For the past few weeks the ABC has been releasing the results of their Australia Talks National Survey. The survey collected information from more than 54,000 people, and was an attempt to create a picture of the dominant attitudes in Australian society.
Like all surveys, it has its limits, but Australia Talks has highlighted some very interesting trends. Household debt, cost of living pressures and issues surrounding drug and alcohol abuse topped the list of Australia’s problems according to the respondents.
That economic issues featured so heavily is hardly surprising. While the government gloats about 28 years without a recession, ordinary people feel that they are going backwards.
Australia actually has one of the highest levels of household debt in the world (190%). This means that people have nearly twice as much debt as they have income.
High levels of debt can be sustained if your income is rising and if your assets retain their value. But wages in Australia have long been stagnant, and house prices are over inflated. They don’t reflect the real cost of the materials and labour used to build them.
If the property market crashed some people could end up owing more than they own. Others just struggle to make ends meet because of the huge mortgages they have had to take out.
This situation has filled people with worry and many have reduced their everyday spending. Not even extra money in people’s tax returns this year encouraged a splurge at the shops. The retail sector is suffering badly with increasing numbers of stores shutting down or cutting staff.
While wages are flat, the cost of many essential items has increased. Some items have become cheaper, but the cost of things like healthcare, electricity, education and housing have skyrocketed. Housing is a huge issue with Australia Talks recording that 45% of people fear never being able to afford to buy a home.
Climate change however was peoples biggest personal worry with 72% of respondents saying they thought it would affect their lives. This explains why more than 330,000 people participated in climate strikes across the country in September.
Only 30% of all people say they are hopeful for the future of the globe, which speaks volumes about the lack of confidence people have in the establishment and the system. While inaction on climate change is a factor, so too is the inequality capitalism has created.
Scott Morrison likes to pretend that he represents the views of the majority of “quiet Australians” but Australia Talks shows that most people are at odds with the government on all the issues they consider important.
People want urgent action on climate change and relief from cost of living pressures, but these things clash with the corporate interests that Morrison governs for. Really, we have a situation where Australia talks but the powers-that-be refuse to listen.
The government knows that their policies conflict with the needs of the majority, which is why their strategy is to divert attention away from the big picture. Many hours are spent scapegoating refugees and introducing laws that supposedly tackle terrorism. But only 37% see terrorism as a concern, while only 27% think that immigration is an issue for them personally.
Admittedly, a bigger proportion think these can be issues for “the nation”, but that is in the context of almost every media outlet uncritically promoting the government’s right-wing views. The presence of a genuine left alternative to the major parties would likely see attitudes become even more progressive.
Right-wing commentators have highlighted that the majority of those surveyed have “pride in Australia” and think that this is the best place in the world to live. While no doubt some people are somewhat nationalistic, it is likely that these views more reflect a desire to hold onto the gains that were won in the past.
Many people identify things like decent wages, free healthcare and affordable housing with “Australian values”. These are indeed the values of working people, but they were only won because previous generations waged big struggles against Australia’s rich and powerful.
Australia Talks indicates that many people rightly feel that these gains are now in jeopardy. This, coupled with an expectation that Australia should have decent standards of living, indicates that the so-called “quiet Australians” are on a collision course with this pro-big business government.
These processes, and the struggles that will unfold, are what The Socialist intends to report on and analyse in coming editions.
Editorial comment from the November-December 2019 edition of The Socialist