Monday 20th of May 2024

on luck ...

on luck ...

We celebrate our good luck in Australia but, writes Dr Samuel Douglas, when things don’t always go our way, we’d be glad to live somewhere that values the "fair go".

You’ve got to ask yourself one question: "Do I feel lucky?"

Luck …

Even amidst a tendency to gripe, which surprises even the British, we still occasionally think of Australia as the "lucky country". Underneath our tantrums about avocados, it remains one of our foundational, if somewhat mythical, ideas.

The fact that we even talk about luck is an acknowledgement of the random and capricious nature of life. Deep down, we know much of what happens to us is outside of our control.

There’re lots of ways a person can be lucky in Australia - in the sense that good things happen that we never had any control over and that weren’t a result of good choices we made.

Being born here is lucky. Being born with good genetics is luck. Being born into some certain strata of society is luck - one that largely involves being born white.

Being born into a family where your grandfather can lend you $34,000 for your first property venture, putting you on a path that leads to you spouting devastatingly unreflective opinions about how millennials aren’t as good as you, is luck.

Being born into a family and community environment that instils good values in you as you grow up is luck. Having parents (or even just one parent) who will go above and beyond to help you learn useful skills is very lucky indeed.

These fortunate occurrences have a flip side. Depending on where it is, being born someplace else could be unlucky. Being born with genes or any other heritable factors that lead to illness is unlucky. Being born into the bottom rung of society may not be so great either. You didn’t choose your parents or your grandparents and you didn’t choose how they raised you; the universe deals the cards and you play the hand you’ve been given.

Think about the following unlucky events - are the people who experience them getting what they deserve? Does a child deserve to have a profound genetic disorder (even if they are lucky enough to be born in a country where you don’t have to mortgage the house to pay for their treatment)? Do they deserve being born in a country where they endure war, starvation, genital mutilation or inescapable poverty? How about incompetent parents? Or grandparents unable to hand out business loans or house deposits?

Unless you believe in some sort of supernatural mechanism, like karma, the threefold return, or a vengeful God, how can you possibly argue that people deserve bad luck?

Here’s a hint: You can’t.

If that’s true, then the same goes for good luck. It’s great for the individuals that benefit from it. But they don’t deserve it in the sense that they didn’t earn it. Where they went from this good starting point, maybe. But you don’t get good genes, great parents or a wealthy family through hard work, any more than being born here in Australia was a result of choices you made.

If that’s not enough for you, think about this: if you have the capacity to work hard – hard enough to succeed even if life dealt you a bum hand – where did it come from? What is it based on? Once we set aside religious explanations or unreflective hand-waving about free-will, what’s left? Biology (including genetics), upbringing and other environmental factors.

And, of these things, how much do people have any control over? Bugger all! That’s how much.

Ironically, the value of luck isn’t what’s mythical. It’s that hard work can reliably overcome bad luck. And, in Australia, the fairy tale is also that we somehow earned our rewards, when it was mainly being in the right place at the right time - this is more in line with what Donald Horne, author of The Lucky Country, actually wrote.

Where do we go from here? If we want to maintain any idea of our Aussie core value of the "fair go", then how we think and act needs to change.

It’s fair that people can keep what they’ve earned. But thinking about luck tells us that collecting income and morally deserving that wealth are not the same thing. Some of our take-home pay is a result of our hard work, but some is due to luck. Same for capital gains, rent, share dividends and so on. For property investors, mining magnates and the middle-class to bitch and moan about paying tax as if they deserve every cent is either disingenuous or delusional (sometimes both).

If it’s fair that people get what they deserve, then it’s unfair when things happen to them that they don’t deserve. It’s all well and good to say this, but in the real world, this is where things are complicated by politics and self-interest.

Whatever the details, here’s the core of it: People who are lucky don’t morally earn all their good fortune. People who are unlucky don’t deserve all the shitty things that happen to them and they certainly don’t deserve to be punished further.

So, transferring some of the results of good luck to those who have gotten the wrong end of the stick isn’t theft, as hysterical pretend-libertarians like David Leyonhjelm would claim, it’s the fair thing to do. Punishing victims of circumstance, such as those who are unemployed, poor or displaced by conflict is not fair - such actions are rooted in selfishness, ingratitude and a misunderstanding of how the world works.

Of course, we could just abandon any illusion of being a fair society. Then we needn’t worry about redressing the roll of life’s dice. The lucky would do well and the unlucky would not. The thing about luck though, is that it’s sometimes hard to predict when it’s going to run out - but it always does. For an individual, this could be a bad investment that leads to total financial ruin. For a ruling class, it’s when the less-lucky get cranky enough to break out the guillotines or firing squads.

So, when the ex-CEO recalls their glory days from the bottom of a flagon of sherry, or the politician makes their last stand, knowing what awaits when the last of their troops abandon them, I’d have just one question:

"Do you feel lucky?" 

The 'lucky country', the 'fair go' and getting what we deserve


lucky... you're not a kangaroo early for lunch...


The Poison Squad: One Chemist’s Single-Minded Crusade for Food Safety at the Turn of the Twentieth Century by Deborah Blum, Penguin Random House, September 2018, 352 pages

We are living in a time when many see “deregulation” as a goal in itself. Red tape is obnoxious and counterproductive, and government should just leave businesses alone. That goes for an expanding array of consumer choices. When it comes to food, for example, an odd combination of the crunchy left and libertarian right now bridle at laws limiting their right to access “natural” commodities, like raw milk. 

But they are complaining from a position of great fortune—an era when we can generally trust the food we are putting into our mouths. We take it as a given that our groceries contain what they say on the labels (and we have a right to raise hell if they don’t). I’m confident that my bread, for instance, isn’t full of plaster, and that my honey isn’t just corn syrup tinted with dye. 

For earlier generations, this was not the case. There was a time when the government did little to regulate food production—and the results weren’t pretty.


Read more:


Wittenoom: An Australian Tragedy

The town of Wittenoom in Western Australia sprang up around a blue asbestos mine in the 1940s and '50s. Asbestos, a natural fire retardant mineral fibre was then in high demand and used in thousands of products. But in Wittenoom, many residents were unaware that asbestos could be lethal. The fibres can cause lung disease and cancer. Thousands of residents died. The town is now almost completely abandoned. Janet Ball spoke to Bronwen Duke, who lived in the town as a child. She is one of the few members of her family still alive. 

Photo: Wittenoom (BBC)




The Speaker of the New South Wales Parliament has been accused of "bias" and "irresponsible" behaviour after labelling several Labor MPs as "blockheads", "idiots" and "boofheads" during a rowdy Question Time.

The Lower House descended into chaos on the final sitting day before the mid-winter break as the Coalition and Labor squabbled over Opposition Leader Luke Foley's budget reply speech.

"You can all cluster out there and have a little bitch session", Speaker Shelley Hancock said after ejecting several Labor MPs from the bearpit.

Deputy Opposition Leader Michael Daley hit back at Ms Hancock's language, claiming she is "not fit for office".


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The Northern Territory Coroner has slammed police for another "botched investigation" into the death of an Indigenous person, but stopped short of accepting that repeated failings are due to institutional racism.

Mother-of-two Kwementyaye Green, 25, died in Tennant Creek in 2013 after bleeding out from a stab wound to her leg which pierced her femoral artery.

She was found dead in a vacant lot in the town, about 500 kilometres north of Alice Springs, with her de facto partner Rodney Shannon lying next to her.

NT Police admitted during the coronial inquest that they destroyed crucial forensic evidence, released Mr Shannon too early, failed to secure the crime scene which potentially allowed Mr Shannon to go back and get rid of evidence, and were "inexplicably preoccupied" with a theory that Ms Green stabbed herself in the thigh.


Read more:


Raped, tracked, humiliated: Clergy wives speak out about domestic violence

Women who were married to abusive priests are for the first time revealing their experiences of sexual assault, control and fear. They say the church has known for decades that some clergy abuse their wives but has done very little to fix the ongoing problem.


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Wildlife rescue workers responding to reports of "drunken" kangaroos in regional Victoria believe a common pasture crop is to blame for the animals' ill health.

Michelle Mead, from Central Victoria's Wildlife Rescue and Information Network, said her service had received several calls from members of the public distressed at the sight of disorientated kangaroos.

"They stagger around, they shake their heads, and look very confused and disorientated," Ms Mead said.

Footage of affected animals posted online also shows them falling over and struggling to right themselves.

Ms Mead said the ailing kangaroos resembled someone who was under the influence of alcohol. 

The wildlife worker said the animals were indeed intoxicated and that it was likely a type of grass that was to blame.

Known as phalaris or bulbous-canary grass, the introduced plant species is a common pasture crop grown to feed livestock.


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These are the tax cuts we don’t deserve and can’t afford. They are not part of a wider tax reform package, leave the budget too vulnerable to future economic shocks, and they’re unfair, to boot.

Upper income earners will be the biggest winners over the seven year horizon of the tax cuts that passed the Senate on Thursday, with the support of One Nation.


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And when you build the camps, how about you make them so grim and dangerous that they are often worse than the conditions people were fleeing from. Why don’t you put the refugees in a place as hot as hell, with all sorts of tropical diseases and only basic medical care. Places where there’s nothing to do and nowhere to go. Places with random outbreaks of violence, that end in murder (RIP Reza Barati). Places where it’s easy to get away with rape. Places where pregnant women can’t access abortions. Places that are almost guaranteed to send their inhabitants mad.


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Japan’s commitment to addressing its dismal record on work-life balance has been called into question after a civil servant was punished for “habitually” slipping away from his desk a few minutes early to buy a bento lunch.

The 64-year-old, an employee of the waterworks bureau in the western city of Kobe, was fined and reprimanded after he was found to have left his desk just three minutes before the start of his designated lunch break on 26 occasions over a seven-month period.

Senior officials at the bureau then called a televised news conference, where they described the man’s conduct as “deeply regrettable” and bowed in apology.

A spokesman for the bureau told AFP: “The lunch break is from noon to 1pm. He left his desk before the break.”


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and plenty more...