When I started blogging about Australian politics, I did so with the aim of helping make it more accessible to those of us outside the rarefied atmosphere of Canberra. My secondary objective was to try to convey the idea that we, as citizens and voters, are not powerless; that we can have an active place in the social and political issues of the day that extend beyond ticking a few boxes on a ballot paper.
I can't claim that I succeeded, by a long shot. It would be good to think that I had some influence that led to others speaking up, acting on the courage of their convictions, but honestly, it's not something I will ever know. That's not really the point, though. I didn't do it to score brownie points (or karma points, or what have you).
For a while, though, I thought there was something happening. People would contact me saying that they had always 'switched off' before when it came to politics, but were now following the issues, discussing and acting. Others commented that they were making an effort to understand what was going on. I'd call that a victory.
It's simplistic to lay it all at the feet of a change of government. The fact is that the majority of Australians voted for the Liberal/National Coalition to take over, and the only way I can explain that is to think that either they wanted to punish the ALP for something, or that they swallowed what was - to me, at least - a transparent scare campaign full of lies. Otherwise, I simply can't fathom why allegedly reasonable people would vote themselves into a situation where low income earners are targeted to come under even more financial stress, where our greenhouse gas emissions skyrocket and contribute to even faster climate change, where we are complicit in the horrendous treatment of people who seek asylum from us. The list goes on - but what matters is that the vote did
swing that way, and this is the government we have.
I could write about that. I could marshal my words, cite my sources, invite interviews and examine and analyse and criticise. I'd lose whatever objectivity I strove for, but sometimes objectivity is not all it's cracked up to be. To paraphrase Aaron Sorkin's The Newsroom
, there aren't always two sides to every story - and I don't think I could even pretend there is in any case.
What's so different this time around?
Part of the answer lies in my mental health problems, and I've written about those before
. There's just too much that I need to deal with. It's not the whole story, though. The rest lies in the government itself. When I sit back and look at how this government conducts its business, all I can see is a political coalition revelling in its staggering majority and running roughshod over principles, rules and even the most basically decent behaviour. Like any ungracious and insecure winner, they gloat and change the rules to ensure no one can ever knock them off their pedestals - or even get near.
It was a tradition of Parliament that an Opposition could move to suspend the normal business of the House to bring on a debate and vote of importance, such as a censure. Certainly, when the ALP was in power, the Coalition availed themselves of that power on a daily
basis - sometimes even several times a day. As soon as they were elected, however, they used their majority to remove that ability altogether. There is now no way the House of Representatives can bring a censure motion, or any other motion that the government doesn't want. They can silence any voice in that chamber. Any
The President of the Senate, John Hogg, is a tiger more toothless than the United Nations. He drones, 'Order! Order!', and - very occasionally - directs a government Senator to actually put some relevance into their answer. As he notes himself, however, he can't actually force
that Senator to comply - and the government is not slow to take advantage of that. Government Senators will happily ignore any directive from the President, to the point where they'll shout him down as he's trying to make a ruling.
As for Bronwyn Bishop, the Speaker of the House - it's an understatement to say she is a partisan hack who clearly enjoys her position of power. She bestows fond smiles on the Prime Minister and his front bench, saving her most delighted expressions for those times when the government either completely ignores the rules of the House, or when she can stymie any voice that might dare to lift itself in opposition. She loves point scoring, and will happily receive the fawning praise of Education Minister Chris Pyne. When he shouts abuse at Tanya Plibersek, Bishop nods and smiles. When Plibersek mutters under her breath, Bishop scolds her and throws her out, and Pyne shouts threats after her - threats that Bishop backs up approvingly, saying, 'Indeed'.
This is the Speaker who, in an interview, smugly declared that she'd 'brought decorum back into the House'.
There's no decorum. There's no democracy, no 'for the people, by the people'. Sure, the government has a majority - but they're using that majority to silence any
dissenting voice. Don't like 'em? Gag 'em. Don't want to deal with them any further? Throw them out, on the slightest provocation. They've taken Question Time to new levels of absurdity, substituting reading from press releases and abuse for substantive answers. (And yes, I know all governments attempt to be obscure, but this government is worse even than Paul Keating's.)
This should be familiar to anyone who ever inhabited a school playground, or watched their own kids at school. It's bullying. The confidence of Chris Pyne is the confidence of a weak kid who knows he's got tough mates. He's the kid who pulls the girls' ponytails, and then runs to the bigger kid - Abbott - who's urging him on. And when his favourite teacher (Bishop) happens to be on Yard Duty, he can get away with murder.
It goes on. Day after day after day. If it's not the systematic dismantling of virtually every social reform of the last six years, it's doing everything possible to ensure that only one message goes out, only one voice is heard. Criticism of the military is virtually banned, while Parliamentary privilege is abused and blatant lies are told about everything from upcoming government policy to the personal characters of Labor, Greens and Independent MPs and Senators. In the midst of all this, the government declares itself the champion of free speech and truth. Just today the Attorney-General George Brandis stood with figurative hand on heart to righteously condemn those who would not allow notorious hard-right columnist, serial defamer and noted racist Andrew Bolt to say whatever he wanted to say about whoever he liked. For Brandis, the mere thought that Bolt might have to temper his words and refrain from defaming an indigenous person was truly horrifying. Of course, that doesn't apply to anyone who doesn't agree with the government. Such people are simply not allowed to even insinuate that a government Minister might be abusing his position.
While all the posturing and bullying goes on, there's so much pointless, ridiculous noise. Rather than expending energy building our society up, the government divides, silences and punishes. Yes, punishes. What else can you call it when someone whose only 'crime' is to be in a low-paying job has the payment that helps them buy their kids school textbooks is removed in favour of paying hundreds of millions of dollars to corporations in profit
? When a woman in a low income job has her superannuation contribution axed, while a woman earning $150,000 a year is given a massive parental leave payment and
government paid super?
And then the government appears puzzled by the idea that people might take to the streets to protest. 'What's their message?' 'What are they after, anyway?' 'Oh, it's a disaffected minority, the loony Left'. No - 50,000 people in one city, over 100,000 around the country, all marching together, all gathering under banners protesting this government's behaviour - that isn't a 'disaffected minority'. It's a cry for help from people who cannot otherwise be heard. They literally have to stop traffic to get the attention of those in power, and even then they're laughed at and dismissed.This is not democracy.
This is not the country I've loved.
This is not the country I want my children to inherit.
I want my children to inherit a country in which dissent is not only permitted, it is expected. I want them to live in a society that understands what social justice means, that believes the first duty of a government is to its people, not to its bank balance.
I do not know if I have the strength, anymore, to fight. I do not know where, or even if that strength can still be found.
I only know that my children deserve far better than this
- and so, don't I owe it to them to try?