September brought some sordid sexual encounters to British politics. Jeremy Corbyn continues to garner more negative headlines than an opposition leader to an autocratic dictator – as stories emerged of an alleged affair with his new shadow minister Diane Abbott.
However, it is Down Under where another Abbott is making the headlines. Following an abrupt leadership challenge, Tony Abbott was sensationally ousted as Australian Prime Minister. Those unfamiliar with Australian politics may reflect on his misfortune. However, his two-year long tenure, which for most Australians must have felt like two decades, was a catastrophe. Think of America electing Donald Trump as president and you’ll have an idea.
Tony Abbott was described erroneously as a Liberal prime minister. The Australian Liberal Party is one of these terms, much like inflammable, whose description totally betray their name. One of Australia’s two largest parties, The Liberals, are firmly on the right, and Abbott is one of their more hardened members. There were heavy reservations in his party – and the wider public – about his capacity to lead the country. Epitomised by former Prime Minister Paul Keating, who commented – “God help us” if Abbott becomes prime minister, and continued to suggest that the Liberal party considered him as their “resident nutter”.
Unfortunately, Abbott was elected Prime Minister of Australia, and with the country having more leadership elections than Peter Mandelson has political comebacks, Abbot’s successor Malcolm Turnbull is the fourth Australian Prime-Minister since 2013.
Now the country (and the world) is rid of one of its most uncouth and guileless leaders, it is time for Australia, with elections next year, to herald a solid continuance and ditch hard line conservatism for good.
Australian politics is currently at a crossroads – stuck between its shameful history and its lust to be a modern progressive power.
While 1973 brought the withdrawal of American military involvement in Vietnam, saw Pink Floyd release the Dark Side of the Moon, and Sydney open the Opera House, it shockingly still saw elements of the White Australian Act in place. Generation X remembers these times, unfortunately, some recall these days fondly.
The lack of development to alter stereotypical perceptions that Australians can be ignorant racists is still a struggle for contemporary Australia. Commentators will still give prominence to the notion that due to Australia’s chequered history (which is a bit more recent than we often care to mention) it remains one of the most pseudo-racist nations on the planet. A swelling youthful population and increased migration to ‘Down Under’ has begun to counteract this; however, Mr Abbott reversed this process.
Considered by the West as an important strategic partner in Asia and Oceania, many would flinch at the accusation of endemic underlying racism. However, as a cultural reference, how many people of ethnicity do you see in the show ‘Neighbours’? In 2011, an Indian family (now no longer on the show), moved onto Ramsay Street resulting in an uproar, with critics branding it un-Australian. Perhaps more relevant, how many people of ethnicity, in what should represent a multi-cultural society, do you have find in the Australian Parliament? It took until September 2015 for the first Aboriginal appear on the front-bench and despite a geographical closeness and a strong history of Asian migrants settling in Australia, it took till 2010 for the Australian Parliament to witness its second ever Asian MP elected.
92% of Australia is of white European decent. Despite Tony Abbott considering immigration was out of control just 8% of Australia’s population come from ethnic backgrounds and that figures include the indigenous populations that were so brutally colonised. This compares unfavourably to the US, which has roughly 77% of White European decent, Canada at 80%, while Australia’s antipodean cousins, New Zealand at 74% and maintains a larger percentage and with a better standard of living for their indigenous population.
Australia often celebrates its multiculturalism, yet its intake is heavily weighed from migration – not from diverse cultures, but from New Zealand and the UK. The ubiquitous Australian immigration system was even sterner under Mr Abbott, who had campaigned on a ‘stop the boats policy’. Dr Miranti of the University of Canberra conducted research into the asylum and concluded that for every 10,000 in Australia only 10 are made up of refugees, compared to Sweden where the figure jumps to 87.
Abbott’s policies have been described as “inhumane, of dubious legality and strikingly at odds with the country’s tradition of welcoming people fleeing persecution and war.” They even had Nigel Farage flinching at their ferociousness and were roundly criticised by a UN report earlier this year. The Abbott government was accused of the detention of children, violating human rights and promoting cruel, inhumane degrading treatment that had violated torture legislation. His response, which mirrored a despotic authoritarian, was that he was “sick of being lectured” by the United Nations.
By February of this year, Mr Abbot’s approval rating sat at a lowly 24%. In an attempt to rectify this, he scaremongered about terrorist threats. He claimed ISIS are worse than the Nazis, he compared his political opponent to Joseph Goebbels, and described the previous government of overseeing “a Holocaust of jobs”. He continuously belittled ethnic minorities and created animosity among them and many Australians. He famously repealed and halted Gay marriage legalisation and brought back the outdated Australian knighthoods, and then bestowed one for Philip, the Duke of Edinburgh – A man Abbott likely regards as a progressive.
Furthermore, just three weeks before his overdue demise, Abbott gave the Melbourne police force, and border security a mandate to speak “with any individual (they) cross paths with…” whose visa or immigration status may be contentious. A shameful exercise that brought this excellent response from a parliamentary member – “Joseph Stalin would be proud of Tony Abbott,” he said. “Just as East Germany’s Stasi would be delighted with the Australian Border Force – why, even General Pinochet would be impressed.”
This is just a flavour of what Australia is now thankfully going to miss.
Australia is changing, and the new generation of Australia never witnessed the All White policy, and with world migration increasing and immigration restrictions likely not to resemble a paranoid Idi Amin, particularly with pressure from world bodies, Australia will steadily start to unshackle itself from its colonial mentality. This Conservatism that largely exists in the middle-aged and older generations will be gone within two generations, Australia must now seek the centre left and become the prosperous, forward-thinking progressive nation, it has the potential to be.