Want to end terrorism? Then stop Western Imperialism.

By Christian Marx Sadly once again, yet another suicide bomber has acted his…

The far-right agenda of the Turnbull government strikes…

By Loz Lawrey The Australian well of public debate has been truly poisoned…

Day to Day Politics: Will someone please fix…

Thursday 25 May 2017 Those of you who follow my daily political mutterings…

Your Say: the 1967 Referendum

From Gary Pead It should be remembered in Referendum Week ​that in 1967…

Day to Day Politics: After-Budget Hangover.

Wednesday 24 May 2017 I’m having one of those days where I’m going…

At least I never said "Adani"...

Someone asked me how my wife feels about having our conversations repeated…

Day to Day Politics: Three cases of…

Tuesday 22 May 2017 1 I have for some time now been calling…

“Baa, baa, black sheep …”

By freef'all852 (Warning: This article contains words and language that may offend the…

«
»
Facebook

Victoria has a passion for progressive policies and a professional interest in marketing and communications. Victoria writes about politics and the media and how the media covers politics (#mediafail). You will find her tweeting at @Vic_Rollison, researching political communications at the University of South Australia and ranting about the Tony Abbott wrecking ball. Look out for her Open Letters and hope you never receive one.

Labor is good for the economy, stupid.

Fair. As soon as Turnbull started peppering every statement about his 2017 Budget with the word fair, it was obvious he was responding to focus group results which said the main problem with the previous three Liberal budgets were that they were not fair. And, like an ideology that has sprung a leak, the Liberals were suddenly framed as ‘Labor-lite’, as if saying ‘we are fair’ and actually being fair were exactly the same thing. They aren’t.

I argue that the fact that the word ‘fair’ conjures a Labor frame is a bad thing for Labor and for this reason, Labor should stop using it. There are two reasons the word ‘fair’ needs to go. The first is that ‘fair’ means a completely different thing to each individual. Its subjectivity makes it a nice idea in theory, but a hopeless adjective in practice. The other reason is that the idea that a vote for Labor is a vote for fairness is actually working against Labor’s broader popularity by giving them a wishy-washy ‘vote for Labor because you’re a nice person’ vibe, when really, a vote for Labor is not just in the interests of being nice; it’s a good idea for self-interest too. Let me explain.

Back to the first reason; fair means different things to different people. We are taught as small children that to be ‘fair’, you must, usually begrudgingly, give up something you would have had otherwise. If you tell a four year old to ‘be fair and share that piece of cake with your sister’, the four year old automatically understands they’re giving something up in order to ‘do the right thing’ and ‘share’. The viewpoint that the four year old has on this situation (whether it be a resentment towards his sister eating her half of his cake, or a happy feeling inside that he gets to see his sister enjoy the cake he is also enjoying) is relative, dependent on circumstances, individual, cultural, value based, influenced by personality, ideological and all the messy things that are hard to measure about a person. Times this messiness by 22 million in the Australian electorate and then see why ‘fair’ is a stupid word because we all see ‘fair’ from a different angle.

I’m fairly sure that Turnbull, and most people rusted onto the Liberal Party, think any form of taxation is unfair. You hear them often talk about how much work the poor little souls have to do ‘for the tax man’. So, where you might see it as fair that a portion of a Liberal voter’s usually very substantial paycheque is sequestered each month in order to pay for government services which that voter may or may not benefit from directly themselves, the same person sees the same taxation contribution as theft – taking something they’ve earned from them and giving to someone undeserving. A ‘bludger’ who should be drug-tested at the Centrelink office, no less.

The whole idea of what is ‘fair’ is so complex, so misunderstood, so subjective, that any politician using the word who thinks they’re transferring a perfect meaning to everyone who hears it, is mad. I’m sure if you asked someone if they agree that ‘the budget should be fair’, they would, in the vast majority agree. But then when it comes to the nitty gritty of individual budget measures, that’s when their individual perspectives view the policy less so by the motherhood idea of what is fair, and more so by the human measure of ‘what’s in it for me’. Ask someone who is currently negatively gearing a property, or plans to in the future, if they think it’s a fair policy. Now ask someone who can’t afford to buy their own home. And this is just one obvious example. In summary, fair is great in theory, not so useful in practice.

The second reason is an even more compelling argument for Labor to give up using the word fair. As reported by Peter Lewis, no matter what Turnbull says in theory about his budget, or even what people think of the individual measures, there is an ongoing belief held by Australian voters that the Liberals represent the interests of the well off and businesses, and that Labor represents those less well off, including social, health, education and environmental policies.

Now, I’m in no way saying this is a bad thing for Labor, and obviously it’s why they do reinforce this frame constantly by reminding people that they’re for ‘fairness’ – such as not giving away $65 billion in a un-needed gift to big business when there are plenty of deserving people and projects in the community who need this government funding more. BUT, and that ‘but’ is in capitals for a reason: if Labor are going to appeal to a wider range of voters than those who already vote Labor, they need to, well, obviously, broaden their appeal.

If I were to simplistically generalise, I could venn-diagram categorise two groups of Labor voters: those whose self-interest align with Labor policies (because they are less well off, unemployed, young and needing education, sick etc) and/or are bleeding-hearts who were brought up to get a warm and fuzzy feeling from watching their sister eat half their cake and genuinely think it is government’s role to help those in need, and therefore Labor policies are the right thing to do, if you’re a good person who wants to see the world as a better place.

If Labor could just rely on these two groups to win elections, Labor would never have lost an election. In fact, if Labor are to broaden their appeal, it doesn’t do Labor any favours to frame their policies, particularly economic policies as ‘taking from the rich to give to the poor’. It doesn’t do any favours for Labor to frame themselves as ‘against the interests of business, and for the interests of the poor’ as there are lots of poor people who can’t see how being against business is good for their job prospects.

The truth is, Labor’s economic policies are good for the economy. As Wayne Swan points out, Hawke and Keating’s Laborism has been responsible for ‘26 years of uninterrupted economic growth’. The whole idea of Labor’s inclusive growth economic ideology (if you don’t know what I mean by this, read about it here), is that when more people are better off, we’re all better off. That is, when you share your cake with your sister, it’s not just because you’re a nice person, it’s because next time there is cake being shared around, you’re personally more likely to get a bigger slice from being smart about it last time. By sharing cake, there is more cake. You really can have your cake and eat it too. Ok. I’ll stop.

The point is, we all know that neoliberalism is dead, that trickle-down doesn’t work, that a tax cut doesn’t create jobs and that cutting wages is economic suicide. But, for some reason, the Liberals get away with doing all these things, whilst still holding onto the mantle of being ‘better economic managers than Labor’ – a paradox it is time Labor forcefully challenged. A big step in this direction will be resisting the argument that supporting ‘fairness’ is just about being a good person, and instead arguing that you should be a good person AND do the right thing for yourself at the same time. If Labor gets this message through, they can’t lose.

A Different Strike Story

Since I’m currently researching trade union narratives, you can imagine my ears pricked up when I heard the news today that Fairfax journalists were again going on strike. This time the strike is for a week, in protest against more staff cuts, and will likely mean it is pens down for reporting the 2017 budget. So, no small fry industrial action.

Apart from being sympathetic to any group of people who are having such a shit time at work that they have to stop work in order to show their bosses how unhappy they are, I was interested to know how journalists framed this strike, in comparison to how they frame strikes in industries other than their own.

In fact, I happen to know quite a bit about how industrial action is reported in the news, since it’s the topic of my research. As I read stories reporting the Fairfax strike, I instantly noticed a character missing from the journalist reports of their professional colleagues picketing the news desks.

Before I get to this mysterious exclusion, let me take a step back in my story. For those who haven’t been following my research, I’m interested in the use of metaphorical characters in narratives, used to frame the victims, villains and heroes into a cohesive plot. I contend that these characters are used in political narratives, in communication by political groups, and by the media, to report political news.

Although my research is in its early stages, it’s already clear that when reporting industrial strike action, the characterisation by journalists is fairly consistent. This Fairfax SMH article reporting strikes by airport workers is a representative case.

The characters in the airport strike story include:

The victims: ‘International travellers are being warned of major delays next week when hundreds of immigration and border protection workers walk off the job’.

The villains: ‘The industrial strife will be the latest escalation of a bitter workplace feud between Australia’s public sector union and the federal government’. A word of note here: the conflict frame is always used to report industrial action: conflict between the employer and the union. In this case, the federal government is the employer, and they are ‘feuding’ over an enterprise agreement. In fact, the best a union seems to be able to hope for in the conflict frame is that they are seen as just as villainous as the employer, as often (and usually in News Ltd newspapers, if you can believe it!), it’s the union that is the villain, getting in the way of the heroic employer who just wants to get on with their coveted role of creating piles of money.

The heroes: [This space is intentionally blank]. In a nutshell, there are no heroes in this frame. No one wins from this action, apparently. Industrial action is just bad, wrong and shouldn’t happen, because the public will be inconvenienced by strikes, whether the strikes be in a hospital, on public transport, at a construction site, or, at a newspa… Oops.

The spokespeople represented in this story include the union boss, CPSU national secretary Nadine Flood. She is quoted as trying to appease the victims, the public, by ensuring that national security would not be risked as there were exemptions in some areas of the strike.

On the government’s side, the spokesperson is Employment Minister Michaelia Cash, who is quoted as saying: ‘it was unfortunate that the CPSU has resorted to disruptive strike action “yet again”. “This will cause harm to the public and involve a needless loss of pay for employees”.

This type of frame, by the way, from Liberals, is typical. Notice how the ‘disruptive strike’ is the union’s fault, and that not only are the public going to suffer, but also the poor employees who lose pay by going on strike.

Think about that for a moment. By turning the workers into victims as well, Cash is making workers the victim of union industrial action. It’s actually incredibly clever framing, which the Liberal Party, as far as I can tell from my research, has been using since before there was a Liberal Party. And guess what? The journalists, even those who are fairly balanced in the way they report, in that they don’t commentate, or editorialise, or obviously make any judgment, even the good ones fall for the old conflict frame of union versus employer, with the victims being those inconvenienced by the strike.

There is a pretty key player missing from the strike story here. Have you picked it yet? Yes – it’s the worker. The voiceless, powerless worker. The article mentions that the strikes have occurred, facilitated by the union, because the airport workers have been waiting three years for an enterprise agreement to be negotiated. Did the journalist ask any of the workers what ramifications it has had on their lives that they haven’t had an enterprise agreement for three years? Nope. No worker was quoted. I’ve written before about the need for union bosses to step out from in front of the camera, and to let workers speak for themselves. Please don’t think this is any criticism of the union in wanting to do their job in speaking for workers; it’s more of an acknowledgement of how successfully the media has managed to frame unions as villainous for so long that now, they’re framed as part of the problem instead of representing the decisions of workers. So, instead of speaking for workers, the union should help workers speak for themselves. This way, when you hear about an industrial strike on the television, you would get a sound bite from the worker who is, without fail, the victim of the situation. Because guess what – they wouldn’t strike unless something really bad was happening to them at work. Guaranteed. Don’t you want to know their side of the story?

So, back to the Fairfax strike. I promised to explain which character was missing from the reports of the Fairfax strike. Have you guessed it yet? Yep. This time the union is missing. Although not completely invisible (for instance, this article quotes The Media, Entertainment and Arts Alliance chief executive), the key difference with the union role in this strike story is that it is not responsible for the strike action. The journalists are. (Ironically, the union will be the ones possibly fined by the Fair Work Ombudsman, but that’s another whole story).

So, how are the journalists framed in the story? Are they villains for disrupting newspaper consumers? Nope. Are they framed as villains for disrupting the profit-making venture they work for and for hurting the company’s capacity to keep other staff employed, thereby threatening more job losses? Nope. They are framed as the victims. The victims of the job cuts. The victims of terrible business decisions. The victims of a workplace dispute which has led them, unhappily, to have to strike to have their (incidentally, already very powerful) voices heard. And better than that – they are also framed as the heroes, for standing up for their rights, for not letting the company get away with doing something wrong, for, yes, you guessed it, showing the brave, respected characteristic of solidarity.

For the record, I do feel sorry for the Fairfax workers. No worker should have to go through what they’re faced with. I just hope that this experience might make them look a little differently at industrial disputes they report in the future, and wonder if it might be worth including the perspective of the worker, who, without fail, is the victim in an industrial dispute. Then, we might hear a different strike story. And, we might, as a community, have a different view of unions.

Enough is enough, Malcolm

Dear Malcolm,

It’s been a while since I’ve written an Open Letter. Please don’t think this is due to any apathy on my part; it’s more to do with being too busy to write to you every time your behaviour warranted correspondence. In a way, it’s a sly strategy on your part; move onto the next scandal, the next mistake, the next example of gross incompetence, before we all have a chance to respond fully to the last. But today Malcolm, today I finally felt compelled to pause and type. It’s not that I think you’ve hit rock bottom – I’m too much of a realist to expect you won’t get any worse. No, it’s more that this blog has become a historical account of the political landscape, and I feel your most recent actions need to be properly condemned on the public record in a way that the mainstream media, for the most part, won’t dare to do.

Let’s get something straight right up front. You are the Prime Minister. I’m only reminding you of this because there’s no evidence of you being aware of what this means. Never before has Australia had a Prime Minister who is so scared of his own cabinet as Prime Minister Turnbull. Never before has a Prime Minister been so cowed by his backbench, so neglectful in his command of leadership to put his foot down and say ‘I’m in charge here’. Never before have we seen the games of internal division, backstabbing, sniping, placating and hiding away so destructive to the national interest.

What’s that? I hear you mumble something about Kevin Rudd and Julia Gillard. Not that you will ever acknowledge the fact, but really, the way Prime Minister Gillard managed to run a productive, reforming, legislatively impressive government with a one-seat majority in a minority government and an undermining rat-Rudd to contend with has just makes you look worse in comparison, not better. So I would leave her out of this if I were you.

People do say that it is the largest struggles in life which are the making of a person; that someone’s true character comes to the fore when they’re challenged. Gillard’s character stepped forward like a Daenerys Stormborn-warrior; brave, unflappable and more determined than ever to win an argument. You, on the other hand, or should I say, other planet, have shown that when nudged, you go to water.

I must say, it’s not that surprising that you’re so hopelessly equipped to stand up to your colleagues, to do the right thing for the sake of doing the right thing, to put the public interest ahead of your personal strategizing. If there’s one thing I’ve learned about the very rich is that they are deeply disappointed when life is hard. Innate wealth and privilege is meant to insulate people like you from challenges. But when those challenges just keep getting harder and less easy to buy your way out of, well, it’s no wonder you just want to shirk away into the mansion and cry into your cash. That’s the only explanation I can reasonably come up with to explain how badly you are managing the job of Prime Minister, Malcolm. It’s kind of me to give you such an easy excuse, isn’t it?

To be fair to you, of course I will never agree with your ideological positions; your corporate tax cuts, your bashing of unions and in turn the working people they represent, the cuts to pensions and attacks on health, welfare and education. We have different political values. Everything you stand for, I stand against. So, I can’t say I’m disappointed that you’ve done all this stuff I disagree with, because I expected you, given the chance, to do all those things. But what it is fair enough for me, and everyone else in Australia who either voted for you or didn’t, to feel deeply disappointed in is your total lack of morals. Your total lack of character. And your cowardice, your selfishness, and your cruelty this lack of moral character promotes.

Let’s look at your morals. Not once in your time as Prime Minister, not once, have I found myself saying ‘well I disagree with him on most things, but I respect the decision he’s made this time’. Not on climate change policy – how do you sleep at night? Not on hate speech and embracing anti-immigration dog-whistling – you’re an absolute disgrace in everything you do to court Hanson voters.

This week you’ve made the call, through saying nothing at all, by hiding away, by pretending you don’t need to comment, to support your Immigration Minister Dutton’s blatant lies, designed to demonise asylum seekers by accusing them of paedophilia. We all know it’s messy for you to call Dutton out, to say he’s lied, to take responsibility for sacking him as Immigration Minister; he’s just as dangerous to you as Abbott. But Malcolm, just because something is messy and hard and takes a bit of bravery, doesn’t mean you need to rule it out. Were you never told as a child that nothing worthwhile was ever easy?

And what about your friend, your supporter, Kelly O’Dwyer? As you no doubt have guessed, I’m no more a fan of O’Dwyer as I am of you. But for the sake of humanity, I am offended on her behalf at the thought of a mother at home with a week-old baby finding that a collective of millionaires are colluding with two people I’m fairly safe to assume you don’t think much of, Abbott and Credlin, to steal her job. I get that you must be seething about this turn of events and that O’Dwyer probably knows she has your support in private. But you’re the Prime Minister, Malcolm. The public need your support too. The public need to see you standing up for yourself, standing up against bullies, standing up against liars and haters and connivers, who undermine public confidence in the government, who undermine your ability to run the country. Photo ops wearing camouflage just show how desperate you are. What’s next, an ever-growing array of Australian flags following you around? Your desperation stinks Malcolm. It is as humiliating to us, as it is to you.

So, enough is enough Malcolm. Since you won’t say anything, I will. You’re not cut out for the job. You’re not built of strong enough stuff. There is zero evidence you have any interest in the national interest. All we see is you taking the path of least resistance to give yourself a cosy job. You’ve let me down. You’ve let yourself down. You’ve let the country down. Resign before any more damage is done.

Xenophon: a box of revolting chocolates

Nick Xenophon has capitulated to Turnbull’s big business pressure group by supporting a 5% cut to corporate taxes. That’s right; the man who markets himself as a maverick, as a pox-on-the-major-parties-houses, as literally ‘a common sense alternative’ to establishment politics, as the champion of the little guy and as someone who holds the bastards to account, has shown himself to be chief bastard.

Like a plot from a how-not-to-negotiate training video, Xenophon caved on a policy that he had forever promised to stand firm on, by letting the government gift a tax cut to businesses earning up to $50 million dollars a year, in return for a useless-piece-of-paper-report and possibly a one-off discount on energy bills for welfare recipients, no bigger than the discount you already get for paying a bill on time. The outcome of this king-maker’s negotiation is akin to swapping a Ferrari for a match box car.

So why did he do it, you ask? Why, when the Australian electorate are howling at the Liberal government’s attack on wages, when Turnbull is as popular as a wet fart in a lift, when both Xenophon and Hanson are flip-flopping around trying to find a position on penalty rates which wallpapers over their Liberal roots, when the last thing the economy needs, and the government budget needs, is to have billions of dollars flooding out to off shore tax havens when it would be much better for the economy if it were going into a nation-wide wage rise, when Xenophon’s Teflon coating has protected his ex-CEO-of-the-Retail-Traders-Association, Senator Stirling Griff, from any scrutiny of his obvious conflict of interest in voting on retail wages, why would Xenophon be so electorally inept to back the big end of town over those people who put him into a position of power in the first place? Why would he decide to wipe billions off the budget from today onwards forever, a slash and burn which will see public services kicked to the curb and every Australian’s quality of life damaged because of it, when he must know this decision will come back and bite him in the bum electorally in the short term and the long term?

Simply, Xenophon, former member of the Adelaide University Liberal Club, is doing it because he wants to. He is doing it because he can. It is a myth that he is returning to type. There is no return. This is who Nick Xenophon is and always was. A company tax cut is his ideological preference and if you voted for him expecting otherwise, well, more fool you.

I have been watching Xenophon get a free ride in the media for so long that he’s become a caricature of the loss of any real journalistic talent. He is never scrutinised, beyond what deal he might do at the last minute before a policy vote takes place. During the election campaign, no media outlet provided any substantial analysis of what Xenophon stands for, preferring instead to follow his stunt-led campaign to its shallow inevitable sound bite, criticising the Labor Party for being too Labor, the Liberal Party for being too Liberal and claiming to be neither of those things, and standing for nothing, yet no one cared because, look over there a shiny object. I’ve had people literally say to me: ‘I’m voting for Nick Xenophon because he’s not Labor or Liberal’. It’s like saying ‘I eat vanilla ice cream because I don’t like chocolate or strawberry’ and when you ask if they like vanilla flavour, they look blankly and say ‘I’ve never really held it long enough in my mouth to get an idea of how it tastes’.

In Nick Xenophon’s claim to populism, in his un-scrutinised media profile, in his free ride to do whatever he likes because he has the power to do that, we all lose. Xenophon is everything that is wrong with politics and political reporting in Australia. It’s ironic, that the man who rose to political power promising to reform gambling, who hasn’t achieved a single reform to gambling, who is more interested in doing terrible deals than talking about gambling reform, is the ultimate gamble for the electorate. I like to call Nick Xenophon the vote gamble for terrible gamblers. He’s like a box of revolting chocolates. You never know what you’re going to get, but whatever you get, it is going to taste terrible.

Sally McManus, the hero

Sally McManus is the hero of workers. Turnbull is welcome to try to villainise her, but in doing so, he’s only making himself the enemy.

In her first television interview as head representative of people who work, McManus was involved in what media-insiders call a ‘gotcha moment’. Courtesy of the get-me-a-gotcha-moment-in-place-of-any-useful-political-analysis-queen, Leigh Sales. In their version of events, McManus was in hot water for backing the safety of workers at any cost, even if that cost is breaking laws designed to help employers shirk any responsibility for protecting people who work for them.

Right wingers squealed in delight when Sales drew supposably controversial comments out of McManus so early in the piece. The attacks came thick and fast from all the obvious places, including many journalists, who tut-tutted about law-breaking as if the law-breaking in question was home invasion or carjacking. Even those from Fairfax, who were more than happy to illegally strike in protest at their own colleagues being sacked, apparently can’t see the irony of criticising workers who do the same thing when a colleague is killed. Christopher Pyne, jumping on McManus like a seagull on a chip, called on her to resign. Turnbull, grasping for something to divert from his own failures, said he couldn’t work with her.

A year ago, this whole episode would have been yet another predictable, not worth mentioning, union bashing media-beat-up. But things have changed in the past few months. People have woken up to wealth inequality. Australia saw this wake up contribute to Brexit and the election of Trump. Closer to home, we’ve had One Nation pop up in Turnbull’s double dissolution, only to be over-egged and come crashing back down in the WA election, where, lo and behold, Labor achieved an 8% swing in their primary vote without any help from minors.

Throughout this time, Turnbull’s government continues to be a mixture of insipid do-nothing indecision, scandal and destruction, infighting and chaos, ideological bastardy and economic incompetence while they sidestep from one policy disaster to the next. Amongst the attacks to Medicare, the undermining of welfare through the Centrelink debacle, the failure on energy policy, the distractions from fringe fundamentalists such as anti-marriage-equality and repealing hate-speech laws, there is one policy which stands shiny and red as the most detestable, a pimple on a bum of failure: an attack to wages through a cut to penalty rates. This decision was the nail in Turnbull’s coffin. Commentators and Federal Liberals can claim all they like that the electoral result in WA was a result of local issues. But there is absolutely no doubting that a cut to wages saw voters melting off Liberals like sweat from Turnbull’s, and Hanson’s brow.

Let’s get something clear. Wages are the central concern of the electorate. Yes, most of us have other concerns, including climate change, education, healthcare, infrastructure, housing affordability, energy policy, immigration, just to name a few. But first on Maslow’s Hierarchy of political needs for left-wing and right-wing voters alike is an economic indicator which is being felt personally in homes from Broome to Launceston, from Townsville to Bankstown: record low wage growth. To put it bluntly, workers aren’t paid enough for the productive labour they contribute to the economy. There is plenty of money being made. It’s just not reaching those who create it.

The electorate knows this. They might not be able to pinpoint exactly what the problem is, but they feel the anxiety of having to do more with less. They are working harder. They are paying more for housing, groceries, petrol, energy bills, healthcare and education. But they are not getting the hours they need to cover these costs, nor the pay-rises they deserve, to show how their contribution to profit is valued. Their jobs are too often casual and insecure, their wages stagnant and their lives feel stationary.

This tension and anxiety means the relationship between worker and employer, between labour and capital, is fraught. In turn, the relationship between those who represent workers – unions – in this case – Sally McManus, and those who represent capital – Turnbull, Pyne, big business, business lobbyists, Liberal donors, is more-than-usually-difficult.

When Turnbull said he can’t work with McManus, he was admitting he can’t work with workers. This isn’t a new state of affairs. Turnbull has never done anything positive for workers. Instead, he defends the employers who, as well as preferring to reward shareholders instead of workers, constantly fight for lower wages and less protections for workers. The penalty rate cut was just the latest in a long line of anti-worker policies rolled out by the Liberal government, including cuts to social and environmental policies which hurt all of us, worker or not.

When Sally McManus explained to Sales that her priority is to defend workers rather than defending laws designed to hurt workers, she wasn’t being caught in a trap. She was doing her job. Whether the media and right wing elite recognise it or not, we, workers, applaud Sally McManus for her principles. In that 730 interview, we saw a union leader standing up for us when our employers refuse to do the same. We saw a union leader standing up for us where the Liberal government refuse to do the same.

The political environment has changed in the last 12 months. Unions have been framed as the enemy for so long that the Turnbull government think they’re on a winner when they find a stick to beat unions with. What they’ve neglected to realise is that when they bash unions, they bash workers. Workers are sick of being the victim of Liberal governments. Workers are sick of being the victim of big business lobbying, which results in them taking home a shrinking share of the profits from their work. When Liberal governments bash unions, workers don’t see a hero fighting against a villain. They see a villain threatening their hero. With wage growth at record lows, workers need a hero. They have one in Sally McManus. Anyone stupid enough to fight the hero of workers, better be ready for an army poised to join their hero into battle.

Women at War

If women really want to fight for a better world for women, first they need to stop being at war with each other. This war consists of attacking other women’s choices when defending your own. This behaviour is not only anti-feminism, though it is that. It is also taking us backwards, into unproductive trenches where we waste precious time and energy defending ourselves rather than working together to move forward.

A perfect example of such attack is this piece in the Fairfax papers by a stay at home mother, Catherine Williams. Williams is angry that a recent OECD report highlighting the lost productivity from parents staying at home makes it sound like, by staying home, she is a drain on society. Her argument, that she is involved in productive work through caring for children, is actually a good one. I agree that all the work parents do to care for children is valuable to society, as is any unpaid work, such as caring for older relatives, which goes largely unnoticed and unrewarded.

However, Williams apparently isn’t capable of explaining why she made the decision to stay home and care for her child, without attacking women who chose paid childcare instead.

Williams claims that her child cared for at home will be more prepared for school than a child at childcare, presumably because she is determined to teach her child to read and assumes children at childcare don’t learn anything. Offensive and wrong. She also claims children at childcare go to the doctor more often and are therefore a larger drain on the healthcare system than the sniffle-free child she cares for at home, a claim which ignores the fact that her child will get all the bugs my child gets from childcare, but just when the child is older and starts kindergarten and school. And, the third giant crack at childcare choosing-parents, is the question Williams asks about the impact of spending ‘early years with loving relatives able to give them one-on-one attention every day rather than carers in a childcare centre’. In other words, children who stay at home will be better for society than those snotty little freaks in childcare.

Patronisingly, Williams accompanied this last crack with a bracketed apology to those poor unfortunate families who have to use childcare through choice or necessity. You know, something like: ‘I know it’s not nice to be told you’re screwing up your child by using childcare, but it’s really important to my argument that I call you a bad parent so I’m going to do it anyway’.

You might be thinking Williams is an unfortunate example of a woman un-supporting of other women’s choices, but is this behaviour really that widespread? As a relatively new mother to an almost-two-year-old, I’m sorry to have to report that yes, this behaviour is widespread and it makes parenting choices really difficult. It seems that many women like Williams find it is impossible to defend their parenting choices without entering the war of attacking the opposite choice. Same thing happens with how baby sleeps are managed, whether you breastfeed or not, what school or kindergarten you choose, and it no doubt continues on well into parenthood-old-age. What do you think is implied in the words I’ve heard many times: ‘I gave up work to put my children first’? That women who don’t give up work aren’t making their children their number one priority? Offensive!

I’m also sorry to report, by vast majority, this is the behaviour of women judging other women. It gets to the point where it often feels that there are mothers out there engaged in a constant competition to prove they love their child more than everyone else, and if you would just make the same decisions as them, your child would be a more-loved better version of themselves. So offensive!

I could quite easily write a whole article about how I am thrilled with my decision to put my child in childcare, and how well she is doing, without once comparing her to children who stay at home with a parent. I could defend my choices by describing how much I love my child, but of course I love her and of course there’s no need to have to describe this. But that’s not the point. The point is, feminism should not just be about defending an individual woman’s right to choose how they parent. Feminism should be about all of us women being a sisterhood and supporting each other in our choices, no matter what choice we made our self. And if you can’t defend your choice without attacking someone else’s, then you’re not helping the movement. It is as simple as that.

Power and the people

It is universally accepted that workers are much less powerful than employers. The struggle for power between capitalists and workers is the basis of the left versus right political divide. Labor represents the interests of workers, and Liberals the interest of business owners. Every time workers try to take back a little power from the employers, such as by forming unions, or electing the Labor Party to government, the employers fight back, using the most powerful weapon at their disposal to put workers back in their place: money.

The ongoing war between labour and capital is played out in parliament, where Liberal governments, and their big-business lobbyists (employer unions by another name), make incremental gains for employers, such as campaigning for tax decreases, cutting government spending, smashing consumer and worker protections and this week, managing to decrease wages by cutting penalty rates.

When Labor are in power, workers have their wages protected through the undoing of Liberal industrial relations changes, such as overturning WorkChoices, and legislating for worker protections such as the minimum wage. Labor, and their allies in the union movement, turn the individually powerless workers into a much more powerful collective, and it has always been thus.

But something struck me this morning as I read ex-business-lobbyist and now government-employed-business lobbyist Kate Carnell’s reasoning for why small businesses aren’t publicly supporting cuts to penalty rates. Of course the majority of small businesses want penalty rates cut: they’ve been campaigning for this outcome for as long as I can remember. And in fact, silence from small business owners is not, as Carnell says, because ‘the last time small businesses tried to stand up and have their voices heard on penalty rates, they got absolutely poleaxed by the unions who stopped at nothing to attack and intimidate hard working mum-and-dad small business owners’. No. This has nothing to do with a union campaign, nor Carnell’s attempt to frame unions as bikies, a worn out propaganda tactic which shows not only Carnell’s lack of imagination, but also a lack of understanding of the fact that small business owners, on the most part, have nothing to do with unions as their workers, by and large, are not union members. But she knew that, didn’t she. No. What Carnell is alluding to is not small business ‘mums and dads’ scared of a union backlash against their penalty rate assault. Small business owners only have one fear motivating them to keep their mouths shut about how much they desperately want to cut their workers’ pay: fear of losing customers.

This thought reminded me why I stopped going to my local pub, when I saw a huge gold-framed notice from the owner on the wall (ironic much?) whinging about having to pay, along with taxes, and just about anything else, penalty rates. I was then reminded of the divestment movement, which encourages people to put their climate-change-concern where their mouths are, by taking their superannuation out of fossil fuel polluters. Then there’s the boycott of advertisers on the Breitbart white supremacist website. And we all remember when Alan Jones finally decided it was a good idea to apologise to Julie Gillard for saying her father died of shame, coincidentally after advertisers on his show started pulling out because of a public backlash.

So, even though it can seem for workers like they have little power, particularly when big business is in charge of the Liberal government, when you change the frame from worker to consumer, workers do have power. Just as employers often forget that the workers they are mistreating and underpaying are the very same people who are the consumers they rely on for business revenue, workers often forget their power is not just in their collective activities as workers, but as a collective of consumers. Particularly with the advent of social media, where stories of employers abusing their power over workers can be shared widely; it’s no wonder business owners have cause to fear the consequences of bad behaviour.

We all know money talks when it comes to business owners. Each of our money talks when it disappears from their cash registers. Consumer power gives all of us, worker or not, a say in how businesses treat their employees. We have no excuse not to use this power, when possible, to defend workers’ rights, to stick up for our community and to force business owners to do the right thing if they’re not willing to do it for any other reason. Let’s set a standard of how business should behave in our community by voting with our wallets.

Passengers in a driverless car

 

So much of political debate comes down to the question of government intervention. Should the government manage the economy in a hands-off, neoliberal manner, following the Turnbull-free-market rulebook that says that the god-like economy will punish us for government intervention by slowing down and shedding livelihoods? Or, as per Anat Shenker Osorio’s suggestion, should the economy be viewed as a vehicle that we all use to get us where we want to go, but without a driver, that vehicle will inevitably crash?

Of course, the left versus right, hands-on versus hands-off ideologies are complicated by the obvious contradictions in some Liberal’s positions: negative gearing tax concessions, mining industry fuel tax credits and now the threat to use a clean energy fund to build coal-fired power stations, just to name a few winners-picked for the obvious benefit of the already-rich. But as a general rule, Liberals sit on the ‘let the economy rip’ side of the fence, advocating for the outdated economic theory which says a free market, with bare-minimum tax, solves all problems. Labor sits on the opposite side, where government intervention is seen not as a villain, but as a government’s central role in making sure the economy provides the best outcomes for as many people as possible.

These opposing views are obvious to the political engaged (like me!), but might not be so obvious to the general populace. That is why, when Labor wants to make an economic case for their policies which are viewed as ‘interventions’ in the economy (such as climate policy, job creation schemes, infrastructure stimulus, supporting industries such as the now-defunct car industry), Labor needs to stop using the word ‘intervention’. Why? Because the synonyms for ‘intervention’ include interference and intrusion, implying that when a government intervenes in the economy, they are doing the wrong thing. In the same way as framing expert George Lakoff suggests using the word ‘protections’ in the place of ‘regulations’, when you change the word, you change the frame. So instead of saying ‘government intervention’, Labor should be saying ‘government taking responsibility’, or even more simply: ‘government doing their job’.

Note that Turnbull recently said ‘it is not my job…’ when justifying why he wouldn’t comment on Trump’s Muslim ban. Turnbull also appears to think it is not his job to do anything about climate change. In fact, every day the Liberals show us they don’t think it’s their job to provide the public with quality healthcare and education, nor a social welfare system which protects people from falling into poverty. When opposing the mining tax, the Liberals said it was not their job to make sure future generations secured benefits from the mining boom. When orchestrating the Carbon Price scare campaign, they said it was not their job to reduce pollution and to care for the environment. When the GFC happened, the Liberals opposed Labor’s recession-dodging stimulus package. The entire legacy of the Liberal governments under Abbott and Turnbull, who have used the invention of a fake-budget-emergency to cut, slash and burn public services, in a nutshell, is the Liberals announcing ‘the business of government is not our job!’

In line with this Liberal ideological reliance on the so-called-unencumbered-free-market, their actions, when given the keys to control Australia’s economy, are akin to kicking the driver out of the moving vehicle and letting the car career towards a cliff. The public, who are the cliff-fearing passengers, have been told by vested interests for so long that a driverless economic vehicle goes much faster than one driven by a government, and that the driver just puts the breaks on this speed to the detriment of the passengers eager to get where they’re going, that the idea that the economy works better when the government isn’t in the driving seat, has become entrenched.

If the public saw the Liberal lean-government reality for what it is – a hands-off approach which could get us all killed, it becomes a scary proposition. Ironically, the Liberals have benefited from what has become an electoral conventional-wisdom that they are better economic managers than Labor, when in fact this ‘management’ they speak of is reckless endangerment by letting an out-of-control car damage the community. If Labor asked voters whether they were willing to be a passenger in an economy which has no way of navigating around corners, no way of planning its journey, no anticipation of bumps or objects on the road ahead, which would drive over a cliff if that cliff appeared in its path, they wouldn’t get into the car. Sure, they would want a driver who knew what they were doing. But the first step of competent driving is having a driver in the car. The Liberals say it’s ‘not their job’ to drive the car. So they’re the last person who should be responsible for getting the passengers safely to their destination.

Tax Cuts Do Not Create Jobs

Corporate tax cuts do no create jobs. It is important to understand this very simple, very obvious fact no matter what #alternativefacts you see.

The Liberal government, and their owners in the CEO-union, the Business Council of Australia, are revving up a PR campaign to spread their lies, the likes of which we haven’t seen since billionaire miners stood on the back of utes wearing pearls, pretending like they’d met their workers before. And it’s up to us: you and me and everyone you talk to about this very fact, to refute this claim until we’re tired of refuting it, but we’ll keep going because it’s seriously important to all of us.

Let’s make something clear. The Liberals and the Business Council know they are lying when they say tax cuts create jobs. That’s a given. But they have to come up with some excuse for this policy other than campaigning on a platform of more-yachts-for-CEOs. So they lie.

When you think about it for more than a millisecond, it’s not hard to see why a tax cut puts more money in the pocket of business owners and executives, but certainly does not create more jobs. Nor do tax cuts increase wages. They could increase wages if employers chose to divert the money left over from paying less tax into higher wages. But that’s like saying a dog could break their bone in half and give the other half to the cat. Possibly, but never happens.

In order to give you a real-life example of why tax cuts neither create jobs, nor encourage bosses to give their workers a pay rise, I will use the ready-made example so helpfully provided by the Business Council of Australia’s clearly out-of-their-depth PR people:

This young bartender, who incidentally is apparently working at The General Havelock in Adelaide, supposedly looks forlorn at the thought that there will be ‘fewer job opportunities around here because of high company tax’. I’ll give you a moment to compose yourself from laughing before reading on. In fact, Australia’s company tax rate is ‘not markedly out of line with the G7 countries’, but you already know the Liberals and the Business Council lie, so we’ll move on.

Let’s assume the bartender is worried there will be fewer jobs in the bar because the owners of the bar have to pay too much tax. We’ll break this idea down. Hypothetically, let’s imagine the General Havelock owners get a 2.5% tax cut, as promised by the Liberals in their Enterprise Tax Plan. That means, at the end of each month, when their accountants add up how much revenue has come through the till from selling alcohol and food, and emptying tens of thousands of dollars out of their pokie machines, and then take out the costs, which include wages, they then have a look at their profit and take out 27.5% to give to the ATO, rather than the 30% they used to pay. The accountant says to the owner, ‘good news, you’ve got more to take home this month because less has gone to the tax man’.

Now, I’m sure you can see this scene in your minds eye. You can see the accountant handing the owner the piece of paper to show the extra cash that is coming into the bank. How realistic is it to think this scene will choose-it’s-own-adventure down the path of the owner pocketing the extra cash and spending it on his own private consumption, such as a new luxury vehicle, another set of golf clubs, maybe put it towards a holiday home or an investment property. Or, will he turn to the accountant and say, ‘gee, I’m so pleased with this tax cut, I can now finally afford to hire two extra staff and grow my business’. Let that one settle for a second.

Even in this strange parallel universe where the General Havelock owner puts his 2.5% tax cut into the pay checks for new staff members, in this la la land that doesn’t exist, think about it, why does he need those two extra staff members? Why, if his bar is already running smoothly, making him enough profit that he noticed a 2.5% tax cut, and there are enough people working behind the bar like this glum looking girl, pouring beers, and there are enough cooks in the kitchen, and security guards on the door, and staff to make sure the people in the pokie lounge never get tempted to go home, why if all that’s working fine, would a tax cut go into hiring more staff? And if there was a need for more staff, because there were more customers in the bar than the bar staff could possibly serve, why hasn’t the all-knowing business owner already hired more staff to meet this demand?

Still not convinced? When was the last time you saw an ad for a bartender, maybe on Seek.com.au or on a little sign behind the bar, which said ‘bar tender job available, spending the tax-cut, enquire within’? You didn’t see this sign, because it never happened. What you do see, in reality, is the obvious reason for a job ad to exist: ‘bar tender job available, enquire within’ and when you enquire within, the job is available because a) there are too many customers (demand) and not enough people to serve them in order to make profit for the business, or b) the bar tender who used to do the job no longer does.

This is the reality for a reason. Because CORPORATE TAX CUTS DO NOT CREATE JOBS. Say it with me. Thinking otherwise is either a massive misunderstanding about the fundamental relationship between worker, boss, profit and tax, OR is a bald-face lie. So which do you think the Liberals and the Business Council will more likely own up to?

Clever Bill

Bill Shorten’s speech at the National Press Club today laid a solid roadmap for a future Labor government. Although the speech covered many policy topics, its main focus was on a narrative which can be short-hand referred to as the ‘Labor’s with you’ story. In many ways it was a clever speech. This is why:

He acknowledged the ‘out-of-touch’ elephant in the room

Shorten acknowledged that the political class, which he quite rightly told the press-club audience included them, is perceived as out-of-touch with voters. It is at this point in a speech when a politician will usually lecture voters about the silliness of this misconception. However, Shorten didn’t do this. Instead, he said that voter distrust, anger and declining loyalty is understandable in a political system which has too many scandals (ping Susan Ley) and when campaign donation laws have meant it has taken 7 months for the public to find out how much Turnbull donated to his own campaign (apparently us punters get this figure tomorrow. My money is on $2 million. Pocket change).

To try to rebuild some trust, Shorten promised to establish another parliamentary inquiry into a national integrity commission and to support Turnbull’s transparency reforms.

Sticking with the theme of ‘Labor’s with you’, Shorten also interestingly promised to keep up his hectic schedule of town-hall meetings as he did throughout 2016, but in 2017, rather than answering questions from the floor, he will be asking the audience for their policy ideas about how to fix things. This might seem like text-book political engagement stuff, but the point is, you can’t fault Shorten’s desire to turn political talk into walk.

Jobs and skills create growth

There are two reasons Shorten’s ‘jobs and skills’ focus is a clever move. The first is that, in a political environment where every person and their dog is claiming Labor doesn’t have a purpose, it doesn’t hurt to remind people what the Labor Party is: the political arm of the Labour Movement. Yes, Labor also has come a long way in recent years in understanding the legitimate political needs and wants of what I call the ‘identity politics’ movement. But it’s impossible to ignore the very real fact that traditional Labor voters, those people who once were rusted to Labor, but now swing dangerously close to either the Liberals (Howard’s battlers) or even One Nation, are the key to Labor’s electoral fortune. To put it bluntly, if you’re a progressive who wants to see your identity politics outcome come about, you have to get on board with Labor’s appeal to traditional working class, suburban voters. And this appeal must be centred on jobs.

The helpful thing about a jobs message is it is not just about jobs. As everyone with a job knows, you can’t segment your jobs away from the rest of your daily existence. And once again, this is where Shorten has been clever. Jobs is also about being qualified for the jobs that are available. This is where Labor’s emphasis on apprenticeships and funding to vocational training became relevant. It also links to his promise to reform the 457 visa system so these visas aren’t used to bring in cheap labour, which reduces job opportunities, undermines wages and conditions and gives no incentive for companies to train Australian workers to do the same jobs. It further links to childcare, all levels of schooling education and of course, Medicare. Because if you’re not healthy enough to work, you don’t have a job. All tied up in a neat narrative bow.

He argued against Liberal ideology without attacking them

It is not true that Shorten didn’t mention the Liberals, he did. But, as if following the rules of George Lakoff’s Don’t Think of an Elephant framing textbook, Shorten didn’t fall into the usual trap of arguing against Turnbull’s Liberal policies. Instead, he took the smarter path of implying the inappropriateness of Liberal policies by laying out why his alternative plan is not just one of opposition, but of a completely different view of the economy and how jobs are created.

As an example, rather than spending ten minutes explaining why Turnbull’s pet-policy corporate tax cut doesn’t ‘trickle-down’ and is just a ‘gift to overseas investors’, Shorten took the high ground by explaining that the problem with the economy is that wage growth is at historic lows. There’s a reason such an idea resonates with voters. It’s because it is true. It’s now more difficult for Turnbull to now come out tomorrow and say ‘Shorten is wrong: wage growth is not a problem, the amount of tax corporations pay is a problem’. Turnbull can and probably will of course try, but his argument has already been refuted by Shorten who argued, correctly, that it is money in workers’ pockets which creates growth and in turn jobs, and that the government should do whatever possible to increase wages in order to keep the economy driving forward for everyone, not just the executives who benefit from a corporate tax-cut.

And the media struggled to respond

The press-club members struggled to respond to Shorten’s speech for one simple reason. Relating to the point above, Shorten didn’t offer the usual adversarial, oppositional rhetoric that they’re used to copy and pasting into a ‘he said, she said’ electoral two-horse-race narrative which is basically just a lazy prism through which all of them write about politics.

This struggle was most evident in Sabra Lane’s question, when she asked if Shorten was opposing Turnbull’s refugee deal with Trump. Shorten had not, in fact, even implied he was opposed to the deal, and had rather just stated that there was no need for Turnbull to hide away from commenting on Trump’s Muslim ban out of fear of destroying the asylum seeker resettlement deal, as Trump had already confirmed the deal would go ahead. It was almost as if Lane wanted to put words in Shorten’s mouth to conjure a policy dispute for a headline, when such a headline would, in reality, completely misrepresent Shorten’s entire speech.

Without having read commentary on the speech, since this commentary is no doubt being written as I type, I can already predict that Shorten will be framed as having crafted his rhetoric in reaction to Trump’s electoral victory, ensuring the same rust-belt result doesn’t undo Labor at the next election. Again, templated journalism will be at play here which frames politicians’ only motive in life as finding a popular electoral angle, and never, low and behold to, for example, do something about low wages in order to improve economic conditions for the entire country. If someone writes anything from a different perspective, please be sure to include it in the comments below, because I would love to be pleasantly surprised.

I was, however, pleasantly surprised by Bill Shorten today. His speech, and his off-cuff questions showed how much work Labor has done on refining their policy agenda to address the real concerns of voters. I look forward to this Labor agenda continuing its onward march to defeat the Turnbull-fizza at the next election.

Progressives Don’t Need a New Narrative

Progressives don’t need a new narrative. We already have one. We just need to stop neglecting it.

Remember when you were a child and you used to ask your mum for a new toy and she’d say ‘you have plenty of old toys that you hardly ever play with, why don’t play with them?’ Sometimes you would. After going through the old toy box, you’d rediscover an old favourite – a Game Boy that just needed new batteries, or a skateboard you’d forgotten about over winter which just needed a dust off and could entertain you for hours. That’s what we need to do with the progressive narrative. We need to dig it out of the back of the cupboard, brush it off, polish it up for modern day usage and all sing it from the roof tops. We don’t need a new one. We just need to up-cycle the old one.

I have read so many articles recently by fantastic left-wing voices and by impassioned people who care deeply about defeating dangerous ideologues like Donald Trump who will make the already bleeding wound of inequality hopefully not irreparably worse. Owen Jones asked the question: ‘Can the US left craft a populist alternative that convinces the millions of Americans who are angry and despondent about a society rigged against their interests? The future of the American republic is uncertain – and it may depend on the answer to that question’. Rutger Bregman suggests that too often it ‘seems as if leftists actually like losing’ and that the old-school underdog socialists are ‘Dull as a doorknob. They’ve got no story to tell; nor even the language to convey it in. Having arrived at the conclusion that politics is a mere matter of identity, they have chosen an arena in which they will lose every time’. Even though Bregman has some fantastic policy ideas, as usual, he hasn’t answered his own question: ‘what will this progressive story look like?’. So, once again, we’re all left feeling around in the dark for a unified thread to hold all our well-meaning ideas together.

In Australia, a divided progressive movement is hampering progress. Rather than fighting for and with Labor, the party of the working class, many of the more privileged progressives, who mostly live in inner cities and don’t identify as working-class, nor see any point in joining a union, have leached away to a new toy: The Greens. This leaves progressives fighting amongst ourselves with the battlelines drawn over identity politics versus labour movement priorities, and the old progressive narrative discarded by the side of the road.

I read with a mix of amusement and annoyance that ‘200 of the most exciting young people’ who were invited to attend the ‘Junket’ conference are not just fed up with Labor, but are also fed up with their newer toy, The Greens, and instead showed ‘strong support for some kind of new organisation, potentially even a political party… to channel the frustration felt by young people, and other sections of the population’. Maybe I’m just tetchy that I wasn’t invited, because I’m clearly not young or exciting enough, but the idea that young progressive Australians aren’t content to join the Labor Party and make it their own, or even to join the Greens (because that’s less work than changing the Labor Party), no, they are now wanting something brand new again, to wipe the slate clean, yet don’t seem to be able to actually explain what it is their new party would be except that it would ‘un-f*ck politics’ (their words not mine). Well, that just shows how we got into this mess in the first place, doesn’t it?

Anyway, this article is not going to be yet another contribution to the ‘progressives need a new narrative’ debate without giving you my concrete suggestion about what that progressive narrative is, because that would be hypocritical. No, as I said, we already have a narrative which is perfectly useful and relevant to all of us – the inner-city-lefties, the working-class-suburbanites, the rusted-on-Labor voters, the environmentalist-hipster-Greens and the even-more-hipster-too-cool-to-join-someone-else’s-movement progressives. We just need to be better at talking about it. And most importantly, we just need to be better at talking about it AS A UNIFIED MOVEMENT. IN SOLIDARITY! As a shorthand, we could call this narrative the Golden Rule. This is what it looks like:

Your rights are my rights. Your community is my community. Your environment is my environment. When you are better off, I am better off. When you are sick, I am sick. When you are poor, I am poor. We are all in this together. So, we need to work together to uphold each others rights: rights at work, right to be free from harm, free from discrimination, free from poverty, a right to a good education, good healthcare, a right to marry who we love, to live peacefully practicing any or no religion we like. When you have a job, I have a job. When your environment is safe, my environment is safe. When you are prosperous, I am prosperous. When you are happy and well, I am happy and well. We all do our bit and everyone benefits. I care about you and you care about me. The community is better off when the community is better off. That is all that matters.

That’s the story we should be telling. Try it on. It goes with everything you want and everything I want too. And if it sounds familiar, it’s probably because you’re already using it and just didn’t realise it was right there in front of you the whole time. Now, let’s stop wasting time looking for it and get to work using it.

Watch this space for more suggestions of how this narrative works in practice.

Don’t worry, America – Trump won’t last

Here is Abbott campaigning at the 2016 election, on his own, as unpopular as a wet fart in a lift.

How do I know with certainty that Trump will fall off the rails, crash and burn and then disappear like an ugly pimple on a Clearasil ad? Because I’ve seen this movie before – Australia endured Tony Abbott as Prime Minister. The day he was elected, I thought the world had ended. But we survived. Abbott’s tenure as PM, though painful, was only two years long and was a relatively unproductive two years at that. For those unfamiliar with this story’s plot, here are the key reasons Trump will share the same fate as Abbott:

1) Negative campaigning instead of leading gets old fast

Abbott’s always-on campaign of negativity worked like a charm when campaigning. But once in power, the pessimism, sniping and constant put-downs wore thin very quickly. Just like Trump, Abbott remained in negative attack-dog campaign mode once he became Prime Minister. When people were looking to him for assurance, for confidence, for leadership, they found him bitching instead. It’s easy to criticise everything and everyone when you’re not responsible for fixing problems. But when the country needs solutions and all you have is a whining toddler saying no all the time, opinion polls go south very quickly.

2) Rudeness and weirdness become embarrassing on a national stage

When I say rudeness, Abbott was just like Trump in that before he was elected, he was a well-known sexist and also like to flame racism to cover up for a lack of policy direction. It used to infuriate me that Abbott got away with doing and saying just about anything, no matter how offensive, and how bullshit, because people just shrugged and said ‘oh well, that’s just how he is, at least he says it like it is’.

There was also always a weirdness about Abbott and bizarre decisions which quite frankly could only be put down to a very limited mental capacity. For instance, when he decided to bring back Knights and Dames, and then proceeded to Knight Prince Philip who is married to the Queen of England. Or that time he ate an onion on the TV news. Face-palming at the Prime Minister soon became a national pastime.

It’s like that guy in your group of friends who sets his farts on fire for attention, but then when his bum causes a bushfire, those who used to laugh are embarrassed to be seen with him. It got to the point in Australia where you literally could not find a single person who would admit to voting for Abbott.

It might seem like Trump gets away with rudeness and weirdness on a monumental scale, but once Abbott became the leader of Australia, all his character flaws and faults were like dirty linen aired in front of a world audience. The electorate suddenly realised that having a buffoon representing us in national conversations wasn’t so good for our international reputation. National dignity was at stake. Be patient. It will happen.

3) Broken promises will come back to bite

Days before Abbott was elected Prime Minister, he went on national television and promised ‘no cuts to education, no cuts to health, no change to pensions, no change to the GST and no cuts to the ABC or SBS’. Just like Trump, it was obvious that Abbott would make any promise necessary to win votes and damn the consequences. Then, predictably, in Abbott’s very first budget only a few months after winning the election, he took a sledge hammer to these promises.

I note Trump has done the exact same thing – after promising in a tweet that there would be no cuts to Social Security, Medicare & Medicaid, his Republican counterparts are already busily taking health insurance away from millions of Americans. Many of these people voted for Trump and when it occurs to them they’re worse off because he lied, they will retaliate. Who is paying for that wall again? Watch and see.

4) He won’t grow into the job

There was a common narrative around the election of Abbott, particularly from his right-wing supporters in the media (yes, our media is controlled by Murdoch too!), that he would mature into the job of Prime Minister and would leave all his tomfoolery and lack of policy talent behind, to be the statesman-like leader the country expects. Nope. Never happened.

Abbott, like Trump, was emboldened by winning the election and refused to listen to anyone except a very close circle of advisors (his chief of staff in particular who did her best to rein him in, but even obsessive micromanaging of his every move didn’t cover up his obvious lack of credibility or suitability for the job).

When Abbott was campaigning as Opposition Leader, the only people pointing out his total incompetency in every area and fact checking his bullshit were writers like me in independent media and left-wing politically engaged social media users. We all said the emperor wasn’t wearing any clothes and we were all written off as partisan hacks.

But, then, like a snowball, journalists in the mainstream media began to realise that all was not well with the Abbott project and the wheels started falling off the bus amongst his colleagues too.

When his polls continued to dive to new and electorally disastrous lows, his colleagues did the only thing politicians know how to do when their ship is taking on water – they jumped off it to save their own skin. That’s how we got rid of Abbott in two years, which was a shame really looking back as I regret that the country didn’t have a chance to take our displeasure to the polls. But either way, every day without Abbott as Prime Minister was a good day (until we realised the guy who took over from him was the same pig, just wearing nicer lipstick – but don’t worry yourself about that as getting rid of Trump is your first urgent order of business).

Now, before I let you go away confident in the knowledge that Trump will not prevail, there is one last thing you need to know:

5) You’re going to have to help Trump on his way

I know you’re already doing your best in this respect, but you’re going to have to do better. Keep writing, criticising, pointing out his absurdity, sharing and posting about his failures, calling him out for his lies and bullshit, organising and generally uniting in a fierce wave of Trump-opposition.

I’m not just talking about social media. Take to the streets. I know there were protests when Trump was elected – and good on you for that. But the most success we had in Australia marching against Abbott came not when he was elected, but when he started to announce policies which were deeply unpopular in the electorate. We had a string of national March in March events which brought together tens of thousands of like-minded anti-Abbott marchers, and really helped to solidify the country’s dissatisfaction with Abbott’s policies. Here’s a link to my speech at the first March in March in front of 6,000 South Australians. Abbott was elected in 2013. The marches started in early 2014. He was gone in 2015.

I promise you that Trump and Abbott are beasts of the same breed and that the fate of Abbott awaits Trump. You’ve got mid-terms in two years to work towards. Go for it. We’re all counting on you. And if you could get rid of him before he starts World War III that would be a major bonus too. Good luck.

Talking About Wealth Inequality

One of the few positive outcomes from the car-crash of Brexit and Trump is that political leaders are finally realising that wealth inequality is not a democratically maintainable situation. Voters in most western democracies have started to resent the growing gap between their livelihoods and those of the richest few, and this resentment is causing mass disaffection with establishment politics.

The problem is that this resentment, so far, has been channelled into counter-productive outcomes such as Brexit and Trump, both of which will do nothing to solve wealth inequality, and quite likely will make it worse. In Australia, our neoliberal-merchant-banker-off-shore-tax-haven-Point-Piper PM has started throwing a few mentions of wealth inequality into his spin cycle. But this rhetoric is laughable when held next to the reality of Turnbull’s pet-policy of a $20 billion tax cut to big business which I can guarantee you will not trickle down and will instead grow the wealth of a few bonus-laden-executives at the expense of everyone else.

One of the reasons wealth inequality has managed to cause mass resentment amongst those losing out from rampant neoliberalism, yet hasn’t benefited the electoral fortunes of progressive political parties is because the language used to talk about wealth inequality has absolutely no relevance to people’s lives. Although there are vague notions of wealth inequality being a problem, progressives don’t have a common narrative, a story of why their policies will make a difference in anything other than a theoretical sense.

So, where the Democrats failed to make the case for universal healthcare and its benefits to reduce wealth inequality, Trump strode in with simplistic ‘I’ll make everything great’ slogans and stole the show. Where Labour UK failed to explain why another term of Conservative government would grow wealth inequality and push everyone-but-the-already-rich further behind, they left the door open for the Conservative deal-with-the-UKIP-devil which brought about Brexit through a back-lash against establishment politics; a backlash which should be electing a Labour platform. And even though Labor in Australia got within striking distance of Turnbull’s neoliberal second term, their primary vote is still being crunched by anti-establishment also-not-going-to-fix-wealth-inequality parties who benefit from wealth inequality resentment.

So what needs to happen? Progressives need to learn to talk about wealth inequality in a way that makes it real for people. The villain of wealth inequality needs a name and the wreckage this villain causes, the unsustainability of this situation, needs a relatable description.

The first thing we need to do is to stop using statistics to explain the problem of wealth inequality. Unless you’re a statistician talking to other statisticians, I promise the minute you start using percentages and ratios to describe a political problem, the audiences’ eyes glaze over. So stop it.

The next thing we should do is to use an analogy to replace any talk of money. The reason for this is that money is a loaded concept. People who don’t have much of it are usually blamed for their circumstances by people who have plenty of it. They’re framed as lazy or just unfortunate. People, conversely, who have a huge amount of money are revered in our culture, looked up to, and are aspirants. So when we talk about those at the top of the income percentiles doing much better out of economic growth than those in all the other income percentiles, peoples’ minds can’t help but avoid equating massive wealth with unhealthy greed, and instead think that wealth is deserved and earned, and therefore should be respected, not questioned.

I would suggest one simple strategy is to swap out money with the analogy of oxygen. Wealth inequality would then be described like this:

People need oxygen to survive. If they don’t have enough air, they will be desperate for every gulp and won’t be able to think very far into the future past their immediate need for the next breath. Only when they reach a certain level of oxygen comfort, can they settle into life and feel able to think long term about buying their family a house, settling into a community, finding a good job or starting a business and ensuring their whole family has enough oxygen to stay alive. As a society, it makes sense to ensure that everyone has enough oxygen to breathe comfortably so that they think long term rather than short term.

On the other hand, the way things are, there are too many people who have more oxygen than they really need and are hogging it all. These people are storing away their excess oxygen in places which benefit no one but themselves, and even sending it overseas where it leaks out and is lost forever. The problem is, these people who have far more oxygen than they could ever need, are also unfortunately the people who control the oxygen supply for people who don’t have very much.

When you go to work each day and the guy who decides how much oxygen you’ll receive for the skills and expertise you contribute is hogging it all, only sharing it out amongst the oxygen-rich-executives who already have more than they can possibly use, and you don’t have enough to keep your family in breathe-easy comfort, it’s no wonder you start to get upset. For one thing, how are you meant to keep turning up to work each day, helping him to earn more oxygen, if he keeps so much of it for himself that you’re too out of breath to keep working? And how can the people who store away all the excess oxygen not see that it’s problematic for their businesses if all their would-be-customers are struggling to breathe and certainly don’t have excess air in their lungs to go shopping?

This is just one example to show why, when you take percentages and the concept of ‘money’ out of the wealth inequality conversation, and use an analogy to show the flow-on effect of a widening gap, the situation is vivid, understandable, clearly unsustainable, and also an urgent problem that needs immediate action to solve. You’re welcome.

 

How did post-truth happen?

post-truth-oxford

I will preface this post by apologising for its elitist, condescending tone. I understand how unhelpful it is to metaphorically look-down at Trump supporters, and that part of the reason they are Trump supporters is because people like me looked-down on them for so long that they are now revolting against elitist snobbery. But I don’t see any way to discuss this issue in a way which doesn’t fit the elitist narrative. And besides, I know most of my audience probably fit this elitist mould just as much as I do. It’s important we know why the parallel anti-expert-post-truth world Trump created is so attractive to his supporters if we’re going to defend against it in Australia, so although I’m sorry for the condensation, I don’t apologise for the discussion.

Today I want to look at the post-truth social and news media echo-chamber which managed to put Trump on its shoulders, carry him to a pedestal, and place him unquestioning atop of it. Now that this raging machine have put their man in their White House, they have not stopped their effort to defend their King. They have not put down their keyboard, content at their victory, assured that they have been vindicated in their opinions and are now happy to go on their merry way helping Trump to apparently ‘make America Great again’. No. They’re still busy either crowing about their victory on social media (the popular line seems to be them mocking liberal tears), or attacking their King’s opponents. As a movement, they’re still working hard to ensure that everything Trump says and does is protected against fair scrutiny by the giant wall of anger and resentment Trump very cleverly built around himself and whenever anyone dares to criticise of even question Trump, his keyboard supporters pile on as a unified army.

This post-truth world might just be the scariest part of Trump’s ascendancy. That is why I think it’s important to take a closer look at how it came to be.

Every individual tweet which includes news about the US election has responses that perfectly represent the two polarised camps that have formed in the post-truth world. Those who argue with facts, and those who argue with stubborn opinions that are cemented in stone. It is not fair to characterise these camps by saying the stubborn camp sided wholly with Trump, and the facts camp with Clinton, because that is a simplistic analysis which isn’t fair or helpful. Either way, it only takes a cursory scroll through the two types of tweets to see exactly how dangerous the post-truth community has become. The reason for this is because they’ve learned to be cynical and untrusting of what they term to be ‘elites’, to the point where they latch onto a conspiracy and without any critical analysis of whether their opinion reflects reality, they whip up a fire-storm of hatred against the elite which is completely impervious to reason or attempts to contradict it. Here is an example.

Jill Stein, leader of the US Greens, who is currently heading a campaign to raise funds for recounts in Wisconsin, Pennsylvania and Michigan tweeted this comment, complaining about the cost and bureaucratic headache of organising the recount (a statement which is, ironically, very anti-establishment).

stein-tweet

Now look at some of the responses to this tweet, and note how many shares they have received in appreciation. Quickly, a conspiracy theory has flared up accusing Stein, and in turn, Sanders, of raising funds for the recount which they are then going to apparently keep for themselves by committing fraud and therefore deserving to, just like Hillary, be ‘locked up’.

cash-out

arrest-her-jill-stein

meme

meme2

I know there have always been, and probably always will be, conspiracy theorists on the internet. But Trump supporters have turned conspiracy theories from a fringe game to a mainstream electoral movement.

I have no doubt that many of these people have every justification for distrusting the establishment government and what they see as a ruling-elite. They feel they let them down. They have seen their jobs disappear, their towns lose all sense of community, they’ve been sent to unnecessary wars and America hasn’t lived up to their expectation of being the land of opportunity. But, and this is where I’m going to receive howls of ‘you’re an elitist and part of the problem’, there is also a problem here with these people’s ability to reason and to critically judge information. This problem occurs when they bypass a healthy cynicism – a necessary second-look at establishment practices – and instead jump straight to angry, stubborn cynicism, mistrust and hatred for only those they disagree with to come up with, frankly, quite nutty campaigns that are illogical and self-defeating.

I say illogical because it’s just ridiculous that these people believe that Stein and Sanders are going to raise funds for a recount and then give up on the recount so they can scamper off with the profits. That’s just not going to happen. Even if you believed Stein and Sanders to be so corrupt that they would want to steal this money, there is no logical process by which the money can be transferred from the recount fund into Stein and Sander’s bank accounts. To believe it could happen is beyond cynical and is instead dangerously gullible. What this gullibility also reveals is that the mistrust and disrespect shown to experts of any kind, who are thrown in the elitist bin along with anyone else they deem to have wronged them, has extended to a mistrust and disrespect for facts. Experts provide facts, experts are wrong, therefore facts are wrong. And any person with a keyboard has an opinion worth believing, as long, of course, as you agree with that opinion. See why I’m scared?

I say self-defeating because, actually, there is no harm done to Trump supporters through the vote recount campaign – it’s not their money, it’s come from donations from people who support the recount. And you would think all Americans prefer to be sure that their election system is not rigged, as Trump complained it was for weeks on end. The rigged part, apparently, they only agree with if Trump says it, not one of their opponents. In actual fact, there are many elements of the American political system which do, justifiably, make it feel like the elites, the rich, have rigged the process in their favour; but the irony of all of this is that Trump is one of those elites who had serious power in the electoral process through his donations to both sides of politics, and regularly used this power to benefit his business interests, to give himself more power, to the point where he had enough power to run for President by saying the whole system is rigged. We need a stronger word for ironic.

Although you might think I’ve finished with my elitist put-down, unfortunately, I haven’t. The post-truth world didn’t happen by accident. I’ve read thousands of words during and since the election which try to explain the demographic and value-driven voting behaviour of Trump versus Clinton voters, and there is one that stood out to me. Perhaps it stood out because it was a fact which fitted my preconceived opinions – which are the best types of facts don’t you think? This one was a pretty credible fact though, if we’re having a debate about which fact is better, which we’re not because we are trying to deal with a post-truth world where facts are apparently the enemy. Anyway, back to my arsenal of facts. This one is from credible-big-data-pollster Nate Silver, who found that education levels were a bigger predictor of voting behaviour than income. Silver suggests that the catch-all term ‘elites’ may actually just be a proxy for people with a post-high-school education. He says the Trump voters were much more likely to only have a high-school education, whereas Clinton voters were much more likely to have a post-high-school education. Again, this might just sound like I’m putting Trump voters in the ‘too stupid to vote’ category, but I’m not doing that. I’m trying to help. Honestly.

What do we learn at university or in vocational education? Apart from learning a specialised set of skills to set us up for a profession that requires particular expertise which is particularly useful in a post-globalisation world where manual jobs are disappearing. Apart from learning to respect our peers and teachers for their contributions in specialised fields, to respect their expertise, their experience, and their imparting of useful facts. Apart from all that, we learn how to think. We learn how to reason. We learn how to critically assess information and to draw rational conclusions. Every assignment, every class, every discussion at post-high-school level builds these competencies. These competencies are, sorry to sound elitist again, a massive asset in life. To be able to see real events happening in front of you, and to question them, to think about them, to recall past events and compare them, to make reasoned and eloquent arguments about what you think, and to do this in a civil and productive way, is important, not just to individuals but also to the success of whole societies.

The post-truth world, if it has any of this type of thinking, doesn’t have nearly enough. Where a debate between people who hold different, informed positions is healthy, rejection of facts from experts because expertise and experience are deemed to be automatically untrustworthy is not. Where cynicism is healthy, stubborn-unthinking-partisan-cynicism is not. So, as much as I know this sounds like a pie-in-the-sky when we need a much quicker and easier fix for the post-truth world, really, the answer is more accessible and better education for all.

Those who feel left behind by the establishment, who hate that they’ve been left behind, aren’t going to be convinced by your reasoned arguments that they’re voting against their best interests when they are unable to assess the information in front of them and draw logical conclusions. When they’ve wedded themselves to Trump and they believe everything he does is wonderful and everything his opponents do is corrupt and immoral, they’re not going to be convinced to listen to your point of view, to your rational analysis of why they are mistaken. Your dot points of facts is going to bounce right off them. This is not about Trump supporters being dumb. This is about them being uneducated. You want to make sure Trump doesn’t get elected again? Then educate the masses. Not just the privileged people who can afford it.

The Hanson Media Circus

That’s right. On the day Paul Keating told the ABC they are letting Australians down, and on the day climate scientists warned uncontrolled climate change has pushed the Arctic to a world-altering tipping point, Australian news organisations, who often complain that they no longer have the resources they need to go out and find stories, found enough resources to follow Pauline Hanson and her fellow One Nation climate deniers on a fun little day-trip to far north Queensland, to capture her swimming in a healthy part of the reef and to beam her climate change denying message to a national audience. I know ABC weren’t the only ones there, but I’m focusing on them because they should know better. I’m focusing on them because they covered this non-story not just on the evening news, but also gave it a full ten minutes on apparently-current affairs show 7:30.

Why on earth would any so-called-credible news organisation do such a thing? The answer to that is simple. Pauline Hanson is colourful and therefore newsworthy. When she says ‘I’ve got something to say’, the Australian media don’t expect her to earn the right to say it, on a national television screen. Instead, they follow along like lost puppies, giving her all the free publicity she could ever ask for, falling for her simple yet effective media strategy hook-line-wetsuit-wearing-and-sinker.

This simple strategy goes like this: the more ridiculous the comment, the more publicity it gets. We could call it the Hanson media strategy. Or the James Ashby, Hanson’s chief strategist’s media strategy. But that would be a bit inward looking. A bit, you might even call it, xenophobic. Because really, this strategy is not unique to Hanson. It’s not even unique to any of the One Nation nut-jobs (yes, I will call a spade a spade), or Cory Bernardi, or George Christensen, Eric Abetz, Peter Dutton or any other brought-to-you-by-the IPA or the HR Nicholls Society, or the Australian Christian Lobby or any other shady-funded-by-who-exactly-we’re-never-told shock-jock political-operatives. No, this strategy is global and it worked so well for the Trump-circus and the Farage-circus, it’s more than likely going to be adopted by political communicators the world over. Why not, when the media is so happy to oblige, and it works so well?

What was the point of Hanson’s reef visit? Journalists surely don’t think it’s newsworthy that she’s a climate change denier. We all know One-Nation Senator Malcolm Roberts was involved in the running of the Australian Galileo Movement who have been at the forefront of fighting against climate action in Australia for as long as there has been such a movement. It’s not newsworthy that there are still politicians out there who deny science, who deny experts, who deny that the world needs to do something about climate change before it’s too late. None of that is news. The angle Hanson was going for was that she was defending the Queensland tourism industry from falling tourist numbers, which are caused by, she claims, the false publicity that the Great Barrier Reef is being damaged from climate change, when really, she claims, the reef is fine. There is no logic here. There is no rational way in which a journalist can accept this clearly ridiculous argument with a straight face. And the key point is, there is no way this attitude, this media stunt is deserving of an audience. There are not two-sides-to-the-climate-change-argument because it’s not an argument. If I called a press conference to claim the sky is red, would I get 10 minutes on 730? No? By putting Hanson’s climate denial on our TV screens, and by not even trying to frame it as ridiculous, as un-thinking, as populism-against-experts-against-people-who-are-trying-to-save-the-reef, against the so-called-elite, a term now given to anyone who has the ability to think critically, the media is letting their audience down.

There is a phrase in public relations speak called ‘earned media’. Earned media is the opposite of paid media, the idea being that PR people lobby journalists to cover their stories by positioning those stories as newsworthy and as credible and as important to the audience, so that the space in the news section is earned, rather than paying for the message in the advertising section. My question to the ABC is this: what did Pauline Hanson do to earn all the free publicity she got on the ABC news and 730 last night?

I often hear the argument that Pauline Hanson received enough votes to get herself elected to parliament and that’s all she had to do to earn a right to a media pack following her around. But do all elected members of parliament get as much attention as Hanson? Do they all automatically have the right to say whatever they want, without fact-checking, without question, without having to come up with something that’s newsworthy, important, factual, credible and correct? Do they have to earn the right to be on the news, or can they say whatever they like and it will just be repeated, maybe fact-checked at a later stage on a different medium, but too late then because everyone has already seen the climate change denial and this is the only message they remember?

The media is letting us down alright, and it’s helping the likes of Hanson win more votes, scrutiny free. Until news producers are willing to turn down Hanson’s invite to the reef, until they are willing to follow her on her merry-little-publicity-seeking jaunts only under the condition that a climate scientists accompanies them to refute her anti-fact-statements right there on the spot, as part of the same news story, to show that she’s really got zero clue about science, and to put her off trying anything like that again, then they’re letting us down. Until we stand up and say enough is enough, there’s no reason they’ll stop playing this game. ABC complaints can be lodged here.

Scroll Up