Political exile

Here’s a column I wrote for the Observant newspaper, Maastricht:

“Your father and I are moving to New Zealand”, my mother texted two Sundays ago. As though Australia, where they now live, isn’t already far enough. I thought she was serious until I remembered the national election was being held. They had voted for the Greens, as they always do, and the Greens had lost. As they always do.

Australia’s new prime minister is Tony Abbott, a homophobic, chauvinistic, former climate-change denier. Abbott leads the Liberal Party, which is liberal in nothing but name. (To be fair, the opposition Labor Party – in power until two weeks ago – had moved so far to the right on some policy matters it can be hard to tell the two parties apart.) Abbott’s campaign consisted almost entirely of the slogan ‘Stop the boats’. Asylum seekers try to reach Australian shores by giving their life savings to people smugglers, who stuff them into leaky boats in horrendous conditions. Not infrequently they drown, while our navy watches. This makes Australia look bad, which offends the Liberal Party no end – hence the need to ‘stop the boats’. Ironically, Abbott himself is an immigrant who came to Australia from the UK – by boat, no less – and is married to an immigrant from New Zealand. Incidentally, he wasn’t the first in his family to reach Australia. One of his ancestors was one Wilhelmina Bredschneijder, a Dutch divorcee who arrived in Australia in 1912 (by – you guessed it – boat).

I didn’t vote. Which is unusual, because Australia is one of the few countries where voting is compulsory, and neglecting to do so is punishable by fine. After almost ten years of forging my vote for me, my mother got fed up and had me taken off the electoral roll. I take this as a sign of official recognition – by the government, but more importantly by my mum – that I won’t be coming home any time soon. When I left, in 2004, the Liberal Party was in power and I swore I wouldn’t return to Australia until they were ousted. After a brief reign by their Labor rivals, the Liberals are back. The upside? I guess it buys me three more years abroad.

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