Sometimes, living in a relatively safe country like Australia, one becomes complacent in expecting one’s government to be out to, you know, do justly by its citizens. (If not its non-citizens; hi, asylum seeker debate!) In March, something rather unexpected happened in the north-eastern state of Queensland, and that illusion of justice could no longer stand.
It was in March that the Labor Party, led by Anna Bligh, who had been rather popular, was defeated by the Liberal National Party, led by Campbell Newman. It wasn’t just a victory, it was a landslide of almost unprecedented proportions, with the LNP gaining the largest majority of parliament seats ever seen in Queensland. The rest of the country was vaguely confused, but we moved on.
Working to eradicate poverty! Promoting better healthcare! The Catholic Church has been responsible for some atrocious things over the centuries, but working towards economic justice and helping sick people are two of those things towards which the average person would generally direct a great big thumbs up. In fact, the Leadership Conference of the Women Religious, a body to which about four in five of the United States’ Catholic nuns belong, is admirably dedicated to these very matters. The Vatican, however, has just come out with a condemnation of these foci.
8 March! Don’t we love 8 March? It is that wonderful day during the course of which we internationally celebrate women! Women are pretty great. I know because I am one of them. Women are, however, not the only members of their gender. There are these other people called girls who are also pretty great. I know because I was one of them once, too. Girls are people who are wonderful and vulnerable in their own particular ways. This is why I am right on board for the theme for this, the 101st International Women’s Day, which is “Connecting Girls, Inspiring Futures”.
Who likes to show Valentine’s Day a bit of love? Show of hands. I, for one, never have, because it has seemed to me that squishing expressions of love into one day of socially-approved heteronormative fluff is pretty empty. Apparently, however, you were in want of some musings on this holiday, readers, and in my journalistic strivings to bring it to you, I have, can we say, thought about it a little harder? This year, I’m going to overcome my dyed-in-the-wool side-eyeing cynicism and give Valentine’s another chance. That’s because what I resent is not actually the day itself, but what it represents about how culturally stagnant ideas of love are.
It’s been something of a historic week in the fight for same-sex marriage in Australia. And it’s been a significant year for LGBT rights more generally (not so much, arguably, for Q* or I or any of the other letters that might otherwise go on the end of that acronym). Unfortunately, the hyperfocus on marriage has obscured the leaps, bounds, and deficiencies in some of the areas in more urgent need of attention. Here’s your guide to where Australia’s at, and where the lucky country, as we call it, has to go in order to spread that luck around more evenly.
Burma, officially the Republic of the Union of Myanmar, is in a whole jar of pickles right about now. The brand new civilian government is trying to set up a semblance of democratic reform, but human rights conditions in particular remain very repressive. Bad economic management and worse social injustice have been the case for decades, of course. So why is it coming to a head right now?
A year ago, Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard had won her first election, silencing grumbles from some corners that she hadn’t properly won the leadership of the Australian Labor Party from previous leader Kevin Rudd. The ALP win was a close thing. Gillard had to scramble to negotiate with three independents and the Australian Greens in order to form a coalition – in part because her party lost a lot of votes on its left flank to the increasingly popular Greens. Not only was Gillard remarkable for the close shave, or for being Australia’s first female Prime Minister, but she was also an unmarried atheist without children and with a reputation for progressive thinking. In Australia’s fairly conservative political landscape, in which it seemed unlikely that we’d have a Prime Minister who wasn’t a very wealthy married Christian father any time soon, this was unbelievable.
A year on, the left is just slightly confused about Gillard’s swing to the right – see for instance, our esteemed editor on the “Malaysian solution.” One might then wonder why, just a year out from the election in which they backed Gillard, Rupert Murdoch’s conservative media is baying for her blood.
What’s going on exactly? The big news story in Australia over the last few months has been a proposed carbon tax. Should it go ahead, only 0.02 per cent of Australian businesses will be taxed under this scheme, and 90 per cent of households will receive compensation for the increase in expenses they will undergo as we change over to clean energy. So far, so good – except barely anyone in the country knows those facts. Whoever is running the media show over at the ALP is floundering. Pushed hard by opposition leader Tony Abbott and Murdoch’s News Limited, the only message that is getting through is that the carbon tax is outrageous. Given that News Limited has control of about three quarters of metropolitan daily newspaper circulation in Australia, that’s quite a push. Make no mistake: Murdoch’s press is waging class war on behalf of the extremely rich, and it’s being done in the name of a phoney popularism. It takes quite some nerve to push a distortion of this magnitude down the throats of the people on whose behalf you’re supposedly speaking. More to the point, it takes power and money.
Dead Reckoning by Charlaine Harris (Gollancz, 2011).
Dead Reckoning is the latest novel in Charlaine Harris’ Sookie Stackhouse, or Southern Vampire Mysteries, series. At book number eleven, it doesn’t seem that there’s a whole lot more to say about the adventures of Sookie and friends, but Harris always seems to have a few more rabbits left to pull out. And then, what incentive has Harris to mess with such a winning formula?
Sookie is a waitress from small town Louisiana, who is preoccupied with work, friends, and dealing with her irritating gift of telepathy. You know, your average sort of thing for a twentysomething lady. The central conceit of the books is that synthetic blood has just been invented, enabling vampires to “come out of the closet”. Yes, there is a parallel with queer rights running through the books, which I would have liked to see pushed in quite different directions to those Harris has taken.
That is, in fact, my main frustration with the series: Harris sets up the potential for some fantasy-style treatment of political and social issues, and never quite chases them up. For instance, Sookie’s supernatural boss, Sam, responds to attempts to shut his bar down with ‘I can’t believe this is happening in our country, and me a veteran. Born and bred in the USA.’ It’s those kind of throwaway parallels that Harris could push so much more, but has a tendency to just leave hanging.
The Australian state of New South Wales is facing an election on 26 March. The result, as anyone in NSW will tell you, is a foregone conclusion, with even Australian Labor Party state secretary Sam Dastyari admitting the election to be a lost cause for his party. Premier Kristina Keneally’s nominally left wing ALP has faced disaster after scandal after ministerial resignation, leaving Opposition Leader Barry O’Farrell’s right wing Coalition a shoo-in.
Floods are rampant worldwide just at the present. There has been one disaster after another between the flooding in the northern Australian state of Queensland, South Africa, Brazil and the Philippines. The spectre of the 2010 Pakistani floods in everyone’s minds. One wonders how much more flooding the world can take, and at the extent of our collective capacity for endurance.
Actually, it isn’t the collective the world is concerned with here precisely. I’ve barely heard a televisual or newsprint word about the situations in South Africa, Brazil or the Philippines, but a lot about Queensland. The thing is, while things are terrible in Queensland, the state is getting a lot more attention in the international media than are those three nations.