Disability and Australian Politics

I was shaking from the cold. Trish* told me to put my jacket on and I wondered if she was trying to get me to cover up my bright green shirt and logo and the oversized ‘Vote Greens’ badge but she was twice my age and appeared to suffer worse from the cold than I did and was probably just looking out for me. She told me that she likes to “mother” people. As I handed out flyers for the ‘Australian Greens Party’ she handed out flyers for her political party of choice and chatted to me about her family and the dramas in their campaign.

The whole situation amused me. This was the first time I had ever handed out flyers at an election and the experience was a unique one. Here I was standing next to and chatting to a seasoned ‘Liberal Party’ (a conservative party in Australia) supporter when I would never in my life vote Liberal.

Usually, I was the one dodging the people handing out flyers, avoiding eye-contact with the party volunteers and saying “No thanks” and now I strongly felt the discomfort of others approaching as their eyes darted side-to-side for the quickest and least confrontational route to the end of the queue. I was feeling equally uncomfortable as a result and not sure when to make eye contact either, if at all, but they say some people are undecided when they arrive and they are not likely to vote Green if they don’t have the flyer in their hand while making the decision. I wish they had signs on their foreheads saying ‘undecided voter’. I just tried to be as friendly as possible without exposing my weak conversational skills.

Earlier that morning, when I had been standing alone, I was approached by an anxious looking woman who told me that it was not the Government that was running the country but that it was her family that ruled the world. While she talked she kept asking if I understood. I nodded my head politely and tried to understand what she was saying but her conversation was erratic and I have auditory processing difficulties. She was talking a lot and I didn’t know if she would stop if I couldn’t find a way to end it. She mentioned something about Judaism and said that religion ruled the world. I thought about mentioning that I wasn’t religious but I wasn’t sure if that was the right approach. I said “What can I do for you?” Eventually, she mentioned how literacy has changed the world for the better and how important health and education were. Bingo! She’s right. I said “I agree that health and education are very important and see here on our flyer where we make it a priority”. She smiled at me for the first time because that was the message that she was so desperate to impart. I thanked her for talking to me about it and wished her on her way.

After being stuck in some glare from the sun (I have sensory processing difficulties), I had asked to swap spots with Cath (the other Greens volunteer) and I had found a safety net in Trish who was on my left. Next to me on the right were two extreme right-wing party volunteers. I couldn’t bring myself to make eye- contact with them because of the hate and division they create in our communities. One of their right-wing signs said ‘Multi-ethnic. One culture’ and something about making ‘Australia more Australian’. I wasn’t listening to what they were saying because I didn’t want to feel sad right then but I had no plans to move. They were the first to hand out flyers to voters coming from one of the carparks and I wanted to follow that up with a Greens flyer for those people like me who get upset by the cruelty and racism of right-wing politics. It’s ok, I’m here and I don’t hate. At one point, I overheard one of the right-wing volunteers say to the other “People think our party is racist but we have people from different nationalities in it” as if the presence of people of different nationalities means that it must not be racist.

Trish had greeted an unhappy looking guy in a flannel shirt with “You don’t look very impressed to vote today” in a joking manner and he was ready to let us have it.

“Well, none of the parties are any good!” he said “I’m an environmentalist but the Greens keep contradicting themselves on that (I made an assumption that he was a hunter/ fisher kind of guy) and the Liberals are only interested in putting money in the pockets of the rich.”

He turned to the right-wing volunteers beside me and said “You are more like it! At least you are looking out for Australians!” Trish tried to settle him down by talking about democracy generally but I strategically spotted some people in the distance and moved away to hand out flyers to them. When I came back Trish apologized to me and said “I’m sometimes too friendly and I didn’t mean for that to happen”. I told her it was fine. I liked her friendliness, it prevented me from having to stand alone wondering when to make eye contact with people. Next to her, she could talk and I would just hand out my flyer as if it was a second thought to passers-by, which seemed much less confronting for me and them.

At one point, Trish disappointed me. A women was pushing the wheelchair of a young man who appeared to be quadriplegic. She rejected all of our flyers. Trish said “Probably a donkey vote.” She didn’t say that about anyone else. It seemed like she made an assumption based on the disabled man. I acted as though I didn’t understand what she meant although deep down I suspected she had wanted me to laugh about it or accept the statement as likely, which would make it an ableist joke at worst and an ableist assumption at least. People who are quadriplegic can vote too.

Disability rights is one of the reasons I decided to hand out flyers for ‘The Greens’ today. I’m autistic, disabled and proud. Here’s what the Greens have to say about disability: Parties respond to **ACDA election platform

*Trish: Not her real name.

**ACDA: Australian Cross Disability Alliance

Stop the botts (Abbott and his cabinet that is)

I am a patriot of Earth and if we ever make contact with aliens, of the Universe. So when I say that at the moment I am ashamed of Australia, don’t accuse me of being non-patriotic.

The Australian public (not me personally) just voted in an ultra-conservative government, that I will refer to as the ‘Abbott Government’ in this blog post. The Abbott Government has an uncompromising ideology almost entirely focused on the economy with little regard to people with lesser privilege and the natural environment that we rely upon to exist.

Sally McManus (Branch Secretary of the Australian Services Union, NSW & ACT) compiled a long list (including sources) of extraordinary decisions and broken promises (even for a politician) made by the Abbott Government since they have been appointed. The list, which is constantly updated, is called ‘Abbotts Wreckage’ and can be found here.

To give you a little taste of Abbotts Wreckage, here are the first 8 of 109 points (as of 24th February 2014):

No. 1 ‘Takes away pay rises from aged care workers’

No. 2 ‘Takes away pay rises for childcare workers’

No. 3 ‘Breaks his promise to spend his first week in office with an Aboriginal community’

No. 4 ‘Abolishes key ministerial positions of climate change and science’

No. 5 ‘Appoints only one woman into his cabinet and blames the women for his decision, saying he appoints “on merit”

No. 6 ‘Appoints himself Minister for Women’

No. 7 ‘Abolishes the Climate Commission’

No. 8 ‘Scraps the Social Inclusion Board, which had been established to guide policy on the reduction of poverty in Australia

Why 8 points? Because I don’t like No. 9 (Breaks his promise to “stop the boats”)

Of great concern to me is the increasing potential for Australia to become a country of the oppressor and the oppressed and it has already started with the ‘Stop-the-boats’ campaign. I feel sick and afraid for the asylum seekers that have arrived by boat (who the government wants us to call “illegals”) who are languishing in pitiful offshore detention centres in mandatory detention for months or years, being told they will never be settled in Australia, treated worse than prisoners with inadequate clothes, shelter, health care, food and even water. Pregnant women, children (some unaccompanied) and newborn babies are among those held in mandatory detention as well. It beggars belief.

How did this happen? An age-old recipe of the power-hungry instilling fear of an enemy and promising to protect us from them. Yes, the Abbott Government convinced the majority of Australians that asylum seekers (the most vulnerable people on the planet) were our enemy, that they would take our jobs, that they were a risk to our security and our way of life and even that they would cause traffic congestion. What is worse is that both the major parties shared the same tactic to gain popularity before the last election.

Refer here for the facts about asylum seekers in Australia as opposed to the government rhetoric.

Up until the last election my interest in politics has been very low. There was a time as an adult when I didn’t even know the name of our prime minister or the ruling party. I don’t notice things unless I really notice things and there has never been a more important time to really notice what the government is doing. Social media opened my eyes to what was happening here and I could no longer ignore politics because if I did I would be part of a silent majority that allowed unconscionable acts to occur by doing and saying nothing.

Recently many asylum seekers were attacked at one of the offshore processing centres and one of those asylum seekers died from his injuries. The immigration minister Chris Morrison, implored the public to wait until reviews were conducted before making judgements, all the while freely using victim-blaming terminology. Morrison stated “This is a tragedy, but this was a very dangerous situation where people decided to protest in a very violent way and to take themselves outside the centre and place themselves at great risk”. Then, after being corrected that the asylum seekers were not in fact outside the centre Morrison said “In a situation where transferees engage in riotous and aggressive behaviour within the centre, this will escalate the risk to those who engage in such behaviour”. The only people injured were asylum seekers so it does not make sense that the asylum seekers were the aggressors. At this stage, the only aggression asylum seekers have shown in detention is in self-harm, including among children, caused by depression as a result of prolonged detention.

So here I sit scrolling through social media links despairing at the latest actions and words of the Abbott Government realising that my time of blissful ignorance has passed and never again will I ignore politics because the cost of ignorance is too high. I can only hope that promoting awareness of the deplorable actions of our government and the public backlash will be enough to end this madness. March in March Australia.

Image obtained from the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre Facebook page

It will never happen here

I always thought that I lived in a lucky country. Lucky in the sense that I thought we were all free from oppression here.

In this country, I had the opportunity to receive an education through public schooling. In this country, I never had too much trouble finding full-time paid employment. In this country, I can afford private health insurance but even if I couldn’t afford it I would still be able to get access to public health care.

Here, I am also surrounded by mostly like-minded people who treat me as an equal (for the most part). But ‘I’ am a thirty-something, white, middle-income person with little obvious disability. Not everyone in this country is in the same privileged position as me.

Recently, in this country, not ‘my’ country/ not anyone’s country/ just land as it formed over billions of years, we had a change of government. The new government was noticeably more right-wing than its predecessor.

I was shocked when the new government was elected. Shocked when they disassembled the independent climate change commission and acted toward removing environmental protections, shocked when only one women was appointed to a ministerial position even though we had recently had a female prime minister and shocked when they appointed a new human rights commissioner that had once called for the abolition of the human rights commission and intends to repeal recently introduced anti-racial discrimination laws (under the guise of freedom of speech) Those among other things.

People in this country (and from other countries wishing to seek asylum here) from the least privileged positions, who may be emerging from oppression in the past (or trying to escape from immediate threat) are now finding their path to freedom sucked from underneath them.

During secondary schooling, when I learned about one of the most infamous of oppressive regimes, Nazi Germany, I was horrified. I did not understand how such a thing could happen and in my naïvety I assumed it was an anomaly and that it could never happen again.

However, comparable oppressive regimes exist now in many countries around the globe. A comparable oppressive regime existed in this country during white settlement (oppressive to indigenous Australians) and could easily establish itself in this country again.

Some people think that education is a barrier to oppression, it probably is, but it is not impervious. Even in countries where people are well-educated, they can still remain ignorant and have that ignorance exploited.

I have just finished reading two autobiographies (given to me as Christmas presents) Nelson Mandela’s ‘Long Walk to Freedom’ and Malala Yousafzai’s ‘I am Malala’. From these books and what little else I know of global politics, I saw a disturbing pattern emerge. It became clear to me that oppressive regimes can occur anywhere, at any time.

I can’t succinctly describe the underlying pattern that supported the oppressive regimes described in the books I was given, but I feel it. I feel it now in present day Australia. It’s a combination of discrimination, imbalance of power, biased media (in whatever form) coverage and finally mob mentality.

Just look at the way our government is treating asylum seekers who arrive here by boat. Demonizing them by insisting that they be called “illegals“, removing their access to Government funded legal aid, disbanding the Immigration Health Advisory Group overseeing asylum seeker health care and detaining them indefinitely in inadequate offshore facilities. Don’t start making excuses or you are facilitating oppression; nobody should be treated like that.

When oppression sets in, everyday people lose their freedom and find themselves committing, facilitating and turning a blind eye to atrocities that they never thought possible; as Nelson Mandela puts it the ‘The oppressed and the oppressor alike are robbed of their humanity’.

Malala Yousafzai noted of her people after the Taliban insidiously took control of her home in Swat Valley  ‘Funny when I was little we always said Swatis were so peace-loving it was hard to find a man to slaughter a chicken’.

What freedom we have we do not owe to luck; we owe it to activists and everyday people who risk standing up for the liberties of the those most in need. These are the people who can bring down oppressive regimes and importantly prevent them from establishing or re-establishing themselves.

If we want freedom for ourselves, our children and our children’s children, we are also responsible for promoting it. We should not look to others to preserve our freedom. We need to become those activists, those everyday people who risk standing up for the liberties of those most in need.

As Nelson Mandela so eloquently states ‘For to be free is not merely to cast off one’s chains but to live in a way that respects and enhances the freedom of others’.

Malala Yousafzai’s father, an enormous influence in the young activists life, carried around with him the following poem written by Martin Niemöller (who had lived in Nazi Germany):

First they came for the communists,

and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a communist.

Then they came for the socialists,

and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a socialist.

Then they came for the trade unionists,

and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a trade unionist.

Then they came for the Jews,

and I didn’t speak out because I was not a Jew.

Then they came for the Catholics,

and I didn’t speak out because I was not a Catholic.

Then they came for me,

and there was no one left to speak for me.

I sincerely hope that there are enough activists, enough people unwilling to be passive bystanders in this country who can open the eyes of the majority that voted the new government in, so that crucial mistakes are not made in our country that will gradually take us down the well-worn path of oppression.

In Australia:

First they oppressed the asylum seekers,

and I did not speak out because I was not an asylum seeker…