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Issue #1687      June 3, 2015

Culture & Life

Abbott, the arts and arrogance

Have you ever paused to notice how the extreme Right is absolutely steeped in arrogance? I don’t just mean Nazis, but all those ultra-rich capitalists and their wives and children. And the politicians and other hangers-on who act on their behalf and serve their interests. It’s an arrogance of power and privilege, buoyed up not only by wealth but by the firm conviction that they are superior to all the lesser mortals who do the work that provides them with all their needs and much more besides.

Tony Abbott – arrogance.

Australia’s ultra-reactionary Liberal Party government displays the same unfeeling arrogance that so typifies the extreme Right everywhere. This manifests itself in numerous decisions of the Australian government.

Take Aborigines for example. Australia’s Indigenous population was systematically forced off the land it had occupied for 40,000 years by European colonialism. After a prolonged struggle, they were granted partial land rights over severely restricted areas by the Whitlam Labor government in the 1970s. Today’s Prime Minister, Tony Abbott, on the other hand, clearly regards even those limited land-rights as an anomaly and an unnecessary impediment to the commercial exploitation of the country’s mineral wealth.

The recent dumping by the Abbott government of a parliamentary enquiry into the mining industry has shown who pulls his strings (as if we didn’t already know). A group of the smaller mining companies had sought the enquiry because of the blatantly unfair practices by the two largest companies to adversely control mineral prices. Those two companies, Rio Tinto and BHP Billiton, told Abbott they did not want an enquiry and Abbott dutifully folded. He was probably only too aware that a few years before, when Labor Prime Minister Kevin Rudd tried to introduce a tax on mining companies’ super profits, those same companies organised a coup within the Labor Party that ousted Rudd from the leadership and installed Julia Gillard instead, who promptly dropped the super-profits tax.

Many of Australia’s Indigenous people, ousted from all the good land, now live in inner city ghettoes or on the fringes of country towns and in remote settlements in the outback. Previous Liberal (and to their shame, Labor) governments have sought to invalidate elected Aboriginal leadership organisations and to de-fund government programs intended to improve health, education and job opportunities. Most significantly, in areas coveted by the mining companies, stories of child abuse were used to enable the government to take control of the remote Aboriginal communities. This was a blatant attempt to thwart any movement for Aboriginal land rights. And the beneficiaries of course would be the mining giants.

Tony Abbott actually distinguished himself by declaring that the Aborigines lived in these remote settlements not as a result of pressure from the land-grabbing Whites, but because it was a “life-style choice”!

It is not only Aborigines, however, who are the targets of the Abbott government’s arrogance. Abbott – and most of his cabinet – have a religious right-wing agenda. The clerical fascism that ruled in Spain under Franco or Hungary under Horthy would hold few qualms for Tony Abbott. He would in fact be in his element.

An infamous denier of climate change, when Abbott became PM he disbanded the Science Ministry. Who needs science when you can rely on God? At the G-20 summit in Brisbane, he brazenly lectured surprised world leaders on the insignificance of climate change, causing even a group of British Tories to liken him to a “17th century flat-Earther”. Tony was unfazed.

This arrogance is not peculiar to the PM. It pervades all the ministries of his government. Treasurer Joe Hockey displayed it in spades with his previous budget which embodied the most arrogant disdain for the plight of society’s battlers, especially the poor, the disabled and the unemployed. The latest to encounter the arrogance of this government are those engaged in the arts, normally something of a darling of the moneyed classes.

Hitherto, in Australia, government support for the arts has been managed through a government-funded committee, the Australia Council, which avoided claims of government bias by selecting projects for funding through independent committees of experts in each particular field. This probably rankled with some governments, especially Liberal Party governments, who too often saw arts grants going to “long-haired leftist layabouts”. Tony’s Arts Minister, George Brandis, has changed all that.

Arrogantly thumbing his nose at the potential for claims of “government bias” in future arts funding, Brandis has chopped off no less than half the Australia Council’s annual grant and taken it into his own ministry to be distributed by decision of his department only.

The previous budget’s blatant anti-people measures provoked huge street marches and rallies. Abbott’s response was to increase police powers. That has always been the response of the Liberal Party to popular anger. Remember the anti-Vietnam War protesters in the time of the Askin Liberal Party government in NSW? When protesters blocked the road to stop the limo Askin and US President Lyndon Johnson were riding in, Askin called out to his driver to “Drive over the bastards!” And then bragged to the media that Johnson had seemed to like it.

Tony Abbott likes to be seen running, cycling or swimming. One of the boys, just an ordinary guy. But he mixes in his social and political life with the likes of Gina Rinehart, richest woman in Australia (and very big in the mining industry) and with others of that ilk: creatures of wealth and privilege, who neither appreciate nor care about the inability of an age pensioner to put food on the table with the paltry amount that they receive as a pension. (In the Soviet Union, even despite the colossal ravages of the Second World War, and despite having to sustain an arms race with the NATO powers, pensions were set at half your wage when you reached retirement age – and rents of course had been at a maximum of 4 percent of your income for decades.)

The Right’s arrogance of power is based on the belief that you can keep the “common” people down indefinitely. Newsflash: you can’t.

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