What a mess. I imagine those of you in Australia will be inundated with election crap, but trying to follow it from afar has been an interesting process. Physical removal somehow makes it all the harder to know what the general feeling is, what people are thinking and saying and muttering in their sleep. But for fuck’s sake. The fact that it’s even possible, let alone probable, that we will have Tony Fucking Abbot as a Prime Minister makes me want to shoot myself in the face. It also makes me want to surrender that return ticket unused and spend the rest of my days illegally on this continent over here, where at least everyone knows when their politicians are fucking them in the mouth. (Note: there may be a fair bit of swearing in this post. Tune out now if easily offended.)
Not that I could say I’m unhappy with the result in general terms. I’ve never been a great fan of the Labor Party, which is generally a boorish organisation, and tends either to atrophy or ossify very quickly once in government, losing any sense of flex to a crippling rigidity. The idea of them being progressive died decades ago – see Conroy’s internet filter, or Brumby’s various efforts to kill live music and entertainment in general in Melbourne. And after their efforts with Rudd, Labor didn’t deserve a victory. Rudd was one of the few genuinely intelligent and talented leadership contenders this country has had in half a century, and made the prospect of Labor rather more palatable than it had been. God knows what all you people being opinion-polled got so shitty at him about. Frankly I don’t give a fuck if he yelled at a stewardess. Being Prime Minister is a tough job, and he wanted a sandwich. Too much to ask? As for yelling at his ministers, that lot are almost entirely a bunch of spineless creep hacks who knifed him at the first chance, so they deserved all that and more. Rudd was one of the few in Cabinet who was against shelving the Emissions Trading Scheme, yet he’s the one who was killed off when the rest had their way and Labor’s inherent inertia came to the fore once again.
So in that sense, neither party getting a majority is a good result. It reflects what has been bothering me my whole voting life and more: that there are essentially two shitty options, and nothing more. Finally some power is going to the minor vote. Having a Green MP in the mix is a good thing, though what I’ve seen of Bandt doesn’t give the impression of a hugely dynamic individual. The three ex-National Party rural independents aren’t necessarily gimmes for the Coalition either, given they hated the Nationals enough to leave. What I’ve seen from each of them so far seems very balanced. And the other great boon of a result is that the witch-burning whackjobs from Family First have been cleared out of the Senate, and hopefully we will never hear of Steve Fielding again.
Of the independents, Rob Oakeshott in particular has been reassuring. His interviews have been completely upfront, without a bunch of politician fudging, and he seems to have a common sense approach to most issues, including refugee policy and climate change. He’s saying offshore processing of refugees is expensive and unnecessary, and processing should be done more humanely and on Australian soil. And he’s saying the ETS needs to come back on the agenda. He says his hero is his university college principal Dr Peter Cameron, who was tried for heresy by the Presbyterian church for supporting the ordination of female priests while Oakeshott was a student. Cameron refused to recant on his views and took the punishment, and Oakeshott says the lesson he learned is to stand by his beliefs regardless of the consequences. He seems to have done this numerous times, in quitting the Nationals to contest his state seat as an independent, then quitting the state seat to contest the federal one he holds now, both risky moves. If either party ends up relying on his vote, and he sticks to his principles, we could finally see some positive action on a number of fronts.
And of course the really interesting one is Andrew Wilkie. Working as an Australian intelligence officer in the lead-up to the Iraq war, he shot to prominence when he quit his job and went public with information that intelligence was being misrepresented by Howard’s government to argue the case for an invasion. Of course it wasn’t enough to avert Australia’s involvement, but it put huge scrutiny on the deceit. Wilkie testified to a number of commissions, and was the target of vicious attacks and attempts to discredit him by Howard and various henchmen. Wilkie is an interesting character, going from being a military man and Liberal Party member to a Greens senate candidate and finally to an independent. Should his vote be the crucial one, watching the Coalition trying to deal with him after how thoroughly they bastardised him just a few years ago will be an intriguing proposition. It would also be a revenge story of Monte Cristo proportions, and a nice reminder that one person can actually achieve something of significance on their own. Good on him.
The refugee thing has always been a great mystery. Just why do so many people actually give a fuck? Why is it always such a big campaigning issue? Australia is actively encouraging migration every day. There are ads all over the internet saying “Australia is open!” We have hundreds of thousands of ex-Brits. We have tens of thousands of “illegal immigrants” in Brits who overstay their working holiday visas, often indefinitely. No-one cares. They’re white. We have tens of thousands of new immigrants admitted every year – mostly from Western backgrounds. Less than five percent of immigrants are refugees. And of that five percent, only a small proportion are people who came by boat as opposed to via UN refugee programs. The numbers are insignificant. Plus, getting here by boat doesn’t mean they get to stay. It’s not British Bulldog – “Oh, you touched the beach, you’re barley, here’s your passport and a Centrelink form.” It means they get to have a case heard, to see if they are eligible for refugee status. Nothing more. If they’re genuine refugees (if they will be persecuted on returning home) then no-one would advocate sending them back to be killed, right? That would not be nice. And if they’re not genuine refugees, then they get deported. So what’s the problem? Why not just process the cases?
And more to the point, why do we care? As voters and citizens, how does it affect any of us? Seriously, how many hassles and issues have you had with immigrant Afghans in your daily life lately? Tangled with an Iraqi? Fought a Sri Lankan? The only contact I’ve had with Iraqis is the ones who make the amazing pizza at Aghadeer around the corner from my house in Brunswick. (They put kebab meat on it! Fusion cuisine. Genius.) I didn’t really know we had any other Iraqis until they won the Asian Cup and a couple of hundred hit the streets to celebrate. As for Sri Lankans, three of my favourite people in the entire world are Sri Lankan, and I’ve never met one that I didn’t like. And I’ve never yet met an Afghan, unless you count a sweater or a breed of dog.
Or is it the “they took our jobs” argument? If I may call on Doug Stanhope again, re the Mexican equivalent of our ‘problem’:
“I can watch these guys every day, can watch Border Patrol dragging them eleven at a time out of a Dodge Omni like a clown car, plastic cuffs on; and you’re right, they don’t speak the language, and they probably have no education – they don’t have fuckin’ shoes half the time … they’re all like barefoot in tattered castaway Gilligan’s Island shorts, dirty t-shirt and dehydrated, wandering the desert for four days … and if that guy is as qualified for your job as you are, you’re a fucking loser of such epic, humiliating proportions ... I would be ashamed to have anyone find out that guy took my job. No, he doesn’t speak English. Did they do your job training in pantomime, shithead? No-one bitches about immigrants taking their jobs if that person has skills of any level. You don’t hear a couple of neurosurgeons drinking, going: ‘You know what really chaps my ass Barry? All of these Scandinavian motherfuckers coming over here and taking all our good neurosurgery positions, the Norwegians specifically… I say we down this fifth of Jack and go stomp ourselves some Wegie ass.'”
I think that counts as a digression. So back on theme: the hung parliament I quite like. Neither party deserved to get up. The idea of Wilkie or Oakeshott or Bandt holding the casting vote has a lot of appeal. Tony Windsor also appears relatively sensible, from the little I’ve seen, and Bob Katter may be mad, but at least he’s not going to be pushed around by anyone. But what I don’t like (in the mildest form of understatement) is the prospect that Abbot looks the more likely to be able to form government and become Prime Minister. However it happens, Abbot as Prime Minister is a filthy abortion of justice and the natural order. It’s just not right. It’s like bestiality, but even less visually appealing. Abbot. Prime Minister. No.
Thus my problem, and thus the title of this post. Even if you’re conservative…Abbot? Of all people? Never was a man so eminently unelectable. I mean, Australia didn’t vote him in, but they still utterly failed to vote him out. Just the fact that he was a candidate should have inspired a response like the French against Monsieur Le Pen, where even the hard socialist left were campaigning for the conservative Jaques Chirac in an effort to keep his racist nutjob rival from the country’s highest office. Abbot is one of the most rancid public figures our country has ever produced. Howard’s government had a substantial Axis of Awful: the likes of Ruddock, Vanstone, Reith. But Abbot was always special, even for Howard. He was the top man’s attack dog, kept leashed until someone needed to be savaged, or something needed to be said to appeal to voters’ most base values. Anything too controversial to be said by Howard himself. Abbot would blurt, people would jump on him, Howard would deny association (“Err, err, well, Tony’s entitled to his opinions, and I can’t really comment on what he may or may not have said…”) Point is, the statement would be out there, like toxic runoff into a river, and there was no taking it back. Despite the controversies, Howard kept Abbot in the ministry for precisely this reason – as a minister, Howard’s mouthpiece would be guaranteed the right amount of publicity whenever he was told to speak up, then would be put back in his box until the next time. The man was a thug and a puppet. Now he’s in charge.
So if you’re trying, don’t kid yourself. A vote for Abbot or his proxies was a vote for nutjobs everywhere, for racism, for bigotry, for headkickers, for viciousness, for self-delusion, for a complete moral and ethical vacuum in place of rancid ultrapragmatism. Here’s a man who can orate about the tragedy of ‘unborn children’ being ‘murdered’ when speaking of minor cell clusters, yet support locking real living babies up in desert detention camps for the first five years of their lives. Of course, Arab babies don’t really count. Tony’s image makeover to transform him into a dynamic action man and a steady fatherly figure was very well managed, but lifelong nutjobs don’t become sane in the space of nine months. His insanity is entrenched. He has been crazier in more prominent public positions over a longer timespan than any other MP (and this is spanning an era featuring the likes of Heffernan, Joyce, Tuckey, Colston, Kennett and Katter). He’s not going to get any less crazy. Bob Katter might be a few bananas short of a Filipino virus invasion, but Abbot is crazier than Katter after a two-week meth binge with The Chief in the locked ward at Arkham Asylum.
And yet … and yet they voted for him, or at least for people who they knew would deliver him office. 44 percent of the country. Nearly every second person in that great brown land over there thought that having Tony Abbot run the show would be a grand idea. It’s like hiring a pianist to play Wagner at a Bar Mitzvah, or asking Gary Glitter to babysit your kids. Just…no.
When Howard was voted out less than three years ago, a lot of people I knew seemed to think it was a new age, that Australia had finally rejected the deceptive fear-mongering lowest-common-denominator politics. I didn’t. That night was still one of the greatest feelings of my life, utterly rejoicing as we watched Maxine finally throw that bucket of water over the old witch, and saw the spectre wither and disappear. The Dan in the Hat had decreed a drinking game at the start of the evening: “Labor need 16 seats for victory. Every time they win one of those seats, we will skull a beer and cheer loudly.” Thus by the time Maxine claimed Bennelong, I was in something of a heightened state of mind. I hazily remember the Witch’s concession speech, and very hazily remember a patch or two of Kevin’s riposte, and I remember standing on the back of the couch with a balloon of nitrous oxide in hand declaiming “First nang of the new regime!” to anyone who would listen. I don’t remember why I woke up the next day with a hole in my cupboard door and a badly swollen right hand, but it seems I had a good night. Various photos that have emerged have been mildly illuminating, though nothing more.
The point is, I remember that pure and intense joy that Howard was finally gone, for the first time in my adult life. I was thirteen when his blight first appeared. I sang ‘The King is Dead’ by The Herd with as much elation as anyone else. We really did dance like it was New Year’s Eve, we did dance with sheer relief. But I also remember knowing that ‘we’ were’t the majority. I remember thinking that Australian voters didn’t kick Howard out for the reasons I wanted him gone. They kicked him out because they didn’t like WorkChoices, and because they were bored. This wasn’t a resounding wish for change in the electorate. This wasn’t an evolution of the Australian mindset to one of tolerance and fairness. I thought with unease that the same people who had kept Howard in for so long were still out there, waiting. And less than three years later, with a disembowelled Labor party swimming around in its own entrails, a fair number of them went back to familiar habits. As did Abbot, with another fear-mongering campaign based around ‘Stop the Boats’. With the same antagonistic bitter angry politics that his predecessor had instilled in him. Stop the boats? Again, who gives a fuck? You might as well base your campaign on ‘Ban Mayonnaise: The Condiment of Evil.’
So fuck you, Tony Abbot. And fuck you, Australia. Because once again I’m faced with the incredibly depressing knowledge that at least half of my countrymen can’t think straight, can’t decide that maybe ethics should come before economics, can’t salvage a bit of compassion from their hard-edged practicality. The knowledge that half my countrymen would prefer to be motivated by fear and resentment and snap judgements of things they know nothing about. That they would prefer to stay home, close the shutters, close their minds, and not be challenged by anything that might slightly diverge from their way of thinking. When America voted in W for the second time, that was the death knell, the point at which that country could never be taken seriously again. This election was that moment for Australia. Whichever side you supported, the fact that Abbot himself was at the helm, the fact that he would be nominated by them, made his side unsupportable. The fact that he got supported to the extent that he may now form a government leaves me sick and speechless. Let’s hope that the presence of the independents forces a few good results from the House, but it doesn’t change the fact that having Abbot in the Lodge is like taking a dump on the Queen. Have some respect, Australia. Show a bit of class. But you didn’t. You can’t. Oh, fuck you.