Monday, November 06, 2017

This Oval of Light

I am taking this rare opportunity to editorialise for the sake of Bluepepper's readers north of the line who may be wondering whatever became of "the wonder downunder".

One of the few advanced economies to have survived the GFC relatively intact, through a combination of sheer luck and some wise and timely policy initiatives. A nation prepared to say sorry to its original inhabitants for the many injustices inflicted on them, to walk across a bridge, and then for some reason stop and turn around. A nation that was once one of the great immigration success stories of the post-war era, but that now appears to have become the unwitting prototype for heartless, short-sighted immigration policy the world over. A nation that provided more than its fair share of overseas aid, a nation that reached out rather than folded its arms at the spectacle of a world in crisis. A nation that once stood at the vanguard of innovation but that now languishes way way back of the pack. The same for its stance on climate change, an area of public policy that seems to have become a graveyard for any kind of political visionary in this country. 

While the rest of the world foundered after the crash of 2007/2008, the "wonder down under" racked up ridiculous amounts of household debt, turning wall-eyed and solipsistic in the process. While many (mostly older) Australians made obscene amounts of money in the real estate boom, just as many (mostly younger) Australians were lumped with stagnant wages and a steeply rising cost of living, student debts that their parents never had to worry about, a collective shrug at their understandable reservations about the direction the country was taking, particularly in regards to climate change, rising inequality, and the issue of marriage equality.

The latter has been the subject of a recent plebiscite, and now that the votes are in and only waiting to be counted, I feel free to express my disgust at the tactics employed by those on the right, their heartless scaremongering, the bald-faced lies and naked hypocrisy. It is too early to tell how much damage this clumsy and completely unnecessary process has caused. Sadly only time will tell, and perhaps by then it will be too late, even if, as predicted, the plebiscite returns a resounding YES to the proposition that all citizens of this country should be equal before the law. This matter should not even be up for debate in a modern liberal pluralistic democracy, but it is and those who assume to be society's moral guardians have exploited the fact to their undying shame. The wreckers in our federal parliament will have to answer to their consciences, if they can find them amongst the rubble of their many discarded promises.

 In short, this wonderful country is broken. Each day the disparity grows between the haves and the have-nots. A nation blessed with abundant resources is witnessing families unable to heat their homes or cook their children dinner because they simply cannot afford the exorbitant and steadily rising costs of gas and electricity. The fault for this is not theirs but of politicians at both the state and federal level who have lacked both the imagination and courage to face the challenges of climate change and the epochal shift in international attitudes to power generation. Now, while the Japanese government rakes in significant import revenue on OUR gas, our children shiver and go hungry to school.

And as though this were not enough, we witness the tragic farce of the citizenship fiasco that has already cut a swathe through the federal parliament and threatens to bring any semblance of governance in this country to a grinding halt. We can expect a raft of legal challenges by vested interests to bills passed by politicians who, by the fact of their undisclosed dual citizenship, were not entitled to be sitting in the parliament in the first place, let alone as part of the executive. And now they are busily denying the obvious need for a "citizenship audit" to ensure no further nasty surprises, while badgering the most vulnerable in our community to pay back welfare debts they simply do not owe. When, if ever, will we see an apology from those responsible for the so-called "robo-debt" fiasco for the many lives ruined and lost to despair? I suspect the answer is never.

This is what has become of "the wonder downunder" my northern friends, and it is a cautionary tale. When we turn our backs on the system, when we opt out, refuse to vote, shut our eyes and ears to what is happening around us, then we leave the running of affairs to vested interests who will plunder what they can, turn a tidy profit, and then move on. In this bright new shiny neo-liberal, post 9-11 world of ours, capital moves freely while the individual's freedom of movement grows ever more impeded. Public assets are sold off to often rather nefarious private interests with no visible gain to the public weal. Quite the opposite. Roads, rail, port facilities, utilities, in fact infrastructure of every kind now sits in private, largely unaccountable hands. My generation has not only let this happen, many of us have been willing participants. And for that I apologise wholeheartedly to those coming after me.

I will end this bleak scree with some words from an Australian poet from the generation immediately before mine, the infamous "Boomer" generation with which we X-ers have carried on a love-hate relationship for many years:

I believe this wick and this open book
in the light's oval, and I disbelieve

everything this generation has told me.

- Robert Harris "Isaiah by Kerosene Lantern Light" (1986)

I thank you for your time. And remember to always keep poetry in your lives.

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