A friend of mine asked me the other day why I seem to only criticise the Liberals. My answer was that they have been in power for six years now, so if anything is conspicuously wrong with the country, it is probably their fault. And also they appear to be generally a callous lot. I remember when Liberals with a social conscience were dubbed ‘wets’. That was probably the end of their credibility, when the so-called ‘dries’ gained the ascendancy.
Our government, like western civilisation, is deemed to generally be on an upward trajectory, as conditions improve for most of us, across the board. These days we forget, but state governments used to have slum clearance departments, and the idea of workers’ compensation for workplace injuries was once relatively new. Pensions for single mothers as well, although the current crop of small minded penny pinchers appear hell-bent on punishing single mothers.
Years ago we had an eminent history professor who was almost run out of town, because he argued that increased Asian migration was possibly ahead of public opinion. Consider Peter Dutton’s recent comments on third generation Lebanese Australians, where he suggested that they were more inclined to criminal behaviour than others in the population. Twenty years ago he would have been driven from office, by an outraged citizenry as well as by his own party hierarchy. Now he actually believes he is Prime Ministerial material.
Australia is still a relatively benign place to be born, but something has been lost. There is a hard edge to many governmental decisions taken now, and an expectation that the voters have become de-sensitised to acts of governmental bastardry, and the perpetrators, the Ministers in charge of such decisions, will be judged not as cruel or vicious, but as practical, or pragmatic, getting the job done.
When we look overseas we see many exemplars of woeful behaviour, and sadly Australian politicians are largely lacking in imagination, and slavish in their imitation of dodgy role models. So the Trumps and Johnsons of this world have their acolytes here. However the prime takeaway from the ‘drying out’ of politicians is their total lack of shame.
When the matter of robo-debt is raised, with its tales of widespread and often unintended misery, not to mention plain inefficiency, the minister in question does not hang his head in shame. No, he states, in complete denial of the facts, that the system is working.
We cannot defeat shameless, because a part of society’s regulating behaviours is the ability to reflect on one’s own behaviour, and if it falls short, we must be able to reform ourselves.
I sometimes wonder when the rot really set in. Was it when Peter Reith allowed the use of militarily trained men and guard dogs to break a union on the waterfront, in 1998? Was it when John Howard lied about the refugees from the Tampa throwing their children overboard? It might have been when Australians began approving of the offshore gulags in Manus and Nauru.
Whatever the moment, we have certainly got the government we deserve. Last week the acting Prime Minister stated that Pacific Island nations facing the loss of their actual homelands would survive, because they could always come here to pick fruit. That statement is so ‘off’, on so many levels, and yet the Prime Minister remained silent. That was his “Pacific Family” Michael McCormack was speaking of.
Until this Government develops a conscience my friend will continue to be disappointed when he reads my work.