Illustration: Andrew Dyson.
It's pretty horrible going into Christmas when you have just been told you're going to lose your job. Whether you're a worker at Holden in Elizabeth or in the public service in Canberra, it's hard to be of good cheer when the future is frightening.
Of course the many wonderful volunteers from the many wonderful charitable organisations across Australia will always be there to help out in the short term. But let's be frank about two things: 1) No one likes having to depend on charitable assistance, and 2) making charity the default means of papering over the cracks and chasms in the economy is no way to run a country.
It was Helder Camara, the late Brazilian archbishop, who famously quipped: ''When I give bread to the poor I'm called a saint. But when I ask why they have no bread I'm called a communist.''
I don't mind being called a communist. The Pope has just been accused of being one so if it's good enough for him, it's good enough for me. And it's no wonder he's been accused, in Rush Limbaugh's words, of spouting ''just pure Marxism''.
Take a look at his incendiary critique of capitalism: ''We … have to say 'thou shalt not' to an economy of exclusion and inequality. Such an economy kills. How can it be that it is not a news item when an elderly, homeless person dies of exposure, but it is news when the stockmarket loses two points? This is a case of exclusion.''
Pope Francis also blasted the so-called trickle-down economic theories: ''Some people continue to defend trickle-down theories which assume that economic growth, encouraged by a free market, will inevitably succeed in bringing about greater justice and inclusiveness in the world. This opinion, which has never been confirmed by the facts, expresses a crude and naive trust in the goodness of those wielding economic power and in the sacralised workings of the prevailing economic system. Meanwhile, the excluded are still waiting.''
And while the excluded wait, the many wonderful volunteers come along to try to share a little material assistance and friendship to ease the pain. But we all know that it is not charity they long for, it is justice, that modest claim on the essentials of life: a place to live, a place to work, a place to learn.
When you have got a rich country like ours ''unable'' to afford to ensure the more than 100,000 people experiencing homelessness or the more than 200,000 people on the waiting list for social housing have a place to call home, it is not a misfortune or a mistake. It is the sound of the excluded still waiting.
When you have got more than 700,000 people unemployed and about 900,000 underemployed, on top of those who are set to lose their jobs due to company closures and government cuts to social spending, it is also the sound of the excluded still waiting. Let us not forget the woeful inadequacy of the Newstart payment, at only 40 per cent of the minimum wage. Neither let us forget the single mums who were forced onto the Newstart payment this year, and let us not forget the working poor for there are some who would like to squeeze them even more by reducing the minimum wage and taking away what little rights they have.
When you have got David Gonski, not generally seen as representing the vanguard of the working class, working alongside his fellow review panellists to recommend a package of education funding reforms to address the outrageous inequality that besmirches education funding in Australia, and then the government does a triple back-flip and declares it is not committed to seeing this redistribution of resources through, you loudly hear the sound of the excluded still waiting.
The long, fruitless wait of the excluded for some of the wealth, some of the resources, some of the hope, to trickle down, is one of the most audacious and sadly successful con jobs in modern history. It is not misfortune. It is not a mistake. It is certainly not, as perversely asserted by those who put the boot in, the fault of the excluded themselves!
Rather, it is an attack, sometimes by omission as well as by commission, against ordinary people, from the First Peoples to the most recently arrived asylum seekers and everyone in between who has been residualised and demonised and made to bear the burden of inequality. That is why there is absolutely nothing unusual about understanding this as an issue of class. And why Warren Buffett was quite correct when he said: ''There's class warfare all right, but it's my class, the rich class, that's making war, and we're winning.''
But as long as people know that solidarity is stronger than sadness we can work towards building the kind of society where adequate housing is not a lucky dip, where a job and/or an adequate income is there for all and not for some, and where education is a right instead of a commodity; the kind of society where Vinnies is needed to fight loneliness rather than homelessness.
Christmas is either (or both) a religious or commercial event for most of us. In the spirit of being subversive can I suggest that it could also, given its origins in the story of one who is born powerless on the margins of society, be a whisper from the edges that another kind of world is possible.
- Dr John Falzon is the CEO of the St Vincent de Paul Society.