An Open Letter to Frances AbbottPosted: May 22, 2014
First off, I want to say that I feel really sorry for you this week since the news broke about your $60,000 scholarship to study at Whitehouse Institute of Design. As your passion was to study design, you should be commended for following this passion, and for applying yourself to your studies and graduating with Distinctions. Well done. No one is suggesting that you didn’t deserve to graduate with high grades, and no one is suggesting that it was unfair for you to be accepted into the course in the first place. But what people are upset about, including me, just so we’re clear, is the speculation that you got this opportunity to study without paying for it through your dad’s job and his connections. If this is true, we’re upset with your father. And I should imagine that you would be really be upset with him as well because of the perception that he put you in this position where you now probably feel that you’ve been unfairly criticised.
I am not naïve enough to think that this sort of ‘favour’ amongst rich people doesn’t happen all the time. Jobs get opened up and opportunities appear all the time for the children of the privileged and the powerful. Your dad has actually been giving lots of his mates jobs since he won the job of Prime Minister too. People like former IPA front man Tim Wilson, who is completely unqualified to be responsible for human rights, is now an Australian Human Rights Commissioner. Former Liberal MP Sophie Mirabella, who is completely unqualified to oversee the building of submarines, is now on the board of the Australian Submarine Corporation.
But what I would like you to understand, and I’m certain that you have the emotional maturity to understand, is that your father has made decisions recently which make your scholarship to the Whitehouse Institute of Design incredibly hypocritical. You see, your father has decided that Australian teenagers and young adults should pay more for their higher education degrees and vocational training AND should pay interest on the HELP loans they get which are the only way most can access this education. With interest of 6%. So where you paid only a fraction of the cost of your expensive private design college, students whose parents don’t have access to favours of the kind you’ve been given are facing a situation where they will finish their degrees with a huge and growing debt, a situation which may lead many of them to abandon their dreams of further education all together. And that is a tragedy for the individuals involved, and for Australia.
I note you are now working at the Whitehouse Institute of Design as a teacher’s aide, and it’s great that you’ve managed to get a job at the end of your study. Congratulations. However, for students who struggle to find their first career roles after finishing their study, and who find themselves in the very common transition period between study and the experience they need to climb the career ladder, your father has made sure these students can’t get a Newstart payment for six months. Six months is a long time to have no money. I don’t expect you to know what this feels like, as you don’t come from a background where you’ve ever had to worry about having money for food. But what I would like you to do is to be able to show empathy for the people who will find themselves in this position due to decisions your father has made. You might even be assisting the Whitehouse Institute for Design to teach these very students who are saddling themselves with huge education expenses, and have absolutely no guarantee of a job on graduation. These students grew up in a society that promised them a safety net as they pursue their life aspirations. But your father has torn up this safety net and slapped every one of them in the face with his three word slogan ‘earn or learn’. Just like you have done, these students are learning. And then they’ll be doing their best with the earning part. I see no reasonable reason to force these students into poverty while they go through this struggle. Without privileged favours from rich parents and mates of rich parents, life can be pretty tough out there. But poor students are basically being told that it’s their fault they have no job and they should have been more careful about which family they were born into.
Of course your father will defend you, and I’m sure you and the rest of your family think it’s terribly unfair that you’ve had your own personal story dragged through this mud in the media over the last few days. Again, I really do feel sorry for you. But, again, this is really your father’s fault and he’s the one we should all, including you, be upset with. He chose to organise for you and your sister Bridget to accompany him all over the country for as many media appearances as possible during the election campaign. I often wondered why you and your sister were always there, but never spoke on camera and I guess that’s because you didn’t really want to get involved with politics. But just being there made you involved and your father benefited from this involvement. You got lots of free tax-payer-funded travel and tickets to fun events out of this arrangement too, so it’s not like you didn’t all have a nice time promoting your father’s career. So now that your father is saying he doesn’t think it’s fair to involve his family in politics, he needs to take responsibility for involving you in the first place. Life is like that sometimes. I believe that you can’t have things both ways – all the spoils of privilege and power with none of the repercussions.
At the end of the day, this hasn’t really been about you, but it has affected you. You’ve been caught in your father’s web of perceived hypocrisy and you’re a victim of your father’s terrible decisions just as the rest of Australia is. When your father leads a government who asks that everyone does the heavy lifting, you must understand that it’s really important that the members of that government do the heavy lifting too. And when this quite clearly hasn’t happened in the case of your education expense, it’s only fair that we all get a chance to know whether our Prime Minister is willing to do what he’s asking all of us to do too.
Victoria RollisonFollow @Vic_Rollison