How To Reject Division

By Loz Lawrey

“Loz, you have no class”, she said. Shocked and confused, I felt my eyebrows arching. Was my sister-in-law’s mother insulting me?

“No”, she said. “I mean, you have no class”. Then I realised: she was referring to social “class”.

This was a seminal moment for me. It had the effect of plunging me into an ocean of self-analysis and thought about myself and the societies which shaped me.

Do we have a class system in Australia? Many of our politicians seem to think so. How often do we hear the term “class warfare“ bandied about? In the country of the Fair Go, with our social democratic system which espouses equality for all, how can this be?

In truth we’ve always had a class system, but it has to go.

Multiculturalism cannot thrive and blossom in this country until it does. Well-off Australians often seem to harbour a contempt for our indigenous citizens, for refugees and “foreigners”, for our less-educated, our poor and disadvantaged. That contempt, constantly fanned by radio shock jocks, Murdoch and IPA opinionators and echoed by right wing politicians, must end.

The concept of “class” is not only imposed by the entitled few upon the less well-off many. “Class” difference is also accepted as reality and reinforced by those who benefit the least from such a construct.

My late wife used to tell me that she often heard the term “that’s not for the likes of us” from her parents. She made it clear how hard she had to struggle in later life to overcome and forget that dream-crushing, crippling statement.

Social and economic “class” doesn’t bring us together, it limits us and keeps us apart.

I’ve lived on Australian soil since 1975, but many of my earlier years were spent in other countries: the USA, Indonesia and France. My father worked for the Department of Foreign Affairs and was often posted overseas for years at a time.

I spent my final four years of high school as a boarding student. Once a year I was flown overseas by the government during the Christmas holidays to visit my family in Cairo, Egypt, and later Madrid, Spain.

Released from the shackles of boarding school, I spent 1970 in a hall of residence at the Australian National University growing my hair, listening to music, experimenting with substances, avoiding lectures and, as might be expected, eventually dropping out. I’d been locked up in an institution for far too long.

My work resume details a chequered career: I’ve been a factory worker, a beer keg roller, a wine and spirits storeman, an invoice clerk, a Commonwealth public servant (twice), a labourer, a menswear salesman, a hardware/paint salesman, a tradesman painter and decorator, and a builder/renovator.

I’ve also been unemployed for periods of time, such as the early 90’s, during the “recession we had to have”, and forced to rely on unemployment benefits, so rudely referred to as “welfare” by the Turnbull government these days.

I hope all this palaver about myself hasn’t come across like a narcissist’s picnic. I just wanted to make the point that I’ve lived and experienced life from many angles, and that’s why the concept of ”class” means nothing to me.

Now in my mid sixties, I realise that I’ve been a very lucky boy. I’ve been living through the most prosperous period in our country’s history and I couldn’t be more grateful for the experiences and opportunities I’ve been afforded.

I’ve lived in or visited many overseas countries, each with their particular cultures, societies, languages, cuisines and idiosyncracies.

I’ve worked alongside humans of all ages, social backgrounds, education levels and racial origins.

I’ve seen enough of the world and its people to know that we are all connected and that at our core lies something beautiful, a quality beyond ethnicity and appearance that we associate with the word “human”. Dare we call it “soul” or “life energy”?

I don’t focus on “class”. I try to see not what divides us, but what unites us. Wherever I look I see human beings, each of us grappling in our own way with the demands, expectations and responsibilities of our lives, carrying the baggage and joys of our lived experience and often, sadly, the scars of abuse.

How do we, as a nation, cut through the hypocrisies of “class”, the judgmental pushing-apart, the social condemnation inflicted by the entitled well-off upon our most disadvantaged? How do we come together? Do we truly seek inclusion and equity for all as our most noble objective?

Our attempts at multicultural inclusion have been admirable to date, but it’s clear that government ministers such as the execrable Peter Dutton just don’t get it.

Has this man ever read a book? Has he travelled overseas? Has he ever imagined anything other than acquiring and maintaining power over others?Has he ever bathed in the Ganges or wandered through the marketplace in Marrakesh? Has he strolled the Champs Elysees? Has he ever experienced the warmth and hospitality of strangers that a traveller can encounter in all corners of this globe? Has he ever had the chance to perceive the oneness of humanity? Or has he only known, in his short life, the limited, fearful, xenophobic post-colonial parochialism in which it appears he was raised?

Every public pronouncement Dutton makes seems to reek of racism and condemnation, of “othering”. So far he’s singled out Lebanese Muslims, refugees from several countries and members of our African-Australian community. “These people”, he thunders…

He may as well say it: ” these non-white people”… they’re not subscribing to “Australian values”… we must teach these “values” in schools!

Yes, Dutton. And what might those values be? The values of inclusion, of embracing difference, of learning and growing together? No, you’re just like Tony Abbott – resentful of the fact that our multicultural nation isn’t some pale reflection of mother England.

Can’t you damn right wingers see our amazing potential? Are you unable to move beyond your petty mindscapes and see the obvious? Our country is uniquely positioned to be a visionary world leader, to develop a model of social and economic organisation that might arrest humanity’s headlong rush towards self-destruction. Why can’t you see that?

In Australia, our multicultural experiment is working. We just need to accelerate its development.

That process will require that you step down, Dutton. Just removing your toxic voice (and several others) from the arena of our public debate will give our community clear air to breathe, live and grow, together.

I believe that overseas travel and exposure to other societies and cultures should be a mandatory part of our education system.

Why should young Australians’ first taste of world travel be landing in an overseas war zone, wearing camouflage gear and carrying a gun?

Surely they need to see the world in a time of peace, to find themselves surrounded by sights, sounds, smells, tastes and textures beyond those they’ve grown up with. Just to broaden their minds and open their hearts…

And I don’t mean catch a train to Footscray. While Footscray itself is well worth a visit, it still exists within the Australian paradigm, a paradigm which locks us into a bow-to-the-queen and follow-the-USA mentality, a paradigm which tries to foist a “last-refuge-of a-scoundrel” patriotism upon us all, a form of nationalism which implies and seeks to entrench a concept of white superiority which only exists in the minds of little men.

No, young Aussies. I mean: go overseas. Immerse yourself. Place yourselves on a foreign street, in a community whose language you don’t speak. Learn that communication beyond speech is possible, when the need is there. Understand that that foreign-looking brother or sister is quite willing to advise and assist you, even make you welcome in the community he or she loves.

Please, know the joy of travel. Learn to be thankful for the warmth of acceptance. Learn to share that warmth. Don’t stand on our beaches flinging stones at new arrivals.

Our Prime Minister Turnbull is quite good at playing the role of Multicultural Mal when it suits him, when the cameras are rolling.

But by their hypocrisy shall ye know them: one day Turnbull participates in a blatant attack upon our African community, enthusiastically endorsing Dutton’s vicious “African gangs” smears, the next he’s all smiles, graciously gushing and grinning like a wolf as he effusively welcomes Kenyan-Australian Senator Lucy Gichuhi to the Coalition dark side.

And then we get: “There’s no one more Australian than Barnaby Joyce!”

Actually, we get the government we deserve.

It’s really no surprise that our federal government and its brain-farts, thought bubbles and vitriolic public utterances simply reflects the confused and split personality that is our Australian psyche today.

Nothing is more illustrative of our schizophrenic national identity than the annual Australia Day/Invasion Day debate.

Poisoned by the leftover white entitlement of our colonial past so blatantly sprayed about by the Abbotts, Duttons, Turnbulls, Bernardis, Sheltons, Bolts etc. among us, public debate in Australia is constantly tainted by the rhetoric of division, of judgment, of racist bigotry, of intolerance and fear of the “other”.

It’s simple really. Do we want a united, inclusive nation?

Do we really want to live in that mythical land of the Fair Go?

Or do we want the division, the racism, the cruelty and contempt for our most disadvantaged being dished up daily by a government owned and operated by billionaires and bastards?

One thing is clear: A government that constantly singles out particular social sectors for demonisation can never unite our nation. Right wing divisiveness is scarring Australia’s soul. To reject division and reclaim our nation’s heart, we must reject this government.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *