Federal Politics


We are all Matilda, betrayed by Tony Abbott

I have many flaws, at least according to my children. But the biggest is my obsession with musicals. I can sing my way through South Pacific, take a detour past Rydell High and arrive, shrieking with pleasure, at Next to Normal. These songs are not actually recognisable when I sing them - or that's the view of the ingrates.

So my enthusiasm that Tim Minchin's (and Roald Dahl's) Matilda the Musical will soon arrive in Australia is unbridled.

Based on the Dahl book, it's the story of Matilda Wormwood, whose father bullies and hectors her on a regular basis. She is made to feel hopeless and helpless. One evening (or did I just imagine the time of day? I developed a personal relationship with the book after reading it endlessly to my ingrate children), well, one day, Matilda is speaking to her father. He turns on her.

In the movie, the words go:

''Listen, you little wiseacre: I'm smart, you're dumb; I'm big, you're little; I'm right, you're wrong; and there's nothing you can do about it.''


Absolutely heartbreaking. Here is this person who is meant to be protecting little Matilda, and all he does is demean her, belittle her.

She is the underdog, despite her many talents, yet she is not protected by the person who should be her foremost defender.

Which is how we should all be feeling right now.

We have a government which isn't standing up for us. It's standing with the overdog. It's using the excuse of red tape and overlegislation. It's removing protections of all kinds. And it's not as if we can individually stand up for ourselves. You can't fight big by yourself - you need governments to stand between innocent citizens and greed machines.

Case 1: Race Discrimination Commissioner Tim Soutphommasane, on Monday in a speech at ANU, said the federal Attorney-General wanted to make amendments to section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act. In other words, if you hate being called a boong or a yid or a spic on the streets, you better stop caring. Any changes to 18C will unleash a barrage of race hate.

This is mainly to appease the Coalition's biggest fan, Andrew Bolt. I can imagine he did not enjoy one bit being told in 2011 to pay money to the lawyers for the people he described as ''professional'' Aborigines. The changes to 18C would allow people to say whatever the hell they please.

We have a government which isn't standing up for us.

Tim squeezed in a couple of minutes to speak to me before he gave his lecture. He said: ''If you remove 18C, you are removing one practical way ordinary Australians can speak up against racial harassment.

''Imagine if you worked for a big multinational and your boss was racially abusing you - or maybe you are a customer who has been abused, this way you have the means to get your abusers into a room to make them hear the harm they've caused you. It gives ordinary Australians the power to hold others accountable.''

The rest of us understand exactly how devastating it can be to be belittled in that way. Not Andrew Bolt, though. His response on the day the court found against him was: ''This is a terrible day for freedom of speech in this country.''

As opposed to a great day for getting people to think before they open their mouths and insult others based on race.

Case 2: Every time you get paid, some of that money gets put into an account you can't touch until you are decrepit. Someone takes care of that money on your behalf. When the time comes for you to get your hands on that money, you'll probably go to a financial adviser to get help with making it last. Apparently, for those of us freed from the shackles of work, it can be a pretty orgasmic moment.

Except some of those financial advisers have thought more about their own retirements than ours. Yes, they were promoting investments that they knew were dogs because some of those dogs came with doggy bags.

Now we have new legislation to protect us from the kennel, but that's being watered down by Arthur Sinodinos. His idea is that people who make financial products should be able to bribe - the words they use are ''pay a commission to'' - financial advisers to get us to invest in particular products. Because that worked so well with Storm Financial.

Case 3: We struggle to get gender equality into Australian workplaces (or anywhere, really). And one of the ways to make equality happen is to have the data that proves it doesn't exist.

Now the federal government is considering relaxing gender reporting to the Workplace Gender Equality Agency.

The proposal is that companies with fewer than 1000 employees would be exempt from reporting on gender balance. Which would mean most of us would work for companies that would not have to report. The very companies that don't have the pressure to be publicly accountable would again slip into the pattern of hiring what's easy, what's traditional.

And all that's just in the last little while. If you are interested in more ways the federal government wants to crush Matilda, read Sally McManus' blog on what she calls Tracking Abbott's Wreckage.

We are all Matilda now. Our only hope is that we can have the same happy ending.

Twitter @jennaprice or email jenna_p@bigpond.net.au

Correction: This article initially incorrectly said Andrew Bolt was told in 2011 to pay money to people he described as "professional" Aborigines.  No order was made to Mr Bolt to pay compensation. He was, however, required to pay the plaintiffs' court costs.


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