Grumpy bastard


Was having a laugh with a friend from Sydney last night discussing the absurdity of the conflict over koalas in their state parliament. Look it up if you’re interested, it doesn’t bear repeating here.

Then our conversation turned to the latest story about our PM getting emotional on tabloid radio describing the privations of a woman who couldn’t get into Queensland to farewell her dying father. It’s an unfortunate story, but there are hundreds of unfortunate stories right now. Morrison said he was afraid that Australia might be losing its humanity through this pandemic, which is very rich coming from a man who’s never shown any sign of humanity himself. This is the man who denied asylum seekers the right to attend family funerals and, even now, has locked up a young family on Christmas Island for over a year. The man is a rank hypocrite and self-promoter.

As my friend said, it can’t be doing much for my blood pressure. He knows that I’m more affected than most by the dire behaviour of our politicians and media. It’s funny, most of my life I’ve been pretty sanguine about everyday events. Most people consider me unflappable and calm. Even as a teenager I was called phlegmatic. It’s only very few who see the other side of that.

While there have been occasions when I’ve been disgusted or disappointed, up to recently there wasn’t really an ‘other side’. I wonder now if it’s existence now is because I’m getting older, or if it reflects the deteriorating and deplorable state of current affairs? Probably both. In terms of my blood pressure, they’re a perfect match.

I’ve said it before – there’s so much I can stomach any more.

The petty bickering, the negativity, the rank politicking and infectious stupidity – not to mention, the spread of fake news – has been bad for my mental health. If I engage with it I end up with a knot in my stomach and my blood pressure likely going through the roof. It’s the fact that it has become this, without any brake or impediment to it, that infuriates me so. I’m sick to the soul about it because it goes against everything I believe in.

My routine over many years upon waking is to check out the morning news – on the radio initially, then online. I’m a news junkie, always have been. I switched on the radio this morning to be greeted by another sensationalist and utterly dumb headline, and with a groan, I switched it off. Much like the other news services, I’m now avoiding the radio news as well.

How has it come to this – a news junkie avoiding the news? Because, with few exceptions, there’s no rigour to it, no examination. It’s just a ritualised rehash of whatever somebody has said or claimed. The standard of journalism has plummeted so far that it appears few journalists are capable, or willing, to analyse the ‘news’ presented to them. Because of this, reams of arrant nonsense are reported as true. And because most of society only really skim the headlines, the nonsense becomes accepted fact.

I can’t deal with it anymore, though much of that is due to the lockdown we’re in. So much destructive and unnecessary commentary is dangerous to the collective mentality. It’s hard dealing with it but much harder having this rubbish piled on top.

All I want is for our politicians and media to act responsibly, and for us as a society to question what’s fed to us as a matter of routine and habit. Ask questions of what you read and hear and make up your own mind.

We’re getting further from that every day, and I don’t see it changing. I am, I suppose, becoming a curmudgeon. I may have to accept that and be much more selective with where I get my news.

The next stage


I’ve just spent the last hour plus watching the daily Victorian government COVID-19 briefing. I think most of Melbourne did the same thing. This was the big press conference announcing the plan out of Stage 4 restrictions and every one of us was hanging out for it.

Expectations had been dampened over the last few days, and I think the general belief was that the current restrictions might continue a while longer. That was true as it turned out, though with important modifications. Stage 4 restrictions were extended by two weeks, until the end of September, but the curfew has been put back an hour, exercise times doubled and, most relevant to me, a bubble was announced allowing for people living alone to have a nominated visitor to their home.

The plan after that is for a gradual easing, dependent on how the infection numbers go, but it’s pretty comprehensive.

I felt a bit emotional watching it. I’m fully supportive of the science that goes into making these decisions, and though we’re not out of it, it felt like a prisoner being told he would be paroled in a couple of months. Just have to see it through until then.

That’s much easier said than done, but I think the great majority of Victorians understand the decision-making and will abide by the conditions of it. The ratbags and the odd politician make a lot of noise, but it’s amazing how many of us are willing to knuckle down and do the right thing by each other. Throughout this period, where Victoria has been the outlier, and sometime pariah, that the isolation has bonded us closer together. There’s recognition that we really are in this together, and for us to get out of it means that we all must do our bit. It makes me proud in a small way – we can be better, and here’s the proof of it.

While restrictions will continue, it will get easier from here if infections continue to fall. It will be easier a week from today than it is now, even if only in a small way. A fortnight after that it will get easier again, and so on, through the stages towards what they call a COVID-normal stage – late November.

I want to make mention of something many thousands have commented on: how impressive Dan Andrews is. As you will know, I tend to be cynical of modern politics and politicians. In general, I think they’re a rum lot. And, as a character, I’m not much given to unvarnished admiration. Among other things, my ego rarely allows for it.

I’m all in for Dan Andrews, though. His press conferences are a master class. Despite every provocation, he remains calm and measured. His command of detail is flawless. He never flounders, never backtracks, and never buys into the politics. He is a communicator par excellence, and his unflustered authority acts as a balm – it’s no wonder he has such support. I don’t think I’ve come across as Australian politician so impressive since Paul Keating. He cops a lot of flak from the edges, and of course, from the Murdoch press, but he is the leader we need at such a time – and far in advance of any other in Australia, and certainly Morrison, who epitomises mediocrity.

There’s a push for him to go federal at some stage. I have a gut feeling that won’t happen, but I think it’s a sign of how nervous he makes the federal government in how hard they attack him. Morrison has released his lieutenants to go hard at him, and the government is actively briefing journalists against him. I think it might backfire.

In Victoria, we don’t have much time for party politicking right now. We’re living it, we know what has to be done, and much of the rhetoric against Andrews comes off as trivial and irresponsible. It makes his attackers look bad. I think there’s a lot of admiration for Andrews across the country, and some of the attacks by Federal on State governments lately will steel resolve.

All that’s for the future, if at all, what’s important now is getting through this. I reckon 95% of Victorians would agree.

In lieu of leadership


Last night in Salon magazine, I read an interview with a former GOP strategist who turned against the Republican party when Trump was elected. He’s now an active member of the Lincoln Project, who are basically disaffected Republicans who oppose Trump because he has trashed the values of the party. They’re old school types who uphold traditional virtues by force of character, and whose strident opposition to Trump is an attempt to redeem a version of America they hold true.

The interview was blunt and surprisingly scathing. Here was a man who had dedicated his professional life to the Republican cause. He’d been there when Reagan was president, the Bushes, and through the McCain and Romney campaigns. Then Trump came along, and he lost all belief.

One of the interesting things I found was that he admitted there’d always been a dark side of the Republican party, but it had been held in check – that is, until the events of 9/11. We all know what happened, but he contends that was the beginning of the end for the Republicans. The hawks were released on that day, and the dark side took over. Then along came Trump, and corruption, racism, and the politics of hate became the order of business. He calls it anti-American.

He is bitter in his condemnation of Trump, who he calls a gangster, and of GOP, whose only concern now is power and retaining it. In his reading, the Republican party has effectively lost its soul. He forecasts a bleak future for the party as a waning force, a party for white voters only.

I would commend you to read the article. It’s powerful and candid and, for an American, pretty bleak. There’s no happy ending being portrayed here, though he urges a vote for the Democrats. The poison has been released into society and the coming election, as he sees it, is the most dangerous time in American history since the Civil War.

It’s a fascinating read. It’s hard to get your head around how extreme the situation in the US has become. I’ve watched the events unfold over the last week and I shake my head at how it has so degenerated. The footage of the black man shot seven times in the back by a police officer was almost surreal, here on prime-time TV. You wonder, how could that happen? Then, you see all the white supremacists get up in their combat gear taking to the streets with their automatic weapons, unhindered, in opposition to the BLM protests, and it feels like a dystopian movie you’re watching – but this is America! Then one of them, a 17-year-old kid no less, shoots and kills a couple of BLM protestors – and is called a hero! (For those who know their history, it reminds me of Horst Wessel, who became a martyr and rallying-cry for Nazi Germany.) The whole situation there is obscene.

I wonder at the election, too. I’m sure there’ll be some attempt to corrupt the voting process, even as a ploy (which is described in the article.) Trump – and certainly his supporters – will not go quietly, and there’s a long record of corruption. Biden should win, but so too should have Clinton – and Biden is not the most compelling candidate. And though Biden leads the polls, it’s shocking to read that Trump is the more popular among white males – how can that be? And, even if Biden wins – and he should – then Trump has a few more months in power to create carnage, and you can’t rule out his supporters taking to the streets in protest, and worse. America is a country divided. I don’t know how they recover from this, because the poison’s gone deep.

Australia is not the US, but there are many parallels, as there are in other parts of the world. It’s the description of GOP of being only interested in power for power’s sake that resonated most because I think that describes the LNP here. It used to be different. There was a time that public service was a noble pursuit and that the highest aspiration of our government was to make a better life for its citizens. Nowadays, that comes a distant second to ensuring that power is claimed and then maintained. Policies are contrived not to advance the nation, but to further the interests of the ruling party and – most importantly – the vested interests who support them, and then to marginalise the opposition. The number one priority of the LNP is to stay in power forever, and whatever it takes.

I sense that not everyone believes or understands that. It’s the kind of ignorance that allowed for a Trump to be elected in the first place. There’s a complacent disinterest, rarely challenged these days by the media, which is mostly either lazy or part of the problem. So much either is unreported, or barely reported, and the government swats away unwanted scrutiny. There is so much to report on that if even half the Australian people understood it would make a difference.

Take superannuation as a current case in point. The superannuation guarantee, introduced by the Hawke/Keating government, has been a tremendous success since it was introduced. It means that millions of Australian workers have a relatively secure income once they retire, and don’t have to rely on the pension. It’s also created a great fund of savings which are reinvested in infrastructure projects, and so on. It’s a driver of growth and wealth.

By far, the most successful superannuation funds are the industry funds, generally run by the unions. Their fees are much less because they’re not designed to make a profit, unlike the private funds are and, for whatever reason, their returns are always much better. I have my money in an industry fund and am very happy with it.

The problem for the government is the union aspect. Having so much money at their disposal gives the unions clout the government wants to destroy. Never mind that millions of individual Australians benefit from this, it’s not in the government’s interest. For a few years now the government has been undermining superannuation generally, and industry funds particularly – they even had them dragged into a Royal Commission (which found nothing untoward). It’s obvious the intent of the government is to weaken the superannuation guarantee, even though it benefits working Australians and the economy in general. As so much with them, it’s ideological. If they can crush the industry funds, by hook or by crook, then their political cause is advanced, and their opponents debilitated.

It’s all about the politics. And by politics, I mean power.

Last night I tuned into Q+A. I used to watch it a fair bit until it went off by inviting nonsense, partisan panellists to the show. Last night I watched because it promoted that it would be tapping into the wisdom of older Australians – but really, I watched it because I saw Kerry O’Brien would be appearing.

For many years, O’Brien appeared in many guises across the ABC, but generally as political commentator and host. He had an aura of integrity, a fierce, probing intelligence, and was a vivid communicator. He’s become revered since, much from a sense of nostalgia I figure, as the ABC he was part of is not the ABC today. And the ABC commentators today, or indeed any commentators, are not what he was – bracingly honest and stubbornly intelligent. He held public figures to account and wouldn’t accept the mealy-mouthed response that is common today.

Oh, those were the days! You didn’t know any different then because the standard was uniformly good – though O’Brien was always most eminent.

So, I watched, wanting to see him again and hear his views. He didn’t disappoint. As always, he cut to the heart of things. It’s a pity he’s lost to us as a commentator. He spoke on a wide range of issues, but there was one thing he spoke of which goes to the nub of the ‘problems’ we have today: a lack of true leaders and leadership.

We don’t have leaders anymore. We have partisan hacks, by and large. And, these days, it’s the rare journalist who calls them out on their nonsense. I suspect that things will have to get really bad until we understand it, by which time it might be too late.

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.

 

I’ll stand by Dan


I’m generally of the view that there’s no point in arguing with idiots. That eliminates a lot of social interaction for me, though I note that many diverge from that policy. Each to their own. One of the defining features of our times is that every moron has a platform now and – in my observation – the more moronic the intelligence, the more likely they are to shout it from the rooftops. Very democratic and not in the least enlightening. Like I said, I try and give them a wide berth.

Not everyone’s an idiot. There’s a lot of smart people around, and even online. They have views worth listening to, even when you disagree – that’s another area where I diverge from the rank and file. I like differing perspectives because they make me think and question. I may adjust my own opinion as a result, or respond with a considered and polite rebuttal. I’m happy to engage with them because it’s an exercise in free speech and I may learn something. I realise I’m very old school in this regard when for so many these days disagreement signifies stupidity and very often evil. There’s no grey area.

I’ve been engaging in civilised debate for the last month or so with someone I know and think is a smart fella. Moreover, he debates because he has a genuine concern about the subject at hand. In the past, we’ve found each other in accord on most things, and it’s only recently that we’ve come to opposing views about Dan Andrews and the virus gripping Melbourne.

This has become a very contentious talking point these days. He’s blamed by many for the emergence of the second wave. That anger is stoked by the news corp press, who take every opportunity to beat up anything negative of Labor and suppress anything negative of the LNP. Equally, there are many passionate Victorians, and even those outside the state, who are supportive of Andrews.

Now, he recognises that the media is bias, but has become very hostile towards Andrews. I take a different perspective, but, in any case, I ask him what does he want to happen? And who is there to step in? I urge calm, we’re in the middle of a pandemic, it’ll all come out of the wash, right now let’s concentrate on getting things right now. It’s a civil debate, and we admitted what a pity it was we couldn’t do it over a bottle of red.

But then, someone else joins in, one of those dickheads not worth responding to, who called Andrews an arsewipe and anyone – such as me – who supports him. That killed the debate there and then.

I think my friend has become a little fixated, possibly because he can’t understand why so many people are in favour of Andrews. I think he’s misread the situation and is missing the subtleties, which can happen when you get so het up. I started to tell him why so many people were supportive – but then I thought, why bother? But here it is, for posterity.

Why does Andrews maintain such support?

  1. For many Victorians, and even Australians – he has vocal support Australia-wide – he embodies many of the qualities we want in a leader but have been deprived of for so long. He’s a smart, demonstratively decent human being to start with. He’s a great communicator, calm and very patient. As premier of the state, he’s driven a bold and successful agenda, and become known as someone who gets things done. He’s of a progressive bent, and of strong character. And not even his most bitter enemies could decry his work ethic. Through the bushfire crisis and this he’s seemingly turned up every day to do his bit. He’s the leader we want to believe in, and that earns him a lot of Brownie points.
  2. While the media has been responsible for inflaming tensions and demonising him, the more discerning members of the community recognise it for what it is: a political hatchet job driven by Murdoch and his minions. On top of that, in Victoria, the Liberal opposition is pretty feral. Whereas in the rest of the country the opposition parties have been generally supportive in a time of crisis, the Libs here have sought to disrupt, and have been very destructive of the status quo. For a lot of us, we’re over all that. There may come a reckoning one day, but today’s not the day – there are more important things to get done. I think that’s a general feeling the community (the Libs have shot themselves in the foot). Andrews gets some sympathy in the face of that.
  3. Many of the same people wonder why treatment isn’t partial. When the Ruby Princess docked in Sydney and let off dozens of infected passengers then anti-government rhetoric was subdued because it was a Liberal government responsible – depending who you talk to, either Dutton or the NSW government. Sad as it is, the media drives much of the narrative and it infects the community – no news that. Up there they buried it; down here they amplified it. This is about fairness.
  4. I think there’s general admiration for his stoic refusal to keep going. I think many believe he has a genuine concern for their welfare – he’s on their side. That’s a rare feeling these days. While some hate him, he engenders trust in many others. And the question becomes pertinent: if not him leading us, then who? There is no-one.
  5. Most of the drama is related to returned travellers and mishandled quarantine, for which they blame Andrews. A lot of the reports are sensationalist, and I don’t there’s a clear idea of what happened except, it seems, the security guards misbehaved. There’s a lot of complexity about this, and there’s an inquiry in progress to get to the bottom of it. Many say that Andrews should’ve resigned over this – my response is per point 3 &4, and to suggest that we wait until the inquiry is concluded before we rush to judgement.
  6. Much of the criticism Andrews draws about this is why he engaged security firms rather than the ADF. This is a nonsense complaint that only makes any sense after the fact. Victoria was not the only state to use security guards, but the only state that suffered from it. Surely, the security firms were engaged in good faith to perform duties that they’re specialist at and which they’re being paid to do? Only later does it become evident that the firms had marginal competence and breached the terms of their contract. That was not something any reasonable person would anticipate – bearing in mind that the Federal government uses private security firms to manage refugees – so there’s a strong precedent.
  7. I think everyone accepts that there will be missteps and misjudgements in an emerging calamity such as this. They’re inclined to forgive to a degree, though we’re now looking at 100+ deaths and climbing out of the second wave. That may be re-evaluated in the fullness of time.

Much of that aligns with my thinking. The only caveat I have is that if the inquiry finds that government ministers were culpable (most likely because they failed to react appropriately or oversee the operation effectively), then heads should roll.

I don’t think it is the time to be changing much and in fact, I think much of the commentary has been destructive to public confidence and unity. It’s led to confusion and empowered malcontents to do as they please. I think there are a lot of others who should be in the sights. However, down the track, when the facts are known, justice – whatever it is – must be seen to be done.

Not the film I want to see


Like many Victorians at the moment, I have an uneasy feeling about the coronavirus. A few weeks ago, we had a couple of days of zero infections. Within a week those numbers had shot up, and now the risk is that they may get out of control. It’s a reminder of how infectious the virus is.

Last week a group of postcodes were locked down to try to contain the spread. These were the suburbs where hotspots had emerged, thankfully far from where I live (though somewhere I lived a dozen years ago is now locked down). Yesterday, the drastic action was taken to lock down individual buildings – the housing commission towers in the inner north. There were 108 new cases reported yesterday, and 23 were in these towers. They’re crowded, with few lifts and shared facilities, and so somewhere where the virus can easily spread and catch hold (as it did in similar blocks in NYC).

This latest action has attracted raucous opposition and controversy. The inhabitants of those buildings are migrants and people at the bottom end of the socio-economic scale – basically, the disadvantaged. The fact that police have been brought in to maintain what is a strict lockdown has drawn heavy criticism. It’s seen as intimidatory and unnecessary.

The government is in a no-win situation. We’re now at this point because of the mismanagement of quarantined returned travellers. The government must take some responsibility for that. Regardless, whatever they do has someone getting on a soapbox to complain about. Early on, they were criticised for being too strict and urged to relax some of the constraints. The government held firm. Then, when finally, the restrictions were eased, the critics came out blaming the government when cases of infection began to rise. Now that the government is cracking down again, the critics are saying that it’s unfair.

I can only speak for myself, but I’m sure many have the same view. I support the actions of the government to contain the infection because I think it’s necessary – and it’s backed up by medical advice. In circumstances such as these, what’s needed is firm and decisive action. The clock is ticking, and the consequences are catastrophic if you get it wrong. Far better, I think, to err on the side of caution, even if it means severe restrictions. Look around the world. We’ve been lucky, but it takes hard work and strong leadership to stay that lucky.

I’ve been disappointed in much of the rhetoric around the lockdown of the housing commission buildings. Till now, excepting the loonies, much of the commentary and perspective has been even-handed and foundered on medical advice. Now, much of it is being seen and commented on through a political lens, and much of it absurd.

These crackdowns have been given a racial and class slant because the suburbs locked down are more commonly migrant parts of Melbourne and nearer the bottom of the economic ladder. That’s doubly true now that housing commission flats have been added, with many now saying the inhabitants are being victimised because they’re disadvantaged. The use of police has also been slammed, with some pretty ordinary commentary towards them.

The reality is that this is an imperfect situation because we’re dealing with a dynamic and emerging risk to the community at large. The government must react swiftly to contain, and hopefully get ahead, of the infection. It’s not pretty because it’s unpredictable and because it’s better to do something now than wait to do it perfectly. These are extreme times and the political spin given by some verges on the imbecilic in the circumstances.

I’m sure the government will address and do everything it can to ease the fears and make this as easy as possible for the people impacted by this. I would guarantee that community workers and health professionals will be there to support and comfort the vulnerable people living in those towers. The government is good at that. I feel as if some of the criticism has been way premature, and some of it blatant grandstanding – and already there is commentary coming out of the buildings that they’re happy that something is being done to help them.

The fact is, right now, none of us knows where this is heading. All we can do is hope and do what we can to contain it. We could be at the start of something terrible, or these actions may curtail the spread and in a week or two, eliminate it. Because we don’t know we can’t afford to go easy. It’s tough, but it’s necessary, and if it means that the rest of us go into lockdown again, then I would support that.

I don’t know about others, but I look upon this with a mix of dread and fascination. It feels like a bit of a trope, the opening scenes of any number of apocalyptic ar zombie movies, especially now it’s in the towers. We all know how those movies turn out.

I despair


The other night I spat the dummy and posted a rant to Facebook. What tipped me over the edge was the most recent round of cuts inflicted on the ABC by the government. There have been cuts just about every year since the Coalition came into power, despite the explicit promise back in 2013 by Tony Abbott that there wouldn’t be any – a brazen lie. The national broadcaster, ingrained in our culture, cherished by many, and lauded most recently over the bushfire season because it ‘saved lives,’ has been the subject of an ideological battle because they fear the combination of good sense and balanced reporting is damaging to their brand. And, to a degree, they’re right. They accuse it of being bias towards the progressive side of politics, but the truth is the ABC has been bending over backward (too far) to appease an unreasonable government. The real damage done is that most people who watch the ABC are educated, intelligent and reasonable – and what educated, intelligent, and reasonable person is going to look upon a corrupt government but with disdain?

It accords with a general theme of this government, sponsored by the hard right and the diabolical IPA. I’m utterly convinced that the primary goals of this government are to maintain power by any means and to reshape society to ensure that they stay in government for years to come. To do so they must disarm their natural foes – the intelligentsia, the educated, the progressive. To achieve this they diminish the channels in which their foes can express or be heard. They manipulate university funding so that quality will inevitably decline, and tilt it away from the humanities subjects that teach critical thought and historical perspective. They’ve long been an enemy of science, ignoring it altogether in the case of climate change, and sidelining it generally – the CSIRO, our peak scientific body and an absolute treasure trove of invention, had further cuts inflicted this week as well.

It’s all about dumbing down the nation and making it compliant so they can say and do what they want without scrutiny, and so that their mates get a free ride. You might think I’m overly paranoid and cynical, but the existence of a Donald Trump as American president shows anything is impossible – and much of this is right out of the Trump playbook. (The government even gave a job to the former head of Trumps border force last week).

Anyway, this is what I said:

I don’t know where to start. The government’s been after the ABC for years, and the latest cuts might have terminally gutted it. This is on top of more cuts to the CSIRO today, and the farcical changes to university funding last week. I’ve had it with a low-brow government that devalues science and learning, and hobbles diversity of expression. Don’t tell me it’s not political. It’s a fucking disgrace, and I haven’t even started on the environment and climate change. I’m calling it out. This will kill the society we cherish and I’ve had enough.

It was a bit more emotional and less measured than usual, but it stacks up.

It’s funny I put it on Facebook, where it’s more common to post cutesy memes and photos of nights out than it is anything too political. Twitter is the home of the crackpot rant, but that’s probably why I didn’t post it there – I don’t want to be just another Twitter crock jumping on my soapbox, and something like this wouldn’t raise an eyebrow there. On Facebook, it has more impact because it jars more and because the people who’ll read it know me personally. Many of them agree.

I’m seriously concerned about what’s happening to this country. Many of the things I love about it are being eroded by government and a mendacious media. Much of what I value and believe is being trashed by an anti-intellectual government more concerned about their wellbeing than the wellbeing of you and me. The fabric of this place is being frayed by constant snips to it. Disgracefully, these most recent cuts come under cover of the coronavirus and in a time when services like the ABC and CSIRO are most needed, and when we should be investing more – if only for the good of the economy – not less.

I was willing to hope that the government and Morrison might have learned something in this crisis but, to be honest, I never really believed it. I was right to doubt. Now’s the time for the opposition to throw away the rulebook and stop playing nice. This is the future of the country we’re talking about; there are no second chances. It won’t happen though because they’ve lost their purpose as well as their cojones.

Without judgement


So, the latest is that Winston Churchill is being brought to heel by the woke forces of the earth. Revisionist commentary now has him classified as a racist and his statue duly defaced. How much that actually means is an open question. In Bristol, the statue of an eminent slave-trader ended up at the bottom of the river, and good riddance to him. But then, so too was a statue of Gandhi – Gandhi! – vandalised because he too – and who knew? – was a racist. I guess that sums up the collective mentality of the mob in heat.

I’m not here to defend Churchill – he doesn’t need me – but rather to deplore the recent practice of dragging down significant figures. It’s mindless and simplistic and bloody arrogant, too. It’s symptomatic of an era when critical thought is barely a concept, and it’s all about the raw feels.

Churchill was racist, much in the same way as many of his generation were. That’s not to excuse it, but it places it in context. The younger Churchill had something in common with Boris Johnson, I reckon – a gift for self-promotion, high self-regard, and a tendency to put their foot in it. That’s where the comparison ends. Even on his worst day, Churchill had more class, wit and intelligence than Johnson on his best. And anyway, the young Churchill matured.

There’s no doubt that Winston said some awful things, and made some stupid mistakes. Some of them were pretty racist, certainly by today’s standards. But, you know, he did some pretty good things, too.

What man is without flaw or fault? Look hard enough, and there’s always something to find. I’ve no objection to a fair appraisal, but to be fair it needs to embrace the man as a whole. That doesn’t happen a lot these days. Individuals are picked apart and every flaw magnified under the social media spotlight. It becomes fashionable to join the throng laying into the victim of the day – as if no-one else has ever erred, and regardless of the legitimate achievements of the victim in question.

In this era of extremes, every misshapen part is taken as the whole. There’s no nuance or critical judgement. To transgress one more invalidates every achievement, or so it seems. Churchill is a racist, and therefore a bad man – never mind that he stood alone against the forces of fascism. Never mind that he uplifted a generation by his example and by his rhetoric. Never mind that he actually opposed the bad guys doing evil racist things. No, in the new accounting it comes a distant second to the evils of his person. Wait until they hear he was a misogynist as well!

Anyone with any sense knows that Churchill was a great man. The world would undoubtedly be a different place today without him, and possibly quite radically so.

I’m not excusing Churchill, and I’m certainly not downplaying racism. What I’m calling for is a bit of balance and common sense. We need to learn how to see people in their totality, as once we did.

None of us is faultless. If you want the truth of it I’m probably a little racist myself (though I tend to think much of what is called racist is actually rooted in cultural difference), not by intention, but by instinct. I’m sure I’ve made racist comments in the past or looked upon someone differently because they were different from me. Again, it’s not who I mean to be, but I haven’t always been as virtuous as I am now. I know in places far distant that I’ve gravitated to my countrymen on occasion because we came from the same place, which is perfectly understandable while clearly showing a cultural bias. I guess that makes me imperfect, but human – hands up who isn’t?

We’re complex beings formed by our experiences and torn in conflicting directions by the forces around us. We absorb and deflect. We submit, and we defy. We develop and grow. If we are to accept that as true then we must also accept that people make mistakes, they act without judgement sometimes and sometimes without knowledge, they change.

We love pulling down tall poppies. There’s joy in exposing their feet of clay. It makes us feel grand. It’s cheap and nasty, though. Who among those tearing at Churchill could hope to do half of what he achieved? Wiser to understand none of us is perfect – and to measure the man on his actions.

 

I’m adding this addendum a day later after thinking about it overnight. I don’t retract anything I wrote yesterday, but in and amongst this mess I think there’s a great opportunity to come to terms with our past. We can’t disavow history, but we can hope to better understand it as something more than written down in books. I commented yesterday that Churchill was a man of his times – and it’s his time, and other times, that bear consideration.

If we are to take Britain as an example, for all their rich and storied history, for every victory, there was a loser. Many of those losers were weaker civilisations and peoples – weaker militarily, that is. That is the story of the times, of colonisation and imperial might, and the subjugation of the many for the economic benefit of the few (some things never change). It’s time that Britain – and other nations – to acknowledge that past, which includes slave-trading. You can’t change history, but you can face it square on (without prejudice – we can’t go down that path). This is what happened, this is what we did. It’s an exercise often proves cathartic for individuals, and may do also for nations. Certainly, the victims of this would applaud it.

Australia has wrestled with similar questions for many years now with regard to the aboriginal people. There was a breakthrough in the early nineties when the Federal Labor government pushed through Mabo, which was a landmark case of recognition. More symbolically, the Rudd Labor government issued a long overdue apology to the aboriginal people for the ills done to them by successive generations of white Australia. Nothing has happened since then, largely because we have a Liberal government who believes in little of this, unwilling to admit to fault or responsibility. It’s time now for formal recognition of the indigenous people in the constitution by way of a treaty. In this time when the headlines scream Black Lives Matter and myriad stories of violence and mistreatment, addressing these matters to put in place legal protections to prevent and redress is overdue.

There are plenty of statues being pulled down which don’t deserve to stand, but the bigger picture is not the individual, but the society that made that individual and allowed for them to flourish. It’s not about denying that history – it’s done, it can’t be changed – but understanding it and the context in which it belongs. This would be a healthy outcome.

What not to do


I don’t know what annoys me most about the Federal government – the rushed, ill-considered policies; the abject lack of imagination; or the corrupted, partisan economic and social policies that advantage cronies, mates and donors.

The $60B they ‘found’ the other week remains unspent, despite all sensible commentators urging them to spend. In the meantime, they’ve announced that childcare subsidies will be ending in a month, just like that (and, contrary to their promise, the JobKeeper provision will be ended for the industry also). It’s an expensive policy and it can’t go on forever, but it seems to be premature ending it while we still haven’t returned to work and the economy is tanking. Extend it a few months, then consider how components of the policy can be maintained, or funded differently, on a permanent basis. There’s plenty of evidence to suggest that making childcare more affordable (if not free) has economic and social benefits. It’s a policy dictated by circumstances, but why not take the good from it and convert it into new policy? It doesn’t have to cost as much, and surely there are other – more creative – options to sustain it? This decision epitomises the government’s determination to ‘snap back’, even though the crisis continues and it’s hardly feasible. The world has changed, and we must adapt to what it is rather than hopefully return to what it was.

Last week a new stimulus package was announced. The HomeBuilder policy aims to stimulate a building boom by offering subsidies. The theory is fine, but the conditions are nonsensical, and the targeting fundamentally wrong. This is an example of a very poorly considered policy decision, combined with the everpresent motivation of currying favour with its constituency.

Basically, if you earn under $125K, but plan a renovation of your home with a quoted value of more than $150K, then you qualify to have $25K of your bill paid for by the taxpayer. It also applies to new home building, but only if the value exceeds $750K. Now, for a start, how many will actually qualify for this? It makes for an impressive-sounding announcement, but the number of people in this very narrow qualifying niche will be fuck-all.

It’s pretty immoral, too. Very clearly, this is targeted at people who can afford a $150K renovation at a time when there are homeless people on the street when unemployment is sky-rocketing, and there are actually people in the bushfire ravaged areas of Australia who are in dire need of a replacement home. Sure, let’s get construction happening, but why not target areas of real social need?

The political angle backfired regardless. It’s been widely and reasonably panned. And the political aspects are so transparent that it’s been treated with disdain even by those who might qualify. What the government needs to understand is that people aren’t as greedy and selfish as they hope them to be. In actual fact, there’s a strong social conscience in the aspirational classes, who are often progressives. I had conversations over the weekend with people wealthy enough to consider this, but who are just as disgusted by it as I am.

There’ll be more announcements to come, and it’s interesting to think about what they may be. The RBS wants JobKeeper extended beyond September, but I sense the government won’t do that. Then there are inevitable decisions to be made over JobSeeker which are bound to be controversial. It doubled when we went into lockdown, but the government – I’m sure – intends to return it to its pre-COVID-19, below-the-poverty-line rate. This would be immoral and stupid but neatly fits the government’s MO.

Stay tuned.

This side of history


When it was announced last week that there would be rallies this weekend in support of Black Lives Matter, my first instinct was supportive, but then I wondered about it in context of the pandemic and social distancing.

That’s the conundrum state governments faced leading into the weekend. We’re still under strict social distancing protocols, and it’s been drummed into us, again and again, the dangers of a second wave. Around the country, the state authorities took different attitudes, with the PM also weighing in.

In Queensland and SA there was an acceptance of the cause. In the two biggest states, Victoria and NSW, there was more angst. In NSW there was a court injunction to declare the protests illegal, later overturned. In Victoria, a more progressive state, there were warnings and threats of potential arrests for breaching protocols, but there was no effort to prevent the rallies.

By this time, I was well onside. I’d reflected and on balance considered the risk worth taking, though I know many who take the same view. The time is now, history can’t wait for the moment, and the cause worthy. My only concern was the rallies might in some way turn violent, which would undermine the whole message.

As it turns out, the rallies were almost a complete success. Around the country, hundreds of thousands of Australians rallied in support of the cause, both in the US and here as well, where it’s nearly as bad. Almost completely, the rallies were free from violence, and very few arrests made. Again, except for distinct exceptions, the police and the protestors were well behaved. In fact, it seemed awfully well organised, with just about everyone attending wearing a mask and attempting to maintain a social distance. Masks were handed out and sanitation stations setup. I’d call it a complete success but for one awful incident that marred the occasion.

In Sydney, after the march had finished and protestors were heading home, and without any sense or logic, a contingent of the NSW police chose to pen a group of protestors in Central Station, where they attacked them with pepper spray.

This is inexplicable and wrong on so many levels I don’t know where to start. What was the point of this? The rally was over, the protestors were heading home. And why would you choose to do this on such an occasion? The rallies around the world were sparked by the death of George Floyd, and the litany of police brutality that preceded it. Why prove the point on such a day? All of that is putting aside the morality of the act. The police are meant to protect, not provoke and attack.

In the scheme of things, it was a small act – a few dozen police, a few less protestors – but it appeared planned. Media were prevented from entering the station to witness the attack – we have phone footage to thank for the pictures we have. Paddy wagons were lined up. Was this an independent act of retribution? Were the police slighted by the rallies and chose to show who was boss? Any way you look at it, it’s insane and immoral. I’ll be interested to see what the fall-out is if any. There’s enough to go on in the footage to charge some officers.

If it was to happen anywhere, then it’s no surprise that it’s NSW. The police minister, who has a history of brutal opinion, should have been fired after the bushfires fiasco when he didn’t do his job. That never happened, which attests to the weakness of Berejiklian, who is unimpressive and defensive in so many ways.

In the rest of the country, there was barely a murmur. Some state governments actually praised the conduct of the rallies, and sprinkled here and there police officers took the knee in support.

I’d have preferred if Dan Andrews came out more strongly in support of the protests, though it’s hard for him given his hardline on restrictions. It’s the right side of history. As it turned out, the Victorian police arrested no-one and issued no fines, despite their threats to do so. They’ve since come out and said they’d fine the organisers, which is a token and meaningless gesture. I don’t expect that to happen, nor should it.

I hope these rallies resonate and things change. That’s the point of them.