Expatriation under Abbott

This is an open letter written by someone else, her name is Leigh, and she is an expat from the USA. I asked her permission to reproduce this letter and she consented. I believe it is worthy of your attention. It is presented without comment.

An open letter to my Australian friends who are upset over the election results

Last night, when the election results were called in favour of the Coalition, I was at a housewarming party. The news broke and people expressed their grief in a variety of ways. There was cursing. There was drinking. There were calls for revolution and collective migration to Iceland, with a range of levels of sincerity behind them.

As someone who is in the process of migrating for partially political reasons (the state of American politics has never been the only reason I came to or continue to live in Australia, but it’s always been one of the top three reasons at any given time), watching this reaction makes me feel very strange. I feel like i have insider knowledge – or, perhaps, outsider knowledge – that many lifelong Australians lack.

First of all, expatriation isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. Yes, you leave behind some of the politics you abhor, and they no longer directly affect you as they did before. But you also inevitably leave behind friends and family, and as a result, you never really get to stop caring about the politics of your mother country, because they’re still affecting the people you love. Furthermore, you find yourself being affected by and caring about a whole new set of inevitably flawed politics, and for a while – possibly quite a long while – you have little to no ability to affect them in any way. It’s not a liberating feeling; you’re still carrying the same amount of weight as you once were, if not more. It’s just distributed differently.

Secondly, the Australian strain of democracy has a lot going for it. Because I cannot vote but I also cannot stop myself from caring about the political system I live under, I end up doing volunteer work for the Greens every election cycle. Partly, I support the Greens because I agree with many of their policies, but I also support them simply because they are a viable, progressive third party. I come from a system where third parties are a political impossibility; structural elements of American democracy work directly against the prospect of any third party getting a toehold. In Australia, after this recent election, nearly a quarter of your Senate is composed of minor party MPs. In the US, in my lifetime, the number of third-party senators has never risen above 2%. I personally attribute this difference to the combination of preferential and compulsory voting, which I believe allows for a more robust political dialogue and a higher baseline political engagement for the general public.

Thirdly, whilst I agree that Tony Abbott is a reprehensible, small-minded toad of a man who reminds me uncomfortably strongly of George W. Bush, I think dwelling on his flaws is the worst thing progressive Australians can possibly do at this point in time. The Australian system is set up to focus on parties, not figureheads, and to do otherwise is to buy into a detrimental political rhetoric encouraged by News Corp. et al. Focusing on how awful Abbott is – or, for that matter, how awful Rudd was, or Gillard was, or Howard was – sets up a narrow perspective on politics that feeds into an us-versus-them, get-the-bastard-out-of-office-at-all-costs, lesser-of-two-evils mindset that, frankly, is a trap designed to keep the two major political parties in power despite neither of them accurately representing the interests of the public. You don’t have to fall into that trap; your system is capable of being more open-ended and accurately representative than that.

My request to you is that, if you are not happy with the government as it currently stands, you instead focus on supporting minor parties. They don’t have to be the Greens; that’s simply my own personal preference. There are tons of other minor parties out there; if you feel like your voice isn’t being heard by the current government, find a bunch of other people who agree with you and turn yourselves into a political megaphone by collaborating. Yes, it’s unlikely that your minor party will sweep into power in a few years, but it certainly won’t happen if you treat failure as a foregone conclusion. In the meantime, there are a number of ways that supporting minor parties sends a substantial political message to the major parties, prompting them to pay more attention to your political interests even if they retain power.

Please don’t spend the next X years bemoaning Tony Abbott. Be politically affirmative instead of negative. Whenever you want to make an unhappy Facebook post about something he’s said or done, donate time, money, or energy to your chosen third party instead. Tell everyone about that. Expand the political dialogue, instead of contracting it. Work toward making things better instead of just keeping things from getting worse. Don’t get sucked down into the bog of hating the opposition, because yours is a system that doesn’t require that kind of polarised perspective, and to cave to that way of thinking is to allow yourself to succumb to the sickness instead of being part of the cure.

You don’t have to settle for the lesser of two evils, you never have had to, and things will never improve if you believe that you do.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s