Ingeborg van Teeseling

Media’s forgotten facts about “the forgotten people”

Approx Reading Time-10In using “the forgotten people” to paint a portrait of victimisation, it looks like Menzies’ term has been more than a little bastardised in another attempt to drum up hysteria over the harm of immigration.

 


I’m with Pauline Hanson. I’ve “had it up to here with my own tolerance”. The only difference between me and the redhead is the type of people that are at the receiving end of our new lack of acceptance. Pauline feels she can now yell at wogs and Aboriginal people and tell them to just accept a bit of good-natured racism. My limit has been reached by what articles I have read over the weekend called “the forgotten people”.

First of all: the term “the forgotten people” was, as everybody knows, coined by Robert Menzies, in a radio speech he gave in 1942. Menzies was between Prime Ministerships at the time, somebody else was running the country during the war, so he had a moment to muse about what Australia would look like afterwards. For Menzies the solution to all ills was the middle class; “the forgotten people”, the “salary-earners, shopkeepers, skilled artisans, professional men and women, farmers and so on” who were neither communists nor “the rich and powerful”.

It is interesting when writers use Menzies’ term in a page-long story about people at the bottom of society and how they feel they need someone like Trump “to shake the whole thing up”. Personally, I am not a big fan of Menzies. I think he was an archconservative who turned Australia into a country where capitalism reigns and people with dissenting voices are viewed with suspicion. But that is exactly why some outlets love the man, for example this gushing review of John Howard’s documentary series of his hero not that long ago. “Post-truth” and all, Menzies would be appalled at the people that now seemingly fit his category.

Whinging about how nobody listens to them, nobody gives them what they deserve, these “forgotten people” offer no word about their own responsibilities, their own contribution, their own ambition, their own drive.

Let me give you a little comparison. Menzies spoke about folks who had a “stake in the country”, because they had a “responsibility for homes – homes material, homes human, and homes spiritual”. They were driven by “the great instinct of civilised man”, to give the next generation a better chance and “make them not leaners but lifters”. For that, education and hard work was key, because “the acquisition of knowledge will give  power”. According to Menzies, the “great question” of the forgotten people was ‘‘‘How can I qualify my son to help society?’ Not, as we have so frequently thought, ‘How can I qualify society to help my son?’.”

Now let me put that up against a few people from a recent article printed in The Australian: a woman, 35 years old, three children, never had a job, doesn’t watch the news, has no Internet, no education, always been on Centrelink, never voted. Or the couple with ten children, 29 and 39 years old, unemployed, also never voted but unhappy with politicians and just about everybody else. The author of the piece compares them with the Americans who brought Trump to power and says that they were “pushed off jobs in favour of 457 visa workers”. Not really, in fact. If you haven’t had any education and have never had a job, you can not be “pushed off” anything by people who can only get into the country because they are skilled. It is not, as is purported, that their jobs have gone to “outsiders”. Apart from the fact that the word outsider is divisive in the extreme, it is also wrong. Menzies said that opportunities shouldn’t go to what he called “boneless wonders”, to “the dull offspring of stupid and improvident parents”. The outsiders have put the work in; a lot of the people represented as “the forgotten people” in The Australian‘s article have not.

I am not a fan of Menzies. He was an archconservative who turned Australia into a country where capitalism reigns and people with dissenting voices are viewed with suspicion. But that is exactly why some outlets love the man.

Menzies had no problems with a welfare state and had “the warmest human compassion” for people who couldn’t stand on their own feet. But he also believed that “the greatest element in a strong people is a fierce independence of spirit” and “a brave acceptance of unclouded individual responsibility”. Whinging about how “they” – the politicians, the bosses – have treated them badly, and that nobody listens to them, nobody gives them what they deserve, these “forgotten people” offer no word about their own responsibilities, their own contribution, their own ambition, their own drive.

They have sunk into the morass of their own victimhood and don’t seem to realise that we’ve only got one life to live and that it will be over before you know it.

Menzies wrote at a time of war, and in his mind, one of the reasons the world had plunged into the abyss was that “we have been busy getting ourselves on to the list of beneficiaries and removing ourselves from the list of contributors, as if somewhere there was somebody else’s wealth and somebody else’s effort on which we could thrive”. To him, the problem was that “the votes of the thriftless have been used to defeat the thrifty”. Menzies saw dangers in what he called “a stagnant democracy”, because the “the scum rises”. You only have to read articles like those from over the weekend to see how right he was. And how important it is that we become intolerant to the whinging and whining of people who haven’t contributed anything, ever.

Then, Menzies could be proud.

 

Ingeborg van Teeseling

After migrating from Holland ten years ago and being warned by the Immigration Department against doing her job as a journalist, Ingeborg van Teeseling became a historian instead. She endeavours to explain Australia to migrants new and old at her website www.australia-explained.com.au, and runs www.lifebooks.com.au, telling people's life stories.

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