Well look at that. 2016 is finished and 2017 has arrived to present us with more challenges. To be brutally honest, 2016 wasn’t the best of years for those who prefer progressive policy, equality and fairness for all. Later this month, Donald Trump becomes president of the USA; at the time of writing Malcolm Turnbull still survives as prime minister of Australia; and the likes of Cory Bernardi and George Christensen seem to be in charge of the LNP’s policy settings, probably in spite of what Turnbull would like to think. In the past, articles at this time of the year have suggested that no one really cares about politics because the beach, tennis and cricket are too appealing. While the beach hasn’t lost its charms (depending on the weather and the crowds), the tennis has the same identities as 2016 and the test cricket is a matter of concern as 2016 concludes.
If it makes us feel any better, it seems that as 2016 ended, Turnbull was under the pump with the state premiers openly critical of Turnbull’s backdown on looking at pricing schemes to limit carbon emissions. Probably even more surprising was the Business Council of Australia slamming the government for ruling out such a scheme. It’s not often that ALP premiers and the Business Council agree on something so fundamental. On top of that, there are outbreaks of logic about the emptiness of Turnbull’s 'Jobson Grothe' (sorry, that should read ‘Jobs and Growth') slogan that nearly lost him the election held mid-year. While there have been 25 years of economic growth, the September 2016 quarter resulted in a 0.5% contraction, the first for 5 years. As the 'leftie elites' at the ABC reported:
The only way for millennials to save, for households to pay down their debts, for all of us to have good job prospects and more security and to avoid that credit crunch, is for the Government to go back on everything they have been saying for years, and to increase its spending.
Australia’s treatment of refugees is now an international talking point. The New York Times recently published a feature article on the issue noting that:
An increasing number of experts are now going against the mainstream, and making the point that for the rest of us to save, the Government has to borrow.
"Voters have been force-fed this neoliberal line that is without foundation in theory, history, experience or practice," said Professor Mitchell.
In Peter Dutton, the immigration minister, the country has its own little Trump. Last May he portrayed the asylum seekers as illiterates bent on stealing Australian jobs, and he has suggested “mistakes” were made in letting in too many Lebanese Muslim immigrants. His soft bigotry resonates with enough voters to sway elections.
Before we all decide to give up amongst the doom and gloom, there are a few things we should try. According to Jay Rayner’s article in The Guardian, a tub of Haagen Dazs salted caramel ice cream may help. While I can’t offer any personal experience, it might be worth a try.
At the same time, Manus and Nauru are a growing embarrassment to Australia, a party to all major human rights treaties. “There is an increasing realization that this is unsustainable,” Madeline Gleeson, an Australian human rights lawyer, told me.
Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull knows this and needs a way out. After Omid Masoumali, a young Iranian, burned himself to death on Nauru this year, a cartoon by Cathy Wilcox captured Australia’s shame. Above a man in flames was the caption “Not drowning.”
Or we can take the example of some notable Australians who have suffered greatly at a personal level and turned the suffering into a positive message for the greater good.
Daniel Morcombe was waiting for a bus on Queensland’s Sunshine Coast in December 2003. He was going to a shopping centre to buy Christmas presents. He never made it to the shopping centre or home afterwards. Daniel was 13. For eight years, his whereabouts were unknown. In August 2011, a person who used to live on the Sunshine Coast was charged with Daniel’s abduction and murder and he was convicted in March 2014.
Bruce and Denise Morcombe are Daniel’s parents. They had every right in the world to retreat into their remaining family and mourn Daniel’s disappearance but they didn’t. In 2005, they set up the Daniel Morcombe Foundation, and pledged:
The Foundation's key role in the community is the education of all children about their personal safety. By directly assisting educators and parents through the funding and development of child safety educational resources as well as assisting young victims of crime, the Foundation continues to empower all Australians to make their local communities safer places for all children.
The Foundation has developed and made freely available a number of resources and phone apps that target school children across Australia. Most of the material is free. The Daniel Morcombe Foundation also raises awareness through activities such as the 'Day for Daniel' where schools are encouraged to discuss 'stranger danger' and similar issues with students. Bruce and Denise Morcombe’s list of achievements is extensive and ongoing, with seemingly no chance of slowing down in the near future:.
The Foundation is strongly committed to the development and education of Respectful Relationships for children and teenagers in our schools and communities and also assisting in reducing the over-representation of Indigenous Australians in the Child Protection sector.
The Daniel Morcombe Foundation remains committed to Child Safety Education and developing Harm Prevention resources that help educate children, teachers, parents, carers and their families to 'Keep Kids Safe'.
Clearly the Morcombe family made the decision to tell Daniel’s story rather than bottle it up. They had the good sense to gather people around them who knew how to get a story out, and publicise the story relentlessly. Like a lot of public good programs, no one can really say how many kids’ lives have been saved by the work of the Morcombes in the past 11 years and how many will be saved in the future, but the real point is this: instead of asking why it happened and blaming the bus company (the bus Daniel was going to catch broke down and a replacement one was full prior to getting to Daniel’s location, so it didn’t stop); the police for not finding Daniel immediately; themselves or any one of the other thousand or so coincidences that could have saved Daniel, they resolved to do something to 'fix it'. The Daniel Morcombe Foundation is successful and rightly so. I know my kids have been exposed to the 'Day for Daniel' message and are well aware of some protocols that may help them to escape a similar fate to Daniel’s — as are thousands of other school aged kids around Australia. Rather than being consumed by it, the Morcombes turned their grief and agony into a movement that clearly makes the society we live in a better place to be.
In addition, the Foundation now has a strong focus on building Respectful Relationships within our schools and communities through proactive education. Coupled with our core messages of Recognise, React, Report, this will enable children and young adults to act positively and appropriately while staying safe.
The Foundation continues to develop new cutting-edge resources that are required in our ever-changing cyber and physical world. We are committed to fund new projects and initiatives in partnership with Universities, Police, community and educational organisations to ensure an on-going commitment to child safety and respectful relationships. These resources will continue to be made available and accessible to all communities (free of charge) throughout Australia.
Rosie Batty was the 2015 Australian of the Year due to her work in countering domestic violence in Australia. Unfortunately, Batty has personal experience of domestic violence as well as witnessing her son being murdered by an ex-partner at Tyabb, Victoria, during 2014. As the website for the Luke Batty Foundation states:
Everyone in Australia was hugely affected by the manner in which Luke was killed and communities from far and wide responded generously by sending to Luke’s mum Rosie, hundreds of cards, an abundance of beautiful flowers, and donations, both large and small
The Luke Batty Foundation website and Batty’s telling of her story has certainly brought awareness of issues around domestic violence against both women and men in this country. Once there is awareness, there is the opportunity to take action to hopefully eliminate the problem from our society. Batty’s ongoing work will continue to promote solutions to the issue of domestic violence.
Like the Morcombes, no one would have blamed Batty if she had withdrawn into an environment where she had caring people around her and questioned how and why the events surrounding the murder of her son occurred. She hasn’t — obviously deciding that her suffering can be better used in creating a public good.
The Morcombes, Rosie Batty and others who have turned adversity into good can teach us all a lesson in relation what looks like the rebirth of the ultra-conservative/alt-right/delcons or whatever terminology you want to use.
There is a version of an old saying that suggests that if at first you don’t succeed — don’t try skydiving. While flippant, the answer to the excesses of those like Bernardi, Christensen and Dutton in pushing Australia into being a mean and dispirited collection of minions is to keep pushing the case for the alternative. You too are perfectly capable of writing an email or letter to a politician that is party to something that offends you. You too can write a post on a blog. There is no magical formula that is shared by 'the elite'. Should you choose The Political Sword as your media of choice we’ll even help you (just click on the 'Contact' link at the top of this and give us an idea of what you want to write about). You too can 'like', 'share' or post something on your social media account. A ground swell of support can work miracles.
Marketing experts tell us that personal recommendation has far more influence than advertising or statements by those who are not trusted as highly (such as politicians). The same people will also suggest that emails and correspondence critical of the actions of public figures and companies are read and if there is a sufficient volume, action will be taken to address the concerns. Some will tell you that you have no idea: ensure that you have some facts to back up your argument and be prepared to lay the facts out calmly and logically.
Bloggers and social media posters do get noticed. Greg Jericho enjoyed a quiet life blogging as 'Grogs Gamut' until Mark Scott, then managing director of the ABC read something Jericho wrote on his blog about the quality of journalism during the 2010 election. Scott used the comment in a missive to his staff about the quality of the election news coverage. Jericho now writes for The Guardian and the ABC websites after The Australian outed him claiming 'the public interest'.
So, in 2017 don’t just sit there and yell at the TV when Turnbull or his minders put yet another nail in the coffin of the society where people are supposed to be equal, where we care about each other and those who are not as well off as we are, and we care about the quality of life of those that follow us — do something about it.
Apart from being part of the change you want to see, you’ll feel much better if you do try to change the world.
If issues discussed in this article have affected you or those close to you, please call Lifeline on 13 11 44 or Kids Helpline on 1800 55 1800.
What do you think?
Let us know in comments below.
Happy New Year from the people behind The Political Sword. The site is being regularly monitored so please keep it clean and play nice or we will be forced to use the delete button. Apart from an article scheduled to appear mid-January, our regular commentary recommences on 29 January. We look forward to your readership and active participation this year.
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