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Day to Day Politics: What’s happening in the bear pit?

Tuesday 21 March 2017

Author’s note: I have updated and re-posted this because it is of great public importance.

Has Question Time in the Australian Parliament improved? Well just slightly since Tony Smith took over from Bronwyn Bishop. Bishop was an insult to the intelligence of reasoned people. Although it is only watched by those with a professional interest and political tragics like me, it is nonetheless the prism through which the Australian public form a perception of their politicians.

Now and then news services showcase Question Time and voters are left wondering if it’s for real or just a group of bad actors auditioning for play school.

It is devoid of wit, humour, words of intelligence and those with the eloquence and debating skills to give them meaning. Mostly it embraces a maleness that believes in conflict as a means of political supremacy over and above the pursuit of excellence in argument.

Question Time under Speaker Bronwyn Bishop degenerated into a bear pit of mouths that roared with hatred. The Speaker gave the appearance of disliking men with a bitchy witchlike headmistress’s loathing more suited to an evil character in a Disney movie than a democratic parliament.

Her demeanor was obnoxious, threatening and deliberately intimidating. She was consciously biased to the point of dismissing legitimate points of order out of hand. And in a mocking manner that lacked any dignity and grace. In doing so she gave the impression of a women obsessed with herself and her party rather than acting in the impartial manner the position demands. All with an authoritarian sharp-edged sarcastic manner calculated to make her subjects cringe. Her condescendingly belligerent manner lacked the civility required for reasoned discourse.

Unlike Speakers before her she attended her party’s parliamentary meetings to listen and be advised of tactics in order to respond accordingly. Anything to humiliate the opposition. There can be no other reason for doing so. In addition she regularly used her offices for party fund-raising functions. Something previous speakers would never consider.

She threw out the ”standing orders” and invoked her own set of rules. Particularly when it came to relevance, sometimes ignoring points of order or dismissing them out of hand. She even allowed Ministers to continue talking when points of order had been raised pretending to not to notice members at the dispatch box. Answers were allowed that were so far removed from the question asked that one could be excused for thinking one had a hearing difficulty. All in all Bishop so corrupted question time that it became so totally dysfunctional that it either needed to be terminated or reconstructed.

A new Speaker has returned some decorum to the chamber but it really serves little purpose. In so far as relevance is concerned it has not improved under Smith.

While a lot of the contestation is part of the drama of the Parliament; no one would wish Question Time to be reduced to polite discussion without challenge. Never the less, Question Time all too regularly descends into an unedifying shouting match between the Government and Opposition, damaging the public image of the Parliament and of politicians in general.

According to the Parliamentary Education Office the purpose of Question Time is to allow the opposition to ask the executive government questions and to critically examine its work. Ministers are called upon to be accountable and explain their decisions and actions in their portfolios. Question Time also provides ministers with an opportunity to present their ideas, their leadership abilities and their political skills.

During Question Time, the opposition also has a chance to present themselves as the alternative government

Question Time occurs at 2pm every day when Parliament is sitting and usually lasts for about one hour. By custom, the Prime Minister decides how long Question Time will last and indeed if it will be held at all.

Ministers do not know the content of questions posed by the opposition during Question Time. These are likely to be tough, designed to test ministers’ capacity to answer quickly and confidently.

During Question Time, government backbenchers also pose questions to ministers, in order to highlight government policies and achievements. These are prepared prior to Question Time and are known as ‘Dorothy Dixers’ after a magazine columnist who used to write her own questions and answers.

Question Time has evolved in the Australian Parliament over a long period of time. The first Parliament made provision for questions on notice to be asked and the answers were read to the chamber by the relevant minister. Over time, questions without notice were also put to ministers, particularly in regard to important or urgent matters. The focus in Question Time today is on making the government accountable for its actions and dealing with the political issues of the day.

Well in short that’s the purpose. Does it work in reality? Of course not. Every government on being elected says it will reform Question Time. As part of an agreement with Prime Minister Gillard Rob Oakshot and Tony Winsor made some effort at reform with a greater insistence on relevance and supplementary questions.

Prior to the last election Christopher Pyne, the then Manager of Opposition Business, but better known as ‘the mouth that roared’, or ‘the fixer’, had this to say:

”An elected Coalition Government will move to reform Parliamentary Standing orders in the House of Representatives.”

”Our reforms will make Parliamentary Question Time more concise and ensure Ministers are held to account and remain relevant to questions asked.”

”We will look to strengthen the definition of ‘relevance’ in the standing orders so Ministers must stay directly relevant to questions and ensure Matter of Public Importance debates follow Question Time.”

What a ludicrous load of nonsense. As I stated earlier, there is no requirement for relevance at all. And without it Ministers simply cannot be held to account. Without civility reasoned debate cannot take place. All we have at the moment is a shambolic gaggle of incompetent unedifying politicians not in the least interested in enhancing our democracy. It has degenerated to the point of being obsolete. It needs to be given the flick and rethought.

How should this come about? Try this. Bill Shorten should walk out of Question Time with his colleagues straight into a press conference with a detailed list of reasons for doing so. They being that Question Time has become untenable, so lacking in relevance that there is no purpose in asking questions.

After siting all the obvious reasons he should then, having prepared himself, launch into a list of proposals to make governments and Ministers more accountable. The whole point of his presentation should center on a better more open democracy. An address that takes the democratic moral high ground that is critical of both sides of politics.

”None of us can claim that in this place, first and foremost on our minds is how we serve the Australian people’.’

Let the ideas flow. I propose to appoint now, a panel of former speakers from both sides of the house, to rewrite the standing orders and reform Question Time.

All this is hypothetical of course because I am thinking out loud. But consider the following.

1 An independent speaker. Not a politician. Not only independent but elected by the people. A position with clout. The Parliamentary Speakers Office with the power to name and shame Ministers for irrelevance. Power over politicians expenses. It could include a ‘’Fact Check Office’’

2 Imagine if the Speaker’s Office adjudicated on answers and published a relevance scale on its website. This might serve two purposes. Firstly it would promote transparency and truth and secondly provide an opportunity for ministers to correct answers. It wouldn’t take long for profiles of ministers to build.

3 If in the course of Question Time the Opposition wants to table a document that they say supports their claim, in the interests of openness and accountability it should always be allowed. Documents would also come under the scrutiny of the Speakers Office and both their authenticity and relevance be noted in the Speakers weekly accountability report.

4 Freedom of Information could also come under the umbrella of the Independent Speakers Office with it deciding what could be disclosed in the public interest.

5 Dorothy Dixers would be outlawed because they serve no purpose. If back benchers want information from Ministers, then pick up the bloody phone. Question Time is not a public relations department. A place for policy advertising. Question Time is about Government accountability.

6 I acknowledge that our system requires vigorous debate and human nature being what it is passion sometimes gets the better of our politicians. When it occurs the Speaker should have the power to call time outs.

7 Lying to the Parliament is a serious misdemeanor yet the Prime Minister and the Ministers in this Government do it on a regular basis. An Independent Speaker would be able to inflict severe penalties on serious offenders.

8 In fully answering a question, a minister or parliamentary secretary must be directly responsive, relevant, succinct and limited to the subject matter of the question. Penalties apply.

Nothing has changed. The Government owns Question Time, the Speaker and the Standing Orders.

Democracy is dead. Lunacy prevails. Anyway I think I have made my point.

My thought for the day.

”If you have a point of view, feel free to express it. However, do so with civility. Then your point of view is laced with a degree of dignity.”

 

Bearing the brunt of state-sanctioned thuggery: the Centrelink debt debacle

In a classic operation, most commonly perpetrated by telephone conmen and door-knocking scammers, the Turnbull Government has hit the jackpot. Boasting of returns of over $300 million after hitting up only 169,000 Australians, someone deep in the murky depths of Government has clearly been taking lessons from the lowest of predatory scumbags.

The operation, fondly promoted by the Government as a fair way to claw back taxpayer funds from those who were overpaid social security benefits, has reportedly caused significant angst among the most vulnerable in the community.

The debacle was first reported a couple of weeks before Christmas. In July 2016, the Government introduced an automatic debt identification and recovery system which compares annual income reported to the Australian Tax Office (ATO), with self-reports that welfare recipients provide to Centrelink on a fortnightly basis.

The results have been absurd.

Instead of providing people with a chance to address any identified discrepancy, the ‘system’ simply asks recipients to confirm their total income for the year on the MyGov website. If it accords with the ATO assessment (which it will, for any person who has correctly filled out their tax return and honestly reported their income to Centrelink), an automatic debt notification letter is sent where the system has calculated an overpayment.

Now this sounds fair enough – if a debt is owed.

But the process by which the system calculates the debt is scandalous. By averaging out annual earnings over 26 fortnights, it immediately assumes the person has earned income in every fortnight, was not entitled to benefits during the time claimed, and has therefore committed a fraud against the Commonwealth.

If a person disputes the debt, the Government still insists a payment arrangement is made to clear the debt.

If a person doesn’t pay the debt, it is quickly sent on to the debt collectors.

Those who allegedly owe a debt are threatened with jail if they do not pay.

Centrelink itself (the faceless Government organisation tasked with demanding money with menaces), has recommended distraught residents call the suicide prevention hotline, Lifeline, if they are concerned about receiving a debt notice.

Yet despite this blatantly clear admission of the trauma the system is causing innocent people, the Government is steadfastly proud of its money-making mission.

“From what we’ve seen in a high-volume system, it’s actually working incredibly well,” said Social Services Minister Christian Porter.

Here is some news for Mr Porter. Threatening people with unpalatable outcomes if they do not pay money (whether or not they owe it) is a tactic which has been used by unscrupulously vile and hideous individuals and criminal gangs for centuries to generate cash.

Why? Because it works.

If a person is terrified enough, they will pay up.

And when it is the Government making the demands and threatening to bring in the police for non-payment, there is little wonder so much money has already been collected.

The poor, the vulnerable and the disadvantaged have no chance against the state-sanctioned thuggery of the Turnbull Government.

The Government, in its attempt to save money and create efficiencies, has resorted to the lowest tactic possible: extortion.

Extortion is the practice of obtaining something, especially money, through force or threats. It is a criminal offence when practiced by any other individual. It is applauded as an efficiency when practiced by the Government.

While Porter continues to defend the unconscionable system, which violates every ethical principle and is an abuse of legal process, Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce attempts to distract from the shitfest by focusing on those who may have been genuinely overpaid.

“I make no apology for making sure that those who didn’t need it, who got it, pay the money back,” Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce said.

Little thought seems to have gone into the many innocent people who are caught up in the mess. The Government has admitted itself that around 20% of debt notices are falsely sent and those people owe nothing at all. Of course, the number of those falsely accused of owing money may well be higher if you consider some recipients have been accused of owing thousands of dollars, but may have been overpaid a mere ten or twenty dollars.

The outcry from the general public has been huge. The media, normally keen to stick the boot into the poor, has jumped on it, but the Government is holding its ground.

Just like the criminal underclass of old, who threaten, coerce and menace innocent people into handing over their life-savings, those responsible for the ‘Robo-Debt’ debacle stand firm. Instead of a baseball bat and balaclava, the Government uses the full force of the law and faceless institutions to muscle the vulnerable into submission.

The tactics used by the Government are nothing short of criminal. Those who are traumatized along the way, and who are pushed to the brink of suicide, are simply collateral damage in the Government’s quest to ‘balance the budget’. It has shunned due process and standard principles for debt identification and recovery. It is exploiting the most vulnerable and disadvantaged in the community for monetary gain.

Terrifying innocent people into paying money they do not owe is nothing to boast about. It represents a new low for the Turnbull Government.

But like all conmen and scammers, the only way to make the Government back down, is to show it Australians are not weak and will not put up with thuggery.

Every person who receives a debt notice must ask for a review, lodge a formal complaint if the debt is wrong, and contact the Ombudsman. Contact the media. Contact each and every politician involved, including the Opposition and local MPs.

This is a war on the poor that Turnbull cannot and must not be allowed to win.

Slave trade capitalism and the new Republican Party

Image courtesy of littlegreenfootballs.com

Image courtesy of littlegreenfootballs.com

Time is a funny thing, especially how the same things seem to happen again and again.

In the early nineteenth century, the young United States of America was heading toward civil war.  The practice of slavery had been accepted, but restrained from spreading further, by the Founding Fathers and the new American constitution. However, with the annexing of the new territories in Kansas and Nebraska, slavery was becoming a major fissure in the cultural landscape of the new nation. During the 1850s one of the presidential hopefuls, Henry Seward made a speech addressing the growing disparity between the wealthy slave owners in the South, and the emerging industrialized society in the north;

“There are two antagonistical elements of Society in America”, Seward proclaimed, “freedom and slavery.  Freedom is in harmony with our system of government and with the spirit of the age, and is therefore passive and quiescent.  Slavery is in conflict with that system, with justice and with humanity and is therefore organized, defensive, active, and perpetually aggressive.  “Free labour” he said, “demands universal suffrage and widespread diffusion of knowledge.  The slave based system, by contrast, ‘cherishes ignorance’ because it is the only security for oppression.”

The freedom that Seward referred to was the free, or non-slave, workers that toiled in the increasingly industrialized northern cities. What is striking about this passage is just how much the sentiments that Seward expressed resonate today.

Today we appear to be facing a parallel scenario to Seward’s, with a push from wealthy multi-national corporations and northern foreign-owned miners who want to spread their low-wage, low skill, high-profit form of business to every state on the planet.

This aggressive and well-funded movement born in American Capitalism now threatens Australian shores; Maurice Newman, chair of the Commission of Audit, attacks the Australian minimum wage, Tony Abbott dismisses of the importance of penalty rates, education reform is defunded and a ‘review’ is announced into the newly minted national curriculum, all nicely framed by ongoing disinformation from government ministers on the reasons for recent collapses in manufacturing in the southern states, all the while encouraging us to drink the trickle-down Kool Aid.

While these attacks on the backbone of a progressive society continue, it seems that there is little fight from either of the standing opposition parties, the ALP or the Greens.

Can we learn anything from the history of slavery and American capitalism?  And in those lessons is there a blueprint for action that we can take now?

Suggesting that American Capitalism is rooted in the slave plantations of the past is not a new thing.  Slave-grown and picked cotton was America’s most valuable export. Without which silver and gold from England and Europe would not have flowed so readily into U.S. Treasury coffers and the pockets of Northern factory owners, providing the much needed ‘capital’ for the growing nation.  Modern management practices also can be traced back to slavers.  Including time and motion studies, and calculating an employee’s worth against ‘unit labour costs’ to calculate productivity.

From this comes one of the central pillars of American capitalism; the practice of paying as little as possible for labour. With many corporations in America, most visibly WalMart and McDonalds, basing their entire business model on hiring unskilled workers that can be paid the absolute minimum.

The difficulty for the workers is that it is not enough.  Recent debate in the USA has revealed that these corporations access billions of dollars in government welfare through their employees.  Because they do not pay their workers a living wage, employees are forced onto welfare programs like food stamps.  The fast-food industry alone rakes in a government subsidy of roughly $7 Billion per year, with McDonalds even having an employee advice line helping employees sign up to government welfare.  These revelations have gone straight to the core of the argument over a living wage, workers rights and the real corporate welfare queens.

In light of this it can be seen that the only difference between Seward’s “two antagonistical elements” and our own is the deep hypocrisy in the arguments of wealthy ‘job creators’.

American, and Australian, elites insist on their quasi-religious, Ayn Rand infused utopian delusion that, instead of inheriting their wealth and profiting from the intelligence and work of generations of workers, they actually built their entire empires by themselves.  This was perhaps best refuted by Bill Clinton when he responded to attacks on President Obama for his out of context “You didn’t build that”:

“The Republican narrative is that all of us who amount to anything are completely self-made . . . Bob Straus, used to say that every politician wants you to believe he was born in a log cabin he built himself. As Straus then admitted, it ain’t so.”

The economy and all the technological advances we enjoy today have been built by the skilled working and middle class that grew from the Industrial revolution in 19th century.  The claim that higher wages hurt business is simply false. It was the massive movement of consumer funds from well paid industrial workers that created the base wealth upon which the post-WW2 industrialized economies have been built.

Without the capital drawn from taxes paid by thousands of workers the ports, rail, and roads built in the 1950s and 60s that transported goods would never have happened. Those same taxes paid for schools that trained up the next generations of skilled employees that businesses could then leverage into creating products and delivering services.

The profits that companies made in the last hundred years were not driven by a select elite purchasing high price items, but by millions of consumers and businesses buying and selling, working and living, increasing demand and driving growth and trade.

When a portion of the population cannot afford to live, then they cannot participate.  When participation in the economy drops so does demand, with employment, trade and profits following soon after.

The rich will always maintain a degree of wealth and privilege.  In many ways the elite still exist in a semi-feudal world where those on ‘their’ lands should be grateful for the opportunity to eke out a subsistence living.   Thanks to their lofty position the wealthy are able enjoy their life regardless of economic conditions, as the businesses that service the wealthy operate in a very different space to the rest of the economy.  They are often able to ride out recessions, and can simply transfer their wealth to another market or country if trade or economies collapse.

The working and middle class, on the other hand, are reliant on trade and education.  The various accountants, tradesmen, managers, shop keepers, artisans, teachers, and lawyers require commerce and constant self-improvement to maintain their standard of living.  Without trade the rich can still enjoy their lands and property without much impact on their life.  However if trade declines or collapses, as seen in the Great Depression and recent Financial Crisis, the middle class and working classes are devastated.

One of the side effects of trade is exposure to new ideas.  Trade also drives innovation and social progress, as both serve to create new markets and new consumers.  All of this is a threat to any established elite, as social progress and greater knowledge builds further demand for equality. Not simply for equal rights for non-whites or non-heterosexuals, but for more equal representation in government, more equal access to opportunity, in short for a more democratic society.  This evolution of more equality in representation is one of the things that the wealthy and political elite fear most.  The American War of Independence and Civil War were fought over just these things.

The feudal world is a remnant that still hangs from our representative democracy.  In many ways representative democracy is the half-way hybrid of feudalism and true democracy.  We rely on a patrician class of political operators to work in our best interests, when in reality they are mainly working in their own self-interest and the special interests of their patrons.  A more direct democracy would see be form of republicanism akin to ancient Athens where all citizens voted directly on bills or the young USA where the voice of the citizenry was a direction for action by their elected representatives.  The attack on workers and education is an attempt to stave off this next logical step in social and political evolution to a more direct and effective democracy.

This is why religious conservatives and economic libertarians attack the means of sustaining a viable middle class.  Poor education dramatically reduces opportunities for employment and advancement, and hamstrings innovations that may threaten the status quo.  Cutting health care forces families to spend more of their income and time on caring for sick or elderly family members.  Failing to invest in effective public transport creates a class divide between those who can afford a vehicle to access job opportunities and those who are trapped in a cycle of poverty due to lack of mobility.

Even now the decision not to build a national, equal-access broadband infrastructure is picking winners and losers.  Those with fibre connections are already enjoying higher house valuations. Once again the inner cities will have the advantages, while the suburbs and regional cities – the tradition heartland of the working and middle classes – are relegated to second class citizens.  How long until cuts to education, health, penalty rates and minimum wage see further collapse of employment options and standards of living in Australia?

For Seward and his contemporary Abraham Lincoln, the principal opposition party of the time was too weak to respond to the pro slavery Democratic Party and the loud threats and aggression from the southern states that demanded they be allowed to establish slave estates in the new territories ‘for the sake of the nation’.

Eventually there was a split, and many from the opposition Whig party joined with other more progressive groups to form the new Republican Party.  Under this banner the nation set about a new path toward the equality promised in the American constitution.  Civil war followed, but the USA emerged stronger and more vigorous than ever.  What followed was over a hundred years of progress and growth that led the 20th century to be named the American Century.

In Australia the Liberal-National governments federally and in the states are filled with a similar aggression to their pro-slavery forebears, and are in a hurry to force their changes on our society before the sleepy masses awaken.  A vocal opposition would do much to quicken this awakening and stifle the fuming vigour of the neo-libertarians.

Unfortunately, the Greens party seem too much interested in attacking the ALP to increase their market share.  Meanwhile the corruption in the ALP Right and the union movement is currently hamstringing the pragmatic and progressive reform elements in the party, and the ALP is nowhere to be found except in lockstep with the right-wing unionists, vague statements on social media and irrelevant emails.

Now more than ever Australia needs a progressive political force that is unafraid to tackle the destructive policies and practices that are currently arrayed against Australia.

The ALP has split in the past; usually with right-wing elements peeling off to create new conservative parties, such as the United Australia Party; forerunner to the modern Liberal Party, and the Democratic Labor Party.

Perhaps now it is up to the progressive and Left in the ALP party to make a stand and plant a new banner that can be a rally point for the dozens of progressive micro-parties that sprang up at the last federal election, for environmentalists, for small businesses, for workers, for entrepreneurs. For everyone who wants better representation, not just in a leadership ballot but in building policy.  For everyone who sees the threat arrayed against our nation and its future, and wants to do something about it.

Perhaps, once again, It’s Time.

Day to Day Politics: As governments go, they are the worst ever.

Thursday 14 September

It only seems like yesterday that I wrote what follows. Indeed, It was Tuesday 13 September in the year 2016, one year ago. Tony Abbott had started the defence of his legacy and a bit of shit stirring.

As I read what I had written twelve months ago It occurred to me just how truly hopeless this government has been. I was writing about the plebiscite, or survey, as it turns out. What a bloody mess Turnbull had inherited from Abbott. Still, is I think to myself! Just like his energy policy. I get my wife her breakfast, make a cup of tea and open my iPad to read the morning news.

“Turnbull government is working on a major redesign of the clean energy target that will likely fall short of the plan for almost half of Australia’s electricity to be generated by renewables by 2030.”

Good Lord, I thought to myself they are going to do a makeover, change its name and use money from the renewable energy fund for coal.

I scratch whats left of the hair on my head and wonder if I’m going nuts.

I recover in time to watch the bear pit only to see our Prime Minister raving and ranting like a madman trying to prove that electricity was more expensive under Labor than the Coalition. I need a pill of some sort. Just do something, you idiot, my inner voice screams.

Tuesday 13 2016, in a speech Tony Abbott said of his own governance:

1 “There was a good two years followed by a good 12 months, an election win, and now we have got three years to get on with governing.”

When former Prime Minister Tony Abbott chooses words such as these to describe three years of prodigious failure you know they must be suffering from a mental illness.

I’m not qualified to diagnose so I will move on. Well, except to say that delusion might be a possibility.

Do you recall his government was that bad that there was a move to replace him? That’s when he said “good government starts tomorrow.”

2 Yesterday I turned the radio on and caught the last part of an interview with a right-wing politician talking about the Plebiscite. “We took it to the people we won the election with a majority and we have a mandate to go ahead.” More delusion.

There are a number of problems with that statement but let me make these points. It has been demonstrated that the majority is flimsy at best, it was hardly a resounding victory and talk of a mandate is somewhat ridiculous.

Now let me make this clear. I think as does the Prime Minister that a Plebiscite is just an opportunity to delay, obstruct and implement a negative campaign for the conservative extremists in the coalition.

So bad has the implementation for the Plebiscite been that little thought has been given to drawing up legislation for it.

After promising it for 2016 the government doesn’t even have a date. The question hasn’t been announced and worse still the funding is up in the air.

There are contradicting views on whether both sides of the debate will be funded or not.

Who is the no side and who are they led by. Is it the Australian Christian Lobby who only represents the Charismatic Churches that take a literal view of the Bible? Are they going to seriously fund a group of believers outside the mainstream?
Why do the Churches need to be funded?

The Anglican archbishop of Sydney, Glenn Davies, said on Sunday that Turnbull promised him in February taxpayer money would be forthcoming.

Lyle Shelton, head of the ACL, tweeted that he was at the February meeting and the archbishop’s recollection was correct.

Malcolm Turnbull says that’s not true. Take your pick on that.

Why is the ACL the self-appointed leader of the NO vote? Is there a YES vote group? If so, who is it? The Coalition is pulling itself apart on the issue of funding which further demonstrates the absurdity of their organisation skills.

The Government has made a complete mess of this and the cost seems to be of little consequence. Spending $200 million to find out something that is already conclusively known seems to me to be the pinnacle of stupidity. Unsurprising however, for this mob.

An observation

“People often argue from within the limitations of their understanding and when their factual evidence is scant, they revert to an expression of their feelings.”

3 I caught part of the Barnaby Joyce interview on Insiders on Sunday and to say the least I was angered by his demeanour. No, not the skin cancers that are being treated, but the flippant way he disposed with some of the questions.

His arrogance when asked about moving the Australian Pesticides and Veterinary Medicines Authority to Armidale, in northern New South Wales, in the middle of his New England electorate was pitiful. His smug manner just came across as boorish in the true sense of the word. Turnbull promised transparency but Joyce acts on a need to know basis.

“I don’t think I will [release it] at this stage, because the decision’s been made by the Australian people.”

Last week on Skye News he said:

“If you’re going to premise it on the cost-benefit analysis, we wouldn’t’ do it.”

Really, someone needs to remind them that they just got in by the skin of their teeth and that the people were sending a loud and clear message.

Suggesting that because they won by a seat, that the people gave their blessing to every coalition policy is tantamount to looking with your ears and listening with one’s eyes. His appearance was that of a man with a bad headache and a sever hangover. Certainly not a deputy pm.

An observation

“At some time in the human narrative…in our history, man declared himself superior to women. It must have been an accident, or at least an act of gross stupidity. But that’s men for you.”

4 The Senate turns up for work on Monday and is told there is nothing to do. Really, this government couldn’t organise a chook raffle at the local pub.

Even their own MPs are joking about the Coalitions lack of a second term agenda. They have plans for the restoration of the construction watchdog and the establishment of a Registered Organisations Commission in the coming months – both of which are not guaranteed passage. That’s not going to keep them gainfully employed for the next three years at $200,000 PA plus perks.

As it stands the Abbott/Turnbull Governments don’t come within a bull’s roar of the legislative achievements of Gillard.

On top of last week’s debacle in the Lower House this is a major embarrassment.

Penny Wong summed it up rather well when she accused the government of having “no plans and no ideas…they’ve got literally nothing to talk about”.

5 Abbott is treating the media as though he is the leader, they acquiesce, and he is on the front foot with an opinion on anything and everything. It will have to come to a head at some time. The party cannot have two leaders.

Howard too seems to be hyping everything up, wanting changes to 18c and industrial relations.

My thought for the day

“We have so much to learn from people we disagree with that it’s a wonder we don’t do it more often.”

PS: Vote YES.

And some said this … “We might have accepted all of Finkel except the politics didn’t look right.”

Day to Day Politics: Please just go, Barnaby

Thursday 17 August 2017

When The Australian publishes headlines like those listed below (all behind a paywall, sadly), you know you are in deep trouble. We are being governed by clowns but it’s no laughing matter. The Government has found itself in an agonizing muddle over Joyce’s actual citizenship status and sought to ensnare Australia’s trusted security Five Eyes partner, New Zealand.

“Was there a cover-up on Joyce?” (Greg Brown)

Cory Bernardi asks if government knew about Barnaby Joyce’s dual citizenship and tried to cover it up.

“Mad mad days in Canberra” (Paul Kelly)

Labor outsmarts the government at almost every step — and it’s not just good luck.

“Barnaby only has self to blame” (Simon Benson)

Barnaby Joyce — and others — have only themselves to blame for the predicament they are in. It is no fault of the law.

“Coalition Response a Disaster” (Dennis Shanahan)

Julie Bishop has thrown petrol on the flames and damaged our closest relationship.

“Jokes on Turnbull in this mess” (David Crow)

The Prime Minister not only strolled toward a trap set by the Opposition, he leapt the final steps.

“Payback as Labor senses blood” (Dennis Shanahan)

Barnaby Joyce will have to step aside at least as a cabinet minister or have the government face ongoing chaos.

Making a fool of Australia

Julie Bishop is well remembered for her remark when representing a mining company “why workers should be entitled to jump court queues just because they were dying.”

She is also known for overreach.

Her actions on Tuesday when she decided that New Zealand and Bill Shorten had colluded to bring down the Australian Government bordered on being unhinged. As Foreign Minister Julie Bishop said she might not be able to trust a New Zealand Labor government.

When you boil it all down and rid all the talk of its conspiracy nonsense it would seem that Penny Wong’s Chief of Staff who happened to be a New Zealander made some enquiries about citizenship and found that indeed Joyce was a dual citizen. It’s politics. The Coalition would do the same and as I write is probably trying to unearth anything they can on those Labor MPs alleged to be doubtful.

The problem for Turnbull and Bishop and others is that a superior opponent is politically outplaying them.

For example, Turnbull is being played like a puppet on a string. He is threatening to name up to 9 Labor MPs as having dual citizenship. He is only threatening because he knows that he would be condemned by all and sundry if they were found to be squeaky clean.

And it would amaze everyone if Labor had not done due diligence on the matter from day one.

Bishop has once again made a fool of herself. The government’s near hysterical campaign about traitors has not gone down well.

Tuesday 15 August might well go down in Australian political history as the day a conservative party accused our close neighbor, friend and sporting foe as treacherous. Christopher (the fixer) Pyne gets the gong for using the ‘T’ word. Mind you have used the ‘C’ to describe Bill Shorten previously I suppose the ‘T’ word was a little less offensive to New Zealand.

Then in keeping with the dastardly conduct of the Government (if you can call it that) the Prime Minister motivated his party room by repeating that Bill Shorten wanted to steal government by entering into a conspiracy with a foreign power, Turnbull told colleagues.

Everyone had treated the matter with a bit of good old Australia V New Zealand competitiveness to this point but when Julie Bishop high heeled her way into the mural hall to suggest she would struggle to trust a Labor government in New Zealand the mood changed.

It was a Trumpish press conference from Australia’s normally highly professional foreign minister. She looked uncertain and nervous and as soon as she cottoned onto the fact that she was making a fool of herself she walked out.

When the clowns of the circus moved to Question Time the acrobatics were in full swing. Those responsible for the questions, required backbenchers, with forlorn looks on their faces, to ask questions about foreign state interference in Australian political matters. And with a straight face. Was war about to break out between two friends?

The Dorothy Dixers would have you believe a cold war had erupted across the Tasman and New Zealand was now some axis of evil.

And all this time Barnaby Joyce sat dejected like a man accused of a great wrong but was really innocent. As I watched I was reminded of how he wasted millions of taxpayer’s dollars moving a department into his own electorate and his pub confession of stealing water from the Murray to give to farmers.

He breaks the law with gay abandonment but pleads ignorance when confronted by his own ignorance. I have no sympathy for his dejection. He plays the game hard and what goes around comes around.

The bear pit known as Question Time descended into a government fiasco, excruciating in its capacity for reducing otherwise intelligent people into moronic imbeciles.

The government spent Question TIme painting pictures of New Zealand as an enemy of Australia conspiring with the Labor Party to bring down the Government. How ridiculous, how ludicrous, how silly, how absurd, how preposterous and how typical of this government and its leader.

Labor had outsmarted them and used ridicule to embarrass the Government.

Other than just being downright offensive this government is worthless. It is not fit to hold office. It’s desperation, panic and recklessness is there for all to see.

My thought for the day

“Current experience would suggest that the Australian people need to take more care when electing its leaders.”

Day to Day Politics: Taking credit when none’s due.

Sunday 2 April 2017

1 For all his bluff and bluster, a perpetual smile, together with the occasional stunt, it seems to me that Nick Xenophon really doesn’t achieve much. Such is the case with the Government’s Tax Cuts for business. And I might add that when he does it generally favours a rightish ideology.

Ostensibly all he has negotiated is a one off ‘insult’ payment to pensions of a piddling $75 for a single person and $125 for a couple for those on the aged pension, the disability support pension or the parenting payment.

It’s supposed to cover rising energy prices.

The smiling faces of Malcolm Turnbull, Treasurer Scott Morrison and Finance Minister Mathias Cormann gave a press conference on Friday to hail the changes as a ”great day for Australian workers and Australian businesses”.

”This is a great result for 6.5 million Australians working for businesses that will get the benefit of this tax cut,” Turnbull said.

My God, you would think they were going to walk into work on Monday to be told their would be an extra 100 bucks in their pay packets next week.

Xenophon additionally negotiated some energy measures including fast-tracking a solar-thermal plant in South Australia. It is already underway and a new National Energy Policy which the chief scientist had already been commissioned to come up with by mid-year. There was also a non-binding promise for a study into the viability of a gas pipeline connecting the state with the Northern Territory.

The Government also promised to enforce a ”Public interest” order on the big three liquefied natural gas exporters in Queensland to force them to pump more gas to the domestic market. Again this was something Turnbull had done when he met gas executives early last month.

It seems to me that Xenophon does this frequently walking away with the credit for doing little other that giving the government it way. He is a PR freak. At the end of the day all he got for tax cuts to the rich and privileged was a one off $153 payment for pensioners.

There is no evidence that these cuts are about ”Jobs and Growth,” no modelling. No statement from the ATO that they will create ”Jobs and Growth.”

As Sally McManus told the Press Club last Wednesday:

”Wage theft is a new business model for far too many employers. Inequality in our country is now at a 70-year high. And 679 of our biggest corporations pay not one cent in tax.”

So the new tax rate will reduce from 30 to 25 per cent over 10 years for companies earning up to $50 million.

With a large number of companies paying no tax at all together with numerous concessions and tax imputation most companies already only pay about 24%.

It is one of the reasons why a report from the Australian Tax Office found that Business Council of Australia members actually paid an effective tax rate of 24 per cent as a group in 2014-2015.

With the lack of evidence regarding any connection to ‘’Jobs and Growth” it is easy to see that this is just old trickledown economics of the sort that modern economists say is past its used by date.

Jacqui Lambie argued that companies – including multinationals – did not need any more help with tax cuts and said the big four banks would receive $7.4bn in revenue if the Coalition’s package went through.

At midday on Saturday while enjoying a cuppa the Prime Minister graced our television screen espousing how we are all going to enjoy the benefits of giving tax cuts to businesses with turnovers of $50 million.

Having already doubled Labor’s debt one wonders where the money is coming from to pay for this. Remember the uproar from the Coalition and the Murdoch press just a few years back.

I can only conclude that the word “lying” in political terms has been replaced with the more subtle reference of “overstatement”. Maybe bullshit would be a better word. One thing is for sure. He is no longer the calm reasoned man of thoughtful disposition we thought we were going to get when he got the job.

While I’m on the subject of energy it’s interesting that a $1 billion battery and solar farm will be built at Morgan in South Australia’s Riverland by year’s end in a project the proponents describe as “the world’s biggest.

An observation.

”Change sometimes disregards opinion and becomes a phenomenon of its own making. With Its own inevitability”

2 Germany is set to introduce the world’s first zero-emission passenger train to be powered by hydrogen. It only emits steam.

3 For the time being the fight against changes to 18c has been won. I will now be able to continue writing freely as I have been doing without feeling the need to think up new ways to criticise people.

Against changing 18C – ALP, Greens political party, Nick Xenophon Team, Jacqui Lambie

For changing 18C – Government, One Nation, Derryn Hinch, David Leyonhjelm.

4 From the Labor Party email Newslette:

You’ll remember in Week Two of the election campaign there were raids on Labor in relation to the National Broadband Network. The raids happened after Labor had exposed the Turnbull Government’s incompetent handling of the NBN. This week the Senate inquiry into these raids and the materials which were seized found it was an “improper interference” with the functions of the Parliament. I’ve asked the Speaker how this will now be handled to prevent these issues coming up again in the future. He’ll be reporting back to the Reps when we return for the Budget.

5 Following on from my recent piece ”what’s happening in the bear pit?” I have to report that it’s getting worse. Take a look at this.

6 The Australian made a complete fool of itself when it tried to discredit new ACTU leader Sally Mc Manus.

The story was promoted by the Australian’s associate editor, Caroline Overington, on Twitter before an address by McManus at the National Press Club.

Reporters will asking @sallymcmanus tough questions about her resume when she appears at Press Club today:

Gutter reporting from the Murdoch press.

The Guardian has the story.

On this day in 2016 I wrote:

A Just when we thought Donald Trump couldn’t go any lower, he does.

Trump was asked by MSNBC’s Chris Matthews to define his “pro-life” stance and assertions that abortion should be banned.

”Do you believe in punishment for abortion – yes or no – as a principle?” asked Matthews, during the taping of a town hall event.

”The answer is there has to be some form of punishment,” said Trump.

”For the woman?” Matthews said.

”Yeah, there has to be some form,” Trump replied.

‘Ten cents, 10 years, what?’ Matthews asked again, pressing.

”That I don’t know,” said Trump.

B Billionaire retailer Gerry Harvey, the man who views the world through the prism of his own cash registers, reckons we need a two tier wage system where cheap labour is plentiful.

”Australia doesn’t have cheap labour. Many overseas workers would be prepared to move here for a much better life and half the money Australians earn … I’ve got horse studs and it’s difficult to get staff” he said.

C Conversely, I was reading the daily Morgan Report and would you believe the Fair Work Ombudsman did a nationwide investigation into the fast-food sector and found that nearly half (47 per cent) of 565 spot-checked employers have not been paying their staff correctly, with workers being paid as low as $6 per hour compared to the statutory minimum of $17.25 per hour.

The Fair Work Ombudsman’s investigation found that in nearly one-third of cases, the flat hourly rate paid by the employer to its workers was not enough to cover hours attracting penalty rates and loadings, resulting in underpayments for which an employer could be ordered to compensate the underpaid worker, and fined for breach of the applicable Industrial Award.

Royal Commission, anyone?

My thought for the day.

“We are given the gift of foresight however, we choose to be reactive rather than proactive. Why is it so?”

PS: I think the only thing I have missed is Mark Latham’s manners, but I will give it a miss.

 

Day to Day Politics: They call it “Question Time” but you’re not compelled to answer.

Thursday 11 August 2016

Parliament starts again in a week or so and without doubt, given the Government’s slender majority, and a defiant Senate, it will be a torrid time. Central to how the public view the Government’s performance are the snippets they glean from Question Time.

Question Time in the Australian Parliament is an insult to the intelligence of reasoned people. Although it is only watched by those with a professional interest and political tragics like me, it is nonetheless the prism through which the Australian public form a perception of their politicians.

Now and then news services showcase Question Time and voters are left wondering if it’s for real or just a group of bad actors auditioning for play school.

It is devoid of wit, humour, words of intelligence and those with the eloquence and debating skills to give them meaning. Mostly it embraces a maleness that believes in conflict as a means of political supremacy over and above the pursuit of excellence in argument.

Question Time under speaker Bronwyn Bishop degenerated into a bear pit of mouths that roared with hatred. The Speaker gave the appearance of disliking men with a bitchy witchlike headmistress’s loathing more suited to an evil character in a Disney movie than a democratic parliament.

Her demeanour was obnoxious, threatening and deliberately intimidating. She was consciously biased to the point of dismissing legitimate points of order out of hand. And in a mocking manner that lacked any dignity and grace. In doing so she gave the impression of a women obsessed with herself and her party rather than acting in the impartial manner the position demanded.

All with an authoritarian sharp-edged sarcastic manner calculated to make her subjects cringe. Her condescendingly belligerent manner lacked the civility required for reasoned discourse.

Unlike Speakers before her she attended her party’s parliamentary meetings to listen and be advised of tactics in order to respond accordingly.

Anything to humiliate the opposition. There can be no other reason for doing so. In addition she regularly used her offices for party fund-raising functions. Something previous Speakers would never consider.

She threw out the ‘standing orders’ and invoked her own set of rules. Particularly when it came to relevance, sometimes ignoring points of order or dismissing them out of hand. She even allowed Ministers to continue talking when points of order had been raised, pretending to not to notice members at the despatch box. Answers were allowed that were so far removed from the question asked that one could be excused for thinking one has a hearing difficulty.

All in all she so corrupted Question Time that it became totally dysfunctional.

While a lot of this contestation is part of the drama of the Parliament; no one would wish Question Time to be reduced to polite discussion without challenge. Nevertheless, Question Time all too regularly descends into an unedifying shouting match between the Government and Opposition, damaging the public image of the Parliament and of politicians in general.

According to the Parliamentary Education Office the purpose of Question Time is to allow the opposition to ask the executive government questions and to critically examine its work. Ministers are called upon to be accountable and explain their decisions and actions in their portfolios. Question Time also provides ministers with an opportunity to present their ideas, their leadership abilities and their political skills.

During Question Time, the opposition also has a chance to present themselves as the alternative government.

Question Time occurs at 2pm every day when Parliament is sitting and usually lasts for about one hour. By custom, the Prime Minister decides how long Question Time will last and indeed if it will be held at all.

Ministers do not know the content of questions posed by the opposition during Question Time. These are likely to be tough, designed to test ministers’ capacity to answer quickly and confidently.

During Question Time, government backbenchers also pose questions to ministers in order to highlight government policies and achievements. These are prepared prior to Question Time and are known as ‘Dorothy Dixers’, after a magazine columnist who used to write her own questions and answers.

Question Time has evolved in the Australian Parliament over a long period of time. The first Parliament made provision for questions on notice to be asked and the answers were read to the chamber by the relevant minister.

Over time, questions without notice were also put to ministers, particularly in regard to important or urgent matters. The focus in Question Time today is on making the government accountable for its actions and dealing with the political issues of the day.

Well in short that’s the purpose. Does it work in reality? Of course not. After Bronwyn Bishop was removed for gross indulgences of her parliamentary allowances, the new Speaker Tony Smith has reignited a modem of decorum.

However every government on being elected says it will reform Question Time. As part of an agreement with Prime Minister Gillard Rob Oakshot and Tony Windsor made some effort at reform with a greater insistence on relevance and supplementary questions.

Prior to the 2013 election Christopher Pyne, the then Manager of Opposition Business, but better known as the mouth that roared, had this to say:

“An elected Coalition Government will move to reform Parliamentary Standing orders in the House of Representatives”.

“Our reforms will make Parliamentary Question Time more concise and ensure Ministers are held to account and remain relevant to questions asked”.

“We will look to strengthen the definition of ‘relevance’ in the standing orders so Ministers must stay directly relevant to questions and ensure Matter of Public Importance debates follow Question Time”.

What a ludicrous load of nonsense. As I stated earlier, there is no requirement for relevance at all. And without it Ministers simply cannot be held to account.

Without civility reasoned debate cannot take place. All we have at the moment is a shambolic gaggle of incompetent unedifying politicians not in the least interested in enhancing our democracy. It has degenerated to the point of being obsolete. It needs to be given the flick and rethought.

How should this come about? Try this. Bill Shorten at the height of the next example of Question Time’s irrelevance should walk out of the parliament together with his colleagues straight into a press conference with a detailed list of reasons for doing so.

They being that Question Time has become untenable, so biased that there is no purpose in asking questions.

After citing all the obvious reasons he should then, having prepared himself, launch into a list of proposals to make governments and Ministers more accountable. The whole point of his presentation should center on a better more open democracy. An address that takes the democratic moral high ground that is critical of both sides of politics. He should take the political moral high ground.

“None of us can claim that in this place, first and foremost on our minds is how we serve the Australian people”.

Let the ideas flow. I propose to appoint now, a panel of former speakers from both sides of the house, to rewrite the standing orders and reform Question Time.

All this is hypothetical of course because I am thinking out loud. But consider the following.

1 An independent speaker. Not a politician. Not only independent but elected by the people. A position with clout. The Parliamentary Speakers Office with the power to name and shame Ministers for irrelevance. Power over politicians expenses. It could include a ‘’Fact Check Office’’

2 Imagine if the Speaker’s office adjudicated on answers and published on its internet site, a relevance scale. This might serve two purposes. Firstly, it would promote transparency and truth, and secondly provide an opportunity for ministers to correct answers. It wouldn’t take long for profiles of ministers to build.

3 If in the course of Question Time the Opposition wants to table a document that they say supports their claim, in the interests of openness and accountability it should always be allowed. Documents would also come under the scrutiny of the Speakers Office and both their authenticity and relevance be noted in the Speaker’s weekly accountability report.

4 Freedom of Information could also come under the umbrella of the Independent Speakers Office with it deciding what could be disclosed in the public interest.

5 Dorothy Dixers would be outlawed because they serve no purpose. If back benchers want information then pick up the bloody phone. Question Time is not a public relations department. A place for policy advertising. Question Time is about Government accountability.

6 I acknowledge that our system requires vigorous debate and human nature being what it is passion sometimes gets the better of our politicians. When it occurs the Speaker should have the power to call time outs.

7 Lying to the Parliament is a serious misdemeanour yet the Prime Minister and the Ministers in this Government do it on a regular basis. An Independent Speaker would be able to inflict severe penalties on serious offenders.

8 In fully answering a question, a minister or parliamentary secretary must be directly responsive, relevant, succinct and limited to the subject matter of the question. Penalties apply.

At this point in time nothing has changed. The Government owns Question Time, the Speaker and the Standing Orders.

My thought for the day.

“To those who think they can win a debate by being loud and crass. I say be quiet. To those who think they can win with a perceived superior intellect I say be humble. Discourse requires civility in order to produce reasoned outcomes”.

 

Day to Day Politics: It’s really play school but they call it “Question Time”

Saturday 19 March 2016

Question Time in the Australian Parliament is an insult to the intelligence of reasoned people. Although it is only watched by those with a professional interest or political tragics like me, it is nonetheless the prism through which the Australian public form a perception of their politicians.

Now and then news services showcase Question Time, and voters are left wondering if it’s for real or just a group of bad actors auditioning for play school.

It is devoid of wit, humour, words of intelligence and those with the eloquence and debating skills to give them meaning. Mostly it embraces a maleness that believes in conflict as a means of political supremacy over and above the pursuit of excellence in argument.

Question Time under former Speaker Bronwyn Bishop degenerated into a bear pit of mouths that roared with hatred. The Speaker gave the appearance of disliking men with a bitchy witchlike headmistress’s loathing more suited to an evil character in a Disney movie than a democratic parliament.

Her demeanour was obnoxious, threatening and deliberately intimidating. She was consciously biased to the point of dismissing legitimate points of order out of hand. And in a mocking manner that lacked any dignity and grace. In doing so she gave the impression of a women obsessed with herself and her party rather than acting in the impartial manner the position demands. All with an authoritarian sharp-edged sarcastic manner calculated to make her subjects cringe. Her condescendingly belligerent manner lacked the civility required for reasoned discourse.

Unlike speakers before her she attended her party’s parliamentary meetings to listen and be advised of tactics in order to respond accordingly. Anything to humiliate the opposition. There can be no other reason for doing so. In addition she regularly used her offices for party fund-raising functions. Something previous speakers would never consider.

She threw out the ‘standing orders’ and invoked her own set of rules. Particularly when it came to relevance, sometimes ignoring points of order or dismissing them out of hand. She even allowed Ministers to continue talking when points of order had been raised, pretending to not to notice members at the despatch box. Answers were allowed that were so far removed from the question asked that one could be excused for thinking one had a hearing difficulty.

All in all she so corrupted question time that it became so totally dysfunctional that it either needed to be terminated or reconstructed.

A new speaker has returned some decorum to the chamber but it really serves little purpose.

While a lot of the contestation is part of the drama of the Parliament, no one would wish Question Time to be reduced to polite discussion without challenge. Never­theless, Question Time all too regularly descends into an unedifying shouting match between the Government and Opposition, damaging the public image of the Parliament and of politicians in general.

According to the Parliamentary Education Office the purpose of Question Time is to allow the opposition to ask the executive government questions and to critically examine its work. Ministers are called upon to be accountable and explain their decisions and actions in their portfolios. Question Time also provides ministers with an opportunity to present their ideas, their leadership abilities and their political skills.

During Question Time, the opposition also has a chance to present themselves as the alternative government

Question Time occurs at 2pm every day when Parliament is sitting and usually lasts for about one hour. By custom, the Prime Minister decides how long Question Time will last and indeed if it will be held at all.

Ministers do not know the content of questions posed by the opposition during Question Time. These are likely to be tough, designed to test ministers’ capacity to answer quickly and confidently.

During Question Time, government backbenchers also pose questions to ministers, in order to highlight government policies and achievements. These are prepared prior to Question Time and are known as ‘Dorothy Dixers’, after a magazine columnist who used to write her own questions and answers.

Question Time has evolved in the Australian Parliament over a long period of time. The first Parliament made provision for questions on notice to be asked and the answers were read to the chamber by the relevant minister. Over time, questions without notice were also put to ministers, particularly in regard to important or urgent matters. The focus in Question Time today is on making the government accountable for its actions and dealing with the political issues of the day.

Well in short that’s the purpose. Does it work in reality? Of course not. Every government on being elected says it will reform Question Time. As part of an agreement with Prime Minister Gillard, Rob Oakeshott and Tony Windsor made some effort at reform with a greater insistence on relevance and supplementary questions.

Prior to the last election Christopher Pyne, the then Manager of Opposition Business, but better known as the mouth that roared, or the fixer, had this to say:

“An elected Coalition Government will move to reform Parliamentary Standing orders in the House of Representatives.”

“Our reforms will make Parliamentary Question Time more concise and ensure Ministers are held to account and remain relevant to questions asked.”

“We will look to strengthen the definition of ‘relevance’ in the standing orders so Ministers must stay directly relevant to questions and ensure Matter of Public Importance debates follow Question Time.”

What a ludicrous load of nonsense. As I stated earlier, there is no requirement for relevance at all. And without it Ministers simply cannot be held to account. Without civility reasoned debate cannot take place. All we have at the moment is a shambolic gaggle of incompetent unedifying politicians not in the least interested in enhancing our democracy. It has degenerated to the point of being obsolete. It needs to be given the flick and rethought.

How should this come about? Try this. Bill Shorten should walk out of Question Time with his colleagues straight into a press conference with a detailed list of reasons for doing so. That being that Question Time has become untenable, so lacking in relevance that there is no purpose in asking questions.

After siting all the obvious reasons he should then, having prepared himself, launch into a list of proposals to make governments and Ministers more accountable. The whole point of his presentation should center on a better more open democracy. An address that takes the democratic moral high ground that is critical of both sides of politics.

“None of us can claim that in this place, first and foremost on our minds is how we serve the Australian people.’’

Let the ideas flow. I propose to appoint now, a panel of former speakers from both sides of the house, to rewrite the standing orders and reform Question Time.

All this is hypothetical of course because I am thinking out loud. But consider the following.

1 An independent speaker. Not a politician. Not only independent but elected by the people. A position with clout. The Parliamentary Speakers Office with the power to name and shame Ministers for irrelevance. Power over politicians expenses. It could include a ‘’Fact Check Office’’

2 Imagine if the Speakers Office adjudicated on answers and published a relevance scale on its website. This might serve two purposes. Firstly it would promote transparency and truth and secondly provide an opportunity for ministers to correct answers. It wouldn’t take long for profiles of ministers to build.

3 If in the course of Question Time the Opposition wants to table a document that they say supports their claim, in the interests of openness and accountability it should always be allowed. Documents would also come under the scrutiny of the Speaker’s office and both their authenticity and relevance be noted in the Speaker’s weekly accountability report.

4 Freedom of Information could also come under the umbrella of the Independent Speakers Office with it deciding what could be disclosed in the public interest.

5 Dorothy Dixers would be outlawed because they serve no purpose. If back benchers want information then pick up the bloody phone. Question Time is not a public relations department. A place for policy advertising. Question Time is about Government accountability.

6 I acknowledge that our system requires vigorous debate and human nature being what it is passion sometimes gets the better of our politicians. When it occurs the Speaker should have the power to call time outs.

7 Lying to the Parliament is a serious misdemeanour yet the Prime Minister and the Ministers in this Government do it on a regular basis. An Independent Speaker would be able to inflict severe penalties on serious offenders.

8 In fully answering a question, a minister or parliamentary secretary must be directly responsive, relevant, succinct and limited to the subject matter of the question. Penalties apply.

Nothing has changed. The Government owns Question Time, the Speaker and the Standing Orders.

Democracy is dead. Lunacy prevails.  Anyway I think I have made my point.

My thought for the day.

IF you have a point of view, feel free to express it. However, do so with civility. Then your point of view is laced with a degree of dignity.

Day to Day Politics: Was Jesus Really Born of a Virgin?

Tuesday 21 November 2017

Whilst strictly this post is off the subject of politics it does address the issue of freedom of religion. In this instance I am questioning the validity of the virgin birth.

Over the years I have lost a number of Facebook friends because of my rather radical views on Christianity and the Bible in particular. My original essay on gay marriage was greeted with surprising positivity by many, but with disdain by Christians. This time I take on the subject of the Virgin Birth of Jesus and I expect some will be shocked with the view I express. Of course everyone is entitled to believe what they will. For me I am more interested in ascertaining truth (truth being the touchstone of the Christian existence, and justice cannot be achieved without it) or at least fact before faith. I will set out five reasons why I think the story is a myth.

As the story goes Mary had a vision. The brightness blinded her at first, but gradually she saw an angelic (I have never been able to fathom just what an angel is or looks like) face and it said, Mary You are favoured indeed.For God himself is the Father of your child. Do not be afraid. He will be great and be called the Son of the Most High.”

The next day Mary told her fiancé that God had impregnated her, she was still a virgin, and an angel had told her this.

Firstly, there is no reliable evidence that a virgin birth ever took place. There were no witnesses or DNA samples, no confirmation by any physician or gynaecologist. In normal circumstances events of this nature require some form of collaborative evidence but this being an extraordinary one it requires evidence of a miraculous nature. Yet none is forthcoming. All we have to support it are a couple of references in an ancient book that was written many decades after the event. Remember if we believe the Bible,something occurred that would baffle the very best current science.

Secondly, the Apostle Paul was the earliest of the New Testament writers (pre dating the Gospels) and is responsible for much Christian theology yet he never mentions a virgin birth. Why.This is simple astonishing. Incomprehensibly so. If a virgin birth did take place surely he would have documented it . It is tantamount to leaving out any reference to the Holocaust in 2nd world war history.

Paul refers to Jesus’ birth twice (Rom 1:3; Gal 4:4) and never says he was born of a virgin. If it really happened and it was the monumental miracle mentioned in Matthew and Luke you would think he would be falling over backwards to tell the world. You’d think that it would be of the utmost importance. The virgin birth is not mentioned in Mark, the earliest gospel, or in John, the only other gospel not based on Mark. Why is such an important story left out of all the writing. I suggest that the story had not yet been made up at that point and was for the reason of embellishment added in later. Or Perhaps it served conveniently to fulfil an old prophecy of a virgin birth, which the Gospel of Matthew cites: Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel. (Isaiah 7:14)

The Hebrew word Almah means young women of marriageable age and when translated into the Greek (The language of Paul) it can mean both virgin and young women. That word is Parthenos. So it well may be, and many theologians believe that a simple miss translation of the Hebrew has resulted in an historical error of epic proportion. Bethel ah ,is the Hebrew word which specifically means ‘virgin.

It could also be likely the virgin birth was created to boost the authority of Christianity through prophecy and compete with rival gods who were born of virgins.

As early as the second century B.C.,”says the distinguished Hebrew scholar and critic, Salomon Reinach, “the Jews perceived the error and pointed it out to the Greeks; but the Church knowingly persisted in the false reading, and for over fifteen centuries she has clung to it. The truth of this accusation of conscious persistence in known error through the centuries is proved by confession of St. Jerome, who made the celebrated Vulgate translation from the Hebrew into Latin, and intentionally “clung to the error,” though Jerome well knew that it was an error and false; and thus he perpetuated through fifteen hundred years the myth of the “prophetic virgin birth” of Jesus called Christ.

Although Papal Infallibility has declared that “it will never be lawful to grant … that the sacred writers could have made a mistake”

Thirdly, it’s the same old myth.

The claims of Jesus’ birth are no different from any of the other virgin birth legends.
Jesus was not the first god to be born of a virgin. Mut-em-ua, the virgin Queen of Egypt, supposedly gave birth to Pharaoh Amenkept III through a god holding a cross to her mouth.
Ra, the Egyptian sun-god, was said to be born of a virgin. So was Perseus, Romulus, Mithras, Genghis Khan, Krishna, Horus, Melanippe, Auge and Antiope.

In the ancient world, great men were born of divine fathers and human mothers. Alexander the Great and the Roman emperor Augustus were great men and (therefore) said to have divine fathers. Jesus was also a great man, so he too must have a divine father.

The claims of Jesus’ birth are no different from any of the other virgin birth legends. It doesn’t have any more evidence or appear to be any more likely. Why should we believe it over the others?

Fourthly, is it the truth, or an error, or just an outright lie? Well it could be as previously stated an error in translation but more likely a lie of convenience. Consider this.
A betrothed teenage girl finds out she is pregnant. The father is not her soon-to-be husband, and he knows this. In her society, the penalty for this prescribed by God is death by stoning. What does she do? She claims an angel appeared to her and told her God impregnated her, and that she is now carrying the Son of God.

Now what is more likely, that she is lying or telling the truth? If this story was repeated today it would be laughed at and the girl placed in an institution. Remember that the story didn’t appear until over 50 years after it supposedly happened.

I can only conclude that the possibility of a virgin birth is not biologically possible so the story is a false hood.

My fifth point* concerns the prediction based on Isaiah 7:14, Christians claim that the birth of Jesus was predicted long before the event. The verse reads, “Behold, the alma shall conceive and bear a son and shall call him Immanuel [literally, ‘God is with us’].” Although the Hebrew word “almah” literally means “young woman,” when the Gospel of Matthew (1:23) cites the verse from Isaiah, it translates Almah as “Virgin.” This translation is useful in supporting the contention that the miraculous birth of Jesus was predicted in the Old Testament.

Jewish scholars reject the idea of the Virgin Birth because, they point out, in Isaiah 7:14 the word Almah is part of the Hebrew phrase ha-alma hara, meaning “the Almah is pregnant.” Since the present tense is used, it is clear that the young woman was already pregnant and hence not a virgin. This being the case, the verse cannot be cited as a prediction of the future.

Jewish scholars, supported by many Christian scholars, have also noted that the word Almah in Isaiah 7:14 cannot mean “virgin” because elsewhere when the Bible wants to specify “virgin,” it uses the Hebrew word betula.

When the Revised Standard Version of the Bible was issued in 1952, the words “young woman,” not the word “Virgin, were used for almah in its translation of Isaiah 7:14. This upset the Fundamentalist Christian community, which maintains that Almah in Isaiah refers to the mother of Jesus, who conceived miraculously, without cohabitation with a man. These Fundamentalists expressed their vehement opposition to the new translation by holding burnings of the Revised Edition of the Bible.

As I have pointed out. We would never, ever, believe this today.Imagine if a teenage girl in your neighbourhood claimed that her pregnancy was due to God impregnating her and that she was still a virgin. Would you believe her? Or would you think she was lying?If she insisted on it being true, we would put her in a mental hospital.

Even if Mary herself claimed it, there would have been every incentive to lie about it since the only alternative was death. Again, why would anyone believe this?

There are other problems connected with the stories of Jesus’ birth, but the above is sufficient to raise significant questions about the veracity of it. When one adds to that the fact that virgin birth stories were common in the Mediterranean world at the time, believing in the Virgin birth of Jesus requires a faith that is beyond my comprehension. If my Christian friends have an alternative view I would like to hear it.

My thought for the day

“I start from the premise that everything is open to question. Others start from the premise that the Bible is a literal truth. I cannot.”

  • Is a direct quote from an essay by The Second Jewish Book Of Why by Alfred Kolatch, 1985).

Careful what you wish for

You might have heard of an aircraft manufacturer named Boeing. They are based in the USA and have been happily manufacturing 737s (a twin engine jet that can carry somewhere between 100 and 190 people, depending on the subtype and configuration) in the USA since the 1990s. Competition comes from Airbus, a European company, that manufactures the A320 family of jets that, depending on configuration, can carry somewhere between 130 and 188 passengers. While Airbus is a combination of various European companies, it has assembly plants in Europe, Alabama, USA as well as Tianjin, China.

What is less well-known is that Canada also builds commercial aircraft. In fact, if you’ve flown around regional Australia on Qantaslink, you have almost certainly flown in a Dash 8 at some point. Dash 8s are manufactured by Bombardier (with assistance from the Quebec Government). In the past few years, Bombardier have developed a small jet, known as the ‘C Series’ which comes configured for up to 130 or so passengers. A major US carrier, Delta Airlines placed a firm order for 75 ‘C Series’ aircraft (with an additional 50 options) during 2016. Boeing (who make only slightly larger 737’s) celebrated the news by claiming that Canada was dumping the aircraft into the USA and calling for tariffs. In Trump’s America, arguments like that are easy to prosecute and the US Government placed a 220% tariff (the claimed discount to ‘full price’) on the ‘C Series”, with an 80% penalty.

What Trump and Boeing probably didn’t see coming was an agreement between Airbus and the cash-strapped Bombardier to form a company 50.01% owned by Airbus to manufacture the ‘C Series’ at the Airbus facility in Alabama. Delta gets the planes, Airbus gets a new product line, Boeing can’t claim the planes were dumped as they are being made in the USA and look rather precious by trying it on.

It’s probably fair to suggest there is little love lost between Boeing and Airbus, there is a reasonable probability that Boeing didn’t consider all the potential consequences when it made claims of unfair trade. As a result of the deal between Airbus and Bombardier, there is a greater deal of perceived industry support for the new ‘C Series’ potentially resulting in more sales as Airbus can sell the plane as a part of their product line and in the future, the ‘C Series’ may be enlarged to make it a true competitor to the 737 and A320.

Prime Minister Turnbull could also be accused of not considering all the possible consequences when he announced the National Energy Guarantee a week or so ago. It seems that as much thought went into the acronym ‘NEG’ as went into the 12-page document circulated to Energy Ministers at the time of the public announcement. Fairfax reported:

There was a moment of stunned silence at a hastily arranged teleconference of energy ministers on Tuesday evening, just hours after the government’s long-awaited electricity scheme had been released.

Some of those present at the meeting — described as “testy” by several participants — had requested more detail on the plan. All they had received were two briefing papers — 12 pages in total — and a media release.

With a decade of policy failure by both sides of politics, including Opposition Leaders being rolled over the issue, the then Prime Minister fell into the trap of naming a carbon pricing initiative as a tax when it clearly wasn’t during an election campaign, and a former Prime Minister suggested that ‘climate change’ was the 21st century religion in a speech in the UK as recently as a month or so ago. The whole debacle could have been compared to Nero fiddling while Rome burnt (which apparently didn’t happen — but why ruin a good story).

Despite the odd name and really easy takedowns such as ‘NEGative energy’, ‘NEGative vibes’, ‘NEGative chance’ and so on; Katherine Murphy from The Guardian correctly points out that:

Abbott was apparently lulled by the victory he thought he’d chalked up with killing Alan Finkel’s clean energy target, and in the ensuing lull, the cabinet, and the bulk of the party room came over the top and signed off on a proposal that looks a lot like a regulated carbon price. By acclamation. That’s really quite something in Coalition terms.

Turnbull emerged with a concept called the national energy guarantee. Calling it a policy is a massive stretch. It’s a prototype. The organising idea is energy retailers would face a reliability obligation, and an emissions reduction obligation.

Business and finance reporting organisation Bloomberg has suggested

“Although still in the early stages of development, the concept is innovative and elegant, and could well prove ingenious,” said Kobad Bhavnagri and Leonard Quong from BNEF [Bloomberg New Energy Finance] in Sydney.

“If effective and efficient, it would be a template for policy makers worldwide. Void of any politically unpalatable features and yet likely to be environmentally effective, it could end the climate and energy wars that have claimed so many prime ministers and begun to weaken the Australian economy,” they said.

Reduced down to basics, the NEG will require all electricity retailers to contract with wholesalers for certain percentages of renewable, baseload and ‘dispatchable’ (AKA flick the switch to cover sudden shifts in consumption) power supplies. Assuming the state governments who actually regulate the energy sector comply, a future government could increase or decrease the percentages to suit their political (or, here’s a thought, positive environmental) outcomes. The concept apparently is if a particular retailer decides not to comply, they could lose their license and their business.

To appease the high priests of coal within his government, it seems that Turnbull currently intends to include coal generation as ‘dispatchable’, which it clearly isn’t as it takes time to warm up and cool down a massive coal fire used to generate the steam used to turn the turbines. Despite that, economically the retailers probably won’t be of a mind to pay the extra costs for the warm up/cool down cycle when gas, hydro or (cough) grid scale batteries could perform the same task instantly.

The ABC’s Andrew Probyn wrote

We’ve had John Howard’s ETS (emissions trading scheme), Kevin Rudd’s CPRS (carbon pollution reduction scheme), Julia Gillard’s carbon tax, Tony Abbott’s Direct Action, Chief Scientist Alan Finkel’s CET (Clean Energy Target) … not to mention various dalliances (including Josh Frydenberg’s) with an EIS (emissions intensity scheme).

So when a new plan, an NEG no less, is presented as a “game changer”, scepticism’s instinctive.

But there’s a chance, too, that hope it might offer a way forward trumps any real faith that the modelling behind it bears scrutiny.

Indeed, a Cabinet minister reminded reporters this week that economic forecasting was only invented to make to astrology look respectable.

So when Labor criticises the PM’s plan for its lack of detail, the Federal Opposition knows that community tolerance for more squabbling over energy emissions policy is threadbare.

It is debatable if Turnbull’s claimed domestic savings of around $100 per annum will ever eventuate — so politics may scupper the NEG yet. It is also true the majority of the increases in domestic power prices over the past decade have not been due to environmental compliance on costs.

Since 2009, the electricity networks that own and manage our “poles and wires” have quietly spent $45 billion on the most expensive project this country has ever seen. Allowed to run virtually unchecked, they’ve spent vast sums on infrastructure we don’t need, and have charged it all to us, with an additional fee attached. The spending was approved by a federal regulator, and yet the federal government didn’t even note it until it was well underway.

Let’s be clear: this is the single biggest reason power prices have skyrocketed. According to the federal treasury, 51% of your electricity bill goes towards “network charges”. The carbon tax, despite relentless propaganda to the contrary, is small beer, comprising just 9%. The rest of your bill is carved up between those companies that actually generate your electricity (20%) and the retailers who package it up and sell it to you (20%). The Renewable Energy Target is such a small cost impost, the treasury’s analysis doesn’t even include it; the Australian Energy Market Commission says it makes up around 5%.

Thanks to the networks’ infrastructure binge, we now pay some of the highest prices in the developed world. The impact has been felt most keenly in New South Wales and Queensland, where the networks are government owned and network charges have accounted for two thirds of the price increases.

Regardless of the reality regarding quickly rising power prices, renewables are seen as the enemy and in the minds of the conservative rump of the LNP (at least) should be punished, hence the absolute rejection of any energy program that discourages the use of coal. Using the words ‘clean’, ‘renewable’, ‘cap and trade’ or ‘emission reduction’ are also apparently verboten.

We touched earlier on the beauty (and danger) of the little detail released about the NEG is that future governments will apparently be able to tweak the proportions of the NEG to match their particular ideologies. So, for example, if The Greens were to be the majority party in a coalition, it would be easy for them to dial the acceptance for coal down to zero and move renewables to a significant level.

While that particular scenario isn’t likely to happen next time there is a federal election in Australia, based on opinion polls, it wouldn’t be hard to comprehend a ALP government being elected. The ALP have already pledged to increase renewable energy production so Australia has a ghost of a chance of meeting our obligations under the Paris Agreement. If you run an energy company and are looking for certainty of investment, do you put your money into a coal fired power station with its inherent emissions, a lack of ability to start up or shut down the plant quickly to maximise revenue as well as the inevitable adverse publicity from the environmental lobby? Alternately, do you invest in a form or renewable energy (potentially with grid-scale batteries) ahead of a potential mandate from a possible ALP Government in 2018 or 2019?

Energy company shareholders are there to make a dividend. Being stuck with the debt for a coal fired generator plant that no one will buy energy from in a few short years will not put dividends in the shareholders pockets. The price of renewables is falling substantially and depending on where you look, the cost of generating a megawatt of electricity from renewables is equal to or less than the cost of burning coal. It seems that energy generators want certainty and if the NEG is the way to get it, they will live with it. Boeing apparently attempted to use US domestic politics to shore up their business, and failed miserably. It is likely the Coalition will also fail mixing internal party politics and ideology with energy production. They should be careful what they wish for.

Postscript – Some of the links in this article point to the ‘Plane Talking’ blog hosted by Crikey. The long-time author of that blog, Ben Sandilands, passed away just over a week ago after a long and distinguished career as a journalist. His writing was always clear, well researched and relevant to the subject. Rest in peace Ben, it was truely a pleasure to read your work.

This article by 2353NM was originally published on The Political Sword.

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Religion, science denial, and our evolutionary roots!

Brian Morris specialises in secular politics and is the author of ‘Sacred to Secular’. Here he focuses on why science denial and religion are manifestations from our distant past — and how a growing rejection of empirical evidence feeds this troubling era of ‘post-truth’.

There is an evolutionary flaw we all share. It can drive some to become obsessively religious, and others to embrace conspiracy theories. And it leads traditionalists to resist any change to a more humane society.

Examples are numerous, but top-of-mind is Australia’s inability to legalise Marriage Equality and Voluntary Assisted Dying. Victoria is on the brink, but it’s taken over 30 attempts in all states to even get this close.

What is it that makes the devoutly religious — or inflexibly conservative — so adamant that their minority views must be imposed upon the majority? Why is science denial by climate sceptics and anti-Vaxxers so prevalent? And where do conspiracy theorists and pseudoscience devotees get their ‘alternative facts?’. The inconvenient truth is that all humans are prone to self-deception. But some more than others!

Fact check: Humankind is a highly irrational species!

Everyone has a predisposition to pick up and latch onto thoughts and ideas that have no basis in fact. Due to a range of evolutionary flaws we can easily be trapped into embracing any number of unfounded beliefs.

We marvel at the complexity of our brain – but we know that it lets us down. Constantly!  At the most basic level we are confused by the simplest things. We’re tricked by optical illusions, by a conjurer’s sleight of hand, and by mysterious sounds that wake us at night!  We’re not good at separating fact from fiction.

Without science, our awareness of the ‘natural world’ is pathetically limited. We hear only a microscopic bandwidth as audible sound — just 20 kilohertz — virtually nothing! And we’re able to see only a thin slither of the electromagnetic spectrum — detecting just 0.0035 percent of its entire range as visible light.

Humans are effectively blind to our material environment. Only through advances in science have we begun to understand our world and the universe — to discover the full electromagnetic scale; to “see” with X-rays and magnetic imaging; to explore the universe with radio telescopes; and to determine the elements and composition of distant planets using thermal and spectrographic analysis.

Knowledge in all fields of human endeavour have only become possible by adopting the ‘scientific method’ — rather than our irrational interpretations of what seems true. We can now take any hypothesis, test for its fallibility, submit it to the rigours of peer review, and gain ‘critical’ acceptance from the international scientific community. Only by that process can we establish ‘evidence’ and the veracity of certain ‘facts’.

But we fail to employ ‘critical thinking’ at a personal level

In our daily lives our cognition can betray us — we tend not to think critically, or even to use our basic powers of reason. We often form opinions that can become cemented as our own personal facts.

At that point, all our cognitive biases refuse to allow our beliefs to be challenged. We create a reality that ignores new evidence and defies logic. It becomes easy to construct our own “fake news”, or embrace some trendy pseudoscience that seems real! Very much like Donald Trump’s “alternative facts.”

Why do so many of us actually believe in homeopathy, crystal healing, astrology, clairvoyance, psychics who speak with the dead, ghosts, numerology, Japanese reiki, and all kinds of pseudoscientific woo-woo  — when scientific evidence shows clearly they have no basis in fact?

We treasure our ‘opinions’ on everything — on sport, politics, history, religion, climate change, and the full gamut of social topics. When beliefs become deeply ‘personalised’ we reject all contrary evidence. The most dramatic examples come from the vulnerable (and gullible) people trapped in countless mind-altering religious cults — shown vividly in Going Clear, a documentary on the totalitarian Church of Scientology.

We need to understand WHY we are inherently irrational

If we go back (briefly) to the Savannah of Southern Africa — several million years ago — we can begin to understand how our modern brain developed, and why our early ‘social and survival’ mechanisms can now be counterproductive.

We know that our ability to ‘reason’ is frequently flawed, and this relates back to our earliest hominid ancestors — from the Australopithecines of 4 million years ago, evolving through Home habilis, Homo erectus, and many other intermediaries to Homo sapiens – ourselves – around 200,000 years ago.

Our distant ancestors had a notably smaller brain case which housed a basic and less evolved limbic brain. We became ‘modern humans’ much later, when our brain had fully evolved to include large frontal and temporal lobes. This gave us the capacity to ‘visualise’ people and places, to imagine past and future events, to plan more efficiently, to use language effectively, and gain an ability to use logic and reason.

BUT we still retain the ‘primitive’ part of the brain that we shared with our earliest cousins. It includes the limbic brain — which incorporates the amygdala and hippocampus — responsible for highly “personalised” emotions and inherent defence and survival instincts. This academic article explains the limbic system.

How the limbic brain can subvert ‘reason’

Our earliest ancestors developed a broad range of survival skills which gave them a reactive defence against predators! Without that our species would not have survived, but it’s left us with a legacy which is often in conflict with the new and more highly evolved parts of our brain equipped for ‘critical thinking’. There’s a constant clash between an emotive and reactive limbic system and the rational prefrontal cortex.

Religion and pseudoscience are prone to this limbic influence

One limbic auto-defence mechanism is Hyperactive Agency Detection (HAD), as this Michael Shermer video explains. That rustle in the long grass — is that the wind, or a predator about to kill you? We still retain this survival system to detect ‘agency’ and danger today — it includes the ‘fight or flight’ response we all share. Is that loud bang a gunshot?  Do we stay or run? It’s part of our emotional reactive tendencies.

But HAD also allows us to imagine agencies where none exists. To see ‘natural’ events as ‘supernatural agents’. Our forebears would see earthquakes, lightening and thunder as powerful gods that need to be appeased. Was this a creator of our world who must be obeyed? Creationists and other religious fundamentalists today still use HAD to reassure themselves of their supernatural gods.

Religion is a By-Product of our survival mechanisms:  Many books on neuroscience and psychology explain how our innate social and survival skills can lead people to perceptions of the supernatural and to belief in gods. Perhaps the most concise text is from Dr J Anderson Thomson, ‘Why we believe in Gods.

And Thomson explains in a video how many of our survival traits have so easily been adapted to become religious “by-products” of natural brain function — in exactly the same way that reading, writing and music are simply by-products of neural activity.  We are not hard-wired to read and write! There are no such centres in the brain — they are adaptations we have acquired over time.  And nor are we hard-wired for religion — that is also a by-product of false limbic perceptions. As neuroscientific research explains:

“The amygdala–hippocampus complex and the inferior temporal lobe facilitate the human experience of mystical and religious experiences. It is through (these structures) that dreamlike states and visual and auditory hallucinations are experienced.

“Religious thoughts/beliefs about God make use of conventional neural circuitry. This means there probably is no ‘God spot’ in the brain. Instead, thoughts and feelings about God are mediated by the conventional ‘generic’ brain circuits that are also used for other but similar neural processes.

“The limbic system can therefore be seen as responsible for the emotional and mystical experiences of religion and as the controller of religious-inspired or religious-influenced actions, through its motivational drive on the prefrontal cortex.”

Beliefs embedded in the limbic brain become highly personalised — it’s the emotional nerve centre — and those personal beliefs help to identify who you are. Strong beliefs will be defended vigorously and any challenge can be seen as a personal attack.

We see this constantly in people who deny the Holocaust; those who reject clear evidence of climate change; of the Anti-Vaxxers; and those who swear by any of the pseudoscientific practices touted as cures for chronic illness — even though they have no basis in fact. The limbic system can suppress ‘reason’.

So it’s no surprise that denial of evidence is a key factor for the devoutly religious — especially Creationists — those who believe in a literal Bible. They hold as “God’s truth” the stories of Adam and Eve, Noah’s Flood, that the Earth is only 6,000 years old, and that human evolution is a hoax! And it’s staggering to know that 34 per cent of Australians believe these myths, according to the Guardian (poll at mid-article).

Social policy, religion and the limbic brain: And it’s primarily the highly religious who vehemently oppose contemporary social policy, with beliefs based on ancient scriptures.  Current issues include voluntary assisted dying, marriage equality, and abortion rights for women — they are all regarded as offences against “God’s law”.

This is borne out most recently by an article on the ABC’s Religion and Ethics website, titled: “Opposition to Assisted Dying in Australia is Largely Religious”. It states that of all Christian groups who oppose voluntary euthanasia it’s fundamentalists who are most offended. The percentages are: Catholics 9.8, Anglicans 7.5, Uniting Church 7.1, and Other Christian 26.5 — those predominantly from evangelical churches.

Fear is the greatest driver of religion — and particularly the fear of death — which is exacerbated by our ability to imagine and visualise our own demise.  It’s unsurprising that humans invented gods and heaven to counter this confronting thought — that we all cease to exist at death.

Two psychologists concisely articulate this theme in their challenging book, ‘the Worm at the Core — and why it is that the fear of death drives so much of human behaviour, and underpins supernatural belief.

Religion and science denial

Science has been responsible for the gradual rolling back of religious myth and superstition since the discoveries of Copernicus and Galileo. So it is hardly surprising that all religions have become so vehement in the practice of science denial — refined over many centuries.

In this exasperating era of post-truth and fake news it has become an obsession for conspiracy theorists, dishonest corporations, and the religiously unscrupulous to denigrate and repudiate any scientific evidence that challenge their collective and fictitious concepts of ‘reality’.

The five facets of science denialism are well explained in this academic journal and they apply equally to all corporate and conspiracy propaganda, including supernatural beliefs. All religion is a man-made construct, based on the human fallibility to be irrational — due to the evolutionary development of our limbic brain.

Science communicator Neil deGrasse Tyson scolds the “cherry picking” of science, and dishonest denial of evidence. He says that “settled” science is indeed settle; it’s only the “bleeding edges” of new discovery that scientists argue over. Religion and the media focus only on this to conclude science knows nothing!

“This is a phoney attempt to discredit science, and it underpins this current era of “fake news”. We have played into the hands of those who feel threatened by scientific discovery — those conservatives who fear change, and that includes Islam, Christianity and particularly all evangelical religions.”

It’s time for scientists to fight back

Tyson is correct to say that the science community is culpable for the gradual rise of pseudoscience. With a handful of exceptions (himself include) few scientists will speak out against the growing ranks of deniers. And this includes the pseudoscience of Genesis, promoted as “scientific truth” to schoolchildren through hundreds of private religious schools run by evangelical churches — and funded from the public purse!

Professor Emma Johnston, a marine ecologist, is one of the few Australian scientists to raise her concerns in a recent SMH article. She says the science community must actively seek to influence public debate by pushing it towards evidence-based arguments … and by countering fake news and anti-intellectualism.

Mainstream media, too, has a responsibility to redress the misrepresentation of science. And it’s time it lifted its taboo to discuss ‘faith’ openly. Why religion is a man-made construct, and how its flawed origins are rooted in the primitive recesses of our limbic brain — and distorted by our innate survival mechanisms.

A voice must be given to pro-science advocates who can explain exactly why society will benefit from a better understanding of knowledge through ‘critical thinking’. How ‘misguided opinions’ become ‘personal facts’ — and why ordinary people defend irrational beliefs that have no basis in fact or evidence.

It is this evolutionary flaw — conflict between the rational frontal lobes and the emotionally defensive limbic system — that manifests as religion and pseudoscience: a denial of evidence and reason. And it’s the ‘false certainly’ of a pious minority who denigrate science — and thwart the overwhelming majority who support laws for voluntary assisted dying, equal marriage, and a raft of socially progressive policy.

About Brian Morris: World travel shaped Brian’s interest in social justice — wealth, poverty and religion in many countries. His book Sacred to Secular is critically acclaimed, including from the Richard Dawkins Foundation. It’s an analysis of Christianity, its origins and the harm it does. It’s a call for Australia to become fully secular. More information about Brian can be found on his website, Plain Reason.

Turnbull government fails Australia on jobs and energy.

Super Mal, our super-antihero PM, the down-under “wonder-gunner” blitzes Canberra’s political firmament this week, lighting up the sky with yet another dazzling flash of super-power in “Keeping The Lights on” – a love duet with the BCA and for history buffs an homage to the Liberal Party’s naff 1975 election slogan, “Turn On the Lights.”

In a week where our role in world affairs includes the shameful abandonment of our gulag on Manus Island to our ignominious failure to censure Myanmar over Rohingya genocide and where our embarrassments extend to our Foreign Minister having to eat her words about never being able to trust a Kiwi Labour government, the PM’s energy fix and Michaelia Cash’s jobs windfall are played for all they are worth. And then some.

First, to Turnbull who talks up his NEG, a National Energy Guarantee – a type of energy policy on steroids to judge by its promotion – which promises cheaper, reliable, cleaner electricity. Cheaper? NEG has a way with words:

“It is expected that following the guarantee could lead to a reduction in residential bills in the order of $100-115 per annum over the 2020-2030 period.”

NEG gets generators to clean up their act. No blackouts; keep costs and emissions down. Generators must meet two guarantees; one on reliability and one on emissions.

After that, the proposal gets hazy. Reliability is tricky because coal is “in the mix” along with other ready-to-use sources such as coal, gas, pumped hydro and batteries”. Yet coal is less and less reliable, given the age of Australia’s ageing power plants. Unless it’s running all the time, moreover, a coal-fired plant is inflexible.

Coal fired stations can’t rapidly ramp supply up and down and they are costly to start. Furthermore, high capital costs mean that the less often they operate, the higher the electricity price they need to obtain when they do.

The emissions guarantee, we are told, “will be set to contribute to Australia’s international commitments. The level of the guarantee will be determined by the Commonwealth and enforced by the AER.”

If, as seems likely, the new scheme allows for trading of credits liked to coal generation, the result will be a market in subsidies for dirty energy: “dirty energy credits”.

How it all works is anybody’s guess: no details are available. It’s a Turnbull big picture thing. But for an eight-page thought bubble, a document whipped up in two weeks by a government desperate for a plan B for a flagging Finkel Report, the NEG vibe is just incredible. Huge.

More than a few greenie nay-sayers may be throwing mung bean sandals or waving their Dakota dream-catchers, if we are to heed barking Barnaby Joyce whose tenuous grip on decorum and reality slackens every Question Time.

Won’t the NEG just protect the fossil fuel industry and slow the uptake of renewables? Experts such as Giles Parkinson have not been slow to voice their reservations. Giles mildly ventures that the proposal is:

” … the most ill-considered, poorly detailed and potentially useless policy that anyone can remember – the work of Australia’s so-called ‘energy mafia’ hungry to defend the power of the incumbent oligopoly, commercial interests and their ideology.”

Let yourself go, Parkinson. Tell us what you really think. The Opposition also has some major misgivings.

Labor’s Mark Butler worries: “For Turnbull’s plan to work there would be no new large-scale renewable energy projects and a cut of at least two-thirds to current rates of rooftop solar installation.”

The ESB  proposes a piddling 28 per cent to 36 per cent renewable share by 2030 a means to pacify a Coalition right wing, which already has the scent of victory in its nostrils.

Isn’t the NEG just another back-down? Hasn’t the right wing forced the government to junk the carbon price, reduce the renewable energy target, reject an emissions trading scheme, and dump a clean energy target?

Our PM quickly calls out any such heresy as “ideological”. Reckless unbelief such as this caused the SA blackout, remember? Besides NEG’s been designed by experts. Turnbull savages ABC RN’s Sabra Lane, Wednesday. How dare she (or anyone else) “attack” the “distinguished and expert” Energy Security Board?

Ayatollah Turnbull’s always been a bit iffy about impertinent questions but COAG’s set up a flash new ESB to hide behind. The ESB amounts to five independent experts who know everything. Gold-plated poles ‘n wires R US.

Dr Kerry Schott, former head of NSW and ACT network operator Transgrid fronts the gig, helped by deputy Claire Savage of the Business Council of Australia, a rent-seeking body dedicated to looking after the needs of some of our biggest polluters, a body which, in 2008, warned Rudd that a carbon price was “a company killer”.

Savage is highly regarded but has for the last decade worked as an advocate for big utility companies such as the industry association ESAA, then with EnergyAustralia before her work with the BCA.

Making up the rest of the impartial, independent, business brains trust are the heads of the Australian Energy Market Commission, the Australian Energy Regulator and Australian Energy Market Operator, or, as Sabra Lane puts it:  “… bodies that oversaw the last ten years of disastrous energy policy in Australia”.

Lane’s thoughts are echoed by Parkinson:

The scheme will, ostensibly, be monitored by the same useless regulators that allowed the networks – and latterly the generators and retailers – to gouge consumers over the last 10 years, and enabled them, more recently, to ‘play’ the market for certificates in the renewable energy target.

Our PM’s a gunner from way back. In June, for example, he was still “gonna” introduce a Clean Energy Target. Until it became a test of his leadership. Still going to get water to run up hill in his Snowy Hydro 2.0 pipe dream, though.

Amazingly his Snowy Hydro 2.0, a feasibility study on a massively expensive project at least ten years away is spun as somehow coming on stream tomorrow. A mad, manic delusional optimism seizes the entire front bench.

Turnbull, the disruptor, promises an energy game changer. It’s a masterly performance with report of an Abbott Party Room slap-down.  Josh Frydenberg intercedes. Abbott is a “conscientious objector”. The press gallery drools.

But Mal’s light on for detail. What is the plan? Is “coal in the mix” a sign that this is just another NBN-type hoax? Will coal play the role of copper in the PM’s disaster of an NBN project, devised solely to take down Labor’s?

Dave Donovan argues coal is to Turnbull’s new National Energy Guarantee what copper was to Turnbull’s major debacle; his  underpowered, oversold, over-budget version of the National Broadband Network.

Yet, judging by the saturation press, the PM lays his NEG, a “national energy guarantee” upon a grateful nation. It will, he promises, speaking quickly, cut electricity bills, lower carbon emissions and boost reliability. And look. There’s no modelling. And … that’s not all. The new NEG comes with its own, in-built political point-scorer.

The PM vows without hint of a twitch of upper lip that he will take the politicking out of the energy debate.  Born to silence the right wing and designed to wedge Labor, the NEG is as political as it gets. The rest is hypocrisy.

“How do we break out of these climate wars, of this dreadful cycle of ideological argument — and frankly idiocy or stupidity. There is no other way to describe it,” Turnbull pretends, invoking a thoroughly well-thrashed scapegoat for his own party’s paralysis on energy policy.

The lie that political squabbling is to blame for the Liberals’ own policy inertia, a result of its complete capture by the coal lobby, is repeated so often it is now gospel according to ABC Q&A, The Drum and others in MSM.

Yet, as Naomi Klein says, “It’s hard to tell where the Australian Government ends and the coal industry begins.” Increasingly we are fed the lie that somehow the Liberals’ purity of motive is thwarted by its political opponents’ treachery, especially Labor’s fetish for cheap, reliable, affordable clean energy that won’t destroy the planet.

Equally specious is the lament that squabbles deny our great god industry the certainty it is due; the certainty that is fundamental to investment. As Richard Denniss points out between 2009 and 2015, Santos and its international partners spent $10,000 a minute on a $25bn mistake when they hoped a massive gas export plant at Curtis Island, near Gladstone in Queensland would be profitable. So, too, did two other consortia, boosting cost to $80bn.

Denniss notes: “Australians have been told for decades that “businesses need certainty”, and that uncertainty is a barrier to investing in renewable energy. Unfortunately the gas industry’s inability to predict the future with any certainty didn’t prevent its managers from taking a massive risk with their own shareholders’ money.

Turnbull’s on the same tram. “We’ve got to stop this ideological, theological nonsense about energy,” he preaches to IAG business leaders in Canberra Thursday. This is a time for clear-eyed, hard-headed, businesslike leadership.”

It’s an alarmingly delusional affectation and a well-worn cliché of conservative government rhetoric that only businesses know how to make sound decisions in energy when the evidence from our own gas industry catastrophe alone, a major cause of our own disastrous energy bubble should give pause for thought.

Turnbull must take us for fools if he believes we will mistake his government’s impulsive decision-making (or as he flatters it a “plan”) a proposal whipped up in two weeks without any proper modelling for a clear-eyed or hard-headed policy. It’s another in a long line of capitulations dictated by the government’s industry sponsors.

Yet it is his trademark wild-eyed evasion, Turnbull models in his leadership when he appears on ABC RN.

“Will you guarantee those price reductions?” asks AM host Sabra Lane.

“Well, what I can guarantee” replies PM Turnbull, “is that we’ve got those price figures, those cost figures ‒ in fact, which is based on their estimate of a 20 to 25 per cent reduction in wholesale generation costs ‒ we’ve got that. I can guarantee that the people that are giving those figures are the best informed and the most knowledgeable in the industry.”

No modelling? Instantly, the Opposition pounces in Question Time. Happily, Speaker Tony Smith interprets relevance so broadly as to allow Coalition MPs free rein to indulge in yet another round of Labor-bashing.

The plan is to paint Labor as the party of higher prices in a reprise of Tony Abbott’s pernicious great big new tax on everything 2013 attack on a price of carbon, a stunt which minder, Peta Credlin, now freely concedes, was a hoax.

It’s a work of consummate con-artistry which will continue the “energy wars” on the Labor Party whose reckless pursuit of renewable energy targets, as everyone knows, got us into this mess. Yet Labor fires back.

“In just the last 12 months, the Prime Minister was for an emissions intensity scheme until the Member for Warringah came out against it and he supported a clean energy target until the Member for Warringah came out against that,” Shadow Minister for Climate Change and Energy, Mark Butler, says.

“Given reports that the Member for Warringah spoke against the Prime Minister’s latest energy policy in the party room today, when will the Prime Minister announce that he’s against this one too?”

Not only is the NEG a runaway success, the week ends on a high – at least for employment minister, Michaelia Cash and her groupies who swoon over the government’s latest fresh-baked batch of employment figures.

These confirm how hugely successfully it always is in “creating jobs”, the corollary of “growing the economy” provided no-one looks at population growth, hours worked, wages or any other meaningful measure.

“Employment has increased by 371,500 over the last year – more than four times the jobs growth in Labor’s last year in government …” claims Cash, shrewdly manipulating the time period. Over the Coalition’s four years,  only an average of 206,400 jobs have been added per year.

Given, our adult population growth of  293,700 per year over the last four years, jobs have failed to keep up.

Jobs? ABS records reveal that Turnbull and Abbott are the worst economic managers since Menzies. Wages have languished for four years. Conditions decline steadily. A quarter of Australian workers now have no leave entitlements whatsoever.

A year ago, 716,600 Australians had no work at all but unemployment is no longer something the government mentions in public. Nor is it big on admitting a relentless decline in the quality of our working lives. The Coalition presides over record unemployment, underemployment, underpayment and the systematic casualisation of work.

But it’s on with the Cash Show. It’s all vital part of the pantomime theatre of work in which a neoliberal government can worship in the church of the free market, yet take credit for its own benign intervention.

12 months’ consecutive jobs growth – employment at a record high runs this month’s media massage.

Oh, my! 19,800 – in just four weeks! Just look how many JOBS our Magic Pudding policies have cooked up since our last sensational gingerbread bake-off. MSM reporters fall over themselves to toast another Coalition triumph.

An “extraordinary achievement” gurgles Malcolm Turnbull. Best run of monthly gains for nearly twenty-five years. A chum on The Drum obligingly beats up the myth of infrastructure spending the government keeps spinning and spinning as the cause of our workforce suddenly awash with well-paid, secure employment.

Getting in early, Judith Sloan posts a puff piece about how unassailable government employment statistics are. The former director of Santos a firm which deceived the nation about how much domestic gas it would sell off-shore, howls down “ABC talk-back hosts” for spreading doubt about official figures. It’s a dead giveaway.

Of course there are more people in work. There are more of us. What the minister’s orgy of self-congratulation never acknowledges is how jobs are increasingly part-time, casual and insecure.

But you’ll never hear Cash stop to factor in population growth – or any other fact that would help us to contextualise her meaningless statistics. She breathlessly reels off her talking points oblivious to their nonsense. The population increases; the economy expands. Yet, as Alan Austin, notes, MSM is taken in by her spin.

JOBS announcements are what Ms Cash endlessly, dramatically, provides in her role as Employment Minister, a cameo role she effortlessly fits in with her day-job of growing her own property investment portfolio.

As with most Turnbull government roles, her duties are now chiefly theatrical.  Cash applies her prodigious energy to being our national cheer-leader for all hardworking Australians in her indefatigable, virtue-signalling war on job-snobs, welfare-bludgers and other shirkers. It’s a ritual drawing of the battle lines between lifter and leaner.

For those viewers who don’t speak gush, ABC News 24 obligingly runs a synoptic ticker bearing the whopper: “jobs bonanza”, part of its lip-service to statutory fairness and balance.

As with so much else released by the government and especially with economics, the Employment Minister’s press release includes a Newspeak-style mission statement concocted entirely of false or misleading information.

“We are focussed on our plan to secure a stronger economy with more jobs, including lower taxes for small businesses, a record investment in infrastructure, reliable and affordable energy, new export agreements and an ongoing focus on ideas and innovation”.

More jobs? Alan Austin notes there were 711,500 people out of work in September, the eleventh consecutive month the total has been above 710,000, a figure not seen before the Coalition’s victory in 2013, since 1997.

Hours worked per month, the most reliable employment indicator, were 86.17. It has been below 86.5 for 48 consecutive month since the Coalition was elected. Under Labor it rarely fell below 87 even during the GFC.

Cash also delivers the obligatory attack on Labor. Yet under Labor, Australia ranked sixth in the developed world on the provision of jobs. We now rank 16th.

The Minister for Misleading Employment Statistics has an alarmingly over-expressive delivery easily mistaken for liar’s hype.  While Cash is doubtless a boon to even visually impaired lip-readers everywhere – especially those who yearn for misleading disinformation, her performance demands closer critical scrutiny.

Turnbull’s all-singing, all dancing brand new energy policy, is an insult to the intelligence of the electorate. It lacks detail and any semblance of integrity. Beyond its function as a kowtow to the coal lobby which pulls the party’s strings, it is a desperate, flimsy attempt to wedge Labor whilst appeasing the party’s right wing.

Jobs and energy, the two big-ticket items of the week reveal a Turnbull government hooked on hype and spin, an embattled, incompetent and hopelessly corrupted regime whose sole response to its self-inflicted energy and employment crises is to turn up the loudspeaker on the propaganda machine.

It’s a frantic, futile bid for reassurance; as each Newspoll shows, fewer and fewer amongst us are taken in.

 

Challenging Conservative Populism: The Quest for Attainable Solutions

By Denis Bright

The appeal of conservative populism has certainly gained momentum. It is hardly the shock of the new in mainstream Australian politics.

Way back in 1998 at the Queensland state elections, One Nation won eleven seats with an unexpectedly high primary vote of 22.68 per cent.

One Nation’s objective was to share power with the state LNP to influence mainstream policy agendas. The plan failed because the LNP minority government of Premier Borbidge (1996-98) refused to preference with One Nation ahead of Labor.

Ironically, for the state LNP, Queensland Labor retained all its seats. Labor’s Premier Beattie was able to form a minority government. Victory in the Mulgrave by-election after the resignation of a One Nation member permitted the appointment of a Labor speaker with a casting vote when required.

This fractious era of minority governments in Queensland (1996-98) should permanently taint any new dalliance with the greatest excesses of conservative populism. Despite the warnings from recent political history, populist political parties seem unstoppable in their quest for opportunistic influence.

Pushing the mainstream towards a centre-right agenda still dominates the politics of One Nation and tempts LNP leaders or even their local supporters to consider preference deals to topple progressive sitting members.

The durability of the One Nation agendas was evident in Senator Pauline Hanson’s first speech to the Senate on 14 September 2016:

“In my first speech in 1996 I said we were in danger of being swamped by Asians. This was not said out of disrespect for Asians but was meant as a slap in the face to both the Liberal and Labor governments who opened the floodgates to immigration, targeting cultures purely for the vote, as expressed by former Labor minister Barry Jones—to such an extent that society changed too rapidly due to migrants coming in the front door but also the back door, via New Zealand. Now we are in danger of being swamped by Muslims, who bear a culture and ideology that is incompatible with our own.”

Alternative approaches to the challenges from far-right populism do exist. The problem is much deeper than the challenges offered by any contemporary political movement.

The alienation of large sections of the electorate from mainstream politics is intensified by the extent of non-enrolment, failure to vote or deliberate informal voting. A very significant bloc of 20-25 per cent of voters is lost through such processes. A similar proportion of active voters support one of the conservative populist parties.

Challenging the Lingering Appeal of Conservative Populism

The current proportional voting system has brought a bloc of eleven centre-right populists to the senate: four from One Nation, three from the Nick Xenophon Team (X Team) and one each from Family First, the Justice Party, the Jacqui Lambie Team and the Liberal Democrats. The X Team is probably more open to a wider centre-left accord with both federal Labor and the Turnbull Government. More co-operation from some other members of the current senate-crossbench might follow.

Negotiations are possible with federal Labor with or without the support of the X team and the Greens. A smooth passage of forthcoming progressive legislation might require appropriate amendments when required. Temporary support for some federal LNP legislation can come with qualifiers to anticipate future swings in the political pendulum.

As noted in Mike Seccombe’s article in The Saturday Paper (21-27 October 2017), the potential costs of deals between One Nation and the federal LNP might be the erosion of funding and independence for the two national broadcasters. This invites a less adversarial style of formal politics.

The Added Appeal of Political Consensus-Building for Troubled Times?

Writing in The Sydney Morning Herald, Mark Kenny entertained this possibility:

“Privately however, Labor frontbenchers conceded that yet more “trench warfare” extending to the next election was counter-productive with one calling it “unconscionable”.

The prospect of political bipartisanship in Canberra – a prerequisite to getting the states to agree to the new arrangements via COAG – opens the way to the investment certainty in electricity generation, the absence of which has bedevilled the sector for more than a decade”.

Such robust negotiations would be a game-changer in federal politics and keep federal Labor in a national leadership loop to a degree that has not occurred since the federation era more than a century ago.

Karen Middleton’s article in The Saturday Paper (21-27 October 2017) shows that the push towards consensus building still does not excite federal Labor or the Greens.

This consensus-building approach could be extended into a more independent Australian foreign policy so that Australian sovereignty is strengthened during a period of heightened international tensions. Greater co-operation is possible with the new government of Jacinta Ardern in the long traditions of New Zealand’s more independent approach to international affairs as our region waits for the appointment of a new foreign affairs minister.

Amy Remeikis of the The Guardian has excelled in her deconstruction of the pragmatic attitude of the Hon Julie Bishop towards the Trump Administration. This consensus building across the Tasman is a good sign.

Progressive Australians with a commitment to responsible change should welcome these developments in both domestic and foreign policies as more appropriate paths for Australia as an innovative middle power. The switch to consensus building might also make it easier for big swathes of Australian voters to return to mainstream politics to strengthen the resolve of national and state governments in the Trump Era.

Denis Bright is a registered teacher and a member of the Media, Entertainment and Arts Alliance (MEAA). Denis has recent postgraduate qualifications in journalism, public policy and international relations. He is interested in promoting discussion to evaluate pragmatic public policies that are compatible with contemporary globalization.

 

Send in the clowns

“Isn’t it rich?” … “Isn’t it queer?”

I could weep for humanity … I could just f#cking … weep for them … for us. If you were to look at it objectively, you’d have to agree that most of the advancements made for the betterment of society, have been made not on the successes, but on the back of failures of experience. Hence, perhaps, the old adage: “Experience is the best teacher”. The absurdity reaching great heights, surely, in this current LNP cabal of idiots and fools.

I was down the Central Market a couple of weeks ago and while my paramour was buying veggies at the Chinese stall there, I was perusing the posters on a board advertising live theatre, bands and such, and I was most amused by this one poster announcing a farewell tour by a “tribute singer”. There was a comic/tragic air to the poster announcing that the Elvis impersonator was doing his … his “farewell tour” … also a touch of absurdity, considering that the performing artist, having talent enough to impersonate, but not quite enough to create his own original show, has nonetheless accumulated enough of a fan base to announce his own farewell tour … A “farewell tour” of a farewell tour.. And I am reminded of that wonderful ABC satire; “The Librarian” where the librarian’s partner is mocked for his tribute band ”Oils ain’t Oils “ … And then just below this announcement is another poster of a tribute act by three blokes impersonating “Great voices of Pop” (or some such) … what is it with all this nostalgic impersonation?

Are we so run out of originality that impersonation is all the go? Our politics, our relationships, our love and affection … or is even that now a shallow impersonation of what it once really was? Has that essence of deepest affection and loyalty become more a convenience of companionship … temporary and carnal? Which of us would really suffer, or even die for another person that we say we love? Yet our greatest literature passed down from time immemorial is bleeding with examples of the supreme sacrifice for; “Le don de l’amour” (always sounds better in French) … or is this just another example of a hunger for a lost sentiment?

“What has brought this on?” you may ask . It was in a conversation about science and I had this theory about how life-forms were spread about the universe … pretty big stuff … I thought, but it seems my “theory” was not only unoriginal, it had been first prognosed by a Greek bloke named Anaxagoras back in circa 500BC. F#ck! … Now that is a bit late coming on set! But you see … what I concluded now, was thought of back two and a half thousand years ago … so one has to conclude that the human thought pattern of logic and reason was the same then as it is now: There is nothing new under the sun. And this is where we as a species have become so tragic … a farce! … If clarity of thought was so prevalent in the earliest days of civilisation and so many calculations done and achieved back so long ago, what have we been doing since then? F#ckin’ asleep on the job … that’s what! Christ! … We got idiots spruiking stupid political shit, climate denial shit, social compatibility denial, capital, civil, international and anything else that is divisive and conflicting FFS! … Where oh effing where is the originality of thought? … Why do we have these great big f#ckin’ universities when we are only turning out “tribute education”?

Another “great big idea” I had, only to have that also ruthlessly quashed, was the theory that an organic life-form (us!) can only develop so far, in a physical sense, before it reaches “max-evolution capacity” and then self-destructs by imploding within itself or by becoming too overbearing on its environment and destroys all around it and therefore … But it seems this too has not only been thought of a long time ago, it even has a name … I forget that now … but hey … it just goes to show..there’s nothing new under the sun … no siree, Bob! So I suppose the only thing one can do is to try to be personally original … it was something many of us in the seventies strove to achieve … hence all those weird clothes and flairs … I mean. Who in their right mind would wear heavy, brocaded strides in summer in Oz? You’d have to be nuts. But talk about nuts … here, helvitnyi, a little escape for you:

Mrs Hancock

It’s funny, you know; the image of adults one has as a child, compared to the actual reality known by the adults of the time around you. Mrs Hancock used to cut our hair when we were children … the four of us; from the oldest brother (about 10 yrs), down including to my sister, then myself (the youngest about five yrs). We would be marched down across the railway-line by the eldest (“hup-two three four”), each clutching a bob (one shilling) in our sweaty little hands to get that one generic haircut for which Mrs Hancock was infamous: “The Basso” … about once every couple of months, it seemed, most of the kids in the district would sport a Mrs Hancock “special”. And we’d be lined up on the railway station going to school, looking like a lot of miniature “Moes” (as in The Three Stooges) waiting for the train … girls included! I wonder that some social science person didn’t do a study on “Demographic by haircut” kind of thing for those days. Truth be known, I believe most barbers – like most architects – have one basic style … and everything else is a derivative there-off.

The image I had of Mrs Hancock as a child was of this frumpy old lady, dressed in ‘lop-sided’ cardigan and dress, living in this dreary old fibro house, with creepy shadows and dull lighting … she would sit us in an old stuffed, armless chair next to one of those “side tables” of dark timber and curved legs and armed with scissors, a smelly fag and the endless glass of water, she would attack our tangled locks with all the tactics of “Tojo in a Zero” coming out of the sun! The fag-end would send an endless swirl of smoke past her wincing eye … she’d take a gulp of water, vice-clasp our head unceremoniously with her left hand and her right hand would start with the then continuous ”snipsnipsnipsnip … snipping” as she dove into the job, to come out the other side in an undisturbed arc, the arm ascending upward to hover above our heads somewhere “sit still, child!” … mechanically, continuously, snipsnipsnipsnip snipping! One sat in a horror of anticipation for the next “strafing” (and you know, I can’t stand being “dive-bombed” by mozzies to this day … I don’t mind so much the bite … it’s the hovering, whirring, buzzing that drives me crazy). Her house was the last one on that side of the road … behind the train station … I think it was called “Cygnet Terrace” before it was pushed through and became “The Cove Road” … a cold wind would cut down through the barren gullies there in winter.

But it wasn’t till years later, when I first started going to the pub as an older youth, that I realized that the “glass of water” always at her beck, was gin and tonic. Yes, poor old Mrs Hancock was a gin-soak … and, going by her familiarity with her fellows in the front bar of The Seacliff Hotel, where a cluster of “oldies” were mangling that Englebert Humperdinck (I mean; really?) song “Please release me” … Christ … it’s tragic … I could just weep; she was an old hand at the game. I suppose that is why her front parlour where she “scalped“ us kids always had the curtains drawn … but, you know … my mother would have heard of that. But then again, many in that “fringe district” where we lived were escapees from reality … my old man bought there because it was cheap land … not now though! It was at the end of the railway line … hang on, that’s not quite true … there was one more stop … ”Hallett Cove” … but that place only got two or three trains a day then and it was the refuge of bankrupts, hermits and criminals. I got to meet quite a few in later years, so can confirm the statement!

Back to the mistaken image of adults one has as a child … I remember also being taken into the front-bar of the Brighton Hotel by my dad as a very young boy … he having a beer and me a raspberry … and this man bending down to me and saying in a beery voice ”hello, little fellah..what’s your name … eh? Eh?” And I got real scared, but my dad was just smiling … I couldn’t then understand why he didn’t chase the ugly man away! Poor old bastard was just another drunk saying hello to a kid … but then … I was a sensitive child! … Still am!

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