The darkest hour, they say, is just before dawn. And it just may be that a glimmer of light is appearing in the five-year nightmare of the Abbott-Turnbull-Morrison dynasty.
We are not talking only of the imminent demise of the feral muppets, although that is unequivocally good news in itself.
Something more important seems to be happening – a re-awakening of the conscience of Australia, a renaissance of the rationality and decency that appeared to be all but destroyed by the relentless campaign of fear and division promulgated by the right-wing rump of coalitionists and their elitist allies.
They, of course, remain mired in their own excrement, but perhaps – just perhaps – the nation is moving past them. The rump claims to be conservative, but is in fact deeply reactionary, pining for a largely mythical past based on the values which have served them so well – the monarchy, patriarchy, the established churches, the American alliance and the political and economic domination from which they have gained their power and influence.
The paradigm included casual racism, homophobia and male superiority These were often challenged since the cultural revolutions of 50-plus years ago, and in the 1970s and 1980s progress was made, but then came the Howard years, and for more than a decade we were encaged behind the white picket fence.
It wasn’t all football, meat pies, kangaroos and Holden cars but, as Howard boasted, he was the most conservative leader the country had ever had. Republicanism was thwarted, indigenous rights debased, gender issues ignored and any taint of progressive politics firmly discouraged.
Morrison said it would be business as usual – but business, like the rest of the country, was ready to move forward.
But time did not stand still; multiculturalism could not be wound back and while Australia could be kept as far from international norms as possible, the world moved on. In particular, Howard’s intransigence on refusing to ratify Kyoto or apologise to the stolen generations, even after Tony Abbott urged him it would be good politics to do so, ended up a negative.
When Kevin Rudd swiftly did both, he was widely applauded – perhaps, finally, there was progress. But then he abandoned climate change, and when he lost the leadership Julia Gillard, for all her efforts, was unable to give any real momentum for change in her minority government.
And Tony Abbott proceeded to drag us back towards the dark ages. Malcolm Turnbull was hailed as a saviour, but it quickly became apparent that he had no intention to fight for the ideals he once espoused.
But even his wishy-washy centrism was too much for the coalition’s mad right, who dumped him and more or less accidentally handed the chalice to the great marketeer, Scott Morrison. Morrison said it would be business as usual – but business, like the rest of the country, was ready to move forward.
There was really very little choice – three of what the right regarded as the foundations of Australian society had been seriously, even irrevocably, damaged. The Royal Commission into child sexual abuse stripped much of the trust in the already eroding power of the established churches. The Commission into the financial industry confirmed that the moguls at the big end of town were even more bastardly than we had always suspected.
And the whirligig of inadequate political leadership meant that democratic system itself was called into question. Not to the point of revolution; Winston Churchill’s dictum that democracy is the worst system of government ever invented, except for all the others, remains our default position.
But the demand for reform can no longer be denied, and the two great issues for the government – for any government – of climate change and the asylum seekers can no longer be ignored.
Climate change, in spite of the paranoid conspiracy theorists and the determinedly ignorant flat-earthers surrounded by Morrison’s government, is now becoming a front line issue.
Morrison is attempting to manage the dilemmas of Nauru and Manus, on the one hand, and ramping up a scare campaign about any change at all on the other. But apart from the inherent contradiction, the revelation that asylum seekers in their thousands are regularly arriving in Australia by air – and Peter Dutton and his myrmidons appear to be doing nothing about them – has invigorated the push for both compassion and common sense.
And climate change, in spite of the paranoid conspiracy theorists and the determinedly ignorant flat-earthers surrounded by Morrison’s government, is now becoming a front line issue. It has been clear for years that a majority of Australians are concerned, but now the demands for action are quite literally spilling out into the streets.
While our tits-on-a-bull Environment Minister Melissa Price blunders around Katowice promising to do less than nothing, insisting that dodgy accounting on tree planting and land clearing should be counted against the fact that Australia’s carbon emissions are actually increasing, the schoolchildren’s protests have brought the debate into dramatic focus.
The hysterical push back from the elitists of the right showed signs of flat panic – there was sneering, denigration, and ridiculous overstatement. It couldn’t possibly have been the kids’ own idea, a conclusion backed by science and logic and observation – they must have been brainwashed by Marxist teachers, driven out of their classes to promote socialist ideology.
But even some of the more zealous denialists must have realised that just as the vote on same sex marriage conclusively refuted the conservatives’ comforting myth that they somehow represented silent majority, the equally complaisant belief that the new generation is not interested in politics has to be reconsidered. The young may not be engrossed by the antics in Canberra, but they know what matters to them and what needs to be done about it.
And if there was any lingering doubt, the Swedish teenager Greta Thunberg spelled it out to the delegates in Katowice: ‘We have not come here to beg world leaders to care,’ she said. ‘You have ignored us in the past and you will ignore us again.
‘We have run out of excuses and we are running out of time. We have come here to let you know that change is coming, whether you like it or not.’ Truly, the times they are a’changing.
So seasons greetings – and, for once, without the usual bah humbug.