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Ben is a student journalist currently studying a Bachelor of Arts at the University of Melbourne. He also writes for Farrago magazine and is a member of the YMCA Youth Press Gallery. He barracks for the Carlton Football Club and watches too much House of Cards. He also blogs on his own site, The Cynical Times.

Website: http://theaimn.com

The Many Faces of the Australian Shock Jock

“Alan Jones, on your radio program, you often abuse, berate and belittle callers with whom you disagree. On Q&A, you are reasoned and respectful of the people asking questions, to the extent that I sometimes think you’re not as bad as you’d like us to think. Is your radio persona pure entertainment and, if so, who is the real Alan Jones, and do you believe that you are using your platform in a responsible way that encourages constructive debate?” Anthony Johnsen, Q&A 20th July

This thorny bugger of a question was thrown to conservative radio shock jock Alan Jones on Monday night’s Q&A, much to the squeamish displeasure of the recipient. Jones was on the offensive, claiming his trademark fiery exchanges which only occur with politicians, not with listeners. That may be true, but having previously said Julia Gillard’s father “died of shame” and she should be taken out in a body bag and dumped in the ocean, there is little doubt that Jones’ 2GB studio is not a place for “reasoned and respectful” discussion. The former Labor PM is not alone in copping Jones’ abuse, with independent MPs Rob Oakeshott, Andrew Wilkie, Liberal leadership challenger Malcolm Turnbull and even Prime Minister Tony Abbott all copping a verbal bashing.

It has been somewhat of a surprise then that Jones’ appearances on Q&A have shown a different side to the infamous orator, far less “angry old man yelling at cloud” and far more at home aside the more measured voices that the show attracts. The issues he champions on Q&A are also more nuanced and interesting than the grand-stand reading of the Coalition’s briefing notes on 2GB. Furthermore, on all platforms, Jones seems to have complicated his political vision since his days heading up the “Juliar” campaign, from his embrace of same-sex marriage to his campaign against coal-seam gas. So why is he suddenly almost reasonable, or has he always been so underneath his conservative blustering?

The more sceptical observer might call Jones an opportunist, a savvy chameleon giving the audience what they want to hear. On talkback radio they want rage, on the ABC they want rational discussion. Such inconsistency is frequently attributed to fellow conservative kingpin Andrew Bolt. Whilst he is generally as stubbornly right-wing on all platforms nowadays, claims of inconsistency plague his past and cast doubt on the uncompromising caricature he now propagates.

In a scathing portrait of Bolt for The Monthly, Anne Summers presented a convincing argument that Bolt refashioned himself in the 1990s to fill what was then a right-wing void in the op-ed pages. Whilst she doesn’t doubt that Bolt was somewhat conservative, she questions the authenticity of his miraculous transformation from unassuming editor to megaphone commentator. And with due course, given News Corp’s chief Gillard-hater used to work for the ALP in several positions. The nation’s great climate denier also once wrote the “Environs” section in The Age.

Summers quotes a former colleague saying “A big part of me admires Bolt for having built all this out of nothing. But it is so cynical because that is not who he is.” “He obviously saw there was reputation and money to be made from being conservative,” said academic Robert Manne. “He was forceful but he was not as right-wing then or we would not have got on so well,” said journalist Shelley Gare.

This touches upon a deeper point about the now popularized far-right provocateur mould – to what extent do they actually believe what they say? There should be nothing beyond comprehension about adopting a conservative worldview, in fact if one cannot even imagine it then perhaps they are too rigid to engage in a diverse contest of ideas. However, the sheer vociferousness, the attack-dog style, the relentless plundering of issues for literally thousands of media segments and the offensiveness of some dialogue invites the cynical to suggest they are making a calculated decision to feed the desires of a niche audience, to deliberately provoke the mass audience and to stay relevant through remaining controversial.

All which makes the faintly shifting stripes of Alan Jones more interesting. He is no lefty and there is no room for him in the centre. He has fashioned himself as a conservative warrior. There is no popularity or money in providing nuance to an argument in the modern media melee. So Jones ought to be commended for not sticking to the tired old trope of the Andrew Bolt right-winger, and occasionally veering off his ideological course, even if only briefly.

Perhaps he should take a second look at wind farms. Yeah never know, he might be surprised by what he sees.

 

The Culture War that Dwarfs Abbott & Co.

Whilst MPs were banned from attending Q&A, gay marriage was called “decadent” and the price of divorce drastically increased, a far more significant story was buried beneath the news heap. Whilst Australia’s conservatives enacted their culture wars in increasingly petty ways, a far more significant global culture war was illuminated.

On July 3rd, the United Nations Human Rights Council passed a resolution affirming that “the family is the natural and fundamental group unit of society.” The resolution was backed by 29 states, including Russia, China and many Islamic countries. America, Britain, France, Germany and 10 other states voted against, on the grounds that it put too much emphasis on traditional family structures.

Of course, there is nothing wrong with traditional families, however in the sensitive world of diplomatic rhetoric, this was less an embrace of families than a slap in the face to supporters of same-sex marriage and other non-traditional family types. South Africa unsuccessfully tried to insert language that took account of same-sex marriage, and the efforts of Western delegates to acknowledge that family structures can sometimes be oppressive also failed.

This latest clash can be seen as evident of a global culture war, one a lot more serious than a stoush between News Corp and the ABC. Defence of the traditional family and opposition to gay rights have been part of Russia’s foreign policy since 2012, whereas Hillary Clinton has shifted US policy to advocate for sexual freedom since 2011. The Economist, one of the few media outlets to cover the resolution, stated that the resolution reflected “a broadening diplomatic showdown between a Western liberal bloc and an anti-liberal coalition.”

The showdown raises concerns for progressives, many of whom have advocated for pacifist foreign policy and have avoided ideological clashes with other communities, particularly Muslims. For mine, the idea of multiculturalism and pluralism must not preclude the West from taking a strong stance on sexual freedom, and speaking out on issues of civil liberty does not amount to a “clash of civilizations” whereby the commonality between the West and other cultures is lost in an all-out cultural war. As Clinton has demonstrated on issues of religious freedom, diplomatic compromise can be reached, but for this to occur the US must relish the current liberal consensus headed by the Obama administration and advocate for progressive values on the world stage.

For social conservatives however, the news is pretty grim. In terms of actual progress, the liberal side clearly has the momentum, with the legalisation of same-sex marriage in many countries being heralded as a monumental victory by progressives internationally.

The worldview of conservatives, which centres on the traditional family unit, is collapsing. With each passing victory for gay marriage advocates across the world, their religious values lose their prevalence. Once advocates of freedom of the individual, liberalism has galloped ahead of them whilst they stand shaking their fists at the sky. Furthermore, they contradict themselves when the logic of freedom which they employ to justify the economic status quo somehow doesn’t apply to inconvenient social issues.

Fear creates strange bedfellows, and as The Economist noted, the anti-liberal side “has allies within the Western world as well as outside it,” as evident by the positive reception of the resolution by conservative think-tanks. So in other words, Western conservatives are now siding with Putin, the Chinese and many Islamic countries on social policy, which would have dismayed many conservative heroes from yesteryear.

Australia is not immune from this global tussle, with The Australian reporting that Julie Bishop refused to co-sponsor the resolution because it did not recognize same-sex couples and because “human rights belong to individuals, not groups.” This hints at a far broader disjunct between the West and the Russia/China alliance, with the West promoting a focus on individual rights whilst the East tries to make sure human rights don’t get in the way of traditional values and state sovereignty. And with many in her Cabinet more likely to support the latter than the former, particularly with regard to gay marriage, Bishop has daringly edged closer to Malcolm Turnbull – perhaps a true liberal amongst conservatives.

Considering the gravity of this global culture war, our local struggle between the Coalition/News Corp and the so-called “lefty lynch mob” is dwarfed in importance. However this is no reason to dismiss our local arm-wrestle. The same dynamic of the culture war operates at a domestic level as it does globally, with those who advocate fairness and inclusivity being regarded with fear and suspicion by those desperately clinging to the past. The Russian MP who recently expressed the fear that the US may try to impose same-sex marriage globally by force has a similar mindset to Cori Bernardi when he fears that it may snow-ball into bestiality – equally impossible, arising from an ingrained mistrust of social progress.

That is not to say there are clear goodies and baddies in such scenarios, as both sides are frequently vindictive and hateful. Such is the nature of culture war, a battle fought over identity which is so personal it is bound to get ugly. There is nothing constructive about culture war, with each side snidely jeering at the other and patting themselves on the back.

However, it will pay progressives to consider that Abbott and his ilk are not simply a home-grown nuisance, but part of a vast global community which encompasses all races and creeds. When the issues are so gravely important as the legal recognition of human diversity and love, the left has to fiercely advocate for social progress. But we must refrain from mimicking the cultural jibes of “lefty lynch mob” and engage in a meaningful debate with those we oppose, no matter how frustrating. For whilst progressives may have one many recent battles, we have not yet won the war.

You can follow more of Ben Clark’s posts at The Cynical Times

It is Never a Bad Time for Equality

By far the most frustrating of all discourse on Labor’s recent push for same-sex marriage is the discussion of timing and ownership. When should this issue be tackled? Who should table and sponsor the bill? Whilst these questions seem like fairly mundane administrational stuff, of concern only to parliamentary staff and the writers of Hansard, on an issue as divisive as same-sex marriage these issues become electrified with the cries of moral outrage.

First, the issue of timing. Many so-called supporters of marriage equality have given scathing criticism of the timing of Bill Shorten and Tanya Plibersek’s bill, due to be tabled in parliament on Monday. For instance, Liberal MP Warren Entsch said that, “Bill hasn’t helped matters at all” by bringing up the issue now. Yet for someone who is supposedly behind the push for marriage equality, shouldn’t any time be a good time?

Perhaps objection to the timing was regarding Bill’s low opinion poll ratings, with pushing for same-sex marriage assumed to give these a boost. This criticism was most notably mounted by radio shock jock Alan Jones, despite his somewhat surprising support for legislative change. Yet if 70% of Australians support the change then Shorten will likely receive a poll boost whenever he introduces such a bill. Should he never introduce one?

Or perhaps the timing criticism was due to Labor’s upcoming national conference, which is due to debate whether to change the party’s platform from a conscience vote to a binding vote in favour of change. Such debate could prove heated if more religious, socially conservative representatives agitate against the more socially progressive representatives, which could damage the tentative unity of current federal Labor (imagine hard-line Joe de Bruyn of the Shop, Distributive and Allied Employee union engaging in verbal fisticuffs with Tanya Plibersek – not a good look).

On this issue Bill Shorten is clearly being strategic, attempting to avoid argument and achieve this reform without getting too many of his own colleagues toes out of line. Read that sentence again and replace the words “Bill Shorten” with quite literally any progressive leader ever and you would have a generally factual statement.

The other bemoaned issue is that of ownership. Other political leaders have played a game of “well I thought of it first” or “I won’t support it until I get an equal share of the spotlight.” Warren Entsch said, “It’s just all about Bill. We’ve got to do this in a dignified, respectful way, not with this partisan bullshit”. The fact of the matter it that to pass progressive reforms such as this, the majority of the Labor party must support it. So you might not like Bill Shorten’s face on your TV screens every night, but unless you’re prepared to endure it then it is unlikely we will achieve marriage equality in this country. The movement of the Labor party on this issue has been slow and underwhelming, however it has been the key missing puzzle piece which now seems to be fitting into place, with many MPs announcing their shifted position on the issue well before the introduction of Shorten’s bill.

Furthermore, one has to ask whether the fact that Shorten is being politically cunning about this issue actually matters at all to its contents and potential impact on society. The ABC’s Barrie Cassidy claimed Shorten’s actions were “dripping with… opportunism, cynicism and wedging your opponent.” Those descriptions might be in some ways accurate, but why is it such a pertinent observation that it should occupy the thoughts of one of Australia’s premiere political commentators and many others?

Here there is clearly a disjunct between the interests of your average citizen and the political elite. For those involved in the political process, the cut and thrust of Canberra’s daily grind might seem interesting. But for your average citizen, they just want to see their neighbour free to marry whomever they choose. And for many gay people, they simply want to marry the one they love. Is that not worthy of more spilt ink than political thrusting, needless prevarication and the moral indignation of a bunch of out-of-touch “representatives” who are failing to deliver on a social reform the vast majority of society is in favour of?

Following political parties on Facebook often just increases your immunity to propaganda. However I have to admit that seeing Labor’s post signalling they would table a bill to legalise same-sex marriage made me unusually optimistic about Australian politics. Party politics is necessary to achieve marriage equality, but surely it should not be the focus of our dialogue. Our discussion should be on the lives being affected, unable to express through legal means a basic emotion that speaks to the very essence of being a human. Politicians and the press should address this core concern in Canberra, and brush aside all less important matters. In my mind, it is never a bad time for equality.

You can also view this post and many others on Ben Clark’s blog https://benclark56.wordpress.com/

 

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