A woke-up call from the deputy PM, but silence on climate disruption


It is hard to know how to unpack this outburst from the usually bland, and, to many Australians, unrecognisable McCormack, but the past-tense-verb-turned-adjective “woke” is a good place to start.

Woke used like this means “aware of and actively attentive to important facts and issues (especially issues of racial and social justice)”, according to the Merriam-Webster dictionary.

As Abas Mirzaei explains in The Conversation, its origins lie in black America’s fight against injustice and racial inequality: first in the 1940s, more recently in the #blacklivesmatter movement against police shootings of unarmed black men.

Woke has been quickly appropriated by the mainstream, first sincerely, then ironically and finally disparagingly, until it has been almost emptied of its original meaning. No one who is woke would ever say so, and now “woke” is used by people on the right as a term of abuse, a supercharged version of “politically correct”. That’s what McCormack means by it.

There’s also another subtle move in McCormack’s use of “woke”. He is linking concern about climate disruption to other “woke” issues such as racism and gender identity, telling his audience that it’s just another boutique cultural concern and not real politics: even while he claims the government is taking meaningful action to “address” it.

As for “raving inner-city lunatics”, that feels like a bit of Barnaby Joyce-ian colour: expect to see it on capital-city Facebook profiles and ironically hashtagging on Twitter immediately (I’d like a raving inner-city lunatic T-shirt for Christmas, please).

McCormack said one other thing in his spray: by attacking the messengers – in this case Greens leader Richard Di Natale and MP Adam Bandt – he, like Prime Minister Scott Morrison and NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian, remains mute on the message: the link between global heating and the scale of the fires. That speaks volumes about the problems climate policy presents for the conservative side of politics in Australia.

But the government line that we can’t talk about climate disruption while the fires are burning is wearing a bit thin, and the way things are going it will be completely threadbare by the end of this summer. McCormack needs to get woke to that.

Matt Holden is a Melbourne writer.


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