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Fuel for your fire

Sunday: the Liberal Party ‘launched’ their election campaign and everybody watched on in complete apathy because their election campaign has been going since November 2007 and we’re sick of it already. I’m willing to bet the Labor Party’s campaign launch (scheduled for 16 August) will be just as much of a faff-filled non-event. I want to be excited – I really do – but the truth is, this whole election disgusts me. You – Australian politicians – you disgust me. I’m not enthusiastic about you. I’m not inspired. I can’t even find the energy to laugh at you. I’m just angry – ALL THE TIME.

I’m angry because the best you can offer me is another three years of conservative mediocrity and stagnation. Stagnation is not progress, it’s a fucking insult. I’m offended because you think I’m not worth the risk. I’m disgusted because you talk to me like I’m a child and it’s not okay – it’s never been okay – but you hardly make sense now anyway. This language that used to belong to us both gets bent up and mangled in your mouth: forward means backwards, liberal means conservative, atheism means indoctrination, freedom means war, love means immorality, art means conformity, sustainable means racist. I can’t say what I mean anymore without running up against your roadblocks, so I’m forced to find words that you haven’t yet stolen – snowdrop, velutinous, mellifluous, fumarole – just to remember where the ground is. Just to remember what it means to have meaning.

I’m angry because there are rats behind the wall and they are coming closer, and I’m tired from staying awake at night hoping there are enough of us to keep them at bay. Don’t call me an alarmist with that look in your eye like you think therapy and pills might make me less belligerent. Don’t call me a communist because I don’t care about money. Don’t call me a hippie because I believe in equality. Don’t use the word feminist with the vitriol dripping off that curl in your lip because you’re afraid I might be smarter than you. Don’t tell me I don’t understand like you can make what I have to say redundant by labelling me, like everyone else you failed to listen to, as though we’ll all fit neatly together in a box and you can lock the lid. Your definition is a misappropriation. Your enthusiasm was a miscommunication.

I’m angry because you tell us you care, and you don’t. I’m angry because you tell us you’ll change, and you won’t. I’m angry because I want politicians I can look up to, who don’t outsource their opinions, who don’t hide behind sports metaphors, who don’t assume I have nothing practical to say. I want politicians who embrace nuance, detail and difference, not middle-of-the-road personality pantomimes. I’m tired of promises and pussyfooting protestation – I want to hear oratory that makes my soul sing. I want to see faces lit up in earnest. I want to watch debates where people bristle and bellow and burn. I want leaders who aren’t afraid of fire. I want leaders who inspire me. Inspire me! I’m begging you! An election should be so much more than this! The country needs more than this!

My heart needs more than this.

Overland is a not-for-profit magazine with a proud history of supporting writers, and publishing ideas and voices often excluded from other places.

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Stephanie Convery is the deputy culture editor of Guardian Australia and the former deputy editor of Overland. On Twitter, she is @gingerandhoney.

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  1. I hear you, Stephanie. There is little to differentiate these parties, these politicians, these politics. And I don’t think that’s going to change anytime soon.

    But I am also plagued by doubt – because what happens if we end up with an Abbott government? As much as I try to convince myself there would be no difference, I’m not entirely persuaded.

    I came across this article this morning. The points are worth revisiting [even though it's published in The Punch and is incredibly patronising]:

    Remembering ‘Abbott’s dad’: top 10 Howard era memories

    Downward Envy – John Howard trained Australians to look down the chain when we were feeling low – welfare cheats, single mums, dole bludgers, these were the people making life hard for decent Australians. As profit levels soared and CEO wages sky-rocketed, we tut-tutted the Paxtons.

    Dog-Whistling – John Howard got the tone needed to calm economic insecurity note-perfect. All you do is shift attention from foreign companies sending local jobs offshore and transfer it onto unfortunates seeking political refuge from terrorism and civil war. Draw a line in the, eh, sand somewhere west of Christmas Island and everyone will call you a patriot.

    Casino Capitalism – John Howard conceived of Australia as a sandpit, riding the mining boom to throw money at voters, passing up the chance to build for the next generation of Australians. After a decade of growth, we lacked the roads, rail and port to actually get the stuff out of the country. But those cheques went down a treat!

    Refusing to Say Sorry – In the face of evidence and personal experience, john Howard denied the experiences of the Stolen Generation, a stubborn refusal to take the long-term view of history.

    Environmental Denial – John Howard was a climate change sceptic, setting the standards for denial and inaction that Tony Abbott has turned into an art form, and creating an IOU to future generations that is growing by the day.

    Locking Up Unionists – While his crowning achievement was WorkChoices, John Howard sparked a phoney war on the waterfront and bought in laws that allow workers to be jailed for refusing to disclose what is said at union meetings.

    Finally, this point:

    Stomping Out Dissent – John Howard went to war with the ABC, imposing right wing supporters on the ABC Board, while defunding service delivery agencies that criticised government policy.

    On the weekend, AAP reported Abbott sharing the joke with Nauru’s President Marcus Stephen that ‘Australia could use a more “guided democracy”’, then went onto note that ‘the media in some other countries were “much less disruptive than they are here”.’

    Wherever this universe is that rape and dictatorships are fodder for political humour [and then policy?], I don’t want to visit. And I definitely don’t want to be living there.

    • I’m worried too, and it scares me to think that the _best_ we can expect is more of the same. I can’t see at the moment that the Labor Party will do anything differently if they get back in power, except slide further right. They’re not willing to take risks (especially to the left) and so they stick with what they think is “safe” which is also conservative, which, if it does anything at all, just entrenches what is already broken. Their concept of “progress” is “do nothing”.

      But I understand your doubt too, because even while begging for the major parties to take a fucking leap, I also find myself hoping to hell that if the Coalition get into power they get tied up in their own ineptitude, because the worse option would be ending up with Tony Abbott at the helm and a decade of plunging headlong into further social disparity, religious fervour taking place of policy, increased involvement in overseas conflict, heightened censorship laws, further alienation and inhumane treatment of Indigenous people, the poor, the oppressed, refugees, the sick, elderly, &c.

      So I get angry, and I rant.

    • The main difference between the two major parties is that the Liberal Party is the party of big business, as well as the party of conservatism. What does it say for the political health and class-consciousness of the Australian electorate if they vote for the Liberals?

      Labor are atrocious, but if they win they still show to some extent a relationship to class that none of the other parties can have.

      It’s a hard call because even if the Greens pull the vote, how do we know what those voters are voting for, other than the environment? So ETS? Refugees? Iraq? Afghanistan? All or none? And could these voters be pro-Green and anti-Union (I can’t imagine pro-Labor and anti-Union)?

      • Quite right. Apparently I left many details out of my original response.

        And the Greens vote worries me too. Eliminating carbon emissions does not necessarily go hand-in-hand with a full withdrawal from Afghanistan or self-determination for Indigenous Australians or supporting workers strikes. So what happens when the Greens have balance of power and a [radically?] divided left-wing base?

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  4. i want a politician who says stuff as passionatly as what you’ve just expressed Stephanie-thanks

    i think it’s interesting how the frustration, anger and fear many of us ‘lefties’ feel at this point in time is not dissimilar to how many right-wing conservatives feel about mining taxes and ‘boat people’.
    i suppose the only difference between ‘left’ fear and ‘right’ fear is that our fears are built on private investigation and questioning as opposed to swallowing the public fear-mongering of our politicians.
    perhaps it sounds a bit bizzare, but i think it’s kind of exciting-this fear. if tony abbot gets in, radical reaction is going to be a very appealing notion and it’s always fun to rebel.

  5. Incidentally, if anyone can find me a verb that they haven’t heard mangled – or can’t imagine being mangled – by a politician, I’d be very grateful.

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