While the Labor Party debates their asylum seeker policy at their national conference this weekend, grappling with the task of finding a tenable position, a challenge that has plagued Labor Prime Ministers for the last 20 years, I would like to ask a question: can progressive voters debate this position without bitter accusations and name calling? I hope we can.
To try to encourage civil discussions, I’ve come up with an analogy for Labor’s situation which might help us to look at what I have previously described as a ‘wicked problem’, a phrase I note Labor’s Immigration spokesperson, Richard Marles also used to defend his argument at the conference.
Imagine you are the government, and Australia is your home. Your home is large, comfortable and well-resourced with plenty of food, air conditioning, many bedrooms and a communal kitchen with a huge dining table, perfect for dinner parties. The catch is, your home is on Kangaroo Island so the only way to visit is to either take a ferry from the mainland, or fly in a small plane. Nevertheless, since you have many friends and family on the mainland, you decide you would like to host a huge dinner party where guests are welcome to stay for the weekend. Planning this dinner party and weekend getaway is, however, fraught with problems.
Unlike the actual ferry to Kangaroo Island, which is expensive to catch, the ferry in this analogy is not only expensive but also dangerous. As far as people can tell, because not all accidents are recorded, at least one in ten ferry passengers fall off the ferry in stormy weather and drown. No matter how hard the authorities work to inform passengers of these risks, the ferry owner selling the tickets has a vested interest in hiding the dangers from his customers and therefore many people pay the expensive fare without realising the game of Russian roulette they are entering into. Would they really pay all that money to come if they knew? Would they risk the lives of their families too? But you know all about these risks, having lived on Kangaroo Island your whole life, so when you invite people to come and visit, you hate the thought of endangering their lives. Some residents on the island are more blasé about the risks, saying ‘let them come by ferry if they really want to’. But you couldn’t live with yourself if you encouraged people to take the ferry ride and you waited for them at the dock and they never arrived. Luckily, there is another option; a small plane. So you make sure that all your guests are going to be advised that the ferry is not a safe option, and instead you insist on them flying to visit you.
Once you have travel plans sorted, you need to have a serious think about how many people you can accommodate for the weekend. In a perfect world, you would put an open invite out on Facebook and anyone who felt like turning up would be welcome. But you know that’s not practical; you have over 500 friends on Facebook and there’s no way you can accommodate all of them. If you told them all to turn up if they feel like it, making no effort to find out who is coming in advance, you would run out of space on a first come, best dressed basis and would have to turn everyone else away. But how do you turn people away when they’ve made all the effort to get to Kangaroo Island? You’ve already put bunk beds in three of your bedrooms to sleep as many guests as you possibly can, and you’ll seat as many as you can afford around the huge dining table even if they have to sit on stools to fit. But there is a practicable limit, so you settle on a maximum number of 30 friends and family, 6 more than you were able to welcome last year.
Most of your friends can afford the cost of a flight, which is not only safer, but also cheaper than the ferry. However, some of your family aren’t well off and, although they too would love to come and stay, can’t afford the cost of a flight. But you really want to make sure these people aren’t left out of your dinner party plans, so just for those who can’t afford it, you offer to pay for their flights. It’s worth it to make sure they come safely and aren’t disadvantaged by their financial position.
When the weekend arrives, you welcome your 30 guests with open arms. Everyone sleeps comfortably and are well fed and entertained during their stay. By the end of Sunday afternoon, a discussion has started amongst a group of your guests who have decided they love Kangaroo Island so much that they too would like to live there. There is plenty of land on the island to build new homes and the local businesses would love the extra business from the growing population. One of your guests is a primary school teacher, and the island has a shortage of teachers, so her move is extra advantageous for everyone. You’re also thrilled to know you will have more friends living on the island, because it means next year, you will be able to invite 30 friends and family from the mainland for another weekend away, or maybe even more if you build another two bedrooms on the back of your house. And everyone lives happily ever after.
Yes, this is a simplistic appraisal of some of the wicked problems faced by governments designing a workable asylum seeker policy. But I hope it’s made you think a bit harder about the reality of these issues, rather than jumping to either the ‘let them come’ or ‘don’t let them come’ black and white ends of a very grey situation. I hope Labor can find a way to design an asylum seeker policy that it is both humane and workable, and as I wrote previously, doesn’t preclude Labor from winning government. Because we all know Abbott’s home might be just as large and comfortable as Labor’s, but since he’s banned house-guests and enjoys the support of many voters encouraging him to keep the door locked forever, it’s not the Australia we, as progressives, should feel proud to call home.
On Sunday I attended the Showdown and was exposed to the most outrageously, offensive, fickle, disrespectful behaviour I have ever seen in the football watching public in my lifetime of watching football. For the uninitiated, the Showdown is the AFL rival clash between Port Adelaide and Adelaide. Basically there were three Port members sitting behind me and my family who decided part way through the match to start cheering for Adelaide. Because Port apparently weren’t playing well enough to ‘deserve’ their support. As a lifelong Port supporter, I don’t want this type of fickle, nasty supporter embarrassing my club by bagging their own team and switching sides at the first sign of scoreboard trouble. But as my mother pointed out to me, perhaps this is what I need to put up with if I accept that to be financially viable, my football club needs as many members as possible. And inevitably, since Port has done phenomenally well to reach 60,000 members this season, a fair chunk of the new members are going to be fickle in nature and will show their disloyal easy-come, easy-go, jump-on-the-band-wagon colours whenever Port is behind on the scoreboard. This is a disappointing reality. But it is a reality I have to accept. Even if it leaves me feeling a little dirty by being forced to pragmatically forsake the club-for-the-true-believers character of my Port Adelaide, to allow for crap supporters who bring financial gains to a previously struggling club; if my beloved club isn’t financially viable, it’s not much use to the true believers as it would soon cease to exist.
So what has this tale got to do with asylum seeker policy you may ask? I see this pragmatic reality as an analogy for what it is like being a member of the ALP and having to accept the political reality of the need to win government by appealing to sections of the electorate who don’t share the values of Labor’s true believers. Case in point is the announcement that Labor’s Shadow Immigration Minister, Richard Marles wants Labor to adopt Abbott’s reprehensible policy to turn back asylum seeker boats. This policy is totally not OK with me. In fact, the whole idea of Labor supporting this policy leaves me feeling disgusted and as a Labor member, dirty. I know for a fact that I’m not alone in this reaction. My ALP branch unanimously passed a motion asking the party not to take this path. I could leave this post at that and go and rant on Twitter about how much I hate the ALP because it has stooped to this low and how I will never vote for them again and will become a Green etc etc etc. But life isn’t as simple as that. Yes, I feel dirty and ashamed. But I also understand why Labor is tempted to take this path. Because no matter how much I hate this fact, it’s still a fact; if Labor’s asylum seeker policy results in a perception in the electorate of the likely return to boat arrivals at the scale that occurred under the Rudd and Gillard governments, Labor will likely not win the next election.
Yes, there are plenty of arguments to say that Labor should lead this policy debate in a positive direction rather than appeasing the bigoted voters who will never welcome asylum seekers with open arms. In a perfect world, Labor would have done a much better job of changing public opinion so that asylum seekers aren’t demonised and rejected by the majority of voters. But in reality, Labor have failed to shift the electorate’s support towards a humane asylum seeker policy, and so too have the Greens. So just like the reality of my football club not existing is much worse than putting up with disloyal supporters, there is far more at risk if Labor loses the next election than a bad asylum seeker policy. In the absence of this shift in the electorate, a pragmatic person would need to consider this risk carefully. This risk is one word. Abbott.
I could spend hours listing all the risks of a second Abbott term. All you need to do is read my blog posts from the previous few years and you will see plenty of evidence of the dangers of giving Abbott a second go with his wrecking ball. The thought of this happening fills me with a deep dread. And even if asylum seeker policy is the only policy you care about, and you vote based on this policy, disregarding the damage Abbott has done, and would further do to health, education, welfare, infrastructure, climate change, environmental policy and many others, alongside a vicious, petty culture war, you can’t ignore that an Abbott government’s asylum seeker policy will always be worse than Labor’s asylum seeker policy.
Before I’m accused of doing this, I’ll admit to doing this. I’m asking you to hold your nose at the dirtiness of Labor’s asylum seeker policy, with the knowledge that it’s nowhere near as dirty as Abbott’s. This argument by refugee advocate and Director of Welcome to Australia, Brad Chilcott, outlines where Labor’s policies could make a difference; such as increasing Australia’s intake of asylum seekers and improving the protections for asylum seekers in the Australian community. Anyone who has followed the changes Abbott’s government has made in this policy area will know that it’s an understatement to point out that there is much room for improvement. Labor can only make these improvements if they win government.
So bring on the abuse I will no doubt get in the comments section of this post, because I’ve heard it all before. I understand that some people can’t ‘support the lesser of two evils’ if Labor goes ahead with their plan to court the bigot vote by confirming that the turn back the boats policy will stand under a Labor government. But I’m desperate to get rid of Abbott. Desperately desperate. Just like I’m willing to accept that my football club’s membership won’t be made up of the old-school true believers anymore, so too am I willing to acknowledge that Labor needs to do whatever they can to get rid of Abbott. And I’m willing to feel very dirty in accepting this reality.
It’s time for the political class in Australia to admit that they’re well and truly addicted to the Labor Party. I’m not just talking about the obvious Labor-obsessives, including Labor’s own community of politicians, staffers, supporters, donors, members and affiliated unions. I’m talking about everyone else who use Labor as they’re first point of reference, as their yardstick in every and any discussion, or even every thought, that they have about politics; everyone including the Abbott government and each State’s Liberal or National Party, including those in government and in opposition. The mainstream media. The Greens. Independents. And everyone who takes any more than a cursory interest in politics, including the political wonks on Twitter. There is no discussion of politics in Australia without Labor being at the centre of it.
Don’t believe me? Let’s look at the example of the way the Abbott government communicates with the electorate. Every single policy announcement and comment on pretty much anything that the government does is littered with ‘Labor did this badly so we’re going to do it this way’. Or ‘Labor caused this problem and we’re now left to solve it’. We all know that Abbott has a particularly strong loathing for Labor because Gillard out-negotiated him in 2010 to win government, taking away from Abbott something he believed to be rightfully his since he was born to rule. This loathing is clearly an obsession Abbott will never recover from. We also all know the Abbott government is the most right-wing ideologically extreme government the country has ever seen. But we never get to actually hear about these extreme values from the mouths of the politicians who hold them because the only values they are willing to admit to are ‘we’re not Labor’. So rather than actually explain that they’re slashing and burning government spending on services the community, and economy, relies on because they ideologically prefer small government, instead Abbott and co just say ‘we’re fixing Labor’s mess’. It’s simplistic rubbish because in fact Labor left the country in an incredibly strong position, having managed to successfully intervene in the economy to save it from a GFC-led-recession. But the problem is, Abbott always got away with this type of rubbish because no one calls him out on it. Because everyone else is as obsessed with Labor as he is. Because Labor-bashing has become so mainstream and predictable that when Abbott bashes Labor to justify his ideological war on Australia, no one looks past bashed-Labor and actually asks who on earth this Abbott government is. That’s how we’ve got where we are now. No one looked at Abbott in opposition and no one really knows how to look at Abbott now he’s in government, because they’re still obsessed with Labor.
The mainstream media showed off their obsessiveness over the last few weeks in a flurry of over-excited commentary and analysis of the ABC’s Killing Season documentary. This documentary, which I very much doubt was watched by anyone but the politically obsessed niche audience who knew all about the history being reported anyway, provided a gift to the media. The gift of being able to talk about Rudd and Gillard again. Because oh, how they missed talking about Rudd and Gillard! Let’s remember that the Rudd and Gillard thing happened 5 years ago in 2010. It was covered in the news consistently all day every day up until Abbott won the election in 2013. There’s hardly a political journalist in Australia who can claim not to have been themselves one-eyed obsessed with the Federal Leadership of the Labor Party between 2010 and 2013. But the simple fact of the matter is that Rudd and Gillard are no longer involved in Australian politics. Yet, the media still think they’re the story. And they’re trying to pull Bill Shorten back into the story like desperate drug addicts scrounging around in the gutter for a sweet hit of Labor-bashing.
Amazingly, the mainstream media’s Labor leadership tension obsession has outlived a much more relevant story; Abbott’s leadership problems. We had Abbott’s leadership opponent Turnbull this week contradicting Abbott’s political game playing strategy of using ISIS to scare people in the most obvious, purposeful differentiation of leadership styles Turnbull could have possibly chosen. We’ve had numerous leaked memos, including the leaking of a cabinet conversation basically word for word published in the Sydney Morning Herald. Yet these blatant leadership tensions, and the leadership crisis from the start of this year which saw Abbott only keep his job by a narrow margin, pale in the media’s coverage as compared to their delight at talking about Rudd and Gillard again. The obsessive addiction to Labor-bashing is incredible to observe. Shorten’s appearance at Abbott’s witch-hunt of a Royal Commission into Trade Unions this week is just another example of how the media love to play into Abbott’s Labor-bashing hands and happily repeat phrases like ‘Shorten has questions to answer’ that have no basis in rational reality, just as the phrase had no basis when applied to the proven-yet-and-yet-again entirely innocent Julia Gillard.
It’s not just the Liberal National Party who use Labor-bashing as their political reference point, nor is it just the mainstream media. The Greens are also guilty of such an obsession. Because the only reason the Greens exist is to differentiate and they hope, one day, to replace Labor as the left-wing party of government. So everything they do, naturally, has to explain why they’re different from Labor and so, naturally, they spend much of their lives Labor-bashing in tune with the Liberal National Coalition, the media, and everyone else interested and involved in politics in Australia. Did anyone notice the Greens recently had their own leadership change, which if the media had bothered to take any interest in, would have been ripe for stories about Milne handing Di Natale the baton in an obvious back-room deal that precluded any other candidates from nominating? No, of course not, because the Greens are pure and don’t get probed like Labor do. There’s no time to probe Greens back-room deals when there’s Labor-bashing to be done! When this Greens leadership change occurred, I wrote about what it would take for the Greens to become a mainstream political party. This included the advice that Greens would have to start to develop their own policies and to stop trying to take credit for Labor policy that they have supported in the past. That’s the thing about the Greens – they only differentiate themselves from Labor when it suits their political purposes, but when Labor has done something popular the Greens try to steal the credit. Talk about unfair! Yet of course they get away with it because, well, they’re not Labor.
Once you notice the Labor obsession, it is impossible to stop noticing it. It’s become such an engrained feature of the political landscape in Australia, it’s clear if the Labor party disappeared, no one else would know what on earth they stand for and how to talk about politics without them. And you also need to notice that in all commentary about Labor, Labor can do no right. As an example, if a policy such as how to manage asylum seekers goes to Labor’s National Conference to be debated, this is framed as Labor disunity. But if such a policy was decided outside of a democratic debate, it would be framed as Labor’s faceless men making back room deals. The irony is, much commentary bemoans Labor’s apparently missing values and asks what it is that Labor stands for. But it’s just Labor-outsiders who are confused. Because Labor knows exactly what they stand for. Maybe if everyone else stopped Labor-bashing for one second, they might actually understand too.
A metaphor occurred to me today about the Abbott government and I felt it was good enough to share. There’s nothing like a good metaphor to clarify how you feel about something; in this case to remind us how destructive and dangerous the Abbott government is for our country.
Imagine that you live in a big old house with your family and in the backyard in the middle of a sprawling lawn is a huge plane tree. In this metaphor, that tree is the Australian government. Yes, this is going to take some imagination but bear with me. The tree has been there forever and has grown tall and wide, with branches reaching out to every corner of your garden. It offers shade in summer, a place of shelter in winter, a quiet spot for an outdoor meal, a branch hosting a tyre swing for the kids and the perfect climbing gym and fortress for outdoor games. You can’t imagine your garden, or your home, without this tree and you always assumed it would always be part of your future.
But then something changed.
A man from the council knocks on your door one day and tells you there’s a problem with your tree that has been raised by a neighbour. He won’t tell you which neighbour, only that the council was taking the complaint very seriously as they would with any risk to the community. The only neighbour you could imagine caring about the tree is the grumpy old man living in the property behind yours. He had never been a friendly person and grumbled constantly about everything; the weather, the council, the rates he had to pay, the noise your children made playing and a few times, the leaves that your tree shed in Autumn, some of which found themselves in his swimming pool that he never used because he whinged about the cost of energy to heat it. ‘Is this about the leaves in the pool?’ you ask, nodding your head towards the grumpy neighbour’s house and wondering what type of ‘community risk’ a few dead leaves could possibly cause. The man from the council avoided answering directly and said instead that the council were ordering you to lob off your trees largest branches before they fall off, endangering your home. And the lives of your family. You suddenly feel anxious. ‘What’s wrong with our tree?’ you ask nervously. ‘It’s got a tree disease which is making it slowly rot. Your neighbour recognised the symptoms. In effect it’s dying and the branches will fall one by one. The entire structure of the tree is unsustainable. You may in fact be better off cutting it down completely to avoid worrying about it in the future’. ‘Let me have a think about it’, you respond, wanting the man to leave. He tells you not to think about it for too long as the council wants something done about it immediately. He leaves and you pass on his terrible news to your husband who then feels as anxious as you do.
The next day you can’t stop looking at the tree and worrying about how quickly it is dying. It doesn’t look sick, but the man from the council is meant to be an expert on this type of thing so you’re sure he isn’t making it up. After a couple of weeks, you decide to get the largest of the branches cut off; just the ones that are risking hurting anyone if they fall off or coming down onto the house. This is the moment Australia elected Abbott. The tree of government was suddenly a risk to the community, rather than a protector.
The day the man arrives to cut off the large branches, you try to make yourself scarce. The sound of the chainsaws grate on your nerves. You return home hoping to feel less anxious now that the branches are gone. But you don’t feel less anxious at all and the tree looks hacked up and pathetic. No more social safety net. Medicare is under threat. Huge cuts to health and education spending. Gonski no longer a bipartisan policy. No more credible climate change policy. No more mining tax. A fraud of a national broadband network that will be no faster than what we have now. Huge increases in the cost of higher education. Cuts to the ABC and SBS. And the economy is flagging under the weight of austerity cuts and lack of confidence. You did what the man from the council expertly told you needed to be done and yet you can’t help feeling like you’ve lost something you’ll never be able to get back. The tree had been there much longer than you had and in one afternoon its dependable foliage is destroyed forever. You feel sad.
The man from the council returns a few weeks later to inspect the tree. He taps his pen on the thick trunk and nearly trips over the tyre that used to hang from the branches as a swing. ‘The disease is still risking the structure. I would recommend cutting the whole thing down. It could easily come down in a storm. You wouldn’t have the insurance to cover the damage’. You nod weakly and promise to do something about it right away. The tree makes you sad now so maybe once it’s gone you will get over it.
The arborist who cut off the large branches is booked out for the next month so you call someone new and he can cut the tree down next week. Again you leave him to it, as you can’t bring yourself to watch your tree become a useless stump. When you return home, the last bits of trunk are being fed into the noisy wood-chip creating machine. ‘Why did you cut it down?’, the arborist asks cheerfully. ‘It was dying, it was risking our home and was dangerous for our family’. The arborist raises an eyebrow. ‘Who told you that?’ he asks. ‘A man from the council. We didn’t really have a choice, it had to be done’. ‘That’s a shame, because there was nothing wrong with the tree. It would have happily outlived you if you’d just left it alone’. Your heart sinks and you feel like crying.
Soon after you’re driving past your neighbour’s house – the one who you suspect had it in for your tree because of the leaves in his pool, and you notice he’s on his porch, talking to someone who looks familiar. It’s the man from the council. They’re laughing about something, clearly sharing a joke. They’re friends. Or at least friendly. Suddenly you get it. There was nothing wrong with your tree. The man from the council lied. You’ve been tricked into doing something against your best interest. Scared into ruining your Australia tree. And your neighbour no longer has leaves in his pool. The rage you feel is impossible to describe.
I will try to keep this letter brief as I know you have a short attention span and since you’ve never responded to my previous correspondence, I can only guess it was because they were longer than your brain capacity could absorb. The main topic of this letter is to let you know that I think you’re an opportunistic, petty, vindictive creep and that you’re running the country as if you would like to imagine that all Australians are equally as petty and vindictive as you. But we’re not. And you’re not going to win your soon to be announced election because we’re better than that.
Over the last 24 hours, Barack Obama, the greatest President America has ever had and possibly the best leader the world has ever seen, has once again shown what it is to be a visionary, compassionate, highly intelligent, gracious, composed and dignified statesman. He sang Amazing Grace at the funeral of Charleston murder victim Rev. Clementa Pinckney as if it was the most natural thing in the world for him to lead the chorus. He celebrated the decision by the US Supreme Court to recognise the constitutional legality of gay marriage by tweeting with hashtag #LoveWins. Obama is a giant of our world, whether you agree with his politics or not. And next to him, your pettiness, your aggression, your predilection for the path of least residence to the lowest common denominator makes you a meaningless flea. A blip that will be forgotten by history as a negative, sloganeering, fear-inducing, mean spirited low point of Australia’s history.
In the last 24 hours, you and your government have shown your true colours. With three terrorism attacks overseas in France, Kuwait and Tunisia, the pleasure in your eyes, the excitement at having a scare mechanism, the opportunity for you to use these events politically, make me feel ill. You’ve said the death cult is coming for Australians. You’re ramping up the rhetoric on threat levels which have absolutely no grounding in reality. You’re using the deaths of innocent people at the hands of barbaric, violent, evil, yet distant, criminals to further your own political cause. If you can’t see how low it is that you enjoy, and take pleasure out of these opportunities to be a scaremonger, let me tell you, it’s unedifying to the extreme. We know you’re only talking about national security because you’ve comprehensively failed to deliver vision, policies, negotiation, competency and functional government in any policy area so far in your dysfunctional term as Prime Minister. You therefore rely on plane crashes, on sieges carried out by mentally ill lone-wolves, and on the tragedies of people in far-away places to make yourself feel better about yourself. To keep your flag collection multiplying. For opportunistic photo stunts. Petty. Vindictive. Creepy.
And of course, everything you do, everything you have ever done in opposition and seamlessly into government is just about wrecking progressive policies with your negative ‘always on’ election campaign. We hear this morning that you’ve already produced negative attack ads about Bill Shorten. Is Shorten the first thing you think about when you wake up? I bet he is. You are the Prime Minister of arguably the best country in the world and all you care about is bashing your political rivals. Of giving jobs to your boys. You want to unpick every good progressive policy this country has ever delivered and take us back to a yesterday that none of us are interested in revisiting. Wrecking health and education funding. Destroying technological advancement. Wrecking environmental policy. Wrecking whole industries and destroying thousands of jobs. Depressing consumer confidence and in turn destroying economic growth. Wrecking social security. Dog whistling about asylum seekers while they are treated in detention centres no better than captives of the ISIS ‘death cult’. Attacking the union movement. Your nasty little thought bubbles on user-pays public education and wielding your wrecking ball into highly successful industry super funds are just the latest of the daily onslaught of terror you wreck on ordinary Australians. And why do you do it? For the same reason as a dog licks his balls. Because he can.
I dare you to go to an early election Tony Abbott. I dare you to believe that Australia wants to give you another chance to do even more damage to the fabric of our community. While you use national security as your play thing, we can see what you’re trying to do. Your leaked memo made that very clear. And when I compare you, the petty, vindictive, creepy flea, to the likes of Barack Obama, I want to cry with frustration. The sooner you give me and the rest of Australia the chance to vote you out, the better.
You would have thought it would be at least mildly damaging to the Abbott government, if not just a bit embarrassing, that one of their colleagues has leaked a memo outlining their plans to wedge Labor on national security policy. After spending an inordinate amount of effort trying to convince voters that Abbott rates national security policy as a priority above all else because it really is an important area of public policy (it isn’t), you would think it might be a bigger news story for the public to find out that, in fact the Abbott government’s obsession with national security policy is nothing more than a political game. A game to make Labor look bad. A ‘tactic’ designed to ‘wedge’ Labor, to make Labor look ‘soft on terrorism’. A scheme to get Abbott re-elected. Nothing to do with the safety of Australians. But this is not a rational world that we live in and we do not have a rational media who would make this story a rational one for their audience to understand. Instead, the release of this memo was yet another ‘nothing to see here, move along, the Abbott government can do whatever they like without being framed as completely ridiculous’ moment and we’re all meant to just go about our lives as if nothing has happened.
Well I for one won’t just go on. I will call out the ridiculousness when I see it and I will question how a supposably mature and well-educated electorate of Australian voters are so keen to fall for Abbott’s bullshit on national security. Because, according to a recent poll, the one thing Australians are most anxious about is the threat of ISIS. Seriously. In a country threated by climate change, with unemployment at record highs, with whole industries dying out, with house prices in some cities far out of reach of middle-income earners, with huge cuts to education and health spending, with threats to social security and aged pensions and with a government so catastrophically inept and dysfunctional that we’re a daily embarrassment, and a danger to our international community, Australians are most scared of a handful of idiotic lunatics who inexplicably leave the comfort of their homes in Australia to fight with fanatics in a country most Australians can’t find on a map? Seriously? When people wake up every day, do they really worry more about the ISIS ‘death cult’ bogey-man-under-the-bed than they do keeping their job and feeding, clothing, educating and caring for their family? Seriously? So Abbott’s game is working. Australians are falling for his wedging of Labor hook line and sinker. Or is it by hook or by crook? Wake up Australia! The joke is on you!
Today Abbott took the ‘we will wedge Labor on national security policy’ directive further into the immature game-playing realm or absurdity today by saying that since Labor, quite reasonably and to my relief, are refusing to help give Minister-Potato-Head-Dutton ministerial control of taking away the Australian citizenship of people accused (but not proved by a court of law) of fighting alongside terrorists, that Labor are ‘rolling out the red carpet to terrorists’. Labor has said they will support legislation that removes the Australian citizenship of people with dual-citizenship if a court of law finds them guilty of supporting terrorism. You know, like when anyone commits a crime in this first-world-country we live in and are given, as an inalienable right, the right to be tried in a court of a law and to be considered innocent until proven guilty. But this centuries-old-approach-to-the-rule-of-law is evidence of Labor being ‘soft’ apparently, according to the wedge-brigade. Even though Abbott has been told his plan, which was so opposed by his own cabinet members that it was the topic of the most detailed cabinet leak the country has ever seen, is likely un-constitutional (in other words won’t happen unless Abbott changes the constitution, in other words won’t happen), he is determined to keep going with it. Because he’s trying to give Labor a wedgie. It’s all about polls you see. While he’s scaring people, he’s winning. That’s a sad fact. He actually does win when he’s scaring people and part of his plan to scare people is to tell them that the courts are no longer going to keep Australians safe. It’s now up to Peter Dutton to keep us safe. That’s scary!
But do you know what really is scary? Apart from the ease in which Abbott can play these games, aided by a compliant media who never call him out. Apart from the fact that Australians are all too willing to participate in the ISIS-is-under-your-bed-BOO!-charade. And apart from the fact that while Abbott’s playing these games, he’s not running the country and addressing real problems facing millions of Australians, and in most cases is making our lives harder instead. No, what scares me most is that Abbott’s game will be successful and he will convince a gullible-all-too-ready-to-be-conned electorate that even though he’s quite clearly the most inept human being Australia has ever had the misfortune of calling Prime Minister, that his own political game playing ‘war on terror’ makes him a ‘safer bet’ than Labor at the next, possibly quite soon to occur, election. This really is scary enough to keep me up at night.
Remember the old saying ‘sticks and stone may break my bones, but names will never hurt me’? It’s time Australian voters worried less about the stupid, insensitive, nasty, judgemental, heartless, shameless, inaccurate, bigoted, moronic, offensive things Abbott and members of his government say and focus more of what these words show us about these peoples’ values, or lack thereof, and importantly, the outcomes these lack of values have on the lives of Australians. Because these people are running the country and what they say is just a reflection of how they make decisions. We should be really seriously scared! Forget about the words, worry about the sticks and stones because they really are breaking bones! Here are some examples:
I wrote last week about Hockey’s ‘Double Dipping’, fraudster, rorting description of mothers of newborns who quite legally and legitimately receive their privately negotiated maternity leave along with the government scheme which was always set out to top up existing leave and not to replace it. As a pregnant woman myself, I found the accusation that I’m slovenly, greedily stealing from tax-payers through rorting, fraudster behaviour while I take leave from my job, incredibly offensive. But looking past this outrage, what about the outrage about the consequence this policy outcome will have on new mothers? For many, it will mean having to go back to work weeks or even months earlier than they would like to, possibly giving up on breastfeeding and forgoing the time they would have liked to spend with their newborn, but can’t afford to spend without government paid maternity leave. This is the outrage – the consequences the policy change will have on the lives of working women, their financial stress and their precious first few months at home with their newborns.
The thing about Tony Abbott is that there’s never a shortage of outrageous comments flying around that are just as offensive as Hockey’s ‘Double Dipping’ and also just as hurtful as being struck with sticks and stones when you haven’t even had time to get over the last assault. Another example from this week was Abbott’s statement to a Queensland small business group that his ‘work for the dole’ policy will allow business owners to ‘try before you buy’. Yes, he’s talking about trying people, workers, employees, before hiring them. As if they’re cars being taken for a test spin or a pair of shoes, as noted by an ABC interviewer who called him out on this phrase. You’ll notice though, that it’s the phrase the interviewer was worried about, and not the policy itself. Yes, it’s absolutely revolting that Abbott would refer to unemployed workers being farmed out to work for the dole schemes, who get paid no more than they get on the dole ($37 a day, or $4.60 per hour for an 8 hour day) as being ‘tried before they are bought’. But what’s more disgusting than this characteristic Abbott-way of talking about desperate and vulnerable unemployed people is the policy itself. We already know through Abbott’s decision to throw unemployed youth off welfare for 6 months, which was then changed to 1 month to try to get it through the Senate, he doesn’t have an inch of compassion for the perilous situation people find themselves in when unemployed. But now he’s proving that he has absolutely no qualms with people working at slave labour rates, which he no doubt wishes was the minimum wage if there had to be one at all, and that he has no concerns that this free month of work will actually keep the unemployed person from having the time available to find a job. A real job that actually pays them a salary. He knows as well as any person that if you give businesses free workers, they have zero incentive to actually employ, and pay workers. What would stop these businesses from ‘trying’ a new worker every month, every year forever and never having to actually employ anyone ever again? Is this Abbott’s job creation strategy? To create an underclass of working poor by bypassing the minimum wage and allowing businesses to treat people like slaves? Take a look Australia. This is the man you put in charge. It’s depressing beyond belief.
Finally, my last example, also from this week, once again shows the outrage at Abbott’s ineloquent, nastily worded sound bites is misplaced when you consider the actions behind the statement. When asked if Australia would, on the urging of the United Nations, work with regional neighbours to find a solution to the displacement of thousands of Rohingya refugees, Abbott’s reponse was, like a three year old child rejecting broccoli – ‘Nope, nope, nope’. He then went on to say that ‘To start a new life, come through the front door, not the back door’ and that ‘Australia is ‘a good international citizen’. Let’s look at the values behind these words and the outcomes. The first obvious outcome is that, whether Abbott believes it or not, Australia is not a good international citizen. And the citizens of Australia have let the citizens of the world down by electing a man who lacks even the basic compassion for families so terrified of being killed that they’ve jumped on boats to escape and nearly starved on the open waters while they wait for someone to show enough compassion to help them. What is clear from Abbott’s ‘front door’ versus ‘back door’ statement is that he only wants privileged people migrating to Australia. He only wants those who come from countries with migration channels, who can afford visas, or who have the education for skilled migration status. He doesn’t want poor people. Especially if they are brown. Because Abbott hates poor people. For someone who describes himself as a Catholic, he’s decidedly unchristian. And the depressing part is, Australia, in the majority, loves him for it.
Words are important, but only because they launch the sticks and stones that break people’s bones. I’m just as guilty as everyone else who is reading this thinking that they are liable to let their outrage of what Abbott and his government colleagues say overshadow the outrage at these people’s actions. Being outraged at words is easy, but let’s look deeper and call out the outrageous values and actions that are signposted by these outrageous comments. And let’s work at electing a government that doesn’t bash its people with sticks and stones on a daily basis.