In modern marketing there is no exciting customer service opportunity quite as exciting as the opportunity to charge mug punters more for less.
Gouging ever more money for diminishing services and shabbier products is what the new economy is all about.
The packet of potato chips with more air than chip is ‘now lighter and healthier!’ Four-dollar interns crowd out those insanely expensive teenaged casuals. And letting rich people pay for the right to stampede over the top of poor people at the airport can only result in greater numbers of rich people flying in to enjoy themselves doing just that.
Tucked away in the budget fine print was an innovation which would allow ‘premium’ airline passengers to skip the less than premium experience of having to line up with the lower orders at Customs and Immigration.
After all, it’s hardly fair. Having paid such a steep price for those business and first class tickets it must be a dreadful thing having to actually mix with the riffraff while waiting to escape the terrible crush at the baggage carousel, or the bleary-eyed and undeniably smelly line for passport and visa stamps. Why, it’s almost as though one were expected to rub elbows with them; dry, scabbed, scaly elbows off which the most hideous flakes of inflamed and crusty poor person skin might peel at any moment. Heaven forfend!
The Turnbull government, possessed of the smoothest, most exquisitely moisturised elbows, proposes to charge airport operators a fee for the premium fast lane service, but will not disclose how much revenue they expect to make, citing commercial confidentiality.
Where might this end, one wonders.
One very obvious place suggests itself. As tedious and unpleasant as an hour spent in the line at Customs might be, it is nothing compared to the many, many hours you can spend lined up at Centrelink. Do not for a moment imagine that the downtrodden and penurious hangers-on at the old welfare shop have neither the readies nor the inclination to pay up.
If tabloid TV and tabloid tabloids have taught us nothing, and they haven’t, it’s that the country is overrun by dole-bludging millionaires and cashed-up welfare cheats.
Surely they could be touched up for a contribution to the consolidated revenue they’re so enthusiastically unsolidating with their rapacious call on the Commonwealth.
Perhaps something like Gold Class at the movies would tempt them to pay a little back. I imagine a small but significant charge, the exact sum to be commercial-in-confidence naturally, to enjoy a nice sitdown in a Centrelink-branded Smokey Dawson recliner-rocker with cable and/or streaming TV and an adult beverage. The comprehensiveness of the channel selection and the alcohol content of said beverage would, of course, be determined on a user pays basis.
Something similar might work well in public hospitals, with wealthier patients able to jump the queue, choose their physician and nominate all sorts of expensive elective procedures simply by paying for them. After all, it’s a system that’s worked very well in private health care for many years. Why have we not trialled it in the public system?
So too with public schools, which are reportedly quite terrible. If people were willing to pay for the ovals and blazers and brutal hazing rituals there’s no reason Rooty Hill High could not compete directly with Melbourne Grammar. They just have to be free to charge lots and lots of money.
Once you free yourself from the idea of equity and the public good, indeed once you recognise that the best public good is the one you buy to shut out the other guy, there is very little this new model of public policy could not improve.
I for one look forward to buying my own SAS regiment to keep the riffraff from bothering me as I enjoy a bit of Netflix and Grange while civilisation as we once understood it is sold off to the highest bidder.
John Birmingham is the author of the cult classic He Died With a Felafel in His Hand, the award-winning history of Sydney Leviathan, two Quarterly Essays and works of fiction including the Axis of Time series and The David Hooper Trilogy. He also writes on topics as diverse as biotechnology and national security. He tweets at @JohnBirmingham