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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.

Aboriginal Australians are a problem for our society

By Anthony Andrews

We can’t seem to grasp the fact that our Indigenous brothers and sisters think differently to mainstream Australia. We assume knowledge of them and their beliefs according to our way of thinking.

We judge them by our own experiences of communal living and existence, but by doing this we will never be able to address any of the reasons that full assimilation is almost impossible, although there are always exceptions to the rule.

Aboriginal culture is something we are proud of as a nation. We adopt the concept of them as the First Australians and admire their art, culture and heritage, but only if they act obediently and recognise the fact that without white Australia they would be living in the dark ages.

We want them to be grateful and resent it when they don’t appear to agree. We love Cathy Freeman, but were outraged when she proudly held the Aboriginal flag after winning Commonwealth gold. We admire and respect Tony Mundine, but hate his uppity, outspoken son.

It seems that we can only accept Aboriginal people on our own terms and as long as they don’t step out of line and act just like us, we like them, but they aren’t just like us, they are wired differently, and until we recognise that fact we are doomed to repeat, over and over, the mistakes of the past.

When I say that they aren’t like us, I don’t mean that they are less than any other human, less capable of emotion or feeling than anyone else. That they are not as intelligent as everyone else or that they are not controlled by the same desires as anyone else.

Unfortunately, over the last two hundred or so years we have trained our part of society to believe this to be true.

This is not a coincidence, by the way. It has been a deliberate tactic that freed colonial Australia from assuming any guilt over our hostile takeover of their country.

The Australian Aboriginal has a culture way older than any other Western country, at least sixty thousand years and its arguable that, in many ways, it was superior to ours. I say “was” because in just over two hundred years we have virtually destroyed it.

Bill Bryson illustrates an important point regarding the Indigenous Australian’s long, continuous, cultural heritage. That, if you were to visit the Lecastreux caves in France, the ones with the famous cave paintings that were created by prehistoric man, and asked a modern Frenchman what they meant, he wouldn’t have any more insight or understanding than anyone else, but the Aboriginal Australian, fortunate enough to still be connected to their culture, can interpret rock art that is much older, and can provide meaning to the scene presented as easily as a modern art critic can describe the motivations of Monet or Warhol.

No other people in the world have this ability, this connection with the past that even without written language has survived for longer than “civilisation”.

This culture though, was not national in the way we see Australia as one nation. It varied in custom and language, and, just as it would be impossible to consider all Europeans as being from the same background, so it is with the Australian Aboriginal.

A native of the east coast of Australia would be just as lost if placed on the west as we would be if suddenly dropped into the jungles of Peru.

This is why the idea of missions and resettlement based on skin colour has always failed.

We are momentarily outraged about Aboriginal deaths in custody, about the incarceration of Aboriginal youth for petty crimes, about the high rates of suicide and the large gap between the average life expectancy of Aboriginals and the rest of Australia. The outrage however, is always tempered with a “yeah, but”, then we start talking about alcohol and spousal abuse, incest and pedeophila, we call them lazy bludgers and welfare abusers, we ease our discomfort for their plight with the view that it’s just how it is and, though it’s sad, there’s nothing we can do about it, it’s just the way they are …

Why can’t they be more like us?

Hmm …

The truth is, there’s a lot we can do.

We can stop watching them so closely when they enter our stores, afraid they may steal something. Do we think they don’t notice, that it doesn’t have any emotional impact on them or affect their sense of society’s acceptance of them?

We can stop telling ourselves that the injustice of the ‘stolen generation’ were well-intentioned, but poorly executed attempts at social integration because equality and a level footing with white Australia was never part of the plan.

We can stop being outraged about Aboriginal people receiving government support and stop viewing remote communities as needing to be self sustaining, we can choose to embrace their difference and acknowledge that almost ninety per cent of Aboriginal people died within the first few years of European settlement.

We can teach our children real Australian history because, just like ‘the convict stain’ that until fairly recently we didn’t want to admit was in our blood, the atrocities committed against the Aboriginal people of Australia was a very real thing. We hunted them like they were foxes from old England, pests and sexual playthings in a country where white women were few and far between and destroyed them for acting in ways we could not understand.

Wholesale slaughter of the Aboriginal people was common and rarely punished. Poisoned flour and tea was given to them freely and generously, as deaths from sickness in the Indigenous population was something never investigated by the government.

Should Aboriginal people just forget about it? Forget that until fifty years ago they were considered more akin to livestock than humans according to governmental policy, their existence legislated under the Flora and Fauna Act, instead of the Constitution like the rest of us.

We have forgotten or never accepted the fact that we have created the world they now live in and, though we want them to accept responsibility and fix the problems that exist in their division of society, we refuse to allow them the tools and mechanisms to make this possible.

This won’t fix the problem, but it might help all Australians to look at the social divide a bit more carefully.

We need a new public holiday.

January 26, Australia Day or Invasion day, as its referred to by the earlier arrivals to this continent, does not need its date changed, except perhaps to ‘float’ the day to the nearest weekend, as it was before 1994. It seems like it would be a meaningless gesture that would always remain controversial and drive an even bigger wedge between the two opposing sides of the issue. Ignoring or dismissing the drastic change caused by the arrival of the British is not much help either, but changing the date is not, in my opinion, the solution.

Instead, we need a day that both recognises the original inhabitants and provides a genuine reason for celebration.

A day that we can all be proud of and that, with an understanding of its significance, can contribute in a meaningful way to the improvement of relations between our distinctly seperate cultures.

August 16th  or Wave Hill Day.

The end result of the Wave Hill walk-out was the first real stepping stone to equality with white Australia for the Aboriginal people after almost two hundred years of British settlement.

The original inhabitants had only been officially recognised as human beings for eight years – this was itself a victorious event – but as any tangible benefit was inconclusive, recognition of their right to possession of their ancestral lands was a very big deal.

It didn’t come without a struggle though.

Countless attempts were made by government and the wealthy stakeholders to end the sit-in at Wattie Creek, trying to tempt the mob with increased wages (still nowhere near the level of a white man) and housing. These tokens of appeasement failed to move Vincent Langiari and the rest of the Gurindji people. With help from the trade union movement and others, the stand off continued for almost a decade.

It’s worth noting that the big landholders fought against equal wages for Aboriginal people with the same excuse as we still hear today regarding wages for agricultural workers, that it would ruin the economic competitiveness of the industry.

No industry should survive if its business model is reliant on exploitation of the workforce in order to make a profit, and I can already hear the uproar from these same vested interest groups at the thought of another public holiday being added to the calendar.

From 26 August 1966, until they were granted the right to lease their traditional land, nine years later, the passive resistance to the exploitation of their labour and land went on.

This is a reason for celebration.

Although the Land Rights Act was passed by the Fraser government in 1976, the groundwork was laid by Whitlam’s Labor government, so it is fitting that the day of celebration should be on the anniversary of his visit to the Gurindji people and the formal recognition of their rightful claim to be owners of their traditional lands: August 16, 1975.

This date is not intended to applaud or praise any political party or politician, it is appropriate because our First Nation People were given formal commitments by government with all Australians bearing witness.

We need to do more, much more, than just recognise the wrongs done to them by our occupation of ‘terra nullis‘, but giving the people a day on our calendar that is of equal worth to our other days of celebration or remembrance is not unreasonable.

Allowing them more than a token say in government would be better but, you’ve got to start somewhere, and this is a day worth remembering … for all Australians.

A Politician’s Guide to telling the truth about taxation

Following an interview with an unusually frank and forthright politician, a journalist was struggling to absorb the reality that taxes don’t fund government spending. He was, however, still conscious enough to ask the next obvious question: if taxes don’t fund spending, why do governments tax?

The next day, while still trying to grasp how sovereign monetary governments pay for things, he returned to continue the interview. While it was questionable as to whether he was mentally ready to learn the truth about why governments tax people, he did have a deadline to meet.

The tax interview resumes…

Journalist: So, let me repeat my earlier question for you. If we can’t ever run out of money, why bother with taxation?

Politician: Taxation is one of a handful of tools the government uses to help stabilize the purchasing power of the dollar. When the government realises the economy has too much money in the system, it acts to correct the balance. It can raise taxes or interest rates, or it could cut back on spending, but that’s never a good idea because those cuts could create unemployment and make the situation worse. This my friend, is the part that gets a bit technical. So, I’ll speak in words of one syllable if necessary. Are you paying attention?

Journalist: er…yes.

Politician: Whenever the government spends, it is creating new money and it distributes that money into the community, via our banking system. That is how you get your hands on it. You think they get it from your taxes, but at this stage, you haven’t paid any taxes, have you, yet, bingo, there it is.

Journalist: Well yes, they had to do that in the beginning to get things rolling, but then taxation took over…. didn’t it?

Politician: No, it didn’t. Taxation never took over. Taxation has always been a means of removing money from circulation, so the economy won’t overheat. If too much money is allowed to circulate, we get inflation.

Journalist: Please explain?

Politician: If the money in circulation exceeds the current capacity of the nation’s production, we get inflation because suppliers haven’t had time to meet the extra demand that comes when we suddenly have more money to spend. When too much money is chasing too few goods and services, prices go up. These things must be done gradually. Taxation helps to keep a lid on things.

Journalist: But then the government has all this extra money it got from taxation. What happens to that?

Politician: It doesn’t need any extra money. It can create any amount it wants to. Your taxes are destroyed, written off the books, they go up in a puff of smoke.

Journalist: You’re kidding.

Politician: No. I’m sorry to be the bearer of bad news, my friend, but you’ve been had. Your taxes don’t pay for anything. Zip, nada, rien, niente. They disappear into the great nothing.

Journalist: My hard-earned taxes are destroyed?

Politician: Sorry about that. Do you need to take a few minutes to recover? Would you like a brown paper bag, or something?

Journalist: I bet Barnaby Joyce has something to say about this!

Politician: I’m sure he does but that won’t change anything. Keeping a lid on the amount of money in circulation helps to maintain its value, but there’s another reason why we must pay taxes.

Journalist: And that is…?

Politician: It forces people to use it. If the government says you can only pay your taxes using Australian dollars, it makes us want to get our hands on it.

Journalist: I doubt that. I’m sure if I offered the tax department a fistful of American dollars to pay my taxes they would happily take them.

Politician: Well, you’re wrong. They wouldn’t. They would tell you to go away and convert them to Australian dollars before they would accept your money. So, if we know that everyone needs our money to function and pay our taxes, we are happy to use it and be confident of its value.

Journalist: I think I need to get a second opinion on this.

Politician: Well that won’t change anything either. And you will probably ask the wrong person and get the wrong advice. The next time you hear anyone say, “my taxes are paying for that,” you can confidently say, “no, your taxes don’t pay for anything, but they do make room for government to spend.”

Journalist: But, if removing money by taxing us, allows government to spend, isn’t that the same thing? Doesn’t one cancel out the other?

Politician: If the total amount of spending equals the total of tax removed, it does look like the same thing, yes. But it isn’t. They are two quite separate functions operating independently of one another. And spending the same amount as the tax removed, is rare. It’s usually the other way. It’s not so much the amount spent, as what the spending is for.

Journalist: If what you say is true, government needs to come clean and explain it.

Politician: Well, don’t hold your breath. If they came clean, they would have to acknowledge their spending patterns are discriminatory and favour certain groups over others.

Journalist: What do you mean?

Politician: Look at all the areas that could really improve our productivity. Our health for a start, our education, public transport, planning, infrastructure, making sure everyone who wants a job can get one. All these areas where spending is kept to a minimum, are the very areas where we should be investing. If our economy is under-utilised, as it is now, the value of our currency will always be less than it would if we had 100% utilisation of our available resources. Instead, we give huge subsidies to the business sector who then use them to feather their own nests.

Journalist: But they employ us. They create the jobs.

Politician: They couldn’t create those jobs without the infrastructure governments provide for them. Roads, rail, airports, seaports, hospitals, schools, police, the military. They reap the benefits of all those services the government builds, and they profit from it. I think the least we can expect of them is to employ people.

Journalist: But they pay their taxes too.

Politician: Well, you and I know that is not true. Some do, many don’t. But that’s another reason for taxation; to enable the subsidising or penalising of various industries and economic groups. Government has a responsibility to create a society that is fair and equitable, something, which is sadly neglected these days.

Journalist: You’re right. They don’t pay their fair share.

Politician: If companies fail to pay their share, you and I pay more. Remember, the wider and more equitable the tax collection is, the more equitable the distribution of the wealth. Taxation also forces governments to be transparent, to show where they are spending the money they create. The fiscal statement they produce every year, what they call the budget, means we know who gets what, and how much things cost.

Journalist: I’m feeling tired. I think I’ll go home now.

Politician: Your headline in yesterday’s paper was very misleading. I hope you’ll do better this time.

The interview ends

In fact, the journalist doesn’t go home. He heads for the nearest bar to clear his head. It’s all too much. He decides to stick to what he knows best. His afternoon headline reads, “Politician confirms taxes are necessary but doesn’t know why.”

Day to Day Politics: One man’s journey into an interest in politics

Tuesday 16 January 2018

What influences us more in later life than our upbringing? Certainly events can but nothing stays more with us than those early experiences. Some achieve success and believe their success necessitates a change in their political affiliation. But for me my early journey has shaped what I believe in, the way I think about social justice and my world view. I hope you enjoy this account of my first 14 years.

Chapter one
Sensory Reflections of Brunswick

I remember as if were yesterday the sounds, fragrances and sights of the inner suburb of Brunswick in the city of Melbourne, Victoria, Australia. It was the place I spent my childhood. Even now, I can almost taste it. I was born in the year 1941 at the Women’s Hospital in Carlton. This is important not because it is my birth year, which is significant in itself (well, to me at least), but also because it was the year that the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbour. This dastardly assault led to the USA becoming involved in world war two.

Our name is the most important procession we have, other than our minds of course. Given the name John William Lord, I was christened a Methodist because the Mick’s wouldn’t have me. My mother committed the sin of marrying outside the Church and she probably was pregnant with my brother Robert Philip, before wedlock. One’s name is what gives us individuality and separates us from other members of the human cohort. My mother’s maiden name was Muriel (Madge) Josephine Dorgan (of Irish Catholic origins) and married John Philip Lord who was 22 at the time.

My father deserted my mother not long after I was born. Various versions of the events surrounding my fathers departure, have surfaced over the years but I had never felt any inclination to pursue or investigate them further. However, as I near the age of seventy I experience pangs of guilt and sadness for not investigating my background. All of a sudden, and as foolish as it may sound, it has become obvious to me what the absence of a father can mean to a child and the ramifications of how it shapes one’s life.

My guilt recently magnified itself by the purchase of perhaps the most inspirational book I have ever read. In life, I have learned not to be surprised at seemingly coincidental occurrences. It just happened that when I decided to write this story I was looking through some titles in a bookstore and came across this one. “A Room at the Top” The story of Heath Ducker. It draws some remarkable parallels to my own life.

Perhaps I have been so busy with the everyday tasks getting on with life to be at all bothered with my father. Perhaps I was afraid at what I might discover. He was a chef who later became a police officer and was not a nice man. Or so I was told. Throughout my life, I was never of a disposition to enquire further. It seems strange now that as I approach my latter years that the full impact of not knowing my father has become an issue with me.

My mother was conceived, not with her mother’s husband but with another male with whom she had a relationship while he was away during the First World War. I have no recollection of my grandmother or her fate. Nor do I recall grandparents on my father’s side. I do remember grandmothers husband Timothy Dorgan who was, Irish, and very Catholic. As were all the family. He was as I recall a tailor whose digs were a bungalow at the rear of our small terrace house in McKenzie Street, which ran between Hope and Albion Street’s. I can recall the sound of his voice as he staggered down the back lane after a day at the pub singing “Danny Boy” or some other Irish ditty. He would fall frequently on the bluestone laneway and the stench of his vomit I have never forgotten. He had a birthmark that occupied almost the entire left side of his face but when sober, which was not often he had a sunny nature. He used to press with irons he heated on a stove by placing a wet cloth on the garments he made. No electric irons in those days. He passed away after being hit by a tram in St Georges Road Northcote outside the old folks home where he lived.. I do not know where he is buried.but I suspect it was the Catholic section of the Broadmeadows cemetery.

If what follows seems somewhat vague in terms of memory, lacks clarity or sequential continuity it is because I find it difficult to put all the pieces together. It may all seem fragmented because I believe there are certain elements of my childhood and adolescence that I have chosen subconsciously to bury. Alternatively, it may well be that at this time in my life; my memory does not serve me well. Some events I cannot marry with my age at the time but I don’t think it detracts from my story.

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So if my memory cannot put things in order. Where do I start? I have chosen a fence. In fact, a paling fence on which my brother and I stand on its second rung. The fence is at an orphanage in the adjoining suburb of Carlton. We were there because our mother could not afford to keep us. Perhaps I was about four or five at the time but I cannot be sure. Our excitement at her expected visit radiates across our faces but she does not arrive. I can feel the emotion of that disappointment even today. She came the next week and our joy was content.

At around this time my mother met Jim Mackinnon with whom she was to have a de facto relationship until she passed away. I was told that he was responsible for us leaving the orphanage and somehow we found ourselves at McKenzie Street. Although I can remember spending a period, three doors up in an identical terrace house occupied by another family. The mothers name was Sissy, which I have always remembered because of its unusualness. We occupied one small room, me my brother our mother and Jim who became our de facto stepfather. I recall we had one small single burner on which to cook but I don’t recollect ever being hungry. Jim was a truck driver who originated from Orbost in Gippsland, Victoria. He was married with two children Ned and Kevin. Apparently, his wife who was a Catholic would not give him a divorce so he and my mother lived together as man and wife during a period when the practice was frowned upon.

Our little house in McKenzie Street was always a hive of activity and housed an extended family. There was my Auntie Catherine, Mum’s sister and her husband Bert Murphy. At the time, I thought Uncle Bert had a formidable intelligence and I think I got on better with him than my brother. They had a son Bernie and a daughter Patricia and of course, there was Timothy who lived in the bungalow. There was also, what Australians call a sleepout at the rear of the property. All the rooms were tiny by comparison with today’s houses.

The front of the property had a veranda with wooden flooring and my mother washed and bleached the boards more than I thought was necessary. This also applied to the seat in the outhouse situated at the rear of house adjoining the back lane. The bleach she used was so potent that it took ones breath away. A laneway (or sideway) ran down the side of the house and near the kitchen door hung a Coolgardie safe shaped somewhat like a birdcage with a fine mesh covering to protect the meat from flies.

The laneway was also the domain of a Fox terrier whose name was Sammy or Sam, and I remember well its incessant barking every night there was a full moon. The back lane was also, where we took delivery of the ice blocks for the ice chest. In summer, my brother and I would ask the iceman to chip some ice from the edge of the blocks to suck on. He would normally oblige. It was also the delivery point for the man who sold rabbits from a basket attached to the handlebars of his pushbike. We could hear his call ‘rabbits, get your rabbits, rabbits, get your rabbits’ from the far end of the lane and the heads of women would appear over paling fences. Delicious steamy rabbit stew or broths were culinary pleasures to look forward too.

As opposed to the laneway, the front street was where the man with horse and cart delivered our daily bread. The clip clop of the horse’s hooves was a familiar sound on the bitumen early each morning. The bread was always white and in loaves, nothing sliced in those days. Philip’s greedy fingers always managed to chip away some crust from its freshly baked and irresistibly smelling edges and I usually took the blame. It was also from there that we took delivery of our milk but I also think there was a dairy located nearby. I can remember being sent with the Billy to buy a quart of milk one time and loosing the ration coupons which was tantamount to mortal sin. (Butter and milk was severely rationed after the war) When I returned home and confessed to my crime, I copped one hell of belting. On Sunday morning’s it would be quite an event if the Salvation Army band appeared in McKenzie Street. If it did not, we would go looking for it once we had picked up even the faintest thread of sound. It was a time when one could hear the sounds of suburbia with little competition from street traffic.

The rooms of the house were very small. A passageway or hallway ran down the right hand side. Running off to the left were two rooms. The first was a lounge room where Philip and I often played together. Toys were not as I recall in abundance, if there were any they were certainly scant. We collected football cards, and in winter sat in front of the small open fire, and talked about the teams and our favourite players although I think we had not yet seen a game and we certainly had not yet formed any allegiances.

This room is of great consequence to me in another way because it was in this room that I heard music for the first time. The tune was ‘The Anniversary Waltz’ and the American singer Al Joslin sung it. The sound came from a wind up gramophone machine that played vinyl recordings. Every few play’s the needle needed to be replaced. I remember being mesmerised by the sound that came from this old machine. Therefore, my lifelong love of music had its genesis in that little room and I will always be grateful to its four walls and the sounds it encapsulated.

The next room down the passageway was a bedroom and I cannot recall who occupied it. I presume it was a bedroom so my uncle and auntie must have slept there. At the end of the corridor was the kitchen and centre of most household activity. It was there that our mother washed my brother and me from a tub on the kitchen table, and once a week we had a bath in an outside laundry that contained a chip heater to heat the water. The kitchen table brings to mind some instances of unforgettable reminisce. My grandfather had this habit of drinking his tea from the saucer after tipping the contents of his cup into it. This I am told is a very Irish thing to do, but as a small boy I gawked at him with puzzlement. We were not allowed to speak (unless spoken too) at the table and had to ask for things to be passed. If salt was required we would have to ask for it, in the most polite fashion. I once recall reaching for something only to find the knuckles of my hand whacked by a tablespoon that left my hand in pain for the rest of the night. Discipline by today’s standards was draconian, but I think it did give us a solid foundation in manners. Respect for elders was paramount in the upbringing of children of our generation.

Our kitchen was always a hive of activity. It was the area where cooking and eating took place, and conversation transpired, very argumentative and social. On Sunday night’s we listened to the hit, parade on the Mickey Mouse radio set. This was always popular because you could listen to the dulcet voice of Irish crooner Bing Crosby, who usually had half of the top ten recordings. A highlight of Sunday nights in summer was to be sent to the corner shop for a bottle of cold Merchant’s Creamy Soda. We derived much pleasure from the simplest things.

At some, stage a new Kelvinator refrigerator to replace the ice chest arrived and I distinctly remember the radio on top of it. In fact, I can recall listening to a test match from Lord’s in England, although I think it was a delayed broadcast from the BBC. I do remember Don Bradman hitting a century. It must have been 1948. The invisibles tour. I would have been seven at the time.

There was a room at the rear of the kitchen that my mother occupied together with us two kids. Jim would also sleep there when he was in Melbourne. Eventually he moved in permanently. The only two lasting memories I have of this space is firstly of lying in my bed being fed jelly and ice cream after have had my tonsils extracted at the Royal Children’s Hospital. I think my brother had his removed at much the same time. The smell of that dreadful anaesthetic chloroform still lingers .The second is laying on my bed crying my heart out when some people failed to arrive to take me for my first tap dancing lesson. I was destined never to have one but I became a fair ballroom dancer in my teens.

The kitchen contained a wood-fired stove that my mother used to blacken with some substance. I have forgotten its name. The stove was used for all the cooking and boiling of water. One day when I was alone in the house, I noticed that the chimney had caught fire. Panicking I made a quick decision to poor water into it from the roof. I filled a bucket climbed onto the roof and pored its contents down the chimney. It made an awful mess of the kitchen but it put out the flames. I received packet of half size Derwent coloured pencils for my efforts.

We had a small back yard that contained a washhouse made from corrugated iron. In it was a shower, wood chip heater and a copper for washing the clothes and a wringer that was used to rid the clothes of excess water after washing them. It was freezing in winter and unbearable in summer. It was in this room that my mother and auntie dressed prior to going out on Saturday nights. They would put on their best dresses and smother their legs with a tanning cream instead of stockings, which were unobtainable at the time. Well, except on the black market. There was also the sleep out, and I have vague memories of someone being laid to die within its grey asbestos walls. The only other structure was the outhouse, which always had a constant stream of visitors to use the course pages of telephone books cut in half for toilet paper. And of course the odour of chlorine from the constant scrubbing of its seat by my mother.

Uncle Bert was a gardener at the Brunswick gardens and would ride his pushbike home for lunch and park it in the yard. One day Philip and I let the air out of both of the tyres and after threatening to tan our hides, was forced to walk back to work. It was also the space that I remember us nagging our mother for money. We wanted to go to the Brunswick Baths. When she could stand it no longer, she emptied her purse. It contained two pennies and with tears in her eye’s she gave them up. We had our entry fee of a half penny each and enough to buy a pennies worth of scraps from the fish and chip shop on the way home. Buying real chips was something that rarely occurred. It was a moment in time that has embedded itself in my mind. A time when even a simple thing like a swim at the local pool had a measured cost and the cost could be a sacrifice.

When I think back on those times, it brings home the hardship of the period immediately after the war and although only a child at the time, the experiences remain in my memory. There was a shortage of staple foods. We used dripping instead of butter. Few people owned motor cars. We were practiced walkers. Jobs were hard to come by, but there was a feeling of community togetherness.

The streets and laneways belonged to us. We explored every one of them. We had foot races in the street and one time when I had won a race, I ended up with a painful rope burn around my neck. The boys holding the rope at the finish line forgot to lower it. We made our footballs out of newspaper and rubber bands and played end to end in the street. Our shoes were filled with newspaper to cover the holes because we couldn’t afford to have them re soled. We played for hours but were always home before the street lights went out. There was a shop in Hope Street where we bought comic books and exchanged them later. Batman and Tarzan were my favourites but the titles were limited. We often went to the pictures and the Saturday afternoon matinees. Our preferred theatre was the Padua in Sydney Road. Its architecture was modern art deco with a ticket box shaped like a space ship.

For a short time, we joined the cubs. Learnt to tie knots and on the way home stole fruit from overhanging trees in dark laneways. For some reason this adventure had no longevity. Perhaps it was one of those times that we left Brunswick for short periods.

My brother and I set up own business collecting wood chips from the box maker next to the railway line. I can still smell the sawdust on the floor of that factory. We would put the chips in Hessian bags. Fill our Billy carts and go door to door flogging them as fire starters. I think we made some money because I can remember buying kitchen utensils for our mother with the proceeds. In winter, we would kick footballs on the Brunswick oval if we could find someone who owned one. In summer, we lived at the baths. It had an indoor pool and an outdoor fifty-meter with a high diving board. It took some time to muster the courage to jump from the top platform. Every now and then, we would climb to the top, creep on our bellies to the edge and look down on the shimmering surface below. At some period, I became game enough to jump. It may have been the result of a dare but I remember it as being an exhilarating experience. I gained my Herald certificate for swimming in the pool. The indoor pool was always heavy with humidity and smelt with overuse of chlorine, but I think we had more fun in it.

Sydney road was the main thoroughfare that carried traffic from the city up its tram tracks to Royal Parade through Brunswick, Coburg and then the Hume Highway. It was in Royal Parade that as a small boy I became a Republican. In 1953, the newly coroneted young Queen Elizabeth visited Australia. Schoolchildren lined both sides of the parade and were given two flags to wave as she drove past. One was a Union Jack and the other the Australian flag. I stood there in utter confusion. The event I believe was the catalyst in my becoming a confirmed Republican. I would have been eleven or twelve at the time.

Every shop, pub and church in Sydney Road was familiar as were the laneways and the vacant areas along the train tracks. It was there that we played Cowboys, Indians, and any other games we invented. I was fascinated with the attendant at the railway crossing at Hope Street and marvelled at his ability to swing both gates and have the one that reached the opposite side lock in its steel leg at its base into a hole and preventing it from returning.

When the need arose, we visited the barbershop where the bouquet of Californian Poppy was the preferred male hair lotion. No choice of style then, just short back and sides. My mother purchased her cigarettes on the black market at a small tobacconist near the Padua Theatre. At six o’clock on Friday mornings, my brother and I would jump on our bikes and race to the butcher’s to pick up the family meat order. Fresh smelling sawdust covered the floor of the butchers.

There was a Church opposite Blyth Street where we attended Sunday school and were given scripture cards. The Catholic Church where mother occasionally went to Mass was further toward the city. I recall her always placing a handkerchief on her head prior to entering. There was also a Chinese Café on the same side of Sydney Road as the Padua Theatre. It was rumoured that they killed cats there to make Dim Sims. I think we actually believed it.

The fresh whiff of newly laid tan bark under the monkey bars evokes memories of the North Brunswick Primary school. The austere playground occupied a space at the front of the boy’s toilet block where the older males stood at the urinal competing for the highest piss. The playground was where we partook of our morning recess half point of milk. A government handout that in summer was always warm with cream floating on the surface. More often than not, it had turned sour in the sun and was an unwelcome event in our everyday life. It was where I played the bass drum at morning parade and where we raised the flag and sang God Save the Queen and I used to wonder, “what for”. In winter, we played kick to kick and I took many speckies. In summer, it was cricket but it was not as popular with me as football.

I well recall my first day at school standing in the foyer holding my mothers hand and feeling frightened, isolated and threatened. My early memories of school are not altogether pleasant. There were occasions when I suffered with bad eyesight and couldn’t see well. The teachers wouldn’t believe me and it made life very difficult at times. I was later to learn that I had recurring conjunctivitis and it still gives me trouble today.

Two teachers have left an indelible impression on me. The first was a woman by the name of Kay Smith who married Kevin (Skeeter) Coglan a Hawthorn player was at the time the smallest player playing in the VFL. She had a beautiful and gentle nature to which I responded well. She used to sit at her desk near the fireplace in our bland and chilly classroom that was devoid of personality and speak to each child as if he or she were the most important person in the world. The second was a man whose name I cannot remember but he taught history, which was a subject I liked. More to the point, he was the sports master and nothing was more important at the time.

In class, I had the job of filling the inkwells. One time I remember spilling some onto a cut in my hand and the next day my hand ballooned to twice its size. Writing was one thing that I was attracted too. It was always a thrill to be able to afford a new nib now and then from the shop opposite the school in Albion Street. Shaping letters to form words was an artistic pursuit that never failed to attract me.

I had two friends who I remember most. David Llewellyn with whom I used to meet at the Saturday afternoon matinee and Richard Clements who lived adjacent the school. I would often go to his place after school and kick a football around until it got dark and I would have to run home before the street lamps went out. Dick as we called him went on to play VFA football with my brother at Coburg. We always walked to school. In fact, we walked or ran everywhere. We were always instructed to walk to school on the Northern side of Albion Street because Jews lived on the other side. Such was the ignorance and culture of the time.

There were also other schools but I cannot recall in which order we attended them. Or indeed why it was necessary. There was a stint at Fairfield where my mother looked after an elderly bed ridden woman who was nasty and intolerant. We dared not go near her bedroom fearing she might be some kind if witch. Her husband used to shave with a cutthroat razor and I would watch him from a guarded distance and with fearful childhood fascination. I saw him behead a chook once in the backyard. I watched incredulously as it ran around the yard on its nerves. It was in the same backyard that I leapt from the woodshed roof as Superman. I ended up with a severely bruised ankle. The house was not far from the Yarra River and my brother and I spent countless hours exploring its banks and surrounds. The school was next door with a massive hedge that surrounded it. It was so huge that we were able to play within its interior. At the time, I suffered from hives on both my hands and the inside of my knees and they were always bleeding.

We also spent time in the suburb of Hampton with people we called Auntie Gwen and Uncle Vick although they were not related. Uncle Vic was a returned soldier and I retain an image of him in the washhouse shaving with cold water. He was a prisoner of war with the Japanese and the house was full of mementos from his service. My only recollection of the school is that it was on a v shaped intersection with a playground in the corner where we ate condensed milk sandwiches.

Yet another school was Thornbury State in Hutton Street. My only memory of it was being taught English history in one of the upstairs classrooms by a tyrant of a teacher. It seemed to me that we should have been learning about Australia but Australian History certainly was not in the syllabus.

I cannot recall the duration of our stays in any of these institutions but we always seemed to end up back in Brunswick where at the end of year six my mother enrolled me to attend the Brunswick Technical School. It was a school with a tough reputation. I was aged 13, still in short pants and on reflection not qualified to advance to secondary education. Too many schools and non-attendance for extended periods had taken its toll and I could barley spell adequately, although I had cultivated a love for reading even if it was only comic books. Maths was a mystery and English even more so. The only person who ever took any interest in my education was Uncle Burt but it wasn’t prolonged attention. Therefore, in shots pants, cap and tie I set forth to technical school.

To this day, I can remember with horror a teacher writing the word ‘Algebra’ on the blackboard. He may well have written ‘Spanish’ for I had no idea what the word meant. I didn’t last out the year and was working prior to my 14 birthday. I enjoyed some subjects. A teacher of history was a very talented artist. He would draw with thick chalk on the blackboard. It seemed to bring his lessons alive and I became engrossed in them. Music studies were another subject that I liked but the teacher was such a brute of a man that I never responded to him. He had the most lethal strap in the school and I was often an unwilling recipient of its painful lashings.

It was also a time when my classmates and I were experiencing adolescence and were constantly asking teachers questions of a sexual nature. In the absence of any formal teaching, some tried to answer our enquiries but most were too embarrassed. Therefore, we got by with passed on information from the playground that suffered from gross embellishment and ignorance.

The favourite playground game was ‘British Bulldog’. A rough game where one boy would stand against a wall and another would leapfrog onto his back and then form a row. As the row became longer, the leapfrog became longer and inevitably great masses of bodies crashed onto the ash felt. Eventually the school banned it because it was so dangerous.

In the football season, I was selected in the junior football team. We were to play another team at Princess Park. I did not own a pair of football boots and there wasn’t any money to purchase any. Jim hammered some stops into some old shoes and they sufficed. As I recall I didn’t make a bad fist of my first game considering all the other, boys were wearing the real thing.

In those days schools had a mid year ball. I was very excited about it and the thought that I would have the opportunity of dancing with a girl for the first time.

As the day came closer, I started agitating for a new pair of black shoes to go with my tuxedo that the school hired. I would be the only boy in my form without them I argued. Instead, Jim spent a few days polishing my brown school shoes with black nugget. I did get to dance “The Pride of Erin” with great aplomb and people didn’t seem to notice my brown shoes, although I was very upset at the time. Events like this accentuated one’s position in society and were the birth of my attitude toward social justice.

I also had the opportunity to sing at the school concert and auditioned to sing a Jonnie Ray tune. He was a very popular pop singer at the time and I had developed a particularly good impersonation of him. I was a big fan and could hold a tune. Another red headed boy with a terrific personality beat me for the spot but I conceded that he was better than I was. I continued to sing at many parties until I was about eighteen when my voice deserted me.

At some time during this year, we moved to Collins Street in the suburb of Thornbury and I would catch a tram and two buses to Brunswick to continue school. I think it was at this time I developed my interest in newspapers because I can remember being excited about buying and reading the Herald on the way home. Had I known at the time how conservative it was perhaps I might not have bothered?

And so, it was decided that I should leave school and go to work. (In those days, the school leaving age was 14) I have no recollection of having any say in the matter. Uncle Bert wrote a letter on behalf of my mother. The headmaster had no choice but to accept her decision. I stood in his office and he expressed the view I had potential as a student. I still harbour great shame that because of ignorance and social inequality I missed a decent education. Reading, observation and questions replaced it as my textbooks for life.

In January of 1955 a month before my fourteenth birthday, I started work and my real education began. The memories of Brunswick that I retain as lasting feelings and visual records are mixed. Overwhelming Irish ness lingers. Boozy argument and frivolity mixed with the independence I had for childhood exploration. Some of it I delight in. Some of it I abhor. I determined to be better and not bitter and always to embrace the aroma of expectation. I was to learn the meaning of the word sagaciousness and many others.

Forward to Chapter two

I am sceptical of autobiographical writing because I believe the writer has a bias toward self-interest. Intended or otherwise. It has to do with truth. What does one say about the inner sanctum of one’s soul? Do you shape the truth for the sake of good impression? On the other hand, do you tell the truth even if it may tear down the view people may have of you? Alternatively, do you simply use the contrivance of omission and create another lie .I can only conclude that there is always pain in truth but there is no harm in it.

I have always thought of myself as someone who has experienced the world with thoughtful intensity. Observation, reading and questioning became a substitute early in my life for education. People have said that I am intense and prone to moody reflection. Others have said that I can be seriously funny. Both are true. In my early teenage years without a father, I learned to live inside myself where dark secrets were filed and not given the light of day. It’s a lonely place where I worked things out for myself. It was also a place where I was apt to cry tears that dare not show their dampness. I just suffered alone and got on with life.

Chapter two

My own “Mein Kamph”

Every boy has to find his place in an adult world. A hazardous journey and one of tempestuous ebbs and flows. I have very vivid memories of growing up into my teenage years. Places events and activities. Some happy, even hilarious. Others significant, with wonderful outcomes, and others diabolically unjust and humiliating.

The house at 61 Collins Street Thornbury by any comparison with Brunswick was a mansion. It was a corner house of little architectural distinction but large nevertheless. My bedroom was situated on the right of the front entry to the house, Madge, and Jim’s on the left. The long hallway led to the lounge and kitchen on the left and another room on the right. This room was twice the size of the others and backed onto a laundry. When Uncle Bert and Aunty Cath came to stay with us they used this room and the laundry was converted into a kitchen Further down the hall was another room that filled no real purpose other than being the entry from the back door. In addition, a bathroom was inside the house. Bourgeois luxury was upon us. A veranda ran along the back of the building and beyond it was a garden. There were three exterior buildings. A very large garage where Jim housed his truck, a small bungalow that became Philips digs and another bungalow that served as a storage room. It also had an outside toilet built into a corner of it. Beside the garage was an area where Jim parked the Graham Page. (What now would be a valuable vintage car) It was eventually driven to the Northcote tip and discarded.

We had only lived a short time in Collins Street before I started work with T&H Hunter Pty Ltd. Jim worked as a cartage contractor and owned a Chevrolet tray truck. He collected waste paper mainly from printing companies and on occasions during school holidays I would jockey for him. Hunters were one of his clients and he arranged an interview for me. I don’t even recall if the job had a title. Mr Reginald Cutten esq. asked me a few questions and I got the job. He asked me to write my name and address on a sheet of paper and at the time, I had no idea of the significance of his request. As it turned out, he thought he could judge people by their handwriting. He himself had the most beautiful scripted hand writing I have ever seen. He later showed me exercises to improve my own. In those day’s we always addressed adults or people senior to us as mister. This social habit lasted for many years into my work life and has only been an exclusion of recent times. Many men also used the title esquire in those days a leftover from colonial England.

I have very vivid memories of growing up into my teenage tears. Places events and end happenings. Some happy, even hilarious. Others significant with wonderful outcomes and others diabolically unjust and humiliating.

When exactly we moved to Collins Street I am uncertain …

UNFINISHED. SHOULD I GO ON? THAT IS THE QUESTION.

My thought for the day

”Wisdom is but a reflection on growing older.”

 

The Dark Side of Mainstream Media

Lesson 1: The use of nerve words

A few years back, at the height of the controversial Western Australian shark cull, I found myself constantly locking horns with a local news editor over the fear and misinformation that they were generating in their deliberately slanted media reports. Back then it was exasperating, and served to cloud the issue and curry favour for the state government agenda of drum-lining. The perspective of time shows it for the cheap spin it truly was. With the shark cull defeated, I can laugh about it now. One of my all-time favourites still remains ‘Shark Horror at Perth Beach’ – the story of a man who had been out for an early morning walk along his local beach when he captured footage on his phone showing a shark fin circling offshore. The shark was catching fish. As the man panned his camera around it confirmed that he was alone on the deserted post-dawn beach. I emailed the editor and demanded to know who exactly was so traumatised by the event as to warrant the use of the word ‘horror’? Indeed, the only two parties involved were the beach walker and the shark.

The sole human witnessing the event was videoing it excitedly, and he was clearly far from horrified. The shark, completely oblivious to the man on the distant shore and the looming threat of amateur journalism, was busying itself with rounding up a few fish for breakfast, and most certainly wasn’t horrified in the slightest. Sadly, it should have been. What followed was a season of drum-lining and the needless deaths of several small tiger sharks. Then-premier Colin Barnett and his Liberal crones blatantly ignored the advice of the scientific community and growing public outrage; instead enacting a senseless culling program which produced no positive result whatsoever. Which was precisely what we advised them would happen. To this day I swear the WA government’s research involved watching all the Jaws movies several times.

This followed hot on the heels of another piece of journalistic crap ominously entitled ‘Shark Lurks Off Crowded Metropolitan Beach.’ The inference in this case was blindingly obvious. Hungry man-eater lured by the prospect of a buffet meal hovers ready to strike. Only in this case, the shark in question happened to be a tagged shark and the trace information recorded as it passed the receiver buoys proved that it had actually transited down the coast without stopping. There was no hovering, stalking or prowling. And quite clearly no loitering. I pointed this out to the news editor and bluntly suggested that her third-rate journo might consider terms such as ‘swims harmlessly past’ or ‘totally ignores’ as more truthful substitutes for ‘lurks off.’  Of course the editor knew this full well, and that wouldn’t support the government’s narrative that the shark problem was out of control. There is absolutely no mileage to be gained in a story entitled ‘Suddenly Nothing Happened.’ But in fact, that is exactly what it was – a story about nothing, deliberately made sensational and provocative simply by some well selected words which did not convey the truth. These articles did just what they were supposed to do – instil fear and more importantly, cause outrage. This is what gets views.

‘OMG, you’re actually denying the shark was there? WTF! Sharks are our biggest problem right now.’ retorted one of my more articulate critics on social media. Therein lies the proof that it wasn’t just sharks that were taking the bait, thanks to media manipulation and spin.

As a writer I am familiar with how words work – we use certain ‘nerve words’ to evoke a desired reaction or create an image in the reader’s mind. That’s the beauty of words – they have a latent power. And remember, that power can be wielded for good or evil.  I recall Obi Wan Kenobi explaining something similar to Luke Skywalker. Or as the Galactic Empire approved tabloid media in a distant galaxy might spin it: ‘Old man lures naive farm boy.’

Lesson 2: Be selective about who you mention and how

Now you’ve learnt the power of certain words and you’re grappling with whether to use your newfound force for good or evil, here is another truism about words. The words that we use, or indeed the words we choose to leave out can create a slanted impression in people’s minds. Moral panics tend to be generated by tabloid media and their skewed depiction and portrayal of specific occurrences. We saw that with the ‘shark menace’, and most recently we have seen it with the depictions of ‘African gangs’ in Victoria.

When a teenage arsonist was arrested for lighting a fire just days later, no mention of the youth’s ethnic background was made in any media reports. Why did it seem so vitally necessary to describe the ethnicity of non-Caucasian perpetrators a few days earlier, yet the arson incident which was enacted by a Caucasian teen did not seem to call for a racial description of the accused? Before you suggest that this is an isolated incident, consider also the recent November 2017 brawl in Gippsland which saw four people hospitalised and a woman king hit and stomped on as she tried to resuscitate an injured man. Once again it seemed unnecessary to include the ethnicity of the perpetrators in media reports. Neither were those Caucasian perpetrators referred to as a gang. It is a fact that black youth are far more likely to be described as a ‘gang’ than a group of white youth.

Throw in some more of those nerve words we talked about in Lesson 1; I would suggest some good descriptive ones are ‘thugs’ and ‘predators.’ Be sure to add some behavioural texture with words such as ‘frenzy’ and ‘rampage’ and you’re well on the way to creating your own hotbed of moral outrage. And remember – it is moral outrage and panic that gets you views on-line. When you can’t make it on your own journalistic ability, this is a dead-set winner. A large part of your audience are apathetic viewers who won’t look that deeply into the background behind your stories, so you must play to their innate fears to galvanise them.

Lesson 3: Magnification, or the ‘Highlights of the Day’ technique

Is there a problem with youth crime – ‘African’ or otherwise? Yes, undoubtedly there is. But, like the old shark issue it is not the biggest problem, as crime statistics bear out.

Blanket reporting of targeted incidents in the media gives us a skewed perspective of frequency and scale. Anyone who has ever watched the two minute summary of a day’s test cricket will understand how this works. The summary footage contains only the highlights of the day played one after the other, giving one the impression of dynamic exciting play, when in actual fact the reality was hours of boredom broken by precious seconds of action. Despite knowing this, you still can’t help but be caught up in the sense of non-stop action, punctuated by the roars of the crowd and the feverish commentary. This is called magnification, and it leads neatly into the next lesson. That is, when you focus light through a magnifying glass onto something volatile, you can start a fire.

Lesson 4: The ‘Firestarter Method’

As far as problematic youth gangs and crime go, Australia has been there before. Many times. In my youth it was the ‘rocks’ and the ‘skinheads’, and the local suburban gangs were well known. In truth, they were more a bunch of kids who hung out together, but of course ‘gang’ is a convenient nerve word which conjures the idea of criminal motivation or organisation. Before my time there were the bodgies, widgies and sharpies.

The thing is, the gangs of the past were ‘our gangs’. White Europeans. With the steady rise of multi-culturalism, what followed were Vietnamese and Lebanese ‘gangs’ and they seem to be viewed in an inherently different way. When these racial ‘gangs’ arise, the talk invariably turns toward their reluctance to integrate and assimilate. I lived in a suburb with a strong English population. There were youth problems, and crime statistics showed the suburb had the third highest incidences of crime in the city. Yet no talk of Caucasian youth gangs.  There were a gaggle of shops plainly emulating the shops you would find back in England; selling imported English produce. (The Olde English Confectionery shop was my favourite!) Yet nobody talked about a reluctance to integrate or assimilate. It was certainly never painted that way in media reports.

Consider how gangs are portrayed in the context of entertainment and pop-culture. Take the TV series ‘Sons of Anarchy’ for example. Can you imagine the fall-out if the ‘Sons of Allah’ gang TV show was aired? Negative reactions would range from moral outrage to mild surprise and horror. (And not even a shark in sight). What would make a show about Muslim bikers a no-no? Imagine how the viewing public might react to the depiction and glorification of the Muslim equivalent of Chopper Reid. The question is, why do we react with such moral outrage?

It is a sociological fact that we inherently identify with our own kind. We naturally have a stronger connection with our own race which lends itself to a heightened sense of empathy and bias. We feel a sense of relation and social bonding. A sense of allegiance. Diehard football fans will never see the wrong with their own team. Because well, it’s their team. When the team loses, it’s because they had an off-day, not because they’re losers.

There is an element of cultural nationalism at play here. The engendered belief that this is ‘our’ country. There is an implicit notion that ‘our’ lawbreakers are OK. And there is a magnified sense of outrage when the same violence and lawlessness is perpetrated by a cultural ‘outsider.’ The early bushrangers kicked back at social injustice and the heavy-handedness of the police. The people of the First Nation would have had more than ample cause to do exactly the same, yet I’ll wager we would never elevate an indigenous bushranger to the same legendary status as ‘our’ bushrangers. Our country, our rules.

I am ashamed to say that not so very long ago I was guilty of this myself as a white European – if I was cut off in traffic by someone clearly of a foreign descent, I noticed that the curses I involuntarily muttered under my breath tended to be far more racially oriented to those I voiced when it was a Caucasian behind the wheel of the offending car. It led me to wonder just how many of us can claim to be truly colour blind.

So, the Firestarter method. It is the technique of playing upon a latent fear or an innate belief and fanning it until it becomes a blaze. Without oxygen a volatile source cannot become a fire. The media give an issue (or a perceived issue) oxygen. During the WA shark cull they played on the public’s fear and misunderstanding of sharks. Today they are doing precisely the same thing in fanning the flames of racial tension with the magnification of the ‘African gangs’ issue. And to revisit that galaxy far, far away: ‘Fear leads to anger, and anger leads to the Dark Side.’

The pen, as they say is mightier than the sword. It comes down to the integrity of the holder as to how it is used.

Day to Day Politics: Random thoughts from a moth-balled year

Sunday 7 January, 2018

Author’s note:

Looking back over my posting in 2017 I came across the following and I’m toying with the idea of doing a series. Up to date comments are in italics.

1 Malcolm Turnbull made a statement, I think on Q&A, before he became Prime Minister. He was espousing virtuous platitudes of political niceties that got him rave reviews for his generosity of spirit.

“Fairness is absolutely critical” he said last January. And since then he has often repeated the same reflection.

But the truth is that this generosity of spirit has not been evidenced by his Government’s actions. Somewhere along the way he lost his appetite for it.

No votes in it, I suspect.

2 Richard Dennis in a piece last year for The Guardian made the point that in the current debate about Centerlink (remember that) recouping overpayments from Welfare recipients that ”billionaires” get more leeway than vulnerable citizens.”

On top of that there seems to be no fairness when MPs use the living away from home allowance to pay for homes through negative gearing or claim expenses that in the private sector would invite dismissal. They fly willy nilly across the country attending weddings, sporting occasions etc at the public’s expense as though it’s a God-given right.

Whatever happened to the report on Politicians expenses commissioned by the Prime Minister and supposedly to be submitted before Christmas?

How many Government MP’s including former ones, could provide paperwork for 6-year-old travel allowance claims?

Yet the poor old welfare recipient is confronted with a letter of retrospective demand decided by and based on a computer algorithm that suggests they might have been overpaid. They have even placed the onus of proof on the citizen many years after the fact. And it’s a Liberal government.

I’m not arguing that it may well be the case that ”some” are overpaid. My beef is with the fairness aspect.

Tasmanian MP Andrew Wilkie has, after receiving more than 100 complaints (including from four people who were suicidal) has suggested that the system be put on hold pending an inquiry:

It is a form of class warfare and it’s the right that are fighting it, not the left.

Then they argue as Dennis says that:

”Like the economic modelling used to argue that a $50bn tax cut for big business is the best way to boost the wages of low paid workers, the data matching algorithm used by Centrelink to identify “overpayment” is only as accurate as the assumptions and data it relies on. As the old adage says: garbage in, garbage out.”

The Government argues that they need to cut spending but never look beyond one sector to do so. Unlike many others they can’t blame Labor for this one. Their default excuse of blaming Labor for everything after they have been in Government for 4 long years is not going to work.Yes Malcolm. ”Fairness is absolutely critical”

Well it’s now 5 years and they are still managing to blame Labor for most most things. One member lost a puppy and …

3 No doubt we have a pro-coal Government. With the Coalition considering a $1 billion loan for Adani’s coal mine project in central Queensland they are coming out all guns firing against environmentalists. It’s just a pity that the planet takes second place all the time.

President Trump even suggested during the cold snap that the US is experiencing that they could do with some global warming. How is that for stupid science?

4 According to conservative commentator Judith Sloan said mid year that the Prime Minister’s report card looks a bit sad. She reckons his efforts in public policy development are unsatisfactory. Little progress has been made in reforming industrial relations, education, health, and energy in the past 12 months. It is particularly disappointing that the federal government did not respond to the recommendations of the Productivity Commission’s report on the workplace relations regulatory regime.

I would suggest that he has been rather busy being berated by Barnaby for not following orders.

5 More empathy in Government maybe? (Another mid year crisis?). Whatever. So my question is if all that education doesn’t make them better citizens, unable to govern the country? Why does Peter Dutton think that by changing the citizenship test to make it tougher he will end up with better citizens?

What makes him think that the standard of Australian citizenship the Prime Minister and his government sets is any better than that of those seeking to become citizens?

They get me so confused at times.

”You see now he is saying that what I thought he said is only a figment of my imagination. That what I think I thought he meant is not what he meant at all. That when he says something and I take it to mean one thing he has the option of saying that what I thought I heard was not what I heard at all. It was only my interpretation of what he meant .I mean, did he say what he meant or did he mean to say what he meant or was what he meant really what he meant.”

6 An observation.

“Modern Australia is “diversity”. In all its forms, together with multiculturalism it defines us as a nation. People of my generation and later should divest themselves of their old and inferred racist superiority.”

7 In January of last year I wrote:

Now a week wouldn’t be complete without Tony Abbott stirring the pot. He makes a speech to the Samuel Griffith Society raising the spectre of another go at repealing 18c of the Racial Discrimination Act.

He described 18c as a: “troubling law. At its worst, it limits free speech merely to prevent hurt feelings”.

Now isn’t that odd? I don’t think I would want to live in a society where people’s feelings weren’t important.

He went on to say that he should have allowed Julia Gillard’s government to implement its so-called Malaysian solution and send up to 800 asylum seekers to that country, to deter the flow of asylum seeker boats.

Hindsight is a wonderful thing. No wonder good government evaded him.

And he still contends that his 2014 budget was his greatest gift to the Australian people despite the fact that it was deliberately designed to make the less well off in society pay for the sustenance of the rich and privileged.

How many more weeks of this incompetent government we are supposed to endure I am unable to answer. I only know that my patience is wearing very thin.

Now I’m sure I missed something, but I can’t think what.

PS: Yesterday I wrote about how character effects leadership. Feelings has a lot to do with it.

8 From February 2017:

How dreadful, how disillusioned those good Catholic folk who have their faith at the core of their being must feel. I know our local parish priest does. But having committed the sins it has, it is difficult to see how the Catholic Church has any right to cast moral judgement on others.

The indignation it is showing over accusations about Cardinal Pell is outrageous given the deaths it has caused. So many children abused, lives destroyed and families devastated. To this day I don’t think they fully comprehend the damage they have done. The Vatican still won’t release documents in their keeping. As an institution the Church is morally bankrupt.

More recently the Vatican has indicated it will release some documents and you would have to suppose that they will be ones that support Pell’s case.

9 Goodbye, Harper Lee. As a young boy you changed my life.

10 The Essential Poll published last week posed this question:

“Thursday 26 2017 January is Australia Day. Will you personally be doing anything to celebrate Australia Day or do you treat it as just a public holiday?”

Most people recognised the holiday but only a third of us said we would actively celebrate the occasion.

For most it’s just another and they don’t get too fussed about the reasons behind it.
Just what the future of the national day is, is anyone’s guess. Probably it will just linger on in its present form until a catalyst presents an opportunity to give it sincerity and integrity.
Such a time may very well be when we become a republic. When we have cast away our final ties to the motherland and we can declare that we have arrived at our adulthood, with one of our own as head of state.

Australia Day would then have all the necessary ingredients for a national day of celebration. So I declare that Australia Day should be moved to the date on which we become a republic and cancel the Queen’s birthday holiday.

11 Shane Crocker is a Facebook friend of some years and drives a taxi in Townsville, Queensland. Like most drivers he likes a chat. His hobby is an avid interest in science and is extremely well-informed on the subject. On Sunday he made these observations.
For non- Australians the statement “Australia Day celebrates the landing of Captain Cook” needs clarifying. The far-right Australian politician, Pauline Hanson also made this statement on Australia Day (January 26) last week:

James Cook landed at Botany Bay (now a part of the city of Sydney) on April 19, 1770. Australia Day commemorates the arrival of the First Fleet of British ships on January 26, 1788.

Pauline Hanson, like many right-wing populist politicians, is profoundly ignorant and made a fool of herself by confusing the two events.’’

These are actual statements made by taxi customers in Townsville:

“Not all of them are rednecks. The comment about the Jews bringing the Holocaust on themselves was made by a professional person.”

Things I’ve recently heard around the place from people in Townsville, Queensland, Australia:

“One Nation is going to wipe the ALP off the map.”

“Maybe fascism is what this country needs right now.”

“Gay marriage would bring down society as we know it.”

“God made Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve.”

“The answer to the crime problem is to bring back the death penalty.”

“Australia should free up the gun laws so we can protect ourselves.”

“The right to keep and bear arms is in the Australian Constitution.”

“The Jews brought the Holocaust upon themselves.”

“Muslims should be banned from coming to Australia as well.”

“Refugees get everything for free.”

“Australia was established as a Christian country.”

“Australia Day celebrates the landing of Captain Cook.”

“A lot of people just say they’re Aboriginal so can get everything for free.”

“It should be illegal to speak any other language than English in public.”

“It’s a criminal offence to burn the Australian flag.”

“Hitler had the right idea, his only mistake was to have a war with England.”

The only thing missing from that lot is that the Australian Constitution guarantees freedom of speech.

12 In the month of September rumour has it that Christian Porter will replace George Brandis as Attorney-General who in turn will replace Downer in London.

Wasn’t just a rumour, as it turn’s out.

13 Trump’s public endorsement of Fox News over cable news rivals is something extraordinary. He’s really acknowledging that Fox is now state TV.

14 On 31 January 2016 I wrote:

The Coalition regrets having to announce that good government has been further delayed. At least until after the next election. Circumstances beyond my control. Authorised by Malcolm Turnbull. Canberra.

Still waiting Malcolm but patience sweating thin.

15 Malcolm Turnbull is facing flak from the Abbott conservative forces within his government. There is hardly an issue of any substance where he is showing quality leadership. The issue is again in the headlines with conservatives saying they will not abide by the outcome of the proposed plebiscite on Gay Marriage.

The people won in the end.

In fact they are lining up to say they will vote against. We pay for good government and expect it from day one. Tony Abbott said that we would get it 12 months after the ball had been bounced. Even then it didn’t happen. We are still waiting for Turnbull to stop talking about it and start delivering. By the time the election comes around the electorate will be entitled to ask whether the Coalition can ever deliver on it.

Anyone for tennis?

16 Only in America.

Both the President and the Vice President have made it very clear that the next appointee to the Supreme Court will be an anti-abortionist. I would have thought that the first attribute of a judge of any court would be impartiality. To appoint people who will do your bidding is tantamount to rigging the judicial system.

17 The way Theresa May looked at the President and repeated what they had discussed looked to me like she was wanting it confirmed publicly.

My thought for the day

“For the life of me I fail to understand how anyone could vote for a party who thinks the existing standard of governance is acceptable.”

The Stranger On Your Shore

The subdued young man sitting in front of the Border Force official looked tired and unkempt. And yet, in a stark contrast his deep brown eyes seemed alive; like quiet wells of clarity and understanding. The officer discreetly surveyed the figure sitting before him as he reviewed the confidential case notes on the screen. The man had fled from the Middle East without identification papers or passport, and enquiries had revealed him to have a record of public nuisance and disrespect for religion and government authority. He had been on a watch-list for some time as a result of his anti-social activities and it appeared that he had been detained and questioned in his own country on at least one previous occasion.

In previous interviews, the young man had revealed that he had suffered severe torture during this time, although this could not be verified by other intelligence sources. Today, he had answered each question dutifully and respectfully but offered nothing further by way of amplification or explanation. The only time that he spoke out of turn during the interview was to politely enquire as to how much longer he would remain in indefinite detention.

‘I would prefer you didn’t use the term indefinite detention’ said the officer.

‘Perhaps then, you are able to tell me when you propose to release me?’

‘I’m sorry but as you know, I can’t give you a time. It will take as long as it needs to in order to establish your legitimacy as a refugee.’

‘And is that not then by definition indefinite?’

The officer said nothing, dropping his eyes to scour the information on his profile, rather than look into those eyes. The stranger continued, his voice softly insistent:

‘I had hoped for a welcome place at your table, but instead found only tall fences and high walls.’

‘How long have you been here now?’ asked the officer, already knowing the answer.

‘It has been almost four years since our boat arrived on your shore,’ came the calm response.

‘Yes, I see,’ continued the officer, quickly searching the dark eyes that held his gaze unerringly. ‘And can you tell me why you decided to come here by boat?’

The man bowed his weary head momentarily; his patient demeanour unchanged. He had been asked the same question more than a dozen times since first arriving here. His response, when it came, was thoughtfully weighed.

‘Ask yourself, how dire must a danger be on dry land that men and women would consider the safer option for their children to be weeks on an angry sea in a small leaky boat?’

Hidden behind the screen the officer rolled his eyes; pausing to down the last dregs of his lukewarm coffee. Boat people. He had not thought to offer the swarthy man a drink, despite the heat of the day. In truth, the bearded stranger unsettled him somehow, leaving him oddly uncomfortable and off-balance.

‘What can you tell me about your family circumstances?’

‘My family had fled persecution and re-settled in a rural area. We were not wealthy, but I learned a trade from my father and earned a living that way. But I am sure you already know all of this.’

The uniformed man breathed a heavy frustrated sigh. Straightening visibly in his chair, he drew a deep centering breath and assumed an air of formality:

‘The problem is we have received concerning information that suggests you are a political dissident. An agitator. This is significant and it may affect your claims for residency in Australia. As you can appreciate, we cannot allow people of bad character to threaten our community and way of life. We are a Christian nation, and as Christians we care for one another. Do you understand?’

‘Sir, I have no criminal convictions and I have hurt no-one; nor have I encouraged anybody to do so. I have only spoken my truth, and that I understand is not a crime.’

‘You arrived here without a valid passport or travel document and that could be seen as a crime.’

‘I have never had need of a passport, but I have never represented myself fraudulently. Your people seem far more intent on proving the threat that I represent, than in who I truly am. I was given only a boat number for a name when I arrived here.’

The officer glanced back at the computer screen, grateful that the interview was coming to an end.

‘Well, perhaps you could state your full given name for me?’ asked the officer in a tired voice.

The bearded, unkempt young paused momentarily, before delivering his perfectly measured reply:

‘I am Jesus Christ, son of Joseph, son of God.’

* * *

Last week the Hon Scott Morrison MP stated that he will “fight back against discrimination and mockery of Christians and other religious groups in 2018.” In his maiden speech a decade ago, Morrison spoke of the importance of his deep personal faith. The tragic irony of this is that the Jesus Christ in whom he places this deep faith was a brown skinned young man of Middle Eastern descent. A man who had effectively been put on a ‘watch list’ as a trouble-maker and agitator. A man who, if fleeing that oppression today and seeking refuge in Australia, would very likely be thrown into a detention centre indefinitely by Christians such as Morrison and his ilk.

It seems that this hypocrisy is all but lost on our politicians as they prepare to celebrate the birth of the man whose teachings they claim to follow. It is a further irony then that these men who claim such allegiance to Christ also turn a blind eye to the human rights atrocities on a detention island named after Him – Christmas Island.

If the shirt fits

His hot pink, red and blue striped Dolce & Gabbana shirt, a steal at a mere $850, is tailor-made for the occasion. Top-shelf apostolic poverty.  What better to wear for his performance of St Mal of Compassion in Sydney’s Wayside Chapel’s annual morality play and nosh-up? Charitable Mal knows how to bling up Christmas; flaunt his self-effacing humanity.

And what better get-up for a post ironic, Trumpian era? Too flash? Fuddy-duddy literalists. You know what you can do.

Too attention-getting? Impossible.  Charity suffereth long, and is kind; charity envieth not; charity vaunteth not itself, is not puffed up, may well be what St Paul penned to The Corinthians but what did Paul or Saul of Tarsus  (as he was before the scales fell from his eyes) know of post-modern disruption, subversion, trickle-down or NewsPoll?

Renaissance Mal and his mob need all the media applause they can get for their work, as they say “in this space”.

Every night over 130,000 Australians are homeless after Abbot and Turnbull cut $500 million from homelessness services as Former Greens Senator Scott Ludlum documented two years ago.

$44 million representing all new homelessness shelters was cut from the National Partnership on Homelessness.

All peak bodies on homelessness have been abolished: Homeless Australia, National Shelter and Community Housing Federation of Australia, inexplicably cut. The PM’s Council on Homelessness is no more. So too, are the COAG Reform group on Housing Affordability and the Homelessness Research Strategy funding axed, saving a paltry $3.1 million

Worse, The National Rental Affordability Scheme was axed, scrapping funding for 12,000 new affordable rental homes worth $235.2m. The Housing Help for Seniors pilot program was abolished to save $173.1m.

The First Home Saver Accounts scheme was cut to save $134.3 million over five years while a new program to sell off “surplus commonwealth property” is introduced with no affordable housing outcomes or any criteria. The National Housing Supply Council, the only body providing data on the gap of affordable and available housing is no more.

It’s impossible to fully document here the government’s war on the poor and homeless. Yet, as work becomes increasingly part-time, underpaid and casual and as the Coalition aims to see all penalty rates are stripped away, the battle to afford rent let alone save to buy a home becomes a desperate struggle. Yet Mal wants us all to keep working.

He’s even got a beaut new slogan, Let’s Keep Australia Working. What better match than his imported high-end fashion statement, worth a month’s Newstart Allowance to help launch The Coalition’s latest four word clanger?

Rank a Brand research reveals that Mal’s D&G shirt of many stripes is most likely to have been made in a Chinese sweatshop which does not report its policies for the environment or its labour conditions.

Nor do they keep Italians working. Most Tuscan factories that produce the region’s legendary luxury goods are Chinese operated and staffed. Fantasma, Italians call the 50,000 Chinese workers, ghosts who may work for $A4.60 per day.

Wages are typically not taxed and around $A 1 billion a year is remitted back to China in a process that only ScoMo or those funky funny-money Tea-Party libertarians at the IPA or in cabinet could claim is good for Italy’s economy.

Ugliness is in the eye of the beholder, of course. Workplaces are often in beautiful surrounds; located in picturesque regions on the tourist trail but most are simply primitive sweatshops with virtually indentured workers. Life is nasty, brutish, miserable and short. Our bilateral trade agreement with China, ChAFTA, allows the same to happen here.

ChAFTA’s “investment facilitation arrangement” allows some projects worth more than $150m to be built in Australia but backed by Chinese companies and staffed by workers hired in China without advertising the jobs in Australia first.

Normally, The Guardian’s Van Badham reports,  companies must show that they can’t find locals to fill jobs before hiring foreign workers. ChAFTA removes this obligation for “infrastructure development projects within food and agribusiness, resources and energy, transport, telecommunications, power supply and generation, environment, or tourism sectors”.

Of course Mal’s gig is not a full morality play. More of a grotesque sketch, a bad Francis of Assisi 2.0 parody with a nod to commedia dell’arte where St Mal, a hybrid Pantalone cum Harlequin character flings a few bread rolls to indigent, itinerant Sydney-siders for whom Christmas is otherwise insufferably miserable, lonely and depressing.

The loud shirt? A play on Joseph and his coat of many colours? Or a practical way to save the camera any bother tracking the PM? It works. Any dream will do. St Mal’s garish ministry to the needy is an instant hit on all channels.

So dazzling is Mal’s show that many mis-hear the government’s new slogan for the election it will spring halfway through the New Year. “Let’s keep Australia twerking”?

But Clive Palmer is off the beltway; out of politics now. Others hear “Australia shirking”. Is it a timely dig at the one third of Australian companies the ATO reports that pay no tax?

Key villains include reptilian Rupert Murdoch, a man with a goanna swagger, who pays no tax on $2.9 billion earned by his News Australia Holdings. Turnbull’s former boss, Goldman Sachs put nothing in the Christmas box. Chevron and Exxon Mobile export huge quantities of gas mainly to Japan. They rake in $2.1 billion without paying a cent to the ATO.

Company tax evasion is costing government revenue $2.5 billion. Nippon Gas Co customers spend less on Bass Strait LNG than Victorians. Worse, Japan makes a killing on the trade as our government is bled dry.

“Japan, the single-biggest buyer of Australian LNG at 30 million tonnes a year, levies an import tax that will deliver $2.9 billion to its national coffers over the next four years”, according to Heath Aston in “The Sydney Morning Herald”.

Ominously, the slogan’s last word turns out to be “working”, after all. It is part of government’s fetishisation of work betrayed daily in the phrase “hard-working Australians”. Lately Treasurer Morrison has taken to intoning the mantra “1000 jobs a day”. Loco ScoMo knows that if he says it often enough, punters may believe that the government is creating jobs.

Bizarrely, ScoMo seems to channel David Cameron who was using the same slogan seven years ago. He’s also hoping we don’t notice that the population grew 388,000 in the year until June — which is more than 1,000 people being added to our population every day. Even a 1000 jobs per diem equals only 377,000. We’re not even keeping up with our nation’s growth.

Jobs and growth has got the chop. But how much better is the four word slogan, “Let’s Keep Australia Working”?   

Keep Australia working? Researcher Gary Morgan says the government’s official unemployment figures are nonsense. The ABS stopped its yearly count of workers not in the labour force in 2014. Now, the ABS considers someone unemployed only if they have “actively” looked for a job in the previous four weeks and are available immediately.  It’s clear that we need to proceed cautiously.

Roy Morgan reports that 1.288 million Australians or 9.8% of the workforce are unemployed. Unemployment has grown by 89,000, or 0.6% in a year, in a workforce of 13,174,000 comprising employed and unemployed, (up 128,000 in a year).

In Sept. 2013, Australia’s jobless rate was 5.7% 7th of 35 wealthy OECD members, Alan Austin points out . After 3 years of surging global trade & corporate profits, our jobless rate has fallen to just 5.4%. We now rank 17th in OECD, our lowest place, since records have been kept. Keeping Australia working?

In addition, 1.106 million Australians (8.4% of the workforce) are now under-employed, working part-time and looking for more work, a rise of 6,000 in a year.

11,886,000 Australians were employed in November – an increase of 39,000 over the past year – or about 3,000 jobs per month as a result of the growth in part-time employment which rose 70,000 to 3,967,000.

Full-time employment, however, decreased 31,000 to 7,919,000. Yet there has been a massive increase in the amount of unpaid overtime. The Australia Institute Researchers calculate (TAI) that Australians work an average of 5.1 hours of unpaid labour per week (up from 4.6 hours in 2016).

This unpaid labour represents 14 percent to 20 percent of the total time spent working by Australian employees. The aggregate value of this “time theft” is large and growing. TAI estimates the total value of unpaid overtime in the national economy at over $130 billion in 2016-2017, up from $116 billion last year.

In his own small show-boating way, with practised ease, time-thief Turnbull effortlessly exploits the mob at Wayside.

Hapless chapel-goers up for a free feed are quickly put to work on the Turnbull ™ razzle-dazzle PR chain-gang as ecstatic, unpaid extras. “It is an event where people arrive as strangers and leave as friends” harps a po-faced assistant pastor.

In other words it’s a QLD LNP shadow cabinet election post-mortem or a Nationals party-room meeting in reverse.

Peace on earth? It’s a blitzkrieg of goodwill. Mal’s PR machine assails the nation with a gonzo charm offensive; a postmodern selfie on a stick travesty of Christian humility. St Mal the alms-giver and compulsive selfie-taker mugs for the camera, dances badly, makes prawn cocktails and doles out bread rolls to the poor whose destitution his government’s policies help perpetuate.

Once the cameras are packed away the PM’s off like a bucket of prawns in the sun.

Three million Australians at least live in poverty. One third of all pensioners live below the poverty line.  ACOSS’ Poverty in Australia 2016, published with the Social Policy Research Centre at the University of NSW, reveals that 2.9 million people, or 13.3% of the total population, live in poverty. 731,300, or 17.4% of all our children, live in poverty.

Tough-love Turnbull’s government’s response is to make war on the poor by mulcting allowances, cutting benefits and – in a myriad of creative ways making it harder to obtain welfare – including Centrelink’s  notorious Robo-call automated debt recovery extortion system which is poised to terrify any welfare recipient at any time with allegations of fraud.

Reversing legal principle, the onus of proof is now on the accused to prove he or she is innocent. Next comes a wild-goose chase for lost or missing documentation. Women, who are most likely to work several part-time jobs and who have more paper-work to chase are particularly vulnerable to the tyranny of the automated bully, whose accuracy has been shown to be notoriously fallible.

Dispensing with the principle of the assumption of innocence is allied to the demonisation of the poor. This week Scott Morrison’s office leaks disinformation about the “burden of welfare” to News Corp and other Liberal Party lickspittles and Coalition megaphones including Our ABC. The story appears in a more moderate form in The Guardian.

Channel Nine repeats ScoMo’s nonsense that the average Australian works for three hours to pay Australia’s welfare bill. It does not note the $30 billion which is lost because a third of companies evade or avoid paying any tax.

Unemployment benefits, family payments, pensions, were part of this calculation – but excluded were the expensive subsidies tax-payers provide to mining ($4 billion plus state taxes of about $3 billion PA)  or the $6.5 billion The Australia Institute calculates goes to the private health insurance industry.

Estimates from the federal government’s Tax Expenditure Statement and Treasury paper show that tax-payers help subsidise fossil fuel production and use to the tune of $12 billion each year. Yet ScoMo’s basic premise is false.

Figures from 2016 show, Australia spends 19.1% of its Gross Domestic Product (GDP) on social welfare, while in the US it is 19.3%; in the UK, 21.5%; Norway, 25.1%; Germany, 25.3%; Sweden, 27.1%; Denmark, 28.7%; Finland, 30.8%, France, 31.5%3. Australia’s welfare bill as a proportion of GDP is modest. Again, the government lies by omission.

Other policies and programs help keep Australians out of work. Our Work for the Dole program is a poverty trap. 90% of participants are not in full-time work after three months.

Even the feral, profit-crazed crony capitalist class-warriors at the Business Council of Australia concede that rates for the dole are far too low, and impede jobseekers’ efforts to look for work. Yet the demonisation is working.

This week even some of our religious leaders claim the spirit of Christmas is wasted on the poor.

“To be blunt — do homeless people need tickets to Paul McCartney or do they need a roof over their head?” 

Salvation Army CEO Major Nottle upstages the PM’s carefully choreographed Sydney show when, instead of giving two donated tickets to the homeless, he gives them instead to his daughter and her partner.

“You really got me,” Sir Ray Davies’ driving anthem to separation anxiety plays loudly in the foreground. Mal sings along lustily, poignantly revealing a neediness all his own: “Don’t ever set me free/I always want to be by your side”

“Nothing is more invisible than what is truly awesome,” says Rev Graham Long. His last gig. He pulls no punches. “You will miss the awesome if you’re the centre of the universe. Just stand back and realise that it’s not all about you.”

Christmas is a time to spare a thought for the needy and less unfortunate. Charity is a tricky routine for Mal to bring off with his narcissistic ego and his being a bit of a duffer in reading people and his wilful ignorance of the hardships faced by the homeless. True, on ABC 7:30, he can crack hardy about his childhood poverty and hard times as he and his real-estate salesman and hotel broker father Bruce endured the privations of Eastern suburbs Sydney. But the shirt’s the real deal.

Loud? It’s deafening.  Perfect for a Hi-Viz deck-chair or an optometrist’s colour blindness test chart. More than a hint of a Sydney to Hobart spinnaker. Punters puzzle over it. Are the many stripes symbolic? A foppish D&G homage to Flip-Flop, our leader’s signature political position? Or is it simply the Yuletide Mal for all seasons-festive outfit?

Certainly, some of Turnbull’s messaging is unmistakable. Social welfare is under attack by a neoliberal government eager to outsource its social obligations to charity, the way schools, hospitals and other public institutions have now become so accustomed to begging for the funds they need to operate, it’s known as local fund-raising.

We’ve just spent a lazy $10 billion on US arms over four years, we’re told. No hint of any cake stalls, chook raffles or trivia nights. Imagine what a pickle we’d get into if we put people first; gave welfare the unfettered access to federal funds enjoyed by the armed forces while the ADF is told to start baking cakes if it wants a multi-mission helicopter.

Turnbull’s Christmas charity pantomime at Sydney’s Wayside Chapel simply highlights his government’s hypocrisy and tokenism. The Coalition does not give a fig for the homeless. Since Abbott it has done its level best to tear down the limited support that more enlightened and compassionate Australians were attempting to provide.

Similarly the government’s hollow injunction “Let’s Keep Australia Working” masks a range of policies and practices which have done nothing to arrest the growth in unemployment and under-employment while promoting the growth of an increasingly casualised and underpaid workforce which has not enough work and less job security.

While full-time workers find themselves increasingly working extra hours for nothing, the government is doing nothing to promote gender equality. Women in full-time work receive only 84% of their male counterparts’ wage, an inequality which has remained for twenty years.

Increasingly, it is women who bear the brunt of a decline in hours and conditions of work.   One chief consequence is that women are more exposed to poverty and disadvantage than men at every age. If the Turnbull government could do one thing immediately it would be to ditch its banal and dishonest Let’s Keep Australia Working in favour of let’s implement equal pay. It’s not that we can’t afford it. We can’t afford not to.

As for the homeless, there is no time for token patronising public displays of philanthropy at Christmas; what is needed is an urgent re-allocation of funds. The money is there in unpaid corporate taxes and wasted subsidies on fossil fuel, mining and private health insurance. We could begin to provide shelter tomorrow if only our government could recognise that welfare is an imperative in a just and civil society, an investment in social cohesion and not an expenditure item.

But for that to take place, our government MPs would have to stop blaming the victim; stop their scurrilous ideological class war on the poor and begin to acknowledge that neoliberal economics have failed.

What is required is that we confront the consequences of decades of neoliberal inhumanity and the worship of “the economy”; comprehend the reality of a world where the gospel of free trade and globalisation has led to poor Chinese workers in Tuscany trying to get by on $4.60 per day; virtual slaves working to produce luxury goods like Dolce and Gabbana $850 shirts for millionaire would-be Australian Prime Ministers who lack the very empathy, compassion, self-awareness and moral integrity that are the essential prerequisites to even contemplate running for the office.

 

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