A number of times I have heard Julia Gillard refer to the Labor Party's commitment to protecting "The Australian Way of Life". Every time she mentions it, it comes capitalised and in quotation marks.
The most recent use was when she was out on the hustings with Peter Garrett, announcing that should the Federal Government be re-elected they would hand back Malabar Headland to the NSW State Government for public use. This was, apparently, an excellent example of the Labor Party commitment to "protecting" The Australian Way of Life (TAWOL).
It appears that TAWOL is best epitomised by families picnicking on parklands near the sea at the weekend.
For many people I know, however, a relaxed weekend picnic at a park overlooking the sea is more of a luxury than a way of life.
The Centre for Work and Life at the University of South Australia, also that same weekend, released the 2010 Australian Work Life Index. As it was reported in the Sydney Morning Herald ("A hard-working nation that's losing its balance", August 1, 2010), more and more Australians are experiencing a working life that increasingly impinges on the rest of their life.
What does it say about us that we have collectively accrued over $33 billion worth of leave? This cannot be good for our general levels of physical and mental wellbeing but is now part of TAWOL.
When I look around at TAWOL here are some of the other things I see:
- the continued abuse by governments of the human rights of Indigenous Australians;
- overflowing prisons because it's apparently better to be "tough on crime" than it is to be focused on rehabilitation and social inclusion;
- an addiction to gambling that sees us lose $18 billion a year;
- ANZAC Day as an occasion when young people around the country pay their respects to Australians who have lost their lives in wars by getting blind drunk (I know this as fact because I live in a suburb that has two pubs on every block);
- an ugly, soul-destroying, unplanned, ill-considered suburban sprawl that locks people into their cars for hours everyday;
- a defence and intelligence budget that is over seven times greater than the budget for diplomacy, aid and trade (and consider that at election time no-one is arguing about the billions we spend on new war machines but they are arguing over who has better ideas for spending a few million here and there for health and education programs);
- satisfaction in the indefinite detention of small numbers of already vulnerable and traumatised asylum seekers because we have this weird fear of people who come by boats and like to "be tough" on them (apparently "The Queue" is an essential aspect of TAWOL, even if it’s imagined. Who knew?);
- welfare for those who work but not for those who struggle to work (let's increase family tax benefits but "get tough" on people who struggle to make ends meet on a pitiful unemployment benefit);
- elderly parents who care for their children with multiple disabilities, desperate about what will happen to their children when they die;
- small independent local businesses being swallowed up by large corporations; and
- public spaces being swallowed up by private ownership (who does belong to the open spaces inside huge shopping centre complexes?).
Are these the markers of TAWOL that our politicians are swearing to protect?
Maybe it’s my privileged way of life they want to protect by getting tough on those who don’t make it (although why people like me should continue to be the targets of government largesse while so many others continue to languish is beyond me).
Or maybe TAWOL they care about is the potential that lies within our fabulously diverse multicultural and increasingly multi-faith society?
Maybe they are promising to do all they can to foster a mature, vibrant, generous, equitable society that upholds the dignity of all people, promotes justice, celebrates and values its own diversity, values art and culture, science and scholarship across all disciplines, encourages progressive education for the growth of creative and critically literate young people, promotes the development of green and sustainable cities and inclusive, life-affirming communities.
This would be a TAWOL that I value.
But maybe I am misjudging our political leaders. Maybe they do share this vision for our country and I've just missed it. We have a lot of work to do to make it happen. Maybe they understand this and maybe they’re working hard to get us there. I’ll keep listening.
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