Monday, March 31, 2014

The 44th: Back to the Future

History books will exalt Tony Abbott as Australia’s greatest ever devotee of history, a man so obsessed with recreating the past that he is transforming Australia into a living history museum. Regrettably, the budding history-themed continent-wide fun park is being created from the remnants of a progressive nation. The result is a haphazard collection of concepts dating back through the decades to World War II, overlaid across a nation ramping up for the 21st century.

Scarcely a single new idea has emerged from the government. The first six months of the 44th Parliament has been dominated by recycling old ideas and dismantling existing laws. On March 3, the Guardian reported that the House of Representatives had literally run out of legislationto discuss. This wasn’t reported anywhere else, although was discussed on social media. For a government which is so feisty, there seems to be surprisingly little governing actually taking place. 

The lack of an original legislative agenda should be no obstacle when there is so much history to mine, and when all else fails, there are throwaway media conferences and ceremonial distractions to perform. 

“Stop the Boats” is a perfect example of such meaningless activity. Last week there was a press conference to announce that no boats had arrived in Australia for one hundred days. This was a jarring change from the shy and silent traditions that surround Operation Sovereign Borders, yet was every bit as empty as the briefings provided during World War 2, under the glare of wartime censorship.

Tony and Grace Sullivan
Dare I say that for anyone who cares to dig, the OSB media policy is more instructive about World War Two than the iconic Australian drama series, The Sullivans? Perhaps that’s where Prime Minister Abbott stole the idea…which makes sense, as he believes we are at war with people smugglers, and we treat asylum seekers worse than prisoners of war.

The long-long-long Menzies era, is another pocket of history within Mr Abbott’s Australian History Theme Park. He’s always been socially conservative, following the dogged traditionalism of his Liberal predecessor John Winston Howard. Our little piece of the 1950s and 1960s arrived last week with the reintroduction of knights and dames. How Menzies would have approved!

But the 50s and 60s was also a period where Australian identity and culture slid across the Atlantic and we started identifying more with America than with Great Britain. Fortunately for Mr Abbott, America provided Australia with a wholesome, values-driven example to follow, even though the TV shows – Little House on the Prairie, Happy Days and The Waltons - weren’t made until the 70s. It was during those years that we learned that the only acceptable family structure is illustrated by the Ingalls, the Cunninghams and the Waltons.*

Howard and Marion Cunningham and their long-lost son, Tony.
Alongside the best of 50s family values, last week our strong, forward-looking country glanced over it’s shoulder, and turned to embrace former Governor General Quentin Bryce as she accepted her Dameness. Damehood. Dameship. No-one denies that she’s a real Dame, but why not refuse the honour, the republicans ask, bewildered. Dame Quentin Bryce has just served as Her Majesty’s representative in Australia. Would it not be hypocritical to refuse an honour bestowed by the very same Queen of Australia? In any case, our Dame has too much class, as befitting a titled woman of the Menzies era.

The iconic image of Australian politics of the 1970s is Gough Whitlam on the steps of Old Parliament House. Prior to being sacked, the Whitlam Government introduced free healthcare in the form of Medibank, later Medicare. When Mr Abbott is in a 70s mood, he takes us back to a time before socialised medicine, a time when conservatives had governed for over two decades. A six dollar fee for “free” GP consultations is not the same as free medical care for all.

Malcolm Fraser was a Liberal Prime Minister who has since resigned from the Liberal Party. The government led by Tony Abbott is far more conservative than the Fraser Government ever thought to be: the Racial Discrimination Act, the Human Rights Commission Act and the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park became certainties during the Fraser years. The Abbott Government is undermining each of them, dragging us back to a time where bigotry was acceptable, where people could be imprisoned without trial and corporations could pollute without penalty. 

The Qantas Sale Act, another Abbott target, came during the Hawke-Keating years. It’s on the hitlist too, courtesy of Qantas boss Alan Joyce, but not in a back-to-the-future way. The proposed changes to the Qantas Sale Act could leave Australia without an Australian-owned national carrier.

Doc Brown with Tony McFly summon the DeLorean
Predictably, little from the glorious Howard years will change during Tony Abbott’s step back in time. His trademark Stop The Boats policy referenced the Howard years as the very model of success, and his IR policies echo that Howard hit, “Workchoices”. Perhaps the name has been changed to protect the guilty, but back to 2007 we go.

The last chapter of our history to undergo the Extreme Makeover – Abbott Edition is the Rudd-Gillard Years. In this episode, Mr Abbott is attempting to show us what would’ve happened had the Coalition won the 2007 Federal election, and every one since. Every major initiative of the Rudd-Gillard Government is going…going…Gonski, the NDIS, Carbon Tax, Mining Tax, our relationship with our Asian neighbours: Gonski, or at  least, changed beyond recognition.

Subversive television featuring supernatural beings & unnatural families
Tony Abbott’s relentless charge to recreate the past is a singular achievement in the history of this country. Never has a multi-themed fun park been created so quickly. Experts anticipate that at this rate, all progress in Australia since the 1940s will have been obliterated by the end of Abbott’s second year in power. At that point, the Government will need to find some new ideas to enact.

The only thing that springs to mind is Paid Parental Leave.

*Whatever you do, don’t mention those subversive 60s shows like Bewitched, I Dream of Jeannie, & The Brady Bunch.

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