Thursday, February 26, 2015

Middle Australia

One of the undeniably successful strategies of former Prime Minister John Howard was his ability to read and appeal to middle Australia.


Photo courtesy of SBS

Howard’s ability to tap into the Zeitgeist helped him to win an election while, at the same time, introducing a hugely divisive consumption tax.  A lengthy period of arguably successful government gave way, however, to hubris in time.


Our current Prime Ministerial incumbent has endeavoured to emulate his self-confessed political mentor but has failed dismally to tap into the mood and mindset of middle Australia.  Howard’s battlers are becoming Abbott’s nemesis.


No more keenly has this been illustrated than in PM Abbott’s recent attempts to influence Indonesia’s intention to execute the Bali Nine ringleaders: Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran.  To conflate tsunami relief from 2006 with the plight of Andrew and Myuran completely misreads the Australian response to this most tragic of situations.


Witness, for example, the vigils, the heartfelt and consummately empathetic stands taken by even such divisive figures as 2GB’s Allan Jones to realise that Australia does not regard the language of threat to our nearest neighbour as a legitimate tactic in influencing the Indonesian decision.  (The spirited back-pedaling on this conflation following the public response to it confirms a serious misreading by Mr Abbott.)


The Prime Minister could be forgiven for thinking he was on a winning tack:  the level of xenophobia apparently extant in the wider Australian populous is frighteningly high – or at least it would seem so given certain commentators’ pronouncements concerning, say, asylum-seekers or the Islamic Community or the inflammatory push to repeal the “restrictions on free speech” wrapped up in Section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act of 1975.


Let’s see, has anyone counted the number of time Mr Abbott has used the term “death cult” in the last 24 hours?  For me it’s so frequently that it’s beginning to sound like the title of a Zombie Apocalypse movie.  I clearly do not wish to detract from the seriousness of the situation but does this continued use of the term simply appeal to the nationalism that Mr Abbott believes lies simmering below the conscious horizon of the Australian psyche?


It’s all “terrorism” and “national security”.  Not quite the “reds under the bed” of McCarthy but perilously close.  All the “Dorothy Dixers” in question time for the last week have been on the over-egged counter-terrorism theme.  Yes, National Security is a serious and predominantly bi-partisan issue but there comes a point when the seriousness of the issue is undermined by the over-reach of the rhetoric.  And we have well and truly passed that point.


Photo courtesy of Kym Smith,

Characterised as a significant policy statement on National Security, Monday’s (23rd February) announcement at the Australian Federal Police Headquarters in Canberra was short on details and long on ideological speech-making aimed squarely at Mr Abbott’s perceived legion of xenophobes and anti-Islamists.  It reached its particularly populist crescendo with the Islam-is-a-religion-of-peace-but-more-Muslim-leaders-should-say-it-and-mean-it taunt.


And as for the attacks on Human Rights Commission President Gillian Triggs:  well that was just plain weird.  Weird and dangerous.  And another critical misread by Mr Abbott, one, apparently, even his Cabinet colleagues warned him about.  Perhaps what this plays to is Mr Abbot’s belief that the on-going emasculation of the Australian male demands immediate redress.  And who better to show Australian manhood the way than the nation’s most powerful man bullying an influential but ultimately undefended high-profile female.  (Perhaps he’s missing Julia Gillard: his former target.)


As the Abbott government staggers to an ignominious end we can only hope that the Prime Minister and his diminishing band of supporters will find a quiet retreat where they can ponder their abilities to focus on what’s important and reconnect with Middle Australia.