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.

No more chickening out

The March4Justice events took place yesterday all over Australia. Thousands of people, women mainly, joined together to protest the mistreatment of women by men and the historic injustice which is epitomised right now by the actions – inactions? – of the government in response to various rape allegations. It really is inexcusable.

I hope that yesterday will mark a turning point. In many ways, it was inspirational. I watched the events in Canberra and the great speech given by Brittany Higgins, the woman who started all this by reporting her rape in Parliament House. I thought her speech was right on the money and very moving. Right now, she’s a figurehead at the front of a great movement, but in years to come, I think she may be seen as a cultural icon.

The same might be said of Grace Tame, who was named Australian of the year in January. She’s an imposing, quite fierce woman who was subjected to grooming by a teacher when at school and since has become a mighty voice in standing up for women’s rights. Indirectly, she was responsible for Brittany reporting her rape. It was the occasion of the Australian of the Year awards that Brittany heard her speak and saw her with the hypocrite PM, which inspired her to speak up.

I think we’ll see a lot more of Grace Tame – I think, and hope, she has a great future ahead of her. There are so many impressive women these days.

What’s happening in Australia is being echoed around the world. In New York, the governor, Mario Cuomo, has been hit by repeated allegations of sexual harassment. In London, the murder of a woman has caught the imagination, as sometimes these cases do. It turns out the alleged murderer was a police officer. Outrage is widespread, and vigils held – ironically, disturbed and dispersed by the police. There is a groundswell of anger around the world, the common theme being enough is enough.

I had half intended to join the Melbourne March yesterday. I was wary of how I would be received as a solo male. Most would accept me, I believed, and I thought it was important for men to stand up for the cause, even though we’re the object of the anger.

Come yesterday, I still wasn’t sure if I would attend. Should I go? Would I be intruding? In the end, work was my excuse to stay away.

I regret that now. I wasn’t sure for many hours, and then I realised that I chickened out. I’m disappointed in myself. It’s not about me, but each of us has the responsibility to share our support when we can.

Underlying this is fear, I think. The last few years have been cause for much angst and reflection. That’s been hammered home over the last month, and I feel myself strongly reconsidering my own behaviour over many years. That’s a good thing, but not easy.

As men, we have to accept some brutal truths: we scare women. The arguments thrown up about ‘not all men’ are ridiculous and miss the point altogether. Maybe it isn’t all men – but all the perpetrators of this are men. It’s perfectly understandable if women feel nervous and afraid. It’s a bitter pill for a man to swallow, but when you consider that so many women have been victims of sexual crime or harassment, that so many have felt uncomfortable or intimidated over many years, and that most resort to a range of tactics to avoid this discomfort, then the conclusion is inescapable. We’re the problem.

I don’t think any sensible man would disagree that we’ve got it easy – though how easy never really registered to me before. Basically, I go through life without feeling a moment of fear. The prospect of violence or harassment is not even on my radar. I blithely go about my things, oblivious of how different it is for women, and how my unthinking swagger may look to the women about me.

Cheeseboy and I discussed this on our walk on Saturday morning. Both of us are in middle age and lived through a lot. Both of us were pretty social when we were younger. Both of us recognised how oblivious we were of others might feel.

I can sit here and state I’ve never knowingly harassed or sexually intimidated a woman, but that’s just my perspective. I cast my mind back. I’ve known a lot of women and I don’t recall any circumstance when I thought the woman was unwilling – but certainly, asking consent was never even a consideration back then. And how do I know if a woman just went along with me because it was easier to give in than resist?

These are very uncomfortable considerations. I can hardly contemplate that I wouldn’t know – but maybe I didn’t know, and that’s very real when you have a head of steam. I’m very sure I would not have gone on had I known my attentions were unwanted. All of this makes me uneasy. Generally, I feel ashamed at how pathetic we are as men.

I think I’m a decent human being. For as long as I can remember, it’s been important to me to treat people as individuals and grant them the respect they deserve. I can’t conceive of some of the behaviours I hear of now, and it’s distressing to me also. But.

I’m part of the problem, regardless of whether I’ve transgressed. Ignorance, silence, are not an excuse. I’m sure that I’ve used language I shouldn’t have. And I only have to think back to how I was as a young man when I thought that getting a lot of sex was a sign of my virility. It’s an immature attitude, but not uncommon, and it objectifies the experience and, by extension, objectifies women. And it’s embarrassingly juvenile.

I’m more mature now and much more aware than I was. It’s the passage of years and lessons learnt that have brought me to this place, but it shouldn’t take middle-age to get here.

It’s great and necessary that women are now standing up for their rights as a human being. I hope we have a culture now where men will be called out for their inappropriate behaviour. In the short term, I think that’s the most effective way to change behaviour. Longer-term, it comes to education and common decency and good role models. This is where we fall done. None of this in school and role models are flukey – and sadly, if our government can’t get it right, what hope is there otherwise?

This is a humbling experience for any man with a conscience and any level of self-awareness. It doesn’t count for much, but I’m sorry if I’ve caused hurt or harm. From here on in, it’s our responsibility as men to treat women with the respect they deserve and to call out anyone who doesn’t. That’s all I can say now.

A royal shitshow

God knows I could care less about the Royal family. Nothing against them personally, but I’m an ardent republican, and just the idea of inherited privilege is obscene to me. Plus, the incessant publicity and general fawning over their every move is tiresome. Good on ’em, but I have no more interest in their weddings, their children, their travels, their prognostications than I do any other family, and the commentary on them is even worse.

Then there’s the gossip, which is constant and has now become a very big thing. I have to admit some passing curiosity this time – much the same as if overhearing some tawdry tale down the pub.

I’m not going to go into the details because I couldn’t be bothered, and you’d have to be living under a rock to be unaware of the latest. If you’re reading this in some far-flung future, Google it. (Let me know if this leads to the long-awaited Australian republic).
Basically, Harry and Meghan had their royal version of Brexit, what – about 18 months ago? – and have been living in California ever since. Relations have been strained since, and innuendo, as ever, swirling around. Now they’ve come out swinging in an interview with Oprah, the most controversial accusing some royals of racism.

I’m a sceptic by nature, and it’s rare I take anything at face value. If someone proclaims something, I’ll generally take it as opinion, or perhaps conjecture, and very rarely as fact. In this case, one party have made a claim, and I’ll reserve judgement until the other party responds with any substance.

My gut feel is to be dubious. I suspect that half-truths and spin rule the day. Things probably happened in some form, but not necessarily as described or as insidious. And really, it’s a lot of very entitled people grizzling about other entitled people. There’s not a lot of self-awareness or humility on display.

Though I’m not a fan of the royal institution, it’s bloody hard avoiding the royal family. As an Aussie, I’ve pretty well grown up with them. It would be practically impossible not to have an opinion on them personally, and overall the opinion would be positive.

I don’t think there should be a Queen, and certainly not one that rules over Australia as well – but I can’t help but admire the queen. I think she’s a very decent and public-spirited person, and I suspect a quirky sense of humour. Prince Phillip is a bit of a cracker but pretty harmless. Prince Charles, likewise, perhaps a bit of a duffer but well-intentioned. His son, Prince William, seems another of the same ilk, decent, well-intentioned, well mannered, and self-sacrificing. The less said about Prince Andrew, the better, and then there’s Harry.

I always liked Harry. He had a bit of a spark about him. I reckoned I could have a beer with him. Good on him for escaping the clutches of duty and obligation. You can’t blame him for that – but you can’t have it both ways. At this moment, I think of him as a bit of a naive dope.

This brings us to Meghan, his wife. In my observation, she’s struggled to be popular right from the get-go. That probably comes from being a bit of an outsider to the whole royal biz – American, an actress, and not one of the standard landed gentry they roll out to marry off to royal personages.

I’m never one to join the clamour. I’m more inclined by principal to be out of step – it suits my temperament, and I think you’re more likely to be on the side of right. And I wasn’t interested in having an opinion.

I still couldn’t care less, really, but I have to confess that I never warmed to Meghan. It’s certainly not because of any royal bias – there’s something about her that leaves me cold. It could be just her way, but – excepting a few occasions – she’s never come across to me as someone particularly sincere or genuine.

I’m embarrassed to write that in a way. I don’t want to be one of the crowd agin her – and there are a lot violently agin her. If it were not for the royal circumstances and the family she married into, it wouldn’t matter at all. People are all sorts, but not all of us are in the public eye.

I trust some version of the truth will come out eventually. I doubt there’s any real racism in the royal family. I suspect it’s more of a case of verbal clumsiness, but I don’t know. In general, I believe the royal family are decent, but I accept the establishment can be hostile and unforgiving. I do not doubt that Meghan suffered their snootiness and resentment on occasion, not to mention having to contend with a feral press.

In short, there’s been a definite shitshow, and I reckon that Harry and Meghan have some genuine grievances. But I also believe that they haven’t helped themselves much and probably exaggerated the worst of it. And I think it’s pretty poor form to air your dirty laundry on national TV like this, though it’s also very modern. I don’t know what purpose it serves except that it is self-serving, and it’s hardly dignified. And I think it’s poor to make strident allegations when the alleged perpetrators are constrained in their ability to defend themselves – not to mention hypocritical to say so much without giving the detail that might prove it. Basically, it’s flinging mud.

I’ll keep an eye on what happens now, but it seems to me that Harry and Meghan have the life they want now – what more is it they’re after?

Tawdry times, shameful acts

It’s been a tawdry few weeks in Federal politics, which is not new, except that it’s now reached a new low.

It all started a few weeks ago when an ex-Lib staffer came forward to reveal that a few years back, she’d been raped in a minister’s office after hours by a senior adviser. At the time, it was effectively hushed up, with few of the proper protocols followed, and the victim basically told they had a choice between keeping their job and making a police report. The alleged perpetrator was fired (with references!) – not because he had raped a colleague, but because he had contravened security protocols.

In the days after, as the PM and various ministers tried to obfuscate and deflect, more women came forward to report that they also had been raped or sexually harassed in parliamentary offices, all of them on the Lib side of the chamber. To make it worse, the alleged perpetrator in several cases was the same man as in the original report. Basically, he got away with it scot-free because various ministers failed to take responsibility and do the right thing.

It’s obvious, and hardly a surprise, that their first priority was the political – containing and managing any potential fall-out. Any consideration of the victim’s welfare came a distant second.

Then, over the weekend, another allegation came to light – the most serious and shocking of all.

It was alleged that a current federal minister had anally raped a 16-year-old girl back in 1988. The alleged victim had gone to the NSW police more recently to report it after harbouring the pain for many years since. All of it was scrupulously documented, including contemporaneous diaries, much of which has now been shared with police, the prime minister, and selected politicians from all sides.

By all reports, the victim was a precociously talented girl with great things ahead of her. Her friends say that she was an extraordinary woman, but she couldn’t get over the trauma of her rape. She tried to fight back by bringing these allegations to the police’s attention, but it seemed too much for her in the end. Last year she took her own life. This is the awful outcome of a heinous act – a life blighted by the cruelty of another, her days haunted by what had occurred on that day in 1988. Ultimately, her promise never blossomed, and her life cut short. If these allegations are to be believed, then really what we’re looking at is a charge of rape and, effectively, long-delayed manslaughter.

In a bitter twist, her death means that the police can no longer investigate it. It seems a curious outcome – surely, criminal acts should be fully investigated whether the victim is alive or dead? The justification is that cases of this type rely almost entirely on the testimony of the victim. Without her, the investigation fails.

That’s what the government is counting on. Everyone knows, or think they know, which of the cabinet ministers allegedly committed this crime. He has not been named publicly, though it seems inevitable that he will be. In the meantime, the government and the PM do as they always do – they deflect and deny, and they obfuscate. Once more, political expediency comes first.

It’s a shocking situation and a shocking story. It’s been a shocking few weeks of ugly revelations that have brought politics in general, and the government, and – it has to be said – men in general, into disrepute.

We now have a situation where a federal minister is sitting in parliament, representing us, who is an alleged rapist. How that can be allowed to continue is beyond my understanding. Until he’s named, every male minister is impugned. I would think it represents a security risk, at least, never mind the moral impropriety. Even if completely innocent of these charges, he should stand aside, or made to stand aside, until these allegations are investigated.

I think it must come to that, but the government is doing everything it can to forestall such a reckoning. When asked about it, they say it’s a matter for the police, knowing full well the police can do nothing. In their corrupted mentality, that’s the end of it – though perhaps we should be reassured when the PM tells us the suspect has denied it all?

Many are calling for a coronial inquiry, and that seems the fitting step. As they say, justice must be seen to be done. This can’t be brushed under the carpet. We can’t have an elected official in high office guilty of such a terrible crime – the very thought that we can exposes the moral bankruptcy of this government. Guilty or innocent, it can’t be left unresolved.

I don’t know if the government understand the damage they do by refusing to acknowledge and act. It’s no surprise to me, though it may be too many others, that this government doesn’t really care about you and me. It certainly doesn’t care about women, regardless of the occasional motherhood statement they come out with. It’s all about power, and I think that’s being exposed.

Power is at the heart of these crimes themselves. Domination is much a part of rape as sex is. The stories we hear of now are just the tip of the iceberg. By all reports, it appears there’s a particularly toxic culture in parliament that has allowed for these crimes to secure and go unpunished for so long. It’s also clear that what we read and hear of now is common in the world outside of parliament. It seems that many, if not most women, had a story of sexual abuse or harassment to tell.

This is an appalling situation, but something positive must come out of this if we do it right. We know the Libs don’t want a bar of it because they’re being burnt. I suspect Labor are wary, fearing the fire might catch. I don’t think this will go away, though, not this time.

I sense a fury and resolve in the people I speak to, particularly women. Publicly, it’s the women who are taking this fight up to the government – the female journalists of the gallery (who are a great lot and much more talented than their male counterparts), and women across the parliament – Wong, Plibersek, and Hanson-Young.

I’m ashamed, as so often I am these days. These are wicked, poisonous crimes and should never happen, but when they do, we have to be better than this.

Facebook 1, Govt 0

It’s been a big news week in Oz. The big news yesterday came after Facebook disabled the posting of content from any Australian news sites and wiped clean media pages hosted on their platform. It was a belligerent act and indiscriminate at first glance, but I’m not nearly as surprised as the public appears to be. Folks, Facebook isn’t a public service – it’s a ruthless business. It’s not here for the common good – its motives are power and profit. Why should you expect better from it?

This action by Facebook was in response to proposed legislation that meant that Facebook would have to pay for every bit of content posted there belonging to a news provider. It’s a controversial and heavy-handed policy that seeks to compensate news providers for their IP shared online. It makes some sense when it comes to Google, who were the other organisation targeted. It makes less sense when it comes to Facebook.

As the fall-out from yesterday’s actions show, Facebook is an integral part of the Australian media landscape, like it or not. God knows how many take their primary news from social media – too many – but in removing this, many misinformed Australians will now also be ignorant. (Not me – I take my news from the source). More starkly, the news organisations that are meant to benefit from this legislation rely on Facebook to promote and publicise their content and drive traffic to their sites. Why else does every news site I’ve set eyes on have a post to Facebook button on their pages?

This is the hypocrisy of this legislation, which Facebook has rejected – they’re being asked to pay for something that these media organisations freely use to share their content. The government said you’ll have to pay for this content from here on in and Facebook has turned around and basically said fuck you, and pre-emptively blocked that content. For the government to then turn around and basically say hang on a sec is pretty stupid because Facebook is only reacting to the government’s threat.

You can hardly blame them. They don’t care about the average Aussie punter. By world standards, we’re a small market, and to agree to such legislation would be a damaging precedent. They can’t afford to agree to it.

There was predictable uproar yesterday and all sorts of hyperbole about how Facebook was a dictator, and this was a threat to democracy, and so on. Let me make it clear, I’m no supporter of Facebook. I think they’re a dangerous and arrogant organisation who seek to manipulate, all the while data mining from the people who use it for their own dastardly, greedy ends. They need to be regulated, but I suspect that’s a bigger job than little ol’ Australia can manage by itself.

This is dumb legislation and its backfired on the government. He deserves to as well because the whole purpose of it was to help out its media mates – News Corp particularly. It’s grubby work done by a grubby government and characteristically slapdash – but we’ll come to that.

The outrage yesterday would have been less but for the fact that many harmless, public service and charity oriented organisations were affected by this blocking. Facebook has admitted that some of that was in error and have reinstated some sites. But, let’s be fair, the legislation as drawn up by the government is so broad that what constitutes a ‘news’ site that it’s no wonder that Facebook took a cautious view of it: if in doubt, block it.

I don’t know what upsets me more about this government, the brazen corruption or the effortless incompetence. We know everything they do is political and as part of that they’ll look after their mates – but if you’re going to do it, do it with some finesses and intelligence. Not this government.

Unfortunately, most of the news sites affected in this imbroglio won’t hold the government to account – why would they? I can live without them, to be honest. Caught up in this, though, are the smaller, independent news services which are all that’s left investigating the government’s sharp practices. Many of them run on a shoestring and rely on every media channel to get their message across and support.

Interesting to see how this plays out. Initially, I thought the government would have to back down and modify its demands. But now, this threatens to become a test case, regardless of its merits. The world is watching as Australia takes on Facebook.

If the government was fair dinkum, they’d ditch this legislation and go at it the old-fashioned way, through taxation. I know it’s bloody tricky, yada, yada, yada, but so is this, and taxation, at least, would be fair and would benefit the broader Australian taxpayer, not the media moguls. And, Facebook is due to pay more tax – and Google too.

Won’t happen. What happens will be interesting to see, but I can’t see Zuckerberg backing down in any substantive way.

What comes next?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

That’s what I think.

A broken world

If I was an American, I’d be broken-hearted tonight.

I’ve refrained from commenting much on American politics since the election. The events have spoken for themselves, and while it’s been messy and strident and ugly, there was nothing really unexpected. Like many of us, I never believed that Trump, or his supporters, would go quietly. And yet, right now, I struggle to get my head around what’s happened today: the storming of the Capitol building by Trump’s ragtag mob.

I sent a message this morning to a friend when the news broke: “Amazing. But somehow, not surprising.”

Not surprising, but I feel a form of wonder. It’s one thing to conjecture that anything was possible, quite another to actually see it happening. It’s a blow to the system. I felt it inside me. This was America. It was like watching as a mighty tree that’s stood for hundreds of years in the forest was being toppled.

It’s bizarre to watch the imagery coming out of Washington. A more feral bunch of morons you’d never hope to see. They’re dressed in combat jackets and draped in confederate flags. One is bare-chested, fur draped around his shoulders and wearing a horned helmet. They’re the disaffected dregs of society, hillbillies and social misfits and undoubtedly a fair few inches. They’ve been given power throughout all this, encouraged by Trump and his establishment, and incited to drastic acts like this by the likes of Rudi Giuliani. This must be what it was like when the Vandals sacked Rome.

It seems apparent that this was allowed to happen. There seemed little security at the Capitol Building ahead of what was a monumental occasion. There’s footage of guards letting the mob through, and others having selfies taken with them. Inside, the mob ran riot. Senators and staffers took shelter behind barricaded doors while the mob took control of the chamber. Two people have shot; one has died.

Police and National Guard have now taken control, long after they might have. Trump absconded his responsibilities and in a rational world can no longer go on as President for this last fortnight of his tenure. He should, in fact, be impeached. This was an insurrection, and there can be no doubt that Trump has incited it.

No surprise, and yet, there is shock. It has actually come to this.

So, what happens now? It’s a tricky time, and anything is possible. Trump should be impeached, but I suspect he won’t be. Perhaps he’ll be censured. I can’t see how it’s possible that he can continue as president. Pence must assume the role.

This is a country divided, though. Trump will go, many of the mob will be imprisoned, but the problems run much deeper than that. Nearly half of America voted for Trump. A goodly portion of them are fanatics and believe that they’ve been ripped off, and have god on their side. Even with Biden assuming office, they will remain.

I can’t see much end to the dissent and violence. The mob will rule again. Perhaps it will die away in time, but I think it won’t go far away. It’s in the blood of many now. It’s heartfelt belief. They will rouse again until there is such a figure that can heal the country. In the meantime, the risk is making political prisoners of the terrorists who stormed congress today and, with Trump, martyrs of them. Trump will go, but he’ll remain a rallying cry for millions.

It’s bad enough that such a terrible attack on democracy has occurred today, but what is heartbreaking is that there are two Americas, and never shall they meet.