There’s no denying The Handmaid’s Tale is terrifying viewing, positing as it does an all-too-possible dystopia where Old Testament religion has become the basis for a theocratic government that forces people – especially women – into specific roles. In its wake, there have been constant news stories in the US warning of the slippery slope that could see their fertile-yet-morally-heterodox women forced into red robes and white wings.
But it’s not the sort of thing that could ever happen in Australia. Here’s why...
Watch the first episode of The Handmaid's Tale here:
We’ve always been deeply suspicious of religious rhetoric
From the moment the First Fleet slid into Port Jackson, it was a lot easier to get sly grog channels up and running than convince anyone to help build a church. (We got our first one in 1793, and it was burnt down by convicts in 1798.)
No matter what the shadow-jumpers and curtain-twitchers in the far right tell you, there’s zero chance we’re going to see anything resembling sharia law in Australia. Yes, the mandatory 11pm closing of NSW bottlos feels like religion-inspired lawmaking. And the refusal to decriminalise abortion in NSW and Queensland certainly smacks of Handmaid's Tale-type legislation, but the ongoing outcry coupled with the abject unpopularity of maintaining the status quo gives the impression that things will change soon.
We also have an in-built aversion to totalitarianism
It’s a cliche of Australian politics that when one major party is in power at a federal level, we tend to vote in the other party on a state level across the nation. This duopoly on governance ensures cooler heads prevail in a crisis – or at least both sides argue to a stalemate. Incidentally, this is another benefit of our compulsory voting laws – it’s very difficult for extremists to pander to Middle Australia in an electoral campaign, when in other countries all they have to do is energise the lunatic base to put them in power then commence the ritual quashing of civil rights and suspension of the Constitution. Mate, here we can’t even get the word “mate” in the preamble to the Constitution, and we don’t even have a Bill of Rights.
We don’t have the military culture to enforce nationwide theocracy
The only time and place that something like this could have happened in Australia was Queensland under the aegis of Joh Bjelke-Petersen. This piece in The Courier Mail about Queensland's longest-serving premier could just as easily be describing Gilead: "It was also a time of great suspicion of new ideas and an iron-fisted stifling of dissent and intolerance of debate or questioning of government actions."
Also, every public scene in The Handmaid’s Tale is backed by the threatening presence of militiamen with semi-automatic weaponry, which would be a far harder ask Down Under. You’d basically be looking at building a violent theocracy with the backing of the only population sector with access to a significant arsenal – and farmers have better things to do with their time, like bringing in the harvest, finding wives on reality TV, and maintaining their conservative choke-hold on the Australian government through legitimate means such as proportional representation and secret deals within the Coalition. Who needs God when you have Barnaby Joyce looking after your interests as Deputy PM?
We’re way too pro-science to ditch the tech
It’s not as though the Federal government has made a firm commitment to defunding the CSIRO, hamstringing profitable public corporations that explore next-gen renewable energy sources or putting university out of reach of everyone who didn’t go to a private school, is it?
Well... Questacon is still pretty popular with visitors to Canberra. And we’re about due for a remake of The Curiosity Show. It’s probably fine, right? Right?
The Queen wouldn’t allow it
She’s fairly hands-off with the colonies these days, but there’s no chance HRH would allow Margaret Atwood’s dystopia to become a reality in one of her favourite holdings – since 1952, she's visited us 16 times. Although she does look as good in green as Serena Joy...
The Handmaid’s Tale 2 airs on SBS and SBS On Demand 8.30pm, from Thursday April 26. #HandmaidsTale
Catch up on The Handmaid’s Tale and binge season one on SBS On Demand now!