The release of the Lowy Institute’s latest poll on the rising fears of Australians and our insecurities regarding the potential effects on us of terrorism, gave Prime Minister Tony Abbott what he likely considers a God-sent opportunity to reassure citizens that his government will do anything to “take care of our people and keep you safe.”
We heard similar paternalistic reassurances in the preceding days, this time on the matter of doing anything to keep our country safe from job lots of asylum seekers, including paying people smugglers good taxpayer money to steer their fragile craft in the direction of Indonesia. If you didn’t see a business opportunity in that offer, you’re a total failure as a people smuggler.
This keeping you safe business is one of Abbott’s core manipulations: while hyping up the threat of stranger danger, he rarely refers to the dangers that are literally in our own back yards. In February 2015 he promised that “with every fibre of his being” he would “keep us safe” from terrorist threats, but there was not one mention in his Press Club speech of the deaths of two women every week in Australia from the domestic terrorists who murder, abuse and sexually assault us. This omission is made even more remarkable because Abbott holds the portfolio of Minister for Women.
“I will with every fibre of my being keep you safe.” It’s a wedding vow. It’s the overwhelming emotion of the father when he first kisses the head of his newborn infant. It’s a language that has little relationship to reality and reason, and while appropriate as expression of feeling in a personal context, in the political it’s emotionally manipulative, duplicitous, and deliberately employed to soothe fears that cannot, in reality, be soothed.
It sounds so seductive, doesn’t it, to humans who yearn for certainty and safety in a world where neither can ever be on offer. Abbott is the wolf in the fairy tale grooming children with wild promises, dry-mouthed in anticipation of the ecstasy of devouring them, smacking his lips at the prospect of savouring their sweet flesh. Orally fixated, I want, I want, I want is Abbott’s true three-word mantra, and like any seductor, he projects his desire onto the objects of his lusts and convinces himself that they want it just as much as he does. I will keep you safe and that’s what you want me to do, he whispers, lick, smack, lick, smack, the eerie rhythms of his drily ravenous mouth the stuff of nightmares.
Just who Abbott means by “our people” is unclear, but I suspect it means only the brain-dead cohort who are satiated into a coma by hollow sloganic rhetoric. He won’t want to be keeping anyone safe who doesn’t give him a vote, you can count on that. This is how Abbott decides who to regard as fully human: do they vote for him?
All too often, the one who promises I will keep you safe turns out to be the one who presents the greatest threat. Paternalism is never honest. The paternalist inevitably has tickets on himself: it’s always about him and his superior ability that entitles him to know what’s best for you. So he invades your privacy and commands your metadata, he erodes your liberties bit by tiny bit, all the while whispering, I am keeping you safe, just like I said I would, and in the end, you are entirely his.
There’s only one way to understand this government: get out your original copy of Grimm’s’ Fairy Tales, the one before the frightened people sanitised it, thinking it too nasty for children, overlooking how very nasty children can be. Abbott is speaking to adults in denial, to a childlike audience so desperate for reassurance it will settle for the temporary quelling of anxieties, the temporary relief of a leader promising, I will keep you safe. Abbott is the monster who manufactures monstrosities, from which he then promises to protect you. Like little children, his gullible demographic flock to his promises of protection, never understanding that like the waterborne asylum seekers, they are fleeing into danger.
Nobody can keep us safe. Abbott offers the image of an Australia protected from all outside threat by the vigilance of his government, but this will never be anything other than a dangerous illusion. What we must do is learn how to live with uncertainty, rather than accept the dummy of false reassurance to soothe us, and silence our cries. Nobody can keep us safe, least of all a mad man like Abbott.
Women know this. We are never safe. And the biggest threat to our safety is not ISIS, or terrorism of any kind, but the other humans who share our lives. Will Abbott, our ministerial saviour, call on every fibre of his being to keep us safe from them?