The Hon Barry Jones presents the Annual ART and Melbourne University Law School Jim Carlton Lecture,
‘Liberty, Fraternity and – what was the other word?’ How Equality fell off the political agenda in Australia
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‘Equality’ dropped off Australia’s political agenda in the 21st Century. Both sides of politics recognise that winning elections depends on the votes of ‘aspirationals’. So progressive taxation was dropped, education became more stratified in Australia than the US or UK, and governments moved away from ‘needs based’ policies.
A standard measure of ‘equality’ has been equal treatment under the law. However, past decades have been marked by the protection of special interests that are above the law and by the harsh treatment of those below the law. Casino owners, private schools and big miners have been in the first category; asylum seekers, public schools and Indigenous Australians in the second. Both sides of politics are tainted.
In the age of retail politics, all values have a dollar equivalent, debate is minimal and ‘truth’ purely operational. Courage, imagination, curiosity, compassion have disappeared without trace to the detriment of ‘Equality’.
What is to be done?