It’s time

Today is Election Day in Australia. A lot of us have been waiting for this day for a long time – three years to be precise, after the great disappointment of last time. I feel sure the result will be different this time, and finally, we’ll be rid of the worst, most corrupt government in our history. It’s a moment to savour – though I shouldn’t get ahead of the result.

With the Election Day finally, there’s no more campaigning, no more political advertising, rabid journalism, no more sham, pretence and dishonesty. Not for a little while, anyway. Truly, election campaigns are a thing from hell, dispiriting and overwhelming. I’m a political animal, but I switch channels when a political ad shows on TV or political news comes on. I can’t stomach the inanity and shallow, often biased commentary. Now we’re free of it.

Much in that nature, Scott Morrison was heard to say early in the campaign that Australia was the greatest country in the world. Lest he is exposed as a turncoat in tabloid headlines across the nation, the opposition leader, Anthony Albanese, was heard to pronounce the same soon after.

These are motherhood statements. By ritual, I reckon most leaders and would-be leaders say much the same thing in countless countries across the world. It’s meaningless drivel, of course, but I guess it’s intended to confirm their bona fides as a leader and affirm their commitment.

Not every country can be the greatest. I don’t even know what the criteria for the ‘greatest’ is. It’s an empty sentiment made up of bluster and insincerity. I don’t even know if it matters much, but, in any case, surely what defines the best and greatest is a matter of subjectivity?

It’s my subjective analysis that Australia is not the greatest country in the world. It pains my partisan heart to admit that, though it’s pretty clear that any claims to such a position have gone downhill in the last 10 years.

There was a time when I might have proudly believed there was no better place on earth than the lucky country. Even now, with the benefit of hindsight, it seems fair to claim that Australia of the late eighties and early nineties was not only a great place to be but a genuinely decent, egalitarian, progressive nation on top of it.

All that changed when Howard came into power in 1996. He was a small man in mind and body who seemed to resent the years his ambition had been thwarted. I don’t doubt that he was always innately conservative, but the years watching shinier, more articulate candidates get ahead of him had formed a view of the world that was crimped and narrow, and brewed a suspicion of anything original or daring or interesting. He set us back decades by discouraging progressive opinion and encouraging a bigoted, paternalistic perspective. He started the rot that has led us to the obnoxious, corrupt politics of the current government. It’s no wonder I hate John Howard, though I despise Morrison also and think him clearly the worst prime minister we’ve ever had.

Now that we’re on the cusp of electing a new government, there’s hope that everything will be different. Indeed, in key aspects, there’s strong evidence that long-overdue action will be taken concerning climate change, integrity, aged care, and so on. We await with bated breath.

I want to return to the concept of the ‘greatest’ nation for a moment. I know it’s a bit silly and spurious, but I also believe that, as a nation, as well as individuals, we should always strive to be better. A little ambition is no bad thing, and it’s been too long since we had some authentic national aspirations. The thing is, it doesn’t happen by accident. High minded speeches won’t do it. It takes action. And it takes belief – the belief that we can all share in and shoulder our portion of the quest.

That’s the challenge now. I hope we have that ambition as a government. We know what not to do – anything the government of the last ten years has done, which has made us petty and small-minded and reduced the stature of our nation in the global community. So, that’s the easy part, and there are obvious pathways towards becoming a healthier nation.

Despite all the positive policies and progressive initiatives, it seems to me we can never be anything like great until we mend our society. There are too many rifts and divisions, many of them actively fostered by a government that has favoured political advantage over the greater good.

We treat our poor, disadvantaged and elderly with disrespect and disgrace. Add to that the treatment of refugees and our first nations people. In many instances, they have been used as political pawns. I’m sad to say, it’s an attitude that has permeated sections of society.

We’re to blame for that. It takes authentic leadership to light the flame and show the true way forward. We haven’t had that for many years. It’s true in much of the world. The disenfranchised have been neglected and left to brood and rebel, exiled from the benefits of society.

It explains Trump, the rise of the extreme right and white supremacy, and it explains the anti-vaxxers.

In Victoria, in the last couple of years, we saw the value of a community that pulled together in service of the common good. We made hard sacrifices knowing what we did was for something bigger than our individual selves. In many ways, it was inspiring.

That’s what we can be. What it takes is a narrative we can all believe in and share, knowing that we are part of it. There are many policy levers that must be pulled if Albanese becomes PM later tonight, but over and around, that is healing the wounds of our community, tending to our national weal.

It’s a tall order, but I think it’s mighty helpful that we appear on the verge of electing a genuinely decent human being to the top job to replace a man who is nothing more than a contemptible turd. Example counts for much. Time will tell. It’s time.

Life inside a lie | The Saturday Paper

The government Scott Morrison leads has achieved less in three terms than perhaps any other in Australian history. What it has accomplished has largely made the country worse. It has dismantled an effective carbon price, antagonised China, cowed the national broadcaster, diminished the broadband network. It has confected a national circus on gay rights, alienated allies,
— Read on

Every word of this is true. I couldn’t have said it better myself. Today is our chance to remove this stain on on our society.

Celebrity slapping celebrity

A couple of hours ago Will Smith walked up on stage at the Oscars and slapped the host, Chris Rock, because of jokes Rock had made about Will Smith’s wife, Jada. In the scheme of things, not a momentous event, but as you can imagine, it’s set off a sea of commentary and bad takes. Very 2022.

I must confess, my first reaction on seeing it was respect for Will Smith for putting himself out there for his wife. It was not so much the action, which was crazy and impulsive, but the unashamed, unfiltered reaction of a man clearly deeply hurt and much in love. It was in no way measured, and it certainly paid no heed to public opinion. It was raw and natural.

I wouldn’t have done it. I might have thought about waiting until the afterparty, but the more sensible part of myself would expect that by then I’d have calmed down and taken a more reasonable approach – basically, collaring Chris Rock and telling him it’s not on.

Most of the reaction has been negative towards Smith, and I understand that. It’s not a good look slapping someone on live TV and certainly isn’t to be encouraged – though it’s very entertaining.

It seems to me though that much of the commentary is seen through a lens. As a civilised society, we filter out perspective through a common understanding, but what is lost in that is nuance and the raw visceral sense. I don’t condone Smith for what he did, but I understand it. It was primitive but, for me, in a world where everything is processed, emotion included, it was refreshing.

I’ll probably cop shit for this, but that’s okay. I don’t need you to agree with me.

Everyone has a take these days, and everyone shares it thanks to the ubiquity of social media – look, I’m doing it too! They’re packaged reactions, with outrage being a fave. It’s the nature of this discourse that it gravitate’s to the extremes. I hope I’m more reasoned.

I read one person state that they’d never felt entitled to strike another person, despite the many times it might have been justified. I found the term ‘entitled’ interesting. What does it mean? Entitled in what sense? As a responsible citizen, or as an individual? As a cypher, or a person? At what point would they feel entitled? Never?

I disagree. Ultimately, we should aspire to be ourselves truly, without the cultural jargon or baggage. There’s an individual in each of us. If we feel it honestly, and without bias, then we’re entitled.

I think there are occasions when a smack on the nose is probably quite a reasonable response. I like to think I’m cultured and civilised, but I’m no pacifist. Sometimes it’s necessary. What Will Smith did was way over the top and doesn’t meet the criteria of being reasonable. But then, it’s not my place to judge what he should feel in that moment. I can regret his action, but I won’t condemn the man. Nor will I join the pile-on.

I suspect Chris Rock takes a similar view.

Battles then and now

I don’t know what’s going to happen in Ukraine. Like most people, I’ve been immensely inspired by their spirit and resistance to the Russian invaders. I think it’s pretty clear it’s not gone as Putin expected. Coupled with the scale of sanctions arraigned against Russia, Putin finds himself in a big hole.

It’s hard to predict the actions of an autocrat like Putin. This whole venture has a whiff of irrationality about it, but perhaps it just seems that way because Ukraine has been a lot harder to conquer than expected. A quick victory and he would have been making demands of the world. Instead, he’s mired in a war going nowhere while his reputation and the Russian economy tanks.

Given the desperate situation he finds himself in, how will he respond – and where will this end? He’s already mentioned nuclear weapons. He’s now bombing maternity hospitals. Are biological weapons a possibility? No matter how inspiring the Ukrainian resistance has been, it’s very likely to get a whole lot uglier.

I would like to see peace talks brokered by the UN, just to prove they’re good for something. A man like Putin has to be given a way out of the mess he’s in. Men like him rely on their reputation; ‘face’ is important to them, both personally and politically. I would like to see him destroyed, but more realistically, a way out needs to be negotiated in which some pride is retained.

Longer-term, I suspect Putin will become more vulnerable domestically, particularly as the sanctions bite the people, and the oligarchs. He’s been shown as fallible.

I’ve been watching it unfold very keenly. As a student of WW2, I’ve found it fascinating as the conflict ranges across great battlefields of the last world war. Kharkov, as it was called in the history books I read (as opposed to the Ukrainian Kharkiv), was the site of huge encounters between German and Russian troops – as the Germans advanced (and won big), and as they retreated (fighting a handy rearguard action).

Just over the Russian border is Belgorod. Nearby is Kursk. Together they were the site of the greatest tank battle in history.

What may be significant is that once the Germans occupied Ukraine an effective resistance went underground, tying up German forces and inflicting damage. The partisans were fierce and brave back then – I would expect nothing different now if it comes to that.

My say

It’s been a while since I’ve posted anything but about my personal circumstances. I’ve not had the energy much to write about anything else, but it doesn’t mean I’ve lost interest in the wider world. I’m just as opinionated as ever.

Today, I want to write about what’s happening in Ukraine. Yesterday, after a lot of posturing and diplomatic to and fro, Russie – Putin – invaded Ukraine. There’ll be resistance, but it’s inevitable that Russia will occupy Ukraine unless something is done.

The build-up to the invasion has many echoes of Europe in 1938 and 1939 as the European community sought to reign in Hitler. As history tells us, they failed. In the years since, many of the participants have been condemned for their naive and infectual acts, not least for the appeasement that allowed Hitler the room to gobble up Europe. It will be interesting how history judges this.

For me, the strongest parallel is with the Sudetenland, in what was Czechoslovakia. Hitler claimed that Sudetenland Germans, of which there was a large population, were being persecuted by the Czech authorities. That was the pretext for war, much as Putin now claims that the treatment of Russians within Ukraine is his excuse for invasion.

For now, the west is outraged – or most of it. Widespread sanctions are being announced, which will likely bite hard in time, but not yet. There’s little possibility of practical assistance to Ukraine, despite the fact potential membership of Nato has been one of the flash points.

I don’t know what should happen, though I know this is an evil thing. I doubt that Putin, unlike Hitler, has territorial ambitions beyond this, but that doesn’t mean that we should allow a sovereign nation be conquered in this day and age. The west can’t afford to be weak, not just for the people of Ukraine, but for what it means for global society. I’m sure China is watching very closely, with Taiwan in it’s sights.

Quite bizarrely, there appears solid support for Russia in sections of the community. Predictably, many are the obvious ratbags, which may now include the GOP. Morally, it’s indefensible, but any are seeking political advantage from this, regardless of ethics. Plus, there are some seriously screwed up people on the right these days. Seems so strange when you consider that once upon a time – not so long ago – that Russia was the evil empire. Many who decried it then support it today. That’s the crazy world we live in.

Time to do better

The Federal budget was handed down on Tuesday, and most of the chatter about it generated was about the size of the deficit, which is pretty big. It’s not surprising. There’s been so much ill-informed nonsense about the perils of a budget deficit that it’s a bloody big issue – much bigger than it should be. Ironically, most of the nonsense has come from the conservative side of government attacking the irresponsibility of the progressive side. This time, it’s the progressives attacking the conservatives.

I think talk about budget deficits is one of the biggest furphies in Australian politics. Though generally, you wouldn’t know it, a deficit is necessary to spark economic activity. Sure, it means that you spend more than you’ve got coming in, but most of that extra cash goes out into the community, who then go out and spend it. That’s the theory, anyway.

The Libs demonised it for years and successfully, so much so that it has a distinct narrative of its own. For the great unwashed, and reference to a budget deficit must mean fiscal irresponsibility, not economic wisdom. It’s worked well for the Libs politically, though the irony is that historically we incur more debt under LNP governments than ALP.

For years, the LNP espoused the neo-liberal doctrine, as have most conservative governments around the world. Now, most of that is nonsense. We went through the destructive phase of austerity globally (a trend the Australian government, under ALP, successfully bucked in the GFC). In more recent times, it’s been about tax cuts, generally to business and the top income earners, and a crackdown on working conditions – wages, penalty rates, and so on. For Australia, this has seen us plunge from being the top-ranked economy in the world to middle-ranked, at best. We’ve had a succession of terrible treasurers.

I don’t rate Frydenburg as a good treasurer – in fact, I often wonder if he knows what he’s talking about. But in this instance, I reckon he’s done the right thing.

It’s quite a turn around in thinking in the government, probably helped by the fact that it’s an election year and people like having money spent on them. The money is well spent, though perhaps it could have been divvied up a bit differently. The fact of the matter is that there’s a time to spend big, and recovering from a pandemic is one of them.

Having got the bit of grudging praise out of the way, there’s a couple of things coming out of this budget that have me seething.

For the life of me, I can’t comprehend why you’d cut money going to health after – and during – the biggest health crisis for many a generation. I was startled to hear that the government had cut the health budget for Victoria.- its least favourite state – by $93m. What gives?

Somewhat related, the Vic government went to the feds a couple of months ago with a proposal to co-fund a new purpose-built quarantine facility on the outskirts of town rather than in the middle. It’s something we desperately need, and everyone knows it except the government, who pledged nothing towards it in the budget on Tuesday. Instead, they included half a billion to continued financing of offshore detention facilities – a terrible waste of taxpayer money and utterly inhumane as well.

What angered me most was the statement that we wouldn’t open our borders until the middle of next year. I’m surprised it hasn’t created more outrage. It would be more appropriate to channel the misguided outrage from budget deficits to how we’re managing the transition back into the world economy.

I struggle to understand why the government would make such a pledge. Is it political? Have they seen how stringent border controls have worked for state premiers and want a piece of that? Or is this some lofty goal to achieve elimination? Why set a date? Why not just make it flexible, as common sense would clearly dictate?

I’ve been supportive of the cautious approach, and the results seem to bear that out. But it’s ridiculous, when swathes of the world are now looking to re-open, that our government has made a pledge to remain closed.

This, for me, is a clear outcome of the failed vaccination program. I reckon the number one priority for the government should be to get every Australian vaccinated by September/October, by whatever means. Instead, they’ve made a vague commitment about the end of the year, though not both doses.

This is going to cost us economically. We did brilliantly through the pandemic to contain it, while in the rest of the world, it pretty well ran riot. But then we utterly fudged the vaccination program when most of the world have done so well with it. The result is that the countries that suffered most will open up much sooner than us, one of the countries that suffered least. If that’s not mismanagement, what is it?

As I said, the economic cost will be significant – but it’s the social costs that bite deepest. I’m getting antsy about travelling. I feel locked up, and sure, I was willing to accept that – but for another year-plus? No way. But look, it’s relatively easy for me. I don’t have family abroad I haven’t seen for years. I can manage. For those separated from loved ones, this is a catastrophe. Who thinks about them?

Clearly, the vaccination program must get a push on, by hell or high-water. An obvious corollary to that is the construction of dedicated quarantine facilities to manage incoming travellers and further outbreaks of the virus. There must be a clear plan, and there isn’t. It’s absurd.

The risk is that we may not manage to open without this. There’s sure to be further outbreaks, and the virus will continue to mutate, and others will emerge. We’re in this for the long haul, and we have to build for that. I’m furious.

Edit 18/5: I’ve been thinking about the issue of opening our borders sooner and concluded this is actually a wily plan to downplay their failures around the vaccine rollout. We know they only care about the politics and how they look, and the vaccination program has been a well-publicised disaster. One way to reframe the conversation is to announce that international borders won’t be opening until Covid is effectively gone, making the failures around vaccinations less critical.

Bring them home

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Kooyong colt

When the news came through yesterday that ex-Liberal party leader and prime ministerial aspirant, Andrew Peacock, had died, I thought about my dad.

They’re more or less the same generation – Peacock perhaps a couple of years older, and that makes a forceful point in itself – so much so that I sent an SMS to my dad asking how he was getting on. Peacock is of a generation and era that my dad belongs to, which was current when my father was at his peak. Peacock is gone now, and others, and soon enough, those remaining will pass, such as John Howard (good riddance), and at some point, my father, too.

The news of Peacock’s death resonates for that reason, but for other reasons also.

In the mind of many, he represents a lost opportunity for the Liberal party. In the seventies and eighties, he was the glamour boy of Australian politics – handsome, charming, witty, not a little vain, and very capable. When Labor was in power through the eighties, Peacock vied for the Liberal party leadership with John Howard.

They were very different characters and hated each other’s guts. Whereas Peacock was polished and hob-robbed with movie stars and on the international stage, Howard was mousy and conservative, dour and very much the accountant he was. Those were the superficial differences in style, but underneath were differences much more fundamental to the future of the Australian Liberal party.

Peacock was what they called a small l liberal – a dying breed these days. He was reasonable and socially progressive and beholden to no ideology. Though later Howard would claim direct descent from the Menzies years (legitimately, in some instances), Peacock better embodied the sense of fair play and common decency of earlier times.

They swapped leadership several times and, at different times, ran for prime minister. Peacock was famously lambasted by Keating as the soufflé that wouldn’t rise twice. And Howard was commonly thought of as a failure and an unimpressive little figure. In between, John Hewson ran for the Liberal party in 1993 and lost. After that, there was a succession of leaders while Peacock bowed out of politics altogether and ultimately left the field to Howard.

As we know now, Howard won the 1996 election on my birthday celebration (there were tears at the party, and a few angry words, and finally some soothing tokes). He reigned for 11 nasty years and changed the course of Australian life and politics (much for the worse), as well as the Liberal party.

Menzies wouldn’t recognise the Liberal party today. It has little in common with the party he started 80 years ago. It’s now hard-core conservative, more alike to American conservatives than the Tory England of the Churchill era that Menzies championed. It’s reactionary and narrow-minded, much like Howard himself, though these days it lacks his rat cunning. It’s the party of bullies and entitlement, of which corrupting and lazy incompetence is a natural by-product.

It might have been different had Andrew Peacock prevailed all those years ago. He’d have taken the Liberal party down a different path – kinder, more democratic, less self-serving. It’s a party I might have contemplated voting for as a reasonable alternative. These days, nothing less than a brain injury would see me vote LNP.

The era of Peacock also happens to be the era I grew up with politically. I was dimly aware of the dismissal of Whitlam in 1975 by the Governor-General, so momentous was it, but politics didn’t really take with me until the eighties.

I wouldn’t say I grew up in a political family, but we were a family who took an interest in the goings-on around us. I recall in the seventies, we went to Surfers Paradise during the school holidays and stayed in a high rise on Cavill Avenue. One night, dad was in the pool late and met Phillip Lynch, Malcolm Fraser’s first treasurer (before Howard, funnily enough), and returned telling the tale. That piques my interest, but it was only really about 1982 that I began to follow it keenly.

Dad was always a Liberal voter, and more so now – he’s got more conservative as he’s got older, which is the pattern, they say. We’re poles apart, more so now than ever, especially since I seemed to have bucked the trend and become more progressive each year.

I remember well the politics of the eighties, which was often great theatre and pretty exciting. It was also a time of fundamental change that re-shaped Australia – for the better, in this case. Being a young man of ambition, I was right on board with it. I admired Bob Hawke and thought that Paul Keating was the best thing since sliced bread – still do. That government was full of talented politicians hungry for change. I don’t think there’s been a government in my time nearly as talented or as intellectually capable as the Hawke government of the eighties.

And on the other side were the Libs, trailing in the wake of Hawke and Keating and trying to stay relevant. Peacock was one of them, always stylish and with a swagger that suggested that he had a rich life outside of politics. Not so much Howard, who I think was trapped within his resentments. It was that resentment that drove him and the bitterness of the eighties that soured his outlook and made him the wretched prime minister we all had to endure.

Peacock escaped that. He had a grand and interesting life and was a decent, honourable bloke on top of it. He’s dead at 82, but it was a good go.

Out for 99

We’ll probably get a warm day or two in the weeks ahead and days of pristine blue sky and golden sun, but I feel safe to say that the weather has turned. Behind us are the sunny months of Summer. Ahead are the dim days of Winter.

For the first time this year, I have the heater on in the house. Last night I swapped the light alpaca wool blanket I keep on my bed in the warmer months for the thick doona, which was last on my bed in November. It’s cold outside, and sporadic showers gust across the sky. I like it.

I don’t know if others experience it the same way, but I find my mode of thinking changes with the seasons. Perhaps not surprisingly, I become more introspective with the cooler weather, and my gaze shifts from the immediate to somewhere further into the future. I may be wrong, but I feel as if I do my best writing when the days are darker and colder, and I’m bundled up warmly in the cocoon of my home.

I was sitting in the window of a bar Thursday night sipping on a mojito with the weather near 30 degrees. By the next day, it was much cooler. From one day to the next, the seasons flipped. Summer will come again, the cycle will repeat long after I’m gone, but with the cool weather came the news midway through Friday evening that another era was coming to a close. Prince Philip had died at the ripe old age of 99.

It’s surprising how much news this event has triggered. He’s been sick for a while, and it was hardly a surprise. And, geez, 99 – he did well! And yes, I know, the royals are always big news – but I was taken aback, as so many were, by the time devoted to his life and death in the news services and across the media.

For the record, I like him. He was famous for his gaffes, though he was much more than that. I enjoyed the fact that he was an individual when the fact of royalty seems to suppress individuality. He was of another time and way of being and had lived long enough and seen so much that he seemed indifferent thas o what others thought of him. That’s always an attractive trait, I think. I didn’t need to agree with him to appreciate his wit, and I would shrug my shoulders at much of his commentary. I prefer people to be themselves than be cardboard cut-outs.

I believe he had a strong heart and a great aptitude for duty. His was a tough job standing behind the queen, but he never failed in that duty. There’s something old-fashioned about that, and quite admirable. They were married for 73 years, and it’s clear the queen adored him, and his children cherished him. He’s one of those guys I’d have liked to have a drink with.

I read a story about him this morning which revealed his tender side. After JFK was assassinated, the royals went to Washington and were staying in the Whitehouse. One morning, Jackie was looking for her son, John Jr, and opened a door to find the Prince playing and laughing with JFK’s infant son. It was a thoughtful, sensitive action of a man who loved kids and had a tender side rarely exposed to view.

He had a good go. It’s sad for the family. Soon, the whole era will be past us.

Incompetent and corrupt

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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