- 1 The name “Liberal Party” can be confusing for US-based readers in particular. In the US, “liberal” (...)
1It is tempting, in a so-called “post-9/11 world”, to attribute any national, international or transnational dramas involving security, rights, civil liberties, attitudes to women, refugees, anti-Arab or anti-Muslim racism, masculinity, militarisation, neo-conservatism and so on, to some sort of “post-9/11 effect”−at least among the supposed main players in the post-9/11 scenario. Yet 9/11 did not happen out of nowhere. Even if it is demonstrably true that in many (but certainly not all) parts of the world, 9/11 and the actions taken by the US and its allies in consequence changed the course of world history in ways that we are still evaluating, it is also demonstrably true that 9/11 became an enabling mechanism for already-existing ideologies. Bush Jr had already defeated Gore in the 2000 US presidential election; neo-conservative John Howard had been Australian Prime Minister since 1996; similarly, many countries in Europe had experienced significant shifts to the right prior to 9/11, even under ostensibly left-wing governments such as that of Blair in the UK. In 1996, Howard’s Liberal-National (conservative) coalition won in a landslide, obtaining the second-biggest swing against an incumbent government in Australian history (the biggest being by the coalition team led by Malcolm Fraser against the Whitlam government in 1975).1 Howard was returned to power in a second election in 1998. By 2001, however, Howard’s government was facing a probable election defeat on domestic issues. In November of that year, however, running on a post-9/11 “security” platform, Howard managed to turn this probable defeat into clear victory, obtaining yet another massive voter swing, this time to an incumbent government: again, one of the largest in Australian history.
2This article will investigate the ways in which the impact of 9/11 in Australia contributed to amplifying Howard’s right-wing voice, already strong, delivering Howard’s government a rationale for augmenting its power in seemingly unchallengeable ways. Prior to 9/11, social movements in Australia had mobilised around domestic issues typically favoured by the left: health, welfare, education, the environment, threatening John Howard’s majority. Post-9/11, Howard was able to mobilise the discourse of “security” to develop a politics of fear that kept his government in power for another six years (it was again returned to power in 2004). It was a discourse that enabled the apparently definitive triumph of Howard’s “throwback” politics: those of a White (fortress) Australia that has deeply scarred Australian political and social history, and those of the Australian Bloke, the “little battler” who puts all his muscle into defending his home, his stay-at-home wife and his appropriately sex-role-assigned children with masculine pride.
3The racial politics of the aftermath of 9/11 have been much discussed, notably in relation to Arab minorities in the West. They will not be ignored here: not only did 9/11 definitively put Muslim minorities on the Australian political map, but the rekindling of racist paternalism towards Indigenous people is a particularly perverse manifestation of Australian post-9/11 politics. Another major factor in the Australian post-9/11 scenario that again cannot be ignored, is the refugee issue. As an Anglo-dominated island-nation-continent located in a region dominated by non-Western countries, insularity has long been both a geographical and a political issue in Australia. With the increase in refugee arrivals by boat in the late 1990s, 9/11 provided a perfect opportunity for the Howard government to reassert Australia’s white insularity against “queue-jumping” boat arrivals who, unlike previous waves of refugees arriving by sea, were now as likely, if not more likely, to be West Asian or Middle Eastern than Southeast Asian.
- 2 Winter, Bronwyn. “Pre-Emptive Fridge Magnets and Other Weapons of Masculinist Destruction: The Rhet (...)
4What has been in general less discussed, however, at least in mainstream political science scholarship (there is extensive discussion within women’s studies), are the masculinist politics of post-9/11ism. It is the expression of those politics in Australia, through the reconstruction to nationalist ends of the archetype of the Average Australian Bloke, that is my primary concern in this article. In discussing Howard’s politics as masculinist, I am not referring simply to those measures adopted by Howard that directly impact on women, which I have discussed elsewhere,2 but rather to post-9/11ist politics overall as couched in a masculinist logic of paternalistic national protectionism and militaristic belligerence towards the Other.
- 3 I see the influence of Sarkozy in France as dating from his appointment as Minister for the Interio (...)
- 4 Winter, Bronwyn. “Ruin: What Happens When You Keep On Buying the Same Old Line,” Women’s Studies Qu (...)
- 5 I elaborated on this definition of “post-9/11ism” in 2011.
5Let me first explain what I mean by “post-9/11ism” in the West (it is also present in much of the Muslim world but I am focusing on the West in this article). I use it as a shorthand term for a political shift that has been most marked in Anglo countries but also strongly present elsewhere (such as Sarkozyan France).3 It is made up of three related elements. The first is “an escalation of Huntington-esque ‘clash of civilisations’ rhetoric that constructs ‘the West’ and ‘the Muslim world’ as radically incommensurable in terms of values, culture and political philosophy.”4 The second is the deployment of the rhetoric of security, safety (against terrorism), democratic values and women’s rights and dignity, to justify legislation and actions of governments that are often demonstrably counter to democratic values, civil rights, women’s rights and dignity and even people’s safety (more on this presently). The third element is a re-imbrication of religion and politics, which among its many other problems is particularly damaging for women.5
6If one looks back to the Australia of the 1970s and 1980s, the Bloke seems to have at that time become a relic of a quaint colonial past. By the end of the 1980s, Australia had become celebrated as one of the most successfully egalitarian and multicultural societies in the world, and indeed one of the safest−as well as a proud pioneer in the area of women’s rights, including long before the post-postwar progressive era. At Federation and national independence from Britain in 1901, Australia was the second country in the world (after New Zealand) to grant women the vote. In other areas of women’s rights such as equal pay or the recognition of marital rape, Australia also came in ahead of much of the Western pack, with most of the significant changes occurring from the late 1960s onwards, after the emergence of the Women’s Liberation movement. Following the 1972 election of the Whitlam government (Australian Labor Party [ALP]), a national adviser on women’s affairs was appointed (Elizabeth Reid, appointed 1973), which was the first step towards today’s National Office for Women and Ministry for Women, and the term “femocrat” was coined in Australian English, as women’s issues made it firmly onto national, state and local public policy and service agendas. Although Indigenous Australians did not attain full citizenship until 1967, Indigenous Australia made huge progress during the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s. Landmark examples include the 1976 Land Rights Act that enabled the transfer of roughly 50% of land in the Northern Territory (largely rural or desert) back to Indigenous ownership, the Mabo vs Queensland court case in 1992 that led to the 1993 Native Title Act, and the setting up in 1990 of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission as a formal Indigenous consultative body. Finally, the multicultural turn, commenced under the 1972-5 Whitlam regime and its colourful Minister for Immigration Al Grassby, assisted by legal advances such as the end to the White Australia Policy (see below) and the 1975 Race Discrimination Act, became official government policy under Whitlam’s successor, Malcolm Fraser (Liberal Party).
7So Australia’s brusque political transformation to a conservative white muscular masculinity following Howard’s election in 1996 and most especially following 9/11 can seem bizarre. Yet like all societies, Australian society is neither homogenous nor univocal. Howard’s neoconservative social politics tapped into deep-seated class, race and gender divides that formed part of Australia’s history−indeed, its very creation as a Western society−and have never entirely gone away.
- 6 Connell, Raewyn W. Gender and Power: Society, the Person and Sexual Politics, Sydney, Allen & Unwin (...)
8The “bloke” could be characterised as a quintessentially Australian form of what R.W. Connell has called hegemonic masculinity: that is, the dominant form of masculinity that is ideological and idealised, that pervades the culture and all forms of social interaction, and to which all other expressions of masculinity, and all women, are subordinated.6
- 7 The term “malestream” was coined by Mary O’Brien in The Politics of Reproduction, London, Routledge (...)
- 8 Guillaumin, Colette. “Sexism, a Right-Wing Constant of any Discourse. A Theoretical Note,” in Guill (...)
- 9 Anderson, Benedict. Imagined Communities: Reflections on the Origins and Spread of Nationalism, Lon (...)
9The term “bloke” has its origins in southern English slang, and is deeply embedded in the history of British colonisation of Australia. A bloke is the little man, the average man, battling to make a living, forge an identity, and build a country in a hostile environment. As the settler farmer, he shares some characteristics with the romanticised pioneers of the US Wild West, but he has other dimensions as well that are inherited from the British class system through Australia’s convict history. As such, the “bloke” has both a right-wing and a left-wing legacy in mainstream (malestream7) politics, although he sits firmly on the right from a feminist perspective.8 Blokeyness is a masculinist logic of being, and its corollary, mateship, is a masculinist logic of solidarity. A “mate” is not just a pal or a friend, a mate is a fellow bloke with whom one exchanges recognition of an imagined community−to borrow Benedict Anderson’s term−of Australian identity, which is by default white, male, Anglo, heterosexual, and resolutely anti-elitist.9 Even when university-educated and well-heeled enough to have left the working and lower middle classes well behind, the bloke and his mates are nonetheless Aussie battlers all. Blokes drink beer together, and play or watch sport together. They are patriotic, socially conservative (even if politically their allegiances vary), invariably sexist (even if sometimes well meaning), and have a strong commitment to work, family, and Christian values although often not to the religion itself.
- 10 Tavan, Gwenda. The Long, Slow Death of White Australia, Carlton North, Vic., Scribe, 2005.
10The bloke is also white, and of Anglo or Celtic background. The protection of the bloke’s right to work, free from competition from the non-white (notably Chinese at the time), was initially a policy of the working man’s and trade union party, the ALP, and became national policy at Federation in 1901, in the form of the Immigration Restriction Act. The policy quickly became notorious, but was not dismantled until after World War II, and then only little by little by successive Labor and Liberal governments over the following three decades. Finally, the 1975 Race Discrimination Act made it illegal to use racial criteria for immigration or any other purpose, and a 1978 law removed any mention of specific countries of origin being among the criteria for selection of immigrants.10
11Notwithstanding the jubilant progressiveness of the late 1960s, 1970s and 1980s, then, Australian white blokeyness remained under the surface. The Bloke was even celebrated during this period as a semi-apocryphal figure: a Crocodile Dundee stereotype produced both for a particular export market and for Australians to indulge in a favoured national pastime of self-deprecation mingled with pride. Even in the 1980s the Bloke was to a great extent embodied by then Prime Minister Bob Hawke (ALP), a former trade union leader with a broad Australian accent and singularly blokey manners. The Bloke thus remained at the heart of a Middle Australia that moved to reassert itself following the 1980s economic downturn, with the 1988 national celebration of the bicentenary of white settlement perhaps marking a symbolic turning point.
- 11 “Interview with Liz Jackson : ‘An Average Australian Bloke’”, in Four Corners, Site of ABC national (...)
- 12 Summers, Anne. The End of Equality: Work, Babies and Women’s Choices in 21st Century Australia, Syd (...)
- 13 Summers, Anne, op. cit.; Winter, Bronwyn, ibid.
- 14 Winter, Bronwyn, ibid.
12The spectre of White Australia and the retraditionalisation of family and women’s role within it did not, however, take more solid form until after the election of Howard. During his electoral campaign, Howard told the popular current affairs program Four Corners that he’d “like to be seen as an average Australian bloke” and that indeed he couldn’t think of “a nobler description of anybody than to be called an average Australian bloke”.11 During his time as Prime Minister, he reasserted his nationalist blokeyness in a variety of ways, not only through his love of sport and his notorious green-and-gold tracksuit (green and gold are Australia’s national sporting colours), but more seriously, through his overt affirmation of Christian, white, and male supremacist values.12 Among other things, the successive governments he led put out to tender many state-funded or state-run services including women’s services, Indigenous welfare and the state employment agency used by those registered as unemployed. Many of those tenders were won by Christian groups, others were won by businesses.13 Child custody arrangements after divorce were changed in response to concerted lobbying by so-called “men’s rights” groups.14 Life was also made decidedly more difficult for asylum seekers and Howard’s approach led to international criticism as being in breach of the 1951 Geneva Convention and 1967 Protocol on Refugees.
- 15 Kingston, Margo. Off the Rails: The Pauline Hanson Trip, Sydney, Allen and Unwin, 1999; Winter, Bro (...)
13Even the extreme-right gained in popularity at that time, not only through a higher profile given to fringe groups such as the Australian Shooters’ Party or various so-called “men’s rights” groups, but through the spectacular albeit relatively short-lived success of extreme-right politician Pauline Hanson.15 A dissenter who had left Howard’s Liberal Party, Hanson became an independent member of parliament in the 1996 election, after which she formed the political party One Nation, which enjoyed brief success, notably in the 1998 elections in the state of Queensland where it obtained 22% of the vote, before disappearing from view. Hanson was a sort of female bloke, or a “sheila” if you will: a “lady” battler who had come from running a fish and chip shop in the western suburbs of Brisbane to leading an extreme-right party. She even used her “fish and chip shop lady” origins and her lack of higher education as political leverage, playing up her appeal to the “common people.” Ironically, however, Pauline Hanson, even as she performed the female incarnation of blokey politics of the extreme-right, also suffered from the blokey culture: much of the ridicule she suffered was laden with sexist overtones.
14In particular, Hanson brought protectionist White Australia back to the forefront, opposing Asian immigration and taking a hardline stance against refugee entry, a stance shared by John Howard.
- 16 Winter, Bronwyn, ibid.
- 17 Enloe, Cynthia. “Masculinity as a Foreign Policy Issue,” in Hawthorne, Susan and Winter, Bronwyn (e (...)
15The fact that Pauline Hanson was a woman did not make her politics and those of the people who supported her (mostly petty bourgeois and rural men) less masculinist.16 Masculinism and feminism are not genetic, they are to do with the meanings one gives to the world and the values one embraces. Conservative religion, muscular protectionism, aggressive economic competition and militarism can all be seen as masculinist, and indeed have been analysed as such over at least four decades of so-called “second-wave” feminist political science and international relations literature. In particular as concerns the post-9/11 issue of “security”, feminist international relations scholars such as Cynthia Enloe make the distinction between a masculinist view that equates “military security” with “national security” in a competitive performance of manly toughness, and a feminist view that asks why men’s anxieties about the size of their guns need such immediate and exclusive attention, to the detriment not only of women in general but indeed of the very international security that the manly men and their female allies claim to be protecting.17 Neither Iraq nor Afghanistan (nor any one of a number of other sites pulled into the post-9/11 ideological and military battles) have become safer or less belligerent places in the now more than a decade since 9/11 and the beginning of the “war on terror.” In fact, the contrary may well be true, as is indicated, for example, by increased concern among US and Australian defence forces based in Afghanistan about “green on blue” attacks, the “green” being members of the Afghan military under training by Western “blue” forces. The Afghan forces are widely suspected of being infiltrated by Taliban fighters, who are presumably behind attacks by members of the Afghan military on their supposed US and Australian allies.
- 18 Young, Iris Marion. “The Logic of Maculinist Protection: Reflections on the Current Security State, (...)
- 19 Adams, Phillip (ed). The Retreat from Tolerance: A Snapshot of Australian Society, Sydney, ABC Book (...)
- 20 Hawthorne, Susan and Winter, Bronwyn (eds), op. cit.; Lawrence, Carmen. Fear and Politics, Melbourn (...)
16Evidence against the effectiveness of “the logic of masculinist protection”, as Iris Marion Young called it,18 did not, however, trouble John Howard and his government in 2001. The climate of insecurity Howard managed to generate during the 1990s, particularly with relation to the refugee issue and in the leadup to the 2000 Olympic Games in Sydney, was given a clear boost by 9/11, and neither facts nor logic deterred either Howard from his course of action as Bush Jr’s ally in the “War on Terror,” or the Australian voters who returned him to office with an increased majority on 10 November 2001. If the conservative shift in Australian politics under Howard prior to 9/11 had already signalled the triumphant return of a culture of wholesome yet xenophobic whiteness, of anti-intellectualism, of petty-bourgeois gender roles and social conservatism,19 9/11 gave Howard the xenophobic “security” agenda, based on a politics of fear and couched in a neo-Hobbesian language of muscular protection, that he needed to drown out protest on domestic issues.20 In short, Howard followed the typical neo-conservative path of what in the US are referred to as “Daddy” politics (thus indirectly giving credence to feminist critiques, albeit in a somewhat essentialising way): prioritising “security” (strengthening the military, shoring up border protection, hyping up the terrorism threat), and “values” (the family and Christianity), to the detriment of the supposed left-wing “Mommy” issues of health care, the environment, the poor, education and so on.
- 21 Speech delivered on the occasion of George W. Bush’s visit to Australia. Howard, John. “Address to (...)
17During a 2003 visit of George W. Bush to Australia, Howard claimed that “terrorists oppose nations such as the United States and Australia not because of what we have done but because of who we are and because of the values that we hold in common.”21 Those values were those of blokes who believed in God, home and family and were prepared to go to war to protect them. (In 1999, well before Bush unequivocally reinscribed Christianity within US foreign relations, Howard had proposed that God be introduced into the preamble to the new Australian constitution within the context of a referendum on Australia becoming a republic. Had Howard had his way, the opening sentence would have read: “With hope in God, the Commonwealth of Australia is constituted by the equal sovereignty of all its citizens.” Both Howard’s proposed preamble and, subsequently, the referendum were defeated, the latter because of monarchist opposition on the right and opposition on the left to the only proposed model for presidential selection: nomination by the government, not election by the people.)
189/11 came hot on the heels of another major international incident involving asylum seekers picked up in Australian waters, an issue with which the 9/11 “security/war on terror” agenda would become inextricably linked. Known as the Tampa affair, it involved the government’s refusal to admit 438 Afghan asylum seekers rescued from their unseaworthy boat by the Norwegian freighter Tampa, on 25 August 2001, only two weeks before 9/11. Some six weeks later (and thus four weeks after 9/11), the “children overboard” incident occurred, during the leadup to the 10 November Federal election. On 6 October, the Australian naval vessel HMAS Adelaide intercepted a boat, dubbed SIEV IV (Suspected Illegal Entry Vessel number four), carrying 187 Iraqi asylum seekers. A written warning was thrown aboard the boat. When it was ignored, warning shots were fired to deter the boat from continuing toward Australia, and navy personnel subsequently boarded the boat to turn it around. According to immigration minister Philip Ruddock, the navy told the government that some asylum seekers then threw their children, wearing lifejackets, into the water. Just days after Howard’s November 10 victory, it was exposed that the navy had done no such thing and no children had been thrown overboard. The lies served the government well in its election victory, and the post-election timing of their exposure was odd, causing a massive political scandal: not scandalous enough, however, to defeat Howard three years later, in 2004.
19A number of other SIEV incidents occurred during the leadup to the federal election, of which the most tragic was SIEV X, which sank on 19 October 2001 while carrying 400 asylum seekers from Sumatra to Australia’s Christmas Island: 146 children, 142 women and 65 men drowned. 9/11 combined with these repeated at-sea asylum seeker incidents to enable an ideological reconfiguration of the asylum seeker issue. From what Howard had previously dubbed “queue-jumpers” threatening fortress Australia−an island of Anglo security in the midst of dangerous alien waters−asylum seekers arriving by boat now became potential Islamic terrorist threats. The fact that the Tampa asylum seekers were Afghani and the SIEV IV asylum seekers were Iraqi was convenient to say the least: Afghanistan and Iraq being the primary foci of Bush Jr’s “War on Terror.” The conflation of the asylum seeker and terrorism issues was illogical, given that those fleeing the regimes of the Taliban in Afghanistan and Saddam Hussein in Iraq were more likely to be progressive dissidents than fundamentalist terrorists. But logic was not a necessary component in the post-9/11ist hype, and rational thinking has rarely, if ever, been central to masculinist nationalism or militarist policy decisions in international relations.
- 22 Lawrence, Carmen, op. cit.
20The Tampa and “children overboard” issues, then, combined with 9/11, were an extraordinary stroke of luck for the then insecure Howard government, ushering in its victory on November 10. What Labor politician Carmen Lawrence has called a politics of fear played out very well on the Australian psyche.22 Howard managed to tap into the historically ingrained insular collective insecurity of what is in reality one of the safest and most economically secure nations in the world. (For example, Australia weathered better than most the Global Financial Crisis of 2008, and in 2011 as the Eurozone faced further turbulence, Australia remained relatively well insulated.)
- 23 Ramakrishna, Kumar and Tan, See Seng (eds). After Bali: The Threat of Terrorism in Southeast Asia, (...)
21In 2002, Howard received another lucky break: the 12 October bombings in the tourist district Kuta on the Indonesian island of Bali, long a privileged tourist destination for Australians. A car bomb and another bomb attached to a suicide bomber killed 202 people, of whom 88 were Australians (the single largest national group to die, followed by 38 Indonesians, many of whom were employees in the nightclubs targeted). Members of Islamist terrorist group Jemaah Islamiyah, active in South and Southeast Asia, were subsequently convicted of the bombings. Not only did the Bali bombings tighten US and thus Australian focus on Southeast Asia as a “second front” in the “War on Terror,”23 but Bali was Australia’s 9/11: it was our tragedy, and those responsible were operating in one of Australia’s closest neighbours and the world’s largest Muslim country by population: Indonesia. Indonesia is also−in a politically convenient linking of the two tightly imbricated post-9/11 issues in Australia−the country of origin of most of the refugee boats (but not the passengers) that continue to set sail for Australia, and continue to sink due to overloading and unseaworthiness, killing hundreds in a traffic that is no doubt lucrative for the so-called “people smugglers” that are organising the voyages.
22Post-Bali, Australia could unequivocally join the international ranks of those Western democracies under direct threat from Islamist terrorism, and as such enhance its position as manly warrior in a righteous war on both domestic and international stages.
- 24 Head, Michael. “Olympic Security: Police and Military Plans for the Sydney Olympics; A Cause for Co (...)
- 25 Lynch, Andrew, McGarrity, Nicola and Williams, George. Counter-Terrorism and Beyond: The Culture of (...)
- 26 Pue, Wesley. “The War on Terror: Constitutional Governance in a State of Permanent Warfare,” Osgood (...)
- 27 Australian Law Reform Commission. “Fighting Words: A Review of Sedition Laws in Australia,” Site of (...)
- 28 Michaelsen, Christopher. “Australia’s Anti-Terrorism Laws Lack adequate Oversight Mechanisms,” Site (...)
23This collection of dramas gave the Howard government a green light to enact a raft of security legislations. Although the 2000 Sydney Olympic Games had provided an opening for a new security regime even before 9/11 changed the global political conversation, 9/11 provided the means to considerably ramp up these measures.24 The Howard regime adopted a total of 48 pieces of anti-terrorism legislation following 9/11, outdoing Canada, the UK and even the US.25 Much of it bore striking resemblance to legislation adopted in the US and its ally countries (that resemblance extending at times to word-for-word similarity, bar the country name, as Wesley Pue has demonstrated with relation to the US, Australia and Canada).26 The legislation empowered the government, among other things, to prosecute anyone giving funds, directly or indirectly, to any terrorist organisation, and extended the definition of sedition to include “those who urge violence or assistance to Australia’s enemies,” raising concerns about freedom of speech.27 The legislation contained no provision for judicial review, and in any case, Australia had no human rights instrument such as a Bill of Rights or specific act of parliament protecting human rights, with which the compatibility of the anti-terrorism legislation can be tested, nor a constitutional watchdog to test the legislation’s constitutionality.28 Much of this legislation remains in place today; in fact, the Rudd and Gillard ALP governments that succeeded Howard in 2007 and 2010 respectively, far from repealing these laws, added six more.
- 29 Winter, Bronwyn. “Pre-Emptive Fridge Magnets and Other Weapons of Masculinist Destruction,” op. cit (...)
- 30 Winter, Bronwyn. “Pre-Emptive Fridge Magnets and Other Weapons of Masculinist Destruction,” op. cit
24It is not, however, only in the areas of national security and antiterrorism legislation that the aftermath of 9/11 provided an enabling discourse for further development of the Howard government’s muscular paternalism. Policies towards Indigenous Australians and Australian women also became increasingly controlling. In 2006, just before an extremely controversial Federal “intervention” into Indigenous communities in the Northern Territory−ostensibly prompted by Indigenous male violence against young girls−Tony Abbott (who became prime minister in 2013 and was replaced by Malcolm Turnbull in September 2015), then Federal Health minister, called for a “new paternalism” in Indigenous affairs.29 In a transparent reiteration of the colonial discourse of the White Man’s Burden, Abbott claimed that misguided white guilt and naivety were getting in the way of proper management of Indigenous communities, many of which were unable to manage themselves, and thus that the State needed to step in to install administrators. (Tellingly, the government had dismantled ATSIC the previous year, ostensibly because of corruption within the body.) Similar paternalism was evidenced with relation to violence against women and divorce.30 Many of these measures have not been fully undone since, and were even continued under Labor between 2010 and 2013: the Northern territory “intervention” continues and the “shared parenting” law concerning divorced couples and their children, much criticised by feminists as removing protections of children from abusive fathers, has yet to be repealed.
- 31 O’Sullivan, Maria. “Malaysia Solution: High Court Ruling Explained,” Interview, Site of The Convers (...)
25Perhaps most radical of all was the so-called “Pacific solution” to the question of asylum seekers, which involved, first, the excising of thousands of islands from Australian territorial waters for the purpose of migration (Migration Amendment [Excision from Migration Zone] Act and the Migration Amendment [Excision from Migration Zone] [Consequential Provisions] Act, both passed in September 2001). Among the best known of these islands, within the framework of the refugee debate, is Christmas Island, where the Australian government continues to detain and “process” asylum seekers “offshore.” This legislation has not been repealed. Also from September 2001, boats carrying asylum seekers were intercepted by the Australian Defence Force and sent to third countries for “offshore processing” in exchange for Australian aid, the most well-known of these being the island state of Nauru. Offshore processing in third countries was stopped after the Howard Government’s defeat in 2007, but in 2011, the Labor government headed by Prime Minister Julia Gillard sought a new “offshore” solution, with asylum seekers being redirected to Malaysia. On 31 August of that year, the High Court (the highest court in the country) ruled the “Malaysia solution” unlawful as it breached the Australian Migration Act.31 In 2012, the Gillard government reintroduced the offshoring of asylum seekers to Nauru and to Manus Island (Papua New Guinea).
- 32 Gaita, Raimond (ed). Why the War Was Wrong, Melbourne, Text, 2003.
26Howard’s vision of a unified Australia flexing its collective muscle did not, however, entirely reflect the reality−notwithstanding the popular success, for a time, of his worldview. In fact, his sharp rightward turns served in many ways to rally the oppositional left around common causes (including the war on terror),32 finally voting Howard out in 2007. Howard himself lost his own seat in that election to former well-known journalist Maxine McKew (who in turn lost the seat in the 2010 election which narrowly returned Labor to power with a minority government).
27The “War on Terror,” Howard’s industrial relations legislation and refugee and Indigenous rights in particular massively mobilised Australians in a way not seen for decades. The demonstrations on 16 February 2003 against the Iraq war were the largest since the Vietnam moratorium, bringing hundreds of thousands of people into the streets.
28In 2005, the Howard government voted in the most draconian of its series of anti-union and anti-worker industrial relations changes, that it misleadingly called “Workchoices”. In response, the trade union movement, that had already been active in its opposition to the Howard workplace agenda, launched its “Your Rights at Work” campaign, which obtained widespread support among many sectors of civil society. It is arguable that Workchoices and the Your Rights at Work campaign were the silver bullet that finally put an end to Howardism.
29The refugee rights campaigns and the workplace rights campaigns repoliticised large sections of society and permeated popular culture. For example, both the Tampa and children overboard incidents were featured prominently in the 2002 Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras parade, one of the country’s biggest tourist attractions, which had for many years been more festive than strongly political. The “Tampaphobia” float was complete with baby dolls attached to elastic being “thrown overboard.” In 2006, the LGBT trade union group Workers Out won the award for its “Super-Union” float, in which super-union dancers dressed in red leotards and capes liberated oppressed workers chained by green-and-gold-tracksuit-wearing Howard.
30Australia even remains, despite the politics of meanness and normative, conservative masculinity introduced during the Howard years, true to its prior reputation for egalitarianism and multiculturalism. Certainly, Indigenous Australians, followed by Australian-born Arabs (most of whom are Christian), are statistically the most disadvantaged in a society that has become, socioeconomically speaking, more polarised, and women demonstrably carry the heaviest burden of that disadvantage, along with the ongoing effects of various forms of male violence against them. And asylum seekers sent to Christmas Island or Nauru continue to be treated as criminals in a penal colony. Yet, even without a constitutionally-encoded Bill of Rights, and even factoring in the darker sides of Australian history, the Australian polity, and Australian civil society, are also built on a−sometimes itself blokey−ethos of a “fair go for all.” Australians like to think of themselves as fair, as equitable, as tolerant. From that point of view, Howardism deeply troubled Australian people’s vision of themselves.
31Despite a mixture of relief and optimism that followed both Kevin Rudd’s 2007 election in Australia and Barack Obama’s 2008 election in the US, and despite inspiring moves such as Rudd’s apology speech to the Indigenous Stolen Generations in February 2008 and his almost immediate action to remove the multitude of anti-gay discriminations in federal legislation, neither were part of the most radical left wing of their respective parties. Disappointment quickly followed euphoria, and the government that put an end to Howardism quickly became perceived as timid and as reluctant to fundamentally turn around the politics and practices of socioeconomic meanness and muscular nationalism that had become the default position during the Howard years.
32Even Australia’s first female Prime Minister (Julia Gillard, Labor), who deposed Rudd in a 2010 internal coup and was elected that same year by a very narrow margin, started to resemble just another Bloke. Certainly, as the first woman to occupy the position, and a not entirely conventional one at that (she is not married to her male partner, who is a hairdresser, and has no children), Gillard carried a political symbolism that is every bit as profound within the Australian context as a part African-American man being elected to the US presidency. That said, Gillard’s politics were in many respects−certainly as concerns foreign policy and the refugee issue, as well as on some domestic issues such as gay rights or the Northern Territory “intervention”−a more timid replica of Howardism. Moreover, while both she and then opposition leader, Howard protégé Tony Abbott, were unpopular in the opinion polls during Gillard’s term, Abbott won the 2013 election thanks to neo-Howardist politics.
- 33 Enloe, Cynthia op. cit.; see also, among others: Zalewski, Marysia and Parpart, Jane (eds). The “Ma (...)
- 34 Tickner, J. Ann. “Identity in International Relations Theory: Feminist Perspectives,” in Lapid, Jos (...)
33Many feminist international relations scholars have pointed out that masculinity is indeed “a foreign policy issue.”33 As Ann Tickner put it in the mid-1990s, feminist critiques show that cultural and national identities are constructed around a strongly masculine collective that will go to war to protect itself, and an appropriate mythology and symbolism of the hero and the protector, of the “just warrior,” will develop as a result.34 9/11 was a windfall for Howard, and helped prolong his regime. Even though much of what happened in post-9/11 Australia was already in train, what 9/11, and the Bali bombings, added was the “just warrior” justification. As such, post-9/11ism was the finishing touch to the Australian hegemonic masculinity that Howard had already begun to resuscitate from its partial dormancy: that of the anti-intellectual, white Christian family man, muscular protector of the safety and cultural integrity of our island continent, the feminised national home and hearth.
34And that other−and perhaps equally mythical−Australia, that of the fair go, of equality for all, of justice, peace and antiviolence, of multiculturalism and plurireligious tolerance, of welcome and hospitality, continues to be deeply troubled.