Article painted Australian citizens in an uncaring light — but Kiwis in glasshouses shouldn’t throw stones

As a Melburnian born in New Zealand I cannot leave readers misinformed after Dita de Boni's article "The yawning rich-poor Oz divide" (November 13).

Many people in Toorak got there working from the bottom up. Toorak is not inhabited just by old money or wealthy foreigners. In Australia we give people incredible opportunities for success. That is what attracts so many families to the world's most liveable city. Tony Abbott and Julia Gillard were born overseas, and Abbott's wife is a Kiwi. Xenophobia is definitely not Melburnian.

"Aussie battlers" make great sacrifices to send children to private schools. Yes, it is worth it. My children said: "Dad, [one] great thing you did was send us to Caulfield Grammar". For parents who choose the public option there are many schools and universities of a very high standard in Melbourne. De Boni's reference to children by the colour of their skin is offensive and would not be made in New Zealand. It is also untrue.

The notion that the rich Melburnians live entirely separate lives is wrong. If de Boni had spent time in the CBD she would have observed two things. First, Melburnians are generous and give much, be it by volunteering for charities, participating in events, or stopping to talk to, feed, or give other assistance to those on the streets. Melbourne cares very much for the disadvantaged.

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Second, in sport, people of all ages, income streams, ethnicity and culture play and watch games together.

Melbourne is rich with cultural events, parks, markets, libraries, food outlets and parent groups at which people from every strata of society mix freely.

In the CBD one sees those of less advantage being given an opportunity to sell The Big Issue and scores of publications highlight social issues. The Melbourne MP is a Green and the state election this month will likely return a Labor government. Neither could be accused of the separatist elitism referred to in de Boni's article.

The head of the ANZ is well paid but still gets much less than he might earn elsewhere. The ANZ website says: "Annually the charitable funds managed by ANZ Trustees generate around $70 million for charitable distribution and make grants to over 1600 Australian charities and not-for-profit organisations."

The Australian concept of a fair go is not dead. It is the fundamental principle that underscores all thinking, culture and business. Surely the "decent person" test in New Zealand is much harsher, because once transgressed, unlike Australia, no redemption is possible. To lump all Australians with "obscenity" because they embrace capitalism which has brought untold wealth is no more accurate than imputing the values espoused in the cafes of Remuera to all Kiwis. Australia's tax system is not perfect, for example, the need to increase GST. However, it has qualities absent in New Zealand, like a capital gains tax, which transfers wealth from the so-called rich to the poor.

De Boni is right, Australia must do better in indigenous affairs. But it is not from lack of goodwill at all levels of society. There was a recent government apology for wrongs and constitutional recognition will follow. A drive through Ngaruawahia or Huntly, or study of educational achievements or prison records in New Zealand reveal people in glasshouses should not throw stones.

Kiwis have long predicted the downfall of Australia. But Aussies with their resilience, can-do attitude, social togetherness, inventiveness and diversity have continually improved their lot.

If de Boni was to drive along Seacliffe Ave in Belmont on Auckland's North Shore, with its gated uber-rich mansions, or holiday at Pauanui, she could be left with the same impression she gives us of Melbourne. But it would be wrong.

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Australia and New Zealand, despite some cultural and economic differences, remain joined at the hip by the Anzac spirit, our English-speaking heritage and our future in Asia.


Paul M. Southwick is a freelance journalist based in Melbourne.