Public Sector Review Magazine May 2018

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“ When we dream


alone, it is only a dream, but when we dream together it is the beginning of reality.

Nobody says or does anything in an historical vacuum. What has happened and what is happening encompasses and shapes how we think, how we feel, how we treat each other. Everything is connected to everything else. And everyone is connected to everyone else! When nations feel insecure about themselves they build walls. When people feel insecure they also tend to build walls. This wall-building is also exemplified in both the policy of governments and the public attitudes towards people who are deemed by the neoliberal consensus to have somehow failed to stand on their own two feet; people blamed and pilloried for the crime of being poor, unemployed, underemployed, in low-paid precarious employment, living with a disability, escaping domestic violence, people with caring responsibilities, students, older people living alone, especially those without assets, such as the growing cohort of single women over the age of 55 who are experiencing homelessness. There is a growing meanness towards people who don’t have two bob to rub together. As a café owner put it to me at the time last year’s Federal Budget: “What I don’t understand”, he said, “is why the government begrudges even the lousy amount that people have to live on if they’re unemployed. Don’t they realise that people who are trying to live on a pension or allowance spend every cent they have? They don’t hide it under a mattress. Every dollar they get they send straight back into the economy. They keep nothing! Increase what they get and you don’t


only help them you boost spending. Unlike when you give tax cuts to the rich.” The same, of course, goes for people in low-paid work. Which is why it makes no sense to business to slash wages and penalty rates. Does anyone honestly think that by reducing the incomes of their employees everyone else’s business except their own will experience the effects of a

Is it actually in our “interests to restrict access to higher education or healthcare to those who can afford it instead of making sure it is accessible to all who need it?

decline in spending? And does anyone think that by increasing the wealth of the already wealthy more coffees are going to be consumed? Similarly, there is an actively promoted grudging attitude towards using public spending to make sure every child gets the highest quality education rather than ensuring that more goes to the schools that need the least and already have the most. How do we benefit as an economy or a society if we increase education inequality? Is it good for all of us if any of us

Public Sector Review Magazine | May 2018

are denied education and training? Is it actually in our interests to restrict access to higher education or healthcare to those who can afford it instead of making sure it is accessible to all who need it? As the German poet, Bertolt Brecht wrote, “In the contradiction lies the hope.” And make no mistake, there is enormous, irrepressible hope in the midst of the hatred, division and demonisation we are witnessing. There is hope because history doesn’t just happen; it is made by people. In attentively listening to the music of what happens we can hear a beautiful sound that is greater than the sound of suffering. It is the collective song of solidarity, the tenderness of the people in the face of oppression, the hunger for, and collective commitment to, creating a society which builds housing and hope for all instead of walls that lock out many. This movement for social justice is real. It is deeply practical, deeply human, deeply historical. It is expressed in simple gestures of love as well as mass movements for liberation. We are told to bow down before the market and sacrifice everything – education, health, housing, social services– on its altar. In other words, to allow everything, including that which we have historically fought to

protect and quarantine from its forces, to be put on sale, to be a source of profit for the few and loss for the many. But it is life that teaches us that an injury to one is an injury to all. And the Feminist Movement that teaches us that the personal is political. When as a people, we are injured, we become more intensely, more passionately, more personally, more collectively, political. We are injured when government, on behalf of the rich, steals from the poor. For this is what it means to rip funding from schools, hospitals and social services whilst refusing to make large corporations and high wealth individuals pay their share. We are injured when unemployment and underemployment are blamed on the individual instead of fixed by the government. We are injured when instead of a Jobs Plan, we’re served up a putting-theboot-into-the-unemployed-plan and a ripping-up-the-minimum-wage-andpenalty-rates-plan. In other words a Family Pain Plan.

education is attacked, when TAFE is undermined, when universities are deregulated. We are injured when the public sector is dismembered and the common good is wrecked; when people are forced into poverty, compelled to rely on charity when all they long for is justice.

We are injured when “government, on behalf of the rich, steals from the poor.

We are injured when the maximisation of profits takes priority over the rights of workers, including the residualised and discarded, the shattered and the shunned. It is time we turned our personal stories of injustice and pain into a beautiful collective struggle for a new society.

DR JOHN FALZON Dr John Falzon, Chief Executive of the St Vincent de Paul Society National Council of Australia, is a social analyst, activist and poet. He has worked in academia, community development, research and advocacy. Dr Falzon has written and spoken widely on the structural causes of inequality in Australia and the collective struggle for social justice and is a regular media commentator. He is the author of The language of the unheard (2012) and Communists Like Us, a collection of poems released in 2017.

As the Brazilian Indigenous proverb reminds us: When we dream alone, it is only a dream, but when we dream together it is the beginning of reality.

We are injured when universal healthcare is hammered, when public