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Profiting from disadvantage

By Gary Johns - posted Wednesday, 24 October 2012

You don't have to be black to be a black, you don't have to be poor to be poor, you don't have to be a woman-hater to be a misogynist. You don't even have to be without a roof over your head to be homeless.

Such is the slide in meaning attached to these and many other, once bountiful, political campaigns that swarms of professionals have to be employed to keep the flames of outrage alive.

And keep them alive they do: their careers depend on it. Equal employment opportunity officers, equal rights officers, professional busybodies and lobbyists throughout Australia are diligent at seeking out slight and insult or massaging group data to prove some organised evil within society.


I write this column sitting in the very place where, from 1898, Robert Sticht, manager of the Mt Lyell mining company at Queenstown in Tasmania, would sit in his Penghana mansion (now a bed and breakfast), overlooking the mine workers, counting every single one them as they emerged from their tents on freezing mornings, and marking the time they emerged. Of course class war existed, and of course women and blacks were once excluded from complete engagement in society.

But the struggles of the minorities are different from 115 years ago. The fact is, the structural impediments to their engagement have been well and truly overcome.

The fact is, in 2012 the black girl from a poor family can make it. There are few obstacles that brains and determination cannot overcome, but a black girl living poor is not proof of prejudice or structural impediment but of the chances of life.

Class no longer begets poverty, race no longer begets prejudice and gender no longer begets discrimination. And yet there is an entire army of class, race and gender warriors who are prepared to reinforce these tired old responses, regardless of whether they are accurate.

The Prime Minister Julia Gillard's feted speech excoriated Opposition Leader Tony Abbott as a misogynist, and yet he may well lead a government that has Australia's first female foreign minister in Julie Bishop. The speech was a prime example of a cultural warrior having recourse to a culture war long settled, but on which she and so many on the Left have built their careers. The fact is, Tony Abbott is at worst an old-fashioned conservative whose first instinct is to protect women, not hate them.

During Anti-Poverty Week the Australian Council of Social Service claimed there were more than two million Australians living below the poverty line. ACOSS defines poverty as 50 per cent of median income. This is a measure of inequality, not poverty.


ACOSS was building the numbers for maximum political effect, an old class-war game. Thank goodness the median income is massively greater than it was at Mt Lyell mine in 1898.

ACOSS ensures that no matter how wealthy and how open the school system and labour market, the poor will always be with us.

Consider the following confession from a "professional Aborigine", Kerryn Pholi, who wrote recently on the ABC website The Drum ("Why I burned my 'proof of Aboriginality' "): "In my years of working as a professional Aborigine, I know that I participated in gross unfairness and abuses of power in the name of 'reconciliation' and 'cultural sensitivity'.

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This article was first published in The Australian on October 23, 2012.

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About the Author

Gary Johns is a former federal member of Parliament and served as a minister in the Keating Government. Since December 2017 he has been the commissioner of the Australian Charities and Not-for-profits Commission.

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