Dear Mr Abbott
I met you a few years back at the Sydney Writers Festival.
I’d just sat through your session with Annabelle Crabb in conversation with you about Battlelines. You spent the first few minutes at the lectern in the Sydney Theatre Company delivering a paid Liberal Party advertisement. Problem was it was everyone in the audience, like me, who’d funded it.
I remember feeling infuriated with you. I’d paid to hear you answer Crabb’s questions, not be affronted by a party political speech.
I bought your book and wanted to have it signed, as I do with every book I buy at each Writers’ Festival. But I wanted to meet you too and try to get a sense of you. Luckily by the time I reached the book signing room the crowd had thinned. There was just you, me and Ms Crabb in the room.
You weren’t as tall as I thought you’d be but that’s by the by.
As far as I was concerned, I’d just bought your book so that made me your customer. And you are a politician. Your life is dedicated to trying to persuade as many people as possible to ‘buy’ your Party and its policies. So not only were you a published author and keen to sell as many books as possible, you were also in the business of encouraging people to vote for the Coalition. We should have much in common. That’s what I do everyday, try to persuade people to use my services instead of the other professional down the street.
That’s why I thought our interaction was passing strange. If roles had been reversed, as a small business operator I would’ve tried to engage you, especially because you’d just lined my personal pockets with a few more dollars. I’d have thanked you for buying my wares. Perhaps I would’ve have asked you about your family. After all it’s the one thing you and I share. We each have one and so it’s our common ground.
But you didn’t.
You could have taken the opportunity in those five minutes to chat with me, your political customer, about my electorate. Perhaps just asked me which one I lived in. But you didn’t.
I don’t actually remember what we talked about Mr Abbott and that in itself speaks volumes about the ‘nothingness’ I felt from our conversation. I’d met Brendan Nelson a few years prior to our meeting and remember exactly what we chatted about. Ours was a five minute meeting too. I later wrote to Mr Nelson as he left Parliament wishing him well and telling him how we’d met and how impressed I had been with him.
He wrote back and added a handwritten note at the bottom of his typed letter of thanks. Somehow I can’t imagine you doing that.
After meeting you Mr Abbott I guessed you must merely endure door knocking your electorate. It must be an excruciating exercise for you and one you dread. Perhaps you don’t think you need to do it anymore.
You were uncomfortable having me stand in front of you even though I’d just bought your book and gone to the trouble of having you sign it for me. I couldn’t imagine how you’d feel facing someone through their screen front door.
Before that day you and I shook hands I knew things about you.
After that day I felt things about you.
During Rob Oakeshott’s 17 minute speech in September 2010 he told us why he and Tony Windsor had decided to back Labor, and not you.
‘When the gong is given at the end of these words, there’s a job to do and a first job to do for a new prime minister and to some extent the opposition leader, and that is to bring Australia together.’
These two honourable and genuine politicians had decided that you weren’t the best candidate to bring our people together. To do so would’ve required you to be a Prime Minister who cares about people you don’t know, have never met and probably in most instances, never would meet. It would’ve required you to be a leader who prioritised people over things.
But you’re not. You’re incapable of being such a leader.
So the Indies chose Labor and I was happy.
And so the country moved on and the journalists honed their non listening skills. They practised hearing bits here and bits there and filling in the blanks themselves. The polls descended to rule and dominate our political discourse in this country.
And the polls tell us emphatically that apparently it’s over.
Apparently it was over yonks ago.
The Liberals are preferred.
Wow. Even Western Sydney has embraced you. You and your cronies understand the good people of Western Sydney apparently. You know what the families of Western Sydney want and what they need. It’s reported as if the Western Suburbs of Sydney are an island where circumstances are unique and people’s needs are particular.
Well I guess you must know.
You know what’s what and what’s best and your lot tell our journos what that is and the journos publish it. Western Sydney is yours.
You, who Windsor and Oakeshott passed over for the more inclusive Julia Gillard.
If you had asked me where I lived as you signed my copy of Battlelines, you would’ve found out I live in Western Sydney. The majority of my homes have been here.
I grew up here, and went through school and university here. I’ve raised two successful and highly principled daughters here.
I run a small business here and I’m involved in many local organisations.
I talk to hundreds of Western Sydney people every day of every week.
I talk to families.
But the Daily Telegraph tells us on a daily basis that we, the people of Western Sydney want you to win.
Apparently the mums and dads here are intending to vote for your party which will deny their kids the best education plan that’s been offered by any government for decades. We can only extrapolate from the polls that the families here are apparently planning on denying their children’s teachers the support they need to help each child in their care with an individual student program tailored to suit their specific learning needs.
I understand the gifts that such tailored learning plans are to students and the difference such a measure makes for kids. It’s probably almost impossible to quantify the difference having a student on their own plan makes to their literacy development regardless of the child’s ability.
But there’s more it than that. Parents worry about their child’s progress at school. They know in many instances that their child isn’t getting enough personalised attention. They lose sleep over it. I know this. They tell me but they don’t need to because I see it written all over their face. Worry etched. The families I support are exactly like every other family. Their kids are their lives. They’d do anything they could to help them.
But apparently these families in Western Sydney will turn their backs on the extra money their children’s schools will get with funding from Gonski. More money than they could ever have imagined or raised with a decade of Spring Fairs.
As for the National Broadband Network apparently we’re going to happily vote to put our own own hands in our own pockets to pay for the connection from, as our Prime Minister describes it, ‘that ugly cupboard at the top of the street’, to our homes.
And they’re ok with having their School Kid’s Bonus taken away from them. It’ll mean that lots of kids here won’t be able to have some of the activities they’ve come to enjoy, perhaps being able to play in a soccer comp or have some guitar lessons. Experiences. Opportunities to do stuff. The School Kids Bonus means parents can spend the money they would normally need to spend on shoes and uniforms and just school stuff on a luxury or two, soccer registration and a weekly guitar lesson for their kids.
But the polls tell us it’s ok with the families of Western Sydney that you’ll take the School Kids Bonus away and force them to explain to their children why those small things they enjoy have to stop. The things they enjoy at the moment provide them the opportunity to experience a few extra curricular activities, activities which are of no great import to you maybe but to the kids they matter a lot.
But no. That’s fine. Really. They don’t really mind. You tell us that. The MSM tell us and the Telegraph (the only reading material provided at our local McDonalds) tell us. Oh! And the polls! Let’s not forget the polls! They scream it at us.
I think that the majority of people whose home is in Western Sydney are much like everyone in rest of the country.
When the people of Western Sydney walk into their children’s school hall to vote on September 14th they’ll have thought a lot about you. They may like lots of your policies. They may think that asylum seekers are illegal. They might think that our national debt is too high. After all you’ve worked very hard leading them to think that.
But in that instant when they pick up that little pencil to choose our nation’s future they’ll do so by choosing the best future on offer for their kids. Because they understand that the future of Australia lies with its children. Their children.
As I said, the people out here don’t feel any differently to everyone else in the country about their kids. They love them. They want better for them than they had themselves. They hope the road their kids have to walk in life will be easier than theirs was and is. They’re glad they’re able to give their kids opportunities like soccer or guitar lessons.
When they look at your policies as opposed to Julia Gillard’s they’ll probably see some in both they agree with. But at the end of the day I believe they’ll vote based of how they feel and not what they think.
But they don’t ‘feel’ about asylum seekers or debt, at least not in the same way or with the same intensity they feel about the children they love.
And that is why I believe you won’t ever be Prime Minister.
You think the parents in Western Sydney will place giving you the keys to The Lodge ahead of an individualised guided reading program for their kids. You’ve never needed to worry about such things I’m guessing.
As far as I can see Labor could well have chosen the same, “Hope. Reward. Opportunity” mantra for their campaign. I would have thought it apt if they had.
Their Better Schools and NBN policies give their children hope. Labor’s School Kids Bonus and tax free threshold changes mean they have those few precious extra dollars to give them the opportunities kids in other homes in other electorates accept as a matter of course.
And from each of these policies will come reward. The knots in their children’s tummies when it’s reading time will slowly untwist. The reward will be parents who can feel less stressed and kids who believe they can read.
Hope. Reward. Opportunity.
But you chose that slogan. It’s what you stand proudly in front of. To you they’re just three words but to families in Western Sydney they’re the guiding light when decisions need to be made about their kids.
Hope. Reward. Opportunity. For their kids.
When you speak of hope, reward and opportunity Mr Abbott, I’d like to know, for whom?