Fawning to our rich

‘‘MILLIONAIRE shot dead’’ the front page headline yesterday proclaimed, and even though a great many people are worth a mill or two these days we get the message. The message is that a wealthy man has been murdered, and the subsequent report told us of the shooting of a Fishing Point man who owned an international crane company, Phil Lunn, and the suicide of the shooter, Michael Cummins. Tragic.

I can’t help but wonder whether the newsworthiness would have been the same if a poor man had been shot dead. Would we have had a front page headline ‘‘Poor man shot dead’’? No. The headline yesterday did reflect the news value and interest in the murder, because the fact is that we look upon rich people, and in particular rich men, differently from the way we look upon people who are not rich.

Yes, you do despite your claim to egalitarianism. On seeing the headline yesterday your eyes would have flicked to the report to find out who, which millionaire. You’ve probably never heard of Phil Lunn but as the wealthy owner of an international crane business he has a certain gravitas.

A poor person shot, ho hum.

Is it, I wonder, that we see shooting as an ignominious end for a rich man? Do we think rich men are less likely to suffer, even less deserving of, such a grisly fate? We do look upon the wealthy in a different way – we see them as important.

Take the Lower Hunter developer Jeff McCloy, who seems sometimes to be in the media more often than I am! When he expresses an opinion, as he is wont to do, people and the media gather around and his pronouncements are reported as news. Would anyone other than someone he’d collared listen if he were a poor man? There are many colourful, larger-than-life big talkers living in the Lower Hunter’s three-bedroom weatherboard and tile suburbia who’d be lucky to find an audience of one on a crowded bus, yet when a colourful, larger-than-life big talker who lives in what has been described as a compound has something to say notebooks emerge and people hush.

If Mr McCloy went broke last night would the media see his opinion as newsworthy today? Indeed, Jeff McCloy came perilously close to financial ruin more than a decade ago in a big Sydney development, so it is not too fanciful to imagine him living in a weatherboard-and-tile three-bedder on the Belmont flats near his Green Point compound. Would he be the same person?

No, on both counts. Poor men are newsworthy only when the police are involved, and rich men have a presence not to be found in other men. I have seen rich men lose that presence as quickly as they lose their wealth, and in one case I was close to a Hunter developer went within a few weeks of his bank-induced ruin from a man of significance and bearing to scrabbling around among disinterested former contacts for mere dollars.

The presence is bestowed on rich men by both themselves and by lesser people. Certainly rich men see themselves as worth more than minion men – since to the rich worth is measured in money they are worth more – and so they exude an entitlement to respect and deference. We poor people may be more likely than rich people to measure worth in more ways than dollars, but wealth is right up there and so the rich have our respect and deference.

We fawn a little, listen attentively, laugh appropriately and agree enthusiastically.

The wealthy are Australia’s aristocracy, and just as our British royalty assumes and is granted the elevation in the UK so do our wealthy here. Money rules Australians and you among them, whether you like it or not.

Do you see the wealthy as Australia's aristocracy? Do you accept that you think differently of the rich?

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