Bring back John Howard

One of my best friends used to have a website proclaiming his hatred for our Prime Minister of the time, John Howard. I shared that hatred, as did many other Australians, though of course many did not.

I hated John Howard for the road he took Australia down. We went from being a fair-minded people to being insular and reactive. As part of his political shtick he derided those he called the ‘elites’ – in actual fact the thinkers, the creatives, the people with larger ideas and ambitions, those with ideals: the people who propel culture forward. Nothing was more important to him than his own political survival, and so it was in his interest to kill off anything that might undermine that.

Under his tenure most of the important conversations withered and died in the public sphere, with only a few of the discredited elites maintaining the fight. His manner was paternalistic and conservative, valium to progressive ideals. Effectively he said to the Australian people, don’t you worry your little heads about anything. And for the most part we didn’t – the result being a dumbing down of Australian society, a society more compliant than ever before, the erosion of our liberties, and a country changed to something less than what it was before.

These are fundamental things I can never forgive him for as a proud and engaged Australian. That being said, and excepting some decent sized mistakes, the country prospered economically through his leadership. A lot of that was luck with the economic swings and roundabouts, and the good fortune to inherit an economy transformed by the visionary Labor government preceding his. In Costello though he had a decent treasurer who did more good than harm.

I’m re-visiting this now as a curiosity. I thought Howard was despicable, but he seems benign in light of what we are now stuck with. Much as I disliked Howard and his government there was never much thought of him being irresponsible. Sure, he was in the vanguard of the culture wars, but he was smart enough to understand you can’t upset the apple cart. With one eye on his re-election he was always clever enough not to spook the electorate. He moved slowly, conservatively. When he could he left well enough alone.

Howard compared to Abbott is a paragon of prudence, intelligence and common-sense. Wow, never thought I’d say that – but then that’s a measure of just how bad Abbott is. At least Howard had sure hands. Abbott is a disaster.

Going into last election there was widespread mistrust in the electorate regarding Abbott. Ultimately Labor were voted out, rather than the LNP being voted in. Like most I had my doubts about the basic intelligence and judgement of Abbott. For me they were more than sufficient to vote against him. What is it now? – 8 months? And the worst fears of the public have been realised. And for me I’m amazed to find that Abbott is far worse than I expected.

Right now we face a calamity. The cultural shift of this nation continues under the direction of this government. Even worse than that is the very underpinnings of our society are now at threat.

It’s hard to describe just how bad this government is. I suspect that Abbott is not particularly bright (you’d think the head of state would be brainiac, but look around the world, it’s rarely the case). I don’t know that he’s dishonest, but I certainly believe he’s deluded. The rest seemingly are a combination of the dishonest (Hockey, Morrison), incompetent (Dutton, Bishop, Brandis), cowardly (Turnbull), or evil (Pyne, Morrison, Brandis).

There has been much to be disturbed by in the first 8 months of this governments tenure, but it all came to an ugly head last week. That buffoon Hockey has for months been trumpeting how badly the previous government left the budget position. This is rubbish of course. Australia still leads most western nations on most key indicators. Our government debt is but a fraction of our international contemporaries (despite what Hockey will tell you), and the inefficiencies and expense he makes claims about are untrue in every instance.

Of course it’s customary for incoming governments to blame the government they replaced. You don’t expect anything different now. In this case though I think there is something more sinister afoot. Hockey, and the government, are exaggerating the situation as an excuse to tear everything up and recast the nation in their ideological image.

During the week the government appointed Commission of Audit delivered its report. It’s a radical, divisive document that if adopted would change this country forever. It’s a sham. Tony Shepherd, the author of it, is a right-wing ideologue and second-rate businessman. It’s propaganda, not analysis, created by fascist nuff-nuffs who believe there should be no minimum wage, that people get an easy run with Medicare, and that we should work longer for less while the top end of town reaps the benefits. It’s an evil piece of work.

The government has flagged that they won’t be adopting many of the reforms advocated, but it seems clear that they are ideologically driven along this path. Few doubt that given a free hand that they would adopt much of the philosophy espoused in this report, if not now all at once, then over time. If that were to eventuate then the nature of our society would change, and much of what we have built (and are the envy of many western nations) would be dismantled.

What we face is a national calamity. I don’t want to live in a country made by these select few (elites?). I doubt there are many outside of the very rich who would. Notions of fairness go out the window. Justice, as we know it, comes second to their vision of economic rationalism. Cultural progression is snuffed. Divisions along class lines open up, while the basic services so many of us have come to see as our right are either eroded or dismantled altogether. And this by a government that is a climate change denier, and which insists on locking up refugees.

This is terrible.

Fortunately – perhaps – the government has over-played its hand, and managed the message very poorly. They’ve lost what trust the public had in them, and have alarmed many. There’s talk of unrest within their ranks, which is no surprise. Most of the party are battlers happy to have a seat, and fearful of losing it for the cause of a bunch of right-wing fascist ideologues.

The budget gets handed down this week. It will be an interesting document. It won’t be nearly as extreme as the COA report, but it will frighten. How frightening will depend in part by how spooked the government have been to the adverse reaction to the report. Will they play it down? Or will they go hard? One thing is certain, there’ll be plenty of Hockey’s self-righteous bluster.

The leaders we deserve?

Reading the morning newspaper is just plain depressing these days. I think that’s probably the same in most parts of the world in these troubled times. Here in Oz what we have all to ourselves are domestic politics which are depressingly squalid. That’s been the case now for many months, if not years. With the advent of a new government however, it has plummeted to new depths. Squalid, corrupt, and comically incompetent, that seems to be representative of the LNP government under Tony Abbott. I feared this would be the case, but hoped to be surprised. Instead it is worse than I anticipated.

For the last week terrible bushfires have been raging through the Blue Mountains of NSW. This beautiful, rugged country. A dry winter combined with unseasonably high temperatures – 40 degrees plus and it’s not summer yet! – and strong winds saw the fires spread and consume the countryside, and many people’s homes. They still rage today.

There have been pictures in the press and online. Though a bushfire is a terrible thing there is often a strange beauty in their aftermath. Surreal sunsets, fire a bright and compelling shade, even scenes which seem apocalyptic – smoke hovering over the harbour bridge and the Opera House, a sky that looks like it is about to split in two and herald Armageddon.

It’s October, more than a month away from summer. I can’t recall such a serious bushfire so early in the season. The temperatures reported are ridiculous. Like most I’m a believer in the reality of climate change. I don’t need science to tell me so. I know it from personal experience. I’ve been around long enough now to notice how much has changed in the last 20 years. There are many indicators, but the most dangerous is that of bushfire. As is rightly pointed out, bushfires are part and parcel of the Australian landscape. I remember over 30 years ago the great Ash Wednesday fires in Victoria. Major conflagrations of that nature have been repeated for thousands of years most likely.

What’s different now, in my experience, is that appears that every year now there is at least one really major bushfire episode at least, whereas they might have been spaced out ever 4-5 years before. This year, already, it is NSW – and who’s to say what more there will be once summer starts properly? Last year it was Tasmania. The year before Victoria. And so on.

Naturally this is a point of political contention, especially with a government that denies climate change and is about to repeal a carbon tax at a time that the rest of the world seems to be embracing it. These bushfires have been claimed to be the result of climate change by some, and we are warned that this is the new reality we must accept. Predictably the government angrily denies that.

You can argue the toss about the truth or otherwise of that claim – time will likely tell. In the meantime unfortunately we have to deal with leadership that won’t countenance any opinion but its own, almost as a mantra. Quite astoundingly the government minister for climate change, Greg Hunt, rejected once more the link between climate change and the bushfires, stating that he had ‘checked on Wikipedia’ to be sure of it. Amazing. You’d think it was a bloody satire, but truth is the pollies out satire the satirists these days, and without even trying.

Checked on Wikipedia? Naturally this admission brought a storm of comment, ranging from outrage to ridicule. You have to wonder at an elected official who chooses to do his research via Wikipedia (conveniently overlooking the reams of scientific opinion that state a contrary opinion to his), and who will then admit to it publicly.

This is just one example of a fucking depressing government not 2 months into it’s rule as yet.

There’s the expenses rorting that has come to light. Most Aussies view reports of this with a cynical disgust. We’re not really surprised that the pigs have their snouts in the trough, but we are also bitterly against it. There appears to be a systematic abuse of the process, probably by both sides of politics, though seemingly much more so by LNP members – up to, and very much including the prime minister. Really, things are claimed for that would make most of us common folk blush – and by those amply rewarded otherwise as leaders of our country. It’s a shocker, and a system that needs to be drastically reformed and made transparent. Tony Abbott refuses to countenance that. He won’t listen to the calls for reform. He turns a blind eye to the rorts on his side of the parliament after last year going after Peter Slipper for misdemeanours of much smaller amounts. It’s clear hypocrisy, and I would contend it’s also poor politics – the people will see it as an attempt to sweep it under the carpet and to protect the entitlements of shady fat cats.

Then there is Joe Hockey. Has there ever been a greater buffoon in federal parliament? Here is a man way out of his depth intellectually, and I suspect in terms of work ethic also. He has a nice line of patter when he gets going, which is why he made it this far I reckon. I don’t think he has much ticker though, and as an intellect he appears no better than B grade – and now he’s the fucking federal treasurer! In government as well as in opposition his performance is marked by bluster and meandering nonsense. He shows no grasp of his portfolio, and his default response to everything is to blame the previous government. Ironically after blaming the Labor government for rising debt (unfairly) he has now presided over borrowings in the range of 15-20 billion at last count in the few weeks he’s been in the chair, and dramatically increased the debt ceiling. He’s the sort of embarrassment you hope never leaves the country.

Add to this mix Scott Morrison. I don’t think he’s incompetent, but I do think there is something nazi about him. He was the opposition minister for immigration, and has taken that role in government. There’s no more politicised or contentious ministry than immigration. It has been a national disgrace for many years now. In keeping with the times the immigration minister is an attack dog. In effect he’s really the anti-immigration minister. I’ve been inured to his provocative statements and toxic actions to some degree. It sickens me to the stomach to see how we treat those who come here as refugees by boat, but regretfully I’ve realised it isn’t going to change. It can get worse though. During the week this piece of human garbage instructed his ministry in the semantics of seeking asylum. Those arriving by boat seeking asylum here are no longer to be referred to as asylum seekers, or ‘clients’, but as ‘illegals’.

This may seem a small thing. What difference does a change of term make? George Orwell knew. Language is important. It’s the first step towards a fascist dehumanisation of these people. It’s what the Nazis did with the Jews and other ‘undesirables’. They cease to be people. They become objects. You can process objects in a different way to how you process people, and this is the leap in language that enables that.

I’m not proposing that we’re about to follow the Nazis (though we have our variation on concentration camps), but this is a dangerous precedent. I’ve no doubt it is the intention of Morrison to use language to take the sense of humanity out of reports on the arrivals of refugees. Instead of poor, persecuted people seeking a better life asylum seekers are now outlaws. They’re not women and children, they are flagrant breakers of the law (incidentally, highly questionable – it is not illegal to seek asylum). They are illegals in the government speak of the day, now officially promulgated.

This is the Australia of today. We can’t accept this.