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Competition has a lot to answer for

By Harry Throssell - posted Thursday, 20 March 2008

Prime Minister Kevin Rudd's 2020 Summit is an unusual opportunity for the people to get down to unearthing the roots of serious unfairness in Australia and show courage in making radical changes.

Frank McCourt’s Angela’s Ashes described his 1930s childhood in Ireland when their only income was church charity and they lived next to the street’s one lavatory. In heavy rain floods brought toilet effluent into their ground floor room. Three children died very young.

Then Dad, Malachy, found work. They would now be able to buy shoes and food. On pay day Ma and the kids waited expectantly with the kettle on. But Dad decided first to celebrate in the pub. He arrived home happy but money-less. Ma and kids remained hungry.


Dad had the money and power, the others had poverty. This is the essence of economic competition.

In modern economies we like to boast everyone gains from competition. But obviously not everyone does. Would it make sense to open a new shoe shop in a suburb already with six shoe-shops, or where there are no shoe-shops? When they can smaller businesses often join larger conglomerates, like the Woolworths retail group or the Coles group. Why? As Kerry Packer said, “I don’t believe in competition, I believe in monopoly”.

Competition can create disadvantage. Australia is the third richest country in the world in average wealth per person, but while 1,200 Australians have more than $30 million in the bank there are areas where Indigenous incomes are extremely low and healthy food costs 30 per cent more than in the cities. Consequently diets are poor, low birth weight common, 11 per cent of children are “wasted” through malnutrition and average life span is nearly two decades shorter that the rest of the population. Nutritionist Sharon Lawrence says a national action plan to counter this problem has been ignored for eight years!

’Twas ever thus, of course: the original invaders of this land in 1788 seemed to have no intention of sharing its bounty with the original inhabitants.

At the other end of the social spectrum a Governor-General and State Governors, however nice they are personally, have no essential work but live in free luxury lodgings, with cars, servants and other characteristics of an outdated aristocracy headed by an overseas Queen.

This gives the lie to former Prime Minister John Howard’s much vaunted belief in “equality, mateship, and fairness”.


Meanwhile, Australia, the clever country, did not predict the need for affordable public housing of which there is now a critical shortage. “Housing stress”, defined as paying more than 30 per cent of income on rent, is suffered by one million Aussies, some paying more than 60 per cent.

Furthermore, due to the current state of the economy, people who can no longer afford their mortgage repayments are moving into the rental market, pushing up rents further.

Perhaps it should not be possible to own property that others live in, unless it is rent-free or the rent strictly controlled by legislation.

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About the Author

Harry Throssell originally trained in social work in UK, taught at the University of Queensland for a decade in the 1960s and 70s, and since then has worked as a journalist. His blog Journospeak, can be found here.

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