Time to endure


In Sandringham, on Saturday I walked past a bottleshop with a chalked sign outside proclaiming that if the LNP won the election the full purchase price of anything bought today would be refunded. At first, I took it as a rusted on Lib supporter, but as I reflected further I figured it was just a commercially savvy owner trying to spur sales. That’s how confident he was the Libs would be out of government. Well, he was wrong, as was just about everyone else, including me.

It was a horror show watching the count unfold. Right from the start the pundits were bewildered. For years Labor had been in front in the polls. Leading into election day they were ahead 51-49, and even the exit polls conducted on the day were showing a 52-48 advantage. But as the numbers came through they were different from that.

There’s going to be a lot written about this, and already has been. In the wash-up Queensland pretty well cost Labor the election – it was a disaster. Not only did they fail to pick up seats there, but they also lost seats they’d held. A couple more seats lost in Tassie were unexpected, and while Victoria swung to the ALP it was smaller than expected and didn’t have the cut through it might have.

Right now the coalition is poised to just get a majority, maybe. As a passionate advocate for change, this has been a killer for me, the only positive being that finally Tony Abbott is out of the parliament.

It’s hard to explain how devastating this was for me on Saturday night. It was like having served a prison sentence on the day I was finally to be released they said, no, sorry, you’ve got to serve another three years. I had serious concerns about my mental health. I didn’t want to get out of bed yesterday. I didn’t want to come to work today. I didn’t want to face the world.

I was disappointed in the result, naturally, but it went beyond that. I’d proclaimed this the most important election for many years because it was a contest between ideas and no ideas – and no ideas won. In itself that was depressing, but the message from that was clear – if you want to win an election its best to present a small target and go negative, as the LNP did. They gt elected on a platform of no policies and lies. It worked, and it shouldn’t, and the probability is that it will condemn us to mean spirited election campaigns for years to come.

On top of that, it hit me thinking about all the good things that won’t happen now. All the good policies that were killed off. I’d have thought climate policy would have been enough to swing the election, but inexplicably wasn’t. We won’t get the federal ICAC now either, not with any teeth.

Finally, and most devastatingly, I felt betrayed by the Australian people. For years I’ve thought and believed the best of them. When they’ve been called racist or disinterested I’ve said no, that’s just a few bad apples spoiling it for the rest of us. This election was lost because of self-interest and ignorance. People were either selfish or uninterested or ignorant. This was like a gut punch to me. I wanted to think Australians’ were better than that, but I was wrong. I don’t know if I will ever really recover from that. I know that half of Australia basically voted for the ALP, and most people I know, but I can’t get over this sense of vast disappointment. I don’t think I’ve ever been more disappointed.

Gradually you adjust. In the short term, I’m avoiding politics. I can’t face that smug, shit-eating grin of the buffoon we’ve got for PM. I need to look after myself for a while. Then I have to choose but expect despite the shame I’ll end up doubling down. I can’t give up the fight.

In the meantime, Labor must pick itself up and learn from its mistakes. Shorten has announced he will step down and the leadership seems a choice between Albanese and Plibersek. I think Albo should have been made leader when Shorten was. Had he I expect we’d have a Labor government today (antipathy towards Shorten a big factor in the election). I like Albo, he’s passionate and authentic and smart. But I think his moment has passed. Plibersek is smart and tough, I’d be voting for her. If Wong was in the house of reps I think she would be the best choice, but that’s not an option. A smoky for the future is Jim Chalmers. Maybe it’s time to give him a run – perhaps as deputy.

The other lessons come from the election campaign. I hope Labor aren’t scared off and will stick by their guns. Be bold. Don’t go down the narrow road the Libs have taken. Just do it better.

Better means properly articulating policies better, as Keating and Hawke once did. Bring the electorate with you. Take them on the journey.

The one policy that killed Labor was the franking credits, which the Coalition called a retirement tax. Many people voted against a policy that would have no impact whatsoever on them. They were scared into making a rash decision. Explain it better – it affects only a minority, and then those who are independently wealthy. Sell the benefits – we get $6 billion back into the coffers for schools and roads and hospitals and – hey! – guess what, it’ll pay for your dental care as a senior. But nope.

The other thing that’s riled me is the refusal by Labor to defend themselves against the lies of the Coalition. This has been going on for years, the most egregious being that Labor are bad economic managers which is repeated every campaign. This is a myth that needs to be killed off for the good of the party going forward. The evidence is that Labor are better economic managers, and you only have to point to Hawke/Keating to see excellent economic management. More relevantly perhaps, all the ALP had to do when the Coalition pointed to the deficit Labor created (on the back of the economic stimulus during the GFC) was that since coming into government that the Coalition has doubled it. Go hard, don’t stand for it.

Now I’ll go quiet for a while and lick my wounds.

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A beautiful day for an election


It’s a beautiful day to change the government.

It was bloody cold first thing this morning, as it has been for the last couple of weeks, but the sky was clear and blue and the sun bright and quickly it warmed up.

I had an early appointment to get my hair cut in Sandringham. I chatted with the hairdresser as he snipped away. I’ve been going to the same place for 5-6 years now and we know each other well, but today I discovered he was a Liberal voter. Like many, he confessed he didn’t follow politics and didn’t know much about it, but as “a small business owner” he always voted Liberal.

I drove back to Hampton after and, parking the car, walked up the road to the nearest primary school. Even from a distance, I could smell the democracy sausages being cooked with onions on the side. I was there for that, and no other reason. I waved my hand at the how to vote cards presented to me as I walked the gauntlet. At the sausage stall, I was exuberantly told there was a plethora of choice, I could have anything I wanted for $3. “Democracy in action,” I responded, similarly exuberant.

It’s been a wearying and occasionally dispiriting election campaign, but there’s something about how elections days are done in Australia that is splendid. It’s a tiresome act in many ways, but the democracy sausage has become iconic. Add in the stalls manned by volunteers selling cakes and the like for the local school fund, the banter along the way, and there’s a light-hearted, almost celebratory fizz to the day.

I had an invite out tonight, but tonight is one night I never go out. Any time there’s an election I’m there in front of my TV watching every development. I’m all in. This time around that’s especially true. This is a watershed election. This is the chance to remake Australia – or slide back into the mire. I’m confident we’ll see a change of government.

There’s always the footy on the other channel, just in case.

Don’t mention the war


I remember reading somewhere about Kafka that in all his diaries there’s not a single mention of World War One, which raged beyond the borders towards the last years of his life.

You can speculate as to the reason. Perhaps, as it would appear superficially, he had no interest in it. On the other hand, maybe it infuriated him so that he refused to write about it. Or perhaps his diaries were kept only for his most intimate thoughts.

Whatever the reason, I sympathise. I’ve studiously avoided comment on the federal politics, and the pending election, though it’s forever in my mind. No matter how many times I swear off it I can’t help but be a politically committed character. I eat it up, and sometimes it eats me up. I’m into economics and generally I’m fascinated by the political process. On top of that I’m passionate about getting the best deal for Australians. I get frustrated and infuriated by the basic and deeply imbued ineptitude of recent governments. More recently ineptitude has tended towards dodgy dealings, if not outright corruption.

I need and want change desperately, but if I haven’t written about it it’s because I can’t bring myself to put into words the tangled thoughts and sheer passion I feel. I’ve chosen to keep it separate, as I expect Kafka did. I can’t keep silent forever though.

The election is on May 18. Labor are poised to win, which will be a blessed relief. In recent years it’s been the case that you’re more likely to vote against one mob than you are to vote for the other. This time I’ll very definitely be voting against the incompetent and spiteful Morrison government, but equally I’ll be voting for the Shorten alternative.

To Morrison first. I’ve long held that he is a blathering fool and the election campaign has done nothing to dissuade me from that view. He holds to Pentecostal teachings but – like so many of the self-proclaimed devout – is a moral vacuum. His priority first and foremost is to secure his political future, by any means available, including outright lies. Everything is secondary to that, including the good of the people he governs for. It explains the lack of political substance or vision and the repetition of old tropes designed to incite fear and cause division.

It’s an interesting question who I hold in more contempt, Tony Abbott or Scott Morrison. Abbott has the virtue at least of being an honest fool. He had an ideology that he held to, bereft as it was. Morrison has no other ideology than to be re-elected. He’s as slippery as an eel. He believes in nothing but his own survival and everything is fodder for that. You could make a strong argument that makes him more despicable than Abbott. Both are shallow vessels. Unfortunately, both have led governments short on talent and morality.

I’ve never been a fan of Shorten – he’s capable of back-sliding as well – but he has a talented team behind him, and is a parlaying a policy agenda more sweeping than anything since the Hawke-Keating years. He gets high marks for being bold. As it happens, I’m all in for pretty much he’s advocating as I think it will make Australia both fairer and ultimately more productive. It’s been a long time since I was so excited by a set of policies. Not since the great man himself, Paul Keating.

The two high-profile proposals relate to Franking credits and capital gains tax.

Right now the Australian government pays about $6 billion annually as tax refunds on franked dividends to people – generally self-funded retirees – who have paid no tax in the first instance. In essence they get a refund of something they never expended. Australia is the only country in the world that does this, and it only applies to a small percentage of wealthy individuals who could well do without it. Unfortunately it takes from the government coffers money better spent on schools and hospitals and infrastructure that will benefit all. On multiple levels it’s a rort that has to go.

The proposed change to capital gains means that it can only be claimed on investment on new dwellings. To my mind this closes a loophole and encourages proper economic activity by encouraging investment in construction, rather than currently the ring-a-ring-a-rosy of investment in existing dwellings. These allowances should be of benefit of all, not just those who choose to invest. Right now it’s money for nothing. In the future it’ll still be free money, but out of it the economy will benefit in new construction, jobs, and economic activity.

Outside of that there are some great initiatives such as properly subsidising childcare. Right now the costs of childcare are so crippling, and workers underpaid, that it’s easier for many to be stay home parents than being at work. This will enable them to be gainfully employed and the economy as a whole will benefit. Dumping franking credits allows for this.

On top of that treatment for cancer will now also be free, and Medicare extended to include dentistry for pensioners – an obvious, but overdue, change.

Perhaps the biggest and most critical difference between the parties relates to climate change and the policies to mitigate it. The LNP, beholden to lobbyists and corporate donations, are stuck in a fossil fuels zone. They’ve blocked or reversed all initiatives to encourage alternative energy options. This is the big killer for the government, not that they really understand. Besides actually promising to do something about it, Labor are advocating for electric vehicles and schools with their own power generation.

This election the Labor party has finally become the progressive party it was when Hawke and Keating changed Australia for the better. We can’t afford for them to lose. And this is the last I’ll write on this until after the election.

Places of the spirit


Of course, there are things that run through my head all the time. Often I think I must write about that, but mostly I never get around to it. Until there’s such an application that taps directly into my mind that will be the case.

Today I want to specifically reference the fire that has consumed Notre Dame, in Paris. I feel for the French, and the Parisians particularly, for whom this must feel like a blow to the soul. It feels an unreal event, an affront to nature, something that could never happen and should never happen.

I first walked into Notre Dame about 21 years ago. I’ve been to many cathedrals in my time, but this has always been my favourite. I’m a history buff and knowing that so many momentous events had happened right here was a thrill in itself. There was a deeper, darker connection than that though. I remember standing beneath the high roof surrounded by the immense stone columns and peering at the beautiful stained glass windows and feeling humbled by the meaning of it all. It felt a great spiritual moment.

Places like Notre Dame are living reminders of the wonder and mystery of our existence. We live in the moment so much these days, but Notre Dame had stood for almost a millennia. It teemed with life and history. With luck, it might have gone on for another millennium, or more. I guess that’s true for many such buildings and there are dozens of others who have left me just as impressed – but not so spiritually engaged. Notre Dame felt like a living place to me, not just of history but of humanity as well. I think of only one other place off the top of the head I felt so moved, the Pantheon in Rome.

Notre Dame has not been completely destroyed they say, though the spire has fallen and no doubt the wondrous stained glass is gone – as well as the old, middle-aged wooden structure. It will be rebuilt, as it must, but will it be the same place?

Update: it appears that while the roof and spire have gone and much structural damage otherwise, the bulk of the stonework has been saved – in fact, photos from inside are almost eerie with the area around the altar a pile of blackened ruins tumbled from the roof, while most of the nave seems untouched. Most importantly – and almost miraculously – the famous, magnificent rose stained glass appears undamaged.

The virtuous and the vicious


On Friday all over the world children skipped school to rally against the politics that have led to careening climate change. For many this was controversial. Politicians on the wrong side of that argument warned they should be kept at school. They were ridiculed as being too young to really understand, or as being puppets of the left. In truth, these accusers are the people the children are rallying against – the blind, the conservative, the corrupt and the inept. It’s come to the point that our children are protesting at what their parent’s generation failed to do.

It may be too late, but now there is such momentum that the naysayers are losing their influence. The organiser of this event, Greta Thunberg, is a formidable schoolgirl from Norway. She has managed to do what so many others well intended have not: she has electrified an issue and given it into the hands of those who will be most affected by its evil.

The tide has turned, I think, and it’s heartening to see such passion and commitment in those so young. There was a time when kids of that age would engage in the playful, mindless fun that comes easy when life is good. What need of passion or ideals if life is served warm to you on a plate? Times have changed and become more immediate. The pendulum returns, as it always must, having reached one extreme – the extreme being an era of poor, weak or corrupt leadership. It has led to the situation we find ourselves in now and our children roused, won’t have it anymore. If they survive the climate coming at least we can begin to hope our world might be in better hands.

For me, this was reason for hope and inspiration. But then came the other side of that.

I was at work Friday afternoon when the first reports of a shooting in Christchurch came through. Anyone who’s been in this situation knows how odd it seems. At first, you tend to think it’s probably nothing much. We have become inured to everyday violence, and there are so many nutters out there it comes as no great surprise. But then updated reports come through. Up to nine dead, you read. People begin to turn to each other. Have you heard what’s happening in Christchurch? And you go back, seeking more news, and it comes. It was a mosque that was attacked. Hospitals preparing for forty or fifty casualties, you read. Wow, you think. You catch eyes with someone. You start to feel it in your stomach: something awful is happening.

You go about your work nonetheless. Computers hum, phones ring, emails come and go, meetings are called. On Friday we had a late function. Going into it I saw the latest update – 29 confirmed dead, dozens feared to be. And you think: dozens?!

Finally, when I got home, I saw – 49 dead – and as I watched the full story unfolded, about how the gunman live-streamed his rampage to Facebook, about the garbled, racist manifesto he wrote, finally, that he was an Australian.

Such terrible events are hard to comprehend, but it was the news that the killer was an Australian from Grafton that gave it another edge. I felt fear and shame as well as sorrow and anger. I didn’t feel the surprise knowing he was an Australian that I did at the event itself.

Naturally, there’s an upwelling of grief and compassion across the globe at what has happened, mixed in with anger and despair. That’s been the case here too in Oz. New Zealand is our closest neighbour. We are cousins to each other. We know each other well, like family. But then one of ours has gone there and murdered so many of them and, unfortunately, it’s easy to see why.

This is a problem all over the world, divisive extremities, not just in Oz. Here though, as in some places, it has been leveraged for political purposes. It started with John Howard here, may he burn in hell, the first man to politicise asylum seekers and turn it into an election issue. He changed the conversation, and in so doing changed Australia. We went from being an open, warm society to a society protective of its good fortune and closed to the sorrows of others. That’s been exploited since by Abbott and Morrison, and throughout, by Dutton, aided and abetted by a media either complicit to the point of cheerleading (Murdoch) or being too weak or cowardly to properly stand up against the cold-hearted values being espoused.

When that becomes the language, when human life has been devalued to that of a statistic, when those poor folk caught in the crossfire and seeking a better life are demonised as either terrorists or opportunists, then it is easy to dismiss the woes of others. In a world where everything has become polarised everyone who is perceived as being not ‘us’ must, therefore, be against us. Multicultural as we are in Australia, in the eyes of the bigoted it means every one of colour, everyone not Christian, becomes suspect at least. And so in the demented minds of a few the events on Friday loom as a crusade against so-called enemies.

There’s no point saying not all Australians, just as there was no point proclaiming not all men. Most Australians aren’t like that, are horrified by what happened – but this lives within our society, and has been encouraged and been allowed to thrive when it should have been stillborn. We all have to take responsibility for that.

When the news came out Friday the deplorable Fraser Anning came out effectively blaming the victims for being Muslim, guilty of their own murder. Yesterday he attended a right-wing function only a few kilometres from where I live. Famously – now – a 17-year-old kid smashed a raw egg into the back of his head. It’s a moment that will go down in folklore, and ‘eggboy’ has been hailed since all over the world.

It’s an instructive moment. Here was Anning with his white supremacist cronies, swathed in swastikas, swaggering and pitched towards violence. These are dysfunctional, damaged members of society, drawn towards a toxic ideology because of a lack in themselves (if only being intelligence). They’re the sort of men who commit violence against women and others weaker than themselves. That’s the disaffected breeding ground for those who one day will resort to violence on a broader scale.

Then there’s the kid, perhaps a kid who marched on Friday, a kid who believes in an inclusive world and better selves, a kid engaged in what it means to be a part of a true society. Some of decried what he did as some sort of violence, but what I see is a kid who has made a mockery of Anning in this silly act, and revealed Anning for what he truly is. Anning turned and attacked the kid before his cronies piled on top of him and got him in a choker hold. The kid lost consciousness – he’s okay – and what the world saw was the gleeful violence so easily adopted.

We saw it too, in Australia. I’m always hopeful, even after such a terrible thing. This is our moment to be properly ‘woke’. They’re not just a ratbag few. They’re among us, and can’t be tolerated any longer. I reckon fully 95% of Australians are horrified by these people and are now just waking up to the danger they represent. It’s a harsh lesson, but the actions on Friday I think will rebound on the supremacists. We want to say, as the Kiwis have, this is not who we are.

I should add that I think it’s pulled the teeth from the government ahead of the election as well. Before this – sad to say – they’d have sought to exploit the divisions between us and them, lead by those good Christians Morrison and Dutton. They can’t do that now. Hopefully, no-one ever can again.

It’s a hard thing to say after fifty people are dead, but I think the pendulum is shifting back. I think the act on Friday was a sign of that, evil as it was. That’s poor comfort for the families of those murdered, but a small thing the rest of us can hold onto and hope is true. Better times will come.

Lost voices


In the last week two giant names in Australian journalism have passed away.

The first of these was Mike Willesee, possibly the finest interviewer of the last fifty years. Back in a time when political interviewing was an artform (a time, sadly, long past) Willesee was king. He would appear every night on our TV screens, mostly on A Current Affair (when it wasn’t a tabloid program), probing and interrogating a range of politicians and hucksters and very often bringing them undone. He was highly intelligent and very well researched and had a composed, patient, insistent manner. When he was on your tail you knew it you were in trouble – most famously John Hewson, caught out ahead of the ’93 election when questioned about the GST on a cake.

Growing up dad would watch the program every night, and over time so did I. Truth mattered then and our officials were held to account daily. I don’t think that’s been the case in Australia since Willesee’s successor, Jana Wendt. I think there’s a distinct connection between the decline in journalistic rigour and the knowledge and active engagement of the electorate, and democracy is the loser.

The other to have died, just yesterday, was Les Carlyon. Off the top of my head I can’t think of another Australian journalist anywhere near as good a pure writer than him. Everything he wrote was evocative. I read a lot of his stuff over the years – his books on WW1, both wonderful, plus his general journalism, particularly his heartfelt appreciation of great horses – and often times I would pause reading to truly appreciate his prose, and to reflect on the insights he shared with us.

He was a grand writer, but he had a way of seeing that told of his journalistic background. He was editor of The Age at 33, so he had more than just a way with words. That’s what made him so memorable – a wonderful writer paired with insight and sensitivity. I reckon he saw beneath the surfaces and touched upon the human truths which really are the basis of every good story. You read his stuff on the big race days or our abiding affection for the racehorses of folklore and what he understands is the essential meaning of these things, a meaning held deep inside which is something close to love. We want to believe. We want to belong. We want to love and share and celebrate.

His histories have that, too. He was a humane, incisive commentator who valued the uniqueness of experience.

He was 76. Sadly this means there’s no more of his writing to look for, but grateful for what we have.

Enough with the heat


I’ll tell you what I’m sick of: hot weather. Today is actually reasonable, 24 or something, but it’s been bloody hot more often than not.I read this morning that January was the hottest month on record in Oz, following on from the hottest December on record. Personally, I can’t remember a hotter January in Melbourne.

It’s funny how such fierce weather can be so pretty. January was a beautiful month. There was hardly any rain, though there was a picturesque thunderstorm on Wednesday, few clouds, and the sky has been that very Australian blue. We need rain though, as always, and too many hot days lead to exhaustion and ill temper.

I find it trying, but I can live with it. My heart really goes out to all those beasties who have to endure this without the comforts of home. On those really hot days, I close the back door with Rigby inside and leave the aircon running for him. It also means I come home to a relatively comfortable environment, and it’s easier keeping the place cool than making it so.

January we had two days of about 44 degrees Celsius, a couple more in the low forties, and probably eight or nine days in the thirties. For most of the month, I had only the bedroom aircon working. The main aircon actually conked out on the first of the 44 degree days. I was able to sleep okay with the aircon in the bedroom but I’m never completely comfortable sleeping with it on. It dries out the air and makes for a lighter sleep and most days I would wake up weary. Tack a few days on end like that – and mine is a hot home – then it begins to add up. And it’s the same for pretty well everyone.

I managed to get the aircon fixed last week (on the same day I had a specialist appointment costing me $380; got my car aircon regassed; and had my bathroom taps replaced – on a 38-degree day). This weekend we have another 35 and a 39 forecast.

This sort of weather is made for staying indoors where it’s cool, or socialising out in the sunshine. I spent Sunday afternoon wading up to my knees at Hampton beach before having a few beers, some wine, and some take-away fish and chips with some friends on the foreshore.

This is what summer should be, only there’s too much of it. This is all over Australia and it’s hard not to think climate change and global warming, and be fearful. I wonder what those born today will have to endure in years to come. There’s no real reason to believe the small-minded politicians all over the world will ever wake up to the fact and actually cooperate in doing something to prevent this. By the time they do it’ll be too late. Hands up who disagrees? Barring some technological miracle, I figure that in a thousand years’ time we’ll be pretty well wiped out. All our doing, too.