Australia has exploded with talk of what has been taboo for all too long, sexual violence. Watching the media reports regarding the accusations Brittany Higgins has made against a former senior staffer, prompting further women connected to Parliament to speak out. I am at a loss for words, other than to thank Miss Higgins for her courage in coming forward. I likewise must convey gratitude towards Chanel Contos for beginning her online petition about sexual violence in schools and lifting the lid in such an important arena. But the individual most deserving of credit in my heart is Grace Tame for smashing the taboo and raising awareness for what seems to be a horrific culture of sexual violence in the Lucky Country. With an eloquence that many survivors of this grievous crime are less able to deliver, Grace has led the charge towards lasting changes empowering those who have been sexually victimised, particularly children.
My words fail me the more I watch what I bitterly describe as the egregious fiasco of the attempt at managing this ‘situation’ by the Morrison Government. Aussie politics is filled with behaviour that would be heavily criticised within the public employment sector, many of the actions seen recently would have resulted in termination, others may have been criminally prosecuted. My point to this article is to express how repulsed I am listening to the people elected to lead the Lucky Country. Unfortunately, the violence in Australia’s Parliament runs profoundly deeper than sexual assaults.
Over the years Australians have witnessed behaviours from the members of our government institutions that can be depicted as lacking. These days we have a word that is becoming increasingly common in our society, gaslighting; more specifically political gaslighting. Described by Medical News Today, “Gaslighting is a form of psychological abuse where a person or group makes someone question their sanity, perception of reality, or memories. People experiencing gaslighting often feel confused, anxious, and unable to trust themselves.” The description provided by the Political Dictionary is, “Gaslighting is a form of psychological manipulation that seeks to sow seeds of doubt in a targeted individual or group”.
During Scott Morrison’s denials regarding his awareness of the alleged rape in the Defence Minister’s Office resulted in Brittany Higgins releasing a statement stating that the Prime Minister was engaging in victim blaming rhetoric. Peter Dutton did the same thing when he used the words “he said, she said.” Scott Morrison was likewise gaslighting when he firmly insisted he was listening to Miss Higgins, yet paradoxically he failed to read the accusations against Christian Porter. Jane Norman suggested on the ABC News that she wasn’t sure what Miss Higgins was referring to when she released the statement stating that Scott Morrison had committed victim blaming rhetoric against her. Linda Reynolds used the words “lying cow’” in relation to Miss Higgins account of her treatment after disclosing her alleged rape to the Minister. Or Scott Morrison’s speech that incorporated the words “the mob” and “the tribe” process dismissing legitimate distress from a substantial portion of the population by gaslighting the nation and applying derogatory labels to those concerned that an alleged rape is not being adequately tested against the legal system.
This same victim blaming can be seen in the words spoken by ADF Chief Angus Campbell when he suggested attractive cadets drinking alone put them at risk of sexual assault. Or all the times past ministers have used insults in their discussions regarding old political rivals, such as when Kevin Rudd recently did in a tweet stating, “It’s touching that so many people can imagine me being a trained pugilist like Abbott.” Withholding reports relevant to the public; for example, the results of the research enabling the Cashless Debit Card or the inquiry into the Prime Minister’s Office determining who knew what and when with regards to Miss Higgins’ allegation of rape inside Parliament House. How about that time that Scott Morrison forced an angry bushfire victim to shake his hand when she verbalised a desire not to? In Australia, these things are all called political gaslighting. Examples of a horrible form of emotional abuse, conducted upon that international stage awarded to leaders of countries.
Tactics of political gaslighting have been present in the Australian Government since its conception. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders have faced this form of emotional abuse when the Dutch arrived, well before Cook and the First Fleet reached upon these shores. From the construction of laws that included the phrase Settled Colony and the lack of truth in the history books (something many of us Blackfellas call propaganda). But in more recent years individuals such as Senator David Leyonhjelm who has suggested Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders may not be the first people here, or Pauline Hanson when she implied that the name (a noun) Indigenous is the same as the description (an adjective) indigenous she applies to herself. These are all aspects of political gaslighting against the Oldest Living Cultures in the World. Remember that time Andrew Forest suggested before the High Court that because the Aboriginal People had previously had their lands taken away it was grounds to do it again? Recently politicians across the Lucky Country have taken up strong advocacy against China, all while we Aussies suggest there has been no racially driven actions; in the same way we deny the identical divisions towards other ethnicities such as African or Middle Eastern. Yes, we have several politicians who fight for these nationalities, but how many actively advocate against them? Yeah, it’s that nasty title again.
During high school one of my Social Education teachers was covering Australian Politics as part of the curriculum, and incorporated into one of the lessons was a live streaming of Question Time. Unfortunately, at that period there was a commotion going on in Parliament because someone had made fun of another during a media engagement. Which led to the Speaker of the House losing control of the room when one politician after the next stood up to make fun of someone across the chamber; that person has a big nose, this one has strange looking ears. The most pathetic of actions that as a teenager, I knew was not considered socially acceptable behaviour. As a result of my understanding, I stood up and demanded to know why we were watching the leaders of our country behave in a manner that would see the students in the room sent to the principal for bullying. The teacher turned off the TV, and we returned to writing out his lectures in our notebooks, much to the annoyance of the class.
At a time when our nation is considering coercive control laws we have witnessed almost a month of political gaslighting from those in power. Conducted upon an international stage often targeted survivors of an act of sexual violence perpetrated against their will. As previously covered in this article, considered a form of emotional abuse and in many instances a criminal act. Yet our elected leaders are using gaslighting tactics, almost on a daily basis.
Personally, I want to know why Australians are allowing our politicians to behave in this manner towards our own citizens. Calling into question the character of victims is further victimising human beings who do not deserve such treatment. Why are we indulging this behaviour from our leaders? These people are meant to be providing examples for the rest of us. When ABC’s Four Corners released the report titled “Inside the Canberra Bubble” Australia was made aware that a number of women have left politics due to the treatment they received; is this the legacy we want for our children and grandchildren? Why are we accepting this behaviour from those who are elected to serve the people of the Lucky Country? These individuals hold us, the citizens, to higher standards than they themselves are held to. They are our leaders, our institution of lawmakers, they are the core foundation to the civil, democratic society central to the Commonwealth of Australia. They should be held to higher benchmarks than the typical Aussie.
While these issues are not exclusive to the Australian political sphere, I am not a citizen of another country and don’t feel it is my place to comment there. But as Aussies, it is within everyone’s vested interest to be critical of the government that is designed to serve us. The privilege to not experience political gaslighting boils down to human rights, not the ones Aussie politicians parade about as platitudes pinned upon their chests, real equality for all people within our borders. Without it how can we claim to be the Lucky Country owning the Australian Dream?
Realistically, if Aussies wish to retain the title of a first world country, then we had better start behaving like we are one.
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