29/07/2010 - 00:00

We deserve the policies we are getting

29/07/2010 - 00:00

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Some people just don’t realise how lucky they are, and their misplaced sense of entitlement is irksome.

AS we pass the first third of the federal election campaign, alarm bells are going off in my head about the direction of both parties as they appeal to the voters’ sense of entitlement.

This is clearly a trait displayed in rich democracies where the population becomes increasingly comfortable with the idea of constantly demanding that governments give them things, often unearned.

We already have free health care, free education and all manner of other government-provided services either at no cost or heavily subsidised. It really is a great country that we live in, yet many people don’t realise how good they have it.

Many people feel that just by being born in Australia, or having moved here, they deserve to have whatever they want.

It is certainly a right for every voter to demand better of any government, but at what expense? Surely citizens need to think about the cost of the services they demand, be it to the public purse or to the nation.

Worse than voters who demand everything without thinking of consequences are politicians who are so keen on winning government they’ll promise anything without caring about the implications.

Do I need to blow a dog whistle here to make my point?

Thus we have an election driven by political pragmatists who are happy to appeal to people’s sense of entitlement to have terrific infrastructure without the kind of population needed to support it.

This phenomenon was highlighted to me the other day when I was listening to talkback radio about a proposed strike by train guards late last week. The host, Geoff Hutchison on ABC, was asking listeners if they would buy a ticket even though they knew they would not be checked.

One woman rang the program and, with great honesty, which only highlighted her keen sense of entitlement, said she would take the opportunity to ride for free.

In explaining her position, the caller said that it cost her more than $4 for a one-way trip from Joondalup to Perth. She claimed this was a rip-off, expressing her belief that the transport authority was probably exploiting her and it would be cheaper to take the car.

I find that attitude staggering.

It is no secret that public transport is massively subsidised. To suggest that somehow commuters on trains are being ripped off is simply wilful ignorance.

But here is someone who lives 25 kilometres from the city, presumably in suburban bliss, travels into work for nearly nothing and yet still believes society is exploiting her. It is surprising that this caller didn’t play the climate change card as well, highlighting how many tonnes of CO2 she was saving the planet while being ‘ripped off’ by the government-provided transport system.

For the record, it’s worth noting how much she is costing her fellow taxpayers – before she skips paying part of the cost of her journey.

The 2008-09 annual report for the Public Transport Authority, which runs the trains and buses in Perth, shows that it earned about $152 million from the travelling public ($135.3 million in fares) for financial year ended June 30 2009, compared to operational costs of almost $480 million and total costs of almost $668 million. PTA says the average cost per passenger kilometre is 53 cents, suggesting $4 for a 25km journey is costing the provider, not the commuter.

In the specific example of comparing a regular train and car journey from Joondalup to Perth you would not need to be a rocket scientist to realise the savings are extensive. The PTA even has a calculator on its website that allows you to work out the difference.

Just the parking costs alone at most Perth car parks would kill off that argument. If you just work on fuel costs alone, forgetting about replacing your tyres every few years or, eventually, your car, the cost is still higher for most cars on the road.

And don’t forget the government is taxing car drivers and subsidising public transport users. Most people in society seem to think this is a good idea.

Generally, I can accept this logic. What I can’t accept is those that go one step further and believe that society should keep on giving to them, just because they exist. They are the unsustainable part of our population.

Tastes a bit off

WHILE many were up in arms that Channel 10’s MasterChef bumped the election debate as a programming priority, I think the issue is deeper than the concerns that were plumbed.

I am not a student of European history but I do recall that the famous phrase, ‘Let them eat cake’, apparently uttered by a French princess (it is commonly, and apparently wrongly, attributed to Queen Marie Antoinette) who could not quite grasp the fact that the peasants’ lack of bread was not a condition that could be solved by providing an alternative such as brioche. This was before the peasants revolted and brought down the monarchy.

My understanding of the era is the French aristocracy’s downfall was due to its complete and utter lack of connection or consideration for the issues of the vast majority of people. Ironically, the ruling class of France was fixated on food and had armies of chefs preparing dainty dishes and extravagant feasts while the population starved.

That may be oversimplifying things, but it was what came to mind when nearly a quarter of the population was focused at the weekend on the production of guava and custard apple snow egg desserts.

There are many good things that come from a focus on healthy and wholesome food. I, for one, enjoy a good meal and even the odd exotic dessert from time to time.

But I do wonder what has become of us when the frivolous becomes the focus, especially as our politicians conspire to tweak our feelings of privilege and self-entitlement by raising further barriers to those who want our way of life, even the bit without the fancy dessert?

Are the poor of the world the same as the peasants of France so many centuries ago? Are we living in a fantasy land behind guarded walls while the vast majority look on in envy, bemused by our focus on celebrity news, professional sports and numerous other unproductive fascinations?

There is nothing wrong with protecting our way of life, but what concerns me is, increasingly, self-indulgence is taking precedence over what really matters. That equation can be applied to many polices in this election campaign, even though not one snow egg has been offered to voters.

• mark.pownall@wabusinessnews.com.au.

 

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