According to the most recent Global Wealth Report by the Credit Suisse Research Institute, Australia leads the world for having the largest proportion of adults who can be described as middle class, and also the smallest percentage of people who are very poor.
This is nothing to complain about, but the imbalance might explain why our poorest people are routinely confronted by policies that would make Marie Antoinette blush.
In my state of New South Wales – as in most states – the ruling classes are shameless. Let me count some of the ways.
Technical students find subsidies and scholarships few and far between, while their middle class friends go to heavily subsidised universities. Thousands of smokers are fined for not standing in chilly allocated areas. Soccer supporters are hounded by police. The public is locked out of national parks and fishing grounds. Modified cars are confiscated. Late drinks in the city have been banned. And billions of dollars are poured into light rail to ensure middle class suburbs are suitably delightful.
Federal politicians tend to be more subtle about it, but are even more committed to keeping poor people miserable.
Despite around 2.5 million people being unemployed or underemployed, minimum wages, penalty rates and unfair dismissal laws are vigorously enforced to make sure they stay that way. Unless they are worth paying at least $17 an hour, and in some jobs quite a lot more, the Government compels them to remain on unemployment benefits.
Then there is the rising cost of electricity. The impact on prices of subsidising renewable energy has resulted in our poorest people being asked to decide if they want air conditioning in summer, heating in winter, or food.
And if they want to use a short term loan to pay a power bill, they are being told how much they are allowed to borrow.
If any of this makes them sick, their medications are more expensive thanks to the Government’s policy of protecting pharmacies from competition, to satisfy the demands of the Pharmacy Guild.
If they have a television or radio, the poor can discover why all this is good for them via the two media channels they help pay for, ABC and SBS. While they’re at it, they will probably hear about the arts festivals that make the wealthier suburbs such vibrant cultural centres.
Should they enjoy a drink or smoke while watching an arts festival on TV, they can take pleasure in knowing that their taxes are contributing significantly to it, with Australian cigarettes the most expensive in the world and alcohol taxes not far off it. Of course, the most prolific smokers are our poorest people including regional Aborigines. So much for closing the gap.
And should they speak up about the less successful aspects of multi-culturalism, they can be hauled before a bunch of anti-discrimination bodies to explain themselves.
We have arrived at this state of affairs because no major political party is interested in winning the vote of Australia’s poor.
Labor is no better than the Liberals on this. They might claim to stick up for battlers, but rarely take their side on any of the issues mentioned here. This is mainly due to Labor’s relationship with the unions, which care about workers who have jobs rather than those who don’t. And Labor is also now competing with the Greens for middle class progressive voters who couldn’t give a fig about the impact of power prices or the price of cigarettes on the poor.
In fact, every week we hear how progressives have a new idea to make life harder for poor people. Even the push to replace cage eggs with free range eggs will lead to substantial price increases, and now they’re talking about a sugar tax.
The poor are hectored and spoken down to. They have few choices in relation to their education and health. They are told when, where and how they can drink, smoke, eat, gamble and enjoy themselves. They are told they are cruel if they enjoy greyhound racing and too ignorant, stupid or incoherent to manage their own lives. Increasingly they are considered less important than animal rights and the environment.
Our governments are elected by the middle class to serve the middle class, so it’s hard to see how any of this is going to change.
So whatever you do, try not to be poor.
David Leyonhjelm is a Senator for the Liberal Democrats