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Living Water
to Light the Journey

Chapter Six


When I arrived at the Wrest Point Hotel, where the conference was being held, I was summoned to Hawke’s room. Through the door which was ajar, I heard the gravely, good-humoured voice of the Prime Minister call out, “Come in, Bill; be out in a minute”. I let myself into his suite, then sat down. There was cheerful chortling - or was it singing? - from the direction of the bedroom. Then suddenly Hawke walked out. I had heard about this memorable act before, but had never been exposed to it. Hawke was stark naked, bollickers. He was briskly rubbing his back with a towel held by one hand high above his shoulders and the other somewhere near his waist. He had evidently just showered. He looked reasonably fit, springing into the room with all of the bounce and confidence of a boxer from one of the lighter weight divisions. I suspected he harboured visions of himself as a Greek god, I saw only an extroverted quinquagenarian flasher. While his important appendage was dingling and dangling as he moved, I kept a straight face, trying to ignore the entertaining idiocy of the act, and talked about my recent trip; he meanwhile settled back, indolently, on a long sofa to listen. As I talked, I couldn’t help thinking how far from impressive were the dimensions of the apparatus which he displayed with such evident pride and satisfaction - and him supposed to be such a lady-killer…”

Bill Hayden

Hayden, An Autobiography


Was it only me who felt uncomfortable that our Governor-General in his autobiography found it necessary to discuss the less-than-heroic proportions of the Prime Minister’s “apparatus”? Or should I simply have accepted the revelation for what many commentators said it was: a publicity gimmick to help sell copies of a serious and somewhat colourless tome?


But somehow I felt that he had demeaned both himself and his office. At a time when respect for authority was plummeting, he had just given it another nudge downwards.


Certainly, there cannot be much doubt that politicians are generally unloved in Australia. And though this may always have been the case, at least in the past they probably got respect. Now they are often loathed and despised. Some politicians say feelings against them are worse now than at any time they can recall.


Channel Nine made the point clear in a promo for political commentator Paul Lyneham’s 1998 documentary feature “Sex, Lies and Politics”.  “Australians hate politicians,” said the voice-over. “Now you’ll hate them even more.”


When you consider some of the perks that politicians receive - like their travel allowances and their superannuation - or you reflect on some notorious political scandals, like the “travel rorts” affair, it is easy to see why people might choose to hate pollies.


But the real reason seems to lie deeper: in a pervading feeling that those in authority have let us down; that those who once served us - not just politicians, but virtually all those with power - now seem mainly to be interested in serving themselves; that those we once looked up to no longer merit respect.


That is a far cry from the early 1970s, when I was a fledgling reporter on the Auckland Star in New Zealand and was sent to cover a visit by the Governor-General of New Zealand, Sir Arthur Porritt, to Auckland University’s School of Medicine. Sir Arthur was a leading surgeon - he was one of the Queen’s doctors - and included on the tour were some laboratories, complete with shroud-covered corpses.


I mentioned this in my subsequent report of the visit, only to be summoned by the chief sub-editor. “This mention of the corpses doesn’t lend itself to the rest of the article,” he told me, striking it out. “We don’t want to talk about our Governor-General meeting corpses.”



Times change. A few generations ago power in Australia alternated roughly between right and left. Bosses and others with money were on the right, workers and people who wanted more money drifted to the left. There were many exceptions, plenty of crossovers and a big grey area as well; but the right-left dichotomy remained. And certainly most power was in the hands of men.


Now, things are different. A convergence of all manner of trends, such as entrenched unemployment, the growth of technology, globalisation of industry and a big move towards out-sourcing and sub-contracting, means that a new, educated meritocracy is rising to power.


Will Hutton, editor-in-chief of Britain’s The Observer newspaper, wrote in his 1995 best-seller The State We’re In that we are now living in a “30-30-40 society”. By this he meant that 30% of the worker population is disadvantaged, with insufficient work or no work at all; a further 30% is marginalised, or insecure, with part-time work, or full-time work with few benefits and little security; and just 40% enjoys secure, stable employment.


In another acclaimed work, The Global Trap, first published in Germany in 1996 and quickly achieving best-seller status throughout Europe, two journalists painted a bleak picture of life in the 21st century. They wrote of a “20-80 society”, a world in which just 20% of all adults have stable work. They quoted a computer-company boss as predicting that the choice for many people will be “to have lunch or to be lunch”.


They also quoted President Jimmy Carter’s former national security adviser, Zbigniew Brzezinski, as coining the phrase “tittytainment” (“tits” plus “entertainment”) to explain how the elite 20% are going to take care of the remaining 80%. Tittytainment does not refer to sex so much as to the milk from a mother’s breast, coupled with a lot of distraction. As the authors wrote: “Perhaps a mixture of deadening entertainment and adequate nourishment will keep the world’s frustrated population in relatively good spirits.” (In the Australian context, cable television, casinos and popular women’s magazines spring to mind.)



We are seeing the growth of an elite who seem to owe little allegiance to our culture. It is an elite that transcends traditional class lines. Previously, a white-collar job could generally be equated with a good income and a secure life; nowadays no such presumption can be made. Many white-collar professionals today are stuck in jobs with punishing hours, only moderate wages and little security. Some blue-collar workers are very wealthy.


Doctors used to be among the best paid of all the professionals. Even today, many surgeons receive salaries that are generous by any standard.


Well, almost any standard. According to the provocative “Retractor” column in the Australian Doctor journal, written with what is presumably a touch of exaggeration: “Twenty years ago a prominent surgeon would have earned more than the CEO of BHP. Now they couldn’t pay the CEO’s superannuation.”


To read Australian Doctor is to read of a crisis waiting to happen, as general practitioners struggle - incredible as it may seem - to make ends meet. Forced to raise costs to meet higher health-delivery standards, they are not being adequately compensated by the government’s Medicare payments. Growing amounts of paperwork mean increasing levels of unpaid work.


According to the journal, a third of our GPs would quit if they had something else to go to. Many say they would not advise their children to follow in their footsteps. One part-time GP working 25 hours a week in a bulk-billing practice reported that her income was so low she qualified for a family-allowance supplement and a health-care card. Surveys have found doctors working around six hours weekly without remuneration, including writing up notes, writing referral letters and such other “duties” as signing passport applications and affidavits.


Look at the fees charged by family doctors for a weekend home visit. The government’s suggested fee is $54.45, and Medicare pays a rebate of  $46.30. By contrast, the Australian Medical Association advises a fee of $82. My own family doctor charges $65. Try to get a plumber to visit on a Sunday for that kind of money. Some plumbers add a surcharge of $100 - on top of their regular fee - for out-of-hours visits.


Now there is, of course, nothing wrong with plumbers earning good money. But we forget that our society was prepared to allow doctors high rewards precisely because we assumed that they took upon themselves a duty of service to the community. In return for being on call at any hour, and for undergoing years of rigorous training and meeting high standards, including regular refresher courses, doctors were allowed to enjoy relative wealth (and status). Now, in a society that has forgotten its traditions, it is every man - and, increasingly, every woman – for himself or herself.


Of course, there are many plumbers and other tradespeople who willingly give of their time to serve the under-privileged, while plenty of doctors take the phone off the hook at night and at weekends. But the fact remains that we have entered a period in which a self-serving elite, feeling no particular duty to our society is on the rise. Even public “servants” in a growing number of cases are paid according to “performance” rather than according to “service”.


As Christopher Lasch pointed out in his book The Revolt of the Elites, we are seeing a new kind of class warfare. Previously, it was poor versus rich, vying for political and social power. But now, the elites are actually cutting themselves off from society.


They pay to send their kids to day-care centres (and lobby the government for generous subsidies for this) and to private schools, they pay for private security patrols and private medical care. They can afford good lawyers and accountants. Meanwhile, state services in many of these areas seem to be in decline.


Some of this elite are plugged into the global financial and business world. They communicate daily with colleagues in many countries. They take their holidays abroad. They have no sense of owing a particular duty towards fellow Australians. Many are baby-boomers, members of what has become known as the “me generation”; they feel they are “self-made”, and therefore are free to do as they choose.


They are certainly not all rich, though they are often in positions where they are able to exercise some kind of authority over us, such as in the media or in government or in public institutions. And as they have in many cases abandoned the religion of their parents, they do not necessarily feel constrained by moral absolutes, by any feelings of duty or by a particular sense of right and wrong. They have come to expect absolute freedom.




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