Abbott, America and the Aussie Reputation
When my friend Benny came to visit Australia from Texas in 2008, he was made uncomfortably aware by a number of Aussies that they didn’t like America. Nobody ever came up and said it outright, but there was a subtle rudeness from shopkeepers, waitresses and bartenders. Strangers were slightly colder with him than with others. He deduced that people didn’t like his accent because it carried an association to George Bush.
At that time, all over the world, Americans were negatively stereotyped for having such a tyrannical and yet dumb leader. The bummer for Benny was that he was a sensitive arty type who hadn’t even voted.
Fat Mike from NOFX once said on an international tour, “Don’t hate us because we’re American – just hate our government.” I think that sums up how many American travellers felt during the Bush era.
It’s not an easy message to convey, because people who make judgements about people based on their country’s politics often do so unconsciously. It’s quite easy to inadvertently project your feelings or opinions onto a person, especially on an identifiable outsider, regardless of what that person believes. Unfortunately, many prejudices are automatic.
What I want to know is whether this will start happening to Australians now that we have our very own tyrannical and dumb leader, or whether it already has. The Australian government seems to be in a consistently sharpening decline and the international press has been taking note.
In March, Time Magazine compared Australian offshore detention centres to concentration camps, describing them as “breeding grounds for rape, rioting, malaria and mental illness”. The article pointed out that 60 per cent of Australians think we should increase the severity of our policies on asylum seekers. Despite the bad press, Australia continues to act in violation of the UN Refugee Convention. Despite being totally unjust and inhumane, it doesn’t look too good on the international stage.
Last week, the UK’s Telegraph reported that “Australia’s first woman prime minister was pilloried for being female, unmarried and childless”. The article acknowledged the power and popularity of Gillard’s misogyny speech, duly noting that it was directed at Australia’s current, democratically-elected prime minister. If the Brits have deduced that we are a nation of misogynists, I don’t blame them.
The May 13 budget, along with Winkgate, has made Tony Abbott “one of the world’s most hated prime ministers” according to the Washington Post. The Post’s article acknowledged our “draconian austerity budget”, Abbott’s daughter’s dubious $60,000 scholarship and this classic quote from our prime minster when he was a student:
“I think it would be folly to expect that women will ever dominate or even approach equal representation in a large number of areas simply because their aptitudes, abilities and interests are different for physiological reasons.”
It’s no surprise to young Australians that we have a psychopath at the wheel, with no tolerance for refugees, women, students, the young, the sick or the environment.
What some may not have noticed is that Abbott is our very own equivalent of Bush, and he’s ruining our international reputation.
An Australian passport is a blessing and affords us many luxuries, but its value is diminishing with each government decision. Soon an Aussie passport will be like an STI: taken seriously in the realm of officialdom, but too embarrassing to show anyone else.
I wonder if people in Sri Lanka will secretly think I’m selfish and discriminative for my government’s policy on refugees. I wonder if Americans will return the negative stereotyping after seeing our prime minister winking while a woman complains of being forced to work a phone sex line. I wonder if people looking in from the outside at Australian politics see a bunch of intolerant, misogynistic, human rights violating pigs. And if so, how does that reflect on us?
As Aussie travellers we tend to see ourselves as a bunch of happy-go-lucky, binge drinking, friendly yet mischievous fools. But I think our collective stereotype is becoming a little bit fatter, uglier and more sinister than that. Our government certainly isn’t implementing policies, domestically or internationally that are helping our international reputation.
Perhaps next time I visit Benny I’ll meet a bunch of Texan hicks with shotguns and cowboy boots and they’ll implore me about what a backward government I have.
Want to see what America thinks about Tony Abbott? Then watch this.
Nat Kassel is a freelance writer and assistant editor at Global Hobo. He likes eating out of bins and taking photos of people taking photos.