We need to talk about big money.
It is Thursday afternoon, in a parliamentary democracy. As I twatch the two major parties
thrust and parry to and fro in this afternoon’s question time, I think about how lucky we are to be able to discuss things in the open. Most peoples of the world are not allowed to speak out publicly about what they want from the governments, or be represented, or question their elites. In Australia, we can and do.
This thought leads to the next one, the thought about all the questions that aren’t being asked, and whether that’s because they don’t matter, or because they’re too hard, or because we don’t know what we don’t know.
It is liberating and fascinating when you realise just how much of your life is made up of areas that you don’t know about or don’t understand. It’s like when you find out that Amanda Vanstone can have non-partisan conversations even though she supported some dreadful immigration policies, or when you find out that the guy on ‘Giggle and Hoot’, whose name really is Jimmy, is exactly the same in real life as he is on a children’s television show mostly famous for its lobotomal (neologism) scripts.
I had this boyfriend once who was a pretty good small business man. He was also loaded. He was a generous person but deeply sexist (so not so generous after all), so we parted ways, but not before he passed on his passion for spread sheets. In between almost-daily episodes of unbelievable sex, book-ended by cooking delicious, continental foods, he showed me his numbers. Rivers of dollars eddied into billabongs of income-producing thingummies, swirling around his accounts, into one and out of another, earning more money here, discarding waste there.
Once, we were due to travel overseas. The racehorse in which he held a share was due to run at a small meeting the day before. With a packet of money in the breast pocket of his suit (think it was $1000) he met me for lunch, intending to place specific bets straight afterwards. The race turned out exactly how he wished it to, and he looked forward to spending the $7000-odd dollars on our trip.
Caught up in the romance of it all, he forgot to place the bets. So, no $7000. He was annoyed with himself for a couple of hours, vaguely disappointed for another day, and then got over it.
The point is, this guy, like so many other fat, entitled, manipulative, macho souls, was used to viewing money in the millions (household money) and billions (what he was aiming for in his business). And there are tens of thousands of other educated, middle class people who also see large numbers every day, including politicians and bureaucrats.
But single mothers, the caring people who help them, and Centrelink staff do not. To a single mother who’s been living on Parenting Payments and a casual customer service job, $100,000 is a lot of money. Most working people think the $20 million lotto jackpot is a lot of money.
How dare she, who works in the supermarket and drives a second-hand Camry, presume to even look at a politician’s budget? How can she possibly bridge the gap between her detailed expertise in running a family close to the bread line, and a government department that could perhaps waste the odd $20 million on an IT contract that didn’t work out?
And why would she anyway? This is a patriarchy characterised by masculine-style market competition for resources, with structures and customs that favour private information for people who are privileged, and which discourages public discourse about technical subjects. Experts are ridiculed, banks are bashed and economists are called self-interested liars. How can the average person ever really understand how three consecutive investment juniors at XYZ fund lost $9,000 of their super during the GFC?
The world I want to live in is one where we approach the financial literacy that Paul Keating thought was possible when he introduced compulsory superannuation, in the era when the TV news bulletins began to run stock market reports and Clem Dimsey’s race reports disappeared from the Channel 10 bulletin.
I want to live in a world where I can discuss funding allocations for Indigenous arts projects over the back fence with my neighbour, productivity at the local supermarket and defence spending at playgroup.
I want Australian women to be capable of questioning and speaking up about a $70 million black hole, seeing this mistake in NLP costings for what it is – a full 10% of the amount of money the ALP has taken away from single mums ($700 million) normally used to pay their living costs, coincidentally, a mere 50% of the amount of money the government could collect from deadbeat dads via Child Support Agency ($1.4 billion outstanding), but which the mums are third or fourth in line for after the ATO and other creditors.
I want Australian women to be capable of unpacking what I said above without having their eyes glaze over.
I am going to nag you all about it until it gets done.