Laid-back Australians find they have quite a lot to whinge about


SYDNEY LETTER:The chief of the Harvey Norman chain says Australians should be very happy indeed with their economic situation – but they’re not

AUSTRALIANS ARE universally known for their laid-back nature. But in recent times the lucky country mantra of “she’ll be right mate” has been replaced by “what’s in it for me?”

Ask any Australian what is the first thing that comes to mind when you mention English people, and they will say “whingeing Poms”. But Aussies are now comfortably out-moaning the mother country. And there is almost nothing they themselves won’t complain about.

Take the carbon tax which passed through the lower house of parliament this week.

“We’re only a small country, we can’t make any difference to climate change,” is the general response. The truth is Australians emit 28 tonnes of carbon per person a year – one of the highest per capita levels in the developed world.

Opposition leader Tony Abbott has been capitalising on carbon tax discontent for months by addressing rallies against it. He is regularly filmed under such charming signs as those referring to prime minister Julia Gillard as “Bob Browns [sic] bitch” (Brown is the Greens party leader), and others reading “ditch the witch”.

What about refugees arriving on boats? “Send them back to where they came from,” is the response of 16 per cent of Australians, the latest poll on the issue shows. “Send them to another country to be assessed,” was favoured by 25 per cent.

A majority, 54 per cent, believe asylum seekers arriving by boat should be allowed to land in Australia to be assessed. But it’s the swing-voting minority, congregated disproportionately in marginal seats, who are being pandered to by both the Labor government and the Liberal/National opposition.

In Australia, the whingers are being heard and courted.

A proposed law change to help gambling addicts has become the latest focus of endless whining. “I didn’t vote for a poker machine tax,” is the response to so-called pre-commitment legislation, which would mean poker machine players had to say in advance how much they were prepared to lose on a given day.

Australia’s two most popular sports, rugby league and Australian Rules, are usually at war with each other for dominance, but they are united in their opposition to the poker machine legislation. “To suddenly, out of nowhere, without any consultation, to have what looks like being a footy tax imposed is going to hit football clubs right between the eyes,” said Eddie McGuire, president of Melbourne’s Collingwood club.

Why do the sporting giants care? Because most professional clubs are hugely underwritten by giant, multi-bar venues they own which are packed with poker machines. They point out that they give money to junior sporting clubs and other local ventures, but in fact only 3 per cent of these venues’ profits are donated to community groups.

Clubs have been very quick to find people involved in football to appear in newspaper and TV ads who say they could not afford jerseys for underage teams if gambling restrictions were introduced. They have been less quick to find families who went hungry because their mum or dad poured their entire wages into a poker machine.

One in six Australians who play “the pokies” regularly has a serious addiction. These addicts lose on average a phenomenal 21,000 Australian dollars (€15,500) a year on the pokies.

And don’t get Australians started on the economy. Gerry Harvey, chief executive of the Harvey Norman chain, which also operates in Ireland, recently said Australians should be “as happy as pigs in shit” about their economic situation. But they’re not. They whinge about their lot and demand a new election, as if the government they voted for just over a year ago is the worst thing ever.

A government, mind, which presides over a 5.3 per cent unemployment rate that is the envy of the world, and a once-in-a-generation resources boom.

The moaner-in-chief about the government is Alan Jones, a radio “shock jock” and former Australian rugby team coach. He has a particular loathing for the prime minister and recently told his listeners: “The woman’s off her tree and quite frankly they should shove her and) Bob Brown in a chaff bag and take them as far out to sea as they can and tell them to swim home.”

Say what you like about the state of political discourse in Ireland, but a long distance swimming test for the Taoiseach is not often publicly advocated.

If you really want to hear an Australian complain, just try telling them the cup of coffee from shop X tastes pretty much the same as the cup of coffee from shop Y.

The coffee obsession here is quite something to behold. If you were brave you might posit a theory that a country full of people who will pass three coffee shops to get to the one which they reckon has “awesome latte” really does not have much to complain about.

But you’d never hear the end of it if you did.