Equal Opportunity

Much like a broken stereo, the words “a fair go for those who have a go” have been heard echoing through the media and political word. The new slogan from PM Scott Morrison, a signal of the party’s belief in personal responsibility.

A central attitude of the Liberal party derives from the American Dream, that if you work hard, you can make it, no matter where you start. The appeal of this dream in Australia and American comes from our mutual separation from the British Empire and the strong hierarchical social structures that dominated their world.

Australia believed and partly believes itself today, to be a post-class nation. We could not be further from that truth.

The individual efforts of people from different groups will result in different degrees of success, the belief in an equal opportunity with fair outcomes is now shrouded in the institutional factors that diminish the opportunity for those of low-income households or rural geography.

The critical foundation of equal opportunity is a well-funded state education. While this is not to disregard and overlook the importance and service that an independent education has within our society, but rather, to create a high level of minimum education standards.

This ensures that individuals have the skills necessary to enter the workforce and to ensure that top universities are filled with students from all walks of life, not only those who could afford expensive educations.

To dream and pursue a career of your choice should not be hindered by the financial ability of your parents, a child’s educational success acts as a tool to lift themselves up the social ladder. It also acts as a potential way to pull their parents out of relative poverty, or at least into a greater standard of living.

Expanding our state education system to allow itself to cater to all students, whether they need education support, advanced classes, AUSLAN friendly environments or mobility access. Schools should act as a space for students to thrive both within and beyond.

Yet, education is not the only issue.

As revealed in a recent productivity commission report, 9% of the Australian population is still in a state of relative poverty, a statistic that has changed very little over the last four decades. The same report also showed that “a son is about four times more likely to be in the top decile for lifetime earnings if his father was in the 95th percentile than if his father was in the 5th percentile.”, revealing a lack of intergenerational income mobility.

However, it should be noted that Australia outperforms the US and UK regarding inequality and disadvantage, yet, we still lag behind Canada in some regards and Scandinavian nations in all.

Those who lack the fair outcome for their “fair go” tend to be lone parents, Indigenous or disabled (with severe work restriction). These groups are more likely to lack access to essential items than any other group.

Education can only go so far to help these groups. Lone parents currently bear the burden of expensive and rising childcare costs that may price them out of a job. In fact, childcare costs have increased at around 6% between 2008-17 (it should be noted, between 2016-17 this rate dropped to a new low of 4%).

Greater childcare rebates need to be offered to single parents to ensure that they are able to continue working, thus, being able to ensure the mobility of themselves and the sound upbringing every Australian child deserves.

Finally, Indigenous Australian’s have suffered gaps in literacy, numeracy, life expectancy, employment and many more. While education can help to bridge some of these gaps, finding ways to work with community leaders to run programs through respected elders and the people themselves, will be more effective in closing the gap than a program of throwing money at a situation.

A tough balance must be achieved of closing the gap and acknowledging heritage and the value of maintaining communities. But, to be born Indigenous should not be a limiting factor on the ability to succeed in life.

So, while it may be easy to say “a fair go for those who have a go”, there is much more that we can be doing as a nation to improve current opportunity potential.

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