And not only that, a new look for this blog! I’m not totally happy with it – blue codes right wing in Australia and even if it didn’t, I’d prefer red or purple – but it’s ridiculous to buy a premium account just so that I can have a pretty colour scheme! (Also, of course, if I make my blog too pretty, there’s the risk that some people will dismiss it without reading it. Bizarre thought. But I’m pretty sure that pink and purple stripes do not shriek “serious political blog!” to those passing by. Alas.)
So. 2014. The first full year under the Abbott Government.
Look, I’m not going to re-hash all the things that Tony & Co did to make me weep or gnash my teeth in rage last year. If you’ve been reading this blog for more than a couple of months, you already know what they are – and if you don’t, there are hundreds of blogs out there that have already summed up this first year, with greater or lesser degrees of delight or woe. No useful purpose is served, I think, by depressing ourselves further on this score.
Instead, I’d like to look at a few things that gave me hope in 2014. Hope for Australia, hope for the state of politics, and just generally an increased sense of hope in my fellow Australians.
1. We survived.
And we’re one year closer to the next election.
Let’s not kid ourselves. For a lot of Australians, this government is going to be something of an endurance test. But we have endured, and we have survived, and, God willing, we will survive long enough to get this horrible government out of office.
2. We were not silent.
Perhaps I’ve just not been noticing these things before, but it seems to me that there were a lot of protests this year. We protested the cuts to Medicare and to the ABC, and the Budget in general. We held vigils and marches and ecumenical sit-ins in support of asylum seekers. We held rallies to demand action on climate change. We wrote letters to politicians and posted open letters on Facebook and blogs, and we made phone calls and signed dozens of petitions online and off. (And no, I don’t have a source for this, beyond the fact that I certainly did all these things, and the responses I got from the people I wrote to and spoke to strongly suggested that they were hearing from plenty of other people, too.)
We were loud and numerous, and I don’t know about you, but I found it incredibly reassuring to find that I wasn’t alone in my horror at what the government was trying to do to us. There is still a compassionate Australia out there, and we are part of it, and must not let it be eroded.
3. We reached out.
One of the amazing things about 2014 for me was the number of people who looked at the rising tide of racism and Islamophobia in the media, at the criminalisation of refugees and demonisation of the poor or the disabled and said “We won’t be a party to this”. Movements like the Welcome Home Asylum Seeker Picnics have been formed to build relationships between Australians and asylum seekers, and groups like Bicycles for Asylum Seekers and Welcome Home have been formed to assist with their material needs. Women in Solidarity with Hijabis and I’ll Ride With You were an opportunity to reach out to Australia’s Muslim community, who reached back with a National Mosque Open Day and ecumenical prayer vigils, including during the Sydney siege.
4. We volunteered.
We really did, you know. Apparently, volunteering is on the rise in Australia (and it was already well above 30%, so go us). And I’m just going to take the opportunity to plug Do Something Near You, a site I’ve only just discovered, which helps you hook up with volunteering opportunities in your area – including things you can do online, in your spare time, and even in the middle of the night, if that’s when you are awake. I know a number of people who read this blog are into giving back to the community, but have limited resources, health-, time- or energy-wise. This one’s for you.
We may not be able to change the government’s policies directly, but volunteering can help mitigate their effects. This is definitely worth doing.
5. We were heard.
The $7 charge to see a doctor has not eventuated. Enough people wrote letters and protested about this that it became obvious they were political poison, and Labor, the Greens and the cross-bench senators declined to drink. True, the Government is evidently trying to find ways to get around this, but it has not yet succeeded in doing so. And this is very much the result of community activism.
Equally, for all the damaging changes to pensions in 2015, the six month wait without income for Newstart seems to have disappeared off the list. Again, the public has made its feelings clear about this change, and it looks as though the Government can’t possibly get the numbers it needs in the senate.
Speaking of the cross-bench senators, Ricky Muir is certainly listening, and in fact, he’s one of the people in our parliament who is giving me a bit of hope. While he evidently was not prepared for a political career, he’s taking his job seriously, and bringing empathy and attention to the role. I’m not sure I always agree with his conclusions, but he seems to be remarkably honest. If we are going to elect people at random from Senate ticket preferences, we could do a lot worse.
And as for listening… I don’t think it’s a coincidence that Labor decided to adopt a Community Action Network approach to the Victorian State Election. The major parties are beginning to notice social media, and social media has a pretty strong activist presence. This can only be a good thing.
In summary, in 2014 we did not allow the government to set the tone for how we would treat each other and our environment. And, while this may seem like a very minor victory, I think it’s also the most fundamental and necessary one. Yes, I’m terrified of what the Abbott government is trying to do to my country. I am horrified at the cuts to services that protect our most vulnerable citizens from homelessness, abuse, or sickness, and you can bet I will be hassling the my local MPs and Senators for all I’m worth on these topics and many others.
But even more important than voting out this government before they can perpetrate any more destruction is ensuring that we continue to hold to our own standards, and that we do so as loudly as possible. We must not simply accept that what the government does is just how it has to be and how it will be in future. We cannot be seen to be going along with destructive changes to Medicare and pensions, with cuts to the ABC and welfare services, with blatant disregard for the environment, and regressive workplace relations and financial accountability policies.
We must make sure that when Labor next gets elected, they know that we want something different. That we care about the environment. That we do want our social safety net. That we don’t want to pull the rug out from under the disabled or the poor. That we cannot accept the way refugees are being treated. That we reject policies that turn us against our neighbours. That we will not stand for more of the same under a new government…
… in short, and I can’t believe I’m writing this, we need to maintain our rage, and we need to maintain it loudly. But we must do so without forgetting our compassion.
(And no, I’m not trying to go all ALP on you. Frankly, the reason I think we need to maintain our rage so strongly is that I’m not at all sure that the ALP can be trusted to repeal the worst of Abbott’s laws if the community isn’t standing behind them and shouting. I wish I thought the ALP had enough backbone to act according to their consciences without a lot of prodding, but I have seen very little sign of this recently.)
We can’t afford to let this go. We can’t afford to let the Australia that Abbott is trying to give us become the new normal. If we do that, it won’t really matter who we vote for. We will have already lost.
Which brings me to my New Year’s Resolution – or New Year’s Revolution, if you will – and that is to keep going. Refuse to be silenced. Insist on being part of the democratic process. Make your voice heard, even if it’s only in your immediate circle. Vote when you have a chance to vote, write when you have a chance to write, speak when you have a chance to speak, act when you have a chance to act. Help the people around you when they need help and you are able to give it. And accept help from others when you need it and it is offered – community goes both ways, after all.
I’m not saying that everything is rosy and wonderful and good and that we can solve all our problems by holding hands and singing (though I am always up for a good sing). I’m uneasily aware, for example, that one reason volunteering might be on the rise is unemployment. I’m not necessarily convinced that every protest march achieves what it sets out to achieve. But I think we need to hold onto hope, and I think that there is hope here that we can hold onto.
So don’t give up. Rest when you need to, take a break from the news when it’s too much, and rage and weep when you need to rage and weep – you don’t have to be strong all the time. But don’t despair. There are so many intelligent, compassionate, creative Australians who who are fighting this battle at your side, and sooner or later we will be heard.
We survived 2014. We can survive 2015.
And we will.