falzon's arguments at all. Knocking Marxism is beating a dead dog. It's what going on here and now that's important. Labelling people as Marxists in order to dismiss them is lazy and perhaps even vicious. Thank you, Dr Falzon, for your passion and insight.

Joan Seymour | 29 May 2014  

Robert, Sweden was a very wealthy free market economy from late 19th century till the 1950s. It gradually implemented socialism in many (though by no means all) parts of its economy. As a result, its growth declined markedly till the crisis in the early '90s. It has implemented significant market-oriented reforms since and has somewhat redressed the situation. But not totally. For example, its nationalized health sector is a sick joke with all the usual problems of a sclerotic government bureaucracy. Not as bad as socialist Cuba's - true. But give it time. (Actually, for the sake of the Swedes, don't.) Dr Carmody as you are well aware, I didn't call Dr Falzon a Marxist. Nevertheless I unashamedly deplore his enthusiasm for Marxist thinkers. Marxism has created utter misery wherever anyone has tried to implement it. Either Dr Falzon wants there to be more poor people - His heroes like Zizek unbelievably want to re-active the poverty making machine which is coercive equality - or he has chosen to avert his gaze from the overwhelmingly horrific testimony of the 20th century and speaks out of this contrived ignorance. Neither position does him any credit. By the way, if you're really sensitive about gratuitously offensive comments, you've come to the right place: anyone who has a non-PC position on climate change, boat people, the economy or moral matters is routinely alleged in either articles or blog comments on E.S. to be unChristian. In a spirit of evenhandedness, you might tackle writers here who allege in all seriousness that Tony Abbott has a "missing moral core".

HH | 29 May 2014  

John your comments are 'spot on', hopefully they will be heard in the right places. Thank you for your comments. Rosemary Keenan WA

Rosemary Keenan | 29 May 2014  

Jane Penseur, based on that logic it would never be ok to point the finger at the rich or stick up for the poor. It seems to me John Falzon is expressing a very simple proposition. Those with capacity to pay and contribute should do so, and those lacking in capacity should not be further burdened. The problem with this budget is that it asks everyone to contributed. That burden falls disproportionately on the poor as a result.

George | 29 May 2014  

Well said and thank you, HH and Marg. You have expressed my view on the above John Falzon's article very well.

Ron Ciini | 29 May 2014  

Well said, John. As someone who is comfortably off, I can still stand in solidarity with those who bear the burden of inequality. Those who brought down this budget seem to think that only those who have something to lose are complaining. On the contrary, I say to them: "Why did you let me off paying the tax on my superannuation, which I was quite happy to pay?"

Rob Brian | 29 May 2014  

Swapping one government or comparing one government with another – is completely missing the point of this piece. Communism, Socialism, 'Democracy’ - as it is today, are all systems of control and they will inevitably be used by egoic people who seek out power in order to control others. What do you mean by crushing my people, by grinding the face of the poor?' — Isaiah chapter 3 verse 15

Annoying Orange | 29 May 2014  

Dr Falzon spoke of the 2014 Budget as a social crisis where the rich get richer, while the poor get poorer. Such a trend invites social conflict. Dr Falzon offered the concept of 'Solidarity' to weather the storm of this crisis. 'Solidarity' should not be confused with 'Socialism'. Solidarity and Subsidiarity are two sides of the same coin of Catholic social doctrine and quintessential to Catholic social teaching. The connotations and anecdotal evidence of Marxism, Communism and Socialism would be misplaced and irrelevant.

Bob GROVES | 29 May 2014  

I can't but resonate to Falzon's eloquence. But I have to admit there is no hint in his piece, as to practicalities. The present Thatcherite coterie in Canberra represent a purely toxic, unreflective ideology. But to announce its moral bankruptcy is nowhere near enough. I want to discover those technical conomists who begin with a truly sound moral base and THEN apply their detailed strategic expertise to bring it to fruit. Where are they?? We don't just need Isaiahs, we need Joshuas.

Frederick Green | 29 May 2014  

Have Eureka Street mixed up the comments? John Falzon wrote an excellent article on the budget and its effect on the poor. Among the comments there was an anonymous diatribe about socialism, which John didn't mention at all, a stunningly original observation that Stalin wasn't a very nice man, as well as a whinge about climate change, and boat people. Another poster claims that John is: "creating a gulf between rich and poor". Really? There wan't a gulf between rich & poor before John came along? So, to ask my question again: have these comments been mixed up? Would they have made sense if they had been attached to another article (one about Stalin having been a nice man, perhaps?) Nobody has attempted to engage with any point that John made. By the way, HH, writing your statements in block capitals doesn't make them true. You need to produce actual evidence (I'm sorry, but it's time someone pointed this out.)

Simon Crase | 29 May 2014  

Congratulations John on a powerful article. You and members of St V de P are well placed to understand the truth of what you have said about the effects of this budget on the disadvantaged in our community. John, keep on speaking out. Plenty of Australians agree with you. Look at the polls.

Ellen | 29 May 2014  

Did I read a different article to most of the people commenting here? I didn't see anything about socialism or Marxism. Do you realise the Cold War is over? The Soviet Union has been disbanded - and Russia has turned from being a Socialist bully state to a Capitalist bully state? It's not the label of capitalism or socialism that matter in this new era of world politics - and I wish all the old fogeys commenting here would realise that.

AURELIUS | 29 May 2014  

SC: Do you honestly need me to produce evidence that there was a Berlin Wall, an Iron Curtain, and a restriction with severe and often capital punishment attached to Cubans, Red Chinese, North Koreans, Vietnamese, Pol Pot Cambodians, etc, etc defecting from their country? And that Australia stops boat people coming in ? (Evidently you haven’t been following the news over the last 9 months.) And that the U.S. has massive border security issues with Mexico for the same reason. And that the early Christian communities were not a case of coercive socialism? And that the Mayflower pilgrims' voluntary communism ended in disaster within a couple of seasons? This is the information age ... you can find out the facts using Google, and prove me wrong. Go ahead! Meantime, since there's no facility on this blog for emphasis other than crude capitals, I have no alternative but to use it. And I'll continue to critique Dr Falzon's totally false and dangerous suggestion that the problem in Australia is "inequality", and that in his many pushings of the coercive equality barrow he overwhelmingly cites Marxists and other socialists as his authorities. Joan, thanks but I'm not "labelling" people as Marxists. These are people who proudly describe (or have described) themselves as such. Those around today (such as Zizek) believe, unlike yourself (thankfully), that the "dead dog" is well and truly alive. That's the problem!

HH | 29 May 2014  

Dear Mr. No Name, I'm not questioning that North Korea, China, or any other country has capital punishment, because none of this has any relevance to the orginal article. I think (although I could be wrong) that you are intelligent enough to realize that your selection of red herring is irrelevant to Dr. Falzon's article. Do you actually have a rebuttal to any of his points? (yes, with evidence). If so, why not share it with us? Incidentally, "shouting" by using block capitals has been considered rude by Internet users for as long as I can recall. If you had a valid point to make, you'd be less likely to feel that you "have no alternative" to shouting. You might even overcome your unwillingness to associate your name with your writing

Simon Crase | 30 May 2014  

Having disgraced himself so egregiously by accusing Dr Falzon of wanting more poor people in Australia, HH seems incapable of pausing to reflect on his behaviour or his automated outrage. Instead, he has responded with an angry catalogue of 20th century atrocities -- most of them true but entirely irrelevant, except to those who want to keep fighting the battles of the past. Yes it is true that mankind hasn't changed much over its recorded history and that truly dreadful things continue to happen; and yes, it is folly to ignore them. But none of that has anything to do with the heartfelt article which Dr Falzon wrote, nor with the question of whether the current federal budget is fair through exculpating the rich and imposing severely upon the poor and the young.

John Carmody | 30 May 2014  

S.C., my point is not about the red herring of capital punishment at all: it is that, contra Dr Falzon's view, equality is such a dangerously false political ideal that regimes energetically pursuing it wind up having to discourage their subjects from fleeing in droves. (Sometimes they did it with the gun barrel - eg East Germany). On the other hand, countries that are laid back about equality/inequality and more interested in allowing people to create wealth for themselves via the market end up being so attractive they sometimes feel (rightly or wrongly) the need to stop people coming in. That itself is evidence which goes to Dr Falzon's central contention that "our problem is inequality". There is no injustice in inequality per se. There is injustice when those who have peacefully created wealth for themselves don't care for their needy neighbour. But, seeing to that, voluntarily and/or via taxes, they are not bound in justice to further reduce themselves to the same level of wealth as their neighbour. The Marxists Dr Falzon invokes would disagree, holding as they do to the principle that one man's wealth is always the result of another man's poverty (the ‘exploitation theory’, etc). It is based on a view of economics and wealth creation for which, I contend, there is not a shred of evidence in theory or history.

HH | 30 May 2014  

At last we're getting somewhere: Mr. No Name and I both agree that his reference to capital punishment was a red herring. Maybe I could assume that we agree there are other red herrings - climate change, boat people and, dare I say it, Marxism? If we both read the same article, there was no reference to Marxism either. There are several references to inequality: "We will be facing a social crisis if the people who bear the burden of inequality, especially the people who are forced into poverty and even homelessness, are made to pay so that the generous tax concessions enjoyed by the wealthy are preserved"; " the people who suffer most from the toxic fruits of poverty and inequality"; "...ordinary people who will not allow the purveyors of injustice and inequality and greed to grind them down"; "Our struggle is for a society in which no one is oppressed or humiliated by structures of inequality"; "Our problem is inequality." This last one the one that seems to be bothering the Nameless One. Clearly we aren't reading this the same way. Dr. Falzon's concerns, in the article I read, appear to be about the budget increasing inequality, and hence increasing the hardships faced by those at the bottom of the heap. Naming something as a problem is not necessarily the same as trying to abolish it. Calling for a more equitable society isn't the same as being a Marxist (although a Marxist might insist that they are the same). Hmmm - is it possible that HH is a crypto-Marxist, trying to make free market supporters look silly? Now that would be a good reason to conceal his name.

Simon Crase | 30 May 2014  

Thank you John for an article that has really made me think about the problem of inequality. I voted for Tony Abbott at the last election, I am now ashamed to say. This budget however, and analyses like yours, are making me wonder whether our obsession with the free market is hurting far too many innocent people. Perhaps we do need to aim for some form of democratic socialism so that everyone can live with dignity.

J. Pereira | 30 May 2014  

No, S.C. I didn't say in my first comment that Dr Falzon referenced "Marxism". I pointed out he approvingly cites the ideas of 3 writers who are/were in fact well- known Marxists: Brecht, Fanon and Zizek. Dr Falzon seems reluctant to reveal the Marxist/communist affiliations of his authorities, preferring neutral descriptors - thus the "philosopher" Zizek, and (in other pieces) the "poet" Brecht, the "poet" Neruda, the "activist" Angela Davis, etc.

HH | 30 May 2014  

Why is Marx being discussed here? That's an insidiously alarmist argument that is contrary to productive political discussion. Do you think a Catholic would advocate for Marx? Social equality is not a Marxist principle...

Andrew Scott | 30 May 2014  

There is something morbid about the abstract, unfeeling contributions made by certain contributors to this thread. Do they really understand the suffering of their brothers and sisters who live amongst them? Get out of your ivory towers. We’re talking about real people here. I know of a homeless Sydney family, gentle, sincere people (mum and kids) who two years ago escaped a violent oppressive domestic situation. In this abusive relationship, Mum had been prevented from acquiring work skills and now has significant and complex psychological problems, but at the time, she had the strength of person to escape her “imprisonment”. Since her “liberation” her life has degenerated. When not couch surfing, the family lives in their car, which is unregistered. When food and alcohol runs out, mum takes clients. They live in daily fear of harassment by police and assaults at night and of course she is on the run from all her creditors. Her son is sixteen, his brain traumatized by witnessing years of domestic violence, has profound learning difficulties and an emerging alcohol problem. He will shortly exit the school system which is his only form of supportive social engagement. What massive walls are built around this family? Will this boy be condemned for lacking the aspiration to scale those walls? What is the place of this family in Abbott’s Brave New Australia of the 21st Century? There are thousands and thousands of these stories in Australia. It is a disgrace that their stories are silenced. We have a responsibility to tell these stories, those who know them. We must give these people a voice. These are real lives, real people, men, woman, children.

Lawrie Beriya | 31 May 2014  

Thanks, John. Very interesting to get the perspective of someone who sees first-hand the impact of these policies on thousands (and potentially hundreds of thousands) of Australians.

Anthony | 31 May 2014  

Was Isaiah a Marxist too?

J Pereira | 31 May 2014  

Economically speaking, I’m furiously not a Keynesian. But I do respect J.M.K., not least for the many profoundly perceptive remarks he made over the course of his life. For example: “Madmen in authority, who hear voices in the air, are distilling their frenzy from some academic scribbler of a few years back”. Dr Falzon has commented on the budget. The light allegedly shed through this commentary is sourced substantially in the insights of three prominent Marxist advocates of rigid state­enforced material equality ­ Brecht, Fanon and Žižek. Now: that policy, carried out by frenzied distillers of Marx’s scribbles, happens to have had, it is generally acknowledged, a record of dramatically increasing poverty. Yet Dr Carmody insists it is completely irrelevant to table, as I do, that damning historical record. I can only infer that, for him, reminding readers of the real world poverty and misery that Marxism has wrought over and over again in no way calls into question the standing of these three Marxist apologists, cited approvingly by Dr Falzon, to enlighten us all on political economy and the solution to poverty. Well, it’s a point of view. But I profoundly disagree. Deeply concerned about the welfare of my neighbour, and with the insights of modern history at hand, I take the “insights” of a Žižek on political economy with the same grain of salt I take when receiving advice on genetics from a modern day Lysenkoist, or on medicine from a revivalist bloodletter. So, for the sake of the poor, I will continue to call out those such as Dr Falzon who uphold an incoherent but dangerous nutter such as Žižek as respectable authorities. This is not an idle mind game. There are a host of loonies populating academia worldwide. Real people suffer when their ideas, insofar as we can make head or tail of them, are foisted by a state upon its hapless subjects.

HH | 01 June 2014  

When all else fails resort to metaphor. When Treasurer Hockey talks about all of us having to share the "heavy lifting", I wonder if he has Olympic weightlifting in mind? You know where those with the most body weight are expected to be able to lift the most. Then I'm distracted by the example of the widow's mite who contributed all she had for the upkeep of the temple (another metaphor?) whereas the rich contributed only from their surplus. As Chesterton wrote in "The Unfinished Temple", 'The Christian ideal, it is said, has not been tried and found wanting; it has been found difficult and left untried.'

Uncle Pat | 01 June 2014  

Here's little bit more of Marxism for you to refute, HH: "We must first of all recall a principle that has always been taught by the Church; the principle of the priority of labor over capital. This principle directly concerns the process of production: In this process labor is always a primary efficient cause, while capital, the whole collection of means of production remains a mere instrument of instrumental cause." - John Paul II, Laborem Exercens, 12. The paradigm you are dining off, HH, is the kind of Christless doctrinaire materialism trotted out endlessly by Novak, Schall, Gregg & Co at Crisis Mag and supported by George Weigel in First Things. They have made a cottage industry out of dumbing down, domesticating and conveniently 'interpreting' Catholic Social Doctrine for their own self-interest. John Falzon has got it right, HH and you have got it dead wrong.

David Timbs | 01 June 2014  

Maybe we could make the comments more relevant by pretending the article is entitled, "The Biggest Ego".

Eckhart Tolle | 01 June 2014  

Solidarity is the key principle of this article."We must give these people a voice. These are real lives, real people, men, woman, children", as Lawrie Beriya eloquently wrote.

Bernstein | 02 June 2014  

I would respectfully suggest that some of the more theoretic contributors to this thread wouldn’t know a homeless person if they fell over them. I would urge them to spend a week working at Matthew Talbot or the Sydney Women’s refuge for some field experience. It would likely lead to a change of perspective and a heightened sensitivity to the suffering of their fellow companions on the journey.

Lawrie Beriya | 02 June 2014  

If I may also quote John Paul II, who in 1991 wrote the following in "Centesimus Annus" "By intervening directly and depriving society of its responsibility, the social assistance state leads to a loss of human energies, which are dominated more by bureaucratic ways of thinking than by concern for serving their clients, and which are accompanied by an enormous increase in spending. In fact, it would appear that needs are best understood and satisfied by people who are closest to them and who act as neighbours to those in need." When the state decides it is going to make things equal, we get too often nothing but a behemoth of a bureaucracy, remote and unresponsive to what people want, intent only on imposing what it thinks they should want. And contrary to the trust that Dr Falzon seems to have in those who, sharing this solidarity for the poor, will have the backing of the state to enforce their view, I fear that they will ultimately end up following their own self-interest. When countering the supposed virtues of socialism Milton Friedman once retorted, "And where will you find these angels who will organise society for us?" Certainly not from amongst the chief proponents of those who thus far have run socialist states, as far as I judge history.

John Ryan | 02 June 2014  

Uh oh, it’s happened again. Venezuela is fabulously blessed in oil and natural gas reserves. In the 1980s with a reasonably free economy, though not without problems (cronyism, etc) it had the highest standard of living in Latin America. Unfortunately, since then under the late Hugo Chavez, it chose to pursue equality and expunge capitalism. It was substantially successful. As a result, it is now on the skids. Things are so bad there they’ve had to start rationing drinking water, having already introduced rationing for flour, milk, and oil in April. (Free speech was rationed a long while back.) One Caracas resident reports lining up for six hours for tap water. If I were to put a headline over this post, it would be “Grinding the Face of the Poor.” But, hey, thanks to Chavez (who received an adulatory obituary here on E.S. ­ “Losing Chavez the Indespensable”) at least the Venezuelans are now equal, though some are still more equal than others. Stay tuned: we might soon hear insights from the "philosopher" (ie diehard commie) Zizek as to how it’s all the fault of evil capitalism.

HH | 02 June 2014  

Capitalism has spurned progress in a number of wonderful ways, but economic systems are meant for the betterment of society. When such system begin acting to our detriment, then they must be questioned and refined lest we surrender to yet another form of totalitarian rule. You can start by enjoying the following video while you still can:

Eckhart Tolle | 02 June 2014  

Excellent comments, JR! LB, the question is surely not “Should we help the desperately poor (like the poor woman you mention)?” No decent people can disagree about that. The question is “What form of political economy minimizes the chances of becoming desperately poor: a society that goes for material equality or one that goes for economic liberty?” In the battle between market economies and anti-market economies to eliminate systemic grinding poverty, history is overwhelmingly on one side, not the other, I submit. You’ll persuade me otherwise with strong empirical data, but not with tragic scenarios which could equally have occurred in Havana or Pyongyang as in Sydney or Hong Kong, and certainly not with ad homs and moralistic pigeon­-holings which are the routine line of attack of my opponents here.

HH | 02 June 2014  

It’s quite onanistic to talk about social justice and concern for the poor without being amongst them. This kind of abstract theorizing and argument is fine and for some it might be fun engaging in the intellectual joust, but until you do something tangible your words are fruitless and you are taking amusement from the suffering of others. It would be a positive thing if every so called intellectual committed to spending the same amount of time working with and amongst the poor as they do talking about them . Work on a Vinnies van, volunteer for home visits, do some basic social welfare training and make a contribution in your spare time. You could make a real difference to the lives of these people and enrich your own lives as well. HH, Marg, Jane Penseur, Ron Ciini, John Ryan what could you do? What would Jesus want you to do?

Lawrie Beriya | 03 June 2014  

Lawrie Beriya, you make a massive presumption in your post. You think that because people discuss the causes of poverty and disagree with your view, that they must never have worked amongst the poor. I worked on the soup van as a student for five years. After I graduated, I worked with some migrants teaching English. I am still involved in a small way now helping out one of the local Vinnies conference as work and family commitments allow. I don't know about the other people you mentioned in your post, but how are you to know what each person does? And why do you assume that those who agree with Dr Falzon must have rolled their sleeves up and given time to the poor? Why are they any less likely to be engaging in "oniastic" discussions as anyone else who posts here?

John Ryan | 03 June 2014  

Good comment, JR. Tony Abbott - the guy with no "moral core" according to ES - works voluntarily for the poor in his free time, LB - on his few weeks off, he teaches aboriginal kids in Queensland to read, as well as surf lifesaving and fighting bushfires. Does that count? I've done a bit in my time, too. As for what Jesus wants - I operate on the assumption that everyone posting here, even those I strongly disagree with, does so in order to follow the will of God, or, if not believers, because they think it's the right thing to do.

HH | 03 June 2014  

Lawrie, with my Christian faith I can choose to do what I think Jesus would have me do. with socialism it's what the government tells me.

marg | 03 June 2014  

Any form of government is ultimately a form power over the individual. Not just socialism.

Eckhart Tolle | 04 June 2014  

I don't know where people get the notion that either capitalism or socialism are inherently democratic or otherwise. They are merely economic systems or ideals - labels - and are only as effective, fair or unfair, Christian or unChristian, just or corrupt as the government that tries to implement them. Chile was elected a social president - only to be held to ramsom through a coup by a right wing dictator with strong support from the US government and the Chilean Catholic Church hierarchy,.

aurelius | 09 June 2014  

You say this budget will not discomfit the comfortable. After cancer and end of 30 year marriage (not my decision) I face a modest, somewhat uncertain, but still reasonably comfortable future. I don't think the budget will affect me much but I am very unhappy with its impact on others and our society as a whole.

Diane | 17 August 2014  

An excellent essay. Thank you. What I do not understand is the lack of this govt's engagement with voices of all the organisations Howard entrusted to help the poor at the coalface. Truly the 'unheard voices' of our current society-at-large.

Sandra Barker | 17 August 2014  

It seems that anytime someone dares to mention wealth redistribution there's an immediate outcry to the effect that the author is therefore a socialist/communist. I don't get the impression that John is advocating a socialist style society (but I may be wrong). However, it would have been helpful if he had provided a more thoroughly explained alternative to our modern free market system. Most people seem to agree that there is a problem but few people are putting forward a solution. Personally I think the economy would benefit from the Newstart base rate being lifted by $150 per week. This could be funded by abolishing negative gearing and keeping the mining tax in its original form. Abolishing negative gearing would also make it easier for young people to enter the housing market by deterring investors. These potential investors would simply invest their money elsewhere so it's hardly the end of the world for them.

Todd | 17 August 2014  

Having spent most of career in health and welfare delivery I can only agree with you John. A society that abandoned its disadvantaged will disintegrate, history has shown this. Let's keep the flame of humanity alight :)

Martin Male | 18 August 2014  

Those of us involved in the SVdP Society are well aware of the widening of "The Gap" and we fully realise the welfare system is broken and that the recent Federal Budget was unfair, however if you consider the past seven years of Federal Government what stands out is self-survival, incompetence, selflessness and hatred. I have never in my lifetime observed The People's House display so much hate. Perhaps if our masters starting considering Australians and Australia there may not be a need for John to write a similar article.

Brian Goodall | 09 January 2015  

It has always concerned me deeply the attitude Abbott & Morrison have about not caring about the effect their decisions have on those who really need their assistance to live a "normal" life with the government's help - Abbott and Morrison both have had "religious" schooling and both proport to follow their beliefs - but my question is will they ever become Christians and really apply that emphasis to their decisions which affect so many needing their help. It is very obvious that they have yet to learn how to apply Christian values to their attitude to others.
John B. Wilson

John B. Wilson | 09 January 2015  

A great opinion piece John.
It echoes a fundamental truth, fairness matters. I wonder whether our political leaders grasp the point that wealth and privilege is not a right and an end in itself but an obligation to act in stewardship.

Mick Geaney | 09 January 2015  

We used to have more than we need, in abundance, and probably still have when we look around the rest of the world. But the RUDD/GILLARD government ruined us financially by silly decisions including sending dead people $900 for nothing. At the time many scribes said this would cost us dearly and this has proved to be so. I am a great fan of STVDP but I think we need to accept this country needs to stop, reassess and then take action to fix the huge number of problems caused by the previous government and many of the unions.

PHIL ROWAN | 09 January 2015  

It is remarkable that critics of those who are pushing Governments and society towards a fair go and social justice for the down and out, get lumped in with some of the most corrupt dictatorships ever seen on this planet. I very strongly support John's critique and if that makes me a communist then so be it!

Gavin O'Brien | 09 January 2015  

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