Chetna Prakash was taken aback by Turnbull’s promises of change; it was the first time she heard positivity from an Australian Politician.
“Now, we are living as Australians, in the most exciting time,” espoused Malcolm Turnbull during his press conference to announce the challenge on Tony Abbott’s leadership. It was September 14, 2015 at 4:04pm. I felt compelled to record the date and time, for Turnbull’s words have stuck with me. Why? Because it is the first genuinely positive statement I have heard from an Australian (let alone an Australian politician) on what the future holds for us, since my arrival four years ago.
The curious absence of excitement was evident to me long before I moved Down-Under. I married my Aussie husband in 2009 while he was living in the UK, and through him I befriended some Australians. I was instantly struck by the palpable sense of negativity in regard to the future. The Internet, too slow. The distances, too far. The population, too sparse. The costs, many. The labour laws too harsh. The unions too strong, China too dominant, and coal too abundant for new business to thrive in Australia.
I was spared the full force of pessimism and negativity until I moved here at the end of 2011. It bowled me over. Julia Gillard was too busy fending off Rudd to set any agenda, positive or negative. That gap was filled by Tony Abbott and his “direct” agenda. No matter what was being discussed – carbon policy, the refugee problem, NBN, budget deficit – he would shred the policy to pieces without offering any viable alternative. If he could get personal and vicious in the process, it seemed to drive him further. (e.g. Why miss the opportunity to link Gillard’s childless status to the government’s baby bonus cut?)
Of course, these are standard opposition tactics. Unfortunately, even as Prime Minister, Tony Abbott could never present the future to us with any sense of hope and promise. His agenda was dominated by negative action. Repealing carbon tax, stopping the boats, disempowering Climate Change Authority, encouraging bigotry, cutting ABC budgets, reducing benefits, dropping bombs on Syria, fending off terrorists, crushing same-sex marriage bill, targeting remote communities – all defined by destruction rather than any substantive construction.
All of which emphasised fear of a dismal future that we were heading towards, and the only way to combat it we were told was to shrink our way of life rather than to spread our wings or expand our horizons.
Which is why Turnbull’s words took me by surprise.
For after four years of being pummeled by Abbott’s pessimism, I had nearly forgotten that we do indeed live in an “exciting time” where new people, new technologies, new economic and political dynamics, even climate change, offer us new opportunities to exploit. Like the Australians I had met in the UK, I too had started believing that indeed the Internet was too slow, the distances too far, the population too sparse, the costs too high, the labour laws too harsh, people too old, the unions too strong, China too dominant and coal too abundant for any new idea or business to thrive in Australia.
Am I the only one feeling the optimism? Somehow, I don’t think so. I am writing this piece in a café in the rich, conservative suburb of Melbourne. The coup dominates the electric conversations around me. Even in this environment, the prevailing sentiment seems to be “good riddance”. I am yet to overhear anyone defending Abbott.
Of course, the positive spin might just be rhetoric on Turnbull’s part. However, I hope it is not.
I hope that the future really is full of opportunities, and Turnbull will give us the means to seize them.