Let's get to it!

Australians want a fair country back

Sharan Burrow

Fairness, tolerance, 'a fair go' - these are the values Australia has always aspired to but they are now in contest. John Howard's government has legitimated the right to challenge the very core of our national dignity: a commitment to egalitarianism.

The standards of basic decency, progressively enshrined into legislation and social policy reflected the inherent generosity of spirit for which we were known - characterised in our language by the right to a 'fair go'. Despite being a much wealthier nation after twelve consecutive years of economic growth, or a massive 50 per cent increase in GDP, which of our families and neighbours believe we are a more generous nation than we were a decade ago?

· Not the children in need of childcare forced to wait up to two years for a place;

· Not the schoolchildren who go to school hungry yet their parents are asked to pay fees in public schools;

· Not the young Australians who can't afford a university place;

· Not our apprentices on lousy wages with no job security;

· Not trained professionals starting work with a HECS debt larger than a home deposit;

· Not women forced back to work within weeks, even days, after giving birth because they can't afford not to and don't have the minimum income security of paid maternity leave;

· Not older workers made redundant who face the age discrimination that prevents them obtaining secure work;

· Not the unemployed, all too often pun