On 7 March 2014, the first Friday of Semester 1, the Abbott government will have been in power for six months. Whether you will be working hard in your lectures and tutorials or taking yourself on a tour of Sir John’s Bar, it is worth pausing to reflect on Australia’s trajectory in this past half year.
Abbott has brought himself a fair share of negative media attention, particularly in his numerous foreign policy blunders. Australia’s relationships with significant neighbouring Asian countries have deteriorated, and tensions with Indonesia and China have escalated dramatically.
The Liberal Party’s struggles with diplomatic relations make their attack on the Australian Curriculum even more curious. The Australian Curriculum was developed over many years of consultation and review by the Australian Curriculum, Assessment and Reporting Authority, and was based on the Melbourne Declaration on Educational Goals for Young Australians. One of Christopher Pyne’s first steps as federal Education Minister was to initiate a federal government review of the curriculum in order to tackle the “partisan bias” that he feels parents want removed from classrooms.
Apart from Pyne’s general distaste for the curriculum for being so leftist-centric, he questioned the inclusion of the cross-curriculum priorities, which are Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander histories and cultures, Asia and Australia’s Engagement with Asia, and Sustainability. The Abbott government could probably benefit from reading and learning from these priorities; they were selected to promote a future of working together, building empathy and understanding difference, creating a shared understanding of Australian identity and history, and also thinking about the environment and science from time to time. With no Science Minister, the new government could do with a refresher course.
In an article Pyne wrote for The Australian in January, he expressed concerns about the history curriculum “not recognising the legacy of Western civilization”. He appointed two ‘experts’ to conduct a review of the curriculum. One of these experts, Dr Donnelly, has written previously about the declining standards in Australian schools due to “left-wing academics, teacher unions and sympathetic governments”. He further criticised the Australian Education Union for their belief that students should be taught about non-heterosexual relationships and sexuality. He advocates for resources to be allocated to teaching young people about Australian’s Western heritage and Judeo-Christian tradition. All of these views were published in a book commissioned by the Liberal Party-aligned Menzies Research Centre. The lead writer of the history curriculum, Professor Stuart Macintyre of the University of Melbourne, described Pyne’s move to review the curriculum as succumbing “to the temptation to go for cheap political points”.
If Pyne isn’t enough to get you angry and ready to talk about politics, perhaps Scott Morrison will. In the past two weeks, there have been a number of distressing and outrageous incidents involving refugees and asylum seekers. An 18 page graphic novel was circulated apparently to dissuade Afghan asylum seekers from coming to Australia. It depicts asylum seekers suffering in an offshore detention centre. Greens Senator Sarah Hanson-Young described the images as “fear-mongering propaganda”. It was first published on the Customs and Border Protection website in November. While a spokesperson for Morrison claimed that the novel had been distributed by the Labor government, the Guardian Australia states that it had been commissioned by the Labor government but was not published or reviewed until the Coalition government came into office.
A 27-year-old Indian student hanged himself at Maribyrnong Immigration Detention Centre on 13th February. He was in detention after overstaying his cancelled visa. When Morrison was asked whether the student’s death could have been avoided, on ABC’s Insiders on 16th February, he replied “Could he have avoided overstaying his visa?”
Most recently, there have been violent clashes on Manus Island. After an incident on Sunday night, in which 35 asylum seekers escaped from Manus Island detention centre, the situation worsened. On Monday, 17th February, there was a more serious incident. Morrison confirmed on 18th February that 77 asylum seekers were treated for injuries and that one person was deceased. Contrasting reports have emerged on the involvement of locals, gangs and PNG police. Refugee rights group, Refugee Rights Action Network, described it as a “massacre” and a “pre-meditated attack on unarmed and defenceless asylum seekers.” Morrison was quick to defend the security of the centre and downplay the events, adding in his statement to the media that “breakfast is being served”.
Students are quick to feel jaded and apathetic with the constantly negative news. But with social media, it is now just as easy to pass on information and get involved than it is to switch off and put your head in the sand. Instead of circulating the next Kimye or Miley antic, share news about the government with your friends. Get involved with student, local or wider politics. Let’s see what we can accomplish by the first anniversary of the Abbott government.
[image taken from Tony Abbott Flikr feed: http://www.flickr.com/photos/tonyabbott/11229681986/sizes/c/]