Tony Abbott and “lifestyle choices”

Mr Abbott said it was not the taxpayers’ job to “subsidise lifestyle choices” of indigenous people lived in remote areas far away from services such as schools and hospitals.

There has been almost universal condemnation of his comments from aboriginal community leaders.

His comment is typical of the manner in which politicians, and particularly Abbott, seek to define the terms of a debate, normally by narrowing them.

By using the term “lifestyle choices”, Abbott is blurring the distinction between a choice and a necessity. He does this by shifting the meaning of the term “style”. One meaning of the word style is the manner in which something is done.

By this definition lifestyle is the manner in which someone lives and applicable to all forms of living, be they urban, rural, affluent or poverty stricken.

But when we talk about lifestyle, it is generally about something that is done with flair, individuality, class and panache.  It may also be glossy, tasteless, tacky and shallow. But generally, it’s something that someone will admire can possibly aspire to. So when we talk about “lifestyle”, we generally talk about something that is noticeable in its individuality and exceptional in its difference from the way other people live.

Importantly, it’s about the choices that people are able to make.

Di and I are members of the global middle-class which is anyone who earns an income in excess of $2 a day after adjusting for purchasing power (Chen and Ravallion 2010). Because of this Di and I are able to make lifestyle choices. Recently we made a choice to buy a new house in Richmond.

 This is a lifestyle choice
This is a lifestyle choice

We also bought a new car and I chose to have elective surgery on my knee.

In doing this, I chose a surgeon who holds a Chair in surgery at Melbourne University. With him came an outstanding anaesthetist, an assistant surgeon and eight other people who seem to be standing around in the operating theatre, an outstanding cardiologist, a nuclear medicine radiologist, pathology lab and two outstanding hospitals. There are also a lot of people making cups of tea.

These are lifestyle choices. I can make them because, by global standards Di and I are extremely rich and also extremely fortunate.

However, when Tony Abbott talks about the lifestyle choices of aboriginal people who live in remote communities, he’s talking about living conditions like this:

 This is not a lifestyle choice
This is not a lifestyle choice

To suggest that this is a lifestyle choice is an insult to the aboriginal community and the intelligence of the Australian people. The reality is that people live in these communities because they have no options, no choices.

Not like the ones that Tony Abbott and I have.

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