Treating refugees with contempt; re-writing immigration law to override Australia’s international obligations; junking the carbon tax, along with the Climate Change Authority; breaking election promises not to de-fund the public broadcaster, education and medicare; fast-tracking of dredging approvals on the Great Barrier Reef… but what nearly caused him to become unstuck was prime minister Tony Abbott’s misjudgement with the Australia Day knighting of Prince Philip, a “foreign national, earl and duke”.
|South African émigré Brian Sherman|
Abbott, who reinstated knighthoods last year, has been widely lampooned for his insensitivity on the day designed to celebrate Australia – one that Aboriginal people call “invasion day”.
A few days after his spectacular faux pas, his party was roundly defeated with a 12% swing in a Queensland state election. His approval rating plummeted and a fortnight later his leadership was challenged. He survived, but predictions are that he is too unpopular to lead the Libs into the next election. Labor is no doubt praying Abbott stays on to inflict more damage on his party before then.
“Exhausted cows giving double milk” was the newspaper headline on a story citing figures from Voiceless, an organisation championing the rights of animals in factory farming. While Australia’s dairy cow population has been about 1.8 million for the past 30 years, annual milk production has doubled and the modern dairy cow has a horrible life, with mastitis, metabolic disorders and lameness, not to mention way less grazing land than in the past.
Voiceless was founded by South African émigré Brian Sherman and his daughter Ondine, with JM Coetzee as its founding patron.
The family’s success story: Sherman emigrated in 1976 with his art-specialist wife, gallery owner Dr Gene Sherman, who received the Order of Australia in 2010 for her cultural philanthropy and support of artists. A decade later he – with his partner, South African Laurence Freedman – raised $US856 million from American investors for their company Equitilink, “the largest raising ever done on the US stock exchange at that point… We sold Australia to the Americans” he said. They later sold the company for $150m.
Emile, Brian Sherman’s Academy Award winning son, produced Disgrace, The King’s Speech and Rabbit Proof Fence (an Australian classic about the cruelties visited on Aboriginal children).
Meanwhile Australia’s treatment of its other would-be immigrants, the poor and disenfranchised asylum seekers, becomes ever more scandalous. Australia is the only nation that “demands the arbitrary detention of children and their families on their arrival… indefinitely, for periods exceeding a year and sometimes several years. Compare that with Britain, where asylum seekers must be released after 72 hours”. So wrote former Liberal PM Malcolm Fraser in February, in a column scathingly critical of the government’s asylum-seeker policy.
Peaceful resistance is taking new forms: a Tamil asylum seeker had his deportation delayed after a protester on his plane addressed other passengers on the plight of the man in their midst. He’d told immigration officials he feared torture upon return to Sri Lanka, but was found by Australian authorities not to raise protection obligations.
“After it was explained to the passengers what was happening… two passengers stood up and refused cabin staff instructions to buckle up. They were escorted off the plane,” said protester Jasmine Pilbrow.
Refugee advocates disrupted the men’s final of the Australian Open tennis tournament, with banners reading “Australia Open for refugees” and “#shutdownmanus”. Manus Island is home to one of Australia’s offshore detention centres and in January a new immigration minister proudly declared his “absolute resolve” that asylum seekers there and in other offshore facilities would “never reach Australia”. Meanwhile, two-thirds of the Manus detainees are believed to be on hunger strike and over a dozen to have sewn their lips together. Self-harm is rife, and the children on the island who were due for release at Christmas under a deal brokered with the government had not yet been released in February, said Fraser.
Although overshadowed by the prince, the selection of Rosie Batty as Australian of the Year was widely welcomed. Batty, whose young son Luke was murdered by his father, has since become an activist against domestic violence.
Is this the most sexist obituary ever published?” asked the website Women’s Agenda when Rupert Murdoch’s The Australian newspaper had as its opening line in the obituary of Australia’s best-selling novelist, author of The Thorn Birds, and “national treasure” Colleen McCullough: “Plain of feature, and certainly overweight, she was nevertheless a woman of wit and warmth.”
What were they thinking?
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