This morning I couldn’t help taking a quick peek at the on-line Sydney Morning Herald to see if our prime minister has managed to get himself toppled from office overnight.
Australia is the only country I know of where a democratically-elected leader is regularly deposed from office mid-term by his/her party colleagues. It’s happened twice in recent history, both times while I was overseas in Canada. I’d be having a cappuccino at the local café and to my astonishment would notice headlines announcing that Australia had a new prime minister. It can be a bit of a shock if you’re abroad and haven’t been paying attention to the daily internecine squabbles that only a local newspaper could love. Following on from the surprise was the embarrassment of having to explain to bemused Canadians how such a thing could happen.
I’m reminded of an interesting conversation in the yoga shed this week, over warrior poses and backbends. Housemate Eve and her old friend and yoga colleague Peter were reminiscing about goings-on back in the day with abusive gurus and their unwitting victims. We speculated about how such authorities amass and abuse their power—and how it often turns on them. Peter noted that people put their gurus on a pedestal, and then before too long put them under it. We reflected on how often we admire a trait in someone, then suspend judgement and hand over our personal responsibility to them; we get abused, then blame the abuser for their treatment of us. We speculated about the kind of vigilance one must have in order to neither abuse nor become abused.
And there was another conversation a few days ago over a glass of wine, where we discussed the “donkey vote”. This is the term for when you deliberately or accidentally spoil your ballot in the voting booth and is not uncommon in countries where voting is compulsory. Whether the term “donkey” is related to being stubborn or being stupid I’m not sure, but the connotation is surely disparaging. The implication is that people don’t vote properly because they don’t follow or understand the issues, or they don’t pay attention to what the candidates are saying they stand for. Donkey voters are considered to be at best ignorant and at worst apathetic. Either way, they’re irresponsible.
I took a strong personal interest in this conversation, because I usually employ a version of the donkey approach. On election day, I go into the polling box, carefully fold my two ballots, then exit and put them in the ballot box. I do this in secret, although I don’t know why as I’m now telling you and all of cyberspace about this idiosyncrasy.
Now, I assure you, I am not particularly ignorant or apathetic. I do my deed out of a deep sense of personal responsibility and respect for due process. What I’m thinking as I fold that unmarked ballot is that I don’t trust the candidates to stick to what they say they’ll do, or not do—actually, I know they can’t, because they’re caught in the party system. More important, I’m thinking that I must not abdicate my responsibility for the critical issues of our time by putting an X in front of some candidate’s name and hoping they’ll do the right thing by me. My vote will not fix anything or aid anything. The system doesn’t work and I prefer not to play the game.
(I grant you that any other game will be incredibly complicated to figure out, and will exist only in a far distant future, but, hey, you’ve got to start somewhere. That’s me in the polling booth—just starting somewhere.)
Anyway, I feel vindicated by the morning’s news. The Sydney Morning Herald offers strong odds that Tony won’t survive another week. And in spite of the international embarrassment another coup will cost me, I can’t say I’m sorry. I know as much about his without-substance policies and his broken promises as the next guy, but it’s his adversarial behaviour that has me licking my lips to see him go.
This brings me to my point. I reckon it’s the adversarial system that’s making a mockery of justice and wise decision-making, and Tony Abbott has been the most adversarial of them all. Ever since I first heard of him, he was obstructive and on the attack. My friend Diane and I used to meet him on the streets of Forestville when we went walking in the mornings, as Tony galloped by in his joggers, giving us a little wave. He probably didn’t appreciate the danger he was in as he loped past, in that Diane wanted to trip him because he was a Liberal and I because he was so noisily negative about everything.
People who voted for Abbott and won him fair and square in the election — unfortunately, they won’t have him for long, and they won’t get the decisions they were promised or the quality of governing they were hoping for. But I, with my donkey vote, had no expectations and will have no disappointments.
I doubt there’s anything Tony can do now to stem the flow of his blood. He was on the pedestal, and now he’s under the pedestal. The sharpest tool in his kit is his ability to attack, and people are OVER that technique at the moment. Because, of course, it’s not just Tony. Much as I may dislike him, he’s not unique. We have a long tradition of the automatic negative. Our Parliament is the one place where one day you might hear: “Motherhood? If you lot are in favour, I’m opposed.” And we’re all tired of it.
Maybe that’s the good news in all this. At some point we’ll get so sick of the adversarial system that we’ll start looking for something else. It can’t happen too soon for this donkey.