Three days on from Julia Gillard’s policy announcement, and the most striking characteristic of the carbon tax debate is just how closely it resembles a dozen morons trying to fuck a doorknob. The only apparent solution is a massive airdop of Xanax into our reservoirs, because really, everyone needs a few deep breaths and a spell in the quiet corner.
Sure, the weeks leading up have all been hysteria: Tony Abbott marching that bulldog grimace up and down the length of the country, like a Cassandra made of old leather and stunted dreams, cawing grim warnings of imminent ruin and destruction at the gates of Troy. But you might have expected, once the details had been released, there would arrive a little more perspective.
Far from being objective carriers of information, media outlets have been trying to manufacture furore. “Families earning more than $110k will feel the pain of the carbon tax,” warned the Herald-Sun, straightfaced. “Households face a $9.90 a week jump in the cost of living.”
Cry me the motherfucking Nile.
Households on less than that income would be even less affected. Those in the upper range would have their ten bucks a week at least partly compensated, while others would be fully or over-compensated.
The tax, after all, was not on people, but on 500 high-polluting companies. The compensation was to guard against costs those companies might pass on to their customers.
So, no big deal, I said to myself when the details were announced. Surely this’ll all blow over. And then, found myself more than a little surprised when a Herald-Sun commenter (one step above YouTube on the food-chain, I’ll admit) said “Somebody needs to assassinate Julia Gillard NOW before she totally destroys our way of life.”
Just… hold up a minute. Ten bucks a week? Our way of life? Aside from incitement to murder a head of government being ever so slightly illegal (and something the Hun mods should probably have picked up on), the response just doesn’t make any sense. Here is legislation that might make some things marginally more expensive. Probably not much. It isn’t going to drive industries offshore, because things like power generation and mining Australian resources kind of have to be done in Australia.
And yet the hysteria, even when not reaching Lee Harvey Oswald levels, has been constant throughout, led by the paper who defines ten bucks a week out of a hundred grand as “feeling the pain”.
“Social demographer David Chalke said the tax threatened values at the core of Australian society. ‘To an extent it will make people question, “is it really worth the bother?” They’ll smell in this something of a class war,’ Mr Chalke said.”
Ten bucks a week. Core values. Class war. Then, “Generous payments to those on low incomes and higher taxes for high income earners would anger hard-working Aussies.” Because, people on less than $110,000 don’t have to work hard. That’s why they get paid less! Scrubbing toilets is easy and only takes five minutes, while high-level boardroom execs spend 20-hour days chained to some kind of awful lunch machine being beaten with lobster foam.
I also enjoyed “On 3AW yesterday, Treasurer Wayne Swan was unable to say how the carbon tax would affect a Falcon. He also couldn’t say what the price change for a can of tomatoes would be.” The random grocery quiz had undone the Treasurer yet again. “Wait, wait, wait, got one…uh… large box of Libra Fleur? Nope. Uh, Sara Lee Chocolate Bavarian? Hah, you got nothin’, Swanny!”
Then there were the numerous headlines about airfares set to “soar” (geddit!). Well-meaning travellers were interviewed saying higher airfares would make it much harder to afford family holidays. Tres sad, especially when Qantas “said it would need to fully pass on the carbon price to customers, with the price of a single domestic flight ticket to increase on average by about $3.50.”
Three dollars. Fifty cents. They currently charge you more than that for a bottle of water. They charge $7.50 to buy a ticket online, $8 for a cup of noodles, $25 to use their check-in counter, and $6 to board the plane first. The best comment left after that article was, “So people won’t be able to buy a newspaper for the boarding lounge anymore? Good.”
So let’s never hear any talk of ABC bias ever again, because the Sun has well and truly picked its horse on this one. Any online article on the tax was headlined by a video of the lovely Andrew Bolt, telling us it was “the greatest act of national suicide we’ve ever seen.” Funny, I thought that was when they gave him a TV show. There was also a great line about “so-called solar energy” – because now solar energy is just a theory too. Like gravity, or Adelaide.
I am a sometime journalist. In that sense, the staff in the Herald and Weekly Times building are my colleagues. This makes me feel a bit like whorehouse linen. No doubt they all say they’re just doing their jobs, looking for opportunities. Nonetheless, they’re still actively promoting harm for the sake of attracting an audience. Concentration camp guards are just doing their jobs, too.
And with that level of reporting, the effort from their readers is no surprise. “Co2 is not a pollutant. It is vital for life on Earth. Without it, trees will die,” said John. Get that man on the climate panel.
“How much will Australia’s temperatures decline once the tax is implemented?” asked Marty. Well, Marty, the atmosphere takes notes about where its constituent particles come from, so we’ll get a full report from the Hole in the Ozone Layer each quarter. He wears a jaunty hat, and gives every boy and girl a delicious melanoma.
The dumbshititis was also evident in the audience of the Prime Ministerial Q and A on Monday, where the average question could be summarised as, “I’m a person, and I don’t like paying money. Can I not ever pay money for things?” My favourite line, from a surgical swab of a man towards the end of the show, was that because he earned too much to be eligible for low-income handouts, “I feel I’ll be taxed into poverty.”
This taps into a very prominent feature of our political landscape: the constant line from Tony Abbott that Australian families are hurting, that Aussies are doing it tough, that life is somehow getting harder, that the cost of living is on the rise.
Shenanigans, Tony. Let’s get one thing very clear. Australians, en masse, are enjoying a better standard of living than has ever been enjoyed in this country’s history.
And not just marginally, but by a huge degree. Really, along with a few other developed countries, we are enjoying a better standard of living than any group of people has in human existence. We have every kind of food and beverage from around the world deliverable to our doors. We have technological advances that make a decade ago look archaic. We have goods and luxuries of every conceivable kind; cheap and accessible. We have more and better options with transport, entertainment, comfort, place and style of residence. We have the most advanced medicine and best life expectancy of all time.
While there is still poverty in Australia, it does not even touch the kinds of poverty experienced in most countries on earth. Support systems and sufficient wealth exist to cover at least basic needs. The small proportion of genuinely homeless usually have other factors that keep them away from those systems. Being poor in Australia means living in a crappy house, in a crappy area. Maybe a commission flat. It means living on welfare, getting by week to week, not having any money for nice things. It might mean the kids have to go to their friend’s house to play X-Box, or that they don’t get sweet Christmas presents. It sucks, but it’s safe. It’s solid. It keeps you alive. It’s a level of stability and security that half the world would kill for, and even the basic amenities of a commission flat are amenities that half the world doesn’t have.
Poor people in Australia do not starve to death. They don’t die of cold. There is clean water running in any public bathroom. If they’re ill, they can walk into a hospital and be treated. If they’re broke, they can get welfare. They can get roofs over their heads, even if they’re temporary. They have options. If the utilities are shut off, they can find a tap, or a powerpoint. They can make it through the night.
And those poor aside, the rest of the country is doing very fucking nicely indeed, thanks very much. Reading these stories of parents bitching about working long hours to afford their private school fees just makes me want to give their little tow-headed spawn a spew bath. The lack of perspective is astonishing. Their kids are safe and fed and healthy and getting every opportunity to do whatever they want with their lives. They’re not getting sent out to suck tourist dick for enough US dollars to get their siblings through the week.
It should make us ashamed that there are people with good earnings ready to claim victim status on national television over a worst-case scenario of five hundred bucks a year. This is what is driving people into a panicky rage. Five hundred dollars, if you can afford it. Less if you can’t. If you run a red light camera in Victoria it’s $300. Do 40 ks over the limit, $510. If we get fines, we bitch about it, but inherently accept the rationale: the fine is levied as a penalty by someone endangering others in the society. It’s the basic structure of how a society works. We all agree to abide by certain rules as a form of insurance, to make sure that we’re not on the receiving end of the negative consequences of lawlessness. When people refuse to abide by those rules, they’re variously censured by or removed from that society.
If we obtain energy by burning irreplaceable fuel, and the consequences threaten the safety of our society, then surely we should pay a penalty for that (adding to a fund to guard against those consequences). The rule is basic: you make the mess, you clean it up. Ten bucks a week is a sweet deal.
But in being part of the luckiest couple of generations of people to yet walk the earth, most of us still like to imagine we’ve got it tough. It’s that same sense of entitlement that I was discussing regarding Raquel a couple of weeks ago. When you grow up with a certain standard of living, you come to regard it as the natural state of affairs. If someone threatens that state, they are depriving you of what is fundamentally yours. To your mind, you have a right to live like this, purely because you’re lucky enough to have lived like this.
Well, you don’t. So if you claim you can’t afford ten bucks a week, I call Shenanigans, with a healthy dash of You’re a Dick. One dinner at the Flower Drum would make up your year’s liability in one hit. Genuinely struggling people will get compo anyway. But even they could afford it if they had to. Buy one less deck of Holiday 50s a week. Buy two less beers. Leave off the Foxtel subscription. Wear a franger, save half a mil. What the fuck ever. Remember that you live in a country where drinkable water comes out of a tap inside your goddamn house, and where the power runs 24 hours a day. This in itself is a goddamn privilege, and if you are going to bitch and moan about having to pay for that privilege, you can fuck off and die in a ditch.
Because you do not have a right to this way of life. No-one does. We just have the extreme good fortune of enjoying it, and that won’t last forever. We should appreciate it while we can.
Perversely, part of me wants to see what would happen if the sea levels rise a couple of metres, the coastal cities get swamped, the rainfall dries up, the power goes out, the militias take to the streets. Part of me would love to see these squawking indignant right-to-luxury dickwipes learning how to live in the dust, scraping out dried plants from the earth and hoarding their remnants from the Beforetime. It’ll be a sight if it happens. Dirty red skies will rise up from the ground each morning like a curse. The only creatures that seem to thrive, the cockroaches and carrion birds, will swarm black against the sand and the sunset, rasping dry songs with their throats and with their legs. The water will be gone. The world will not remember ice floes. And for her sins, for ten dollars a week from each and every one of us, Julia Gillard will hang from the garret at the gates of Troy.