On Monday night, Duncan Storrar became the face of the Turnbull Government’s tax cuts. He asked a simple question on Q&A, and his passionate rebuttal of Kelly O’Dwyer’s response captured the nation’s attention.
He took an abstract conversation about tax thresholds and bracket creep and turned into a personal story about how he was a disabled, under-employed man on benefits who couldn’t afford to take his daughter to the movies.
Storrar didn’t ask for a handout or charity. He simply pushed a politician on a policy and her answer was not really very satisfying.
The Q&A exchange that started it all:
Since Monday night he’s been held up by opponents of the Turnbull Government as a working class hero, and a crowdfunding campaign has raised $60,000 for Storrar and his family.
At the same time, Storrar’s life has been absolutely picked apart in the press. First, we were told he didn’t pay any tax. Then his estranged son said he was a terrible father and a drug-user. And today, we learned that Storrar has a criminal record. That he had smoked some pot.
It’s 2016. Even politicians running for office no longer pretend they’ve never tried it.
None of this is relevant to the question he asked on Monday night. None of it goes to the details of whether Storrar struggles to make ends meet or can’t afford small pleasures like movie tickets for his family.
There is no perfect person, and there is no perfect poor person.
Asking people to be perfect before they can access help and support is a fools errand. And it’s cruel.
Poverty is heartbreaking, soul-destorying, and absolutely demoralising. It isn’t like the last day before your payday when you tell your friends you’re skint.
It’s constant worry about how to pay your bills, or how to keep a roof over your head or get to your job or feed your children. It breeds anxiety and resentment and anger and fear.
If you’ve never experienced it, then you can’t even begin to imagine it. Or to anticipate how you might behave faced with such circumstances.
Awarding charity only to the “worthy” is exactly the reason why state sponsored support for the poor, disadvantaged and vulnerable needs to exist. Because private charity does tend to be given to those we decide are morally-upright. But they are not the only people who need a place to live or food to eat or clothes that fit.
Excluding people who have made mistakes or done the wrong thing is bad public policy. There aren’t character tests for welfare payments and there aren’t character tests for being in the Q&A audience either. And there shouldn’t be.
Storrar’s question was about public policy that privileged the few over the many. He pointed out that the government’s tax cuts would only benefit a small number of Australians and that far more would see no benefit.
He didn’t ask for private charity or to be singled out, and it is a little bit absurd that the public response to a broad policy question asking for help for the many has instead delivered $60,000 for one man.
Storrar has said he doesn’t know what to make of the public’s frenzied giving. He’s indicated he is “freaked out” by the attention. I can only imagine how shocked he must be at some of the stories that have been written smearing him.
We should all be shocked. Going on Q&A and asking a question that makes a government minister look bad is not something that should bring the full weight of tabloid outrage down on you.
So Duncan Storrar isn’t perfect. So what? It’s unlikely that if journalists were combing through your every indiscretion you’d come off particularly well either.