ACT News


Ian Warden: When to splash out on crystal chandeliers

The moralising young Melbourne billionaire Tim Gurner, 35, would approve of the way in which this week I went to do my clothes shopping at my local Salvos store.

And Oh, what battlers' rapture! This struggling self-funded retiree found a pre-loved 1990s jacket (only a little frayed at the cuffs) for just $9.00.

Gurner, a construction mogul, is in the news for preaching frugality. On 60 Minutes he lectured "when I was buying my first home, I wasn't buying smashed avocado for 19 bucks and four coffees at $4 each".

He gave what has been called his "brutal smackdown" of millennials (what colourful language the popular media uses!) and their unrealistic expectations.

His observations (his ideas about frugality surely as interesting to battling self-funded retirees as to aspirational millennials) have generated much-reported fury. Working class Australians don't like being lectured by the tall poppy rich. We don't like the successful, and the calculating Bill Shorten, calculating this, has been going after the filthy rich in his Budget reply and in his subsequent utterances. He uses the description "millionaires" as a kind of insult. The estimable Laura Tingle of the AFR says he "has moved into the territory of appealing to class war and envy".

Some commentators diagnose that the next federal election may be a "class war election".


If working-class Australians do resent construction moguls and all of the ostentatiously rich then in this we may be very different from our US cousins.

Those of us who find Donald Trump's vulgarly extravagant lifestyle reason enough in itself to loathe him (you've all seen pictures of his chandelier-festooned Manhattan penthouse decked out in marble and 24 carat gold in imbecilic imitation of Louis XIV's glittering Versailles) may need some help to understand why working-class, poor, white Americans don't find this loathsome at all.

"Many in the US and abroad marvel," JD Vance diagnoses for in his How Donald Trump seduced America's white working class "that a showy billionaire could inspire such allegiance among relatively poor voters."

"Yet in style and tone, Trump reminds blue-collar workers of themselves."

Also for and in his Trump has a life many aspire to Justin Gest explains that: "Those who roll their eyes at Trump's [extravagances] underestimate the extent to which [he] actually connects with his white working class voters – by living the life many of them have always wanted.

"In his aspirational but undisciplined 'You only live once' style, Trump is an avatar of those who are acutely aware of money's evanescence."

Gest says that while Trump's showy extravagances (including his "beauty pageant wife" are "reminiscent of a lottery winner's palate, more subtly this communicates an understanding of money as fleeting and fragile – the experience of many white working-class people who have lost so much in the decline of manufacturing and in the great recession".

Gest thinks that compared to the working classes of European countries (and he might have added Australasia, too) "Americans are less inclined to resent the rich. Rather, we celebrate them as 'job creators'…"

As a creation of the UK's post-war lower working class your columnist should, really, be quite keen on the thought of a class war election. Millionaires do rattle my cage a little and every time I drive home to Lower Garran from my Salvos shopping I shudder as I pass the Trump-style mansions swaggering at the world from their O'Malley hillsides.

And yet, what if Bill Shorten and Labor seem improbable champions of a lower "class" in any war with the filthy rich?

To me Shorten, too, seems a kind of toff. It is not only that he has married into the gentry (his second marriage is to the daughter of Dame Quentin Bryce) but also, as Jason Wilson has just written (see his piece Class war in Australian politics? If only), that he, Shorten, has had a privileged slither to the top of Labor politics.

"His pathway," Wilson divines, "exemplifies the kind of Labor careerism that has gone hand in hand with the withering of a broad-based labour movement … Shorten has visited shop floors as an official, and a campaigning politician, but never as a worker."

Oh, readers, what confusing times we live in! How hard it is for those of us with receptive minds to cling to our most treasured prejudices! For so long I have thought of those who live in Canberra's showy mansions (and living in Lower Garran I look up to the O'Malley mansions every day) as toffs, as my class enemies.

But now, having just read Justin Gest's aforementioned brilliant piece, I must imagine that the owners of these homes are after all folk just like me. Perhaps they have had lottery wins or other windfalls. Acutely aware of money's evanescence, they are living in glamorous O'Malley while they can. They are living for today, knowing that one day sudden poverty may drive them (the horror!) to go to Gungahlin.

Perhaps, if I win the lottery tomorrow, I will hurry while the evanescent money lasts, to move to O'Malley. Perhaps (while probably not sinking to buying a beauty pageant wife) I will festoon my O'Malley mansion with the most vulgar crystal chandeliers money can buy.