I was at Coles the other day looking for the shortest line at the checkout. A nearby granny with a walking frame was clearly doing the same. The red cardboard triangle that said ‘go away’ was taken off the conveyor of a nearby checkout as it opened for business. We looked at each other, the granny and I, and ran—more like waddle-rolled on her part—for the empty checkout.
Thanks to my superior athletic ability, I made it first, of course. I did the gentlemanly thing and congratulated her for trying hard and coming second. I also consoled her in her defeat by explaining that I truly deserved to go first because I was faster than she could ever dream of being. Letting her go first was non-sensical, I owned that spot and wasn’t sharing, I deserved it. She mumbled an incoherent reply which I’m sure was praising my fleetness of foot and enlightened reasoning.
Back home I started thinking about what else I deserve.
Australia is mine: I live here, my parents do, I pay taxes, I work to make it a better place: I deserve it. It’s mine.
‘This is our country and we determine who comes here’ said the now government, echoing the words of the once government of Howard et al.
Defining what ‘owning’ means will have to wait for another day. Let’s assume for now that it’s justifiable to claim that you can ‘own’ something in an objective sense.
Now, just like ice-creams (see below if you’re lost), the fact that I own a car is based on opportunities I have had—a job, money, and benevolent parents which in turn I didn’t deserve.
So while I do own the car, I don’t deserve the opportunities which led to me owning it.
What’s this got to do with Australia?
People—myself included—seem to speak about ‘their’ nation based on an entitlement complex. That is, we think we deserve to own Australia.
Sure, millions of people have worked hard to build it to what it is today. It’s a wealthy and reasonably just society, and for that we’re grateful. But working hard doesn’t give us a right to claim objective entitlement. Nor does inheriting something.
If Johnny—of the ice-cream—knows that he doesn’t deserve the opportunities that led to him owning the ice-cream, surely he will be more willing to share it with less fortunate Jimmy.
It’s hard to separate owning, from deserving to own.
So what if we don’t feel entitled to own Australia? What will change?
Xenophobia, for a start. We’re far more protective of possessions if we think we deserve to own them in the first place. We’ll fear anyone who tries to take them.
So let’s give it all away!
No, I think we should manage Australia well because it seems more responsible and sensible, but let’s not act as though we deserve the opportunities that living in such privilege offers us.
It, not my.