No longer Team Abbott — we are now Decent Family Australia

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Time for Australia to face up to the truth, writes Lyn Bender (Image via CSMonitor)

Should be more content now we have a shiny, bright, new prime minister, or do we need to look behind the veneer? Lyn Bender comments.

SHOULD WE be content, now that we have a nicer prime minister? Or do we need to move beyond the 1950s, infantile, parochial ways of seeing family, power and government? Isn’t it time that Australia grew up?

The happy – or unhappy – family is Australia’s dominant personal and political paradigm. For former Prime Minister John Howard, we were to be comfortable and relaxed, and alert not alarmed, numb and nestled behind our picket fences. The Gillard/Rudd dynasty was derided as bickering and dysfunctional. The Abbott team tried to rule via a harsh authoritarian patriarchal model — that of the tough coach of team Australia. Now we have a nice, polite, intelligent first family, with a kindly, ineffectual father figure.

The biggest problem with our model of authority is that it is chokingly narrow. We have enshrined an idealised, heterosexual family model, with father knows best, at the helm. There is the occasional Indigenous, gay, non-Christian or female visitor, but they never become truly legitimatised. We have experimented with the single mother model; but that phase was short lived and unruly. We felt more comfortable with a strong man at the wheel — especially a white middle-aged man.

However, Abbott was too macho and mean for any but the far right.

Bruised, abused and frightened, we wanted someone more benign. Enter centre stage, well spoken, free marketeer, mild, middle of the road Malcolm. We can breathe a sigh of relief. Or can we?

What are these family values to which we ascribe consciously or unconsciously? Who do we think we are?

1. The land of the fair go

Even though we sing, “for those who’ve come across the seas, we’ve boundless plains to share”, we are a mean family when it comes to our treatment of refugees who come from across the sea.

We want them to knock politely on the front door, even though they are fleeing war, persecution and death. Excuse me, please wait in line, we are eating our dinner. Please wait in those stinking overcrowded camps in poor countries for the luck of the draw of being selected. If you dare to gate crash our party, we will send you to offshore to rank hell holes of our own construction, with papers stamped 'never to be released'. We will send you to an island like that of our convict forefathers, for the term of your natural life. Or we will send you back to where you came from. Or make things so bad, that you “voluntarily” return to war torn Syria as we bomb it.

2. Acceptance of gender diversity

Australia is still dragging the chain on marriage equality. What ever you may feel about the institution of marriage, it is still the means by which legitimacy or exclusion is conferred upon a relationship.

3. Generosity and open heartedness

Our dialogue around refugees has deteriorated even further since John Howard declared his “we will decide” manifesto of  an “open hearted and generous people” who will not be pushed past our limits. Malcolm Turnbull is “concerned” about the conditions on Nauru and Manus, but nevertheless supports the tough harsh policy – as do Labour – for its deterrence value.

4. We care about the plight of first Australians

Yet Indigenous Australian of the Year and Brownlow Medal winner Adam Goodes has been driven ignominiously from his football career. He dared not do the customary final lap of honour of the oval upon his “retirement" lest he be booed. Indigenous suicide rates are at three times the national average.

5. Australia has a proud history

Despite The Apology to the Stolen Generations by our then good white father figure Kevin Rudd, the genocide and stolen wages and slavery of the first peoples, is largely denied history. This is a trauma that permeates and seeps into the hearts of Indigenous generations.

6. Australia is a good global citizen

We have just completed a two year term on the Security Council and Julie Bishop has announced Australia is seeking another term in 2029, as well as a seat on the UN Human Rights Council. Australia has committed blatant human rights violations with regards to our treatment of refugees. We are shirking our global climate change responsibility and continuing to support the mining of fossil fuels. The Abbott Direct Action plan, as Malcolm Turnbull said as an MP, is a mere “fig leaf” to cover inaction. Yet now PM Turnbull supports this plan.

So what? We may have a few hypocrisies and flaws but no family is perfect. Shouldn't we just feel happy now that we have a more presentable head of the household?

This suits the old model of decent middle Australia just going about its business. The good citizen lets the grown ups take charge. That was the appeal of Abbott’s crudely expressed "grown up" government. He was invoking the childish Australian paradigm of citizens who had not left home yet. If they are the grown ups then the masses are the immature kids who should defer judgement to the adults. They know what is in our best interest. They will determine right from wrong. They will read our metadata, maintain secrecy about grown up matters, force us to be frugal while they spend up big…

We will be kept on the straight and narrow — especially sexually and gender wise.

Abbott merely blatantly and crassly articulated the undercurrents of the Australian mainstream paradigm.

That is why I believe Australia, as a whole, needs to do a lot of growing up.

What would this look like?

  • Citizens would be well-informed and demand accountability, instead of being asleep in the back seat as the "set and forget" elected grown ups drive us to climate catastrophe. 
  • Human Rights and fair treatment would apply to all, including asylum seekers.
  • Equal marriage rights would be a no brainer and would not necessitate an expensive plebiscite.
  • Our huge debt to Indigenous people would be acknowledged and compensation paid for the crimes against them. We would support remote communities.
  • Women and indigenous people would be as present in positions of power and government as have been older white men.
  • We would all be educated and able to think for ourselves.
  • We would wave a respectful farewell to mother England.
  • We would care for the vulnerable, as we may all need support at times in our lives.
  • Sexist paradigms would not be deified by patriarchally oriented institutions.
  • Superficial respectability would be replaced by deeper respect.
  • We would not be paranoid about faiths that were non-white non-Christian.
  • We would not vilify Muslims as a group.
  • We wouldn't freak out over wind farms or a female prime minister.
  • We would take care of the planet for future generations.

In other words we would take active responsibility for our democracy and not just leave it to the “gubmint”

You can follow Lyn Bender on Twitter @lynestel.

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