Australia’s new Prime Minister: Good for the Irish, bad for the Australians
Tony Abbott’s election as Prime Minister of Australia is good news for the Irish but for Australia it is the starting gun for a race to the right wing.
For over a year Australia has been caught in a never ending election groundhog day. The days began with one breathless electioneering announcement after another, political footballs being hoofed around as the media jostled to cover a truly surreal election campaign.
It wasn’t long before the Irish or to be more precise the 457 visa that has allowed 12,500 of us to start new lives Down Under got drawn into the melee. The 457 visa has been Australia’s main mechanism to bring skilled migrants to its shores. In 1998 30,000 visas were issued but in recent years this has risen to over 120,000 and a disenchanted, but ill-informed, union base of Kevin Rudd’s Labour party had enough. ‘Protect local jobs’ became the billboard slogan and rallying cry as visa rorting stories were fed to a hungry media.
With a useful reenergised political base created, the ever-acquiescent Rudd duly ensured changes were suitably made. Pumping up the cost, and the bar, to obtain the 457 visa and promising more once he retained the reins of power. As the third highest recipients of 457 visas’ we Irish felt the cool unloved chill. We listened humbly to error strewn debates, and quietly questioned the true motivations while gently spying our bags and contemplating their packing.
But lycra clad, cycling crazy, robotic like Tony Abbot would ride in to be our saviour. Gaffe prone, chest thumping Tony had been bidding his time in opposition for years. A former Rhodes scholar and champion boxer at Oxford, he allegedly punched the wall either side of a female political rival in his seventies student days. Combative in nature, Tony served as political minister in previous governments before narrowly assuming the mantle of Australia’s opposition in 2009. Not even being declared a misogynist in a speech by Julia Gillard that went viral and met the approval of Barack Obama was enough to knock Tony off his feet. No this was going to be Tony’s time.
An army of minders kept Tony jammed on message and his typical boorish persona hidden. 22 years of continuous economic growth was a flag of little use to the Government as the Opposition strategists capitalised on a disorganised and disunited Labour party. ‘Stop the boats, repeal the carbon tax and cut the waste’ Abbot repeated ad nauseam for twelve months, and the Aussies lapped it up.
He who once trained briefly as a priest, ensures Catholic beliefs underscore this Prime Minister designates beliefs. Abortion is ‘a question of a mother’s convenience’ Tony previously summarised while also declaring ‘climate change as simply ‘absolute crap.’ In an effort to mollify his abrasive image and shift focus from his frequent misteps, confusing suppository for repository and labelling one of his female candidates as having ‘sex appeal’, his handlers rolled out his strikingly styled daughters. 22 year old Frances and 20 year old Bridget with proud giggles spoke about their ‘Daggy’ dad. It worked, removing focus from the absence of Opposition policy detail and lending female elegance to a campaign that former Prime Minister Gillard had pinioned was crowded with men in blue ties.
The rise and rise of Tony in this election was bizarre even in country where life constantly tips into the surreal. We had Australia’s Sarah Palin who with noble assertions didn’t oppose Islam ‘as a country’. There was the election candidate that cringingly self-destructed in a live TV interview by forgetting his party’s six policy points on immigration and spent the rest of the election hiding from both the media and the electorate.
Then there were the candidates. Think Jackie Healy Rae is odd? Australia has Bob Katter. A tall rugged Queenslander who plays the cowboy while masking his inherent racism with a ten gallon white hat. There was billionaire overweight miner Clive Palmer. A man with his own Dinosaur theme park, and personal mission to recreate the Titanic, who in three weeks created the decided yellow pack Palmer Party, and got elected.
Then there were the policies. The Australian Sex Party outlined a creative plan to boost Tasmania’s economy through large scale production of cannabis while the Australian Sports Party unveiled a comprehensive policy brief, more sports. In truly GUBU like moments we had the incoming government give every Indonesian fisherman a smile when it announced it would buy their boats to stop illegal migration to Australia. Then we had the insightful analysis by Prime Minster elect Abbot that the Syrian conflict was one of simply ‘baddies versus baddies’.
Buying all the fishing boats in Indonesia or playing cops and robbers with geo-politics was not going to stop the march of Tony, and this is good news for the Irish. All action Tony is gung ho business who has already broken the hinges from the doors of Parliament to convene worried bureaucrats to repeal Australia’s carbon tax. In a country where the business community leaped to the defense of the 457 system, Tony will do little to stem the steady pour of educated and skilled migrants keeping a vast country ticking over.
A right wing future has been sign posted Down Under and as many Irish exhale a sigh of relief, many Australian’s are taking a deep breath.
(Originally published in the Irish Independent)
Sep 10 2013