A good day to be Australian


When I think about it, it’s been a crappy few years in Australia, and in fact for much of the world. There’s been little to celebrate, and much otherwise to fear, decry or sadden.

Yesterday was one of the better days in recent Australian history. Yesterday the heart soared, and it felt good to be an Aussie again.

There were two big moments yesterday, both of which might have soured, but this time came out just the right way.

Last night the Socceroos played Honduras in Sydney for the right to compete in the World Cup in Russia next year. It was a big event, a big crowd, and a lot riding on it.

Even before last night’s game the Socceroos had created history. No team had ever played so many matches to qualify for the World Cup. No team had ever travelled so far – the equivalent of six times around the world, they say. It had been long and arduous, and more recently, controversial and testy. Last night was it, one way or another.

Coming into the match playing on our home ground gave us the advantage, but at half-time the score was nil all and we were getting nervous. In the second half the game broke open, and Mile Jedinak, the skip, scored three times – twice from the penalty spot, and another from a deflected free kick.

That was it. There was a great outpouring of relief and happiness on the ground, in the stands, and in lounge rooms all over Australia. Sitting in my lounge room I exchanged SMS with friends who had been watching in their home, and engaged in social media. On Twitter I wrote I want to be Mile Jedinak when I grow up – such a great leader and commanding presence, we had lost our way without him, and came good with him back.

I feel sorry for the Hondurans. They fought passionately, but they were always a class below.

Earlier in the day something else had happened which should have a more enduring impact upon the nation.

The much criticised plebiscite on Same Sex Marriage turned out to be a resounding success, with more than 80% of Australians having their say. It was always thought that the Yes vote would win, but as always in moments like this, as indeed in World Cup qualifiers, you’re never sure of the result until the whistle blows. Yesterday the whistle blew on the plebiscite and the results announced: a little over 61% of Australians said “Yes’ to same sex marriage.

This was a great and emotional moment. At work a crowd had congregated in the staff dining area to watch the results announced on TV. I think every one of them hoped for the Yes result – I’ve yet to meet anyone who professes anything else. With it announced the news spread, there were high fives in the office and cheering. Around the country there were much greater celebrations.

This was a result I was very committed to, but it doesn’t affect me. For hundreds of thousands of other Australians the result of this plebiscite had a direct on their life and destiny. All going well this should pass into law sometime before Christmas, and those Australians can go off and married their loved one, just like the rest of us. It is a great moment of inclusiveness, and an acknowledgement that we are all equal, and with the rights now to enshrine it.

I felt so proud and happy. I believed that Australia would vote that way. It’s a victory for compassion, decency, and that great Australian dictum, a fair go for all. I am at times critical of our society, but I’ve always thought that Australians are natural democrats – it’s why we are renowned for being egalitarian. We’ll judge you on your merits, not on your title, wealth, or if you happen to be heterosexual or gay.

A final observation on this – anyone who witnessed Penny Wong break down at the announcement and wasn’t moved is a mug. She is a woman I admire greatly, very smart, a little fierce, a decent human being. She also happens to be gay. She rode this politically, but it was also very personal. Her tears gave expression to the relief and pure justice of this moment.

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Owning up


Woke up this morning to two shocking pieces of news.

First, the news from Texas and the church shooting there. New such as this is almost de rigueur these days, terrible as it is. It’s been going on way too long, and no matter the clamour it never seems to change – in fact, it appears attacks like this are becoming more common. Something has to be done – has to be – but you doubt that anything will. If Obama couldn’t change things then Trump has no willingness to, and the NRA will keep defending their turf. From the outside, it seems unsustainable, that something must give – otherwise anarchy beckons.

The other news was of a 13-year-old girl being struck by a car while riding her bike, here in Melbourne. She’s in a serious condition, but what is truly shocking is that the driver of the BMW that struck her stopped briefly, then drove away, leaving her near death.

I say it’s shocking, but this too has become almost routine. It’s not uncommon for pedestrians to be struck, but when I was growing up it was rare for a hit and run to be reported – these days it feels as if 90% are hit and runs. What has the world come to?

This time it’s too much. A girl, riding her bike, has been struck and left for dead. It’s more than deplorable, it’s unconscionable.

I understand the panic that must grip a driver when they hit another person, but that’s the test. Running from it is not only disgraceful, it’s ultimately futile – no-one gets away with it. And surely the first instinct should be to render assistance?

I hate to say it, but I think it’s a sign of the times, and the stats I reckon would back that up. Why is it that once upon a time we would stop and take responsibility when now we flee from it?

I see it in the increasing reports of cowards punches, and brawls in general (there was another last night in the city near where I work).

Bar fights are not new, and I’ve been in confrontations myself. Used to be though there was a code that you would never strike someone from behind, or when they weren’t looking. It probably sounds small beer, but it made a fundamental difference. For one, when you know a punch is coming you can prepare for it – a cowards punch (when the victim isn’t looking) is well named. There were many fewer serious injuries or fatalities once upon a time.

It’s telling from a psychological perspective to. Somewhere along the way we’ve crossed a line, when or why I don’t know. There’s no honour in hitting someone from behind. There’s only one aim in doing that, and that’s to inflict pain and injury. The old fights are nothing to be proud of, but what they boiled down to was macho posturing. You faced your opponent and took him on squarely. If you attempted anything underhand then you were a pariah, and your mates would let you know about it. These days, literally, the gloves are off.

It’s not dissimilar in the prevalence of hit and run accidents. We’ve become selfish and self-indulgent, with our first thoughts of ourselves. We don’t face up to things as we used to, and don’t take responsibility for our actions as we did. There’s a lot of moral cowards out there and I find it very disquieting.

A good death


The lower house of the Victorian parliament voted last week to allow euthanasia laws, the first in Australia. It’s still not a done deal, but it’s more likely than not that they will be passed into law. I reckon that’s great years.

It’s a contentious subject, split by ethical, religious and humanitarian arguments. For the doctor brought up to respect the Hippocratic oath it goes against all that tradition, yet so many doctors – who see the suffering and grief up close – have a natural sympathy for a merciful end. I remember my grandfather, who died in the early eighties, laying in his sick bed in the old Prince Henry basically non-compos, and who, with a nod and a wink, was allowed to slip away without artificial sustenance.

I can understand and even sympathise with many who oppose euthanasia. At the very least it makes for a complex philosophical conjecture. Late last week Paul Keating, a Australian I respect before any other, came down hard against it. On this occasion though I think he is wrong, if not out of touch, then perhaps out of step.

I don’t know of anyone who has lost someone close to the cruel ravages of disease who opposes euthanasia. Most, like me, are strong advocates for it. There is a selfish aspect to that: it is demoralising to watch your loved ones waste away in pain. It seems demonstrably cruel, not just to them, but to those forced to witness it without the power to do anything about it. This is not mercy.

My mother, like many with terminal diseases, wished to cut short her pain. She was clear about this from a long way out, and conjectured plans to make it so. It was about pain for her, but also about dignity – she wanted to go out on her terms. That’s a powerful argument – especially when you consider the sad alternative she had to suffer.

As her son I found it very hard. It’s awful to watch someone you have so loved suffer so badly, and in mum’s case at least there seemed very little left of her in the last days. Her body went on, briefly, but she was too far remote from us to connect. I watched her deteriorate, held her frail hand, spoke to her hoping she could hear me, but all of it was gut wrenching.

What was hard as a son was that I could do nothing to help her. She had clear instructions, yet I could do nothing to obey them. It felt a betrayal which, combined with grief, was a heavy burden to carry. I’ll never forget how mum ended, and have no doubt it would have been right had she been able to choose her time of passing, when she was still lucid and bright and of sound mind, before the long slide to oblivion.

Morally I have no doubt about the rightness of euthanasia. Getting it right legally is the tricky part, but it appears the bill under discussion has properly considered the complexities and contradictions of the situation. This will be no simple rubber stamp. As it should be there will be a process with checks and balances. I so hope it becomes law, and think it reflects well on us as a society and state – the most progressive in Australia.

What do we learn from this?


I figure this might be one of my more controversial posts, or at least one of the more misunderstood. Misunderstanding comes easy these days.

In the last week there have been a series of revelations about legendary Hollywood movie mogul, Harvey Weinstein. Daily one after another woman has come forward alleging sexual harassment, and even rape. Many of the women are high profile actresses and models. It’s been an eye opening and shocking litany of offences, making clear that Weinstein is a pathetic and obsessive serial offender. At one point I wondered if I was the only person who didn’t have a Harvey Weinstein story.

One of the aspects most disturbing to me is the realisation that so much had been swept under the carpet. I’m no innocent, and tend to cynical view when it comes to the wielding of power. That multiple organisations would choose to view these offences with a blind eye came as no great surprise. What was surprising was that there were so many seemingly influential ‘names’ who had been victim of these offences, but had chosen to remain silent till now.

It’s a regular tale told of how many victims of sex crimes either choose not to report them, or do so and are humiliated by the experience, or disbelieved. It’s a fundamental societal issue, particularly as it seems that sexual offences are far more common than I would have believed. I understand how difficult it is to confront the judicial system after being victim of this, particularly when you have little faith in the process. Unfortunately, by failing to report it makes it harder for the next woman, and it vindicates the actions of the perpetrator, potentially allowing him to go again – as clearly has been the case with Weinstein.

I believed, falsely as it turns out, that high profile actresses would not have the same fears. Even if behind the scenes I thought something would be done, but until the bombshell last week no-one had really spoken out. It’s a sorry tale, and in the wake of it there are thousands of women coming out with the #metoo hashtag admitting to being sexually harassed, or worse. If there is a positive out of this it’s that it has been put under the spotlight, and perhaps with strength in numbers more women will come forward, and the low-lives committing these offences will be properly punished. Only then can we hope to stamp this behaviour out.

As a man, I’m horrified. I’ve wondered if I’ve ever done anything that might be construed as sexual harassment. I can’t think of anything, and there has never been an intention to do anything like that – but who am I to judge?

So, Weinstein, and this is the controversial bit. It’s shocking what he has done, but I can’t help feeling some pity for him. In the first place there is obviously something wrong with him that he should be such a repeat offender. There’s something pathetic about it which speaks to the nature of his psyche. What craving did he seek to satisfy, and why? Many of the stories about him are similar, with Weinstein making unwelcome advances, either verbal, or physical such as walking in naked. For the women it is disgusting, but looking at Weinstein from afar there is something pitiful in it. How does this happen? Where have we gone wrong?

The other part of it is that he’s being piled into right now. Every man and his dog is cracking in. He’s been kicked out of a roll-call of heavyweight industry associations, including the production company he helped found. It’s hard not to be cynical about some of that. I’m sure his behaviour was well known, but tolerated until he got caught out. Now it’s about the optics. Not surprisingly his wife has left him as well. Everything he was, everything he identified with, has been taken from him, and you might say, so he deserves, and maybe you’re right. What is unedifying is some of the glee attached to this.

It doesn’t sit quite right with me. He should receive his just desserts, but right now it’s all outrage, much of it genuine, but a good part of it faux. I don’t doubt the stories told of him, but as it stands they are allegations. I’m not given to hyperbole. I believe in due process and justice. This should be investigated and go to court, and hopefully it will. In the meantime he has been judged and found guilty in the court of public opinion, and duly punished. It amounts to a form of bullying, and – as I said – some of it for cynical reasons.

I can’t help but wonder how he is now, abandoned by his industry, his wife, even his brother, his name turned into click-bait and subject to ridicule. These are our times, everything is extreme – I wonder though what the reaction would be if in days from now he decides he cannot go on. I’m not saying that will happen – it shouldn’t – but what if it did?

It would change nothing of the nature of his crimes, but perhaps there are reasonable questions then about our response to them.

If you’re a bigot you’re a prick, no saying otherwise


I figured out about a month ago that anyone who opposes marriage equality is basically an arsehole. Or dumb. Or both. Being a well-brought up middle-class kid meant that I gave the benefit of the doubt up to then. Everyone’s entitled to an opinion after all. But truth is just as everyone is entitled to an opinion then everyone is entitled to disagree with it. You might think it a step too far name calling as a result of that, but I’ve got no time these days for well-mannered reticence. That describes pretty well who I’ve become in recent years. I’ve always been blunt, but these days it verges on the brutal – and I’m fine with that. Sometimes things just are and you have to call them for what they are.

And so I’m willing to proclaim it – anyone who believes that two people in love of the same sex don’t deserve the same rights and respect as two people of different sex in love is just a fucking narrow minded bigot, and I don’t care how they dress it up.

The no side of the equation throw up a lot of simple-minded and uneducated reasons why it should be opposed. Believe me I’ve listened to them and read their opinion pieces. I may not agree with what they say, but I’m always prepared to listen because I want to understand. I’m a rationalist, and I give them the benefit of that. I’ve yet to come across a single opinion of substance. Most of it is raw prejudice – be it based on religion or bigotry – dressed up in self-serving justification. The bottom line is that they don’t like the idea of two people of the same gender getting it on, and are prepared to impose their ugly worldview on society.

I’m sick of it, and want nothing to do with those people, simple as that. If someone stands up and tells me they’ll be voting no to the plebiscite then I’ll tell them what I think, and with some relish.

Now this is an attitude some in the no camp are using to justify their position. I read another opinion piece by someone this morning saying they would be voting no because the debate had been too one sided and in favour of yes. Well, there’s both a logical reason for that, and some wilful blindness.

If most of the commentary has come out in favour of marriage equality that’s because most Australians are in support of it. It’s simple arithmetic. There was also the inference that the debate had become tawdry, and this is just rank hypocrisy.

I may rail against those nay-sayers and I’m happy to call them a prick to their face, but it’s not the yes side of the argument perpetrating outright lies and misinformation, engaging in inflammatory bigotry by suggesting that same-sex relationships are un-godly, or will lead to child abuse, and it’s not the yes vote re-printing vile posters from neo-nazi organisations. In fact I’ll go so far as to say that this is a vile allegation that proves that anyone against equal rights is an utter prick.

Bigots I can understand. Religious nuts I understand. Morons I understand. Supposedly measured and intelligent people who claim to be indifferent to the result but will vote no for spurious reasons of discrimination I don’t understand. For someone to come out against something they claim to be sympathetic to for such narrow (and cock-eyed) reasons is deplorable. If I were to take it at face value then it’s hard to understand why someone would choose to cut off their nose to prove a point not worth making: it’s selfish to the point of idiocy. I doubt that. I reckon they’re just one of those people deep in their soul uncomfortable with the idea of gay love. It creeps them out, not that they would ever admit to it, to others, or to themselves. Easier to find an excuse to justify a reason to be out of step with society.

Well, you’re both dumb and a prick. You can tick that off as more justification, and burn for it.

It’s our house


This week we’ve had the unfortunate spectacle of a couple of Melbourne inner-city councils deciding not to celebrate Australia Day because of the offense done to the indigenous of Australia, supposedly commemorated by that day. In response, the federal government has repealed those councils rights to citizenship ceremonies. Naturally, there has been much controversy and comment as a result.

I wish this wasn’t the case. I understand the argument put by the councils, though I don’t entirely agree. I’m sympathetic to a government who wants to maintain the integrity of our national day, though believe they’ve been typically heavy-handed. Above all, I wish this debate could have been conducted in an intelligent and thoughtful way, which is now impossible, as it probably always was. All of this makes it unfortunate. It can’t end well.

I understand why the councils have made this decision. Disquiet over Australia Day has been brewing for years, which is also known as Invasion Day by those who oppose it, which explains the rift. On the one side you have the conventional, traditional and officially endorsed view that Australia Day celebrates the founding of the nation, the day the first fleet sailed into Botany Bay. The contrary view is that this is the day the indigenous peoples were dispossessed of their land by white ‘invaders’.

I can understand both perspectives, and if it was left to me would happily shift our national day to another date. The day itself means more to me in popular culture than it does historically. It’s a day of barbecues and citizenship ceremonies and cricket. It’s a happy day when you look at it like that, which is the symbolic. I don’t think much about the historical significance of the day, and the fact that it marks the day when some leaky ships turned up is a matter of general indifference to me. What has happened in the last 20 years is that it has become less symbolic and more literal. As such I can perfectly understand the cultural insensitivity of the day.

Having said that, I think there is a lot of simplistic groupthink in those who choose to oppose the day. That local councils choose to embrace that groupthink is no surprise given the historical mediocrity of said administrators. Ultimately it’s more about appearance than it is about action.

I liken it in my mind to two rival families bidding at auction for a property. Inevitably one family will be successful and the other will miss out. Australia Day in a way is a celebration of the winning bid, but in so doing offends the losers.

Most of us are reasonable people. We might be thrilled to have the winning bid, but know better than to celebrate in the faces of the losers. This is what Australia Day does, however.

Now, of course, the indigenous will say, well wait a minute, that was our house! That’s the crux of their argument, and hence what has been historically viewed as a settlement is in Aboriginal eyes an invasion. And this is what the councils are supporting in their refusal to support the day.

Personally, I find this semantically tricky territory. I don’t think it’s as simple as a black ‘nation’ being invaded by a white people, but I’m not going to go down that rabbit hole today. And as a white person of Anglo-Saxon stock living in Australia, it is problematic and complex regardless. The very people who decry the day would not exist if that day had never happened. I would not exist. I may be sympathetic to those indigenous who see January 26 as a commemoration of dispossession, but as someone who has a personal stake in the historical record I’m glad it happened, and it would be hypocrisy to claim otherwise.

This is one reason I feel this is a simple-minded, feel-good gesture by the councils involved. This is a conversation we had to have, but this is not the way to have it. Ideally, this conversation should come from the top down. Our government should engage with this, in the same way it should engage with notions of republicanism. This, of course, is unlikely, even impossible in the current environment, but there was a time when it was a part of the zeitgeist, and it will be again.

Unfortunately, the government has doubled down on this issue with their punitive actions against the councils concerned. It’s pathetic really, and unedifying on all sides.

What we need is a national day that is inclusive of all. We know Australia Day is not. It’s a big leap for an Australian government to make that change, but it must and will happen, later if not sooner. My preference is that our national day is the day we declare ourselves a republic finally.

That’s a truly inclusive event, for all Australians, regardless of background or colour. Forget the posturing. This house is big enough for all of us to live in.

Cracked up world


Tell you what, in my lifetime there’s never been a crazier patch of politics than what’s going on now – and crazy is putting it kindly.

Trump continues to do his Trumpish things, but still manages to plumb new depths. It affects all of us, and the world sits in a precarious place now because of him. There was a patch of about 10 days when I’d wake up in the morning wondering if world war 3 might have erupted overnight. It didn’t, or at least hasn’t yet, but no-one’s going to feel safe until he’s out of the job. Nutters like Kim Jong Un are a fact of life, but we expect – and need – leaders on our side of the fence to be more measured and intelligent. That hasn’t always been the case, but never in my lifetime have we suffered such an incompetent, unpredictable and downright nasty leader as Trump. Not even close.

Then this week gone we have seen the eruption of very ugly racist violence in Charlottesville, condoned more than condemned by the president. It’s a terrible state of affairs.

As an Australian, I feel some existential threat knowing that someone as erratic as Trump has his finger on the button, but I’m probably safer than most. I really feel though for the great majority of Americans who are decent, compassionate and reasonable. They’ve had their country hijacked and their identity subverted by the values that Trump espouses and supports. They must ache with the loss and a sense of futility, but for all our sakes they must keep up the good fight. What it takes though is for Trump to be toppled. Until that happens the poison he preaches will continue to spread. All our best hope is that the Mueller investigation hits paydirt, but I no longer have faith that it will be a killer blow, even if it does. Even so, how much damage has been done? If he goes tomorrow, what damage has he done to the fabric of the nation? How much cannot be reversed?

I was shocked the other day to see footage of the ‘militia’ in Charlottesville patrolling the streets with semi-automatic weapons on their shoulders. These are basically racists, Nazis and Ku Klux Klan. How is it even permissible that any man, let along organised groups of them, let alone racists with guns, can walk the streets with impunity. That’s not a civilised society, but America started down that path many years ago and seem incapable from straying from it. Now, with Trump in the top job, it’s got a menacing edge. The extremes have been empowered, and are flexing their muscles.

By comparison, Australian politics is just about comedic right now. You could run the Benny Hill music as a soundtrack to the ridiculous happenings in Australian parliament and it would be absolutely apt.

Any lingering doubts about the future of the Turnbull government have been dispelled in the last week. They’re done, and so they should be. Any credibility they had is long shot, and now their judgement has exposed as inept and totally divorced from reality.

Where does such a thing start? This government has been a travelling disaster zone for months now, perhaps years. No matter what he says Turnbull has proved he’s anything like a strong leader, and he’s the hostage of the party conservatives, afraid of doing anything constructive for fear of upsetting them. There’s an intelligent, sophisticated man inside Turnbull, but he’s disconnected from the man we see on our TV screens. The man we see has decided political survival trumps national benefit. The result is compromised policies and the promotion of initiatives against the will of the people, and counter to the national good. Effectively a hard right wing rump of the party dictate national policy according to their own conservative beliefs, and in just about every instance against what most people want. Our Parliament is representative only in that idiots now get a more than reasonable say.

This combination of terrible judgement, cowardice and intransigence has been on display in the last couple of weeks.

First, there was the pathetic decision to conduct a postal plebiscite on marriage equality. By itself, it’s hard to have respect for any government who chooses such a weasel approach. In the wider Australian community this is no longer a thing. We have long accepted – and supported – the concept of marriage equality. There is majority support in the community, and I would guess majority support in parliament. Unfortunately, the moral conservatives who hold the whip hand wish to dictate their will on the people, and Turnbull, as always, was cowed into supporting an inadequate, and ultimately non-binding plebiscite to determine the next steps. Rather than just getting onto it Turnbull has allowed the dinosaurs of the party to put every obstacle in its way. Any chance of me ever voting for Turnbull disappeared at that moment.

Then there’s been the ridiculous series of pollies discovering that they’re dual citizens. At first, it was a couple of Greens senators, who did the right thing and resigned. They were predictably mocked by the government until, surprise, surprise, that they had a few of their own in the same boat. Naturally, they haven’t done the right thing, and have continued on pending a high court ruling. It has now got to an absurd stage when daily it appears another government minister is in trouble. It does little for their reputation.

It hit a crescendo the other day when it was discovered Barnaby Joyce was a Kiwi citizen. In the wash-up Julie Bishop – a minister I had come to respect and admire – launched into both the Labor party and New Zealand, claiming conspiracy. It was funny. I know it was meant to some attempt at turning the tables, but it was pathetic, and the only damage done was to the Libs.

They made the mistake, and to get hysterical and begin to blame others reveals both desperation and an utter lack of political judgement. I doubt there’s a single reasonable voter who bought that spiel, and for most, it would only have confirmed the dire incompetence of the government. They can’t go on. They won’t go on. If they can survive that long the next election is still a while away, but if there is anything like a dead man walking then it’s this government.

And now, today, a terrorist attack in Las Ramblas in Barcelona.

And that, folks, is the cosy world we live in today.