Joolya, working families, and political rhetoric

Above : Members of a working family.

“This is why workers and working Australians — the “working families” phrase long since having been taken out the back and shot — recur so frequently in the Prime Minister’s domestic speeches; not merely on industrial relations laws (the other area where Labor still leads the Coalition) but on fairness. This is the one piece of Labor turf left to her from which she can launch an attack that stands a chance of being effective.” ~ Bernard Keane, Crikey, July 16, 2012

Bernard is right about Joolya’s work fetish, but I’m unsure if it’s true that the working families working families working families meme (cf. 2007 and 2010 federal election campaigns) is dead. Certainly, the phrase appears in numerous speeches, press releases and transcripts by Joolya, the most recent reference being in June, and many more times than does the hated phrase “working class” — which, interestingly, occurs just a few times. Oddly, in the first of two references to the working class so far this year, Joolya chose the occasion of the awarding of the G20 to Brisbane to declare that “Australia is [a] nation of a number of working class cities and Brisbane is certainly one of them” (interview with Steve Austin, ABC Brisbane, July 11, 2012); a week later, she acknowledged the fact that in her inaugural speech a retiring MP described herself as “a proud daughter of the noble working class of Newcastle” (media release on the retirement of Sharon Grierson).

I wonder which other Australian cities, apart from Brisbane and perhaps Newcastle, Joolya considers to be ‘working class’… and which ones she does not?

As for the rest, in her address to the ALP national conference in December 2011 Joolya refers to the party’s commitment to establishing “an education system that [gives] working-class kids a chance”, a sentiment also expressed in her September 2011 address to the Chifley centre (“we have worked for an education system that gives working class kids a chance”). As an historian, Joolya notes that literacy is important: “A glance at British social history, for example, will reveal how working class families prized having someone in the family who could read” (2010 Prime Minister’s Literary Awards, November 2010). Finally, in an interview with The Parrot (June 2010) she’s referred to by him as having a working class background.

Somewhat remarkably, Joolya only refers to the middle class in reference to its growth in Asia: this growing body of consumers is understood to provide Australians with abundant economic opportunities, a market which will “demand services and tourism, fine food, fine wine, all [of] the … things that Australia is so good at and has to sell” (interview with John Laws, 2SM, September 21, 2011).

Unsurprisingly, as far as Joolya’s concerned, the ‘ruling class’ does not exist, and nor does ‘capitalism’ or ‘imperialism’. For its part, ‘socialism’ exists only as an historical curio, and is trumped by feminism (“The 20th century was a century of big political movements and ideologies such as fascism, socialism and modernism. And yet the movement that outlasted them all, and surpassed them all in what it has achieved for humanity, is feminism – the struggle for women’s emancipation and equality”, Inaugural EMILY’s List Oration, September 13, 2011).

Anyway, where was I? Oh yes: working families.


June 12, 2012: “And anyone here who was a bit reluctant to leave home and get up to Brisbane for this night will have a bit of insight into why working families need some convincing that their next job is on the other side of the country.”


May 11, 2012: “We’ve had the opportunity this morning to meet some working families, some people invited by the local Member Gai Brodtmann…”

May 11, 2012: “For the Federal Government, what’s our role? Well, our role is to support working families with cost of living pressures and we’ve added in this budget with the Schoolkids Bonus and the family payments for things that are at risk under Mr Abbott, and we’ve provided cost of living relief through a wide range of policies that are helping people.”

May 10, 2012: “I was making a very simple point, which is Mr Abbott, who represents one of the wealthiest electorates in the country, came into the Parliament yesterday with his Liberal Party membership ticked in one pocket and used his vote to stop working families getting money they need… I believe Mr Abbott is out of touch with working families, because only someone out of touch could have decided to vote against giving people a helping hand of around $400 for a primary school student and $800 for a secondary school student and I really objected to the tone taken by Mr Abbott and the Liberal Party yesterday, where they were basically saying working people couldn’t be trusted with $400 and $800, couldn’t be trusted to look after their kids. I thought it was insulting.”

May 6, 2012: “It’s why we created Paid Parental Leave – first time ever in this country, to do something to help working families at the time you have a baby and with the costs of the baby and needing to leave work to look after your newborn.”

May 3, 2012: “Mr Abbott already has such a big financial mess that he’s basically got to take $70 billion out of services to working families.”


April 24, 2012: “So when it comes to understanding the needs of Australians, Mr Abbott just doesn’t get what working families need.”

April 23, 2012: “So, to take just one example, it has enabled us to end the spectre of hardworking taxpayers’ money going to support the private health insurance of millionaires. So that money can be available for front-line services that families need. Now that is important to working families. They are the sorts of goals that I have as Prime Minister: looking after working families and making sure that we best meet their needs, for the services they rely on, great schools, good hospitals, family payments support which assist them, like paid parental leave and the like… And, to fully answer your question, yes that is in the interests of working families because I have met too many people, from the kind of families you live next door to, the kind of families you feel you know really, really well, but what you don’t know is happening behind those closed doors is that they can’t meet the mortgage, they can’t put food on the table, they can’t get the kids to school with everything paid for that the kids need, because too much money is going down the poker machines.”

April 13, 2012: “These reforms promise to deliver far-reaching changes that will make a difference to the lives of millions of Australian working families.”

April 4, 2012: “So that means you face some tough choices and how we’re dealing with some matters involving public service employment are one of those tough choices, but it’s all about doing the right thing by the economy, the right thing by managing it in the interests of working families and that’s bringing the Budget to surplus exactly as we promised.”

April 1, 2012: “The Opposition has got itself in a position that even after it endorses all of our budget savings it will need to provide $70 billion more of cuts into things that working families rely on and Tony Abbott’s always telling us to judge him on his track record.”

April 1, 2012: “I know what it’s like to be in a family where people puzzle over the bills and worry about how you are going to get those bills paid and as we engage in this time of change for a clean energy future, I am not going to leave working families behind, which is why we are providing them with money through tax cuts, pension increase and family payment increases to help them through.”


March 31, 2012: “[Abbott’s] already in a position where he’s going to have to slash and burn $70 billion of services that working families rely on… We’ve just had a discussion about cost of living pressures, imagine ripping child care support dollars out of the hands of hard-working families… We have that clear plan, it’s about sharing the benefits of the mining boom, it’s about making sure our future economy can offer people jobs and prosperity, it’s about managing the economy today in the interests of working families and helping them with the pressures that they face, the cost of living pressures they face as they raise their families.”

March 29, 2012: “When the world was threatened by the global financial crisis, we stepped up; we managed the economy in the interests of working people, we supported jobs and we also worked to provide new benefits to working families to help them with cost of living pressures.”

March 26, 2012: “They want to see us working alongside working families whether its tax cuts, pension increases, which obviously will be delivered by the government… We are about creating the future economy which means people have got an even better opportunity to get ahead tomorrow in tomorrow’s economy and of course we are about delivering the benefits working families need… As we make the choices to bring the budget to surplus, we will take our Labor values about supporting working people and working families with us as we make those decisions.”

March 19, 2012: “These reforms promise to deliver far-reaching changes that will make a difference to the lives of millions of Australian working families.”


February 28, 2012: “We’ll be continuing to provide a package of benefits to working families, paid parental leave, our new education tax refund, more money going into childcare than ever before and of course we’ll be building a new platform for the future and fairness in the future and that is a better way of helping Australians with disabilities and their families so we’ve got to lot of work to do.”

February 25, 2012: “And I said to those who love the Labor Party here today that after Monday’s ballot we must come together and unite. Be a united Labor Party that is continuing to deliver the reforms and policies and plans which mean that we are running the economy in the interests of working people, supporting working families with the benefits that they need and creating the economy of tomorrow so people can live a stronger and fairer future… We vote on Monday and then we unite. And we get the job done of governing each and every day. Of delivering what we know will make a difference for working families today, for their jobs, for their health, for their education, for their communities, as we shape the future. That’s what I’m determined to do.”

February 25, 2012: “Delegates, I am absolutely determined that we use every day of government and every ounce of our energy to deliver today to working people, to run the economy in their interests, to make sure that we support hard-working families, that we give them the benefits that they need, whether they’ve got a child just born, a child in kindergarten, a child at school, a child in an apprenticeship, a child going to university – that we are there with them… And he apparently started having the tantrum because he was concerned about government debt, but here he is now with a $70 billion black hole, more debt or $70 billion of cuts to services that hard-working families need.”

February 24, 2012: “During 2012 I’ve got a very clear agenda that I want to lead our government and our nation in. It’s about jobs, it’s about education, it’s about skills, it’s about the future of our economy, it’s about getting working families the services they need.”

February 23, 2012: “And of course we don’t know where the $70 billion of cutbacks to the services working families need are going to fall. But there’s only so many places in the budget you can get huge money like that – cutting pensions, cutting Medicare, to take just two examples.”

February 19, 2012: “I have the strong confidence of my colleagues, their strong support and my focus is on getting on with my job as Prime Minister. We’re doing that today marking a very special and important event in Australia’s history, but we’re doing it every day. Building the strong economy we need for the future while we make sure we deliver a package of policies to support working families today. So that’s where my focus is and that’s where it will remain… And we’re working today too to deliver the benefits of a strong economy to working families through policies that support them like Paid Parental Leave, like our expanded Education Tax Refund to help with the cost of getting the kids to school, like more money into childcare than ever before.”

February 8, 2012: “And of course we don’t know where the $70 billion of cutbacks to the services working families need are going to fall. But there’s only so many places in the budget you can get huge money like that – cutting pensions, cutting Medicare, to take just two examples.”

February 6, 2012: “It will be a debate a between the Labor Government’s approach; between our approach of managing the economy in the interests of working people or the approach of our opponents who are determined to slash $70 billion out of services for working families… Do we make sure that we support working families with the assistance that they need or do we succumb to the Liberal Party agenda of cut backs for working families. These are the issues that [are] at the core of the economic debate which will happen in 2012… I have made up my mind about all of the choices in this debate. We stand for managing the economy for working families… Do you want to go with the cheapest plan for change – our plan, or do you want to impose a bill of $1300 per year on working families to pay for a scheme that won’t work and can’t work? …We are being invited by the other side of politics to stand still, to rip benefits off working families and to stop supporting jobs – we won’t be doing it.”

February 3, 2012: ” I’m going to be here working to support working families today, because a lot of people are finding it hard to make ends meet, so we’re increasing benefits for families, like being able to put your school uniforms as you buy them on your tax and get a rebate for them – that matters.”

About @ndy

I live in Melbourne, Australia. I like anarchy. I don't like nazis. I enjoy eating pizza and drinking beer. I barrack for the greatest football team on Earth: Collingwood Magpies. The 2024 premiership's a cakewalk for the good old Collingwood.
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