Michael Pascoe: In defence of the ‘elites’, they simply make better decisions

Census statistics debunk claims against inner-city ‘‘elites’’, Michael Pascoe writes.

Census statistics debunk claims against inner-city ‘‘elites’’, Michael Pascoe writes. Photo: TND/Getty

In the process of overwhelmingly rejecting the Voice referendum, the No campaign mercilessly bashed alleged Australian “elites” and have continued to do so.

No, not the Rupert Murdoch/Gina Rinehart/IPA/Sam Kennard/Simon Fenwick elite that routinely uses great wealth to form and bend policy to suit themselves.

The two groups who repeatedly copped the “elite” tag as a pejorative were the Indigenous leaders of the Yes campaign and those latte-sipping, goats’ cheese-eating, Teal-and-Green voting types in the inner-city seats that voted strongly yes.

Louis Peachey, one of Australia’s first Indigenous doctors, has written beautifully and sorrowfully about the defamation of Yes leaders.

Writing wrongs

I’ll come back to Peachey. But first let me write in defence of those inner-city “elites” after reading a vitriolic attack on them by a former funds manager who sends around a weekly newsletter.

According to the writer – I’ll leave him anonymous – we didn’t vote on an “Indigenous Voice”, we voted on an “elitist Voice”.

“And we rejected it; with prejudice,” he opined. “What I found most disturbing was the voting pattern. The closer you lived to the money pit aka Reserve Bank HQ, the more likely you voted Yes.”

And it went downhill from there.

“Who are our elites? Well the ’Aboriginal Broadcast Corporation’ was onboard from the ‘get go’. Not one opinion writer at the SMH & Guardian was a No.

“Even economics and international opinion writers like Peter Hartcher and Ross Gittins lined up for Yes.”

(I suppose I should be offended that I didn’t earn a mention along with Gittins.)

“Bed-wetting Libs, academics and legal scholars all told us ‘Yes was the right thing to do’. They assured us there was no risk whatsoever!!

“How could they all be wrong? After all, everyone they spoke to agreed with them. And those that didn’t agree were either offensive, disgusting, racist or worked for Rupert, in which case they were all 3. Yes had everyone except voters!

“Elites demanded a ‘Voice’. Well, Australia gave ‘voice’ to its reply.

“The wisdom of the crowd has sent them a loud and strong message. Will our elites listen? Of course not.”

And he was just getting started. The rant goes downhill from there.

Stats don’t lie

But here’s a thing he might find uncomfortable about the electorates he denigrated for strongly voting Yes – their inhabitants routinely make better decisions than those of the electorates that most strongly voted No.

These “elites” are less likely to smoke, less likely to be obese, are better educated, more likely to be engaged with issues, more likely to be schooled in critical thinking, and less likely to be fooled by scare campaigns.

People in Teal electorates – home of strong Yes votes – are on average wealthier than those in strong No electorates.

There are a number of reasons why a group of people might be wealthier. But a key one, perhaps the key one, is that they tend to be knowledge workers – they are education and information rich.

That’s why they are more likely to eat healthily and less likely to harm themselves by smoking and filling up poker machines.

For example, according to the 2021 ABS census, 56 per cent of people aged over 15 in the North Sydney electorate had a bachelor degree or higher educational attainment – more than double the Australian average of 26 per cent.

By way of contrast, the electorate with the strongest No vote was Maranoa in western Queensland, the seat held by the National Party leader, David Littleproud – an individual and party that was always going to vote No.

Just 11 per cent of Maranoa people have a bachelor degree or better – half the Queensland average of 22 per cent, which itself trails the national average of 26 per cent.

Education links

There might not be much need for tertiary education in western Queensland, but the highest level of educational attainment for 18 per cent was Year 10. Year 12 was attained by just 13 per cent.

Smoking is a handy indicator of educational outcomes, of making good decisions. Of people with bachelor degrees, only 8 per cent are smokers. Of those with only year 11 or less, 29 per cent smoke.

There’s also a geographical smoking correlation. In round figures, 13 per cent of major city folk smoke, 17 per cent of inner regional, 19 per cent of outer regional and 23 per cent in remote and very remote areas.

The median weekly household income in North Sydney was $2660. The median weekly household income in Maranoa was $1237.

Maranoa is the Coalition’s safest seat. Littleproud holds it with a margin of 22 per cent over One Nation and 25 per cent over Labor. Yes, One Nation came second.

Given the outcomes the LNP has delivered for the electorate, a rational person might wonder why they keep voting the same way. It also was the electorate with the biggest No vote in the Republic referendum.

I’m certainly not saying people with relatively little formal education are necessarily stupid, but they are at a distinct disadvantage. At the same time, there are plenty of highly credentialed people, dripping degrees and more, who are remarkably stupid indeed.

Statistically though, the more education people and states and countries have, the better decisions they tend to make and the better outcomes they enjoy.

In any election, those who back the losing side tend to think the result is wrong.

In this referendum, those of us who backed the Yes vote think the result was wrong. It was a crowd decision – there’s no reason to think there was a “wisdom of the crowd” was necessarily wise.

And being an inner-city resident doesn’t mean you are out of touch with the hard life of those doing it tougher. It can mean you are better informed and less gullible.

Final say

As for the abuse the Yes indigenous leaders copped, Louis Peachey covered it well:

There are people like me out there who can give you an opinion as to what would be an appropriate way to do things, but even we don’t get listened to. We are the people who some in the No campaign refer to as “elites”.

If you do survive the horror that happens to you at school, and manage to find yourself at a university and get a good education, you can now be delegitimised by being referred to as an “elite”.

The difference, of course, between Indigenous elites and non-Indigenous elites is that 99 per cent of the Indigenous elites are one relationship away from poverty.

Look at the people who are the leaders of the movement behind the Uluru statement: Noel Pearson, Megan Davis, Aunty Pat Anderson, Stan Grant. Look at people like Aunty Marcia Langton and Uncle Tom Calma. If you get into their backstories, they grew up in poverty.

In a single generation, this group of incredible leaders have gone from poverty into the successful middle class to the point they’ve been called “elite”.

And even now, Megan Davis is doing the job that she’s doing because she is uniquely qualified. Please tell me how many other Aboriginal people we have out there who are professors of constitutional law, with 10 years’ experience in the United Nations?

Just Megan. So, she’s not an “elite” – this is a black woman who worked unbelievably hard, was gifted, intelligent, and managed to achieve things that were unimaginable.

But even now, we’re having difficulty as a nation listening to her voice.

Disclosure: I live in the Teal-voting North Sydney electorate, but I prefer flat whites and don’t much care for goats’ cheese.

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