‘The hedge funds wouldn’t miss it ‘ … Q&A panellist Sir Michael Marmot proposed taking a billion dollars from each of 25 New York hedge-fund billionaires and giving it to the Tanzanians. Photo: ABC ‘How do you get politicians to think beyond the three-year cycle’ … Sir Michael Marmot outlines the problems with addressing inequality as Q&A host Tony Jones listens. Photo: Q&A
Nanjing Night Net

‘I think you’re very much in fantasy land’ … Warren Mundine, an adviser to the Australian Prime Minister, dismissed Sir Michael Marmot ‘s suggestions. Photo: Q&A

It might well be Q&A’s perfect match of guest and questioner – a working-class battler pondering economic injustice and a revered global expert intent on bridging the wealth divide. There was just one hitch: they appeared four months apart.

On Monday night, the program had one essential guest – Sir Michael Marmot, a globally esteemed authority on inequality – but felt like it was missing another: Duncan Storrar, the man who back in May tried to kickstart the very debate that dominated this week’s program – “the future of the fair go”, as Tony Jones introduced it. This was the discussion Storrar deserved, and there wasn’t a Toorak Toaster in sight.

You’ll no doubt remember Storrar – and that toaster – and what happened in May when he asked a question that earned him a humiliating dressing down from one panellist and a beaming misfire from another, the election-primed Kelly O’Dwyer with her tone-deaf celebration of tax breaks on a $60,000 toaster. It left many wondering why you’d bother asking a question – and why you’d risk the backlash that hit Storrar. (And what the hell was that toaster?)

There was no such drama on Monday night, and there was much to cheer the ears of people like Storrar in finding a fierce public champion in Marmot – a man who turns conventional wisdom on its head, shuns the divisive rhetoric of “lifters and leaners”, marshals facts and figures to win his fights, and makes economic hard-heads wince when he makes the case for hope, and muses on how different the world could be if only we’d try another way.

“The opposite to poverty is not wealth, it is justice,” was his opening line as he shared the panel with a collection of wise heads who didn’t always agree with him.

For instance, we heard this, more than once: “Fantasy land.”

That was Warren Mundine’s pithy assessment of Marmot’s more expansive economic prescriptions after the distinguished guest had laid out a “thought experiment” involving taking a billion dollars from each of 25 New York hedge-fund billionaires and giving it to the Tanzanians. “The hedge funds wouldn’t miss it because they’ll make a billion next year,” he explained.

Mundine, an adviser to the Australian Prime Minister, rolled his eyes.

“I think Sir Michael is in fantasy land when it comes to some of these issues because that is not going to happen. We know that is not going to happen,” Mundine said, and while he was undoubtedly spot on about that the Q&A audience showed every sign of wanting to dream a little.

Tony Jones to Marmot: “Your ideas have been condemned as being unrealistic.”

Marmot: “I was thinking about a former Director-General of the World Health Organisation who said that what sounds unrealistic today becomes realistic tomorrow. I don’t think it is in fantasy land wanting a fairer society…”

Here, he was interrupted by applause – and Warren Mundine: “I think you’re very much in fantasy land.”

Marmot: “It relates to the question you asked before, how do you get politicians to think beyond the three-year cycle. I can’t deal with this three-year cycle and the only aim of a politician is to get elected again in three years’ time. I think we’ve got to get the politicians to think long-term.

“In a spirit of social justice as well. We are not going to change it tomorrow but the [idea] that we can’t change it tomorrow means [it’s] fantasy land, I don’t accept for a moment. I think we have to have a dream of what a fairer world would look like and then we have to work towards it.”

Note those key words – “have a dream”. They were no accident, coming a day after the 53rd anniversary of the famous Martin Luther King civil rights speech framed around those very words. And in bringing his theories on economic justice back to an immediate and immensely relatable problem – gormless governments – even Warren Mundine had to agree.

Actually, the PM might think he agreed a little too much.

“One of Malcolm Turnbull’s biggest mistakes,” Mundine said, “[was that] he walked into the room before Christmas and said we need a tax reform agenda, and we’ll put everything on the table. Within five seconds he walked away from that table and it became a dog’s breakfast. We need to be focusing a lot more on this area.”

Tony Jones inquired: “Have you told him that, by the way?”

Mundine: “I’ve had quite interesting conversations, I can tell you.”

And therein lies the rub: the politicians say they can’t, the dreamers say they can, the pragmatists bang their heads.

And we the people, the Duncan Storrars of the world? Caught between Marmot’s fantasy land and Mundine’s real world and wondering if ever the twain shall meet.

This story Administrator ready to work first appeared on Nanjing Night Net.


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