Cultural Comment Politics

Our Nation’s Conscience in Two Cartoons

For many people, it’s been an exhausting year, especially those passionate about politics. For a percentage of those, it’s been an exhausting three years.  This is down to a number of reasons. The biggest, from my perspective, is from the narrow nature of our political sphere and national dialogue.  We now have, in many ways, the Government created for and by the times in Australia.  It has become increasingly frustrating to find an interest and perspective on the political events and discourse of our time. The issues and events have been remarkable mostly for the sheer mundanity and simplistic nature of the debates in this, our mostly binary political landscape.

There is a definite repetitive and predictable nature of the events our new government are providing us  – the bizarre appointment of the former MP from a landlocked seat to our nation’s submarine manufacturer, the absurdity of the Human Rights Commission having to reduce its services relating to school bullying because they have to pay a new “Freedom Commissioner”, whose main qualifications for the role appears to be that he has had things published – this from Brandis’ press release –

“He has published and broadcast widely on the topics of personal freedom, liberal democratic values and the rule of law”

Next will probably come the appointment of Kevin Donnelly, former teacher, then former Chief of Staff to Kevin Andrews and now the head of the small Educational Standards Institute, to some kind of education review board – despite being disconnected from the classroom and its realities for many years – his ideas and approach to education has been critiqued many times over the years, such as here and here – we can expect more of that if he is brought into prominence in the new year. Little of that critique will be to any avail, however, to a government seemingly deaf to criticism from those that did not vote for them. The times are going get tougher for progressive views and programs for the next 2 and a half years at least in a variety of sectors and professions.

In this political time, it’s been the cartoonists that have been the most impressive with their critiques and comments.  I have especially enjoyed the work of Cathy Wilcox and Dave Pope, who provide an antidote to the selfishness and blunt nature of the age in which we live.

To that end, two cartoons have sprung up as the best of the year for me.  The first is Cathy Wilcox’s Repent


This tells us plenty about our Prime Minister’s mix of religious rhetoric and his attitude towards the onset of climate change. There is also more than a little of Xerxes about his attitude, which summarises somewhat Abbott’s persona and style, even down to the desire to Build Things:

Screen Shot 2013-12-23 at 7.09.38 pmThe other is Dave Pope’s Blackbirding, which is my favourite cartoon of the year.


This pairs together two of the biggest, most damaging instincts driving the then Opposition’s, now our Government’s goals. One is the destruction of the push towards renewable energy that will be wreaked by a party supported and funded by mining companies. The other is our nation’s treatment of those who come across the seas in order to escape persecution.  This cartoon speaks of an Australia that seems to be dragged into its past, back to a 19th Century frontier Australia, when we were just an economy looking to grow, caring little about its impact on the non – white human beings used in order to build it.  In this frontier view is our modern, sophisticated commonwealth where new residents have added richness to our community – which we saw with the influx of Vietnamese immigrants in the 1970s.  This Australia, however, is continuing to be eroded, piece by piece as time goes on and “non essential” programs are stripped away.

One of the catchphrases in Gerard Henderson’s Media Watch Dog is “Can You Bear It?”  It’s an easy thing for a bitter, angry man of privilege to write, tapping away in his wood panelled office, seething about the “elites” and “chattering classes” of his febrile imagination.  While Gerard can’t seem to bear much, there are many in our community with far greater burdens to bear and will continue to bear as the next years under Abbott unfold.  While that happens, at least we have the cartoonists to remind us of our nation’s still burning conscience.  It is for that reason I wish our cartoonists didn’t have so much material with which to work.

By prestontowers

I had been a teacher observing politics and the media from the outside for some time. I became a political insider, didn't like it much, and hightailed it back to watching it again. And still loving teaching.

One reply on “Our Nation’s Conscience in Two Cartoons”

Good, if depressing piece. One quibble: “[…] a government seemingly deaf to criticism from those that did not vote for them.” – I’d argue the Government’s circle of respected criticism is much smaller than that. Similar to its critique of the ALP, the LNP is increasingly a party whose intellectual and policy drivers come primarily from within the parliamentary party, and who view external attempts to influence its policies as the efforts of self-interested fools.

The next few years are going to be interesting for all three major parties. The ALP – whether Shorten actually supports the “democritisation” push, or whether it just becomes a figleaf for continued factional control. The Greens – finding their role after de facto coalition: are they a party of protest / review or one of genuine legislative negotiation. The LNP – whether they can return to being a party with a positive agenda, or a party based on reactionism and vengeance for perceived wrongs.

I agree, BTW, “Blackbirding” is one of the most uncompromising pieces of satire I can remember.

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