I’m currently completing a book manuscript called ‘The Biopolitics of Lifestyle’. So when Tony Abbott made his comments that Aboriginal’s living in remote communities are making a ‘lifestyle choice’, I thought “great, I may need to write another chapter”.
This is not simply a poor choice of words, but reflects a governmental rationality that seeks to place responsibility on to individuals. Education, health, welfare, employment all become ‘lifestyle choices’ for which the individual is responsible.
The affluent, gainfully employed, highly educated sections of society make good ‘lifestyle choices’, while the poor, sick, Indigenous and asylum seekers are characterised as making bad ‘lifestyle choices’.
Abbott is not the first to use this phrase to justify . In 2002, Philip Ruddock described asylum-seekers as making ‘lifestyle choices’.
“In the main, people who have sought to come to Australia and make asylum claims do not come from a situation of persecution; they come from a situation of safety and security,” he said.
“They may not be able to go back to their country of origin but they are making a lifestyle choice.” The Australian, ‘Ruddock blames “lifestyle” refugees’ by Alison Crosweller and Megan Saunders
This governmental rationality shifts responsibility away from governments and communities, and on to individuals. It also serves to trivialize some claims (living in a remote community or seeking asylum) by comparing them to frivolous consumer lifestyle choices (Pepsi or Coke, holden or ford, apple or pc).
Of course, when we talk about the Australian Lifestyle of ANZACs, footy, beach, sun, boats, and weekends, things get very serious. Governments use this notion of lifestyle to build monuments, go to war, and demonize minorities. But that is another matter all together.
In the current context the rationality of ‘lifestyle choice’ shifts responsibility onto individuals in remote communities and justifies the Western Australian government’s decision to cut services and remove people.