Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Slightly Nutty and the Election of Doom

Australia has an election coming up this Saturday.

As a progressive and Greens voter as well as an anxiety sufferer, I am feeling a creeping, lonely, doom-laden dread of the future. I could be on the rotor, a funfair ride in which the floor drops away and you’re left clinging to the sides, pinned there by the furious spinning of the barrel.

It is fascinating how this vertiginous feeling replicates what my father must have felt when the Australian Labor Party achieved power in 1972, even though the objects of our dread could not be more different. The apple never does fall far from the tree (damn that silly tree!)

Dad, a Catholic of Irish descent, was and is terrified of communists, whom he believed at the time had overrun the ALP. While I was growing up he was active in the DLP, a right-wing Catholic party whose fear of reds, single parents, the pro-abortion lobby and environmentalists was only slightly ameliorated by its contradictory rejection of large corporations and poverty. Up until Whitlam was elected, the DLP had held the balance of power in the Senate, keeping Australia in conservative hands for over two decades.

Now there is a new threat on the horizon. Tony Abbott, leader of the Coalition, will almost certainly achieve power on Saturday, booting the ALP out of power. Although he is a member of the Liberal Party – the conservative party in Australia – Abbott is part of the landed Catholic gentry and culturally close to the DLP.

Abbott’s misogyny

As far as personality goes, Abbott has little traction. It is fascinating that, with all the stuff-ups and musical-chairs-style leadership changes in the ALP, along with the fact that Murdoch is using his media empire to boot Kevin Rudd out of power, Abbott is not slated to win by a landslide. In fact most people don’t like him much – they just find him less reprehensible than Rudd. If Rudd finds it hard to keep his temper, Abbott is a long-time bovver boy, still haunted by his own violent tactics as student politician at Sydney University.

Abbott is also a right-wing Catholic who until recently was widely seen as a committed misogynist and opposer of women’s rights, most importantly abortion rights. His remarks about women have returned to damn him again and again – they include such gems as ‘abortion is the easy way out’, ‘[virginity] is the greatest gift you can give someone’, the idea that women do not have an absolute right to withhold sex, and, on the carbon tax, ‘What the housewives of Australia need to understand as they do the ironing is that if they get it done commercially it's going to go up in price’. It’s no surprise that there is a recurring theme in the media about women not trusting him.

Abbott was health minister in the Howard Coalition government from 2003 to 2007; during this time he opposed the abortion drug RU486, and tried to restructure Medicare so as to ban funding for abortion.

A DLP member, John Madigan, is now in the Senate and there is a possibility that after the election he might share the balance of power in the Senate with other conservatives – he has openly expressed his desire to restrict abortion (he rang up here once, wanting to speak to Dad!)

Abbott’s team have moved heaven and earth in recent years to change his entrenched image. ‘Do you want to know how God turns a man into a feminist? He gives him three daughters’, was wife Margie Abbott’s challenge when she threw down the gauntlet at her first political function, a business lunch in western Sydney in October last year.

I have to laugh at this – my dad has five daughters and no sons, and Dad and the word feminist don’t sit comfortably in the same sentence.

It’s not women per se that men like Abbott and my own dad fear, I realise now – it’s powerful women.

The conservative agenda

But my fears for women’s rights under Abbott sit alongside more well-defined concerns. Abbott has pledged to ditch a price on carbon and will make things even more nightmarish for asylum seekers than the sociopathic policies of the ALP are currently doing. There is also the possibility – albeit probably not in a first term – that he would work behind the scenes to reduce penalty rates and increase the consumption tax. He is also touting a paid parental leave scheme that would pay some wealthy women the equivalent of their wages up to $75,000.

The ALP hasn’t been a progressive party since the late eighties, but despite its egregious sins the question of whether life for all but the wealthy will be worse under a Coalition government has to be a qualified ‘yes.’

I can still remember the shock that Howard’s ascension to power in 1996 had on progressives; I recall bumping into someone I knew in the car park of the local shopping mall the day after the election and commiserating with them about our fears for the future. Things were quiet at first, but once Howard had grasped that he could win over the battlers by generating fear and gagging charities, he never looked back.

My fears about coalition rule are partly based on selfishness about how bad I’ll feel about the plight of others. With my excessive identification with the powerless I will ache every time I hear of some new cut to services or welfare payments.

But I am also frightened for myself, and for my own security. What will Abbott do to me and my life? Will the conservatives come for me in the dark, stealing the tiny bit of financial certainty the government metes out to me? If I am one of the unfortunates who takes a hit to pay for the Coalition’s seventy-five-thousand-dollar gifts to rich pregnant women, how will I cope emotionally, let alone financially?

And I am scared and saddened for my country. During this election campaign the major parties have all but ignored aged care funding, homelessness and the plight of the poor – only the Greens have focused on these issues. Yet there is a small chance that if Rudd were to be elected he would finally get around to increasing Australia’s shamefully low dole rate, and reverse Gillard’s disastrous decision to move around 800,000 single parents, mostly women, onto the dole. In other areas such as asylum seeker policy the ALP has become an appalling imitation of far right parties such as One Nation, and the ALP’s ‘commitment’ to climate change policy is greenwash at best.

My one comfort? The Greens’ approval rating seems to have risen slightly, proving the pundits wrong.

Enough for now. I’m off to throw some Greens brochures into the letterboxes of the rich and self-focused of Toorak. Exercise, you see, is an excellent antidote to Politically Induced Depression.

BTW I have done absolutely no doctoring to the photo above - it's just naturally weird, and all part of the attempt to show the public what a powerful woman Margie Abbott is!

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  1. Another post that echoes my thoughts, Slightly Nutty, but, as always, done far more eloquently than I would achieve :) The landscape is far from pretty. In fact, I would call it rather perverse. I hope that your travels in Toorak today prove to be a partial antidote.


  2. Hi Kate,

    Thanks for your kind words - the rain defeated me yesterday but I'm planning to do some letterboxing this morning - hopefully it's not too late to change some people's minds :)