Politics

Why Blaming Queensland Won’t Fix Australia

Stop Adani election 2019

In 2016 Hilary Clinton’s official Twitter account tweeted “happy birthday to this future president”, a young Hilary smiling into the camera.

On the night of the US Presidential election that same year, Hilary did not make a public appearance to concede victory to Donald Trump, a man who had just shocked progressives around the world by becoming President-elect of the United States with no political experience whatsoever. “How could this have happened?,” Twitter asked. My Instagram stories filled with people openly weeping in disbelief.

The hot takes came soon after, with Russian collusion suggested — as though the American people could not be responsible for this — followed by the debates about how the candidates did or did not engage with their more rural constituents, largely considered to be the people who sealed Hilary’s fate.

In plain talk, the basic vibe was “this is the fault of the hicks, the rednecks, the racists down in Alabama who don’t even know how to read. This isn’t us.”

“I Can’t Believe Queensland Did This To Us”

Before Bill Shorten had even conceded defeat on Saturday, every social media platform I engage with was blaming Queensland. There were dozens of memes about how we should all secede from Queensland, a gif of Bugs Bunny sawing Queensland off the rest of the country.

In the immediate aftermath of an election, everyone has a lot of feelings — anger being a powerful one. People can and should feel strongly about elections Those who say it’s “just politics” are generally those who are insulated from its outcomes. It is an incredibly dangerous position of privilege to be in, to not care about an election outcome — especially one that impacts welfare, the environment and human rights at such high stakes.

It makes sense to tweet or yell your immediate reaction — it’s what I did, and am doing — and for many people, that reaction was “I can’t believe Queensland did this to us”.

It’s true. Queensland showed great support for people like Peter Dutton, who most recently failed in his coup for the leadership of the Liberal party. Queensland also supported George Christensen, who blew a whole lot of hot air about being “for the Australian people” while taking home a huge pay cheque and spending it overseas — where he spent more time than in his seat with his constituents.

But saying this result is just because of Queensland is a quick fix, a salve that soothes the rest of us from taking responsibility for the country we live in. Tasmania also saw swings away from Labor, and New England swung toward Barnaby Joyce, a man who campaigned on a platform of family values while having an affair with a staffer, leaving his wife and children. As Adele Perovic also tweeted, blaming Queensland also “erases the work activists from (not the Queens)land do! Who do you think is fighting Adani? The Wangan and Jagalingou people whose land is under threat”.

Adele’s tweet also highlights a glaring omission: the voice of people for whom the outcomes of this election will be felt hardest.

Working-Class Larrikins On 100k A Year

I am not an Indigenous Australian living on stolen land whose sovereignty was never ceded. I am not an asylum seeker, I am not on welfare, I am not queer, I am not a person of colour. Our major political parties barely represent these people, and this election result is nothing short of disastrous for them.

But people like me, and probably people like you, do not do enough about that fact.

We put on Labor or Greens T-shirts and tweet about voting below the line to the applause of people who already agree with us. We live in Melbourne and we call it Naarm, which we think gives us licence to scoff at racist Queenslanders and how we’re so not like them, washing our hands of the fact that our country is rooted in colonialism and a history of human rights abuses that should see our leaders in The Hague.

We live in Melbourne and we call it Naarm, which we think gives us licence to scoff at racist Queenslanders and how we’re so not like them.

Racism is only one piece of the puzzle. Australia likes to think of itself as a plucky underdog of working-class larrikins. In reality, there is a huge disparity from the cheeky Blundstone wearing farmers we all think we are, and the advertising company account managers living in Sydney and Melbourne that we actually are. People who think $88,000 a year is “not very much money”.

Racists in Queensland voted for Fraser Anning, sure. And privately educated white people in Melbourne’s inner-city suburbs, people I socialise with and friends of my friends, doctors and lawyers and construction managers on over 100k, voted for the Liberal Party. These people live in Richmond, in Northcote, in South Yarra.

I was raised in Melbourne in a John Howard baby-overboard-believing, no-to-plebiscite-voting family. My brother, who I get coffee with regularly in Melbourne’s CBD, expressed disbelief and anger at me for being disappointed in the result of the election. I would like to hear more about the privately educated wealthy people in Toorak, Kew and Hawthorn who voted for Josh Frydenberg, both young and old. The voters in Bondi and Paddington in Sydney who voted for Dave Sharma.

These people are not Queenslanders, or whatever shorthand you’d like to use for “rednecks who are not me, it’s not my fault”. They are our friends and family. They are you and me. They are self-funded retirees all over the country who put an immediate small pay rise above the future of their grandchildren. They are the people who ran Greens candidates and their staffers out of the Victorian state election for old social media posts about petty theft while supporting a raft of politicians who have nothing to lose.

Australians Don’t Want To Share

Our politicians are almost exclusively privately educated people who went straight from university to the big leagues, and who have forgotten that they play a service role to the rest of the country. They are not here to play investment bankers to the wealthiest 1% of the nation so that they can keep votes; they are not here to argue and play games. They are overpaid public servants who are supposed to be building a better country for all Australians to live in.

This election was not won for the Coalition by racist Queenslanders; it was won for the Coalition by wealthy Australians terrified of having to share. It was won by my friends and families with investment properties who didn’t want to pay more tax, by self-funded retirees who didn’t want to lose a dime. By Australians who don’t care if coal cuts our lives short (which it will) as long as it “keeps our economy strong” — a line that’s not even true, a line paid for by foreign political donations.

It was won because empty political rhetoric and hysteria have replaced actual policy and campaigning. Seniors and already struggling farmers were told Australia would crumble economically if Labor won power, and Labor did not do nearly enough to articulate why that wasn’t true. I once interviewed then-senator Scott Ludlum about whether he felt the Greens had an issue relating to working-class voters, and he reflected on the perception of Greens.

This election was not won for the Coalition by racist Queenslanders; it was won for the Coalition by wealthy Australians terrified of having to share.

“The inner-city ‘elites’. The ones who drink the fancy coffee, and give a shit about tolerance and trans kids and people from overseas … hate the greenies,” he says. “They are the elites. Actually, when I was growing up, an elite was someone with money in a hedge fund. An elite was someone with a private yacht. Somebody with massive political connections and political patronage, and not really working as such but seemed to own a lot.”

While he’s absolutely right, this was from an interview conducted in a pub in Melbournes CBD, printed in our most left-leaning newspaper — one that no member of my family had heard of until I was printed in it. It is the job of political parties to engage with their constituents in meaningful ways, to get messages like Scott’s to the people who need to hear it.

The Greens are bad at this, and Labor is bad at this. The Liberals are too, but boy are they good at appealing to the worst parts of Australia — parts that are way larger than people in the major cities thought — through fear and misinformation.

Blaming Queensland Won’t Fix Australia

Queenslanders are not the reason Scott Morrison is still our PM. The lack of education and real engagement from the opposition was. The vile selfishness of middle and upper-class Australia was; the inner-city wealthy elite with four investment properties, insulated from the effects of wage stagnation, of no rises in welfare, of no action on climate change.

These people also voted for a man who campaigned against marriage equality and then refused to even vote on it, who brought a lump of coal into parliament as a fun stunt, who has a trophy of a boat in his office, emblazoned with the phrase, “I stopped these”. If you voted for the kind of economy that benefits you personally at the cost of turning away from these horrors, you are the problem — and it’s time for more people to say it.

Blaming an entire state will not fix our broken country. It didn’t work after the US elections, and it will not work now, here. The American People elected Donald Trump. Our election was the result of our people. Like them, if that blindsided us, it was because of our ignorance, our complacency. We all need to do more — starting with our politicians, yes. But talk to your friends and families. Have the hard conversations you do not want to have. When I was young, I held many views I am now ashamed of, opinions that were wrong and that hurt other people. These only changed because people challenged me, told me to educate myself, argued with me. Our future depends on telling the people that we love that even though we may love them, they’re wrong and they need to change.

Be the Australia we pretend we are. The Australia that says it cares about the little guy. If that means sacrificing some of your plenty for someone whose land was stolen, for someone on welfare, for someone fleeing a war zone, for someone who feels like no one stands for them — we must do it. It’s up to us.

 

Rebecca Varcoe is a writer and events producer from Melbourne. She makes print humour journal Funny Ha Ha and writes about all kinds of things for a few places online.