August 11, 2007
The Canberra Times

The tunnel vision of Kevin07 loses sight of real Australians

Federal politics has already descended into a daily orgy of public offence, and we’re not even there yet. The election date remains a known unknown. And while many of us are already suffering motion sickness, the journey’s end is rapidly losing its allure.

Despite being only in ”unofficial” campaign mode, the offending public statements are already coming thick and fast. Take Thursday’s example. In one swift swoon, Government Minister Eric Abetz insulted over half the population by reducing all women to useless, inanimate objects, good for nothing, other than adding a dash of colour to a dull corner. In welcoming a new female Liberal senator to the Senate, he told the Parliament she would ”undoubtedly be an adornment in this place”. No doubt that’s just what Senator Mary Jo Fisher had in mind when she slogged her way up the political ladder.

But it’s not just Government members who are indulging in public offence. Kevin07 is swimming in it.

For some time I’ve suspected Kevin Rudd was not interested in certain groups of Australian citizens. For starters, he’s clearly got no time for childless women; other than perhaps Julia Gillard. He avoids gays; except perhaps Senator Penny Wong (but studiously ignores gays who wish to marry). He isn’t interested in Australians who live alone – all 1.7 million of them. He hasn’t a thought for couples living without children – all 1.9 million of them. And as for any Generation Y voters who happen to be among the 281,000 Australians who live in group houses, well, you can all shove it. As can those empty nesters and retirees, along with the elderly residents of nursing homes.

There is only one type of Australian that matters to Kevin07. Only one image comes to mind when he contemplates the political sum of our 21 million population parts. And that is the ”Working Family”. The rest of us can go to hell.

Now let me be clear about this. I have nothing against working families. Even though I’m not sure many parents are shoving their kids up chimneys or down coal mines. The phrase nevertheless has a certain jingoistic ring to it. What it means exactly isn’t clear. I can only guess Kevin07 is talking about a harried, stressed and overworked mum and dad, both in the paid workforce, who have a couple of young kids, both of whom earn a buck doing a paper round and helping out with the ironing. Is that a working family?

Whatever the definition, the so- called ”working family” has become the prized centrepiece of the election campaign. With unflinching cynicism, Kevin07 is singing the praises, the virtues and worthiness of the ”working family” at every opportunity. Whatever the daily issue, there is only one Australian that appears in Kevin07’s very narrow tunnel vision – the ”working family”.

And if you think I’m being pedantic. I am. For good reason. The repetitious flogging of the ”working family” by Kevin07 and his team is itself highly deliberate and driven directly by focus group research. In legitimising this as the central definition of Australia, it delegitimises everything else.

Certainly the Government is no clean skin when it comes to over- hyping the virtues of the ”working family”. The ”family” has always been central to John Howard’s world view. The fact that he repeatedly champions the ”working family” as the most valid social unit comes as no surprise. The nuclear family dominates as a central concern of conservative politics. Minority groups, individuals, unmarrieds, gays, childless couples, single women, barren women, young people, grandparents – none of these groups have ever figured as high on the priority scale of conservative politics, as ”the family”.

However those outside the nuclear family arrangement perhaps had a right to expect more from Kevin07 and his team. Before his conservative make-over as a Prime Ministerial aspirant, Rudd often waxed lyrical about the politics of inclusiveness, and seemed to genuinely embrace the rich diversity and eclectic mix of the myriad demographics that make up the Australian population.

Now, one can only wonder about the merits of PR strategies pitched solely at ”working families”. Sure private polling may suggest those prized marginal seats are full of families who feel hard done by. And sure, a cynical appeal to those parents sense of victimisation, by calling them not just ”families”, but ”working families” may get them on- side. But how many Australians are being put off-side, in the meantime?

I suggest three in every four of us. To put it bluntly, in a population of 21 million about 15.8 million Australians are being sidelined.

It’s a big number, but an obvious equation. According to ABS Labour Force Estimates, Australia has 1.3 million families in which both mother and father are employed, with dependent children or students living at home. Assuming an average of two children per such family, we then have a total of 5.2 million Australians. And it is these Australians who are the focus of the ”working families” mantra.

They are the political target and the golden goose that team Kevin07 so desperately need to woo. And who knows, they might just lay the golden eggs on cue. Then again, the remaining 15.8 million Australians left – might just start chucking them.

Virginia Haussegger is a Canberra journalist and director of the 50/50 by 2030 Foundation at the University of Canberra.

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