The things we’re losing

I feel like I must be a paranoid sometimes, an alarmist like Chicken Little declaring that the sky is about to fall in. I don’t think the sky is about to collapse, but I have great disquiet about the direction this country is going in. Again and again I am reminded of the Nazi’s, and other despotic regimes. Yes, it seems an extreme view – after all, for a start, we’re a democracy, and have freedoms that

It’s those freedoms I worry at though as they are gradually eroded by a government in the name of national security, and doing the best by us. These are familiar refrains, and the method familiar also. It’s rare in history that societies lose those cherished freedoms all at once. It’s insidiously piecemeal, almost unnoticeably so. When it’s not done surreptitiously it is accompanied by grandiose statements and pronouncements justifying the inevitable need of the said measures.

This is what we have seen in Australia. Over the last 12-18 months we’ve had bills passed into law that allow, effectively, for government agencies to spy on its own people. The government flagged a proposal whereby a government minister could strip someone of their citizenship without regard to the law (something I forecast leading into Anzac Day). In the face of opposition, and the fact it was unconstitutional, that has now been revised to include due legal process, but it is still a powerful and much too powerful tool for a government minister to wield – there is nothing to stop someone of graffito admonishing the government from being stripped of their citizenship. And just this week the government has joined the censorship party by posting a bill to block internet sites.

These are all crimps on the rights we’ve come to expect as part and parcel of living in a liberal democracy. There’s a trend worldwide for these liberties being clamped down upon, but I suspect it is worse here than in comparable societies. That goes to the character of this government, and Tony Abbott particularly. I think a despot lives inside of him, and certainly there are some of his cronies who would eagerly do the dirty work (none more so than Peter Dutton – not the man, or intellect, you want adjudicating on your status as a citizen).

I’ve written before how free speech has been compromised by a flawed and mostly compliant media, and by the aggressive actions of the government. Multiplicity of views and opinions is frowned upon, and often subjected to vilification. The ABC, a great target of this government, is almost permanently under siege for being an independent voice, and is continually under threat. This week an incident on QandA neatly illustrates the current state of affairs.

A panel show, a member of the audience stood up to ask a question, positing the opinion that it is the actions of this government that are driving Muslims to join ISIS. As it happens the questioner had been once arrested (and released) for subversive activities. There was an outcry at his question, and the next day everyone from the Prime Minister down had his say. Why was someone like that allowed to come onto the show? How could such a question be allowed? Once more the ABC was beaten over their head by this alleged transgression. One minister made a big noise about how he had written to the chairman of the ABC demanding that the show be suspended.

In fact, upon further investigation, the questioner claimed he was against ISIS, and that he was a proud Muslim Australian. He was simply making a point (which is almost certainly true). It’s all a bit silly, but ultimately the point – regardless of his motives – is that as a democratic society we can’t be afraid of dissenting voices. That’s what a democracy is. Whether we agree or not, whether it aligns with government policy or not, is irrelevant. A healthy society needs dissenting voices. In Australia now it’s very clear that the government wants dissenting voices silenced. Watch this space – it’s in the nature of this government to propose measures to make that silence law.

There is much to deplore in the character of this government. It’s a dark, nasty, fear-mongering and hostile to any who don’t support them. Fear is a weapon they beat people over the head with, justifying their actions and brutalising the opposition. Since Abbott took over leadership of the Liberal party we have seen asylum seekers and refugees dehumanised and sent to virtual offshore gulags where they live in horrific conditions, subject to brutality and occasional rape, and at least one murder (which no-one has yet been brought to justice, nearly 15 months later, to our shame – the murderer was likely a guard).

Next were the Muslims in our society, who have been portrayed as potential terrorists, one and all. The aggressive language and bellicose attitude might be good at scaring a naïve electorate, but it divides society and creates prejudice. It’s a dangerous infection the government is happy to let spread because it suits their political agenda. It’s evil. Today there are many more closed minds and racists than there were even just 5 years ago.

This is classic totalitarian strategy. Pick on someone who can’t fight back, demonise them and stir up fear and anger, and use it to justify regressive measures. You don’t have to look too far to find quotes from Goebbels and Goring that candidly explain it. It’s exactly what Abbott has done, but which too few – and no-one with a loud voice – will speak of.

As a proud and patriotic Australian it’s dispiriting. We have become a negative society that feeds off fear and anger. Our better angels are sneered at, but our most aggressive instincts amplified.

I’ve been reading the story of Dietrich Bonhoeffer and Hans von Dohnanyi, who were men of substance and quality, and active opponents of the Nazi regime in WW2. You would go a long way to find more decent men of integrity. They were both executed ultimately, but died bravely. They knew what they were up against, but never hesitated in their resistance – because it was the right thing. They lived in terrible times, and knew it, but believed in something better. Neither lost belief that their cause would ultimately prevail. They were lit from within. In the worst of times they believed in the best of things.

In ways we have the opposite of that now here in Oz. You have to believe that it will change sometime, though how and when I don’t know, not with the state of our opposition. Even when it does change you have to wonder what we will have lost, never to recover. Am I paranoid? I just fear the trend of things and fear the worst, while hoping for the best still, and wanting to believe it.

Dead man walking

I’ve spent pretty much all morning watching the coverage of the vote on the Liberal leadership spill. Started at about 8am, it’s now just after 11am, and I’ve just turned the TV off.

It’s true these things are now very much a spectator sport. In his grandiose way Tony Abbott likened the tawdry business of politics to the bloodletting on The Game of Thrones. It’s not as bloody as that, but in terms of voyeuristic fascination then it’s right up there.

I’d like to think I’m a bit more than a political peeping Tom. Fact is that I’m a political animal. Ever since I can remember I’ve taken a keen interest in the politics of the day, and the machinations behind the scenes. I think I got a lot of that from my dad. Travelling in his car on the way to school or something the car radio would be tuned to the ABC’s AM program. He would read the newspapers and pass comment on it. In time I joined the conversation. I’ve always been a patriot, and thought it ignorant not to follow the politics that dictate a national future. I think I was fascinated by it too from a very early age. I was likely drawn in by the vivid characters that politics attracts, and the Machiavellian twists and plots. If nothing else politics makes for interesting theatre, as someone no less than Shakespeare understood very well.

The result this morning was a defeat of the motion, but Abbott copped a severe belting at the same time. He retains leadership of the Liberal party, and consequently remains prime minister of the country. I don’t see that continuing for too long. The spill motion was defeated 61-39, a margin that will reduce and in time and reverse unless Abbott does something extraordinary. I don’t see that in him. He’s a remarkably unreflective man who keeps promising to change, but then repeats the same hackneyed phrases and makes the same gaffes and errors in judgement. It’s amazing how insensitive and out of touch so many of our politicians are, how deficient they are in EQ (and some, disturbingly, in IQ). Abbott is dead man walking. Turnbull will be PM within 2 months, and potentially much sooner.

Watching this morning I was reminded of the leadership challenge by Keating against Hawke in what must have been 1992. I was staying with my dad up in Narrandera, where he had a motel. The coverage of the time was full and vivid. I watched closely on TV as the events unfolded, wanting Keating to win, but thinking it unlikely. He lost that challenge (by the same margin as today), as he expected, and returned to the back-bench. Within a few months (?) he challenged again, and won the leadership of the party handsomely. The rest is history.

I suspect it will play out similarly this time, though the calibre of the candidate has greatly diminished in the years since. I can’t see Abbott turning things around because he’s an old dog incapable of learning new tricks. He’ll revert at some stage, and sooner than later. Regardless he’s toxic with the electorate. That’s what the Libs don’t understand – the public have made their mind up about him. He’s a goner.

So, another spill motion will come, or, more likely, a direct challenge. That might be in the form of a stalking horse like Mal Brough, and if that’s the case could come as soon as next week. Longer than that it will be Turnbull, a fascinating and enigmatic option, but someone who has the whole party covered in terms of IQ. Abbott’s not even in the frame.

In the meantime the big winners are the ALP. The latest opinion polls give them a 14-16% lead in the polls, pretty decent, but not insurmountable – except if you’re Abbott. Interesting to see how those polls line up post the vote today.

Best thing that could happen for the country is for someone like Turnbull to become PM soon. He’s a moderate, and there will be the flow-on effect of spooking the ALP. Turnbull can win the next election given enough time, and Shorten knows that. For too long we’ve had federal opposition parties smug knowing they had the upper hand and believing all they had to do was oppose to achieve government. That’s not how it should be. I want Shorten and his party prove that they’re deserving of national leadership. That means being positive and proposing things. With someone like Turnbull in the lodge that might mean that Labor returns to some of its more recently unfashionable, left leaning philosophies. That would be no bad thing.

Politics for nothing

It’s hard to keep up with the antics of our politicians in recent times. Every day since the budget there have been a series of notable moments. It’s on the news every night, it leads the newspaper the following day, and of course social media is all over it. Star of most of it is Tony Abbott, who demonstrates a greater talent as clown than he does as leader of this country. Given his future is looking shaky perhaps a gig at Circus Oz awaits. I, for one, would pay to see him shot out of a cannon.

Yesterday was particularly rich with incident, led by the already infamous ‘wink’ episode. That’s not the subject of today’s post, but I’m inclined to think it’s more innocent than it looked – which was pretty creepy. I see today many are dismissing it on the grounds that it was misunderstood. That may be the case, but at the very least – and this is being overlooked – it was disrespectful of a woman calling up to tell her story of woe. Maybe he wasn’t being creepy, but he was bloody rude and inconsiderate. Enough said.

Late in the day another story came to light. It was reported that Abbott’s daughter was awarded a scholarship a couple of years ago to a design school where a board member is a prominent Liberal party supporter, and financial contributor. The obvious inference was that she was given preferential treatment as a political favour because of this. Given Abbott has just put up tertiary fees it’s a timely and not a particularly good look .

It’s the sort of thing you see regularly splashed across front pages as if some impropriety has occurred. These are the sort of things that should be noted for the record, though in this case there was a loophole because the recipient was a family member, and not him. That’s a fine point I would have thought.

Now I happen to think this is innocuous too. I’m sure Abbott’s daughter – who ended up with a distinction – was fully deserving of the scholarship. There’s no reason why she should miss out, or be victimised, simply because of her father. The board member claims to have done no more than mention what a good kid she is – they’re family friends. I’m happy to accept that at face value and move on – there has to be some common sense in dealing with these matters.

The problem is that once it’s in the political sphere it gets awkward. I have no doubt that things like this, no matter how innocent, should be declared as a matter of public record, if only to avoid the sort of innuendo now doing the rounds. Donations, gifts and the like should be a matter of absolute transparent reporting.

I’ve been following the ICAC hearings in NSW over the last month, which have been sensational in parts, and, among other things, led to the resignation of Barry O’Farrell as premier of the state. That was the headline impact, but what was also revealed was the extent of corruption in sourcing and managing political donations.

Money is the lifeblood of political parties, particularly come election time. The LNP have traditionally done better out of this because they’re seen (as the last budget just proved) as favouring the big end of town – and so the big end of town gives them bag-loads of money. This is all well and good in theory, especially as every dollar donated has to be reported (though that’s a murky and unsatisfying process).

In NSW developers are explicitly barred from donating to political parties because it is thought they seek to buy influence. Property developments are big money, and a few thousand dollars jammed into the right pocket is a wise investment if the man with the pockets then turns around and grant permits or gives a green light or awards a tender, and so on – you get the picture. Basically it’s seen as bribery.

As it turns out the NSW Libs circumvented that with a fancy paper trail, and by routing donations from developers through the federal office. They still get the money, but rather than being reported as being from a developer it’s listed as coming from the head office. The hearing is still ongoing, but more heads are sure to roll.

It’s a bit of a tawdry story, but somehow not altogether surprising. Politics these days is a rough and ugly business. As I read the reports of this it became clear to me for the first time that this is something that has to change. A system open to such rorting and tainted with the possibility of corruption cannot be a part of our peak political process.

Political parties are not the Red Cross or the Salvation Army. People don’t contribute to them out of pure altruism. Money is given to political parties in the hope of peddling some influence. And, realistically, why shouldn’t they expect that? It may be classed as a ‘donation’, but unless you’re slipping some loose change into a tin most of us expect something in return – and when it’s thousands, occasionally hundreds of thousands, don’t we think we’ve earned that?

That’s the problem unfortunately. Even if it’s not the case, the possibility remains that influence is bought and paid for, and there will always be that doubt. It’s not pure, as it should be.

Of course pollies all over will reject the inference and climb aboard their high-horse – as Joe Hockey did recently. I may be a cynic, but I find it almost impossible to believe that the money doesn’t talk, even if it is out of the side of the mouth.

You want to get re-elected, Joe Blow the property developer comes to you with a brown paper bag to help out. He might not put the hard word on you then, but what about after you’re elected thanks to his help? There’s an expectation on both sides I think, and when push comes to shove the elected member of parliament will likely bow to pragmatic reality and seek to ‘help’ out one of his ‘electorate’.

Look at the last Federal budget as case in point. The miners got looked after – big contributors to the LNP. Tax breaks on superannuation were retained for high earners. Corporate Australia got an easy run. The guys who got hammered are those who don’t have the capacity or resources to get into the ear of the minister – saps like you and me, common folk who, if we don’t have the government looking after us, have no-one really to speak for us.

Is it bribery? Well it’s not quite as grubby and obvious as that.  The mining industry, say, doesn’t make a donation in return for a pledge to do such and such. It’s much more sophisticated than that. Lobby groups make it clear 365 days of the year what each interest group wants from the government. There’s no mystery, no need to hand over a wishlist, the government already knows. And the government knows it’s in their interests to look after these interest groups. If they don’t there might not be any more brown paper bags next year.

This is the fundamental flaw in the system. There are obviously instances of clear corruption, but for the most part the corruption is inherent in the transaction. It has to change. I don’t know what the answer is, but one thing the ICAC hearings have made clear is that there is desperate need of political reform when it comes to donations. Maybe the answer is that it all comes from the public purse?

In any case this is the conversation we have to have, but no-one seemingly is willing to bring up. Why would the politicians who make the law? It’s not in their interest. And unfortunately crusading journalists of yesteryear are much thinner on the ground these days. So it goes unsaid and largely unreported. You have to hope that ICAC continues to raise such a racket with it’s revelations that something just has to happen.

That’ s the sort of thing that should be on our front page – not momentary distractions about school scholarships.

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.

Bad to worse

I’ve just come from voting, with little joy. I wanted to get it out-of-the-way, out of my mind. I want to avoid the crowds tomorrow, the hustlers pushing how to vote cards, the sausage sizzle, the general sense of cloying unreality.

I voted ALP in the end in the House of Reps, and Wikileaks – Julian Assange – in the Senate. I’m left with a very sour taste. As is the norm these days the election campaign was unedifying and occasionally ugly, but hardly informative. One mob is nearly as bad as the other in 2013, but the less bad mob I voted for is likely to be kicked out, which makes a bad situation worse.

I was never going to vote for the Libs while Tony Abbott is leader. It’s hard to imagine a less impressive Prime Minister in waiting. No doubt he has some decent qualities, but being an inspiring, courageous leader aren’t among them. I’m certain as PM he would/will be an embarrassing buffoon. It’s not all about that, but you have to question whether he has the intellectual fibre to guide us through troubled times. For an allegedly devout Christian he has shown a great propensity for pragmatic policy making on the run with little reference to what is just, decent or reasonable.

That’s Abbott, but there’s a bunch of Liberal policy pledges and campaigning tricks that would have me avoid them like the plague no matter who the leader is:

  • They vow to do away with the NBN and replace it with a cheaper, third-rate option. This alone is sufficient for me to vote anything but Liberal. I cannot conceive of a government so short sighted as to cancel a national broadband scheme to all Australians, city or country, far in advance of anything presently available, and certainly more capable than the Liberal alternative. This is a time to be ramping things up, not down, for whatever we need, and think we need now, the likely reality is that we’ll be needing much more when the time comes. The NBN is essential for business productivity in the 21st century as technology becomes all-pervasive and more and more people work remotely. The likes of the NBN are a force multiplier – the potential of it creates things things that were never feasible nor considered previously. This is an initiative of utter nincompoopery, but there’s no way around it if the LNP gets into power because they need the savings they make from cutting this to pay for other election promises. (As an aside, the LNP released a policy last night about internet censorship. They claimed afterwards it was in error, but you really have to wonder now. That would be the last straw.)
  • Tony Abbott is one of the small breed of climate change deniers. Consequently he proclaims loudly how he is going to repeal the carbon emissions scheme (the carbon tax). He makes loud noises about it being a disaster, whereas in fact it has made a significant difference to actual carbon emissions, and the additional costs associated with it much ballyhooed at the time, have been negligible. It’s politics, but bad for the country to repeal something we need and which has proved to be good for the country.
  • The perpetually vexatious issue of asylum seekers. Back a month or so ago Rudd pulled the rug from under the LNP with his proposed PNG solution. The backroom fascists of the Liberal party got together and came up with a policy even further to the right. It was clear at this point that the fate of these refugees is incidental to the politics concerning them. And so the LNP came up with a plan whereupon these people have what remaining human rights they possess basically trashed in order to play to a political audience. Worse is better. Bad is good. Evil wins votes. Never mind that their plan is probably not legal, it makes them look bad ass, which is the important thing. In the mix as well is a laughably stupid policy to buy back Indonesian fishing boats so that they can’t be used by people smugglers. Cue a boat building boom in Indonesia, Indonesian fisherman looking to get rich off Australian taxpayers money, and Australia stockpiling leaky fishing boats. Seriously, this is a policy?
  • The LNP intransif=gence in not revealing their budgetary costings until a couple of days before the election, and after the advertising black-out. Even then the costings are incomplete, without details to verify them. Regardless of what the costings say this should ring very large alarm bells with every Australian who votes. What reason would the LNP do this? To avoid meaningful scrutiny of their figures. And why so? Because, logically, there is something in the figures they’re afraid will upset their delicately poised apple cart. Bottom line is, they’re not trustworthy – and if you can trust the figures, why would you vote in support of them?

They’re the four main reasons I’m agin the LNP, though there’s much more I could complain of with quiet passion. These are all good reasons to vote for anyone but the LNP, and I’ve put them more succinctly and effectively than the Labor party has at any time this election campaign.

The Labor campaign was so fucking dumb again. As always, they never bothered to highlight the achievements of the government, let alone do some kind of comparison. Explain to people what the NBN is and does. Reveal the detail of the carbon tax, and the positive effect on the environment. Explain why marriage equality is just. And so on. They attacked Abbott, but it was sort of half-hearted. I’m not a big advocate of negative campaigning, but if you’ve got to do it, then do it properly. Finally there is Rudd. Always great talk about what a great campaigner he is, but they got carried away with it. Less of the man of the people shtick, the glad handing, the selfies. Give us more of the leader, the statesman, the man of intellect and learning. For God’s sake anyone can see that Rudd shits all over Abbott in terms of substance and intellect, well use it! Make it a point of fucking difference! Too late. The last few days there’s been some of that, notably Rudd’s performance on Q&A, and it might make a small difference, but likely not enough.

Chances are by sometime tomorrow night Abbott will be proclaimed PM. That’s not a definite – there will be surprises, and I expect a late swing back to Rudd – but it is likely. It will be interesting thereafter as Abbott tries to enact his policies. I just don’t think it will happen. The dollars won’t add up and he will have to deal with a senate where he doesn’t have the balance of power.

One last word about the Murdoch press. Lots of discussion throughout the campaign about the blatant bias towards the LNP. It’s laughingly obvious, but a very serious matter. This is what it has come to in Australia, and other places too. The media is so concentrated that true balance and freedom of opinion is barely represented. Instead you get media outlets taking sides and looking to sway the contest. Murdoch has almost certainly done that with its one-sided reporting.

Rupert Murdoch has never been an impartial observer and his press never a passive reporter of events. He wants to influence, and with the power of his media empire has the voice and the audience to do it. Unfortunately there are sufficient nuff nuffs out there who read the lurid headlines and believe them that the course of an election can be changed. It’s more than a disgrace, it’s a travesty of democracy. What’s to be done about it? Nothing. The LNP laud Murdoch, as they would, and would be silly to muzzle such a powerful advocate in their favour – regardless of the rights and wrongs of it.

It’s a very sad state of affairs. There should be hue and cry about it. Instead there is fuck all outside the twitterati. The media as an independent voice is pretty well dead in this country and no-one seems capable, or willing, to lift a finger to do anything about it. That means that I’ll likely must endure 3 barren years of Tony Abbott’s rule. What a world we live in.

Don’t mention the carbon tax

en:Primorye Power Plant in Luchegorsk, Primors...

Image via Wikipedia

Finally we have a carbon tax proposal on the table. It’s not yet passed into legislation, but, hopefully, that should be a formality. After months of bluster and ballyhoo it’s here, and it’s a better package than I expected.

It’s no secret I’m sceptic when it comes to government credibility. I think they’re weak, indecisive, and much too easily led by woolly headed advisors and the whims of public opinion. On top of that they have been continuously and embarrassingly manhandled by Tony Abbott who continues to rule the airwaves and the agenda. In this he has been aided and abetted by large sections of the press, namely the Murdoch press, who seem determined to bring down the government. It’s a bit of an evil loop as the Murdoch press contains the tabloids that the common folk of Oz read, and sadly, if Andrew Bolt tells them something is a bad thing then most seem happy to nod their head in agreement without thinking any deeper than that.

Still, the ‘tax’ – as it has been reduced to (thanks Tony Abbott) – looks a fait accompli, and I suspect will die as a major issue within 18 months.

I won’t argue how necessary it is. I think it is a no-brainer (which roughly corresponds to the mental capacity of many critics). I don’t know of anyone credible who now disputes that climate change is a reality. Given that as a fact then clearly something must be done about it. There are no magic wands in government and things just don’t go away when you wish them too. There’s always going to be pain for someone when it comes to limiting our carbon excesses – and in many ways that’s the point of it. There must be incentives – or dis-incentives – for this to work. If you pollute you get penalised. If you turn to alternative options then you won’t.

It’s not about the money. The government isn’t trying to line it’s coffers – evidenced by the pretty generous rebates on offer to most folk. It’s all about the reality that the great majority of big business will not change their ways unless they are forced to. A ‘tax’ forces that. Ultimately it’s cheaper for them to look at the alternatives to produce more cleanly, which is the other great benefit of this. I work in that business, and I know that innovation thrives when necessity demands it. I would hope that from this a lot of clever solutions will be found, and many previously unconsidered short-cuts will now become reality. Long term the environment benefits, but so to does society and business. I may sound like a bit of a pollyanna, but that’s the experience of history. I don’t see why it will be any different this time.

The one question is whether this change is too little, too late for the environment – particularly as the rest of the world must come to the party. I think it’s inevitable that we’re in for some climate pain. The best we can hope for I think is to mitigate, or minimise that. And that really puts this whole conversation into a scary perspective. Tony Abbott may get up on his soap box and rant about the impost to the Australian people day and night (disgracefully so); and the Murdoch press may push their poisonous agenda, but it’s not really about a few dollars here and there. It’s about the future of the planet. Repeat that after me: it’s about the future of the planet.

We’re at a critical point in history when we can choose to act, or not. If we don’t we risk consigning our children and their children to a world a lot harder than the world we live in today. This is our decision, and it must be made now. At last we have acted on it, and if there is a cost then it is negligible against what we risk losing. Do I mind taking a few dollars from my pocket to make a better world? Of course not.

Unfortunately perspective is the first real victim of party politics, but to be so loose with it is irresponsible and unforgivable. Hopefully we will soon be past that.

Poor form Tony

Tony Abbott. Crop from another upload to commons.Image via Wikipedia

Has there been a less credible opposition leader than Tony Abbott? God knows I'm no great fan of Julia Gillard, but she's way ahead of Abbot. You could pretty well train a parrot to do the job Abbott's doing.

Have to seriously question his judgement also.The government may be unpopular, but Gillard is still the preferred PM by quite a margin. The Libs may wake up to the fact one day (though I doubt it), that if they had a reasonable and thoughtful leader they would be way out in front. Abbott has his rusted-on, blindly unconsidered supporters, but he continues to alienate the more reasonable members of the electorate by his hard core opposition, stupid comments and silly actions.

In short Tony Abbott is the best thing the Labor party has going for it. Drop Malcolm Turnbull into the role and it's a totally different ball-game. I'd certainly vote for him, as would thousands and thousands more of the generally disenfranchised electorate.

Yesterday's performance by Abbott was pretty typical. After putting the frights into everyone about the so-called carbon tax – his standard gambit – and calling for a 'people's revolution' – once more pretty typical – he then was obliged to front up to the very motley bunch of protesters landing on Canberra's doorstop.

You really have to wonder why the Lib powerbrokers continue to support him; or at least don't try to moderate him a little. He has hits, but also has a lot of misses – and the misses are ugly. Yesterday was the essence of ugly.

Whipped up by the right-wing shock jocks across the land a bunch of misinformed bigots rolled up to Canberra in their chartered busses and began wielding placards abusing Gillard – often on grounds of gender – Bob Brown, and others generally seen to be of liberal (not Liberal) bent. It was an embarassing, cringeworthy backdrop to which Tony Abbott was forced to appear.

Flanking Tony were the parties ritual fascists Brownwyn Bishop, faced forever frozen into the mask of an evil grandmother, her body preserved in formadelhyde and stuffed full of horse hair; and Sophie Mirabella, the parties frantic attack dog, the cocker spaniel nipping at your heels with the surprisingly vicious teeth.

There it was then, Tony Abbott amid a crowd of bogan extremists accompanied by the Liberal party's SD members. If it's true that you get judged by your friends then this is the final, damning indictment of Tony Abbott as leader – and as a man.

And to think I once liked him.

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