This is about so much more than Frances Abbott and her $60,000.

Frances Abbott (right) with her sister Bridget and father, Prime Minister Tony Abbott


The only other recipient of the Whitehouse Institute of Design scholarship apart from Frances Abbott was Billy Whitehouse, New Matilda’s editor Chris Graham has revealed to Studio 10.
And no, that surname’s not a coincedence, Pedestrian reports – Billy is the daughter of Leanne Whitehouse, who owns the Whitehouse Institute.

Previously, Mamamia wrote…

The timing is almost too perfect. Barely a week after it was announced that Australian students will be saddled with deregulated university fees, with higher interest on their loans and no social safety net for six months if they fail to procure work immediately after graduation, we discover that the Prime Minister’s daughter got a completely free ride.

Frances Abbott attended Whitehouse Institute of Design – an expensive private fashion college – between 2011 and 2013 on a $60,000 scholarship. A “chairman’s scholarship” no less.

And who was the chairman that decided Frances would be the one to get her education for free, even though she comes from the rare family that could actually afford a $60,000 fee out of pocket? A Coalition donor.

What’s more, when you check the Whitehouse Institute of Design website, there’s no mention of a chairman’s scholarship at all. Her fellow Whitehouse students are outraged. ““It just seems like a free ride and not a scholarship,” one told The Guardian.

In fact, a lot of people are outraged.

The timing of this revelation is highly politically damaging and the media are eating it up. And in our ferocious appetite for a controversial story, it would be easy to assume that this is an isolated incident and all about the Prime Minister and his daughter.

But it isn’t… For Australia’s elite, favours like this – the opening of new jobs, of doors, of coffers – is a daily occurrence.

This isn’t an example of the system failing. This isn’t an example of corruption. This isn’t something Abbott should have had to declare. This is just what the system looks like.

The richest citizens in this country exist in tight-knit circles of nepotism. From a very young age, they’re trussed together at private schools; at expensive extra curricular programmes, at university.

All of these institutions function as networking events.

Frances and her sister Bridget

Then, in adulthood, these connections begin to pay off. Someone wins a place at someone else’s brother’s law firm. Someone’s old school chum knows about a terrific investment opportunity. Someone’s dad’s mate is sitting on the board of a fancy private design school.


Frances Abbott isn’t at fault in any of this. She didn’t choose to be born into privilege. Frances Abbott is a very small cog in a very large machine that is working continuously to widen the gap between the richest in this country and everyone else.

Frances Abbott is just in the unfortunate position of being very, very visible. She’s visible because her father just publicly loaded that machine of inequity with a full tank of super-charged fuel.

It’s not difficult to imagine a future, 25 years from now, where Frances Abbott rings up one of the chums she made at the Whitehouse Institute of Design, one who is running a successful fashion label, and politely requests that her expensively educated daughter might be considered for an internship.

Then, Frances Abbott will be a little bit to blame – but still, who could blame her? She would just be using the tools that she has to get the best for her child, just as she is now, with her career. Even when the system is rigged in your favour, victory tastes just as sweet.

Did Frances Abbott “deserve” to win that scholarship? The evidence suggests probably not. Just like thousands of people Frances’ age didn’t “deserve” to be born into desperate poverty. But that is the nature of living in an unequal society– no one gets what they “deserve”.

The scandal over Frances Abbott’s scholarship brings to my mind the words of that seminal political philosopher, Ice-T:

“Don’t hate the playa, hate the game.”

Frances Abbott is just a player. Her father is a player too, albeit a powerful one. If you’re really angry about this, if you’re really ready to hate the game, then perhaps it’s time to get together and think about changing the rules.

This isn’t about one rich young woman; it’s about a system that rewards the haves over the have-nots each and every time.