Well, you wake up one morning, kiss the partner, put on a cup of tea, and… discover that it’s federal election time yet again. Was it really three years since the last one? It seems the answer is yes – us Antipodean folk are careering towards an August 21 poll. Luckily we live in one of the world’s most stable democracies, so we vote for a local member of parliament who we think (we hope, we pray) will best represent our views. However, since the 1970s election campaigns have been more presidential in style, with people being encouraged to vote on the personalities of the leaders of the two main protagonists – the Australian Labor Party and the Australian Liberal Party. Yes, they’re both called the ALP, and what’s more both have red, white and blue in their logos. No wonder many Australians couldn’t give a rat’s arse about what our leaders do and say, though this might also have something to do with our general anti-authoritarian approach to life because of the country’s Irish heritage and good weather – we really would rather be drinking beer at the beach and perving on the hotties than worrying about political shenanigans.
So how’s the fight shaping up?
In the left(ish) corner there’s Ms Julia Gillard, Australia’s first female prime minister, although it must be said that she’s been in the job all of three weeks – she toppled Kevin ‘07’ Rudd in a dramatic midnight coup. But there’s a fact here that can’t be ignored: Kevin was going down like the devil wearing velvet trousers and someone had to do something about it. It was Ms Gillard, a proud red-head born in Wales (she’s also unmarried although does have a partner, and she’s an atheist), who stepped up to the plate. Julia’s a no-nonsense kind of person who could easily be a minor character on the TV comedy series Kath & Kim, but she’s smart and tenacious. She’s kicked things off by floating a pitch based on ‘Moving Australia Forward’. As election slogans go it’s a bit on the prosaic side, but after 11 years of ultra-conservative rule under the very easy to hate John Howard and then the wobbly period with the Ruddster at the helm, it’s at least a nod in a better direction.
In the (extremely) right corner is Tony ‘The Mad Monk’ Abbott, a former minister under Howard, who seems to be pinning everything on ‘Practical Action’ (he loves that word action because he’s a budgie-smuggler-wearing marathon runner, so he sees himself as a political GI Joe) and ‘Turning Back The Boats’. By ‘Turning Back the Boats’ Abbott is trying to score votes by saying that – with some kind of Superman sweep of his hand – he’ll stop anyone fleeing political persecution and poverty reaching our shores. We’re essentially islanders and have a deep-rooted fear of invasion, particularly by people who have different hair and skin and languages to us, let alone use funny cutlery like chop-sticks, so there’s a good political reason for pursuing this strategy. Never mind that the numbers of these ‘boat people’ are actually extremely low. Never mind also that Abbott’s on the record as telling us that we can’t believe everything he says, and that only what’s written in his speeches is fair dinkum. At least he’s warned us, I guess.
Of course, there is a third option – the Greens, who are lead by the irrepressible Bob Brown. (Dear old Bob has become such a part of our political furniture – one day he won’t be doing politics anymore and we’ll all wonder what happened.) For many, the Greens are crack-pots keen on issues like legalising marijuana and euthanasia and other supposedly nutty things like saving our natural world from going to hell in a hand-basket. For others, however, the Greens have finally got their act together and the party is becoming more and more attractive to the thinking element of the middle class. At least their logo isn’t red, white, and blue – that’s got to be something.
What does all this mean to simple, dreamy folk like this humble scribe? It means jackshit, because the issues I care deeply about – the arts, the environment, and marriage equality – won’t get the attention they deserve. The Greens will have a stab at it, but they’ll be drowned out by the lumbering political machines of the Labor and Liberal parties. You see, we’re a bunch of Neanderthals when it comes to a genuine political conversation about the value of the arts and creativity. The really tough environmental issues – climate change, reinvigorating our rivers, and saving our old-growth forests – are dealt with in a jingoistic, if not patronising fashion, never with the long-sightedness required; these are complex matters that require complex but decisive solutions. And marriage equality? Both the Labor and the Conservative parties have reconfirmed that only men and women ‘to the exclusion of all others’ (according to our very modern Marriage Act) can have their relationships taken seriously. There’s no doubt in my mind that Abbott would rather gay and lesbian just drown in their chardonnays, whilst Julia would be more than happy to see people with minority sexualities tie the knot, just not at this very moment.
Thankfully, luckily, miraculously, grass-roots activist organisation Get Up!, which came to life in the last few years of the Howard Government, enables those who really do care about Australia becoming a better and bigger country to have a sliver of hope. In 2007, completely dispirited at the lack of progressive political gumption on offer from the main parties, I volunteered for Get Up!, handing out How to Vote cards at a country-town booth. To this day it was one of the most life-affirming actions I’ve ever taken: not only were people genuinely interested in hearing a different perspective, but it also felt bloody great to do something real and positive beyond just putting a tick or a number in a box. Will I volunteer again? Or might I just hide away in my little house with ear-phones clamped to the side of my head and listen to great music by great bands and read great books by great writers?
Right now, who knows. But I’ll be sure to keep you posted.
Thirty more days to go.
PS Thanks to Ampersand Duck for the Abbott ‘Nope’ image. Brilliant.