Gina Rinehart took the time to sink the boot into Welfare recipients last week. Why? And why did her comments strike such a flat chord?
I want to spend a bit of time looking today at Gina Reinhart’s recent comments. I’m not even sure why. I just think it was one of the strangest spectacles we’ve seen in the public sphere for a while.
In case you missed it, she’s on the record as saying,
We are living beyond our means. This ‘Age of Entitlement’ and its consequences is creating problems for all of us, our children and our grandchildren.
Australians have to work hard or actually harder and smarter to create the revenue to be able to pay that bill … something has to give, we can’t do it all.
People on welfare are bankrupting the country and the long-suffering mining industry’s got to shoulder the burden… again.
So what do we make of it? Where do we even start?
The first thing to deduce from it is that Gina isn’t using a PR consultant to filter her messages.
There’s something incredibly unseemly about the one of the richest people in the world trying to give the poorest folks in the country a boot up the arse. It’s quite something to have her telling people to live within their means, when her own means are some $20 billion worth. Even if you agreed, it just leaves a bad taste in your mouth.
And even if she genuinely thought that was the biggest problem facing Australia, why would she use her image to try and push that message? As if a single mum in the Western Suburbs struggling to get by is going to hear that message from Gina and go, “Yeah! Gina’s right. I need to pull my finger out!”
It also plays straight to the characterisation of the mega rich as having a deluded sense of entitlement. That they’ve got to where they are, not because they married well, or inherited a business from their father, or happen to live in a prosperous country, with an established rule of law that allows business to flourish. No. They got what they got because they worked hard and they deserve it. If you don’t have what they got, then it’s your own fault. You’re clearly not working hard enough.
Again, not a good look.
But I guess that’s the thing about being mega-rich. You can say what you want and you don’t have to care what people think.
Take Clive Palmer for example. There’s a man who’s happy to talk first and ask questions later. And whatever the make of the guy, listening to him speak you realise how long it’s been since you heard a politician actually mean what they’re saying. It’s a breath of fresh air.
But given Gina’s got the luxury of being able to ignore everyone in the world, it’s hard to see where this broadside is coming from. It’s not your classic “Captains of Industry” speech. Normally, when CEOs wax lyrical on the challenges facing the country it’s things like productivity and innovation, industrial relations regimes, the exchange rate, integration with Asia. Big picture stuff.
I don’t think I’ve ever heard welfare cheats rate a mention before.
It’s really hard to imagine that when the executives of Gina’s complex $10bn Roy Hill Mine project sit down to lunch that dole-bludgers ever rate a mention.
So where is it coming from?
To me, it actually sounds like Gina sat down and watched a few episodes of Today Tonight to try and figure out what people are ticked off about, and wrote her article on that.
I mean, it kind of sounds like a really misguided attempt at popularity – connecting with the issues that matter to everyday Australians (with a smack of justification for personal privilege, and a dollop of small government ideology.)
But if that’s her ambition, she’s seriously misunderstanding the role Today Tonight, A Current Affair, Alan Jones, John Laws and the entire recreational judgement industry play in Australia.
When they encourage us to wag the finger at welfare cheats, what they’re really peddling is a sense of self-satisfied superiority. “How dare they? I would never do that. I’m a better person than that.”
But to fully load up on superiority, we need to be able to look down on the offenders – racially, socio-economically, morally, whatever.
And so an ethnic looking person working a shitty car-washing job swipes a couple of bucks from the dash. We devote 20 minutes of prime-time television to stringing them up.
I can show you a cabal of greedy, mostly white, bankers who almost destroyed the ENTIRE GLOBAL FINANCIAL SYSTEM in 2008, lined their pockets with millions and got off scott-free… and how much finger-wagging makes it on to Prime Time?
And we love to hate bankers but why is there no ‘fun’ to be had in judging them? Well, because contemplating their situation, their rich and ‘successful’ lives, only reminds us of our own lowly state. It’s might be disgusting and disheartening, but there’s no fun to be had there.
Judging some poor single mum in a housing commission flat on the other hand – that’s a sure-fire way to get a fix of feeling good about yourself.
But it’s junk food for the soul. The more you judge others, the more you judge yourself, and the more you need to judge others to feel good about yourself. It’s a vicious cycle that hollows you out.
And so I think we recognise that there’s something ugly in Gina’s comments – that someone who has the wealth and freedom to be gracious and generous is anything but.
It’s not going to endear her to anyone.
So my tip would be stick to what you know. She’s probably got a lot of interesting things to say about running a massive company. Less so on social policy.
… and probably grab a PR consultant while you’re at it.