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Jennifer, who has a PhD, has worked as an academic and a scholar, but now works at little of both her careers. She has published short stories in several anthologies, academic papers and book chapters, frequently on the topic of human rights. Her interests and writing are wide ranging, including cultural analysis. Jennifer has written for On Line Opinion, Suite 101 and ABC’s Drum Unleashed. Jennifer is well-known for her long-running blog No Place for Sheep: an eclectic blog that covers politics, society, satire, fiction and fun stuff.

Giving a damn still matters

Yesterday, in the Melbourne CBD, James “Jimmy” Gargasoulas, 26, used a car to mow down dozens of pedestrians. He killed four people, left a baby fighting for life, and seriously injured more than twenty others.  He was on bail from offences allegedly committed last weekend, including family violence, of which he has a long history. He is well-known to police.

Independent Senator David Leyonhjelm, gun lobbyist who threatened “difficult relationships” with the government if the ban on the rapid-fire Adler shotgun wasn’t lifted and whose favoured slogan is “Guns don’t kill people, people kill people” tweeted the following in response to the Melbourne news. One Nation Senator Malcolm Roberts responded in a tweet he later deleted:

 

There were the predictable efforts by One Nation Leader Pauline Hanson to immediately frame the unfolding tragedy as the work of Muslim terrorists. Victoria Police acted quickly to douse such inflammatory assumptions by confirming that the events bore no resemblance to political terrorism.

The New York Times initially reported the situation couched in the narrative of terrorism, until tweeted protests from many Australians led to a rewrite.

Things worth thinking about

  1. Mass murderers are highly likely to have a history of domestic violence, terrorising their families before taking it to the streets. Therefore, it would make very good sense for us to make urgent and ongoing investment in addressing the crime of intimate terrorism as a first step towards protecting communities. As nothing else has thus far persuaded governments to consistently invest in curtailing the endemic plague of intimate terrorism in this country, perhaps recognition of the wider implications might.
  2. David Leyonhjelm and Malcolm Roberts ought not to be in public office. However, they are,and we have to deal with that reality, just as we have to deal with the reality of President Donald Trump, who also should not be in public office. There’s a view that people such as this ought not to be given oxygen. I disagree, not least because this is completely unrealistic: of course they will be given oxygen, and in view of that, to remain silent is to enable. It’s my intention to continue to call attention to Leyonhjelm and Roberts. Swamp them with your contempt. This is no time for silence.
  3. It’s time to reclaim the word “terrorism.”  It has been appropriated by the likes of Hanson, other politicians and media to the degree that it is now a thinly veiled substitute for “Muslim.” There is political terrorism, state-sponsored terrorism, non state actor terrorism, domestic terrorism, intimate terrorism: these are all valid descriptors of the act of terrorism, depending on its context. “Muslim” terrorism is not. Domestic violence is an act of terrorism in the private sphere. If we use this term it might be easier to see the connection between the intimate terrorist, and the public terrorist who is not acting from political, ideological or religious motives.

Leyonhjelm, Roberts, Hanson and their supporters have no interest in the suffering of those affected by Gargasoulas’s murderous acts. There really is something deeply awry in their psychology. There will be thousands of people, beyond those immediately affected, who will struggle to deal with the aftermath of this intimate terrorist’s crimes. The witnesses. The police who gave CPR when they could, and drove a critically injured child to hospital, not daring to wait for an ambulance. The paramedics, nurses, and doctors who treat the injured. The relatives, friends, and workmates of the dead and injured. Whole communities will have to deal with shock and grief but none of this is of the least interest to Hanson, Leyonhjelm and Roberts, who see only an opportunity in all this grief and this death and this injury and all this gut-wrenching sorrow, to further their own vile interests.

They are despicable individuals. Tell them this. Don’t be silent. Let them and their followers know that in this country, giving a damn still matters.

 

This article was originally published on No Place For Sheep.

Politicians must take responsibility for their greed, wastage and negligence

If you go to the website #notmydebt you’ll find fifteen pages of stories written by people who’ve received demands from Centrelink to repay debts the department has falsely raised against them. It’s a harrowing read.

Depending on which explanation you prefer, the aggressive efforts to extract monies from people who do not owe them has been caused by faults in the department’s new automatic compliance system; a malevolent attack by the LNP government on welfare recipients, or a combination of both.

Centrelink has advised some punters that their best course of action is to begin repaying the alleged debt while the review process is underway, that is, before it has been established that they actually owe anything. This places punters in a Kafkaesque bind: repaying a debt is an acknowledgement that you accept its validity. Punters are also threatened that if they don’t agree to a repayment scheme, their alleged debt will be referred to debt collectors, and their credit rating affected.

Regardless of acknowledged systemic faults, and an own-motion investigation launched by the Commonwealth Ombudsman’s Office, the robo-debt collection scheme is set to widen its net to include pensioners and disabled people in the coming months.

The latest information from Centrelink whistleblowers (who have, by the way, been threatened with prosecution and imprisonment by their overlords, as have welfare recipients accused of fraudulently obtaining benefits) indicates that there are indeed serious faults in the system AND that Centrelink authorities have ordered officers to proceed regardless of these faults. Indeed, officers have been instructed to refrain from acknowledging any errors they discover unless the citizen in their sights spots the error first, causing a crisis of conscience for some Centrelink employees who are obliged to refrain from identifying systems errors to distraught punters.

How any of this can be consistent with legal process is beyond me: it’s beginning to sound very much like the Turnbull government illegally obtaining money from citizens by deception.

Even Tasmanian Senator Eric Abetz has expressed his disapproval of Centrelink’s methods after a member of his extended family received a debt notice.

At the same time, a report from the Australian National Audit Office into the Department of Immigration and Border Protection’s payments for the management of contracts for security and welfare services on Manus Island and Nauru reveals:

…$2.3 billion in payments made between September 2012 and April 2016, which it stated were not authorised or recorded correctly.

“$1.1 billion was approved by DIBP officers who did not have the required authorisation and for the remaining $1.1 billion there was no departmental record of who authorised the payments,” it stated.

The report further stated that contract variations totalling more than $1 billion were made without a documented assessment of value for money. (emphasis mine)

Is there any venture on the planet in which $2.3 billion dollars is spent without proper authorisation and record of authorisation, other than the Australian DIBP? Why is Immigration Minister Peter Dutton still in the portfolio, given that his department has apparently gone rogue?

Add to this the ongoing politicians’ expenses scandals exposing levels of rort (travel expenses being the least of it, it’s the office expenses we ought to be worried about) that if politicians themselves hadn’t written the rules would be criminal, and you have a grim picture of rampant abuse of public money, with minimum accountability.

You also have an exceedingly grim picture of the powerful and privileged attacking the most vulnerable. There is as well the abhorrent spectacle of greedy politicians refusing to take responsibility for their own indulgence and wastage, and instead accusing those least able to defend themselves of fraudulent behaviour.

Prime Minister Turnbull has promised action on politicians “entitlements.” Perhaps if it is made more difficult for MPs to get their entire upper bodies into the trough and wallow, politics will in time become less attractive to those amongst us with the least integrity. One can only hope.

News just in: Get Up has set up a website “Fraudstop” that advises people affected by Centrelink’s false debt claims of their options. 

This article was originally published on No Place For Sheep.

 

I’m flying myself to the footy and I’m wearing Hugo Boss, so suck it up you sexist socialist serfs

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull on Friday made a desperate attempt to staunch the bleeding from wounds inflicted on his government by his own ministers thieving from the public purse for personal gain.

An independent parliamentary expenses authority will be a compliance, reporting and transparency body, he said, applying the tourniquet.

It will monitor and adjudicate all claims by MPs, senators and ministers, ensuring that taxpayers’ funds are spent appropriately and in compliance with the rules…

The sacrifice intended to appease the howling socialist, sexist pack of rabid dogs is former Health Minister Sussan Ley, whose cavorting between capital cities in a hired plane piloted by her own self, cost us thousands more than if she’d taken commercial flights along the same routes.

(By the way, the above link is to a quote from Bronwyn Bishop, late Speaker of the House, now quite settled into her spot in the Sky News Graveyard for Former Politicians, along with the likes of Ross Cameron and Mark Latham. Bishop, you might recall, was also finally brought undone by her penchant for helicopters as a means of transport, and feels Ms Ley’s pain.)

Fairfax intimated that Ley exploited her ministerial position to up her flying hours, and fulfil CASA requirements for commercial pilots.

When confronted with evidence that he’d attended the footy in 2013 at our expense, Minister for Trade Steve Ciobo brazenly declared that people expect Trade Ministers to show up at such events as part of their job description. Unfortunately for Mr Ciobo,  it was later revealed that at the time he wasn’t the Trade Minister at all, merely a lowly back bencher with aspirations. Proving, to my mind, the validity of deep and raucous public suspicions of the justifications trotted out by politicians for entertaining themselves at our expense.

Foreign Minister Julie Bishop impulsively cancelled a long-planned appearance at the Portsea Polo when it emerged that last year she attended, with her partner, at a cost of some $3000 to the taxpayer. No doubt she has Ms Ley to blame for ruining her Saturday. The Foreign Minister was to have been dressed for the occasion by couturier Hugo Boss. The story took a totally unexpected turn when  it was revealed with much mirth on Twitter that the Boss fashion house was also responsible for outfitting the SS in Nazi Germany.

It’s a terrible indictment of our 45th Parliament that ministers can’t be trusted to properly manage their expenses. These people are elected to take responsibility for our budget, our legislation, our daily lives, and our country’s future. Yet they cannot be trusted with public money. They are thieves. They ought to be referred to the AFP, investigated and if necessary, charged with fraud.

In Gough Whitlam’s day, politicians were forced to fly economy class as their contribution to reducing the deficit. To paraphrase the man, a pissant is still a pissant even if it flies first class. Or its own plane. Dressed in Hugo Boss. To the footy or a wedding or a book launch or, in the case of Kevin Andrews, a prayer meeting in the USA.

If these people want to live the capitalist dream they need to clear off out of politics and get jobs in the private sector. Politicians are not celebrities or high-flying CEOs. We are not their customers, their clients or their share-holders. We are their employers, and they are servants of the public. That’s neither sexist nor socialist. It’s democracy.

This article was originally published on No Place For Sheep.

 

Compare and contrast: Sussan Ley and Centrelink punters

Such is politics in these interesting times that it’s impossible when alerted to one scandal, to refrain from speculating if it has been confected to distract your attention from another.

So it is with Health Minister Sussan Ley’s current imbroglio which seems, at first blush, a nice little “look over here not there” moment arriving right on top of the Centrelink scandal.

In the former, federal Health Minister Ley appears to have spent an inordinate amount of taxpayer dollars travelling to the Gold Coast, including for two New Year’s Eve celebrations (what ministerial duties could she possibly be fulfilling on New Year’s Eve at the Gold Coast?) and, conveniently, at the time of the auction purchase by herself and her partner, a Gold Coast businessman, of an $800,ooo apartment close to his office.

Noice.

Here is an analysis by the ABC of Ms Ley’s spending.

Ley has agreed to in part pay back some of these taxpayer dollars, acknowledging her fraudulent misappropriation of the money was “an error of judgement.” Many of us think of these behaviours as criminal activities that ought to be investigated by the AFP, but it all swings on the narrative.

In stark contrast, the AFP has joined forces with Centrelink to distribute intimidating letters threatening punters with jail if they might possibly have at some time in the last six years fraudulently claimed welfare benefits. People are advised to pay back the amounts Centrelink determined they owed, prior to any evidence that they actually owed anything. Three debt collection agencies have been contracted by Centrelink to pursue debtors, whether the validity of their debt has been established or not. This is an action Australian Lawyers for Human Rights describe as an abuse of legal process.

It does make sense that calling in debt collectors to pursue an alleged debtor before the debt has even been validated might well be an abuse of legal process. Somehow this fact escaped the notice of the Centrelink overlords, or perhaps they simply don’t care. It’s the government’s intention to continue this extortion for the next four years, making a total of ten years illegally hunting down welfare recipients in order to raise $4.6 billion to fix the budget.

In any case, the contrast between the treatment of Centrelink punters and the treatment of Health Minister Sussan Ley could not be more stark. If it was hoped the Ley affair might distract from the Centrelink debacle, well, no. But I do understand that the LNP would think it might, as they are largely brain-dead.

And then yesterday the Australian’s star turn and renowned dog lover Chris Kenny hove into view, with a tweet on the Ley affair to the effect that “there’s a very experienced health minister waiting in the wings.” Ahahaha! the thlot pickens!

Of course that very experienced health minister must be Tony Abbott, and of course Ley was first outed by the Murdoch hacks.

And so, Turnbull is wedged. If he doesn’t demote Ley: trouble from the voters. If he demotes Ley and doesn’t replace her with Abbott, who has long been agitating for a return to the front bench, he’s in serious trouble with the far right-wing.  Ley is also one of Turnbull’s few allies, and he won’t want to lose her from his cabinet.

However this plays out, the contrast between the manner in which Sussan Ley is treated and the treatment of Centrelink punters could not be a more outstanding example of what the Turnbull government thinks of its citizens. Ley, who ought to be investigated for fraud, is permitted to apologise and pay back the money. Centrelink punters are threatened with jail and repayment of monies, whether they’ve committed fraud or not.

Some humans really are more equal than others.

This article was originally published on No Place For Sheep.

Update: Sussan Ley has since stood down as Health Minister pending travel expenses investigation.

 

How Turnbull plans to raise $4.6 billion from the unemployed

The Turnbull government plans to raise a windfall of $4.6 billion over the next four years, and this is how they intend to do it.

Centrelink is averaging annual earnings over every fortnightly reporting period. This means that you are determined by them to have earned income at the same time as you received unemployment benefits. Therefore, you must pay those benefits back.

First you receive a letter advising of discrepancies between ATO and Centrelink records. You are asked to provide pay slips etc, and declare your income for the year/s in question. When you declare income, your problems can begin in earnest. Declared income is averaged out, Centrelink claims you’ve earned in every fortnightly reporting period, a debt is raised against you, you are threatened with debt collectors and ultimately jail, if you don’t comply.

In fact, you may have been unemployed for six months during which time you were entitled to benefits, then in work for six months. The government intends for you to repay the benefits to which you were absolutely entitled, by averaging out the income you received for six months work as fortnightly income over the entire twelve months.

More and more people are revealing this is exactly what has happened to them. It is the government’s intention to continue this practice for the next four years in order to achieve its $4.6 billion goal.

It beggars belief that this is a systems error. If this is the case, those responsible for the design and implementation of the system are unbelievably, inconceivably incompetent. Centrelink’s Hank Jongen claims the methodology hasn’t changed, but no one has explained why, if nothing has changed, the system has begun averaging annual earnings over every reporting fortnight, and raising debts as a result.

At the same time, Centrelink and the AFP announced the implementation of “Taskforce Integrity” to pursue fraudulent claims. As well, the government declared on the Tuesday before the election that they’d discovered a brand new, unspecified way, to raise $4.6 billion.

The government is falsely accusing people of fraud, by falsely declaring legitimate welfare benefits to be illegitimate. They are threatening people with debt collectors and jail, if the legitimately claimed welfare benefits are not repaid. In other words, unemployment benefits have become repayable loans. I don’t recall that new legislation, or that amendment. Does anyone?

They are doing all this in partnership with the Australian Federal Police.

This is a situation out of a dystopian novel. Kafka comes to mind.

This is no systems error. This is deliberate policy. I hope there are lawyers out there all over this. Because we have to establish exactly who is obtaining financial advantage by deception. Increasingly, it sounds very much as if it is our government, by exploiting people at their most vulnerable.

If this mess is indeed an error and not deliberate policy, Centrelink and the relevant ministers have now been made thoroughly aware of it as such. So why do they continue to insist that nothing is amiss, and why do they not halt the distribution of letters until the error is fixed?

Of course, fixing the error may affect their $4.6 billion dollar goal.

Centrelink has now begun using its Twitter account to refer people to Lifeline if they are experiencing distress. Lifeline is a voluntary organisation given little or no support by the federal government. The government has also ripped millions from frontline services for domestic violence victims, community legal aid centres, and over a billion from aged services. You can bet that these outrageously underfunded services will be stretched to their limits by Turnbull’s latest attack on vulnerable citizens.

I cannot remember anytime in this country when a government department has referred citizens to an emergency service because they are experiencing suicidal levels of distress as a consequence of that government’s policies.

Does anyone?

This article was originally published on No Place For Sheep.

 

The LNP war on welfare recipients

Yesterday I watched, incredulous (I know, only a fool with no sense of the immediate past could continue to be startled by any action performed by this government) as Minister for Social Services Christian Porter claimed across the media that the Centrelink debt recovery process was working just fine, and the fact that a “few” citizens are being unfairly targeted was of no great consequence. If they’re upset, too bad, get over it, there’s nothing wrong with our process, was Porter’s basic message.

Here are some of the things that are wrong with the Centrelink process.

Porter seemed oblivious to the astounding news that the situation is of such concern A Current Affair, not renowned for warm feelings towards welfare recipients to whom they usually refer in stale Murdochian/conservative speak as dole bludgers, felt compelled to devote airtime to advising those on the receiving end of unpleasant notifications from Centrelink and the Australian Federal Police, apparently threatening jail terms for non compliance, how to cope.

Porter stated that one in five people who receive these letters do not owe a debt. However, the onus is on the recipient to prove to this to Centrelink. In what universe is a government department, assisted by the AFP, empowered to force citizens into the position of guilt until you prove innocence?

Here is how Centrelink is legally obliged to deal with investigating debts.

Quite how the AFP became co-opted as debt collectors for a government department I have yet to fathom. I believe it was a “joint task force” action, Centrelink having morphed from a public service into a “force” in the conservative war on welfare, and the AFP, well, ever since failed Prime Minister Tony Abbott took up lodging in their barracks nobody’s known where they’re at.

This is the first time the AFP logo has been used on Centrelink material. Obviously, the intention is to intimidate.

Image from humanservices.gov.au

Porter continued to stare defiantly into the cameras and insist that any problems were the fault of Centrelink “customers”, past and present, not the system. Nor were they inspired by the contempt, ingrained like decades of neglected playground grime, the government has for any welfare recipients, other than the Gina Rinehart demographic.

At one point Porter went so far as to blame Labor for the situation, on the grounds that in his opinion the ALP hadn’t done a satisfactory job chasing up false welfare claims when they were in government. This might be amusing, considering the LNP refusal to address the matter of corporate taxes, were it not so destructive to lives undeserving of government persecution.

Here is how you will only be protected by the Turnbull government if you’re a millionaire.

No part of this latest debacle bears even a remote resemblance to the practice of good governance. Yes, systems develop glitches, we  saw evidence of that very recently with the Census train wreck. In an alternative reality, Porter might have acknowledged the imperfections and failures of the system, and put threatening the populace on hold until the glitches were resolved, thus salvaging some good will and damping down the massive backlash.

He didn’t even have the nous to take that path.

The LNP is enslaved by ideology, to the extent that it will eat itself rather than look outside the narrow confines of its ideological box. Which is fine by me: get on with the cannibalism until you’re a midden of shining white bones, is my position.

Criminalising people is what this government excels at. Unfortunately, the very people deserving of criminalisation generally go free: far easier to target the already vulnerable. There’s nothing wrong with prosecuting people who make false welfare claims. However, as in so much else, this government has no sense of proportion in these matters and that, combined with its need to create scapegoats in a despicable effort to shore up its increasing unpopularity, has led to a savaging of Centrelink “customers” that has already dramatically backfired, as well it should.

This article was originally published on No Place For Sheep.

 

On politicians and the age of cruelty

Last night for bedtime reading I was flicking through the philosopher Seneca’s Letters from a Stoic.

Seneca was born in Roman Spain about the same time as Christ fetched up in a stable, and for balance, on the back of the book cover there’s this:

Seneca may well be history’s most notable example of a man who failed to live up to his principles.

Be that as it may, Letter XC in part considers the character or lack thereof of politicians. It’s striking that Seneca refers to a “Golden Age” in which politicians were chosen for their character, and in which government was in the hands of the wise:

They kept the peace, protected the weaker from the stronger, urged and dissuaded, pointed out what was advantageous and what was not. Their ability to look ahead ensured their peoples never went short of anything…To govern was to serve, not to rule. No one used to try out the extent of his power over those to whom he owed that power in the first place.

But with the gradual infiltration of the vices and the resultant transformation of kingships into tyrannies, the need arose for laws…

Reading this gives me some perspective on our current political plight: we are by no means in a unique political situation, though its manner of expression is peculiar to its context. Seneca didn’t have social media, for example from which platform heads of state threaten one another and life on earth with extinction. But the same moral dilemmas are in play. Abuse of power, tyranny, self-interest, contempt, greed, arrogance, stupidity, cruelty and all the vices. Was it ever thus? Is Seneca’s description of a Golden Age nothing more than a doomed attempt at wish fulfilment? It does read like a fairly tale, or a child’s dream of fairness and justice.

It’s difficult to choose, but if I had to single out one dominant characteristic of the Turnbull government, I think it would be cruelty. I was going to write intentional cruelty, then I realised that cruelty is by its very nature intentional, whether that intention is acknowledged or not. I think we have had governments of which this could not be said, and perhaps that was a relatively Golden Age.

Governments such as ours are not only cruel to individuals and groups, they are cruel to the earth in their exploitation of her resources, and their indifference to the catastrophic consequences of this exploitation.

Each new cruelty is justified by the government as an economic necessity, necessary, that is, for the furtherance of the interests of the already comfortable.

For the Turnbull government, power is cruelty. Its members have no other understanding of power, such as that favoured by Seneca and likely regarded by most of us as, after decades of desensitization, as a laughably unattainable ideal. Cruelty has largely become normalised. There are scattered groups who continue to hold out for kindness, but obviously not enough to ensure a government that performs according to those ideals.

I have no idea how we get out of this most ungolden age, this age of cruelty, but I do think the first step is calling it what it is, consistently and unflinchingly. The cruel rarely enjoy being named as such. As Malcolm Turnbull once complained, it hurts when mean things are said about them.

Cruelty isn’t strength, and it is born of weakness. The Turnbull government is synonymous with cruelty. Let’s not call it, or the politicians in it, anything less than weak and cruel.

This article was originally published on No Place For Sheep.

 

Turnbull jumps the shark

Millionaire Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull was asked, as he and his Kaminski-millinered wife Lucy served a few Xmas lunches to people doing it tough, about the death on Xmas eve of Faysal Ishak Ahmed, 26, a refugee held illegally on Manus Island by the Turnbull government.

Mr Ahmed had been ill for some time. According to his friend, Abdul Aziz Adam, he was repeatedly turned away from the IHMS clinic on Manus by nurses who accused him of “pretending” to be ill. After collapsing, Mr Ahmed was flown to the Royal Brisbane Hospital, where he subsequently died of his imaginary illnesses.

“The system is designed to kill us one by one,” Mr Adam said on learning of his friend’s death. This is an observation with which I entirely concur.

It is remarkable enough that the Turnbulls’ chose to exploit underprivileged citizens by using their Xmas day as a photo opportunity. It’s not as if the PM is particularly concerned about their fate, having slashed the very funding that holds at least the possibility of relief to homeless people, those whose lives are in chaos as a consequence of domestic violence, disabled people, pensioners, the unemployed and those of us unfortunate enough to struggle with illness. Actually, the only demographic the PM does look upon with tender concern is bankers, mine owners and the otherwise wealthy.

However, when the PM was asked at this occasion about the death of Mr Ahmed, an innocent man who had been declared by the UN to be a refugee, he defiantly replied that he stood by his government’s policy to protect our borders and stop deaths at sea.

Quite why refugees have to live miserable lives and die in their twenties in order to protect Australia’s borders remains a dark mystery to me.

Quite why it is entirely immoral to let people die at sea, but entirely moral to let them rot and die on land also remains one of life’s even darker mysteries.

The lie (let us not sugar-coat by using the term ‘post-truth’) the lie that asylum seekers and refugees who arrive here by boat have committed a crime, continues to be the foundation of and justification for successive Australian governments’ murderous policies. This lie is invoked at every turn to justify denial of medical treatment, detention in inhumane conditions, denial of human rights, and destruction of all hope. We do not do these things to convicted murderers and rapists. We strongly disapprove of those who do these things to animals, and when anyone is caught ill-treating animals there is an outcry, sometimes even by Liberals.

What Turnbull accomplished on Xmas day was a staggering performance of hypocrisy that I doubt he will be able to trump in the coming year. In one half hour, from the lofty heights of political position and personal wealth, Turnbull acted out a ghastly and perverted imitation of Christ’s publicly washing the feet of the poor as a lesson in humility to the arrogant.

Turnbull “humbly” served lunch to the very people he victimises. He then instructed the rest of us to “hug” them.

At the same time, he refused to acknowledge that his government’s policies have murdered yet another refugee, who came to us seeking sanctuary from murderers in his homeland.

I think Turnbull’s jumped the shark. Anything that follows can only be pale imitation and dull repetition.

This article was originally published on No Place For Sheep.

 

Politicians shame children for caring about others

You may have noticed yesterday’s minor furore over primary school children sending a petition to various politicians protesting the vileness, criminality and inhumanity of off-shore detention policies.

The children didn’t use those words of course, rather they asked that politicians show concern for children in off-shore detention and resettle them. They also sent drawings expressing their distress on behalf of detained children.

Opposition Leader Bill Shorten claimed that eight-year-olds should be writing to Santa not getting up petitions, and federal Education Minister Simon Birmingham expressed his wish that the teachers involved be hunted down and disciplined for aiding and abetting the children’s budding awareness of human rights. Children should not be “politicised,” it was bipartisanly agreed.

Off-shore detention policies are inescapably political: it is impossible to “politicise” what is inherently political. Shorten, Birmingham et al should be owning the shamefulness of their policies, rather than shaming children for objecting and protesting.

Of course politicians don’t want children knowing, let alone caring, about the crimes and misdemeanours they continue to commit against humanity in the interests of attaining and maintaining power. However, in my experience children are far more aware of the world than most of us give them credit for. They need tools with which to deal with the deceits and duplicities of politicians, and politicians have only themselves to blame for this parlous situation.

What is most wickedly deceptive and destructive is the conflation of concern for the welfare of others with so-called  “politicisation.” We’ve had decades of contempt for “lefty bleeding hearts.” We have now reached a stage at which anyone expressing concern over the state (and compliant media) treatment of refugees, asylum seekers, Indigenous Australians, those struggling with poverty, mental health, disability and the myriad other challenges people face in a country in which increasingly the only concerns that matter are those of the alpha white male and his consort, is immediately accused of the manufactured offence of “politicisation.” Or my particular favourite, Political Correctness Gone Mad (PCGM).

Do we really want to grow children who believe that caring about the fate of others is something to be ashamed of?

The abysmal legal and moral failure by both major parties to fulfil their responsibilities to asylum seekers and refugees under both international and domestic law is the core problem, not children or anyone else protesting this failure.

If you want your children, grandchildren, nieces, nephews, children you know and or teach to become aware of the human rights of others, I recommend this rather lovely book, titled 2030 Not a Fairytale. In 2015 world leaders adopted the UN 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, setting seventeen Global Goals to be attained by 2030. These goals are simply explained to young children, and are an excellent introduction to caring about the world they’ll inherit and the people in it.

I know I’m being dangerously subversive, suggesting the politicisation of children. Shoot me.

As for whether or not the 2030 goals will be attained, and the usefulness or otherwise of world leaders at the UN setting them, that’s another story we have to tell children at another time. First, let’s brainwash them into caring.

This article was originally published on No Place For Sheep.

 

Tits up Turnbull

Ever deft, the happiest Prime Minister continues to nimble his way through the minefields and wastelands of unimagined incompetencies, singular and collective, performed for an increasingly incredulous electorate, 24/7.

Always with a jolly hah hah hah at the ready, one vowel the only remaining distinguisher between him and his nemesis, failed Prime Minister Tony (heh heh heh) Abbott, who continues to loom from the back benches like an aggrieved shade deprived of proper burial rites, intent on tormenting the living until it is accorded what it considers its due. In this instance, a seat in Chuckles’ cabinet.

There may well have been a more ridiculous public figure than Malcolm Turnbull in our country’s history, but I just can’t think who at the moment. We’re spoiled for choice in the stupidity stakes, but what sets Malcolm apart from your Bernardis and your Christensens, your Duttons and your Morrisons et al, is that they are being themselves, however bizarre that self might seem, while their leader has abandoned all hope of ever being himself and is instead scrambling to imitate the very people he’s supposed to be leading because if he doesn’t they’ll kick him out.

It’s unseemly. The PM lacks all decorum. 

Just yesterday the sycophantic cockwomble ruled out any possibility of an emissions trading scheme, in the full knowledge that this decision will cost households and businesses some $15 billion over the next decade. He did this because harbinger of doom Senator Cory (bestiality will be next) Bernardi cawed like a coal-black crow that the proposed scheme was the dumbest thing he’d ever heard. Which prompted me to observe that the Senator has obviously never listened to himself if he thinks the dumbest thing he’s ever heard was articulated by somebody else.

Flailing around for distraction from yet another capitulation to the far right-wing loons, Turnbull took to attacking school teachers, some of whom will next week protest successive governments’ vile refugee policies by wearing t-shirts with relevant slogans in the classroom. In a leap that would test the credulity of even the most ill-informed, Chuckles went on to claim that such action might well exacerbate our disastrous global results in maths, science and reading, as revealed yesterday.

It is inappropriate for teachers to take political action, and they should behave with more decorum, he thundered, in yet another burst of confected outrage that puts just about every chronically outraged Twitterer to shame. Watch and learn, tweeps. Watch and learn.

It is the conservative way, to be far more outraged by the naming of crimes and criminals than by the crimes themselves. It isn’t inappropriate to torture refugees, it is highly inappropriate to protest about it. Teachers are guilty of politicising torture which is actually quite apolitical, you didn’t know that did you?

Wife Lucy winds Chuckles up with a key in his back every morning to get him going, then the loons give him his instructions for the day. He only has to remember to laugh as he goes slowly tits up, like a performing seal stranded on the side of the zoo pool.

Honk.

seal_performing_tricks

This article was originally published on No Place For Sheep.

 

‘My tiny hands are bleeding’: Vanstone on protest

In yet another piece of bellicose dross on the thoughtlessness of protesters, former Howard immigration minister turned ABC broadcaster and Fairfax columnist (via ambassador to Rome) Amanda Vanstone, yesterday unleashed her inner curmudgeon in this indignant rant titled “The ‘look at me’ narcissistic politics of the left.”

On reflection, her curmudgeon aspect is not that inner, but let’s not digress into personalities.

Briefly, Vanstone suffered trauma when as a young woman, indentured to the Myer group, she was forced to walk the streets of Melbourne bearing a load of something or other tied up with string that cut into her hands so badly she was obliged to make occasional stops in order to lay down her burden on the pavements and give her tiny hands a break.

One day, she was prevented from enjoying even this small relief by a crowd of “well-fed” protesters, upset about Australia’s involvement in the US war on Vietnam in general, and in particular, the napalming of Vietnamese children.

The utter selfishness of them, whines Amanda, in anarchically denying her respite from pain, and quite possibly preventing other people from going to the doctor or shopping in Myers. Yes, there’s no question. Napalm Vietnam to kingdom come, but what is really wrong here is that some Australians are inconvenienced.

This has been the aggrieved tone of almost every comment I’ve read and heard since some WACA activists glued themselves to the gallery in the House of Representatives last week in protest against our torture of and other criminal actions against those who legally sought asylum in our country.

Of course, those asylum seekers, now refugees, also inconvenienced Australians didn’t they, in the manner of their arrival and then sewing up their lips and dying and suffering the worst mental health outcomes per capita of any group in the western world. Now we have to bear global chastisement, and we still haven’t managed to get rid of them to a third country.

We speak often on the topic of American exceptionalism, but rarely do we mention Australian exceptionalism. It’s time to start.

Australian exceptionalism believes we ought not to be put upon by any of the world’s estimated 60 million refugees fleeing conflict and violence, for our sovereignty is of far more consequence than any human life, even those lives we have ourselves contributed towards endangering.  This is the meta level of Australian exceptionalism.

Australians who don’t care about refugees must not, under any circumstances, be inconvenienced by those who do and take to the street or parliament house to express their concerns at the actions of our recalcitrant governments.

This actually applies to public protest in general: there is a class amongst us who abhor protest, it makes their tummies tingle and all they want is to make it stop because they can’t stand a discomfort worse even than having parcel string leave weals on your palms.

This class puts their comfort ahead of every other human concern, and so we have Vanstone and her ilk believing they are deserving of greater consideration than napalmed Vietnamese children and tortured refugees.

It isn’t “lefty” concern and protest that’s the problem here. It’s entitlement, and an unfounded belief in exceptionalism, both national and individual, that is corroding public discourse and daily life. Nobody is entitled to a life free of all obstacles, be they large or small.

Being delayed or otherwise temporarily inconvenienced by protesters who are legitimately expressing their freedom to speak  on behalf of those who are silenced is a very small obstacle and for mine, those who cannot tolerate even this much without complaint are psychologically and emotionally dysfunctional, and they urgently need to get themselves seen to.

This article was originally published on No Place For Sheep.

 

How to “dissolve the fog of lies”. Try truth?

There’s a piece by ABC journalist Julia Baird in The Age yesterday lamenting the demise of “objective facts” in public discourse.

While politicians, lobbyists and supporters initiate fact-less commentary, the media is largely responsible for propagating a narrative based unquestioningly on emotion and personal belief, rather than fact.

Baird cites the ABC’s managing director Michelle Guthrie as an aficionada of “true diversity.” Diversity in newsrooms is one method of dispersing the fog of lies, Baird argues, on the grounds that most are staffed by middle class white men and a few middle class white women. There is apparently a correlation between middle class white men and women, and fact-less reporting.

It seems to me that one must be middle class in order to score a gig in mainstream media: perhaps it is the class, rather than the colour that is the dominant factor here. Perhaps we need to get rid of the middle class if we want to disperse the fog of lies.

This would be an interesting piece of research.

While I heartily agree with the need for diverse voices, calling up Guthrie as a proponent of objective fact and diversity is astounding, given that one of her first acts was to terminate the ABC’s fact checking unit, closely followed by the axing of the world-renowned Catalyst science program, resulting in the loss of a rare team of scientists talented enough to master the delicate art of conveying complex information in a half hour segment. Science broadcaster Robin Williams described this carnage as “morally and spiritually bankrupt.”

Baird concludes that: There is no simple solution for how to dissolve the fog of lies and fake news that has blurred our political landscape.

Well, actually, it’s not that difficult.  Try telling the truth. Try prefacing reports such as the ludicrous segment on Pauline Hanson’s big day out on the Great Barrier Reef with a caution that “what follows has no factual content.” This simple statement shouldn’t get anyone into trouble. It’s the truth.

The fog of lies and fake news that has blurred our political landscape hasn’t done it all by itself. Note the passive voice. Media hasn’t had a hand in this. The fog has done all the blurring. Damn that low-lying fog. Let’s make people of colour responsible for lifting it.

Baird and the rest of the media can angst about this post fact reality all they like, but it’s a circle jerk. The answer is in their hands, so to speak. In the US, trust in media is at its lowest since 1972, and I’m betting there’s a similar lack of trust in Australia. The longest journey begins with the first step. Try truth. We might eventually get to like you again.

This article was originally published on No Place For Sheep.

Dear politicians, Parliament is not your safe place

The reaction of the political class and some journalists to the protest in parliament house on Tuesday is an example of the kind of arrogance and entitlement that has alienated many in the US from their major political parties, and voting patterns would indicate a similar disaffection is well under way here.

Deputy Opposition Leader Tanya Plibersek advised citizens that if we wish to engage in the democratic process, we need to get ourselves elected. This remark seems to indicate that the democratic process belongs to politicians: citizens, once we’ve elected them, are excluded.

On reflection, this is pretty much what democracy has become in Australia. We elect a government based on many factors, among them promises made by candidates. Government then disregards the very undertakings that enabled their ascendance, and voters are thus excised from the “democratic” process. Plibersek isn’t that far off the mark. Citizens participate only insofar as we vote. After that, we do as we’re told.

Protesters are invariable described in pejorative terms, as if protest in itself is regarded as contemptible by politicians. One Nation’s Pauline Hanson, for example, claimed that she and her staff could “smell the protesters, they hadn’t even bothered to shower.” This is in keeping with the long association of legal protest with “the great unwashed.” During an Occupy Melbourne demonstration, former Human Rights Commissioner for Freedom turned Liberal politician Tim Wilson, tweeted that peaceful protesters should have the water cannons turned on them. Insults such as grubs, vermin, losers are hurled at peaceful protesters: a metaphorical association with “dirtiness” the political class assumes it is entitled to protection from.

The arrogance of the political class, their belief that they are superior to the citizens who elect them and pay their wages, nowhere reveals itself as starkly as in their attitudes to legal protest.When protest occurs in the House at Question Time they are confronted on their own turf, turf they believe to be sacred and protected from the citizens who put them there, citizens who are now irrelevant until the next election.

Opposition Leader Bill Shorten claimed Tuesday’s protest was “the exact opposite of democracy.” Really? I thought protest was democracy in action, and  protest in the House of the people the fulfilment of democracy’s promise.

Journalist Malcolm Farr also stated on Twitter that if we want to speak in parliament we should get elected. Or perhaps we should all become journalists with press gallery credentials.

The “us and them” narrative has shown itself in all its ugliness, in these reactions. Perhaps parliament ought to be sacred ground, perhaps the HoR ought to be regarded with the reverence ideally due to democracy’s engine. But a House and a parliament is only as good as the people in it, and it’s been a long, long time since we’ve had good people driving our democracy train.

The only power we have, in between elections, is the power of peaceful protest. Take it right up to them. Protest in the House politicians have so thoroughly defiled.

Peaceful protest is not terrorism, nor is it the threat of terrorism, though they will attempt to frame it as such in an effort to suppress. Politicians want to be protected from the sight and sound of dissent. They want Parliament House to be their safe space. It isn’t. It belongs to everyone. This is still a democracy, Ms Plibersek, Mr Shorten. Shame on you.

This article was originally published on No Place For Sheep.

 

Elites, the ABC, and hyena vomit

It was with some disbelief that I watched ABC TV coverage of One Nation leader Pauline Hanson’s quick trip to the Great Barrier Reef last week.

Accompanied by that renowned and reasoning mind, Malcolm Roberts, Hanson’s trip was designed to *prove* that claims of coral bleaching are highly exaggerated, stupid. Look: it’s perfectly fine.

The two senators’ (yes, they are senators in our government and we laugh at the US for Trump) claims are based on Hanson ripping out a few stems of healthy coral and waving them triumphantly at the slavering cameras. That she was diving some thousand kilometres north of where the most serious bleaching occurs hardly seemed to matter.

However, the point of this post is not to argue against gross stupidity, always a thankless task. Gross stupidity should be ignored, in my opinion, as it will not respond to anything that does not wholly support its position. You cannot change grossly stupid people. You may well interpret this as an elitist comment, and I don’t fucking care. By my definition intelligence requires a capacity to listen, weigh evidence, and if necessary be capable of change. It is enabled and enhanced by education, but has nothing at all to do with higher degrees. One of the most grossly stupid people I’ve ever met sailed through university at the age of sixteen.

In our current zeitgeist anyone possessed of a modicum of smarts is verbally abused, even by our millionaire Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull (see, money doesn’t make you elite either, apparently) as being elite. Unless of course you’re a sportsperson, when being elite is a good thing. For the rest of us, the PM, following Donald Trump, has redefined the meaning of *elite* to describe anyone who doesn’t agree with him.

Be that as it may, what I want to know is, what were the ABC’s motives in giving this pathetic piece of theatrical trash a whole swag of time on the 7.30 Report? Reason tells me the show is watched largely by *elites* who will become enraged and complain, turn off the telly, bang their heads on the coffee table in frustrated despair before turning off the telly, or, if they have a gun, shoot out their screens which would have been my preferred method of dealing with yet another inundation of grossly stupid, unchallenged, bereft of facts and reason hyena vomit. Except I don’t have a gun.

I think I have a partial answer to my own question. The master plan is to make the ABC intolerable for anyone who does not agree with the government and other lunatics. Then it will be entirely co-opted as an arm of government propaganda, which it very nearly is. I am convinced of this after the recent removal of absolutely ace broadcaster Jonathan Green from Sunday mornings, along with the most original voice in media, First Dog on the Moon. To be replaced by the utterly colourless, utterly boring, utterly talentless but CONSERVATIVE, Tom Switzer.

How is it that conservatives, neo liberals and fascists are so astoundingly humourless and bereft of creativity? Rhetorical question.

Obviously, what is required here is a moneyed elite or elites who are prepared to fund alternative media that will contest the mind destroying drivel now served up nightly by the ABC. A home for the talent the LNP government is, like all good fascists, doing its best to silence. I do not believe in gods, but I am praying for this outcome.

In the meantime, we should all unceasingly point out to whoever will listen that fact-less hyena vomit is not *balance*, or anything like *balance*. It is fact-less hyena vomit. It is making this country exceedingly dumb. And there is nothing fascists like more than a dumbed down population over whom they have absolute control.

By the way, here’s the latest on the coral bleaching. Not from hyenas.

This article was originally published on No Place For Sheep.

 

You want it darker? We kill the flame.

Stephen Bannon, chairman of the fascist platform Breitbart News, has been appointed chief strategist in President-Elect Donald Trump’s new administration.

In apparent response to fears that a darkness has fallen on the US since Trump’s election, Bannon countered: “Darkness is good. Dick Cheney. Darth Vader. Satan. That’s power.”

The binaries dark and light, good and evil, have long dominated western political discourse. George W.Bush and his axis of evil; Tony Blair and his messianic conviction that the invasion of Iraq and the destruction of Saddam Hussein was a just and holy intervention: the bright light of democracy beamed into the abyss of despotic darkness by the forces of good.

There’s no nuance in the narrative, no shades of grey, and the lack of hue hasn’t changed with the ascension of Trump, it has merely been reversed. Trump doesn’t pretend the light and the good are superior ideals to which we should aspire. Darkness is good. Evil is power. There’s no longer any need to mask the dark with false light, as did Blair, Bush and sycophant John Howard. Trump has dragged us from those layered duplicities into his unmitigated and unmediated darkness. A million candles burning for the help that never came. You want it darker? We kill the flame.

I’m quoting from Leonard Cohen’s final album, released just weeks before he died. As with all great work, it’s both intensely personal and universal. I’ve been listening to it for days, not just because he’s dead and I mourn his loss, but because the album seems to speak with uncanny prescience of our current transition into a Trumpian world.

At first blush the work is about Cohen’s approaching death, but it is also about the dying of our irresponsible innocence, our smug carelessness, our neglect, our wilful blindness to how the Blairs, the Bushes and the Howards led us inevitably to Trump and Bannon, leaders of the killers of the flame, leaders of those who want it darker.

Trump’s vision for the US (and necessarily the world) Fox News, 2014

You know what solves it? When the economy crashes, when the country goes to total hell and everything is a disaster. Then you’ll have a [chuckles], you know, you’ll have riots to go back to where we used to be when we were great.

Bannon, 2016 interview with the Daily Beast:

I’m a Leninist, Bannon proudly proclaimed.

Shocked, I asked him what he meant.

Lenin, he answered, wanted to destroy the state, and that’s my goal too. I want to bring everything crashing down, and destroy all of today’s establishment.

Meanwhile, at home, the Federation of Ethnic Communities’ Councils of Australia found it necessary to release a press statement expressing concern over inflammatory remarks made by Immigration Minister Peter Dutton on the subject of various “cohorts” and “nationalities” welcomed to Australia by former PM Malcolm Fraser. These refugees, Dutton asserts, may well be responsible for producing “terrorist” children and grandchildren. Fraser should have been more careful, Dutton (no doubt emboldened by Trump’s success) claims.

And to top off an increasingly dark fortnight, the UN Human Rights Council has appointed the Saudi ambassador to oversee women’s rights world-wide. The Ambassador will have the right to vote on, participate in and influence the following:

Elimination of discrimination against women
Equal participation [of women] in political and public affairs
Working Group on the issue of discrimination against women in law and in practice
Special Rapporteur on violence against women, its causes and consequences
Accelerating efforts to eliminate all forms of violence against women
The right to a nationality: women’s equal nationality rights in law and in practice
Addressing the impact of multiple and intersecting forms of discrimination and violence in the context of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance on the full enjoyment of all human rights by women and girls
Annual full day debate on women’s rights
Annual half-day panel on the integration of a gender perspective

Saudi Arabia has among the worst, if not the worst, record on women’s rights in the world.

What I’m seeing in our new picture is even less nuance than we had before, which wasn’t all that much, we could have done with a bit more. Like an individual who decides to thoroughly trash his or her life as a means of effecting change, so Trump and Bannon see disaster and destruction on what could well be a global scale, as a legitimate method to correct perceived wrongs. We’re post fact, post truth, and post nuance.

You want it darker?

This article was originally published on No Place For Sheep.