The rhetoric from the Abbott-Hockey mantra of the ‘age of entitlement’ appears to be getting more manic as a viewing of the ABC’s Parliament Question Time will attest; and as other Coalition ministers join the fray. Moreover, the reinforcement that it is getting due to the persistency of the mantra heralds that somehow, some way, we had this ‘entitlement’ bestowed upon us by the liberal-democratic nation-state. This is however, not the case and as much as Abbott would have the populace of Australia leave his mantra unquestioned, there is much more to the where ‘entitlement’ debate. Of course, and as can be expected by a Conservative neo-liberal government, the mantra quickly shifts focus to some within the State not being ‘deserving’ of the care of the nation-state. In order to suggest the opposite of the Abbott-Hockey mantra and that in fact Australians duly deserve their ‘entitlement,’ requires a balance needing to be struck in the argument. One that shows the population actually worked for its fair share of the so-called ‘entitlement.’
First of all however, the imbalance in light of current political machinations regarding who is deserving and who is not, can easily be observed in two examples: aged pensioners are the deserving recipients of welfare; and the unser-30s are not. To be sure, the reason why pensioners have been targeted as the most ‘deserving’ one can assume is they will form a significant voting bloc at the next election. A reasoning for the under-30s being targeted is they are prone to being selective about employment; and possibly not wanting to work at all. As patently false as this may with regarding the under-30s, the Conservatives have convinced themselves it is true and have set about turning the information into a ‘fact.’
Why the under-30s are being ostracised in this way is difficult to understand as from the perspectives of chronological, structural, functional and in particular fiscal, they will be the ones that underpin the future pensions and lifestyles of the very ministers—Abbott, Hockey, Cormann, Andrews, Robb, and Abetz—who are driving the mantra. This forces any observer to question whether they understand the way in which economies-of-scale actually operate, and/or whether they are simply so slavish to the neo-liberal agenda per se, that nothing else is able to penetrate their idealised version of the way an economy should operate. Furthermore, by punishing these people in such a way is to suggest that the under-30s are ‘on their own,’ which in and of itself collides with their fellow ex-treasurer’s (Peter Costello) ideal that a woman should have ‘one child, for mum, one for dad and one for the country’ which has as its undertone that the country values an individual’s worth (if only for their ‘future of Australia’ populating capabilities). Here we are some twenty years on and those same children that were born in the mid-1990s are about to get their ‘reward’ for being under-30. Although it is a germane observation, there is something that should nevertheless be mentioned: it is the under- (and people in their) 30s that have the majority of the children.
Whilst the above has dealt only with certain groups in society it is important at this point to expand on the notional understanding of what the State ‘is’ and what it ‘wants,’ and who supports ‘it’ as an entity. The State as an entity is interested, via its ruling elite, in its own existence and wellbeing. This is and remains, a continuum. Where does it get its wellbeing and ongoing existence from? The answer is its people. More to the point, the population-geography mix of a State is able to shed some light on how the State manages its populace and of course, some do a better job than others: Sri Lanka does an appalling job and Sweden does an excellent one. Other nation-states aside there is the matter of Australia and how it manages its people and it is timely to talk about the nation-state in general, in order to come to understand how much it has demanded of a given populace. In placing what the nation-state has demanded will offer a ‘balance’ and counter the ‘entitlement’ argument that the Abbott-Hockey mantra invokes. The following is an historical précis of how the nation-state came into existence and why a citizen—in this case one living in the nation-state of Australia—should demand his/her entitlement regardless of his/her position on the socio-economic ladder; and regardless of what ‘entitlement’ the Abbott-Hockey team thinks an individual is ‘worth.’
The beginning of the nation-state
In 1648 the Treaty of Westphalia (TofW) came into being after Western Europe (as it is now called) was laid waste from the Sixty Years War. It was decided amongst the political elite that bordered-regions were needed so that defined geographical territories—what is now called the nation-state—should exist in order to create sovereign realms. In doing this there would no longer be accidental straying into the territory of another, and therefore hostile responses would be minimised because of this understanding. Borders would remain permanent and due to core agreements there would be less frictions and less wars. The TofW would achieve peace, or in the case of an actual war taking place, it would allow for a ‘just war’ to be the answer to any quarrels, and this would reside in either defending a given territory and the expulsion of an intruder; or it could also allow for an invasion into the intruder’s territory in order to establish a greater peace—exiting the territory when the problems were over was also required. Powerful nations now refer to this as an ‘exit strategy.’ Needless to say there have been many, many wars since the inception of the TofW, however what we are interested in here is how did those wars, whether they were invasions or defence-driven, manage to take place? The short succinct answer to this question is sovereign nation-states used their populations as battering rams against each other–this still is the case regardless of whether the nation-state should have ‘matured’ beyond this paradigm. A major outcome of the scenario alluded to here is that the ruling elite of the ‘State’ were in the process of building their realm usurped clans, groups, tribes and many other peoples, and in doing so forced homogeneity onto all within their particular realm. In simpler terms, the State drew in domestic peoples and took over the role a clan elder would encounter in his/her role in the group. The State then made the people/s that had been usurped its ‘citizens.’ In this process of state-building the State gave ‘entitlements’ to their people in order to keep them loyal, fed and happy lest they need them in a crisis; and lest they rebel should their basic needs not be met. Of course it is an arid argument and a moot point to understand that some did a much better job than others (and this applies equally in contemporary times). England for instance, from about 1750 until 1919 excelled at this particular ‘model’ of ‘state-building’ to the point of making England into a world power: pax-Britannica. During, and before this time others were also exceptional at this as well, Spain, Portugal and France to name only a few. The British achieved status whilst the elite began to care for their people, and the people in turn incrementally began to offer loyalty, labour and encouragement. The United State of America also achieved this for their Anglo-settlers, via the twin grips of manifest destiny and patriotism. Of course this was also achieved, sometimes to a much greater degree than in England by countries such as Sweden, Finland, France and Denmark.
International politics aside, it is timely to ask what do Abbott and Hockey want from their populace? It is not too long a bow to draw to say that the Conservatives want loyalty, obedience and a strong sense of nationalism from (and for) Australia’s populace. What they appear to not understand is, that it requires an effort on the part of the State to keep these desired traits in the populace in place. The way in which a governments can achieve this is either through brute force which is a delicate balance as the civilian population will rebel at the slightest hesitation of a ruler’s power, or to actually reward citizens for their loyalty and patriotism. When viewed from the perspective of the people of a State these ‘entitlements’ could and should be seen of as, ‘repayments’: a reward for being loyal to the ‘model’ that influences and controls their lives on a day-to-day basis, and one that the ruling elite continually force upon them.
The upshot of the above when seen from a different perspective is to suggest that the State under Abbott, Hockey and Andrews has no, or at the very least a declining, duty-of-care to some of its citizens—in this case the under-30s. The under-30s are not in need of care by the State as they are essentially capable of living on nothing and can find their own way in life without the input of the State. What is more, the shift of an ‘entitlement’ to somehow becoming a handout from the State for ‘no reason’–even though one could argue it is the fault of the State in not creating enough jobs–is to observe that the Abbott-Hockey mantra has redefined ‘entitlement’ to ‘privilege’. Hence if there is any fiscal input into an under-30s life then it will be seen of as a ‘gift’ and not something State ‘should’ do, in other words the State will choose whether a person is of worth and if the under-30s do not conform to the (increasingly) rigid and draconian State-driven elements (such as ‘get a job or else’) in place they will be fiscally expunged from the State’s care. This is a shocking turnaround for a developed nation-state such as Australia; of a liberal-democratic country; and of a supposed egalitarian nation-state.
The future: a possible scenario
Let’s move to the future and assume that Australia reaches a crisis in the Asia-Pacific region and that a war with China/Indonesia/Russia (one or as a combination) is imminent. Who would fight this war of the future? Surely it will be the under-30s? The ones who the State thought were not deserving of care under the Abbott-Hockey-Andrews mandate. If a crisis of this magnitude happened—and it is important to note here, that the Asia-Pacific will be the next geo-strategic flashpoint—the State would without doubt, call upon the under-30s to show their loyalty, join the fight and embrace the needs/requirements of the nation-state of Australia. However, the State would be indulging in an acute double-standard if the Abbott-Hockey-Andrews fiscal and safety-net austerity were allowed to continue, as it has told them that as a part of the population–those in their late-teens and throughout their 20s–they are not worth the duty-of-care of the State. Perhaps pensioners can be called upon to join the fight? As loyal as pensioners’ may be to the State, their ability to fight a war is obviously nonsensical, so it stands to reason the young will be called upon—as has been the case in all wars.
Regardless of whether the above were to take place is a moot point as what is important is the argument that all Australians are worth being cared for equally, and that it is in fact the duty of the State. The frightening aspect of the Abbott-Hockey mantra is the divisiveness and separation it will cause in the community, and if the abysmal treatment of the under-30s is allowed to take place, it may produce a lost generation that has no hope and no trust in the State. Indeed, in a worst-case scenario the under-30s may decide they have no obligation to defend it as it has not cared for them. Would this ever happen in Australia? Take a look at Spain or Greece for an insight into what a State can do in showing it simply doesn’t care about its young; and punishes them with austerity measures regardless of the fact that it was not the young who were responsible. The mess their political elders got them into is of their own making and was not caused by the young, and moreover, the elders have reneged on their ongoing responsibilities to their young. A shameful reflection on expecting the young adults to absorb the neglect of the State through punishment and in doing so shun what the liberal-democratic State has historically and incrementally encouraged: a high duty-of-care for its citizens. If borrowing money to care for the young is the cost of a civil and prosperous, well-educated society then it is worth it, as the ramifications of austerity are horrendous, from which it will take decades for Australia to recover.
The State has a responsibility to its citizens as it demands so much from them and it will continue to do so. It’s time the political elite understood this and were aware that loyalty comes from giving and not from taking away. The nation-state of Australia may well need the people it is punishing today, to fight a war tomorrow.
© Dr Strobe Driver