The Neutered Society


There is something dreamlike about present-day Australia. For many of us (if we are White and middle class), life is relaxed and comfortable. The Melbourne Commonwealth Games will start shortly, and there is the football season to look forward to.

Every day, I take the dog down to the local park and sit in the sun and watch the boats and the young lovers strolling hand in hand. There are no police, nor soldiers, nor beggars. No one tries to hassle, let alone shoot, me. As I walk the dog, the most I have to put up with are sneaky cyclists and humourless joggers. The young mothers push their prams and the children laugh and play. The breeze is gentle and all is right with the world.

I sometimes see women of Middle Eastern appearance, wearing head scarfs, with their children; but they cause no trouble. And the Asians are always polite. Some of them stop me to pat the dog. The container ships proceed up the river. They are filled with all manner of wonderful things: toys, underwear and computers. My shares are doing nicely. The All Ordinaries was up yesterday and the Reserve Bank has not raised interest rates.

There is no need to change the government; we can all look forward to a bright and prosperous future, as long as we maintain our cultural balance, so says the Prime Minister.

Rawdon Dalrymple’s smug, ambassadorial view of this country, past and present (New Matilda, issue 76, link here), generally accords with this vision of Australia. But there have been some basic changes in social and political consciousness, generally fostered by the conservative Howard Government and John Howard himself.

Recently, Shaun Carney of the Melbourne Age asked why neither the Government, nor the Australian public, was rattled by the AWB scandal. He came to two conclusions: firstly, that the affair was complicated, in the past, and Iraq was far away; and secondly, ministerial responsibility and competence was dead in Federal politics. He is right on both counts.

There was a time when moral issues were electoral issues; when issues of ministerial responsibility and competence meant something and ministers when proven to be irresponsible or incompetent either resigned or were sent to the backbench. Not any more.

Remember Ros Kelly and the whiteboard affair? The most we might hope for is that Mark Vaile goes to the backbench over the AWB scandal but that is very doubtful. It is hard to believe, but Vaile is actually Deputy Prime Minister.

The best recent example of morality in Australian politics is the Vietnam War. It wasn’t only conscription and the death list; in the end, the public was outraged by the war and the Government’s support of it. The Liberal government was morally bankrupt and the Australian public knew it. It is very doubtful if this could happen today. Why? Because Howard and his colleagues have morally neutered the minds of a majority of Australians. Or to put it more accurately, the majority of Australians have allowed themselves to be morally neutered.

We have had the children overboard saga, the forced deportation of the Bakhtyari family, the illegal deportation of Vivian Solon, the imprisonment of Cornelia Rau, detention camps, the sinking of the SIEV-X all of which Rawdon Dalrymple conveniently overlooks. To top it off, Dalrymple says that ‘the Iraq war now appears a mistake.’

Dalrymple’s ‘mistake’ the invasion and occupation of Iraq was a monstrous crime, which, to our everlasting disgrace, Australia was a party to. We were lied to by George W Bush, we were lied to by Tony Blair and we were lied to by John Howard. Howard has presided over the moral collapse of Australia. He has made the lie acceptable; it has gone into the political culture.

We are, indeed, relaxed and comfortable.

I’m always interested to see the school photographs of the Premiers and Prime Minister at the COAG meetings. In the one where the Premiers agreed to the anti-terror legislation, Peter Beattie has his hand resting affectionately on Howard’s shoulder. It would appear that Howard is Beattie’s hero, or best mate. The only exception to the hegemony of the States and the Federal Government might be Jon Stanhope, Chief Minister of the ACT. But he is virtually powerless before his craven State colleagues and John Howard.

That we have State Labor Governments is of no consequence whatsoever. Is there any real difference between, say, Steve Bracks, the Premier of Victoria, and John Howard, apart from age and hair growth?

The electoral success of Bush, Blair and Howard is, of course, part of a general swing to the Right in Western democracies. All three men have capitalised on 9/11, and all three have worked on the fear of the ‘barbarians at the gates.’ This is the oldest political trick in the book but it still works.

The other aspect is that all three men have considerable electoral strength. Bush appeals to the ‘tough man’ image Americans have of themselves, plus the Christian Right. Blair appeals to the up-and-coming, or would-be, English nouveau-riche. And Howard appeals to the apprehensive Australian: suburban, over-mortgaged, middle class. All three have disarmed their opposition by being ‘tough on terror.’ And all three see themselves as wartime leaders.

That post-war Iraq is a bloody shambles, in which cowboys and transnationals ruthlessly pursue their own ends, is of little interest to Australians. That the AWB paid bribes to Saddam Hussein, and the Howard Government says it didn’t know, is of little consequence to Australians. They prefer the Rawdon Dalrymple view of things. And the media and the State Governments oblige.

I hate to say this, but there will have to be some kind of national calamity before Australia wakes up. And even then, we may then run to John Howard for comfort and reassurance. Uncle John and Aunty Janette will kiss the wound better, while Uncle Kim wrings his hands.

Launched in 2004, New Matilda is one of Australia's oldest online independent publications. It's focus is on investigative journalism and analysis, with occasional smart arsery thrown in for reasons of sanity. New Matilda is owned and edited by Walkley Award and Human Rights Award winning journalist Chris Graham.