I had a nightmare last night. I woke up angry and confused. Then I turned my phone on to see the Facebook updates about the 2013 Australian Federal Election. I’m angry but no longer confused. As much as I have been disappointed with the leadership of the Australian Labor Party over the last two terms – the circus has been cringe-worthy – I had hoped that Australians, at least the swing voters, had more of a social conscience. How could so many people want Abbott to represent the entire country!? The national policies on the Liberal Party’s website just make my skin crawl.
Three years now of an immigration policy based on Border Protection, “My land! Go away! Stop the boats!”. Three more years of a stuttering muppet that has not shown any leadership or articulated any sensible policies, now as our Prime Minister. Three more years of knowing that I’ll not get to marry my partner of 9 years with all our family present. His mother died two years ago, and his grandmother might not make it to 93. Three more years of cutting funding to education and the arts, the things I think should be funded the most. Since being in Toronto for my Clinical Fellowship I’ve realised that there are places in the world where I can walk down the street and hold hands with my partner, without being verbally abused (Perth), arrested (Russia) or killed (a few countries now). We can even get married here, and nobody bats an eyelid. There are countries that treat refugees like fellow human beings, not make embarrassing announcements on television that we will just tell them to turn around and go back to where they came from. I am Australian and I had hoped my country was better than this.
Thanks to Australia’s public education and government subsidised tertiary education (Higher Education Contribution Scheme when I did my first three bachelor’s degrees) I was able to go to Medical School, graduate, get a job, and continue to further my education and training in a specialist training program, which I’ll complete in three months. In 2004 I thought my $42 000 HECS debt was a lot of money. It was almost as much as my starting annual salary. Here in North America students take out loans for much more to afford to go to university. How did I have it so good? A Labor Government abolished university fees in the 70s. When I was ten years old Hawke’s Labor Government set up HECS. Will the Abbott Government improve education? Of course it was a Liberal government that then ensured that I paid more for my MBBS; In 1996, the Howard Coalition changed HECS to make sure MBBS graduates paid the most.
People have been hit hard here, in North America, by the Global Financial Crisis. Radiologists just completing fellowships find it really hard to find a job. Nobody is hiring. The government has cut reimbursements. We are living four hours drive from Detroit. Detroit is desperately advertising a “rebirth” and trying to get tourists and people to move back, but it’s a ghost-town. And I’ve been told not to drive through there because it’s not safe. We whinge in Australia about economic policy a lot. But we have had it good. There is a lot of fat left to be trimmed. We haven’t had to experience anything like the rationing in the Second World War. People are still flying to Bali (overseas) for holidays and buying stupidly big flat screen TVs. As selfish as it is to feel secretly pleased to think of generous tax cuts or incentives (like opposing the $2000 cap on Self Education tax refund claim this year) I look at our publicly funded health care, safe roads, presence of police officers, garbage being collected on time, buildings that aren’t falling apart, and I don’t mind so much that I might have to pay more for my ongoing education out of my own pocket.
I usually wonder why doctors from other countries emigrate, then work in jobs they are over-qualified for, rather than sitting local exams and registering to work under the local Medical Board. Today I’ve realised. They are probably happier with their new life. In two years, when I finish my fellowship, why should I return to Australia to work as a medical specialist? A country where I am guaranteed to get heckled, “Faaagott!” by a passing car of bogans, if I even held Daniel’s hand in public, or would at least get stared at. A country where people have it all: health, food, shelter and security but will still embarrass the world by flaunting a perceived entitlement. Complete strangers on the subway in Toronto have been kinder citizens to me than fellow Australians back home in my own country on the Midland line ever were.
I really feel this election campaign was like a deep-sea fish; we were all distracted by an irrelevant glowing light and failed to appreciate the giant mouth waiting to consume us all.