MARK Parton certainly put the cat amongst the pigeons when he attempted to paint 30+ white males as a hard done by minority group. Perhaps this was a poor argument, but there is a fair chance Parton determined it was good politics. However, the Liberal MLA’s arguments ought not to be easily dismissed as some seemed to think.
There is no doubt that Aboriginal people, migrants, refugees, people from LGBTIQ backgrounds and women have not had the advantages of 30+ white men. This is why conservative leaders such as John Howard and Tony Abbott have been hankering for a return to the “good times” of the 1950s.
In that era the middle-class white male with the “little woman” at home looking after the kids and preparing dinner for the homecoming was living pretty well.
The challenge has been that where there is an attempt to rectify inequality between groups of human beings, those who previously had the advantage are going to lose some of their benefits. This is why so much effort was made in the ’80s and ’90s on affirmative action in government services and some industries. The action was taken in an attempt to realign the disproportionate percentage of males compared to females in promotion positions.
The catalyst for Parton’s comments was a private member’s motion by Labor MLA, Tara Cheyne, intended to support the government’s funding for promoting inclusion of women, gay and lesbian Canberrans, refugees, indigenous Australians and other vulnerable people. In the nature of oppositional politics, Parton was attempting to turn the motion on its head.
The issue that was identified by Parton was one of inequity rather than one of inequality. On equality stakes at a population level, 30+ males are still doing very well. However, they do feel threatened and Parton has tapped into this. Consider being white, male, 30+ in a government department that has set catch-up goals to improve the status of women and specific minority groups. Those 30+ males will now miss out as they watch the promotion ahead of them of perhaps less-qualified and less-experienced women and Aboriginal workers. From their perspective this must seem inequitable. And it is inequitable for the group that is now missing out.
Where Parton’s argument holds some water is around the difference between equity and equality.
There are times when equality is not equitable. For example, consider two boys with their bikes. One is new and the other has been built from bits and pieces collected from the dump. A benefactor has two new tyres. Equality would demand one tyre to each. Equity would demand both tyres to the boy who really needs them.
It is clear that over-30 males are dominant across almost all spheres of power in our society. This is slowly changing. However, as it changes the opportunities for those males who are not in those powerful positions are as inequitable as it has been (and in many cases remains) for women, Aborigines, migrants and refugees of the past.
As part of his argument, Parton refers to the mental health issues of 30+ men. Delivering on expectations of society is a huge challenge for some, particularly with regard to being a good “breadwinner”, a good family man and an upwardly mobile worker. The disproportionate number of suicides in this group of men may, at least in part, be explained by failure to live up to such expectations.
In seeking a more equitable society our leaders need to consider a more nuanced approach than thinking equality is the only measure. Equity is much more important.
Michael Moore was an independent member of the ACT Legislative Assembly (1989 to 2001) and was minister for health.