Last night to the flicks. All war films. One very good one of a ship full of refugees being bombed somewhere in the Mediterranean. Audience much amused …

That’s from Winston Smith’s diary in Orwell’s 1984.

The idea that misery inflicted upon refugees might be paraded for public approval no longer seems particularly fanciful, not when an immigration minister boasts about his willingness to intern children with disabilities.

Politicians invariably attribute their most reactionary idiocies to the population. They are, they say, merely reflecting the electorate’s wishes. But the most recent elections revealed little positive enthusiasm for the conservative program. A survey immediately after the poll showed that respondents expected the new government to make matters worse rather than better on job security, workers’ rights, the environment, public services and welfare. Remarkably, more people thought that, under the new government, their own financial situation would decline rather than improve.

Voters elected the Liberals through gritted teeth – not because they wanted Abbott but because they could no longer support Labor. That does not change where we are. But it does suggest a popular mood closer to sullen acquiescence than any genuine enthusiasm for Abbott’s cruelties.

Let’s not forget how Winston’s diary continues.

[A] woman down in the prole part of the house suddenly started kicking up a fuss and shouting they didnt oughter of showed it not in front of kids they didnt it aint right …

It’s hard, sometimes, to be the first to kick up a fuss. But there are many, many people who think what’s happening in Australia now ‘aint right’ – and we won’t find each other unless we are prepared to speak out.

Jeff Sparrow

Jeff Sparrow is a Walkley Award-winning writer, broadcaster and former editor of Overland.

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