Carlo's Corner: For too long we've felt entitled to a Great Barrier Reef

'For too long, people have just assumed they were entitled to a Great Barrier Reef.'

“The age of entitlement is over,” Treasurer Joe Hockey has bluntly told the Australian people. Hockey, entitled to a six-figure pension every year when he retires, suggests we must learn to get on with less.

For instance, for generations we've felt entitled to a Great Barrier Reef, which was pure selfishness when you consider that it is totally unique. All these other nations have managed to struggle through without the world's largest living organism for all these years.

So we'll just have to learn to make do once it's destroyed by a combination of coral bleaching caused by climate change-induced rising ocean temperatures and dumping soil on it from dredging to expand coal exports, which furthers the climate change threatening the reef's survival.

Of course, the key entitlements Hockey refers to are economic. What with all our expectations for having jobs with reasonable pay and conditions, and access to basic payments if we are unable to work, it is amazing we have any money at all.

But as Hockey warns us, if we want to protect our living standards, we must understand we need to lower our living standards. We just can't keep spending beyond our needs, not while we refuse to tax mining corporations and keep subsidising fossil fuel companies with billions of dollars each year.

It is probably the welfare-recipients who are the worst offenders in this “entitlement culture”. Let's not forget one of the people strongly condemning welfare recipients as too entitled is Australia's richest person, Gina Rinehart. Coalition MP Ken O'Dowd said Rinehart's “biggest whinge to me was, she said, 'Ken, you blokes in Canberra have got to stop the welfare system'”.

We should listen, because having been born a multi-millionaire and inheriting a huge mining company, Rinehart knows a thing or two about entitlement. It may seem odd to suggest those struggling to get by on less than the poverty line are “entitled”, but, well, I guess Rinehart's the expert here.

Support for this campaign came from surprising quarters. Australian Workers Union secretary Paul Howes suggested wages for some workers had been growing too fast and the industrial relations system was dragging down companies.

Many of the Abbott government's points about wages and industrial relations were backed by Howes in his February 5 National Press Club talk. It might seem odd for a trade unionist to back Abbott's declaration of war on wages and conditions, but there is no mystery here. Howes is no trade unionist, just a politician in waiting.

And as a politician-in-waiting, he understands the key thing is to join in bashing whoever the latest corporate-media-driven villain is this week. And so he duly expressed his disgust at “corrupt” unionists, who he said had no place being union officials.

Of course they don't. It is essential union positions be kept free for career-hungry opportunists who've never worked a day in the industry they nominally represent, but get the position due to their factional loyalty in the Labor Party and who, rather than use the position to further workers' rights in any noticeable way, use it for self-promotion and as a stepping stone into parliament.

His comments unsurprisingly met with strong support from Peter Reith, the former industrial relations minister in John Howard's government who sought to smash trade unions.

Now, if you found yourself in a war and a general on your side complained that your fellow soldiers were advancing too fast against the enemy and they needed to understand that winning battles was destabilising things, and then a leader from the other side wrote an op-ed heaping praise on the general and for his “constructive approach”, you might express some concern about whose side, exactly, the general was on.

And so Greens MP Adam Bandt responded by suggesting: "Paul Howes should resign as union secretary and join the Liberal Party if he is going to just parrot Tony Abbott's attack on people's wages.”

I get Bandt's sentiment, but really, don't give the man ideas. Next thing you know he'll be at a press conference alongside Abbott as the Coalition's new industrial relations minister, insisting the days of being entitled to a decent wage are over, before pissing off to eat and drink away his six-figure ministerial salary in Canberra's finest establishments.

If you like our work, become a supporter

Green Left is a vital social-change project and aims to make all content available online, without paywalls. With no corporate sponsors or advertising, we rely on support and donations from readers like you.

For just $5 per month get the Green Left digital edition in your inbox each week. For $10 per month get the above and the print edition delivered to your door. You can also add a donation to your support by choosing the solidarity option of $20 per month.

Freecall now on 1800 634 206 or follow the support link below to make a secure supporter payment or donation online.