Monday, March 28, 2022

From 'problematic' bogans to the COVID divide: Australia's messy relationship with social class

The article below talks of class in terms of income. But there is more to it than that. Even occupational prestige does not capture it. Yet there clearly is a stratum in Australian society where people have an elite identity. People in that stratum are economically prosperous but economic affluence is by itself not enough for such an identity. People can become suddenly rich without acquiring an elite identity.

So what is the key variable leading to an elite identity? It is IQ. Elite people are smart and it is the characteristics of high IQ people that become markers of high social class. Toby Young explains it

So the article below rather misses the point. It shows an awareness of cultural differences but explains those differences in terms of income. But any approach to levelling income will not abolish social class. Smart people will always do better. Even in the heavily equalitarian Soviet Union, there was a "nomenklatura" who lived privileged lives

Australia, we are often told, is the land where everyone can get a "fair go." It's one of many egalitarian terms that are used in this country, from inside our parliament to throughout our pop culture. But is Australia as equal as many of us like to think?

Steve Threadgold, an Associate Professor of Sociology at the University of Newcastle, has a clear opinion: No way.

"People start at different places [in life]," Professor Threadgold tells ABC RN's Saturday Extra, "but we don't really like to talk about class very much, for some reason."

He's co-edited a new book with fellow researcher Associate Professor Jessica Gerrard titled Class in Australia, which dissects the topic and looks at how social class can be a barrier.

And first up, he wants Australians to improve how they discuss the realities of class.

Bogans, hipsters and class

The term 'bogan' immediately conjures up the image of a very specific Australian — likely involving a singlet, cigarettes and a mullet.

So too with 'hipster' — tight black jeans, a soy latte and smashed avocado on toast are probably involved.

But Professor Threadgold has researched the usage of these terms and says they're problematic substitutes for talking about class.

"These are ways that class is represented and spoken about in the public sphere, without really talking about class … 'Bogan' has tended to stand in for vulgar working class tastes and 'hipster' for ironic middle class consumer cultures," he says.

"What's interesting is that the hipster is often [portrayed] as a quite ironic, almost playful figure, while the bogan tends to elicit much more denigration.

"The bogan is seen as doing things wrong."

He says the bogan has "become a representation of cultural aspects of class, particularly around taste. And then, by using this figure, you don't need to say 'working class people are this' you can invoke 'the bogan.'"

In this way, he says working class people can be maligned in the media and everyday conversations, and the realities of their lives are often obscured.

So just how big are Australia's class divides? Very big, according to Professor Threadgold and other research.

A widening gap between rich and poor

The book lays out a stark picture of inequality and disadvantage in Australia.

"According to measures of inequality, the rich/poor gap is widening, returning to the heights of the 1920s. Education is getting more expensive, while social welfare is increasingly difficult to access," the co-editors write.

"The reality for anyone who is not from a privileged, well-connected background is exclusion from the housing market and the prospect of insecure work."

Although there are many "distinctive experiences of disadvantage and inequality — gender, race, Indigeneity, sexuality, ability, age", talking about class can "make inequality a public issue anchored in economic structures and social/cultural institutions."

And research suggests that Australia is much more unequal than many people may realise.

According to one analysis from the Australian Council of Social Services (ACOSS) and the University of New South Wales, before the pandemic, the incomes of those in the top 20 per cent were six times higher than those in the lowest 20 per cent.

When it came to average wealth, the numbers were even more stark, with the top 20 per cent ($3,255,000) having 90 times that of the lowest 20 per cent ($36,000).

Cassandra Goldie, the CEO of ACOSS, says: "In a wealthy country like Australia, the dominant perception is everybody's doing well … but there are large numbers of people who are living on very low and modest incomes."

"Unless we get some major changes to policy directions here, we will see an increasingly divided society, both in terms of income adequacy, and in terms of wealth behind you," she adds.

Class and the pandemic

Dr Goldie says that COVID-19 affected well-off and less-well-off Australians in dramatically different ways.

"We've had two very different experiences of this pandemic," she says.

Dr Goldie points out that many people from lower socio-economic areas "were required to go out and continue to do frontline, low-paid casual work," instead of being able to work from home.

With a focus on international politics and business, Geraldine Doogue talks to expert commentators about the things that matter to Australians.

In addition, these Australians "[sometimes] live in overcrowded housing, often with many people living in one home, and are much less able to self isolate."

"So therefore [such groups] were much more heavily exposed to the consequences of the virus."

One report by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare found that in the first year of the pandemic, people living in the lowest socio-economic areas had COVID-19 mortality rates 2.6 times higher than for people living in the highest socio-economic areas.

And a separate analysis by ACOSS and the University of New South Wales found poverty and inequality actually reduced early in the pandemic due to crisis support payments, but then spiked later in the pandemic as these supports were rolled back.

"The kinds of policies introduced [in 2020] helped to close gaps … but then this unravelled," Dr Goldie says.

Class in politics

Professor Threadgold says despite class being an important issue, it rarely features in our political debates.

"When you do hear political leaders talk about class, they tend to reverse it," he says.

"So if an argument is made for something like taxing billionaires, or having some kind of shared wealth, then all of a sudden, it's a class war against the rich. And that's really the only time you hear [about class in politics]."

Professor Threadgold cites one elected individual as having a distinct voice in the political realm: Tasmanian independent senator Jacqui Lambie.

"She's a very rare instance of someone from a relatively disadvantaged background with a voice in the Australian public sphere … She is a person that seems to speak often about the views of the disadvantaged, and she's experienced that herself."

But Professor Threadgold says "beyond when she gets to speak for herself, much of the writing and talking and representations of her tend to be parodies."

Political change

Dr Goldie says, while there are many issues around inequality to be dealt with, there is one significant area that needs to be addressed.

"[One] important focus, we believe, is over our revenue base," she says, questioning the federal government's "eye-watering tax cuts."

"There's the 'stage 3 [tax cuts],' which are $16 billion per annum, that will mostly be going to people on higher incomes, mostly men, who already have enough and don't need any more relief," she says.

"[Meanwhile] there's a refusal to look at tax reforms that actually will tackle these serious inequalities and secure a more adequate revenue base for the kind of critical services like health and education — which are some of the key drivers to ensuring a more equal and balanced and fair society."

"I think the community does generally understand that we have real choices here [around policies]. The wealth that we have accumulated is being increasingly concentrated in the hands of fewer people — that's not good for anybody."

So why consider class?

Professor Threadgold says a better understanding of class means inequality and disadvantage in Australia could be better addressed.

"If someone doesn't do well at school, or loses their job, or is in poverty, often they're blamed as an individual: they're lazy, they don't work hard enough or they made all the wrong choices," he says.

"But what we find is [when considering] class, those kinds of things, those kinds of inequalities, are much more systematic."

He says: "If we can think about these things on a more systematic basis, the public will be better informed about what's going on."


Australia did well on Covid? Pull the other one

Thousands of lonely deaths in our disastrous and secretive response to the Wuhan virus

David Flint

It is to the credit of a group of parliamentarians that an independent cross-party inquiry has been convened into the Australian response to the pandemic.

Absent a Royal Commission, it is only through such an inquiry that a peoples’ national pandemic contingency plan can emerge.

Hopefully it will not be ignored as former health minister Tony Abbott’s was, despite, as we noted here, his work being internationally acclaimed.

Any assessment should begin by burying the myth that in responding to the pandemic, Australia did relatively well.

Occupying a whole continent, Australia enjoys the unique advantage of being the world’s largest (remote) island nation.

Our death rate should be similar to New Zealand’s, 19 deaths per million (DPM). Taiwan, close to where the virus emerged and hardly remote, comes in at 35 DPM. But Australia’s was many times these, 218 DPM.

While total Australian deaths should have been about 780, the Australian total to date is 5,665.

Worse, for too many, this death was too often a lonely departure resulting from a cruel and unjustified policy of depriving the dying, in their final hours, of the comfort of children and others close to them.

On any fair assessment, the Australian response to the Wuhan virus has been secretive and arbitrary. In terms of costs and deaths, it has been a disaster.

Apart from closer control of the international borders, at times inadequate ─ as we saw with the Ruby Princess ─ almost every decision taken by the ruling politicians was wrong.

They set aside what was surely their overriding duty, to protect the easily identifiable vulnerable. Apart from advice on hygiene and distancing and ensuring early treatment was available, their role should have been to allow the rest of the nation to get on with their lives in a free society. However, that was the last thing the politicians would tolerate.

As the distinguished American academic Michael Rectenwald observed in a recent lecture at Hillsdale College, ‘hitherto democratic Western states (he particularly singles out Australia) have been ‘transformed into totalitarian regimes modelled after China’. This, he says, was done with the goal of having economies operate under ‘capitalism with (communist) Chinese characteristics’, a two-tiered economy with profitable monopolies and government on the top and socialism for the majority below.

This led to the probably unlawful imposition of that draconian Chinese communist remedy, the lockdown. The sheer inutility of this is demonstrated by the fact that the state with the longest lockdowns, Victoria, was the very one with the largest number of deaths, to date 2,675.

This also led to an unhealthy obsession not only with invariably wrong modelling but also with Big Pharma’s vaccines. Robert F. Kennedy Jr, with the imprimatur of a large team of scientists including two Nobel Prize laureates, describes these in his recent book, The Real Anthony Fauci: Big Pharma’s Global War on Democracy, Humanity, and Public Health as ‘novel, shoddily tested and improperly licensed technology’.

Under US federal law, these vaccines could not qualify for emergency use authorisation if any existing FDA-approved drug proves effective against the same malady. This explains the worldwide campaign by Big Pharma, supported by Big Media and Big Tech, not only against ivermectin and hydroxychloroquine but also against the very idea of early treatment.

Given the lack of proper testing, the immediate effect of the vaccines is still a matter for proper assessment, with the long- term consequences unknown. Accordingly, governments should have concentrated on offering them to the most vulnerable. Instead, their use has been almost universally forced on the population despite federal assurances to the contrary. Proposed crossbench legislation to stop this was blocked, notwithstanding legal advice that the Commonwealth has power to enact this.

In addition, there has been a wholly unnecessary program to vaccinate children with such ‘shoddily tested’ vaccines, despite the fact that children are in no way seriously vulnerable unless they have other medical problems. In fact, statistics indicate that only six people under 20 years of age died of the virus and four of these were under ten.

The draconian Beijing-style policies adopted by governments have had devastating impacts on Australians, in relation to their finances, their work, their businesses, their education and their mental health. The delays in elective surgery and in testing for all sorts of diseases, including cancer, will no doubt have a deleterious effect. The nation and especially future generations have been left a massive debt. None of this was necessary; all of this must be avoided in planning how best to respond to the next virus.

What we saw during the crisis was the culmination of the gradual whittling away under the rigorous two-party system of the protections against the phenomenon about which Acton famously warned, that power tends to corrupt and absolute power corrupts absolutely.

In many ways the best protection against this was in the intricate structure of checks and balances which once characterised our system of government, even in colonial times. But during the crisis the power to make law by regulation was secretive, slipping entirely both from proper audit in the Executive Council to ensure the propriety of the process and proper parliamentary scrutiny.

What we saw everywhere was government at the whim of one or two ruling politicians. One example was the closing down of the NSW construction industry (at a cost of $1.4 billion) apparently without medical advice. As to a solution, it is possible that as with the live cattle ban, much regulatory action will be found after years of litigation to constitute misfeasance in public office. If so, the taxpayers and not the delinquent politicians will pay.

Solutions more immediate than litigation lie in the first place with all Australians when they come to cast their votes. The future pandemic plan must involve the restoration of traditional checks and balances in our system of governance . Further. the dose of direct democracy which we already see in the requirement for a constitutional referendum should be extended as proposed in the petition so that the ruling politicians are henceforth truly accountable, 24/7, to the Australian people.


Claims a baby was STRIP SEARCHED by police with an officer 'spreading the infant's legs'

The cop was clearly searching for contraband, a common problem in prisons. And if no harm comes to the baby I see no big problem with it. But the law neeeds to be changed, not breached

The family of an eight-month old baby is suing the state of NSW claiming he was unlawfully strip searched by a female police officer.

The boy's mother was on her way to visit his father in jail on September 2, 2018, when the officer allegedly took the baby out of his nappy, spread the his leg's and inspected his body.

The incident outside Mid North Coast Correctional Centre near Kempsey is the second such allegation to go to court in NSW with the family of a 16-month-old boy settling out of court in a previous case.

There is no suggestion either child's family were attempting to smuggle contraband and it is not clear if the same officer was involved in both incidents.

When arriving for the visit about 8.30am, both the baby and mother were first examined by sniffer dogs before being directed on to a bus where the boy was allegedly further searched.

'The police officer inspected the (baby's) naked body, ­including (his) genitals and buttocks area,' court documents seen by The Daily Telegraph state.

The lawyers for the baby under direction of his mother are suing for unlawful detention and battery.

'NSW laws clearly state that a child under 10 cannot be strip searched,' their lawyer Todd Scott said.

The law in NSW also states a member of the same sex must perform any strip search.

He added the alleged incident was a 'flagrant' violation of the rights of the baby who was unable to assert any objection.

The family is also seeking damages in Port Macquarie District Court.

The state on behalf of NSW Police is yet to submit a defence in the case.


A NSW school assignment that gave students the option to argue in support of the slave trade is under investigation

This Would Be A Rather Good Exercise In Thinking Outside The Box but sensitivities were understandably aroused

Lake Macquarie High School, south of Newcastle, came under fire after the history assignment handed out earlier this month was shared on social media.

It gave students the option to write as the US Economy Minister where “your report will argue for the continuation of the Slave Trade” or as the US Human Rights Minister where “your report wants to stop Slave Trade”.

For those arguing in support of slavery, students were told to outline “the positive contribution” slaves made to economies in Africa, England and the US.

They were instructed to present their viewpoint from an “empathetic perspective”, which was described as to “understand from the viewpoint of the people involved”.

Maria Alier shared the assignment on Instagram, which she had received from a friend of African descent whose siblings were in the class.

She claimed students were even told by the teacher that if they wrote a report advocating for slavery, they were more likely to receive higher marks.

Ms Alier said she was “initially baffled and then quickly insulted” by the assignment brief and couldn’t understand how it was not stopped along the way before it was handed to students.

“Asking kids to justify the unjustifiable and argue for the continuation of indescribably painful and cruel practice such as slavery sends their easily impressionable adolescent minds to the very same right wing material that could manipulate even the most forward thinking kids into a rabbit hole of bigotry and prejudice,” she told of her reasoning to share the assignment on social media and encourage people to contact the school and department of education to voice their concerns.

“No one is saying that we can’t learn about slavery or the injustices of the past, but it is not correct to sit there and justify them.”

Ms Alier pointed out it wouldn’t be appropriate to justify the Holocaust or the Stolen Generations, so she couldn’t understand how educators thought it would be for the slave trade.

Commenters on Ms Alier’s Instagram post praised her for publicising the issue, and others shared their reactions on TikTok.

“As a person who has been racially abused for being black in the past, thank you,” one woman wrote. “Thank you so much, you are spreading information and empowering other people to speak out about injustice.”

Another replied: “This is honestly so disgusting that a school will allow this. thank you for sharing this! The school/teachers need to be held accountable.”

Jagorda Manyuon, the older sister of students in the class, told Pedestrian her family received a verbal apology from the principal after persistent complaints were made.

“[They] said ‘I’m not racist’ and I get that. Okay, cool you’re not racist – but can you still do something about this? What’s being done?” she said.

“I’m not sure an apology is enough. These things will just keep happening.”

The NSW department of education confirmed to it was “aware of an allegation of inappropriate content appearing in an assessment task” at the school and was investigating.

“The Department has had an Anti-Racism Policy in place for 30 years,” a spokesman said.

“It promotes respect for people from all cultural, linguistic and religious backgrounds and rejects all forms of racism in schools and department offices.”

Ms Alier said what she wanted to come out of the investigation was a public apology to African students, how the department plans to ensure it doesn’t happen again, and better implementation of the school’s anti-racism policy and training.




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