We have two legal systems in Australia, and unless you’re powerful or obscenely rich you get the bad one

Another day, another dispute with my landlord about yet another failure to maintain my house to a liveable standard. As I sit here, waiting in hope that the water streaming in through my roof will somehow fix itself, I can’t help but think what a squandered opportunity this pandemic has been. I thought for sure by now we would be eating our landlords, not sending email after email, begging them on hands and knees to provide us with our basic legal rights after having paid them tens of thousands of dollars.

I have signed a legal contract with my landlord. I pay them money; they provide me with a place to live. Seems like a reasonable exchange. If I don’t live up to my end of the contract and pay them less than the agreed-upon sum, they will send me a legal notice the next day. Continued failure and they can kick me out, using the cops if need be. But if they don’t live up to their side? Ah well, suck a big shit I suppose. You could look up the consumer affairs website maybe, lodge an online form, but then good luck getting a reference or your bond back. You just have to suck that shit up into your gob and swallow it because there are two legal systems in this country. When the rich are wronged, they get to bring in the men with guns, but if we are wronged, we have to call a 1300 complaint line.

Take the lowest dog in this country: Gerry Harvey. In a just, moral world his head would be on a stick outside the town square, but in the world in which we live (read: a capitalist hellscape) he’s rewarded for his parasitical behaviour with billions of dollars and a bunch of extra rights common folk could only dream about.

Imagine the absolute gall of this rotten trashbag of a human being. He takes $22 million in JobKeeper from the taxpayer while he was posting profits, aka, not eligible, and… just gets away with it. Try claiming Newstart Allowance when you’re working and not reporting your income. See how far that gets you. If he was unemployed, he’d have a court date and be all over A Current Affair, but because he’s a billionaire he’s just a savvy businessman finding ways to maximise his profit margin.

Which brings me back to the days of working in a now-defunct electronics chain that started in Queensland, one not unlike Harvey Norman… and I keep thinking about all the illegal shit our bosses would pull. They stole our wages, made us work for free, refused sick days, aggressively prohibited us from talking about or displaying union materials at work – and that’s just what they did to staff. They regularly misled consumers with misleading advertising, refused refunds when legally required to do so, and the list goes on.

If you walked into that store and took 20 bucks from the till, or slipped a DVD into your jacket, they’d call the cops, and the cops would be there quick smart. But see what happens if you go to the cops for stolen wages. You would be laughed out of the station. You could enquire at the fair work ombudsman and see if they can start a file for you, in which case welcome to hell for the next two years of your life. Either way, ain’t nobody getting arrested and sure as shit, no one is going to jail. Because on a functional level: your boss is above the law.

Have you ever been to a music festival? Seen the cops and sniffer dogs around? They are out in force at festivals, concerts, sporting events and anywhere else the unwashed masses might congregate. But if you’re rich, have no fear. Whether it’s going to music industry awards, a VIP area at the Melbourne Cup or any other pastime of the rich and famous, the only cops you will see are the ones who are there to keep commoners out. You can rack lines with impunity. 

The Logies, for example, are Australia’s biggest coke party. You’ll find more drugs in one bathroom stall there than you would amongst the entire crowd at Splendour. But you will never see a sniffer dog on the red carpet. You know why? It’s the same answer as before: the rich are above the law. 

Wouldn’t it be nice to live like that? With the legal system enjoyed by the upper crust, the CEOs, the politicians, the land and factory owners. Imagine how sweet our lives would be? Busted for stealing a car? Well if enough reports get made to the car-theft ombudsman in 24 months time you might be ordered to give the car back and pay a $50 admin fee. Caught robbing a bank? Blame it on an accounting oversight. Cops raid your house and find 20 kids trapped in an underground dungeon? Hold a press conference promising to do better, pledging to reduce the amount of kids in dungeons in your home by 2030. Maybe even start a small not-for-profit into which you can funnel your income for tax purposes, call it “Kids Without Dungeons” or some shit, and sit back while your peers praise you for your humanitarian work. Now that’s using the ol’ capitalist pig-brain.

And the great thing about being rich is that if all else fails and people call you out on the rotten shit you’re doing, just sue them. You can literally use the law to make your detractors keep silent. You can sue for all kinds of reasons: maybe, as a hypothetical example, you’ve been accused of rape and want people to stop implying you’re a rapist. Maybe, as another example I’m just making up, you’ve allegedly done a few war crimes and want everyone to stop pointing that out. In these fictional scenarios I’ve invented, as long as you’re rich enough you can sue anyone who talks about it. 

Not only does money buy you a new set of laws, but it buys you the ability to criminalise people you don’t like. It’s fucking wild!

So why not just live life like the upper classes do? Why don’t you just ride public transport for free? You’ll save money long term if you just pay the fine once every few months. It’s not a crime if you think like a CEO: it’s exploiting a legal loophole. Why not steal some memory cards from Harvey Norman? They stole from the taxpayer, so why should you take the moral high ground? And why not start withholding rent money until your landlord has fixed some shit? Why should they be the only ones to break their contract and get away with it?

Because you’ll go to jail, that’s why. Because once again, the rich and powerful have more rights than you do. And the beauty of it is that as long as we operate within their legal system, they always will. 

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