And So It Begins – Our New Lives Under Tony Abbott
We all awoke on the morning of Sunday September 8th with a distinct feeling that something had changed. As the nation cleared their minds of the fog caused by one-too-many Bacardi Breezers, there was a distinct feeling like the ones you have where you can’t quite remember what you did last night, but you know it was wrong. The revelry from the night before was either from celebration or commiseration, but we all collectively woke up that morning, naked in the back-yard, in a pool of the nation’s sickly sweet alco-pop vomit.
As overly dramatic as this all is, the reality of the situation is far more serious than us simply trying to explain away and forget the embarrassments caused by public displays of nudity. This is worse. Far worse. And only now, two weeks later, we are seeing how dire the situation actually is.
Those of us who did not vote for the Liberal National Coalition are not surprised that they were voted in by the majority. Anyone who is not skeptical of the media hype surrounding the lead-up to the election would have been convinced that the Labor Party was run by baboons (actual poo-throwing baboons), and that Tony Abbott seemed like some kind of messiah for the future of Australia; While Rudd was seen variously as a Nazi, a whinger, and the son of Satan himself, Abbott was portrayed as… was portrayed as… Actually Abbott managed to avoid the press altogether. This is partially because of the relationship of the Murdoch press with the Liberal Party (i.e. Murdoch’s press thrives under conservative governments), but also because, as has been proven time and time again, Tony Abbott is a terrible speaker under pressure and when put on the spot. Apart from the slanderous methods used by the mainstream media to help elect the Prime Minister that would suit them best, it seems that rather than people voting “for” the Liberal Party, they voted “against” Labor, just for the sake of change.
However, the old adage “Better the devil you know than the devil you don’t” seems particularly poignant at this time.
Both were terrible choices for a Prime Minister, but is becoming patently clear that the man we have now as out national leader is definitely the worst of the two. In less than 2 weeks, and only two days after being sworn in, we are seeing sweeping changes to the daily politics of our country, and few, it would seem, for the better.
It all began, immediately condemned by the science community, with the announcement that the “Minister for Science” position (formerly administered through the Department of Innovation, Industry, Science and Research) would no longer be a part of the national cabinet. The portfolio for science now resides in the overly bloated Ministry for Industry, which also administers the portfolio through Department of Industry, Innovation, Climate Change, Science, Research and Tertiary Education. That is a LOT of responsibility for one person (in this case Ian Macfarlane) to take care of, and it not only highlights the relative importance of the science sector to the new government, but also those of innovation, climate change, research and tertiary education. Adding to this, the Abbott government announced two days ago that they would be scrapping the Climate Commission, effective immediately, and as a result have sacked Professor Tim Flannery, one of the world’s leading experts in the field of climate change research and communication. This is not a surprising move when the Abbott government has on its business advisory board people like Maurice Newman, a known anthropologically accelerated climate change denier. Mr Hunt, who delivered the news to Professor Flannery said:
Presented as a cost-saving measure, what this really does is put the reporting to the public of information about climate change in the hands of the government, rather than what was formerly in the hands of the independent Climate Commission.
That Abbott has buried science and climate change under a swathe of other “more important issues” is not surprising; He is himself a climate change denier, and surrounds himself in his cabinet with like-minded deniers. And following in the same vein, we see his promised abolition of the carbon tax high on the agenda of “hot issues” for his government. While the carbon price was debated furiously by the general public (the same public that was led by the hand to believe that Kevin Rudd is literally equivalent to Adolph Hitler). This all paints a picture of a government that not only denies the realities of climate change, but actively seeks to bury the conversation altogether.
Mr Abbott, who was famously scorned by ex-Prime Minister Julia Gillard as a misogynist, showed little improvement from this perceived position throughout the campaign. Known for his awkward and “not creepy” quips about his “not too bad looking daughters”, the “physical contact” comment to a young women’s sport team, and the support of one of his female candidates because of her “sex appeal”, Abbott emerges as, if not a fully blown misogynist, then at least a man whose attitudes toward women seem to stem from the 1950s. And it turns out that Abbott is precisely the MP who will be in charge of Women’s Affairs under the new government. At least he has has appointed West Australian senator Michaelia Cash as minister assisting him on issues specific to women in Australia, so maybe he won’t let his 1950s attitudes have free rein over his decisions. This is all despite the fact that the Abbott cabinet has only one woman in it, to which has been variously pointed out that there are more women in Afghanistan’s parliament that Abbott’s cabinet.
In the same week the Abbott government has been sworn in, alongside the scrapping of the carbon tax (touted to save “average families” $550 from the next financial year), is the launch of the government’s newest cab off the rank, dubbed “Operation Sovereign Borders“. In this operation, Mr Abbott has decided to put the offshore handling of asylum seekers arriving by boat under the control of Deputy Chief of the Army, Major General Angus Campbell, who is likely to be promoted to 3 star general status upon taking this post. The main gist of the policy is to turn back the boats, no questions asked, and no matter what the situation. The fact that this is a major policy in the new government’s agenda speaks volumes to the kind of populist policies Mr Abbott aims at passing during his tenure as PM. The “boatpeople” scare is a bizarre combination, variously made up of the xenophobic attitudes of the Australian people, a perception that somehow Australia is being “overrun” with pro-Sharia Islamists, that our jobs are at threat from the “illegal” immigrants, and that they new arrivals will be a burden on our public coffers. It’s a thinly veiled nationalistic move, one which shirks the responsibilities we have as a relatively stable and rich nation in a world that requires relocation of massive populations, and ignores our agreement with the UNHCR to accept our (admitedly low) quota of asylum seekers onto our shores.
This is not the only agreement with the UNHCR we will be “rolling back” under the Abbott regime. On opposition with the 4-year agreement signed by ex-Foreign Minister Bob Carr with the UNHCR (almost a year ago today in fact) to give more badly needed support to those in crisis, The Abbott government has announced that it will be slashing the foreign aid contributions made by Australia by $4.5billion over the next 4 years.
As if to compound this, AusAID, one of the world’s cutting edge aid agencies, is to be merged (read buried) inside the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFaT). The organisation, which administers Australia’s $5.4billion contributions, will be severely weakened by this move, according to Annemarie O’Keefe, former AusAID deputy director general:
I asked the opinion of Kon Karapanagiotidis, founder and CEO of the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre his opinion of this move on Twitter yesterday:
And this really brings us to the crux of the entire situation. As my friend Wayne St Ansell points out at his blog “His real agenda is the conversion of the national conversation.” Mr Abbott is trying to subvert current conversations by burying them in so much unrelated politics and rhetoric that they, hopefully, disappear from the conversation altogether. By moving science, tertiary education, foreign aid, climate change, and any other issue Abbott’s government disagrees with, into bigger and “more newsworthy” portfolios, the government is effectively trying to stifle the words coming from these sectors. No science means no science reporting, which leads to a perception that climate change is a lie, and people can go back to the industries that make money for Australia; namely, coal, gas, and steel. Burying tertiary education along with science kills two birds with one stone, because it’s the educated with their tenacious “facts” that cause trouble for a government that wants to have its way. Abbott controlling women’s issues is not much better than putting a conservative catholic priest in the same position, for we all know Abbott is conservative about these issues.
The attitude seems to be “Quell the noise, and create the appearance of harmony.” This could easily become an Orwellian dystopia, unless we keep our eyes on this government and everything it does. They cannot be trusted.