Bring them home


I’ve sat here for the last minutes wondering how to start this post. The dilemma, I felt, is that I didn’t want to bang the same drum as in numerous other posts in the past. Nor did I want to sound too harsh or critical. Believe it or not, I don’t enjoy writing negative posts. The problem is, there’s a lot of negative stuff to write about – but it’s dispiriting to grizzle.

So what to do? I can only say it as it is – or how it seems to me, anyway. So let’s get the ranting part out of the way early. I’m about to criticise the government again. I can hardly describe how much I deplore them. So many of them terrible people, and I wonder why so many to the right of politics are so ugly – ugly, mean-spirited, narrow-minded and spiteful souls. Add to that racist, which isn’t news to anyone who pays any attention (the sad minority), but this time they’ve made it law.

Covid has been a controversial time, and that’s not really surprising. With so much happening so quickly and so much at stake, it’s terribly difficult and hard to act without making a mistake here or there and with any consensus. If you’re sensible, you accept that. The negativity pisses you off, but you roll with it; the stupid noise made by anti-vaxxers and anti-lockdown protestors you rationalise as a lunatic fringe; even the bungling of the vaccine roll-out is met more with a sigh than with anger.

What can’t be supported are the wilful decisions made for an obscure political cause and the decisions not made for the same reason.

Though the vaccine roll-out is a disaster here, we’re in a pretty healthy state in Australia relatively. We need to pick up our game or else get left behind, but our citizens – those resident at least – have good reason to feel pretty safe.

That’s not the case in many parts of the world, and in some parts, it has become catastrophic – Brazil being one, and India another.

The news services have been full of reports from India where hundreds of thousands are newly infected every day, where the sick spill onto the streets, where there’s a shortage of vaccines and oxygen, and, most horribly, the dead are burnt on makeshift biers in suburban streets. Someone I work with has come down with it, as has his whole family. These are terrible times.

In response, the Australian government announced a travel ban. No one can enter the country from India, not even our own citizens seeking to get home. They then doubled down by announcing that anyone caught flaunting the ban would be subject to huge fines and potential jail time. In effect, they’ve made it illegal for Australian citizens to return to their home country from India. So much for the rights of citizenship.

For me, the single greatest failure over the last year is the inability, and seeming unwillingness, of the Australian government to repatriate citizens to our home in a time of dire crisis.

I think, for the government, it’s another political hot potato that’s easier to deal with by doing nothing. Expat Australians are out of sight and out of mind, they figure, and their votes don’t amount to much anyway. Why exert yourself on their behalf when there’s the risk of Covid?

To be fair, it’s been a long time since an Australian government took responsibility for our citizens abroad. I always had the idealistic notion that as an Australian citizen, if ever I got in trouble overseas, the government would help. How wrong I was! Regardless of stripe, successive Australian governments have failed in this regard. Some of it is political – Julian Assange being an example of an individual whose rights as a citizen have been found wanting when weighed against political alliance (i.e. diplomatic toadyism). The rest is apathy.

I know there are Australians right now who agree with the government, certainly regarding the travel ban from India. They argue the risk of bringing in people from such a dangerous environment risks infecting the broader community at large. That’s a fair argument, but it highlights the abject failure of the government to act before now.

To start with, Australians wishing to come home should have been able to get in long before now. There shouldn’t be a queue, but the stories are rife of ex-pats unable to get flights back, lose bookings because of scarce seats, or be charged a fortune to get back. Remember, the government promised that the backlog would be cleared by last Christmas. Not even close.

Even so, and if we accept that virus of some type will remain in the community for years to come, then we should have made a start on the infrastructure to support that reality. Had we acted last year, we should have been in a position now to bring our people home.

The government did nothing and shows no sign of doing anything. Once more, it’s the state governments who take the lead. Both Queensland and Victoria have proposed purpose-built quarantine facilities in the country. There’s another facility in the NT standing empty. There’s even Christmas Island.

It can hardly be disputed that we need these facilities. They have to be built. As we’ve learned to our cost, Hotels are not made to house sick and contagious people.

We should have these facilities now and, failing that, should be building them now. And a truly inclusive government would be seeking to bring its citizens home by any means – charter flights and the RAAF seem obvious options. No sign of that happening in the foreseeable future, when this is something that should have happened last year.

Now we have made it a crime to come home. Make no mistake, this is a racist act. Most of those affected by this ban are Indian-Australian – people with different skin colour to the Australian prime minister. Can you imagine the same ban being imposed on people from a western country? No. It’s a decision consistent with much in this government. We’ve had hundreds of thousands from western societies overstay tourist visas, while people who come in desperate straits on leaking boats are exiled for years on end to places like Manus Island. The difference? None of them is white.

The government doesn’t care. It’s political for them. It’s a sad thing to admit, but it’s a decision that plays well to their constituency – the casually racist, indifferent, uneducated rump who respond best to slogans and mindless claims of patriotism, which the government specialises in.

It’s shocking, but none of it surprises me anymore. It just makes me sad.

Shorten the ground


I’m about to say something that would get me into trouble if I shouted it too loud: I find AFLW disappointing.

AFLW is the women’s AFL league, which has been going for a few years now. I’m all for the concept of it. I love footy generally and fair enough that women have their own league. And, I quite enjoy a lot of women’s sport – cricket is top-notch, as is soccer, and women’s basketball has been great for years.

The caveat with all that is that there isn’t the ballistic, powerful element that can make it so electrifying in comparison to male sport. That’s why skills-based sports like soccer and cricket translate better than, say, footy. There are some mighty skilled exponents in women’s sport. Rarely is it as explosive as men’s sport.

AFL footy is a game of skill, but there’s also a great physical component to it. Relative to other players, that still plays a part in women’s footy, but it suffers compared to the male equivalent (with the possible exception of someone like Erin Phillips). The reality is that women aren’t as fast or as powerful as men are, and it makes for a different game.

The AFLW grand final was over the weekend, and I watched the last quarter of it. As with most times I’ve watched women’s footy, I thought the skills were pretty ordinary and a lot of decision-making poor. There are some great moments and feats of individual skill, but they’re rare. I get infuriated watching men’s footy, but it’s compounded when I watch AFLW. The standard has definitely improved since the league began, but I also think you can see better park footy.

I know that sounds harsh, but I think the women are disadvantaged by how the game is played. At best, the women playing are semi-professional, and they’re never going to reach the heights until it becomes a full-time, professional sport. Proper training, diet and nutrition, specialised coaching, and so on would make for a much greater spectacle – properly fit competitors with decent skills would make for a much more fluent and high-scoring game.

Scoring is one of the big issues with AFLW. The winning team Saturday scored 6 goals over the course of the game. That’s a decent quarter score for a men’s team, though there was also an 8 goal quarter over the weekend. Better skills and fitness would make some difference, but the rest of it is physical.

The reality is that because women aren’t as strong as men, they can’t kick the ball as far but are playing on the same sized grounds. End to end, it would probably take a male team 3.5 kicks to cover the distance. For women, I reckon it’s about double that. The average bloke can kick it 45-50 metres, and some can hoof it much further. For women, it’s probably 25-35 metres.

These are physical constraints that aren’t going to change. It seems obvious to me that women should play on fields a good 30-40 metres shorter than the men, which probably means you reduce the onfield team to 16, down from 18.

I reckon you’d see scoring improve by about 40% if you did that, which would make for a much better spectacle, and it makes sense.

Women’s footy will improve on its own as it matures more, but I think it can be helped out. I’ll be happy to watch then.

Incompetent and corrupt


When Tony Abbott was Prime Minister, I never thought in my life would I witness a worse government or leader or the country. His government did a lot of damage to this country by unwinding reforms and cosying up to the mining and fossil fuels industry with the resultant legislation. Abbott was almost a complete fool, but if he had a virtue, it is that he was true to his convictions. Unfortunately, his convictions are almost entirely nonsense, but he was an authentic fool.

Here I am, just a few years later, revising my opinion. This is the worst government we’ve ever had, and Morrison our worst PM.

For the life of me, I can’t understand why the ALP doesn’t hammer the point again and again, in every interview and public appearance, in parliament and out of it, that this is the most corrupt and incompetent government in Australian history. It’s true.

It’s a government full of untalented hacks and opportunists. They haven’t an original idea between them and no rigour in anything they do. Essentially, I think it’s a lazy government full of dozy ministers who don’t have the energy, aptitude or desire to put in the hard yards. They govern by a narrow and discredited ideology, happy to spout outdated slogans and take the short way to any outcome.

Then there’s the corruption, which seems indisputable. They’re a venal lot. I don’t know of a single minister who puts the people’s interests ahead of his own. They’re happy to pocket the millions of dollars from interest groups to peddle their policies in parliament, to the country’s detriment (mining, fossil fuels, superannuation, etc.). They elevate tired old party hacks to positions of influence and power, to look after their own, and to perpetuate their power base.

Democracy is a grey area when it comes to the LNP. Since they’ve gained power, they’ve loosened the checks and balances that keep our society healthy and fair. They’ve acted unconscionably in lying or obfuscating about matters of public interest and altering the record to their advantage. Transparency is at an all-time low because it suits the government. Much of this is reflected in Australia’s fall down the rankings in the corruption index.

The very manner they conduct themselves has had a terrible effect on Australian society. There’s no accountability and no consequence for the litany of misdeeds and bad behaviour numerous ministers have been exposed. It undermines trust and respect, and it sets a terrible example to society as a whole. There was a time – believe it or not – that to be a minister in an Australian government was a position of merit, and they were paragons of behaviour. Fuck that, not any more.

This extends to their conduct in parliament, which is deplorable. The so-called leader of the land, Scott Morrison, will regularly turn his back on the opposition when they stand to speak. It’s the sort of disrespectful behaviour I would expect from a juvenile. More seriously, a government member will frequently call to the speaker that an opposition spokesman not be heard, thus quashing inconvenient dissent and killing the democratic principle, bit by bit.

I’ve never despised anyone as much as I despise Scott Morrison. He hasn’t even got the virtue of conviction. He’s a hollow, cunning character whose only interest is gaining and maintaining power. He’s a soulless, shallow being without conscience or integrity. I suspect, deep in his heart, that he knows that he’s a fraud – and because of that, he’s all talk and announcements and little consequential – or effective – action.

This is now being exposed to wider view. He got away with managing Covid and was even applauded by some sections of the media, when in fact, he did very little. He handed over the responsibility for managing the outbreak to the states, who ran with the ball. The other policies of note, such as jobkeeper, were pushed by the union movement principally and the states, to which the government grudgingly acquiesced.

Now, in light of the disastrous roll-out of the vaccine, the government is proving how incompetent they are.

We were promised 4 million vaccinations by the end of March – there were 700,000. It continues to crawl along with many essential workers and elderly still without vaccination, and winter on its way. Their latest prognostication is that all first-round vaccinations will be completed by October, but even that seems wildly optimistic.

Around the world, vaccinations are going gangbusters. We’re on the bottom of the table by a fair margin. We bought time by keeping infections to a minimum but have squandered it with our incompetence. For the life of me, I can’t understand how you can fuck it up so badly when you have so much time to prepare – and the experience of other nations to draw upon. The blueprint for this should have been drawn up months ago, and all the necessary pre-work checked off well in advance. And yet, here we are.

The problem is that the government views and responds to everything within a political context – how does this make us look, and how can we leverage this? They overlook the practicalities because that’s not their priority nor, apparently, their skillset.

We’ve seen this in their terribly botched, insensitive response to the accusations of misogyny and sexual harassment. It’s all about the appearance of things, unwilling at any point to accept responsibility or take action. It’s all talk and poorly done, at that.

They can’t get away with spin when it comes to vaccinations. It’s their responsibility, and though they’ve tried to blame the states, the states have bitten back. They just don’t have the competence or the structure* to deliver such an important piece of national health.

Bizarrely, the slow pace of vaccinations means that the opportunity to re-open borders is delayed because we won’t achieve any form of herd immunity until well after most countries.

I just hope the Australian people wake up to how terrible this government is. Slowly, I think they’re coming around – and even the media is beginning to stir. It’s up to Labor to do the rest.

*This is a discussion for another time, but I suspect that many of our problems are because the public service has been gutted (and politicised in part), and so much now been outsourced. Bad policy all around, but true to ideology. Schmucks.

Reflections on a rainy Saturday afternoon


It’s Saturday, and I’ve been for my long walk with Cheeseboy and the dogs, and Rigby has had his swim. A steamy morning has become a wet afternoon, ideal for taking it easy and relaxing with an old movie. That’s what I’ve done.

The movie is not so old – 1986 – but it’s a movie I’ve been thinking about watching since I discovered it on Prime a month or so again. It’s an Australian movie – Kangaroo.

I think I’d seen the movie before, in the nineties perhaps, but it’s the book I remembered better. It’s perhaps one of D. H. Lawrence’s less known works, however, it’s an interesting novel, especially for an Australian reading about his country through the eyes of a famous English novelist. When did I read it? I’m not sure. The mid-eighties, maybe. I can picture the paperback in my mind – I have it somewhere – an old Penguin edition in white.

I read the book with the fascination of a young Australian male wanting to discover something of the identity I belonged to. Much of the history I knew – Sydney in the years after WW1 – we had studied it at high school. I knew about the New Guard, which is reflected in this piece, knew of the history to come in a period after the novel – de Groot slashing at the ribbon on the opening of the Sydney Harbour Bridge, and the colossal figure of Jack Lang, the premier of NSW when the depression came along.

I read it with the fervour of a young man wanting to soak up and learn as much as I could. This was an era when I also read many of the existentialist novelists like Sartre and Camus when I searched through the words and works of great authors for something I could believe in. Kangaroo was more personal because it spoke to the place I had come from.

There was much I recognised in the novel, though not all of it pleased me. It’s in the movie, too, though with less articulation and none of Lawrences’ intense mental ramblings.

The book’s main character is Richard Somers, transparently a proxy for Lawrence himself – a controversial writer with a German wife who exiles himself from England, coming to Australia for a new start. All this Lawrence did also. In the book, Somers encounters a neo-fascist organisation of ex-diggers led by a charismatic former general code-named Kangaroo.

They seek to draw him in. They intend to re-make Australia, do away with the unions and the socialists, and make a world something loosely based on mateship and sacrifice.

There is something in Somers that is drawn towards this. Kangaroo demands love from him, and there’s something seductive in such an entreaty. In the end, he can’t, as we know he cannot, and nor does he join forces with the union movement on the other side. Ultimately he departs the land.

The politics of this I found less interesting than the human elements. The world at that time was rife with such movements – fascists in Germany and Italy and other places doing battle against socialism and those who had betrayed them. There was the New Guard in Australia, though it never amounted to much; the spin on it in this version is that it was based on brotherly love.

More interesting to me was the coming together of Somers with his Australian neighbours. He rejects the country on an intellectual level but is drawn to it sensually by fascination and desire. It’s the vitality that captures him, a sun-bronzed physicality that is essentially practical; a sensual, unassuming masculinity. Like many who live in their mind, he is attracted by those who act – and the Australian men he portrays in this are all of that type. They’re canny, robust characters with blunt natures, though capable of sophistry. To do comes easily to them, to act and be, even if it comes down to violence. They are raw spirits, as seen through his cultivated eyes. (Jack Calcott, as played very well by John Walton in the movie, embodies this).

Reading all those years ago, I recognised the type, and it made for a conflict in me. Much is admirable in that character, and it’s a character the world has come to love – easy and amiable. It’s what is lacking from it that dismayed me.

I share some of those attributes being an Australian, and I’m glad of many of them – the directness and honesty, the casual masculinity, I think. But, very clearly, I’m someone for whom the life of the mind is precious.

It’s all very well to be peopled by men of action, but it’s the thinkers that take us forward. It’s what fails Somers in the end – there needs to be more to it than this. We need more than instinct – there needs must be thought and reflection also, and imagination. I read it back in the eighties and recognised then the suspicion of anything fancy or intellectual – as if they were a bit dodgy, a bit soft.

We have moved on from then, and it’s not as pronounced now perhaps, but it still dismays. How I wish we had an intellectually curious culture like France or Germany. I’d love for us to engage with ideas and make the discussion of them a public affair. I yearn for that personally, and I believe it’s what we need as a nation at a cultural and intellectual level.

This movie triggered me for those reasons, but mostly because it got me thinking of our government. It has been a deliberate ploy from the day that Howard assumed power in 1997 to discourage that kind of curiosity. I think John Howard, a very stiff and proper type, felt uncomfortable with such things, but there were also excellent political reasons for it.

If people don’t think they won’t question. If we pander to their appetites and speak in their language, they won’t stir to make trouble. If we give them someone to vent their fear and hostility against, they won’t turn it on us.

With this current government, we have reached the apogee of this. It feels like a betrayal of what we could be and should be, and Morrison ultimately a subversive who is prepared to pander to our baser selves to the detriment of our cultural soul. He cares nothing for that, perhaps because he is without qualities himself – a shallow, opportunistic man who seeks only power, not justice. Like many, like Cheeseboy today, I hate him. I hate him because he is mediocre and selfish and without a skerrick of true patriotism.

I hate him because he is deliberately anti-intellectual and is happy to mock such pretensions as if they were unworthy. He plays to the simple mentality, and it suits him if we aspire to nothing more ambitious or worthy than a comfortable living. Our leader should be seeking to elevate us, as a nation and as a people, but such a nation would have nothing of such a superficial nonentity as him (and much of his party), and so instead, he manipulates opinion to his own ends. He is deplorable, as so many recently have been.

We deserve better leaders than this. We deserve to think and wonder for ourselves. We deserve to live in a country enlarged by possibility and the excitement of becoming more as a people. A true leader would encourage us to become bigger, not smaller.

I think ultimately, the likes of Morrison will be found out. I think we live in a time when many established attitudes are being challenged and turned on their head, despite the likes of Morrison. Bit by bit, old ways of being and thinking are being chipped away at, as they must be. We live in a time when leadership has come from below because there’s such a lack of it at the top.

As an Australian and someone who always wanted to be proudly known as an Australian, I hope this movement catches here as well, as there are signs that it will. In the end, we need the leadership from above to seize the moment to allow for all of us to be better. Right now, that’s just hope, but I live for it.

Funny, I started off writing about an old book and movie and turned it into a diatribe. Everything is political these days.

Open voices


Leading into January 26 this year, Cricket Australia announced that it would drop the Australia Day marketing from the fixtures on the day, referring to them simply by date. This was a progressive and welcome gesture in my book, but the PM took issue with it, trotting out the time-worn cliche that CA should stick to cricket and leave politics alone.

Anyone possessing any sense of irony would know how silly – and hypocritical – a statement that was. How many times have politicians sought to associate themselves with sports and sportsmen? How often has sport been used as a bargaining chip or for leverage? It’s so ridiculous it barely rates a response.

Yesterday, a number of sporting clubs posted messages of support for the growing community for whom January 26 is a day of mourning. It was a mark of respect and compassion, though many saw it differently. I was glad that my footy club was one of those who made that gesture, though I read commentary from many others who threatened to tear up their membership because of it. Many others urged the club to concentrate on the footy and to stick to sports.

There’s a couple of things I want to address here. I’m happy that more organisations have acknowledged the grief the day entails for so many (including many of their supporters). It doesn’t disown history but recognises that history is not all tales of glory.

The other thing is something that has bugged me for more years than I can remember. How many times have you heard someone suggest that so-and-so should stick to sport (or whatever), and steer clear of politics?

Take a gander at Twitter. Every man and his dog has an opinion and are happy to share it, often quite violently. But as soon as a sportsman or an actor or a sports journalist and so on voice a dissenting opinion they get piled upon as if they’re not entitled to share it.

Is it because of some prejudice that common folk hold that such public figures don’t have worthy opinions? Is it simple dissonance when their opinion is different from yours, and therefore offensive? Or is it from fear that someone with such a profile might ‘unfairly’ influence others? (Funnily, it seems to me that many who complain are otherwise those who squeal loudest about their right to free speech.)

Whatever the reason, it’s bogus.

This conversation plays more generally into the discussion around free speech. It’s not a simple discussion because as a right it’s been elevated to a higher plain. Not everyone who asserts this right fully understands what it means, or what responsibilities come with it. The banning of Trump from multiple social-media platforms underline that.

Mine is just another opinion. By and large, I believe free speech should be paramount, but it comes with responsibility, and some caveats.

Everyone is entitled to an opinion. Within limits, everyone is entitled to express it – even the idiots I disagree with. The limits are important because they’re one of the elements that make for us a civilised society. That’s why we have laws and why we recognise boundaries and come to know – mostly – the difference between right and wrong.

I think many see free speech, and similar ‘rights’, as absolutes. That’s simplistic and dangerous and mostly unrealistic. Most reasonable people would agree that, as a society, we should be protected from those who would elect to incite hate or violence. Likewise, we’ve seen the danger when people and organisations claim lies as truth.

In an educated and rational society, we would be capable of discriminating between lies and truth, between reason and unreason – but that’s utopian. If it ever was, it certainly isn’t the case now. If responsibility cannot be guaranteed, then there must be checks and balances to maintain a civil discourse, more or less. With that caveat, I think most of us still enjoy 99% of what free speech portends.

Getting back to my original point, a sportsman or an actor has as much right to an opinion, and expressing it, as anyone else. To claim otherwise is either stupidity or prejudice. I welcome anyone who has a thoughtful contribution to make, even if I disagree with it.

The change that must come


Yesterday was – depending on who you spoke to – either Australia Day or Invasion Day. Me, I’m not calling it anything, as both labels have such negative connotations these days. Much like Cricket Australia, I think of it as January 26.

Every year we have these bitter debates over the date. Every year there are protests on the one side, while on the other, rabid fringes seek to inflame tensions further. It’s an ugly, combustible mix that can’t continue. That it’s notionally our national day is an absurdity – how can you have a national day that so bitterly divides its people? It must change, if only for common sense.

Many Australians now recognise this fact, not only those on the progressive left and our First Nations people but also others, too, of moderate and sensible persuasion. For many, this is a political battle; for others, it’s just about what is right.

It’s inevitable the date will change, to what and when is the question. Too what is hard to say. I’d like to say the date that commemorates us becoming a republic – but as that hasn’t happened yet, who knows? As to when I’m pretty comfortable in saying it won’t be while the LNP is in power.

Changing the date would be a positive step, but if there’s one thing this whole conflict has highlighted, it will take much more than that to heal our society. Clearly, there’s some deep-seated antagonism and trauma. That’s what must be addressed – we must seek to redress and heal. The first step is acknowledging the damage and injustice done, then positive and active steps in becoming a more inclusive society.

We actually started on that path nearly 30 years ago. Mabo was a big moment in Australia’s history and should have marked the moment we started to come together truly as one people. It was an act of good faith and justice, and for a while, it felt as if the wounds might begin to knit – and then John Howard came along.

When Howard was ousted as PM, there was another moment of reconciliation when Kevin Rudd issued his apology for the wrongs done to this country’s original inhabitants. But then, Labor was swept from office, and all of that (as well as decent climate policy) was forgotten and/or discredited by the Luddite government of Tony Abbott.

There’s no doubt that the LNP has had a destructive influence on this country’s cultural life. If we were but a little smarter we might feel shame at that – we might even do something about it. Hopes for that are diminishing, however. If we were a little smarter, we would never have permitted it in the first place.

There’s no doubt the ‘culture wars’ continue. The honours awarded to Margaret Court yesterday represent a fresh offensive by the arch-conservatives looking to make a political point. There’s no way that the date will change while the LNP remains in power, and no possibility of any meaningful reconciliation, because – they don’t care.

The good news is that more and more Australians on the ground do. There’s widespread condemnation at the decision to further elevate Court, a vocal bigot (though once, in ancient history, a great tennis player). No-one I know believes that Australia Day should remain on January 26 (though I move in more elevated circles). There’s widespread recognition and understanding, even compassion. For the rest, it makes pragmatic sense.

Personally, I’d be happy to avoid this annual debate around an occasion which should be celebratory. Quite obviously, our national day should embrace all Australians.

As it happens, I saw a movie yesterday that highlights the divide.

High Ground is a new Australian movie, and it’s excellent. It’s set in Arnhem Land in the period after WW1. It starts with a massacre of a tribe of aboriginals by white farmers (and unwilling police) by the side of a billabong. Nothing is done about it. A dozen years later, a cop who was present and disgusted by what he saw is asked to track down a rogue pack of aboriginals who have been raiding settlements. He’s a marksman, and the implicit instruction is that they should be wiped out.

The rogue pack is led by a survivor of that initial attack. The marksman sets out with a young survivor by his side. The marksman is sympathetic and has no intention of killing anyone. I’ll leave the details of the story there. Suffice to say that while the landscapes depicted are often breathtaking, this is a bleak and sometimes depressing tale that seems familiar. As a white man in the audience, I found it confronting, but beyond understanding.

There’s tension throughout because you fear the worst and hope it won’t come to be. Of course, there’s a reckoning, the upshot of which is that there are no winners. It seems a true commentary in general, and true of the fracas over Australia Day.

These things happened. This is history, more or less, and many of the attitudes portrayed true of the times – and true for many now also, I suspect.

We can’t go on living as a society like this. Great wrongs have been committed. We bear responsibility for that. As time goes by, the wounds become deeper because those with the power to do something about this, do nothing. A treaty would be a great start, but it’ll take more than that, and years still until we can truly feel one people.

What comes next?


Yesterday was one of those strange, in-between, days. I’m still on leave. I had the TV on, switching between the cricket and coverage of the events in Washington on CNN and the ABC. In my lap was my iPad, and I doom-scrolled through many comments and updates on Twitter. That was most of the day.

The day after it seems strange still in many ways. I still don’t know what will come of this. I was amazed to see so many Republican senators uphold their objections to the election results when they were certified last night. If nothing else, it’s an abysmal reading of the room. And what did they hope to achieve? Surely – not even they – can hope for the results to be overturned and for Trump, magically, to be restored?

The only answer I came up with is that they’re playing to their deplorable base – the terrorists who stormed the institutions of democracy yesterday, and the 45% of Republican voters who supported it. This is their signal to them affirming that they’ll continue the fight, no matter the fight is foolish, futile and destructive. It’s all about power.

It doesn’t inspire one with hope. Where now with the GOP? Trump has ruined them, near enough, as a coherent political force, but I still think they can do a lot of damage. The hardline conservatives will continue on their path, bolstered by the support of the sort of people that stormed congress yesterday. They’ll give hope the radical right and be a voice for them. It won’t go away, and I expect they’ll be a thorn in the side of any attempts to re-integrate America into a single nation.

There are moderate Republicans, but they seem in the minority and will likely splinter from the party’s rump.

The good news is that the Democrats are back in control come a fortnight. Things can only improve across the board. Common sense policy-making and decency will make a return, and the hope is that it will filter across the world, especially here to Australia.

There’s no doubt that Morrison has modelled himself and the party behind him into a version of Trump-lite. He uses many of the same tricks as Trump – the open, brazen lying and corruption; the refusal to face scrutiny; the undermining of discourse and commentary by refusing to engage, and deflecting it as false news; and the sheer arrogance of pursuing an agenda that suits the party and his mates ahead of the national interest. And they’re just as lazy as each other.

It will be harder now for Morrison with Biden as president and setting a much gentler tone for the world. He risks being marginalised in a policy sense, and his style grating when politics becomes more accountable. That’s my hope, but in the meantime, the Labor party, and Albo, have to step up, and I have little belief that will happen.

But back to America. I think one of the big problems they face goes to their very soul. They have been inculcated with American exceptionalism from the day they’re born, but there’s little to justify it. America is great by virtue of its size and (waning) power, but the moral edge Americans have claimed has never really existed.

It’s an exceptionalism that is now at odds with events, and it’s the conflict between belief and reality which has caused so much grief. Trump campaigned on a slogan of making America great, and those who invaded Washington yesterday are firm in their belief that America should be top-dog.

The world has moved on. America is an insular country and for the most part, has no idea of how proclamations of greatness are so tiresome and ridiculous for the rest of us. It sounds so often like immaturity, claiming at something without complete conviction.

Watching from far away I’ve always found it curious some elements of American culture that appear naive to my Australian eyes – the reverence for institutions, both political and religious; the rituals and ceremonies that litter American public life; the love of high-flown rhetoric and sentimentality in general; and the need to advertise their patriotism. Perhaps it says more about Australians. We’re a pragmatic, sceptical and unsentimental race, and I find so much American culture both foreign and endearing.

This is not an attack on America. Some of the very best of us are American – but so too, as we have witnessed, are some of the very worst. I’ve consumed American arts and commentary all my life. I love American literature. There are some great thinkers come out of that land. But, so it is for most places, without the scale or the fanfare. We are all individuals.

I think the overt nature of American patriotism clouds reality. It is automatic and unquestioning, a reflex without real consideration. Events are cracking that facade now. Like someone who has belonged in a church all their life with unquestioning faith confronted by evidence that casts doubt, this is a time for Americans to examine themselves and what they stand for.

They don’t need to be top-dog. I think that’s gone anyway. As they say, be the best version of yourself and leave everything else alone. This is a time for humility and reflection. I believe the commentators who claim they can put this right – but they need to address the blight at the heart of their problems. They have to say it out loud and own it. Only then can they overcome it.

That’s what I think.

When ignorance fails


Bit of a bombshell yesterday in the ICAC (anti-corruption) hearing in NSW when the NSW premier was called to the stand and revealed that she’d been in a lengthy relationship with a former parliamentarian accused of dodgy dealings.

Naturally, it caused an uproar. Most were flabbergasted by the news. A good many said that she must resign (but with different motivations), while others claimed that her personal life shouldn’t come into it.

I don’t really want to comment on the rights and wrongs of it. It’s the human interest angle that fascinates me. Generally, I’m of the view that the personal lives of our politicians have no bearing unless there’s evidence of criminal or corrupt behaviour, or if it risks the integrity of the office. Everyone’s entitled to a life of their own, and if they choose to engage in behaviours a bit different to the rest of us, it’s nobody’s business but their own.

For me, morality barely comes into it, though I might form an opinion on someone if something saucy is exposed. Having an affair with another man’s wife or if you’re into threesomes, or even if you get a blow job from an intern in the Oval Office, should make little material difference to your ability to do the job.

Gladys is ‘guilty’ of none of those. She’s a single woman who found companionship with a fellow parliamentarian. I’m sympathetic towards her. While others rail at her foolishness or accuse her of corruption, I see a person subject to the same very human whims and desires as most of us.

It’s very simple for people to look at everything through a political prism. In that way, everything becomes good or evil, and there are hard lines – and rules – that separate one from the other. That’s why you see a lot of grandstanding and people getting on their high horse, because the landscape has become so toxic, and because, for many, this represents opportunity. Some will rail against this in one person but excuse in another.

There are more sensible commentators, thankfully. They are independent-minded and clear of the muck. A lot of them are sympathetic but declare that Gladys should probably go because she’s perceived to have turned a blind eye to the dishonesty of her partner.

I doubt very much Gladys is corrupt. I think she has limitations as a leader, but I’m not sure that integrity or dishonesty are among those. Her faults, in this case, were human. If she chose to overlook his faults, she did so as a woman, not the premier of the state. She has a heart too, and hopes and fears and the need for comfort and the desire for love. Unfortunately, this may be one of those occasions where the premier can’t be separated from the woman.

Whether she survives this or not, I think her leadership has been fatally wounded. In politics, perception so often becomes a reality. In this case, the truth is that she was intimate with a man shown to be corrupt, and who tried to use her to further his own cause. I truly believe she wanted nothing to do with it, but she did nothing to stop it. Ignorance is not always bliss.

Uncle Don


I dreamt last night that I was Donald Trump’s ‘nephew from Australia’. I went to visit him, and we went on a road trip together and hit it off fine. At one stage we’re walking side by side along a busy road with a lake on the far side of it. It’s pretty, and we’re talking and as we go along, he takes my hand in his. Though I’m in my early twenties, I accept it as a fond gesture. And in fact, all through my dream my experience of Donald is that he’s a friendly, generous and fun to be around sort of guy. And actually, quite a basic character when you strip away all the bullshit – which is an awful lot.

I woke with this dream in me and didn’t know what to make of it. Then I thought some more and it didn’t seem so strange.

Like much of the world, I despise Donald Trump, but I also pity him. It seems a generous position given all the terrible things he’s done, but when I look at him, I see a man terribly out of his depth. He’s not smart enough to know it, and certainly not to admit it, and so he blusters and pontificates to hide his ignorance and to supposedly portray the sort of character he wants to be. Unfortunately, the real tragedy in this is that he’s been allowed to get away with. He’s a prime analog for the emperor with no clothes, and so he swans around naked while his cronies and the corrupt and imbecilic who follow him fall over themselves to exclaim what a splendid suit of clothes he’s wearing.

This is one of the diabolical aspects of these times. I don’t know of any other era when someone so profoundly incapable would attain such a position of power, and maintain such power throughout. It says a lot about the fierce polarisation of ideology these days when someone so inadequate and dangerous is preferable to the power-brokers behind him than some liberal alternative. And it says a lot about the usual checks and balances in society that have allowed this – a critical media and an educated electorate.

I wonder sometimes in his reflective moments – if he has them – if Donald suspects he might be such a strawman? Does he ever look in the mirror and realise he’s a terrible fraud?

I think the truth about Donald Trump is that he’s not very bright (and has probably some form of Alzheimer’s), was badly brought up, and learned early it was more important to bullshit and bully and barge your way through than to get your hands dirty. I suspect he’s a man without any real values or convictions.

He certainly has a history of bigotry, but I suspect little of it is firmly held. It’s more a matter of convenience or some perverted sense of being cool, which I think is important to him. He’s a populist carried away on the tide of his own narcissism. Everything is status for him, and he can’t bear to be seen wrong or ignorant, which is why he invents such fantastic tales and why everything is always the best or biggest. He’s really a child who somehow has become the most powerful man in the most powerful country on earth.

That’s just my opinion and none of it excuses his behaviour, though it might explain some of it. If not for all the bullshit he might be a reasonable guy – but then, there’s a lot of bullshit.

Without fear or favour


I don’t really want to comment on things like this, but sometimes I just can’t bite my tongue.

Yesterday, there were two government press conferences. One was for about 15 minutes, the other for ninety. One is occasional, the other is daily, as it has been for months. In one, the government refuses to answer questions they don’t like and turn on the reporter; in the other, every question is answered, and the press conference doesn’t end until the items have finished. One was a federal press conference, Morrison accompanied by Dutton, and the other was the Victorian government, with Dan Andrews responding.

Yesterday afternoon, there was a storm across social media as punters turned on the reporters asking questions at the Victorian press conference. They were accused of being rude and disrespectful, of interrupting the premier’s response, of banging on about the same questions again and again, seeking the gotcha moment. Some abuse was personal, and doubtless, much of it was informed by partisan beliefs – but not all.

In response to this tirade of criticism, journos rose up to rebut the fairness of the opprobrium, and decry the instances of personal abuse. They pointed out that it’s their job to ask tough questions and to hold the government to account.

In principle, I couldn’t agree more. I don’t think there’s any place for personal abuse, whether you’re a journo or not. And certainly, it was welcome news to hear that they knew that their job was to keep the bastards honest. In reality, I felt disdainful and maybe a little bit disgusted. It seemed terribly precious as well as being tone-deaf. And not a little hypocritical.

This isn’t a golden age of journalism. It seems odd to write that in the week that Jonathan Swan has been lauded worldwide in his takedown of Trump in a personal interview. It was undoubtedly a masterclass, but perhaps it rings louder because that sort of performance is such an outlier these days? There are good journalists these days, but many fewer than there were even twenty years ago and, for the most part, the style is much different.

I doubt it’s escaped many how ironic it is journalists complaining about personal abuse when so many – and so many particularly the Murdoch media – takedown members of the public so routinely, and without compunction. Smears and innuendo are part and parcel of so much of modern journalism. I think this plays into the mentality of the time – quick grabs, controversial takes, tabloid headlines, clickbait and a general preference for the shallow over the deep.

For someone who’s been around long enough to know that it used to be different, it’s very sad. But many of these journalists parlay that as their business – to turn around and complain when it’s turned back on them verges on the absurd.

There is a deeper issue here, which so many of the critics yesterday attempted to make.

In Melbourne, you have a leader that answers every question posed to him respectfully, and who is subjected to journalistic bad manners and media intrigues and who is routinely criticised.

In Canberra, you have a PM who is selective in when he holds a press conference, and who has a history of being rude and obstructive and refusing to engage with the question or the reporter – and he gets away with it!

Andrews answered hard questions yesterday and took responsibility. Compare it to Morrison at the time of the bushfires when he was questioned, responding with the excuse “I don’t hold a hose, mate”. Witness how often he refuses outright to answer a question with an “I reject the premise of the question.” End of story – and he gets away with that as well. Yesterday he refused to answer questions from one journo, while Dutton turned on a journo asking a question he didn’t like.

This is the problem. We can all see how these leaders are held to a different standard of response. Andrews might be better served if he adopted the same tactics as the PM. The PM bullies the press gallery, and they’re too cowed to speak out. Andrews is reasonable, and so they show their claws. It’s pathetic.

There’s no argument in journo’s asking tough questions – but don’t pick and choose when you do it, and to who. Don’t wave that as your excuse when so often you fail to live up to that standard. Wake up! We see it!

The underlying issue here is media bias. Almost every media outlet these days is to the right of centre, even The Age. It’s particularly political when it comes to the News Corp newspapers – the Herald Sun here in Melbourne, and The Australian nationally, as well as the various regional issues. News value is weak, it’s all about creating clicks, controversy, and relentlessly driving an anti-Labor agenda. What that means is that they’ll amplify issues on the left and suppress the same problems on the right – so they go hammer and tongs against someone like Andrews, and play nice with Morrison.

In service of this, the government will brief their mates in the media against the Labor parties – such as yesterday, for example, when a false story was fed to The Australian about projected infections in Victoria. It’s rubbish, but it has the desired effect.

This is what we’re dealing with in Australia – and in the UK too, and to a degree in the US also. It’s insidious and undermines democracy. Abusing journalists is small time in comparison to this, and might actually be a wake-up call.

More need to wake-up.

NB. It’s telling also that journalists rose one and all yesterday in outrage against their accusers, but failed to fire a shot when one of their own – Emma Albericie – was treated so deplorably during the week by the ABC and The Australian. But, that’s right, she’s accused of being a lefty.