Tony Abbott as PM: a return to old Australian stereotypes?

tony abbottIt seems that barring a political calamity of some sort (or perhaps the return of Kevin Rudd), Tony Abbott will become our next and 28th prime minister in September.

Two article in the February issue of  The Monthly magazine, (which I picked up belatedly in the library), made me think more deeply about what sort of country we may become under a Coalition government with Abbott at the reins.

Journalist and broadcaster Mungo MacCallum writes that even though there have been desperate attempts to cast Abbott in a less misogynistic light, he remains “irredeemably macho”:

“He spent much of last year dressing up in hard hats and other tough-guy equipment and taking part in long-distance quad and pushbike rides.

“He has competed in an iron man contest. And he has started this year by inviting the media to photograph him in the guise of a fearless firefighter.

“However little it excites women, Abbott has remained determined to be seen in fluoro and lycra.”

The second article has nothing much to do about the current political climate in Australia, but does provide some insights into overseas perceptions of the country.

New Zealand-born writer and artist Nic Low, describes a trip he took with other Australian artists and writers to attend ‘Bookwallah’ in India – an international writing festival – where he travelled the vast country by train with Indian writers.

In Goa Low writes that the question is asked about attacks on Indian students in Melbourne while in Chennai racism rears its head with “a suggestion that Australia resembles apartheid-era South Africa”.

“Beyond polemics, the questions reveal a lingering stereotype of Australia. As [Australian writer Kirsty] Murray puts it ‘It’s an idea of Australia from a generation ago’.

Whatever the deep divisions in the current government, divisions that will likely see it ousted from power in September, the Labor government of the Gillard-Rudd era ushered in a new vision of Australia to the world.

With Rudd there was the historic apology to Aborigines and the ‘Stolen Generations’, acknowledgement of climate change, implementing a fairer industrial relations system and development of the National Broadband Network, that despite its criticism will serve Australia well in the years ahead.

Gillard, for her part, put the idea of Australia as an inherently male-dominated society in its place with her rise to be the country’ first female leader while also introducing policies like the National Disability Insurance Scheme and pushing through the contentious, but ultimately necessary carbon tax.

In short Rudd and Gillard, whatever their shortcomings (of which there are many), have ushered in a new, more progressive image of Australia to the world.

Sadly, what lies ahead is regression led by a macho, uber-male prime minister and his inner sanctum of mostly male ultra-conservatives.

As pointed out by Melbourne academic Leslie Cannold, Coalition hardliners Julie Bishop and Sophie Mirabella are the only two females out of 20 in Tony Abbott’s shadow cabinet compared with four (including Gillard) in the current Labor government.

Make no mistake, sexist views will be less harshly criticised and less harshly judged under a government led by a man, whose most famous piece of clothing is a speedo.

Even beyond the Coalition – just look for a moment at some of the other political candidates – conservative Queensland senator Bob Katter, whose trademark is a cowboy hat and mining magnate Clive Palmer, who is turning the Coolum Resort he owns on the Sunshine Coast into a monument to himself complete with a wall of framed portraits in the lobby and a new museum featuring a collection of his classic cars.

This evolving male chauvinistic attitude is most evident in the denigration of Julia Gillard as the election draws nearer.

Since the day she took office, most criticisms about Gillard have been about her sex: from the relentless derogatory comments from Alan Jones’s to the latest disgraces involving Perth shock-jock Howard Sattler incomprehensible questioning of Gillard’s partner Tim Mathiesen’s sexuality (would anyone dared or cared to have asked John Howard any questions relating to the health of his marriage?) and ‘menu-gate’ where Brisbane restaurateur Joe Richard, seemingly at the behest of Liberal National party candidate Mal Brough, drew up menu for a political fundraiser featuring among other things a dish called “Julia Gillard Kentucky Fried Quail – Small Breasts, Huge Thighs & A Big Red Box.”

Add to these the recent revelations (though not in any way ‘news’) of “demeaning, explicit and profane” emails sent by senior male army personnel denigrating women and I wonder if we are indeed quietly setting ourselves up in the word’s of The Age’s columnist Greg Baum: “…as a land of sexist, racist, bullying troglodytes”.

This mood was also picked up by Fairfax journalist Annabel Crabb when she wrote that ” in Australia, there are people who still think that ”jokes” about women’s lady-bits are funny, whether they are composed with reference to the Prime Minister, or circulated by army perves  and “journalists who think it’s OK to ask the Prime Minister, live on air, if she is in fact a gay man’s beard?”

This fetid atmosphere is only going to get worse when Abbott takes charge, a man who in his university days was apparently not averse to throwing a punch to make his point and intimidating student rivals, even if they be women.

Yes, the next government will undoubtedly speak as one united voice with Abbott at the helm, but what does that matter if the message it sends out is:

“Welcome to Australia. Please turn your watches back 10 years.”

Why Alan Jones is talking to himself

Alan Jones playing Franklin Roosevelt in AnnieThe first time I heard radio shock jock Alan Jones, I saw him as well.

It was soon after I arrived in Australia and was living in Sydney. It was September 2004.

This bald man with a round, red face and bulging eyes would appear on breakfast TV and rant on about something or other in a condescending tone, hardly seeming to take a breath. It would all be over in a couple minutes.

I found it vaguely amusing – knowing nothing at the time about who Alan Jones was or his place in Australian media and politics.

Over the years, I’ve gotten to know more about him, usually in relation to something disparaging he has said about women, the Labor party, minority groups, aborigines or  when he has bullied or and taunted someone on his show or in public (as was the case when he attempted to turn a rabid crowd outside parliament against Fairfax journalist Jacqueline Maley).

But I was also surprised to learn that he coached a successful Wallabies team in the mid 1980s to a famous Grand Slam in Europe and Bledisloe Cup win in New Zealand.

He spoke last year to Leigh Sales on the ABC 7.30 report about his opposition to Coal Seam Gas drilling and its impact on fertile farmland, a stance I support, but also defended his comments about throwing women like Prime Minister Julia Gillard into chaff bags and tossing them out to sea.

Asked how he picked his “issues” Jones explained:

“My listeners are my best researchers, so a lot of my issues are taken from the correspondence. I answer over 100 letters a day and I gain information from them.”

And who are these people who write into Jones’s show and inspire his campaigns?

I contacted 2GB and asked them to send me the media kit they send out to advertisers, which would, I thought, give information about the demographics of his listener audience.

But I never got a reply.

Then I came across a 2006 webpaper by Clive Hamilton of the Australian Institute titled “Who listens to Alan Jones?”

I emailed Clive Hamilton and asked him, if perhaps he had updated his study.

He replied: “I am not aware of any update of the information in the report, but I
doubt the analysis would have changed much. In fact, with the greater polarisation of politics what I said about Jones’s listeners is probably more true.”

With that in mind, I delved into Hamilton’s study, which is based on a range of sources and surveys including Roy Morgan research.

So who does listen to Alan Jones?

Firstly, they’re old.

“The typical Jones listener is an older Australian – 68% per cent are over 50,” says Hamilton in his report.

Secondly, they’re retiree-battlers.

According to Hamilton his listeners tend to be concentrated into two groups: “pensioners and others with incomes around the average”.

Thirdly, they are god-fearing.

“Only 10% of Jones listeners say they have no religious affiliation compared to 26% of other Australians”.

Fourthly, they vote for the Coalition.

75% of his listeners supported the ruling Coalition government at the time.

Fifthly, they’re disgruntled.

More than three quarters (77%) of his listeners believe that the fundamental values of Australian society are under threat compared to 66% of all Australians” and they believe that crime is getting worse.

As for the racist element, according to Hamilton’s report Alan Jones listeners are “less likely to believe that Aboriginal culture is an essential component of Australian society”.

Those with long memories may recall that in 1993 Alan Jones described the choice of aboriginal musician Mandawuy Yunupingu, the lead singer of Yothu Yindi as Australian of the Year as an ‘insult’ and claimed that Yunupingu only received the award because he is black.

And who can forget his comments that many claim incited the Cronulla riots including remarks like: “We don’t have Anglo-Saxon kids out there raping women in western Sydney”.

Delve further into the research and more conservative streaks emerge.

Only 13% of his listeners believe that gay couples should be allowed to adopt children (the national average in 2006 was 37%) and nearly 50% believe that homosexuality is immoral – findings that must surely sit uncomfortably with Jones, given questions over his own sexuality.

The research also finds that Alan Jones shows incredible favourable bias towards the Liberal and National Parties, while criticising almost every policy from Labor.

A bias that has clearly not shifted one iota between 2006 and October 2012, given the parade of Coalition politicians who appear regularly on his show.

Despite his audience representing a small, polarised section of Australian society, Alan Jones still seems to think that his audience represents the views of all Australians.

And that’s because they’re so much like him – just with smaller egos and a lot less money.

Perhaps one day he will acknowledge that who actually listens to his show are grumpy old white men living on the Western outskirts of Sydney, who ring in to his show to tell him the country is going to the dogs every time someone with a darker shade of skin colour or foreign accent moves into their neighbourhood.

But I doubt it.

Just recently he ran a poll on 2GB asking whether the massive irrigation farm, Cubbie Station in Queensland, should be sold to Chinese interests.

Not surprisingly, the vote was 99% against the sale.

I listened to a bit of the commentary that followed:

“Julia Gillard, Wayne Swan…they couldn’t care less,” said Jones.

“You’ve got dopes running Canberra,” he added.

And so thinking of an image that best sums up the Alan Jones listener audience, I thought of the poster for the movie “Being John Malkovich”.

You know the one with all the people holding up a cut-out of John Malkovich in front of their own faces.

Instead in this case it’s Alan Jones.