Friday, 11 September 2015

Our leaders are happy when they think about making foreigners suffer

There's a lot going on, in the image above.

Australian flags stand tall and proud, towering above our leaders. Immigration Minister Dutton smiles, his posture confident and tall. Prime Minister Abbott, relaxed with his hands in his pockets, lets out a genuinely jubilant staccato laugh. Social Affairs Minister Morrison shrinks back, his hands nervously clasped, with an unambiguous sheen of worry on his face. This moment lingers for a couple of seconds - Dutton and Abbott are happy, and Morrison is not. Then, Morrison nervously mutters that there's a boom microphone above their heads.

This exchange is remarkable - you can watch it below.

In short, Federal Immigration Minister Peter Dutton, presuming the enormous boom mic directly above his head is either not on, or is not a microphone, quips joyfully about the Pacific Islands losing all sense of the passage of time, due to rising sea levels - "time doesn't mean anything when you're about to have water lapping at your door". The microphone is quite large:

Yesterday, Abbott was in Port Moresby, meeting with Pacific Islands leaders, who directly expressed  concern about their lives, and livelihoods, being threatened by rising sea levels.

"Pacific island nations had said the meeting was their last chance to highlight the threat they face from climate change, before the UN Climate Conference in Paris. 
The Australian response disappointed leaders who say some people are already being forced out of their homes by rising salinity, lack of water, or damage from severe storms or high tides"

Kirabati President Anote Tong pleads with Australia to reduce its emissions, and lessen the threat faced by his nation:

"I understand what's being said, that if they agree to those reductions in emissions, then it would hurt their industries and it would hurt their life, standard of living. But what I'm perhaps failing to communicate across is that while it will affect their standard of living, for us, it will affect the future of our people"

Perhaps he's being diplomatic, but our efforts to reduce carbon emissions will have close to zero impact on our lives, and our standards of living. The carbon price, while it lasted, had no impact on the economy, and the renewable energy target, had it remained unchanged or been expanded, would have lowered electricity prices. Breaking our addiction to coal will help us more than it hurts us.

These pleas were spoken barely hours prior to the awkward exchange. Dutton's own bumbling incompetence at not seeing the enormous boom mic aside, it's shocking to see the openly rapturous laughter that spawns on Abbott's face when he hears the quip. It's one thing to deny climate science, or to propose an ineffective solution.

But to sarcastically acknowledge the reality of the problem, and revel in the suffering caused by our own active contribution to climate change, is something else entirely. It's a sliver of insight into what seems to be an actively sinister mindset.

It might just be some inherent incapacity for empathy. During that famous moment when Abbott winked at a talkback host during a call from a pensioner who's working at a sex line to pay bills, he winks, grins, and then glances at the camera - you can see the precise moment when he realises he's being watched.

Dutton, who emitted the joke, and Abbott, whose cackle was immediate and totally real, have inadvertently revealed their default setting: open enjoyment of the suffering of foreign nations. This isn't just about a looming threat: people are already suffering as a consequence of global atmospheric and oceanic shifts.

In Australia, we can currently afford to feel a roaring rush of elation, when we think about how our chosen technologies result in the direct suffering of other people. Racism probably plays a part in this - Dutton and Abbott wouldn't share scoffed lols about a predominately white nation suffering due to our own inaction. When the outcome of unchecked reliance on carbon-intensive fuels come back to bite, we won't have time to dwell on irony, or introspection, or historical revision.

This clip goes far beyond ideology, politics or the realities and perception of science. It simply felt like watching two men derive authentic delight, merely thinking about the suffering of foreigners.

This is creates a third option around climate politics: not that the government denies climate science, nor that they advocate inaction. This tells us they might accept climate change is real, and that they rejoice at the thought of foreigners suffering as a consequence of our addiction to fossil fuels.


  1. They just don't give a fuck about anyone who is not like them. This goes for women, indigenous people, other races, refugees, domestic violence, drug addicts. All they give is lip service.

    I'm under no illusion that Abbott was driven by compassion when he decided to take 12,000 refugees from Syria. He had one eye on the polls and the other eye on his "death cult" rhetoric to justify bombing Syria.

    Dutton's remark and Abbott's response shows how close to the surface their disdain is not to mention how stupid it was.

  2. These are the leaders? Where are they leading us to?