Now more than ever, the personal is political



In the aftermath of the Victorian State election, it seems progressive politics was able to claim a victory. Daniel Andrews won in a 'bloodbath' in what is being called a repudiation of Coalition fear politics regarding African 'gangs' and outdated 'tough on crime' policies.

Former Victorian Opposition Leader Matthew Guy, who resigned following the Liberal Party's 2018 election loss (Darrian Traynor/Getty Images)On social media there was a palpable sense of relief from Australian-African activists. I started reading and liking the posts, not sure why I had a sense of déjà vu. Then I realised this collective exhale from the African-Australian community reminded me vividly of the sentiment from the LGBTQ community after the marriage equality survey results were announced. Relief, thankfulness.

I even recognised the same phrase from the postal survey, that the Victorian vote and the campaigning surrounding it had become a 'referendum' on African people living in Australia.

While these two instances aren't exactly the same and they hinge on different types of discrimination, it still feels eerily familiar. The cries from advocates saying how you're just ordinary Australians. The constant damaging media attention and news cycle giving voice to what seems like anyone with a bigoted take.

Feeling like you're representing the group at all times, because maybe you're the only person from that minority group a person knows or has actually ever met. The demand to distance yourself from the others in your minority group as though you are a monolith, while the most marginalised within those communities are pushed to the side.

Your bodies and experiences are politicised. The worth of your families and relationships are up for public consumption. Any time you point out how belittling this whole process is, you're told that you don't know how 'the game is played' and it's just politics. And when the vote is over, unaffected Australians get to pat themselves on the back for being so progressive this whole time without much consideration for the damage already done.

The effects of these types of fear campaigns linger well after the news frenzy has gone. In the essay, 'Dear postal survey: I hope you will turn out to be worth it one day', Felicity Marlowe writes to the marriage survey, 'You stormed across the calm and broke us. You exposed us to the elements — to the no voting neighbours we never would have known about ... What happens to everyone in your path you damaged along the way?'


"Targeted minority groups in Australia are only ever as safe as the next news item or election cycle. Each time there is a win there is hope, but there is also a death."


This idea is echoed in the recent article in the Saturday Paper by writer and lawyer Nyadol Nyuon about the treatment of African-Australians in the Victorian elections: 'When the voting is done, and political careers are secured or lost, when the journalists put down their "pens" and head to their families or bed, and when the publishers are onto the next story, the resultant scars from this episode of moral panic will still be carved into our lives'.

It is important to remind ourselves that these fear tactics are not really debates. They are traumas endured, even when we get the 'win'.

This feels like a familiar story because it is; it has played out over and over again in Australian politics. Targeted minority groups in Australia are only ever as safe as the next news item or election cycle. Each time there is a win there is hope, but there is also a death. A death of our innocence, a death of feeling like you're entirely safe in this country. Sometimes it's a very literal death. Some don't make it out alive.

I know I live in a political body and sometimes it is exhausting. I am reminded each time Safe Schools or religious freedom comes back onto the political agenda. Bla(c)k people are reminded every time they are hypersurveilled in public or try to get a job. Muslim people are reminded when they are called on to called to condemn violence after every terror attack involving a Muslim, as though that condemnation is not already implied. And in offshore detention centres, refugees are one of the most literal expressions of the government's control of minority bodies for political point scoring.

Over the course of 2017, I came to hate the phrase 'political football', but it's apt. In the article that I wrote on the day of the postal survey announcement I said that I thought we were better than this, better than treating our minority citizens like political objects. I really hope someday that's true.



Neve MahoneyNeve Mahoney is a student at RMIT university. She has also contributed to Australian Catholics and The Big Issue.


Main image: Former Victorian Opposition Leader Matthew Guy, who resigned following the Liberal Party's 2018 election loss (Darrian Traynor/Getty Images)

Topic tags: Neve Mahoney, Victorian elections, same sex marriage, African gangs



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Existing comments

Thanks Neve for your article. You are indeed right to say, " And in offshore detention centres, refugees are one of the most literal expressions of the government's control of minority bodies for political point scoring." Ever since Howard and the Tampa crisis, Coalition politicians have been demonising desperate people seeking asylum in Australia, calling them illegal and for over 5 years holding them indefinitely on off-shore hell-holes. It is a legal right to seek asylum when fleeing oppression. Sadly, Labor haven't had the intestinal fortitude to stand up to the Coalition and their attempts to wedge the Opposition on this issue. The tragic result is that some desperate asylum seekers have now lost their lives due to the Australian Government's cruel treatment and the Opposition's lack of courage and humanity. Thankfully many/most Australians have now woken up to the false argument about the boats starting up again and more drownings occurring. We all know the Border Patrol turns back any boats that do start up, or puts the occupants in orange life boats and sends them back to where they started. How many more desperate asylum seekers have to die before all politicians on both sides start acting humanely?
Grant Allen | 29 November 2018

Dear Ms Mahoney , Thank you for that clear thinking piece . I "enjoyed" in a manner of speaking every line of it and the logic was strong , the sense of justice clarion clear. Brava
Faye Lawrence | 29 November 2018

Thank you for this article. Having been involved with agencies involved in so many areas, one wonders where people get their information from. The security of our country is paramount and to suggest there are not issues with law and order surprises me. I have met many migrants and African people are not like us. They come from very Christian backgrounds and do not believe in same sex marriage, abortion, euthanasia etc. They are like Muslims and most Asians. They are family orientated generally unlike we Australians who are now very secular and just reward mediocrity in all we do. Our churches are full of Philipinos, Africans, Chinese and others who believe in the power of God. These very same people came to our country to get away from the killing fields in their own country. Christians and Muslims are the most crushed societies in the world but we do not want to talk about it because the lefties do not give a damn. The young are frustrated. many of them just need a hug. It is hard to go to school and put up with the crap they see; they are perceptive. They did not see this at home. Family life was real and schools taught love and respect. Not here; we teach teach things like anyone person can use any toilet; you do not need to put the childs sex on a birth certificate (Tasmania) etc etc, you can have sex after a nightout at a night club and dispose of the consequences later if needs be. What is Australia coming to?
PHIL ROWAN | 30 November 2018

Australia isn't "coming to" anything, Rowan. It arrived at Godlessness years ago. We are simply coming to terms with declaring our barbarous neo-morality publicly without embarrassment.
john frawley | 30 November 2018

Good stuff, Neve. When there is fear of survival thinking stops-it is just about survival. Simple fight-flight. Despots and dictators have known this for centuries. If you want to win, go for a minority group, wedge the broader community and show you are protecting the mob from the minority. Wins every time, ask Benito Dutton or that chap in 1930s Germany.. However the challenge for the rest of us is how to deal rationally with what is confected irrational fear. Reason is not capable of dissolving terror. This is a serious challenge, especially in a remarkably privileged and complacent population like Oz. One option is to highlight the beneficiaries of the scam. Australia is much more seriously endangered by the top end of town in say denying climate change. And by the violent in homes which violence is responsible for obscenely large numbers of deaths and injury. Simultaneously we need to comfort the next door minority group and be sorry to them on behalf of our immoral politicians.
Michael D. Breen | 01 December 2018

Thank you Neve. Vic Libs published a leaflet in Keysborough prior to the election "Stop gangs hunting in Packs" referring to APEX and the Sudanese. Obviously didnt work, trying to exploit the race card. Abbott previously kindled this fire by declaring that people have the right to be bigots and attempting to repeal part of the RDA. Knighted the Duke. What a travesty that was. Must grovel to the monarchy. Didnt he also attempt to ban the burqa in Parliament? Bernardi's shrill call for an inquiry into halal food certification, and Christensen addressing a Reclaim Australia rally could suggest that a government in a hung parliament is attempting to exploit community concern about Islam. Headkicker Dutton said that if you were a white South African Farmer you'd make a great contribution to Australia but left unsaid anything positive about asylum seekers or refugees. Mahir Momand is from Afghanistan, where he served as CEO of the National Association of Credit Unions in Afghanistan. In Australia, Mahir is CEO of Thrive Refugee Enterprise. Hani Abdile was detained on Christmas Island for 19 months. Today, she performs around Sydney and is the Sydney facilitator of Writing Through Fences. Libs are ever point scoring.
Frank Armstrong | 01 December 2018

We have to face it - and perhaps it will help us understand ourselves - that we are a racist country. We were founded on a division of free and convict - and then there those who did not exist, the "natives". Then there were the Irish - who had to become arch-racists to overcome their status on the bottom rung. So now the latest newcomers are always "unassimilable". And we go on believing that, generation after generation. Or people are not "straight" enough, or "Christian" enough. What would Jesus make of that?
Pat Mahony | 03 December 2018


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