Can you imagine a dystopian future Australia ruled by an extremely conservative and fundamentalist religious government with attendant undertones of fascism and racism thrown in just to round things off?
Well, twenty years ago I tried to do just that, and I wrote a short screenplay called Perfidon – The New Dark Age.
It was a purposefully dark little idea about the worst set of unlikely circumstances that could possibly befall Australia, and not for a second did I think that it would remotely come within a bull’s roar of becoming a reality in my own lifetime.
Perfidon was a made-up variation of the word perfidious: treachery and bad things and all of that. Perfidon was the name of a prison, and it was a very bleak, cold, and isolated place indeed. It was the sort of place you got sent to if you were not a herd-follower, and you definitely got a spot in that clink if your brain thought for itself and did not have the government mandated consistency of a soft compliant sponge.
The mass of the population in that imagined Australia was cowed and fearful and terminally gullible, and they were well trained to report on anybody who transgressed against either the paramount political ideology or the paramount faith of the time.
In the screenplay it was not hard to come up with a handy list of the expected transgressors. Unionists, atheists, scientists, independent academics, anyone of the left, anyone of a different faith, the pursuers of social justice, the poor and disadvantaged, anybody with a variation in skin tone, anybody who loved or lived with somebody of their own gender, and the variantly opinionated free thinkers … they were all potential targets to be reported upon under the imagined they are not of us regime.
In that imagined Australia people had to be very careful about what they said, and who they said it to. But free thinkers being free thinkers, and unionists being perennial pursuers of the common good of the workers, and social justice types being social justice types, and uncowed people being uncowed people … all meant that in the story they could not help but stand up and refute the reigning ideology of that future time, and therefore outed themselves as excellent targets to be reported on.
The cowed masses, fearful, and hopeful of currying favour, turned up in droves to be the hopefully well rewarded dobbers. Inevitably, as duly reported upon Reportees, the transgressors were dragged off the street, or out of their homes, and dumped into the unwelcoming maw of Perfidon. Gosh, it was a dark little screenplay.
Then it got worse. Because the Reportees never, ever, returned from Perfidon.
At that point I sort of lost my way with the idea. Couldn’t quite figure out how to end it. So it got dumped into the I’ll think about that later file. Guess what? Later has arrived with a vengeance.
I don’t have to dust off the old Perfidon idea because our current Coalition Government is writing their own updated version of that old unpublished screenplay as they go along. Does any of the following sound familiar to you?
- Attack and demonise the unions.
- Attack anybody who holds a different ideological, or political, or religious, slant.
- Do the Spartan thing and expose the poor the unemployed and the disadvantaged on the unforgiving hillsides of degradation, demonisation, poverty, and starvation.
- Reward the compliant and attack the free thinkers and opinion holders.
- De-fund or muzzle non-compliant non-religious community groups.
- Ignore the Judiciary and grant ever increasing national security powers into the hands of favoured Ministerial henchmen.
- Demonise anybody who is ‘other’ and label their ‘otherness’ as a threat to the security of the nation.
- Mute the rationality of empirical science-based evidence.
- Attack independent free-thinking journalism and use the police forces of the state to harass and suppress any non-compliant media.
- Use Orwell’s Newspeak as a mechanism of thought diminishment, or if that doesn’t quite grab sufficiently, simply outright lie to the gullible masses and then present truth as falsity and falsity as truth.
- Favour religious schools, and force religious proselytising into secular schools.
- Place the enemies of the state, the very refugees who are the collateral damage of the wars of the state, into prisons from which there is no return.
- Pay lip service to Indigenous aspiration.
- Protect religion via legislation and de-power humanism and secularism.
- Sustain and promote the bigotry of hurtful free speech and demean the veracity of polite free speech.
- Whatever the overt nature of their criminality, protect supporters and donators, and attack the whistle blowers.
People who say it can never happen here are perhaps not critically analysing the unfolding script. It is already happening here, and it is not as if the evidence is hard to find for those with eyes that can see.
Some people I know sort of laugh at me when I say that there is a battle for the heart of this nation playing out under our very inattentive eyes. But I am deadly serious with my assertion.
It is no joke to say that the Liberal and National Parties of Australia, the Coalition, have burrowed themselves deeply under the skin of far too many compliant Australians. And the Coalition has done so with the poisonous tenacity of a latched-on Paralysis Tick. The poison is circulating in the national bloodstream, and it will take an incredible effort of national will to expunge it.
The fear in our society is palpable. It is a government engendered fear. Fear of refugees, fear of the voice of the original people of this nation, fear of anybody with a skin coloured other than white, fear of the religiously different, fear of anybody who is not a herd follower, fear of the thought of difference itself, the ephemeral fear that somebody is coming to take away what we have, and fear of who we really are and what we have really become. Fear of looking in our own mirror in other words.
Our collective compliance, our collective acceptance of terrible things done in our name, our collective fear of being different and brave and strong, is gutting any chance of a better Australia.
We all have to make a decision at some point regarding what to do about the direction the Coalition Government is taking Australia in. The following assessment of the state of that decision making process is unambiguous:
Some have already made their decision with courage and heart, some are wavering under the lure of incessant tax breaks and the unsubtle pandering to aspirational greed, and the saddest part of it all is that the rest are compliant and fearfully complicit drones. Harsh perhaps, but try to prove that it is not so.
But are we prepared to actually do something about it?
I have been politely rebuked here and there for suggesting that the interminable internecine warfare and kneecapping that goes on between the ALP and the Greens needs to stop, and that both parties need to get together and form a cohesive workable coalition.
I don’t suggest such a thing just for the fun of it. There are two major coalitions competing for the favour, for the very will if you like, of the people here in Australia. One coalition is a deadly parasite on our national psyche and it is devastatingly effective at garnering electoral success, and the other coalition, or non-coalition, is a frustrating exercise in the mournful ability of the reasonably like-minded to continually self-sabotage their own progressive efforts.
One could almost scream about the pointlessness of the internecine battles between the Greens and the ALP, because meanwhile, at a higher level, the war for protecting and nurturing the soul of this nation is being lost. Those two parties, in union, are our only hope of arresting the current negative slide. Those in either party whose main motivation is primacy over the other are self-distractedly and inadvertently doing no less than a disservice to the future of this nation.
We need leaders, we need courage and strength and guts to stem the tide of extreme rightist conservatism that is currently swamping and damaging Australia. It is disingenuous of the Liberal Party to infer that their extreme rightest totalitarian rump has been muted and marginalised, the reality is that the ideology of the rump has saturated the core and has been window-dressed up as mainstream and unthreatening.
It is incorrect to say that the Coalition Government has no cohesive set of policies. The long list mentioned above is but a sample of their policy directives and they are now, with a slightly more compliant Senate, in a far better position to enact more of their agenda.
Leadership … just as Gerry Adams, Martin McGuiness, and Ian Paisly had to step away from everybody else who was clamouring for their ear and reach a workable solution to their collective Irish troubles, then I think that Anthony Albanese and Richard Di Natale need to step above individual party interests and combine their efforts in the interests of a far greater national good.
And the answer, to my mind, lies in both the political and the personal.
At the personal level people wonder what it is that they could possibly do to bring about positive change. In my case keyboard protests have their value, and I use that avenue because words can have power and can influence opinion, but their reach, certainly in social media circles, is often limited to the already sympathetic or already cause-converted. Like anybody else I have struggled with the question of how to convert such thoughts into action.
I remember the power of the March Australia marches against the excesses of the Abbott Government from a couple of years ago. Those Marches dragged me off my verandah, away from my keyboard, and out onto the streets. They dragged an awful lot of people out onto the streets. From that experience I went on to organise a civil rights rally in, of all places, Gympie, and I went on to deliver a speech in support of welfare recipients at a rally in Brisbane. None of that saved the world but it was an example of one individual stepping outside the comfort zone of his own dronish compliance.
Imagine if we all did something like that?
I also learnt something from a solo protest I undertook two years ago. In order to protest against a mega-development by Sekisui at Yaroomba Beach here on the Sunshine Coast I grabbed a Save Yaroomba Beach type sign and planted my feet firmly on a wide divider in the middle of the road with traffic whizzing around me from every direction. Got a lot of honks that day, mostly supportive, but I’m so light it’s a wonder the wind draft didn’t spin me round like a top.
The police turned up eventually and, with grace and humour and style, two of them shunted my geriatric bones across to the footpath. I learnt that it is easy to shunt one person, but I reflected on the fact that it is almost impossible to shunt 10,000.
I really think we are getting to the point, or perhaps we are already past it, where all the talking about the ills of this Coalition Government is going nowhere, it is fast becoming an example of truthful opinion circulating like hot air around itself.
Concerted legal and peaceful action needs to begin, both at the political and personal level.
At the political level it may require something we have rarely seen here in Australia. The Greens and the ALP seek to progressively advance Australian society through the mechanisms of the party system and parliamentary processes. Well and good, generally tried and true, but it isn’t currently working.
The streets are there. The streets are waiting.
It is done elsewhere around the world so is it so unthinkable to suggest that the leaders of our progressive parties should call the people out onto the streets to peacefully protest en masse?
Will it cost them votes in some quarters? Yes, it will. Is it time they moved on from that worry and stood up for the principles they espouse? Yes, it is.
In the past groups like March Australia, Lock the Gate Alliance, Refugee advocates, Amnesty, various environmental groups etc have taken the lead in organising peaceful mass street demonstrations, and the odd progressive politician has turned up for the photo opp. I’m suggesting that the leaders of the ALP and the Greens call for, organise, and lead peaceful mass street rallies in all our capital cities and main regional areas to protest against the insidious agenda of our openly right wing, and increasingly suppressive, government.
To anybody who might think that I’m being slightly over the top here all I can say is the following … the water is in the pan, it is currently lukewarm, and we are the frog. Also, the mass of the population under the old Weimar Republic thought that the totalitarian ‘jobs and growth’ mantra was a wonderful thing, until they learnt at great cost to themselves and others that it wasn’t when economic crisis and political instability led to the collapse of the republic and the rise of the Third Reich.
We certainly need to cut through, and simply waiting for the three-year electoral cycle to grind over is not providing it, and peacefully taking to the streets under a clearly defined joint political banner may well be the only way to truly achieve it.
For putting forward this proposal I may well be called many things by the ideologically invested and the compliant, well water off a duck’s back and all that. I could not even remotely be called a radical, I am an average old age pensioner Australian, and what I see happening to our country, and the apathetic response to those events, worries me deeply.
A female friend of similar age suggested to me the other day that once you get past 60, especially if you are a woman, but also if you are a man, you become invisible to society. There is truth in that. But it is also truthful to say that people of our vintage have seen an awful lot over the course of our lifetimes, and we know some of the lessons of past history.
Our parents were of the generation that had to physically combat, and in many cases lose their lives, to stem that last terrible flowering of rightist suppression, and because the events of that time unfolded so fast they were not afforded the time or the luxury to get in early with peaceful mass street protests. We have the luxury, and at the moment, a slowly but accelerating diminishing amount of time.
People sort of jokingly say that it is all hopeless here and that we should all emigrate to New Zealand or something. Well nope to that. We should stand firmly on our ground, and firmly claim it. We should fight the rightist move in Australia before it gets a chance to develop further and truly flower.
But I don’t want to be one of one. I want to be one of 10,000, or 50,000, or 100,000, or 500,000, or one million. I would like to see the coalition of the Greens and the ALP call the people out onto the streets to peacefully protest against what this Coalition Government is doing to our country. This nation that we love and cherish is more than bloody well worth fighting for.
Perfidon was simply meant to be a story. It was an exercise in imagination banged out on an old manual typewriter. That’s all it was ever meant to be. I never thought I would see it unfolding as a reality in my own Australian lifetime.
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