Australia: The Upside Down Land

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It is not for nothing that Australia is called the Land Down Under, because the way we run things here ‒ in politics and the media ‒ is always contrary to expectations, done backwards, reversed, or turned upside down and put back on its head.

I had a vivid personal demonstration of this recently, when I went off one morning to interview a senior Queensland politician, Shakin' Ray Stevens, outside a polling booth about a potentially serious conflict of interest.

Instead of answering my reasonable questions, he decided to remain mute and instead wave his arms around, make "duck quack hands" in my face and mime slapping me. It seems he thought he wasn’t being filmed (as if that would be any excuse) even though I had stood in front of him openly filming interviews with his fellow candidates for five minutes before I went to speak to him.

Late that afternoon, after the video went viral, I was interviewed by the ABC on live radio. The interviewer said she wasn’t interested in why Stevens was avoiding my questions, but was concerned about whether I had "gone too far" as a journalist. The public official in question had a right to avoid scrutiny, the interviewer implied, even sitting – as he was – on a public street, under a marquee, outside a polling booth, attempting to seek re-election.

The arrogant, aggressive fool (Stevens, that is, not the ABC host) was, of course, re-elected by his masochistic constituents, though with a much reduced margin, which he blamed upon “negligent media coverage”. The final word went to some teapot on Twitter, who suggested he may have received “sympathy” from his constituents because people don’t like “gotcha” interviews.

The Queensland election as a whole, however, appears to have been won by Stevens’ Opposition to the intense "shock" of everyone in the authorised media commentariat — despite Labor having led in the polls for most of the preceding year.

And not only shock — but horror. Because these same windup toys now say the result dooms what they call “reform” in the nation — because the party of big business, that the people had kicked to the kerb, had been attempting to sell public power companies to, you guessed it, big business.

Democracy be damned! Paying even more for electricity to further enrich members of the Business Council of Australia is "vital economic reform", according to the the pompous elite's haughty lip flappers, and denying it apparently "dooms a generation".

What rot. Everything there, except the state election result, is exactly as it should not have been.

This disconnect; this reversal; this cognitive dissonance, so evident and recurring in Australian public life, sometimes, however, expresses itself in artful irony, making it almost impossible not to experience intense bursts of Schadenfreude.

For example, we currently have as prime minister a man who spent years campaigning on a platform of trust — despite being a chronic, habitual, self-confessed liar.

The media gave him marks for this confession, because it showed he was, apparently, "fair dinkum" and “genuine”.

A deep-seated bigot, bully and sexist, his main claim to worldwide notoriety as Opposition Leader came after he attempted to censure the female prime minister in Parliament over her Speaker’s alleged misogyny — and then watched on in abject horror as she tore him into tiny little pieces over his own notable contributions to the ancient art of sexism.

When he wasn’t travelling up hill and down dale on "charity" bike rides, for which he claimed expenses from the public purse, he was hounding the PM up hills and dales for three interminable years over an alleged lie he said she’d made on the eve of her election in 2010 — which wasn't really a lie at all. Then, on the eve of his own election in 2013, he made not one, but several, promises — all of which he smashed to pieces within months of gaining office.

He and his treasurer ‒ a literal fat cat, as well as a whining innumerate misanthrope ‒ brought in a Budget that attempted to solve a budget emergency that didn’t exist, given Australia then had one of the lowest levels of public debt in the developed world. The Budget ‒ sold, of course, as another “vital economic reform” ‒ tenderly shared the burden of fixing this fictitious crisis by sharing the pain equally amongst all the most disadvantaged people in our society — the students, the young, the unemployed, the homeless, the poor, the sick, the disabled and the elderly.

When the public – rather predictably – reacted unfavourably to this economic plan, the prime minister didn’t blame the Budget, but said the Government just needed to work harder selling it — or, in other words, to butter it with more delicious lies until the people could somehow swallow it.

Lo and behold, this strategy hasn't worked and the polls remained down and sinking. So, to remedy this situation, our English born ‒ perhaps still English ‒ prime minister had an epiphany. To raise people’s spirits, why not use Australia's national day to knight our British queen’s husband — an elderly, racist, English aristocrat with scant connection to Australia and who was already a prince.

This went down like a French guillotine, and everyone in the ruling born to rule party now wants the prime minister to go and literally anyone else in the Party to replace him. Literally anyone else, because names thrown around initially included a first term MP who had recently been accused of a criminal conspiracy.

But all of that came to nothing because, when the froth and bubble had died down, the Party remembered that they had also hounded the previous two prime ministers for fomenting chaos and dysfunction after deposing each other outside of elections.

And so they are now stuck with a dull-witted, despised, lying, oath breaking, allegedly corrupt, monarchist, misogynist, potentially ineligible prime minister — until the next election, or until they decide to break the last taboo they said they would never do.

Which they will certainly do. And it shouldn’t be long now. Synchronise watches.

It is difficult not to laugh.

Australia, you see, is the upside down land ‒ the land behind the mirror ‒ where everything in politics and public life is seen, done and interpreted in exactly the opposite way of how it actually is and should be.

It’s impossible to fight, so don’t worry about it, just turn yourself upside down, do a silent chicken dance and enjoy the show.

Follow David Donovan on Twitter @davrosz.

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