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No means no

As the now former Royal Spanish Football Federation President Luis Rubiales discovered recently, no means no. Kissing someone on the lips without consent has consequences – and rightly so. There were various arguments put up why the non-consensual action was permissible before the reality hit that the action was completely inappropriate and even if Rubiales thought the gesture harmless, it wasn’t. His ‘resignation’ is pretty fair and reasonable in the scheme of things. We teach our youth that ‘no means no’ for a reason. There are no exemptions or excuses such as it was harmless or it didn’t mean anything to reduce its severity or ‘explain it away’.

There seems to be a growing list of those opposed to the Voice to Parliament who are claiming they are supporting the Opposition Leader Dutton ‘no’, Warren Mundine’s ‘no’ or the Senator Price ‘no’. In reality, it doesn’t make a scrap of difference – no mean no. Regardless of which ‘no’ you favour, no means nothing happens to alleviate the centuries of pain, torment and angst caused to the First Nations of this country by those who have immigrated or lived here since 1788.

The ABC recently published an article online that discussed what would happen to the Constitution if the referendum is agreed to. First of all, the Constitution covers:

  • the structure and law-making powers of federal parliament
  • how the federal and state parliaments share power and expenditures
  • the roles of the executive government and the High Court of Australia
  • frequency of elections

The constitution is a legally binding document and has a special status – it can only be changed through a referendum and it overrides all other laws.

Even a law passed by federal parliament is invalid if it contradicts the constitution.

Those that believe their actions are legitimised because of the ‘bill of rights’ should be concerned because:

Unlike the constitutions of some other countries, Australia’s does not include a list of the rights of citizens or a “bill of rights”. [There is also no legislated ‘bill of rights’ in Australia.]

These rights are, instead, protected by common law (made by the courts) and statute law (made by parliament).

Also, the Australian Constitution didn’t include a reference to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people until 1967, when recognition was included as a result of a referendum.

So what are the changes? According to the ABC:

The federal government is proposing to add a ninth chapter to the document.

It comes in response to the Uluru Statement from the Heart – which was signed by more than 250 Indigenous representatives and calls for constitutional recognition through a Voice.

The proposed chapter would come after Chapter 8 and just before the Schedule and Notes.

The new chapter contains four paragraphs and are typed out for you to read and consider if you click here.

Like in a lot of discussions, there is considerable nuance that separates the views of different members of the community. Dutton’s ‘no’ seems to be predicated on blanket opposition to anything proposed by the Australian Government rather than any ideological concerns with the Voice. He had a number of meeting s during the planning stages with supporters to attempt to come to an agreed common ground. Dutton also has a history of not understanding our history with First Nations People, having walked out on PM Rudd’s Apology to the Stolen Generation in 2008 (although he did apologise for that 15 years later when politically expedient to do so).

Senator Price’s ‘no’ seems to be because she believes that the Voice effectively doesn’t go far enough. She may be correct, however the Voice referendum is the product of the Uluru ‘Statement from the Heart’ where 250 representatives of First Nations Peoples came together and developed a consensus view of a way forward. As each of these people would have brought different views and objectivity to the discussion, the result is a distillation of the views and almost certainly not the view of one or two individuals. Senator Price has every opportunity in the Parliament to influence the makeup and process of the Voice – should it be agreed to, but she will have to compromise as she is one of over 200 Parliamentarians that consider federal legislation.

Warren Mundine’s ‘no’ seems to be less ‘hard line’ that Price’s, however he still argues a treaty between First Nations people and the Australian Government is required. Mundine’s list of requirements also includes changing the date of Australia Day to a day less emotive for all of us.

The obvious question is if a representative group of First Nations people determined that the current process is preferable, would those opposing it be acting any different if Australia was voting on a proposed treaty that didn’t cover off on their individual requirements? Realistically – probably not. In any society not everyone is going to get everything they want – ever.

When you’re watching your favourite football code finals over the next week or so, just remember that no one has got on the field because they stood back and covered off on all the risks and uncertainties. The players, coaches and team staff are there because they took calculated chances. The Uluru ‘Statement from the Heart’ participants have taken the calculated risk and hope to achieve a positive outcome.

They developed a solution that was acceptable to the majority at the forum and presented to all Australians for consideration. It may not have been the best, almost certainly could have been worse, but it is a consensus and a pathway to finding a solution to a long running sore that is holding back Australia. Regardless, there seems to be people who are telling us to disregard the Uluru ‘Statement from the Heart’ because it doesn’t represent their world view of the ideal process for recognition and treaty. It’s a bit like the 3-year-old child throwing a tantrum because they aren’t getting their own way.

Voting ‘no’ is essentially a vote to not change anything because there might be something we didn’t think about that happens down the track. As countless people, including the former Spanish Football President have found out to their cost – no means no – there are no excuses. Your ‘no’ vote is the same as Dutton’s, Price’s or Mundine’s – regardless of how you try to justify it to yourself or others.

And if you don’t know – do the research. Here’s a link to help you start.


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Your choice – people or ideology

Don’t know if you’ve noticed that in some of the major supermarket chains they have cameras throughout the store. If you use one of the farcically named ‘assisted checkouts’ in some stores there is a camera focused on your face. The large supermarket chains tell us the reason for all the cameras are that people were scanning high value goods as lower value goods. What a surprise! People will take advantage of the opportunity to steal from a large supermarket. In fact the supermarkets budget for a certain amount of theft, making the business decision that items not being scanned correctly is cheaper than employing people to ensure items are scanned correctly.

And if the people that are staffing the ‘assisted checkouts’ can get a break from attempting to get the checkouts to work when someone does something the programmers didn’t think of – they are supposed to be watching for people scanning $20 items for 20 cents. Given that frequently if the staff member has left school, it wasn’t that long ago, assertiveness towards thieves incorrectly scanning goods isn’t guaranteed. ‘Assisted’ checkouts are really a recipe for stock disappearing from the store without payment. Yet, the stock disappearing is the justification for increased video surveillance and those that have to buy food losing more of their privacy. The stores are happy to shout from the rooftops how low their prices are or how fresh their food is, but won’t address the ‘own goal’ of self serve checkouts, making the rest of us responsible for their economic decision.

Melbourne relies on Skybus to transport passengers to and from the major airport in the city. While the Skybus service and cost is reasonable, it is less environmentally friendly and has a lower capacity than the electric trains used in Sydney, Brisbane and Perth. Various Victorian State Governments have announced that they will construct a rail line to Tullamarine Airport which would link into the Melbourne suburban rail network. The latest version of the scheme (first discussed nearly 60 years ago) was supposed to be completed by the end of the decade and cost $13billion.

The Guardian recently reported

Transport and planning experts agree a train line to the airport has multiple benefits. It would reduce emissions from car travel, ease road congestion, cut travel times and improve connectivity for Melbourne’s western suburbs – which include some of the fastest growing local government areas in Australia.

However, there is a shortage of construction workers and material that would add to the cost of the project, so it is likely to be delayed.

But Infrastructure Australia found most of the project’s benefits would not be felt until the recently widened Tullamarine Freeway – which links the airport to the city – reaches capacity. This is expected to happen in 2036.

“Delaying it would not reduce those benefits because the benefits were not expected to be felt for some time,” says Bradshaw, from the Grattan Institute.

Jago Dodson, the director of RMIT’s Centre for Urban Research, argues an airport rail project would help Victoria be a competitive city.

But he says the wider issue Victoria faced was not having an overarching transport plan to determine infrastructure priorities, which he believes is “failing” the state.

“If we had a coherent transport plan it could have asked whether it was preferable to leave the Tullamarine Freeway at previous capacity and for a rail line to pick up the future additional travel to the airport,” he says.

What a surprise! Spending billions on what was probably the more popular option (because people could see the work occurring) – widening the Tullamarine Freeway – is not the best answer to the real problem which is the ability of airline passengers and workers to travel to and from Melbourne City and surrounds quickly and efficiently. The article reports that transit times on Skybus (and logically every other vehicle accessing the airport from Melbourne) are expected to almost double over the next 30 years. Again, those that came up with the solution didn’t think through all the issues before implementing a solution that will cost more in the long term. And if the construction of a rail line is left until the Tullamarine Freeway reaches capacity in the mid 2030’s, Melbourne’s residents and visitors will have to put up with many years of substandard transport to and from the Airport until the infrastructure catches up with the reality that is already understood. To be fair, the same commentary could be applied to the Cross River Rail works in Brisbane or the need for the abundance of toll roads in Sydney. Again, we all pay for the ‘own goal’ of economics.

We could end up like the UK where there are reports of the roofs on schools are falling down because of lack of funding for repairs. It seems that there is a cost to the 13 years of austerity and ideology supported by the Conservative Government.

In 2010, when David Cameron and Osborne, with the help of Nick Clegg’s Lib Dems, ushered in austerity, they presented it as a short period of necessary pain that had to be forced on the country to put the public finances right.

Instead, today, the images and experiences are of under-resourced services and a general decline resulting from chronic, systematic lack of investment.

During the first term of Tory rule, austerity often went hand in glove with ideological arguments about creating a smaller state. But here, too, as Conservative MPs search for positive stories, there is instead evidence of mismanagement in pursuit of those ideological visions.

What a surprise! Poor building standards and a lack of maintenance even when essential, eventually ensures that infrastructure starts to decay.

The thing is that it doesn’t have to be like this. Essentially austerity and ‘small government’ hasn’t worked, as demonstrated in the UK. Can Australia become the ‘lucky country’ again by observing the problems elsewhere and refocus on people rather than attempting to judge when an economic benefit will be realised in the short term?

We can start by supporting the Voice Referendum. Giving our First Nations people input into decisions that affect their lives is logical because we all know that imposing economic solutions hasn’t worked for over 200 years. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if the next referendum was to revoke the Voice to Parliament because there was essentially equity in lifespans and opportunities between all who choose to live in this country?

We have the means and ability to help people rather than ideology on October 14 – don’t waste it.

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To Hell in a Hand Basket

When a government department requires your land for a new electricity transmission tower, a highway or some other infrastructure they normally advise you of the need and negotiate a sale around the price identified by an independent valuer. The price doesn’t take into account that you will never be able to look at the spot under the gum tree where little Jenny (who is now 35) took her first step, or where little Johnny (who is now 32) first rode his bike unaided – but your compensation for having to move is usually reasonable. Some government departments will notify owners of properties 20 or more years out that the property will be required in the future and inviting discussions around the sale at any time the owner is ready.

Who knows, the sale of the family home to the authorities may be the catalyst to eliminate a number of financial or physical issues to do with aging, the state of the house you are living in or may generate a much wanted change in lifestyle. At the very least you will usually be in a similar financial position to where you were before the sale and most will quickly find the location of the local supermarket, sporting clubs and so on that is part and parcel of moving to a different community.

In 1788, our First Nations people were not give the opportunity to negotiate a sale price for the continent that subsequently became Australia and there was no prior notice given either. In fact the English invented a legal fiction know as “Terra Nullius” to justify their actions. Some First Nations people were massacred, others forced to live in squalid conditions on the boundaries of towns or forced to relinquish their children in a process of ‘assimilation’. Most were never compensated for the loss of their history and lands. Yet, some will tell us if we formally recognise our First Nations peoples lifestyles and traditions were irrevocably changed without any chance of input into the process, we will all go to hell in a hand basket.

The introduction of the Native Title Act in 1993 by then Prime Minister Paul Keating was bitterly opposed by then Opposition Leader John Howard. There were claims that no Australian backyard would be exempted from claims from First Nations Peoples making ‘land grabs’. The reality is somewhat different

According to the National Native Title Tribunal, the 2022 statistics for the existence of Native Title in Australia includes:

555 Registered Native Title Determinations, of which:

441 were by consent – meaning a court or other official body negotiated an agreement under the Native Title Act. 60 of these were unopposed, and not contested by another party.

55 were litigated – meaning it had to go to trial.

So much for Howard’s claim Native Title Legislation would mean the Australian way of life would be going to hell in a hand basket.

In the early 2010’s then Opposition Leader Tony Abbott claimed that emissions reduction legislation would be the ruin of Australia. His Chief of Staff and now one of the Sky after dark ‘talking heads’, Peta Credlin admitted years later that the claims were ‘brutal retail politics’ with no basis in fact. So much for Australia going to hell in a hand basket.

The Marriage Equality legislation was implemented by the Turnbull Government in the mid 2010’s. While the process taken to get there was questionable (there was no reason for a plebiscite when the various Members of Parliament could ignore the direction from their electorate) the outcome was in accordance with the general mood of the country. While those with a moral axe to grind didn’t like the outcome and foresaw all sorts of moral and physical harm as a result of the legislation becoming the law, again Australia hasn’t gone to hell in a hand basket.

As a matter of fact, the scare campaigns have existed for centuries. According to various interest groups at the time, decimal currency, the introduction of the metric system, changes to legislation to promote equal pay for equal work regardless of gender and similar changes to our lifestyle have generally improved lives for those affected – despite the claims of the naysayers that each change would mean that Australia would go to hell in a hand basket.

Given Australians love of travel, it is interesting to note that the naysayers of the 1830’s claimed the use of railways to carry people to different towns would lead to ‘decay of moral fibre’. Perhaps the real concern here was that those that defined ‘moral fibre’ in each small community saw the potential for travel to broaden the mind and potentially people would find out the guardians of ‘moral fibre’ in the next community down the line might have been more liberal. Regardless, people moving from community to community and later across the world didn’t mean the world went to hell in a hand basket.

The point is that change is really the only constant in life. Our families change with the birth of new children, people finding their life partner, family members moving to or from the area local to you and so on. We routinely change jobs, vehicles, furnishing in the home, allegiances and points of view. If we never changed anything, the ability to light a fire would never have been successfully popularised by cave dwellers. Those that want to live forever in what is a halcyon era (for them) commonly don’t reflect that the era may be anything but agreeable for others. Why should you be able to impose your chosen point in time without questions?

You would have to wonder if those that are considering voting ‘no’ at the forthcoming referendum because they don’t know what the consequences will be are still concerned about the use of mobile phones, television, computers and many other items that are in daily use around the world. If they aren’t, they should be as not all of the current features inherent in the latest mobile phone, television or computer operating systems were explained in detail and agreed prior to the introduction of the first itineration of the devices some years ago. The lack of consistency in accepting upgraded and new features without full relevant disclosure at the same time as voting against the ‘voice’ because you claim not to have enough detail is duplicitous at best.

And the biggest example of duplicity goes to current Opposition Leader Peter Dutton. He has offered to run a referendum if he gets to be Prime Minister at the next election to create a symbolic reference to our First Nations people in the Constitution – while justifying his absence from the Australian Parliament’s 2008 apology to the stolen generations because in his view, it was only symbolic. It’s almost Trumpian, isn’t it?

Why should we let Peter Dutton and his fellow travellers confuse the real issue for their own political ends? The Voice is necessary to enable our Fist Nations people to have a discussion with our elected representatives around what they need – rather than governments forcing what they believe First Nations peoples want. Determining what people want without input has worked so well in the past!

The Voice may not be perfect, it may not answer all the questions but it’s a start and just like most other changes we have seen in our lifetimes, won’t lead us to hell in a hand basket.


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If you don’t understand – do the research

While not identifying as or trying to sound like an old school socialist, the slogan of the ‘ruling classes’ for the forthcoming referendum is abysmal. “If you don’t know, vote no’ is not only a reflection of the attitude of those that believe they are born to rule, it also assumes that people who have genuine questions or concerns don’t have the intelligence to do some research and determine a point of view for themselves.

The current strategy of the conservative political parties and their fellow travellers over recent years seems to be to encourage everyone to be relaxed and comfy at home in the favourite armchair, dressed in a dressing gown and fluffy slippers with a pipe and the gas heater burning away in the background listening to the wireless while the rich and powerful work out what is good for you. It all sounds very 1950ish and ‘father knows best’ doesn’t it?

But what if you have been recently kicked off the comfy home you have rented for decades, primarily because the Howard Government cut in half the tax on the profit of selling an investment property as detailed in this news story? Despite the Howard Government being turfed from power in 2007, the effects of this vote buying measure linger. While more progressive governments have attempted to resolve the issue, the hue and cry from disaffected investment property owners, amplified by the Coalition and their ilk to keep an obvious rort with a high cost of entry has been overwhelming.

But what if your comfy house is next to some bushland? Even if you’re not concerned than ever before about the greater risk of an out-of-control bushfire consuming your property, your insurance company is – and they have increased your house insurance costs as evidence of their concern. Their actuaries have determined there is a greater risk they will have to pay something out to you or others with a similar proximity to bushland because sadly more Australian’s homes will be consumed by fires this summer. It’s a pity that we have been pumping increasing amounts of carbon into the atmosphere for the last decade, because a Coalition Government scrapped an emission reduction program that was beginning to work. There is also a higher probability of more extreme cyclones, severe storms and other adverse weather events.

The conservatives that are now telling you not to do the research and vote for no change are also the ones that told you before the past couple of elections that the ALP’s vehicles emissions and electric vehicle mandates would ruin the weekend. The implication being the weekend’s future was dire as there were no electric utes. Well, there is and there is an growing industry in Australia converting two of the bestselling utes to battery power – here and here for starters. Before you start repeating the conservatives claims that the batteries only have a limited life before landfill – read this, including the bit where they tell you why dead batteries aren’t going to landfill. We haven’t even got to the potential health benefits of EVs, which the Coalition won’t tell you because it doesn’t suit their comfy 1950’s message.

The ‘anti-everything’ conservatives recently ran their CPAC event in Sydney. The usual roll call of right wing ‘thinkers’ (an oxymoron if ever there was one) reportedly stood up and preached that the world was going to rack and ruin because they weren’t in charge. Hopefully CPAC made enough to enable one of its ‘think tanks’, Liberty Works, chaired by leading ‘no’ proponent Warren Mundine to pay the $172,000 or thereabouts it owes the federal government after being found guilty of spreading misleading information during the recent pandemic. So much for ethics and morals.

“The Voice’ referendum is a response to the Uluru Statement from the Heart. Despite the claims from the naysayers, the statement is one page and slightly over 400 words. Perhaps unsurprisingly to the rest of us, it is not a third chamber of parliament as it can’t make legislation. It is not going to decide what the next interest rate movement is because it will not have any ability to do so (that ability is solely in the hands of the Reserve Bank) or make any other rules or legislation. It is certainly not going to mean that large swathes of Australia is going to be managed any differently to what is occurring now (as was claimed when the ALP passed Native Title legislation). But it doesn’t stop them trying it on.

The referendum is needed to enshrine a ‘voice’ to discuss and recommend actions to the parliament for our First Nations peoples in the Constitution so that a government in the future can’t abandon the process if and when it suits them. Certainly a future government can choose to ignore the ‘voice’, but will do so at their own peril. Let’s face it, the Coalition’s most recent attempt to assist First Nations people, the intervention in the Northern Territory, was ultimately as successful as many of the probably well-intentioned but ultimately useless previous attempts to ensure all our First Nations peoples have equal opportunities. Who knows, if we ask First Nations people how to help them, they might have the chance of an equal lifespan to the rest of us who are or have descended from immigrants.

If you want to retreat to the comfy 1950s and never change anything, that is your prerogative but you can’t pick and choose to take the technical and lifestyle benefits of the 21st century while decrying the same lifestyle and technology. In short – you can’t have it both ways. Do your research and vote accordingly but if you vote no because you don’t understand – that’s a cop out and a sad indicator of your intelligence.


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The more things change, the more they stay the same

My first opinion piece on The Political Sword blog was written about 10 years ago and dealt with truth in political advertising. The piece discussed advertising that demonstrated alleged reckless behaviour when promoting products can be banned by an industry regulator. There was an instance quoted of advertising for a Nissan vehicle that showed the car being driven at a speed in excess of the speed limit (together with appropriate squealing tyre noise and engine revving) was banned even though Nissan claimed that during the filming of the advertisement, the car was driven appropriately with the sound effects added and the film sped up. The contrast was made with politicians that could promise the world with no intention of delivering, assassinate the character of their political opponents or just mislead with absolutely no consequences. The point was there was no regulation around political advertising in most of Australia in 2013 – and there still isn’t.

All sides of politics are guilty of exaggeration and deceit in advertising. For example, when Abbott was in opposition his claim that the Gillard Government’s Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme process was ‘a carbon tax’ was inaccurate at best and a lie at worst. Gillard didn’t help on this occasion by likening it to a carbon tax after claiming there would never be carbon tax legislated by her government. The ALP advertised at one stage while in opposition that the Coalition was going to axe Medicare, also an exaggeration at best. The advertising was rightly called Mediscare by the Coalition government who claimed there was no plans to axe Medicare (although they did introduce a co-payment for a while).

Clive Palmer’s United Australia Party is a serial offender. His billboards and TV advertising prior to the last couple of elections claiming he would ‘Make Australia great again’ convinced some, although not enough to make a difference to the election result except maybe in Victoria where one UAP member became a Senator. Prior to the last election I did email Palmer’s party asking why Australia wasn’t great and how would his party rectify that if elected to majority government. I’m still waiting for a response. Clearly they had no actual plan to address their advertised claims. Palmer also advertised incorrect claims at the last Queensland election the Palaszczuk Government would introduce a tax on the assets of those who have died, two years later, they haven’t.

Some of Pauline Hanson’s One Nation Party claims over the years have also been absolute fabrications. Immigrants in general (and specifically from the middle east or Asia depending on the mood of the times) have not come and taken all our jobs. In fact, immigrants have assisted the economy of our country greatly and there are a lot of immigrants doing the service jobs such as cleaning, caring and food preparation that most ‘dinky-di Aussies’ won’t do, regardless of the need for the work to be done. Hanson knows as well as anyone that her political party will never be a majority in a parliament so she consistently creates advertising claims that never have to be substantiated.

In the 1970’s the Australian Democrats was formed from two smaller parties that comprised predominately disaffected conservative party members. By 1980, they held the balance of power in the Senate under the advertised promise to ‘Keep the bastards honest’. Arguably they did what it said on the box for a number of years by reducing some of the proposed excesses of both ALP and Coalition governments and placing an emphasis on the environment before it was fashionable, using the balance of power to ensure amendment of legislation to cater the the needs of the broader community. Sooner or later however, in the eyes of many, the Australian Democrats became one of the many groups of ‘bastards’ in Parliament when they assisted John Howard’s Coalition Government in the introduction of the GST. Certainly they carved out exemptions for some basic items however they left us with an ungainly tax on almost everything that is difficult to understand or manage. Economists also claim the GST disadvantages the less well off as they spend more each week on essentials such as food and shelter as a percentage of their income.

In recent years, the Greens have had the balance of power in the Senate. Despite their core advertising of being committed to a greener environment they objectively failed to assist the Rudd Government introduce an Emissions Trading Scheme in 2008 (apparently 50% of something isn’t as good as 100% of nothing). To the Greens credit, they did manage to frustrate some of the proposed excesses of the Abbott/Turnbull/Morrison (ATM) Government, especially when these respective Prime Ministers were responsible for acting like ATMs to their favoured allies or seeking votes in some electorates.

More recently the Greens have been holding up the passing pf legislation for the creation of a fund to finance the construction of affordable housing across the nation – another issue the Greens have been advertising they support for years. In July they issued six demands on the Albanese Government as well as state and territory leaders. All the requirements (rent caps, limiting rent increases and so on) fall under state and territory legislation. So I asked one of their elected Senators how a majority Greens Federal Government in 2023 would implement their list of demands – maybe in an alternate universe somewhere. After all, the advertised claim is it is would be an easy matter for Albanese to implement the list should he have the will to do so. To their credit, someone in the Senator’s office did respond however the response reinforced the Greens belief that their demands were necessary rather than addressing the questions raised which indicates there has been no thought on how it would be done. However some will believe the advertising and wonder why Albanese doesn’t fix the problem with a stroke of a pen.

Which brings us to the ethical dilemma here. Advertising in politics isn’t regulated. If you or I had a big enough urge to make a political statement and the money to do so, nothing is stopping us forming a political party and telling the government (whoever is in power) how to do their job, what is wrong with the country or make aspersions on the character of other politicians or groups of people who live here on billboards, in the newspapers, on radio and TV. And while there is correctly an expectation that you or I have a right to say how the country should be run, morally we don’t have the right to make aspersions on others without evidence or generalise that particular groups of people are out to fundamentally change our individual lifestyle as Hanson has done. Neither should we be able to make meaningless claims that the country is no longer great or a government is going to introduce a tax as Palmer has done. And despite the advertising, clearly the Greens have no insight on how the housing crisis would be fixed with the stroke of a pen. No one should be able to make accusations and advertise their claims without evidence or any sort of factual basis to support them.

Standards are important, especially standards of honesty and decency. Politics is supposed to be a contest of ideas and ways to improve the country articulated and advertised by those aspiring to be our leaders, not a bear pit where anything goes. If politicians can’t self-regulate, we should regulate for them. South Australia has had ‘truth in political advertising’ laws since 1985. Maybe the rest of the country should catch up.


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Ego is not a dirty word

In the mid 1970s, Australian ‘glam rock’ band Skyhooks released an album titled ‘Ego is not a Dirty Word’. The single of the same title reached number 2 on the Australian ‘Top 40’ in mid 1976. Little Scott Morrison, born in 1968, would probably have heard it on ‘high rotation’ across the airwaves of a Sydney AM radio station (because commercial FM radio was 4 years in the future). If he was fortunate enough he might have had enough money to of to the local Record Bar and purchase a copy of the single. If he was really wealthy (for an 8 year old) he might have bought the album, as downloading the music was something that wasn’t an option until the next century.

Ego is not a Dirty Word’ provided commentary on the egos of some famous identifies including Richard Nixon, suggesting if he had kept is ego in check he might not have been one of the few US Presidents to have resigned under a cloud. Like Nixon, Morrison’s political end may have been completely different if he had kept his ego in check.

Since 2007, Morrison has been the Member of Parliament of the seat of Cook, based in southern Sydney. Prior to then he had at different times been the CEO of the government tourism offices in both Australian and New Zealand. Both the Australian and New Zealand Governments of the day asked Morrison to leave prior to the completion of his contracted period. In the case of the Australian Government, the request was made by a Coalition Government. It’s also history that Morrison was pre-selected by the Liberal Party after an internal war that involved the existing Member of Parliament who apparently didn’t have any plans to retire from politics in the lead up to the 2007 election.

Morrison’s rise through the ranks to his eventual appointment as Leader of the Party and Prime Minister is well known, as is his disdain for refugees, those that claim social security benefits and those who actually work for the government. As a part of his claim to be a ‘strong welfare copstrong welfare cop the beat’ he was instrumental in introducing the system now known as Robodebt, where income matching was completed by machines and unusual cases were not checked by a person before the system raised fraudulent debt notices that have been found to be illegal. Someone who had their ego in check would have checked the legality of such a scheme prior to introduction. Instead Morrison stood by and allowed Home Affairs to extort money from Australians.

Like most schemes designed to extort money, Robodebt was eventually found out for what it was – a scam. Unlike most schemes designed to extort money, this one was implemented and managed by the Coalition Government who seem to have cowered the Public Service into submission. In The Monthly’s emailed newletter last week, writer Daniel James suggests that Morrison certainly has no contrition for his leading roles in the establishment and promotion of the extortion scheme

Speaking to an almost empty lower house shortly after Question Time on Monday, Morrison said: “This campaign of political lynching has once again included the weaponisation of quasi-legal process to launder the government’s political vindictiveness. They need to move on.”

As James notes

The reference to the royal commission as a “quasi-legal” process is straight out of the Trump playbook – an attempt to reduce the most powerful form of public-interest inquiry we have in this country to that of nothing more than a political pitchfork rally.

Thousands of Australians were wrongly accused of debt, with a significant number of the real victims (those that were extorted by the Coalition Government) suffering mental health problems and the families of others that couldn’t see a way out of their dilemma took their own lives. And one of the architects of the scheme is still collecting his $200,000 per annum salary as a parliamentarian while claiming to be the victim of a political hit job. Ego may not be a dirty word, but contrition and seeking forgiveness for poor decisions in the past takes more than ego, it needs emotional intelligence, something that Morrison seems to lack completely.


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If you can read this …

Thank your teachers. In your individual case your teachers probably included your parents, family, siblings and almost definitely the teachers when you went to school. In your school, the teacher was the one that convinced you to put the effort in to learn how to read the squiggly lines on a page or a screen that make up words and numbers, it wasn’t the operators of the school, the quality of the infrastructure or the school’s history.

Private schools were set up in Australia for a number of reasons. Some religious groups determined the state school system didn’t teach the morality of the group, others addressed a perceived need in the community. Until the Menzies Government started funding private schools (effectively to buy their compliance), parents who sent their children to private schools generally paid the cost of their children’s education. Since Menzies, it’s become a bit more complicated. Generally private schools receive greater federal funding than state government operated schools. There have been a number of efforts by various governments to equalise the situation, the latest being the Gonski Review which was implemented by the Gillard Government.

One of the core recommendations of the Gonski review when it was released in 2011 was implementing the SRS, a needs-based model to provide a baseline education to students, set at $13,060 for primary students and $16,413 for secondary students.

The federal education minister at the time of the Gonski review, Peter Garrett, said the aim was to ensure any student, irrespective of their background, could reach their potential.

Sadly, this core recommendation was ignored by Gillard, Rudd, Abbott, Turnbull, and Morrison. The Guardian’s article (linked above) details the failures of the implementation by all five governments.

Gillard started the rot by pledging that no school would end up with less money – a problem considering that most private schools were receiving more per student than the needs-based funding recommended. Let’s just say the situation has not improved over the subsequent decade. As Van Badham suggests in The Guardian Public Schools are struggling as St Poshies builds wellness centres with taxpayer money’.

It is completely wrong to suggest that state government operated schools do not educate to the same standard. For those that know the leafy (and now politically Green) inner western suburbs of Brisbane, there is a state high school on one side of Lambert Road at Indooroopilly and a high-profile private school on the other. The Nobel Laureate Peter Doherty attended the state high school. While he has gone on to great things, as have a number of students from both sides of Lambert Road (and every other high school in Australia for that matter), it is the quality of the teaching – not the surroundings -that counts. While private schools may attempt to attract the teachers perceived to be ‘better’ and be able to boast of the numbers of their students that achieved the highest level of University Entry ranking, they also have a unique advantage that they can choose their students, state government schools have to take all comers in (usually) a geographic area.

Of course, there is the ‘status’ of your children attending (or you are working at) a well-known and usually quite expensive private school. This is where the real issue is. It would be an interesting study to determine how many of those that attend private schools actually live their lives in accordance with the claimed philosophies of the private schools they or their children attend. Or maybe the forking out of thousands a year for something that can be received at significantly less cost is a (illogical if you think about it) part of the parent’s inevitable climb up the social ladder. It works nicely with the McMansion in the ‘nice’ area and the large SUV or ute in the driveway – in between clogging up the roads around the time of the school pick up because the beloved Tarquin or Millicent shouldn’t be seen on a public transport operator’s school bus.

It really wasn’t surprising to recently read that vehicle importers spend double on marketing their SUVs and utes than traditional sedans, wagons and hatchbacks. There are real problems with large (usually American) SUVs and utes and their resources consumption, along with the lack of safety for other road users and pedestrians around these vehicles. They still get stuck with the bus or small hatchback in the traffic jam – regardless of the owners highly visible ‘look at me’ statement.

It is similar to the reliance on ‘external consultancies’ with expensive marketing and communications strategies rather than using the in-house talents of the public service, so beloved by the Abbott, Turnbull or Morrison Governments. In the majority of circumstances, the advice of the external consultancies is probably quite valid when considered from the viewpoint of the consultants, who generally have left school, gone to university, gained additional qualifications in their selected profession and then climbed the greasy pole in one of the external consultancies with very little experience in how the rest of us live. So the same people in similar roles at similar service providers are contracted by a public service who have not been resourced well enough by a series of governments to ensure the government can perform their role in society, That is somewhat ironic given the hollowing out of the public service that occurred under the recent decade of Coalition governments – and the claims of the ‘Canberra bubble’ made by the leaders of the same governments. Where’s the real ‘bubble’ or echo chamber here?

Anyway, the point of briefly discussing all of these issues is this. Governments, especially Coalition ones, have completely destroyed any pretence of an equal society. The outcome is Robodebt where (regardless of the lack of legality) decision makers in the government thought that reversing the proof of innocence and making baseless claims that people owed thousands to the government was a good idea. At the same time, the process made it incredibly difficult for those affected to demonstrate the government had it wrong.

It does matter that if you don’t send your child to “St Poshies”, the government doesn’t fund your child’s education to the same value. It isn’t fair or reasonable to you or your child that your child may experience facilities that are falling down around them and staffed by teachers that don’t have the time to prepare lessons and teach the syllabus in amongst the myriad of other things they have to do to ‘help out’. Your child certainly won’t be able to use school-based world class sporting fields or ‘wellness centres’ or gyms because the state systems usually don’t have the funding to pay for them. Your poor child might also have to catch public transport to and from school (quelle horreur!) rather than private transport options provided by the school.

And for those who pick their treasured Tarquin or Millicent up, the reality is that a lot of people in the queue outside the private school this afternoon driving the oversized SUV or ute are one or two pay cheques or cancelled contracts away from social security. Regardless of the Coalition’s’ labelling’ of some sectors of the community as ‘lifters and leaners’ or ‘quiet Australians’, implying importance on people’s income, spending and behaviours, things can change dramatically and quickly.

Greed is not good, whoever dies with the most toys doesn’t win and we all deserve to live in a compassionate society. Education of our children is too important to be a political football and using it as such disadvantages all of us. The sooner our political leaders realise that – the better off we all are.


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Don’t you worry about that

Former Queensland Premier Johannes Bjelke-Petersen frequently used the expression ‘don’t you worry about that’ when he either didn’t want to answer the question, or knew the the question would suggest additional requests for information.

Bjelke-Petersen’s National Party oversaw a gradual erosion of civi rights and equality in Queensland. Bjelke-Petersen was portrayed as a strong leader that got things done. It was claimed that Bjelke-Petersen used the number of cranes constructing high-rise buildings in Brisbane as an indicator of the state’s progress. There was also considerable spending on infrastructure to service coal mines, such as new coal haul railways, better roads in coal mining areas and so on. Part of the National Party’s sales pitch at the time was that the same amount of economic activity would not be generated by the Opposition ALP. A debatable claim at best, as the world was beating a path to Australia’s door for coal and other minerals in the era and unlike a lot of other products, you can’t move mineral extraction to a country that offers a cheaper cost of production unless they also have the same minerals.

Meanwhile services to the Queensland public were lagging the rest of Australia. Health, education and other services that should be supplied by governments were starved of funding with Bjelke-Petersen priding himself on running the ‘low tax’ state. Unfortunately, the effects of the lack of investment are still being experienced today. A considerable number of Queensland voters didn’t worry about it at the time, figuring “Joh” would do the right thing by them and keep the ‘unruly’ unions and rabble-rousers that questioned the leadership at bay. The National Party government was ‘tough’ on unions and (it turned out selected) crime, labelling those that opposed the government as discontents and criminals, banning street marches and protest activity. The marketing was assisted by a generally compliant local media.

In the late 1980s the Fitzgerald Enquiry demonstrated that corruption had been evident at the highest levels of the Queensland Government. Subsequently, there were a number of referrals to the criminal justice system. A number of then government Ministers and the then Police Commissioner all served periods of time in jail. Bjelke-Petersen was personally never found guilty of corruption as the court case was abandoned due to the malfeasance of a juror. A second trial was considered but later aborted due to Bjelke-Petersen’s age and deteriorating health.

When you think about it, the Abbott, Turnbull, Morrison Coalition government used a lot of the same playbook as Bjelke-Petersen and other similar regimes around the world. In time, will the Robodebt Royal Commission have the same aura as the Fitzgerald Enquiry’s report in 1989?

Both governments were popularist paternal governments using a compliant media to reinforce the sales pitch that if you weren’t with the government, you were somewhat lacking in intelligence and really didn’t deserve a say. Bjelke-Petersen turned on ‘socialists’ and ‘unions’ as the necessary dangerous influences in his script of being a protector of morals and economic progress of society. Morrison suggested we should call him ‘Scomo’ and turned on fraudulent activities by ‘welfare cheats’ and refugees to present the myth he was keeping Australia safe for ‘god fearing Christians’ like himself. Like Bjelke-Petersen, Morrison also relied on a compliant media for support. According to the Robodebt Royal Commissioner Catherine Homes

“The evidence before the commission was that fraud in the welfare system was minuscule, but that is not the impression one would get from what ministers responsible for social security payments have said over the years,”

The recommendations for sanctions and criminal referrals in the Robodebt Royal Commission’s report is in the ‘sealed section’. It’s likely that as those named are brought to account for their impropriety, there will be sections of the media that will be quite happy to ‘name and shame’. It could be that a number of former Ministers and senior public servants – all of who should have known better – will end up serving time in prison.

The Fitzgerald Enquiry spawned the Criminal Justice Commission which is now known as the (Queensland) Crime and Corruption Commission. It is absolutely not co-incidental that Commissioner Holmes requested a 7-day extension so that matters could be referred to the Federal Government’s new National Anti-Corruption Commission.

While we don’t know for certain, there is no evidence to suggest that Albanese’s Federal Government will ignore the recommendations of the Robodebt Royal Commission. They will probably support efforts by law enforcement agencies and the National Anti-Corruption Commission to take action against those named in the ‘sealed section’. We do know that when the ALP won power in Queensland after the Fitzgerald Enquiry, Premier Wayne Goss (who’s Chief of Staff was Kevin Rudd) implemented the recommendations of the Fitzgerald Enquiry and allowed the authorities to press charges against those named in the Enquiry’s findings.

Like the Fitzgerald Enquiry, the Robodebt Royal Commission has caught the public’s attention. You would hope we all learn from recent experience. The next time a political leader invites us to call them a derivative of their first name, tells us not to worry about that and they will save us from some claimed endemic fraudulent or radical activity by some group of people that really doesn’t exist – it’s really the time to commence worrying. Those that forget their history are destined to repeat it.


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The similarity between Peter Dutton and pizza oven smoke

The Guardian recently reported that in the eyes of the American conservatives the ‘pink haired liberals’ are killing the New York Pizza. Unsurprisingly, the conservatives have added 2 and 2 and got 5, helped by News Corp’s New York Post.

The real story is in 2016, New York City legislated that filters be installed on the kitchen exhaust chimneys belonging to commercial kitchens, including pizza restaurants. The requirement was to reduce potentially carcinogenic particulate matter (smoke and dust) being emitted from the chimneys and being trapped in the lungs in nearby residents. A lot of New York pizza restaurants use coal or wood as fuel in their pizza ovens, producing considerable smoke which is sent up chimneys.

Conservatives have pounced on the regulation claiming that it is carbon emissions reduction by stealth and the filters are affecting the taste of the pizza. According to The Guardian’s report

What’s being asked of traditional oven pizza restaurants is simple: install a type of air filter in their chimneys to keep their cancer-causing dust from blowing into their neighbors’ homes. The city originally asked kitchens to do this by 2020, then postponed the plan until this year due to the pandemic. But many restaurants had already made the changes, some of them years before the rule was even drafted.

The filters are installed in the chimney close to the exit point and use a water vapour to wash the soot and particles out of the exhaust, then it collects in a tank connected to the sewer system. It also has the added benefit of cooling the exhaust air before the leave the chimney.

However, conservatives with an axe to grind can’t let the truth or logic stand in the way of the ongoing quest to enforce their political and social philosophy. There is no logical reason why the pizza taste should be affected if the particulate matter generated by the cooking fuel is removed from the exhaust airflow half way up the chimney. It is a ridiculous argument. Almost as ridiculous as Opposition Leader Peter Dutton’s claims about ‘The Voice’ referendum.

Dutton claimed he spent some time ‘attempting to understand’ the proposition and then he has claimed that the referendum is going to divide the community. He is going out of his way to be divisive, create straw men and cherry-pick the facts to suit his needs. If you think it sounds like the playbook of the conservatives in the USA, you could have a valid point. As Nine Newspapers suggests, Dutton [is] saying no with an American accent.

Dutton talks of ‘the Canberra voice’. The Voice proponents have recommended that a number of people from across Australia will comprise ‘The Voice’. Assuming they might meet in Canberra, they would make their way to Canberra from the area they represent, similar to Dutton making his way to Canberra to represent his constituents who reside in his electorate in the northern outskirts of Brisbane. It really doesn’t matter where they meet. What does matter is that the Committee has to be referenced in the Constitution so that future governments can’t abolish ‘The Voice’ without going back to the population for approval.

Dutton talks about what will happen if at some point in the future ‘The Voice’ Committee provides advice to the Australian Government of the day to move Australia Day from 26 January. January 26 was not always the Australia Day public holiday. Regardless that the proposal for ‘The Voice’ is to ‘recommend’ rather than ‘legislate’ on matters affecting our indigenous peoples to the government of the day, Australia Day was not a National Holiday until 1988 and was the Monday after the last weekend in January (to create a long weekend), only becoming a fixed date in 1994. If it did change again, the governments of the day would be making the decision – as they can ‘legislate’, not a group that constitutionally can only ‘recommend’. Quasi religious fervour for ‘national imagery’ is ‘Trump style’ conservative Americanism.

Dutton is claiming that the drafters of the Australian Constitution had almost ‘godlike insight’ which makes changing the Constitution heresy, similar to the US conservative claims regarding the drafters of the US Constitution. Our Australian drafters were clever people but neglected a number of important provisions, including making 26 January a nationwide public holiday for Australia Day (as that is now apparently sacrosanct), and discussion how our indigenous peoples 65,000-year-old civilisation should be recognised and celebrated by all Australians. If either ours or the US constitution drafters envisioned no change ever – they would not have put a procedure in the respective documents to enact change when required.

As Nine Newspaper’s article suggests

There were further American echoes when Dutton dramatised the dangers of the Voice. Here, he cited three scenarios: potential disputes over the expansion of defence bases; funding allocations in the federal budget; and, most tellingly, what is taught in schools. In arguing that the “Voice may make a representation seeking that a particular version of Australian history be taught in classrooms”, he seemed almost to be channelling Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, and alluding to one of the American culture war’s angriest new fronts: critical race theory.

If the Indigenous Voice to parliament came into being, Dutton warned of “an Orwellian effect where all Australians are equal but some Australians are more equal than others”. Again, this has parallels with the argument heard especially vehemently during the Reagan era against affirmative action, a debate in which whites were portrayed as the true victims of discrimination.

While some apparently have genuine concerns about the forthcoming referendum not going far enough or the need for treaty with our indigenous peoples prior to a ‘Voice to Parliament’, Dutton is playing us all for fools. Dutton is using the US conservative playbook to create fear, uncertainty and division in our society for his own ends. What those ends are is anyone’s guess.

The question Dutton won’t answer is who is better placed to recommend effective action to improve the lives of indigenous communities than a group of people representing the communities? If he has a different answer to recognition, a ‘Voice to Parliament’ and treaty, perhaps he could tell the rest of us how it would work. Because the Coalition’s famed ‘interventions’ in recent history certainly haven’t.

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Don’t give me a home amongst the park trees

Recently in The New Yorker, author Andre Dubus III wrote about a weekend enjoying the high life in New York. The premise was

I had been writing daily for nearly twenty years, and now my third published book had become a major best-seller, and I – who at forty-one had never had more than three hundred dollars in the bank, whose mother once had to prepare for me and my siblings a dinner of saltine crackers spread with butter – heard myself telling my dear aunt Jeannie that I was going to fly her first class to Manhattan, to celebrate her birthday in style. I wasn’t sure what “in style” meant, except that it should have something to do with the word “luxury.” When I typed that into my computer, I was led to the Royalton and then to the Plaza, where we’d be staying our second and third nights in the city.

Suffice to say, Andre, Jeannie and family had a good time – and it cost a bomb.

A lot of people don’t have the fortunate circumstances of Andre Dubas III. At the end of his essay, he is somewhat disillusioned with the ‘high life’ and has a new sense of value, based around the home that he and his brother built (with the earnings from the same book) for his family, with the ‘granny flat’ downstairs for his mother

Sometimes a car will roll slowly down our driveway, and for a dizzying heartbeat I’m convinced it’s the landlord coming for the rent we don’t have. But other moments feel like luxury, filling me with a calming gratitude. When I want to visit my mother, I just walk down the stairs to her apartment stuffed with her plants and her books, her photos of us when we were young and often so unhappy. Before sitting on her sofa, a real one, I pour her a bourbon, and I pour myself one, too, and my mother and I sit and catch up on the labors of our respective days, on my brother and sisters, on my kids and her grandchildren, on all these people we love, high times or not, a smile on her lovely, aging face.

According to news reports, a lot of Australians are one salary payment away from homelessness in the current economic environment, something Dubus reflects on in his essay. ABC online reported recently of the plight of a number of people who are living in tents in Wangaratta, Victoria. They all have a different backstory and unfortunately no-one has found their happy ending, unlike Dubus (who took 20 years to become an ‘overnight success’). Regardless, they all have the right to a solid roof over their heads, which obviously keeps the cold and rain out to a far greater extent than the current arrangements.

The problem is larger than Wangaratta as well. Apart from comfort and warmth, there are also significant benefits to people’s lifestyle and ability to find work if they have an address that isn’t ‘under the third gum tree in the Main St park’. This ABC online story discusses homeless in Sydney. Melbourne and on the Gold Coast. Mentioned is Lee, who

Just as Sydney’s temperatures dropped to single digits, he got a break.

Last month the NSW Department of Communities and Justice gave him a one-bedroom apartment in the Waterloo public housing towers.

“That, to me, is literally like winning the lottery,” he says.

“I can get my clothes and dress for interviews … and grab my laptop and apply for jobs – so it just fundamentally changes what’s within your possibilities.”

There should be more of it … but it’s complicated. Crikey recently discussed that social housing is a state responsibility – not a federal one. Yet, most states wait for an injection of federal funds before they do anything about significant upgrades to existing social housing stock or building additional stock. While an injection was announced in the past couple of days, the previous injection was in the time of the Rudd Government.

The current government does have legislation in front of the Senate to increase the funding for social and affordable housing which the Coalition has, naturally, rejected because it doesn’t suit their narrative. Despite their rhetoric about the adverse effects of removing negative gearing and capital gains advantages of property ownership, the number of Australians that own multiple residential properties is reasonably small. It wouldn’t take much to carve out the small ‘mum & dad’ investor from measures targeting the multiple property owners.

The Greens (who have the numbers when combined with the government to pass the legislation) want more money to be available sooner. They also demand that the federal government somehow impose a rent freeze or cap on the states, again despite legislation about property rentals and sales being a state responsibility. Probably adding to the complexity is that most of the Greens in the lower house of Parliament represent reasonably affluent electorates, so at the same time as they are pushing for more social and affordable housing to be constructed, they are supporting campaigns locally to ensure that none of it is the ‘millionaires rows’ that they represent in Parliament.

So we are in position where the government is trying to do something, although arguably not enough to address a social problem in Australia. The political party that could help them do something have decreed it’s not enough, preferring to do nothing. Albanese’s Government has ‘upped’ the offer to the Greens in recent days as the Greens have to the government in recent weeks, but the frustration is showing – with some justification.

All this does nothing for the people living in tents and under cardboard boxes this winter who won’t be able to ‘get my clothes and dress for interviews … and grab my laptop and apply for jobs’. Instead, we have political parties are playing a drawn-out fight to the death in an attempt to position themselves favourably to their constituencies for the next federal election contest.

If circumstances change for some reason in the next 12 months, the person living in a tent under the bridge could be you or me next winter. In a developed and affluent society, a roof over a person’s head is a fundamental right – not a political plaything or a privilege. It’s time our politicians at all levels of government remembered that.

We should be better than this.


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They should know better

At a time where the government admits a considerable number of Australians are feeling cost of living pressures and the Reserve Bank seems intent on a policy of ‘the beatings will continue until morale improves’, what is the media talking about? Cost of living pressures – nope; the creation of more affordable and social housing – wrong; the implementation of measures to ensure we don’t cook the planet before our kids hit middle age – wrong again. They are talking about who knew details around a rather sordid affair in former Defence Minister Linda Reynolds’ office late one night after a staff party well prior to the last election.

Without going into what is claimed to have happened (because we weren’t there and neither the owners of this site or I can afford the lawsuit that would probably follow any discussion), there are two sides to the story. After a court case that was aborted due to the actions of a juror, there have been claims of defamation and a Board of Enquiry into the actions of the Australian Federal Police who are responsible for policing the ACT, lead by Walter Sofronoff KC, the eminent former President of the Queensland Court of Appeal and former Solicitor-General of Queensland.

We can talk about the constant reporting of ‘fascinating’ new information about the events in Senator Reynolds office and its effects on others who have been through similar alleged experiences. Certainly, the Opposition seems to be of the opinion that the ends justify the means by pouncing on the ‘revelation’ that the current Finance Minister, Katy Gallagher, may or may not have known about the events in Senator Reynolds’ office before it was public knowledge and said nothing at the time.

The ‘airing’ of text messages on an individual’s mobile phone is not conclusive of anything. The Opposition should be aware of this as they spent public funds on advertising around cyber security for years to scare the naive into believing they were at risk if they voted against the Coalition. Assuming the text messages are genuine, there may be a lot of reasons why it was deemed to be best to keep the knowledge private. To claim that is a breach of some Parliamentary convention while Howard ‘core and non-core promises; Abbott ‘carbon tax’, and Morrison’s ‘multiple ministries’ are all considered acceptable practice by the same people that are now baying for blood is beyond contempt.

Not that the media is any better. Why was this matter considered worthy of a 15-minute discussion on the ABC’s Insiders last Sunday (11 June)? Did any one of the so called experienced political reporters actually think about what damage continually bringing this matter up would do to viewers who have undergone similar alleged experiences? Of course not. One of the panellists last Sunday was heavily involved in the initial reporting of the matter in Senator Reynolds’ office and seems to have an agenda to defend her reporting at all costs. Despite the claims of caring about the truth or the physical and mental health of the participants in this case, the conversation might have been acceptable around the water cooler ‘back in the day’ when gossip regarding the behaviours and infidelities of others was conversation fodder, but not on national television in 2023.

The initial reporting of the incident elevated the discussion around the toxic work environment at Parliament House and the rights of all individuals around consent and acceptable behaviour. Highlighting the poor behaviours was a good outcome. But it seems we all left the moral high ground some time ago and we’ve ended up down in the gutter talking about the latest rumour and innuendo.

If these people are Insiders, they should know better than continually bringing up an issue that causes genuine hurt and distress to many. If any of the Insiders panel do have evidence they believe the Board of Enquiry is not considering appropriately, as ‘insiders’ you would imagine they would have the knowledge and ability to contact Mr Sofronoff’s office. If they don’t or won’t, really they are no better than the self-proclaimed Outsiders on SkyNews ‘after dark’ talkfest most weeknights where ultra conservative agendas are pushed without any sign of balance or fact checking.

For most of us, remembering what we have for lunch last Tuesday is not that easy, let alone the words that we used in anger two years ago. We have all said and done things in our past that in retrospect we aren’t proud of. The Opposition should be ashamed of holding others to a higher standard than they hold themselves. The behaviour of Peter Dutton and those that are promoting this salacious gossip as news show no remorse for their past behaviour and more tellingly, no intention of holding themselves to a higher standard now and in the future. Those in the media who have reported on this obvious Coalition muckraking as newsworthy should hang their heads in shame.

Reporters are supposed to hold politicians to account for their actions, not join the dogwhistles of a political hit job. The talking heads on Insiders last Sunday should know better.


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The bottom feeders

There are a number of species in the animal world that survive on the leftovers of others. As animals higher up the food chain satisfy their need for food they lose interest in the carcass as it gets a distinctive odour and appearance. In a marine environment, sooner or later the carcass arrives at the bottom of the sea to be preyed on by the opportunistic that wait for their food to come to them. They are the bottom feeders of the animal world.

Humans have bottom feeders as well. You could argue that scammers, internet trolls and others that go out of their way to financially or mentally hurt others are opportunistic predators, as are those that assault others either physically or mentally. It wouldn’t be hard to suggest that those businesses with practices that are just on the right side of the law are also opportunistic and clearly out to exploit the intent of the law to make a living.

Sadly for us, it is difficult to spot the opportunistic business unless some measures are in place to assist us. A bank will provide a loan at a particular interest rate to clients it considers to be a reasonable credit risk. If the bank won’t lend the money, some will approach other lenders that accept higher risk clients but there are more onerous conditions such as higher interest rates or in extreme examples ‘the Boyz will be sent around’ to manage defaults. You could argue that proposals that involve significantly higher fees or interest rates are a warning that you are dealing with a bottom feeder. It is less clear in other industries.

Legally a Pharmacist or group of pharmacists must own and operate a pharmacy. Which is probably just as well as there needs to be some control on drug company representatives claiming the red pill to soothe your patients ills is useless and you need to sell twice as many of the representatives’ blue pills (with the same formulation) to achieve any good. In a similar way it is illegal to call yourself a doctor, lawyer, dentist or a whole range or other professions unless you hold the appropriate qualifications and registration. These professions are frequently accused of charging high prices and being ‘closed shops’ – and to an extent they are. Their justification is they put a lot of time and effort into gaining qualifications and certifications and deserve to be rewarded for that expense. While the justification doesn’t necessarily hold up to scrutiny. most of us would prefer someone who had a good idea of what they were doing to supply your medicine, perform the operation or represent you in court.

So why do we allow our most vulnerable to be cared for by staff that are paid the least? Aged care workers received a mandated increase of 15% this year, but they are still some of the lowest paid workers in the country. Child care workers are also some of the lowest paid workers in the country and both industries receive considerable government funding. As we found out in the pandemic, neither group could perform their jobs ‘at home’, unlike a lot of doctors, lawyers and so on. While child care workers haven’t received any out of the ordinary pay rise this year, one of the large employers in the sector – Goodstart – was calling for a 10% pay rise (funded by the government) last October to stop workers leaving the industry. Yet the daily costs of aged care and child care are subject of frequent complaint..

While aged care and child care are regulated to some degree and there is some government support, there is also no requirement for the owner of an aged care or child care business to actually have any relevant qualifications or experience in the sector. You and I could, should we choose to, purchase an aged care or child care business and employ a management company that holds the appropriate accreditations to run it on our behalf.

Should you be an investor without the appropriate skills and qualifications (or have employees with the skills) to run an aged care or child care business, the real question here is why would we as a country let you do it? If we expect lawyers, doctors and pharmacists to have hands on experience in their profession, why do we let our most vulnerable be looked after in facilities run by investors that don’t have any understanding of how these places should be managed. It’s not likely that the ultimate consumer will necessarily be able to voice their concerns, should they have any.

Management companies ‘ensure compliance’, but the management company is only going to do what is necessary, after all an investor that has no background won’t be interested in the ‘learning experience’ or ‘nutritious food’ over and above the required standard that costs an extra $1 a day per person to implement, because that is $1 a day off their annual profit.

Really, it smacks of opportunism. If the investor contracts out the compliance activities of the enterprise to a management company, it is not prepared to employ people with the skills and qualifications in senior roles. Employees with relevant skills and knowledge in senior roles are those than can make the case for exceeding mandatory requirements and providing a better experience for the users of the service. Demonstrably an investor who is there solely for the profits will be out of the respective industry if something more attractive comes up.

The management company’s customer is the investor, not those that rely on the provision of the service at the facility. It’s not hard to make the case the investors who rely on management companies are gaming the system that seems at present to be capable of producing significant profits, demonstrated by the new childcare and aged care centres being constructed or existing ones expanded.

Not all investors or management companies are bottom feeders and ‘just out to leverage the extra $1 a day’ but there is sufficient evidence available in the 18 reports into the aged care industry in the last two decades to suggest that some are (and the childcare industry hasn’t been subject to the same intensity of review so we really don’t know if its any better). To reduce the potential of treating our most vulnerable as just a ‘profit centre’, should the aged and child care industries be re-regulated to actively discourage involvement of those who choose to buy the services of a management company rather than directly employ the expertise.

If its good enough to expect that the person filling your prescription has a clue on what the chemicals in the medication do, shouldn’t it also be expected that the owner of a aged care or child care facility also have a clue on how their services should be operated to benefit those in their care rather than just comply with the regulations?


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Education at the Showground

In the conurbation that is South East Queensland, most of the towns that have been consumed by population growth still have their agricultural show. The Ipswich Show was held last weekend. Apart from all the ‘fun of the fair’ that you would expect most local politicians were represented by stalls in the exhibitions area, where they or their willing helpers were handing out brightly coloured bags to all comers with the usual pens, notepads and publicity brochures that is customary. The Federal Member for Blair Shayne Neumann was no different – although he was seen on national television coverage performing the ‘obligatory nodding head’ role to the best of his ability behind Acting Prime Minister Richard Marles’ Ipswich media scrum last Friday.

The contents of Neumann’s ‘showbag’ were pretty typical apart from one item. In a very ‘unALP’ green and teal themed brochure adorned with Neumann’s face there are contact details, his life story (both before and during politics) and a description of the electorate. So far that’s all pretty unsurprising, but that’s not all. Unfold the brochure and it describes our Federal Parliamentary System and Neumann’s work within the system on an A3 page. The sections on the page are “How I became a Member of Parliament”, “What I do in Parliament”, What I do in my electorate” and “My working hours”.

The Parliamentary Education Office is credited with assisting Neumann is production of this brochure and while Neumann is a Government MP, it’s highly likely that other Federal MP’s and Senators from across the Parliament have similar brochures in their ‘showbags’. And why not, the brochure very clearly and simply describes in a general way why we have politicians going to the respective Parliament Houses, how they help the community and the hours they work (which would be considered to be excessive in most other industries). While the idea is clearly a response to the ‘lazy politicians’ themes thrown around by some who should know better, the real issue here is that the brochure is necessary in the first place.

For better or worse we have a democratic system of government where, in theory at least, anyone can aspire to represent their fellow citizens in one of the three levels of government that Australia (and a number of other countries) maintains. There are distinctions around what each level of government manages and it’s doubtful if anyone in Australia could rattle off the lines of responsibility between the levels of government without reference. It’s not realistic to suggest that the contents of Neumann’s brochure and a overview of what each level of government does should be taught in schools as that doesn’t work when students aren’t interested, away that day or a multitude of other reasons including working out what to drop from all the other ‘essential’ material that schools are supposed to teach – as schools can’t teach everything.

You would hope that most Australians of voting age take some interest in the process, maybe not to the stage of regular reading of blogs like this, but they at least know who the Prime Minister, Premier and Mayor of their area are. Obviously there are many that don’t, as demonstrated by Neumann’s brochure. Being a democratic system, there is an expectation that people over a certain age have a vote. In some ways, Australia’s compulsory voting system is clearly superior to the optional voting systems used elsewhere.

For a start, it is extremely difficult the make claims similar to those made by the Trump re-election campaign in 2020 that “truck loads’ of votes were substituted. We know that roughly 95% of eligible voters will vote – if for no other reason than avoiding the fine – it would be very odd for more votes to be counted that could be theoretically cast. If ‘truck loads’ of votes were also removed to make way for the ‘truck loads’ that were brought in, the candidate that organises the fraud risks losing a significant number of ‘legally cast’ votes in the process.

Also in the last week, it was reported that Nigel Farage, one of the leading lights of the UK’s “Brexit’ process finally admitted that it didn’t work, and the promised land of milk and honey was unlikely to occur. Of course, he had pre-prepared reasons (or excuses depending on your point of view) that cast the blame to a multitude of sources that were not his ‘fault’. In Farage’s view, Brexit had nothing to do with a campaign by self-appointed conservatives that claimed they would make Britain great again (sound familiar) if it isolated from the rest of Europe. While there was a vote, a lot of disinterested or those that believed their vote wouldn’t count stayed away. As a result, Brexit occurred.

The problem the UK has now is that the regulation and subsides that have been shown to be essential to the economy have now ceased and trucks are queued up on each side of the British border waiting for customs clearance to proceed. Large global manufacturers are planning on leaving the UK in droves as it is too hard to get materials into the country and the manufactured goods out. Migration is higher than prior to Brexit as no one in Britain wanted to do the dirty and unskilled work that was previously done predominately by eastern Europeans who could enter and leave the country as they chose.

We too have our politicians that exist based on the votes of the ‘can’t be bothereds’. These people heed the advice of those in the media taking a swipe at the ‘gumment’ while knowing they will never be accountable for the ratbag promises they make. Neumann’s brochure is a positive step towards countering the disinformation but there needs to be more done to demonstrate to everyone that the system is important, how they can play a role and exert their influence. In Australia anyway, there is no such thing as a wasted vote.

The alternative is Trump’s America or Brexit – and we don’t want to go there.


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30 pieces of social conscience

While Opposition Leader Peter Dutton didn’t have a wonderful budget week by all accounts, it must have given him some joy to see the government and Greens arguing over how to establish more social and affordable housing in Australia. It’s actually a shame that the federal parliament is even discussing how to fund housing that is affordable as many years ago each state and territory had a ‘housing commission’ or ‘housing trust’ that was constantly maintaining their existing housing stock and building more to cater for growth. In the era of economic privatisation, government wasn’t meant to compete with the private sector, the claim being it was seen to be ‘crowding out’ the private sector, which leads us to where we are now.

It’s not difficult to demonstrate that privatisation of rental housing has not worked – witness the rort that is negative gearing on multiple ‘investment properties’ and the cost of housing anywhere near services in our larger cities. Sadly, it seems that neither of the major political parties have the courage to even have a discussion about reining in the excesses. The housing rental subsidy increase in the last budget will be swallowed up very quickly by those that really only see their tenants as a business opportunity.

In regard to the housing affordability legislation currently before the Senate Albanese’s ALP and Bandt’s Greens are both as equally bad as each other. Harking back to the Constitution, the Senate is a house of review. In this case, the Senate has reviewed the ALP social and affordable housing legislation and given it a rating of ‘could do better’. By the same token, the Greens should have learnt over the years that perfection is usually unobtainable and a good percentage of something is better than everything of nothing.

For example, while the Greens might have had genuine issues with parts of Rudd’s original emissions reduction scheme and voted it down, Rudd then shelved the legislation rather than compromise. The net effect was that we didn’t have any sort of effective scheme for most of the past decade and a half. Regardless of the claims of the Greens or the ALP, they both made bad decisions and we are paying the consequences of their refusal to compromise in 2009 to this day. They would have had 15 years to ‘tweak’ the 2009 legislation to better meet the objective of emissions reduction had they have passed it.

Should the 2009 emission scheme been legislated, it would have had sufficient time to demonstrate that most of the then Opposition Leader Abbott’s subsequent claims regarding the Gillard Government carbon reductions legislation were the complete and utter fabrications they have since been shown to be. Don’t forget, even his former Chief of Staff and now Sky ‘after dark’ talking head Peta Credlin admitted years later that their claims the Gillard Government carbon reduction scheme legislation was a ‘carbon tax’ was ‘just brutal politics’ rather than in any way accurate.

The debate over the housing legislation is similar. Both parties are claiming their scheme is better for a whole lot of different reasons and they are both probably correct in their claims, while ignoring the benefits of the other parties proposals. However standing there and arguing their version of creation of affordable and social housing is the only version that should be considered is absolute bollocks. Arguing over how something is going to be done is not actually doing anything to fix the issue. There needs to be compromise. The Coalition won’t assist here – after all if they were at all concerned about affordable housing over the ‘rights’ of those that negative gear multiple ‘investment properties’ they had nearly a decade in power to do something, and didn’t. Instead their ‘enduring legacy’ is the tax reforms’ that gave a less than a take away coffee per day in tax cuts to those that earn the least and will give thousands to those that earn the most (assuming the Albanese Government doesn’t do something to change the legislation).

According to this ABC report, only one in four voters under 40 gave the Coalition their vote in the 2022 election. The rest are now looking for a return on their investment

Their message to the government was simple: you were elected off our backs, and now we’ve been forgotten.

“The government is taking a different view of young people than they should be,” President of the National Union of Students, Bailey Riley, told Hack.

“The reason there was a change of government from Liberals to Labor was because of young people.”

“We voted them in with this mandate for change and mandate for action, and they’re not realising that mandate still exists.”

And despite the government’s message that they budget was carefully configured to take pressure of the cost of living (from the same ABC report)

Unfortunately, not all young people are on board with that.

Young people want radical change, and whether you see that as a folly or a virtue largely depends on your age and political leaning.

Some economists agree with the ‘radical change’ approach

In her pre-budget speech to the National Press Club in Canberra, head of the Grattan Institute Danielle Wood, said now is the time for bold, radical change.

“Overall, the picture is a budget of incremental change. It will make some things a bit better and not too much worse. But ultimately it will only play footsies with the big social and fiscal challenges,” she said.

When Brisbane’s LNP Lord Mayor, Adrian Schrinner, is arguing that government in general need to do more for those that don’t have a secure roof over their head by suggesting the disused COVID isolation accommodation facilities at Pinkenba be used for homeless, the ALP has a problem. Schrinner is also playing politics here by announcing his Council will fund some bus and library services to the disused centre in the upcoming Council budget – but apparently is still going through the process of submitting a proposal to the federal government who own the facility.

While the Greens are claiming that Tasmanian Senator Jacquie Lambie has been ‘bought out’ by the government on this issue, the absolute frustration as recorded in this video link from The Guardian while saying

So please, for you people over here, that think you have a social conscience, do you really want to keep playing with people’s lives? Do you really?

to the Greens Senators in the Chamber says it all.

And she has a point.


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The flood boat and the helicopter

There is an old joke about the Pentecostal Christian that arrives at the ‘pearly gates’ after drowning in a flood while telling anyone that would listen the Lord will save him. He asks the Lord why he wasn’t saved. The Lord’s response is ‘I made sure you heard the weather forecast, then sent a flood boat and finally a helicopter to save you; what more did you want’.

It’s not unfair to make a comparison between that old joke and the current Liberal Party. Fresh from a general election loss their new leader, who doesn’t have a reputation for considering alternative views, calls the new government a ‘bad’ government before they are formally sworn in. After announcing his shadow cabinet of predominately the same people that lost the election, the shadow cabinet then start work. The work they start is the comparison between what they would have done and what the current government is doing. The immediate concern is the realisation that a number of the pork barrel announcements on car parks, installing traffic lights and so on were cancelled by the incoming government. Traffic lights and commuter car parks are typically not a federal government responsibility anyway.

The commentary is to ‘give them time’. They have to ‘find their feet in opposition’ and in time they will work out that they have to develop alternate policies to the government’s. It is also felt that in time they will work out that the policies they implemented during their decade of power are not relevant to regaining government sometime in 2025. The Liberal Party seems not to have understood the commentary.

The Victorian branch of the Liberal Party goes to a state election with similar policies to the federal Liberal Party against an ALP Premier that has been in power for a number of terms, had a considerable amount of time to make enemies (and has succeeded quite well with long term lockdowns during the COVID Pandemic years of 2020 and 2021 as well as his reputed management style) and some feelings that a new broom is required. Some in the Victorian Liberal Party obviously thought they had won power prior to the election day by divvying up the spoils and being less than subtle about their real agenda. The public took one look and decided they were not ready to govern, handing government back to Dan Andrews for another four years.

Then Allan Tudge, a former federal minister resigns his seat in the east of Melbourne after a mediocre career at best, highlights being one well publicised extra-marital affair and assisting in the development and implementation of the fraudulent Robodebt process. The Royal Commission into the Robodebt scheme was told there were a considerable number of victims suffering mental illness as a result of stress and sadly a number of suicides directly attributable to social security recipients being told to repay debts that were not incurred or overblown.

The Opposition Leaders marketing slogan coming into the by-election was the government couldn’t run an economy because prices and interest rates were going up. Yes, they were but a similar economic problem was occurring in a number of developed economies around the world. Tudge’s election lead had been reducing at recent elections but a candidate selection by Liberal Party Victoria HQ over the wishes of the local members saw the seat won by the ALP. It is the first time in over a century that an incumbent government has won a seat from the major opposition party. The Opposition Leader’s marketing slogan after the election was that at least he had kept the party together.

Around the same time, the Opposition Leader, after ‘considering the evidence and discussing with stakeholders’ announces the Liberal Party leadership will campaign against the ‘Voice to Parliament’ referendum. A number of Liberal backbenchers have publicly announced they will either not campaign or campaign for a yes vote regardless of the official party position. The Opposition Leader still hasn’t disclosed the evidence he considered and the stakeholders he consulted.

In more recent times Karen Andrews, another former minister announced her retirement from the shadow ministry immediately and her retirement from parliament at the next election to pursue other interests. The shadow Attorney General Julian Leeser also announced his move to the backbench so he could campaign for a yes vote at the forthcoming ‘Voice to Parliament’ referendum. The Opposition Leader announced some more hard line conservatives would be taking the place of both of these former ministers and told the press that neither of the former ministers were pushed, they resigned from the shadow ministry on their own terms.

Early in May, another former and now shadow minister Stuart Robert announced his immediate retirement. In comparison to Allan Tudge, Robert had a stellar ministerial career. In 2018, Independent Australia produced a list of Robert’s Parliamentary career highlights to date – including the $2,000 per month in ‘internet charges’ charged to the taxpayer. Robert’s claimed internet usage was 300 gigabytes of data per month on a plan that allowed 50 gigabytes, the rest being charged at a ‘per gigabyte’ rate. Robert has a masters degree in information technology. More recently, Robert accepted absolute responsibility for the management of the illegal Robodebt system implemented by the Coalition Government in the ongoing quest to belittle those who need some financial assistance to survive.

It seems that the Liberal Party can’t see that Australia has moved on from the politics of division and hatred. The mythical Pentecostal Christian drowned rather than accept the reality of their situation, it seems that the Liberal Party is also fixated on an outcome that is unrealistic. Will they accept the help of the flood boat or the helicopter? No one knows, but it could be fun to watch.


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