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Do your job competently

By 2353NM

Finland and Sweden are currently exploring joining NATO. The about face from long term neutrality has come about because of the Russian invasion of Ukraine. The ABC reported recently that there has been a significant shift in the attitude of the Finnish and Swedish Governments from ‘don’t poke the (Russian) bear’ to a position of seeking allies for protection should Russia do to them what it has done to Ukraine. It could be Putin’s largest mistake as his border with NATO aligned counties doubles assuming Finland and Sweden apply for NATO membership and the applications are accepted.

So what does this have to do with Australian politics? Good question.

When the last elections were held in Sweden and Finland, the candidates for the leadership role, cognisant of the opinion of a majority of their communities would have probably rebuffed the idea of NATO membership if the question was even raised. Circumstances have changed – as has the opinion of the majority of Finnish and Swedish people. Their governments have reacted accordingly.

Australians only get one chance every three years to make a judgement on the capability of our federal political leaders. To make the best decision, we need to be aware and make a judgement on the potential leader’s vision, ethics and moral judgement. To borrow a phrase from the movie ‘The Castle’, ‘it’s the vibe, your honour’ because the things that will test us all are the things we have no idea about until they eventuate. This is far more relevant to our future than if an Opposition Leader forgets a statistic or a Prime Minister forgets where they are in a press conference.

The Coalition and some media are arguing that Albanese’s ALP doesn’t have the knowledge, skills or abilities to form a government, an illogical argument as the only way to get direct and recent experience is to do the job. When Morrison started work in the Prime Ministerial office, we didn’t even get a say in his elevation, as the only election he won was one of his political party’s Members of Parliament. At that time, he too had none of the experience in the job that he now claims is mandatory.

In addition, Albanese and a number of his ‘shadow Ministers’ were Ministers in the last ALP Government, a minority government that had to form a consensus with independents in Parliament to get anything through both Chambers. Current member for the seat of Kennedy, Bob Katter recently observed on the ABC’s ‘Q&A’, he was one of those independents and the Gillard Government never lost a legislative vote in Parliament, unlike the current Coalition Government. Albanese, as the then Leader of the House, was responsible for working to get the consensus.

So how is our media helping us get an appreciation of the ‘vibe’ of the two potential Prime Ministers? Generally they aren’t. If political rivals such as Bob Katter are happy to claim Albanese is willing to listen and compromise (which usually produces a better outcome anyway), surely the media should be discussing it – as it gives the rest of us some idea on how Albanese is likely to operate, should he become Prime Minister.

We also know that Morrison certainly changed his fiscally conservative tone during the early days of the COVID pandemic where his government aped the Rudd ALP Government of 15 years ago and effectively wrote cheques for everyone to keep the economy ticking over, albeit at a reduced rate. But the actions weren’t of his own doing, he was generally dragged kicking and screaming to the correct place by public opinion, state premiers or even at times his own MPs. Even then, according to Morrison, at various times he wasn’t responsible for holding a hose, giving an injection or ensuring there was a qualified person in the Happy Memories Aged Care home to provide care, empty the bedpan or provide adequate nutrition.

Someone who might be accused of having too much time on their hands has produced a cross referenced and attributed list of 995 ‘achievements’ of the current Abbott/Turnbull/Morrison Coalition Government, none of which are flattering. Yes, it includes the lack of action on climate change, the lack of creation of a federal anti-corruption commission with ability to investigate all federal workers using the same process and appointing political mates to government boards and tribunals. If ‘someone on the internet’ can produce a list like this, it can’t be that hard for the media to find out the information and report on it.

If the media in this country was doing its job properly, Albanese would be asked questions about how he managed the ‘Leader of the House’ role in the Gillard government, his skills and experience, vision for the future as well as the skills and experience of those around him.

We have some experience of Morrison’s management of government, his skills and experience as well as the skills and experience of those around him. The media should be asking Morrison his vision for the future, why his record doesn’t demonstrate his lack of accountability, ethics and morals and how he would do better if re-elected.

 

 

Instead, most media is letting bare faced lies (or strategically chosen statistics if you’re feeling generous) such as the Liberal Party’s recent social media ‘Look at the Facts’ advertising go straight to the keeper. Fortunately Crikey didn’t (paywalled).

Parts of the media are asking why there is an emphasis on dog whistling and gotchas in the current election campaign. As Laura Tingle recently wrote on the ABC’s website

In such times, perhaps the most interesting thing to emerge from our own leaders debate this week wasn’t what leaders said, but what a room full of uncommitted voters were asking about.

They didn’t want to know about trans people in sports or, for that matter, China or the Solomon Islands. They wanted to know what the two parties were doing about housing affordability, and nurses in aged care, and the NDIS, and electric batteries and vehicles, and what plans there were for dealing with disasters, and funding recovery from them, in the future.

In other words, they just wanted governments to do things. And to do them competently.

Maybe the same reporters complaining about the lack of discussion around experience and vision for the future should realise they are contributing to the general lack of knowledge around politicians’ experience and vision for the future. Their part of the solution should be to ask the questions people want to know about and report the responses without fear, favour or bias. It’s not that hard.

What do you think?

 

 

 

This article was originally published on The Political Sword

For Facebook users, The Political Sword has a Facebook page:
Putting politicians and commentators to the verbal sword

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Who is the autocrat?

By David Solomon

Autocracy: ‘a system of government by one person with absolute power’.

Public autocracy? There’s no such thing, according to my dictionaries, or indeed, Google. It’s a contradiction in terms.

But what I think Prime Minister Scott Morrison meant when he declared (in an interview reported in Wednesday’s Sydney Morning Herald) that Australia could become a ‘public autocracy’ if a national integrity commission had too much influence over government thinking was that absolute power would be exercised by public servants, rather than by politicians such as himself.

It is a nonsensical suggestion, that deliberately, falsely, misrepresents the power any prospective national integrity commission might have, and the way the public service does, can or even might operate. But it says a lot about the unconstrained powers that the Prime Minister considers are appropriate for him and his ministers. Indeed, about the way he and his government have sometimes acted.

Integrity commissions don’t tell governments or public servants what to do. What they do is forensically examine complaints that individuals involved in government have behaved corruptly. For ministers and MPs that corruption might involve a breach of the criminal law, or a substantial breach of a code of conduct. The commission may make findings, but any penalties would be imposed by a court after a successful prosecution where the evidence obtained by the commission may not always be admissible.

It is utterly false to describe any such integrity commission as a ‘kangaroo court’. It is not a court. It is true, however, that if it holds public hearings (and it may be restricted as to when or if it can hold such hearings) the evidence that emerges, which may have been discovered by the commission itself (perhaps through phone taps) or which is provided by witnesses, may be damning of the person under investigation.

But the commission cannot declare someone guilty of a crime, nor can it impose any penalty. Nor can it require ministers or public servants to do anything – other than give evidence, truthfully. Some current Liberal ministers, who in the recent past have refused to provide evidence to police, might be fearful of that.

In the interview, the Prime Minister said members of parliament were accountable to voters and should be able to allocate funding for community grants and infrastructure without undue fear of being investigated by public servants.

“If we are going to so disempower our elected representatives to do things about what is needed in their communities, then what is the point?” he said.

“We can’t just hand government over to faceless officials to make decisions that impact the lives of Australians from one end of the country to the other. I actually think there’s a great danger in that. It wouldn’t be Australia anymore if that was the case, it would be some kind of public autocracy.”

Morrison stressed that a national integrity commission should focus on identifying criminal behaviour rather than more subjective questions such as whether marginal seat spending amounts to pork-barrelling. ‘No-one is suggesting anyone has broken any law are they?’

Well actually, they have in relation to the sports rorts affair. It is a fundamental principle that government can only spend public monies in accordance with the laws passed by the parliament. The laws set out what grants can be made, what criteria have must be applied, and who makes the decisions. The money isn’t there for ministers to dish out at their whim.

The grants in the sports rorts affair were made under legislation which gave the power to determine which organisation could get grants to particular public service entities. The Minister could only make grants in circumstances which did not arise. Nevertheless, she did intervene and make the grants overriding the legitimate decisions of her officials.

Additionally in that case as in most of the other rorts that have become public knowledge, ministers made decisions based on political considerations – political, meaning that the decisions were influenced or wholly determined by the partisan political advantage the government parties would gain from the decision, i.e. getting more votes.

Decisions were not made ‘in the public interest’ as the Prime Minister’s ministerial code and the common law require.

No wonder the Prime Minister objects to a federal integrity commission with power to look at government decision-making – these rorts would be investigated and exposed for what they were. Prosecutions might follow, but not necessarily.

It is fatuous for the Prime Minister to suggest that because members of parliament are accountable to the electorate they should be able to allocate funds without fear of being investigated. If ministers are accused of breaking the law or a code of conduct that is supposed to govern their behaviour the accusation should be investigated. Ministers shouldn’t have a free pass to escape scrutiny for their actions just because they come up for election every three years.

Elections are just a small, but obviously very important, part of accountability.

The Prime Minister’s defence of his government’s refusal to enact an effective anti-corruption body has been so over the top that it was rejected by the NSW Liberal Premier. Mr Perrottet said he thought the ICAC played ‘an important role in upholding integrity and confidence in politicians and public servants’.

Note the Premier’s reference to politicians coming with ICAC’s ambit. The Prime Minister’s proposed integrity commission would have essentially prevented it from examining the misdeeds of politicians and ministers.

David Solomon is a former legal and political correspondent. He has degrees in Arts and Law and a Doctorate of Letters. He was Queensland Integrity Commissioner 2009-2014.

 

 

This article was originally published on Pearls and Irritations.

 

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The battle for Flinders

By Voter G.

As employers, the people of Flinders (my electorate) are going to be effectively hiring someone and giving them close to a million dollars to look after our interests for the next three years in Canberra.

There are 10 applicants for the job and according to the bookies it’s a shortlist of four: Liberal Zoe McKenzie, ALP Surbhi Snowball and Independents Despi O’Connor and Sarah Russell.

But I want to focus on the Liberal candidate, Zoe McKenzie.

The Liberal quasi-incumbent is the favourite to win the seat so let’s take a look at her resumé and see what qualifications she brings to the job.

For someone we’re going to be paying $211,250 a year plus expenses to, her CV is disappointingly light on detail.

Regarding her previous work experience, this is all it says on her Meet Zoe page:

“… worked in the education and training sector, served on the boards of the NBN and Australia Council for the Arts and has worked at the highest levels of government.”

Fortunately for the enquiring mind she has been on the taxpayer payroll since at least 2007, so it wasn’t difficult to unpack that rather vague sentence.

Online searches show a 15-year history of work for and connection to the Liberal Party, a long-time relationship that has landed the Flinders hopeful millions of dollars of taxpayer funds:

2007: Chief of Staff to Federal Liberal Senator George Brandis.
2010-2013: Policy Advisor to former Victorian Liberal Premier Ted Bailleu.
2013-2016: Chief of Staff to Federal Liberal Trade, Investment and Tourism Minister Andrew Robb.
2016-2021: Appointed to the board of the Australia Council for the Arts, receiving over $200,000 in taxpayer funded remuneration during that time.
2018-21: Appointed to the Liberal Government’s NBN Co Board as a non-executive Director and received $361,839 in taxpayer funded remuneration over that time.
2019: Unsuccessfully sought Federal Liberal Party pre-selection in the inner city Melbourne seat of Higgins.
2020: Moved principle place of address to Sorrento.
2021: Successfully sought pre-selection in the Liberal held seat of Flinders to replace the retiring Greg Hunt.

 

 

But just like Shrek and onions, all resumés have layers, so as we took off the outer skin and started to peel away, there was a lot more interesting information which paints a clearer picture of the candidate and her deep connections to the Liberal National Party machine.

She is a Melbourne University educated lawyer who has worked for the Liberal Party in a variety of high level capacities since at least 2007.

She was Queensland Senator George Brandis’ first Chief of Staff when he was a Minister in the Howard Government in 2007. As the retired Senator said in his valedictory speech on February 7, 2018:

“Zoe McKenzie was my first chief of staff. She is a dear friend who decided to take me in hand, as the Howard government’s newest and most unexpected minister, some 11 years ago.”

You may recall that Senator Brandis infamously stood up in the Senate and said: “People do have a right to be bigots, you know.”

When the LNP Coalition under Tony Abbott won the 2013 election, she served as Chief of Staff to Trade, Investment and Tourism Minister Andrew Robb from 2013-16.

During this time the NT Government signed a 99 year deal to lease the Port of Darwin to a Chinese Company with close links to the Communist Party. While the current Prime Minister has abrogated any Federal responsibility for the deal, a 2015 photo of Trade Minister Andrew Robb and Treasurer Josh Frydenburg with Chinese Billionaire and Landbridge Chairman Ye Cheng in Darwin would indicate otherwise.

The day after Andrew Robb left Parliament, he took an $880,000 annual ‘consultancy’ salary from the CCP linked Shandong Landbridge Group – the same company who leases the Port of Darwin. He quit the consultancy position in 2019, right before the cut-off to be placed on the foreign influence register.

There is no suggestion that Ms McKenzie was involved in any wrongdoing with the Chinese Communist Party or the financially troubled Landbridge Group.

Former Liberal Prime Minister Tony Abbott said Ms McKenzie also played a significant role in finalising the Free Trade deal known as the Trans Pacific Partnership, a deal which has been described by Brian Feeney in Parliament submitted documents as “a threat to democracy.”

Feeney said:

“… the TPP is potentially a danger to public health, workers conditions, local media content, food labelling and pollution standards.”

However, the TPP deal has been viewed as being of benefit to multi-national corporations and some LNP aligned big businesses in Australia.

Before moving to Flinders a couple of years ago she unsuccessfully stood for preselection as a Liberal Party candidate in the wealthy inner city electorate of Higgins prior to the last Federal election in 2019. She was considered a short-priced favourite for the position and had the endorsement of Liberal Party heavyweights in her candidacy.

The seat of Higgins, formerly occupied by Howard Government Treasurer Peter Costello is home to such suburbs as Toorak, Malvern, Prahran, South Yarra and Windsor.

Following the failed preselection attempt she moved to Sorrento to a house she had purchased some years previously.

It mentions in her bio that she held a non-executive Director role on the board of the National Broadband Network from 2018 – 2021 a project that has been described variously as a “worldwide embarrassment, a national disgrace and horribly over budget and over deadline.” The NBN Co is a wholly Government owned and funded corporation.

In 2019, 2020 and 2021 she was paid $113,231, $124,304 and $124,304 in remuneration and superannuation for her role on the board. That is a total of $361,839 of taxpayer funds over a three-year period.

She was a board member of the Australia Council for the Arts from 2016 to 2021, an appointment which netted her $46,923 of taxpayer funds in the 2020/21 Financial Year alone. Since 2016 she has received over $200,000 in Taxpayer Funds plus Super for her role on the board.

She has conservatively received over half a million dollars of taxpayer funds just for sitting on these two boards.

And while the specifics around Chief of Staff salaries can be a bit hazy for those of us who aren’t across the relevant pay bands, drilling into the 2020-23 Parliamentary Staff Enterprise Agreement as well as knowing that Peta Credlin was paid $394,487 a year plus allowances when she was Abbott’s Chief of Staff, there’s no doubt she was on very good coin. Taking a conservative option, adding in her stints as Chief of Staff and time served on the boards, including super and expenses, Ms McKenzie has easily pocketed over $2.5 Million in taxpayer funds for her work.

And this is just what we know about. This figure may well be much higher if other unknown or undisclosed consultancy and advisory work was added.

There’s no suggestion that she wasn’t worth the money for the work she did.

She resigned from the taxpayer-funded positions she held in December 2021 to avoid any conflicts with section 44 of the constitution before declaring she would contest the preselection in Flinders.

Zoe McKenzie has been part of the Liberal Party machine for at least 15 years and has given loyal and dedicated service to the organisation. She has received ringing endorsements from past Liberal Prime Ministers as well as current and former Liberal Ministers on the back of this service.

So some questions to ponder:

  1. While her impressive government resume and taxpayer funded bank balance might encourage some of you to vote for her, it’s well worth asking the question – why choose to not include any of that significant information in her campaign literature? It is entirely relevant to the job and in the interests of transparency it should be made known.
  2. Is Flinders just a means to an end for entry to Parliament after her failed attempt at pre-selection three years previously in the super-wealthy inner city electorate of Higgins?
  3. Is her preselection a reward from the party for years of loyal service?
  4. What was listed as her primary place of residence when she unsuccessfully sought preselection in Higgins?

If you were a Flinders resident, would you vote for her?

I know that I won’t be.

 

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What is The Handmaid’s Tale?

From one of our American friends…

By Tales & Typos

I read The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood when it was first published in 1985. I thought it was brilliant then, and now it’s resurrection as a television series is even more eerie – eerily realistic.

When I began watching the Hulu television series, I was riveted from the very beginning. It had my attention from the very first scene. After watching a few episodes, I got uncomfortable with what I was watching, not because it was bad, but because it was so realistic and frightening.

In The Handmaid’s Tale, Gilead is the name of the totalitarian society that used to be part of the United States. It treats women as property of the state while dealing with climate change and environmental disasters, all causing the birth rate to drop. Desperately trying to repopulate their world, the few remaining fertile women are forced into sexual servitude. The main character is determined to survive the horrifying world she lives in and makes many discoveries along the way.

The Handmaids are prisoners of the State. They are denied the right to liberty and freedom. In “training” to adjust to their new lives, the Handmaids are threatened with violence and physically abused if they don’t submit to the ways of Gilead.

Women in Gilead are forbidden from reading and writing – the punishment for a first offense is having one’s hand cut off which enables the authorities to more easily maintain control over them. The Bible is banned. All citizens must follow Gilead’s own official version of Christianity. The ban of abortion in Gilead is a retroactive, meaning all who have performed abortions prior to the rise of Gilead are put to death or even sent to the Colonies.

What does Gilead remind you of? It reminds me of the state of Texas. Strict laws and rules unfavourable for women and minorities. Here are some similarities: Men controlling women, banning of abortion, banning of books, banning of voting rights, banning of freedom and liberty.

Although this is a fictional society, it has eerie similarities to our own society. It may be more extreme than our society, but the similarities are absolutely apparent.

So what do we do? We keep fighting for our freedom, rights, and democracy. Good vs Evil. Positive vs Negative. I’d like to think good supersedes evil. Voting is our superpower. We have to vote out evil because it is poisoning our country to death.

Link to the original article.

You can reach me on Twitter @kathrynresister.

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The LNP exists to serve the rich. Everyone else gets “thoughts and prayers”

By Lucy Hamilton

The recent budget has underscored that the Coalition government has abandoned the needy, and the nation’s future. Whether an Australian is hunting for a job or displaced from a disaster-wrecked town, they should expect almost nothing from our leaders.

The budget’s lessons should remind us that “conservatives” see themselves as representing the self-sufficient. Anyone unable to fend for him or herself is acceptable wastage. The tin boat heroes of Lismore are perhaps the model. Lismore largely took care of itself as underfunded emergency services struggled to cope. Without those brave rescuers in their tinnies, many more would have died. Future deaths will be met with hollow “thoughts and prayers” and a shrug by “conservative” politicians.

This is the implicit message from the government. The unreckonable harm of their policies – including the funding of new and bigger fossil fuel projects – will be communities’ to bear.

Instead of looking at the systemic crises facing the precariat, the splashy election budget threw it spare change in the hope that voters might be dazzled enough to reelect the incumbents.

Ultimately Australia’s battlers are on their own. JobSeeker payments have gone from 43.9% to 43.1% below the poverty line. A $420 tax break for a single year hides a tax increase for low and middle income earners. A gift of $250 to pensioners will do little to cover even the additional bills as Medicare’s coverage shrinks. Meanwhile the tax strike of the rich continues
unchecked.

As rent challenges those battling to make ends meet, Scott Morrison’s only solution was that renters should buy property, the price of which has been inflated out of reach by government policy that benefits the wealthy investor. The government program he referred to there will be another announceable that ends up helping only a handful. His flippant statement was little more than cover for a party that panders to donors at the expense of the rest of us.

Low unemployment rates mean little when a single hour of paid work places the individual in the employed category, and too many are under-employed. That’s with the backpackers and foreign labour who do so much of our low-paid work yet to return in force.

This makes even more nauseating Scott Morrison’s constant disingenuous roleplay as tradesman and labourer. It reflects, however, the inversion that has taken place in right wing politics. The Coalition no longer portrays itself as the party representing its investors. Instead it enacts a shadow play pretending to be the party of the working man, even while it strips back the services it provides him and his family.

Wendy Lovell, Victorian Liberal former Housing Minister displayed the superficiality of this clash of interests when she spoke of there being no use placing low-income families in “the best street in Brighton where the children cannot mix with others or go to the school with other children…” There is no questioning of the policies that create the gulf between rich and poor in the current Coalition.

Meanwhile “highly regressive” tax cuts for mainly rich men continue unchallenged. Combined with no interest in preventing the siphoning of wealth offshore, this strips the treasury of the funds the nation needs to address our challenges. Largesse for fossil fuel projects and military spending was promised by Frydenberg without any sense that it needs justifying. The spin that complements this generosity has convinced us, however, that spending on the community must be begrudged and scraped and costed at length.

The endorsement of the self-sufficient and the abandonment of the needy is not limited to Australian right wing politics. The increasingly extreme politics of the Coalition, echoing their role models in the Republican Party, trumpets an allegiance to free market libertarianism. Richard Denniss has pointed out with great clarity that they actually have willingness aplenty to tilt the market in favour of their donors and favoured economic interests. Their libertarian credentials are as shallow as their working man tableaux.

This government is authoritarian in tendency rather than pursuing freedom. Concetta Fierravanti-Wells’s expose of the highhanded treatment of NSW preselection procedures is only a fraction of the problem. The persecution of whistleblowers, secrecy, surveillance and suppression of protest are deeply concerning.

And part of an authoritarian trajectory is the dehumanising of a group of “outsiders.” By uniting the community of the nation against a common enemy, “culture war” battles can be used to distract from the diminution of living standards of the percentage of population needed to hold power.

For much of the last 20 years, it has been the refugee that came by boat who has served as the Coalition’s threatening “outsider” for this gambit. It is reprehensible enough. How much more disturbing might it be if the Coalition is to continue its demonisation of Australia’s “needy” until they are seen as more troublesome than they are worth.

Part of that dismissal conflates them with loathed progressives or greenies. Barnaby Joyce illustrated these ideas when he dismissed two bushfire deaths in his electorate as likely Greens voters. The Liberal Party functionary, Shane Stone, who now acts as the coordinator general of our National Recovery and Resilience Agency dismissed those who lived in flood-destroyed areas as people who wanted to “live among the gum trees.” Republican rhetoric is much further down the path of depicting progressives not just as a nuisance but as a literal threat to the lives of conservatives. This gambit is named “accusation in a mirror” and is part of the process of creating the fear to foster awful acts of violence.

Stone’s claim that “the taxpayer and ratepayer cannot continue to pick up the bill for these huge catastrophic, damage events” is not true unless we make it true. Richard Denniss’s Big is a challenge to us to confront the accepted mantra on where national income can be gleaned and how it can be spent. The climate crisis will be an area where unthinkable amounts will need to be spent, and those decisions need making now.

In one term of a government, Australia has begun to see the death, destruction and financial cost of the climate emergency in stark relief. Frydenberg’s budget has promised a combined $3 billion to both renewables and disaster preparedness but the spending on climate change measures is intended to decline every year in the coming term. Meanwhile more than ten times that amount has been promised to fossil fuel corporations.

The government not only plans to exacerbate the impact of the climate emergency, but continues to play games with the impact it will have on Australians. Every degree the climate increases in heat, for example, adds an extra 7% of water to the flood that follows.

One can only judge that the Coalition perceives the poor who are more likely to live in climate disaster zones because these are more affordable (and the progressives who often live in threatened areas) as disposable. In an era when we no longer need mass labour in industry and the military, are these plutocrats to some degree shrugging their shoulders about the inevitable losses?

Whenever opposing politicians draw attention to the deep injustices at the core of modern right wing politics, they are shut down with cries of spruiking, ”The politics of envy. The politics of the class war”. Warren Buffett admitted, “There’s class warfare, all right, but it’s my class, the rich class, that’s making war, and we’re winning.

We must decide now, before the crises become more overwhelming, whether we are going to accept the abandonment of those most wracked by rising costs and catastrophes. Right wing pretence of being the working man’s party will not address the fact that they are happily allied with the aspiring oligarchs, and plan to leave us to our fate.

This article was originally published on Pearls and Irritations as Scott Morrison’s constant disingenuous role play as tradesman and labourer

Lucy Hamilton is a Melbourne writer with degrees from the University of Melbourne and Monash University.

 

 

 

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Clinging on to power

By 2353NM

You should feel a bit sorry for Tim Banfield. While he did choose to become a member of Clive Palmer’s United Australia Party, then put his hand up to be the UAP candidate for the Illawarra based seat of Whitlam at the upcoming federal election, he didn’t deserve to be sacked as a candidate 24 hours after giving a ‘wide ranging’ interview to a local ABC journalist in February. He claims that candidates are only allowed to speak to other UAP members rather than the people they are proposing to represent.

“Because really, at the end of the day, what’s a politician there for? It’s to serve the local community and to serve the public.

“If you can’t do that then what’s the use of being in there.”

Mr Banfield, who is a founder of the Destiny Alive Church, said the party was run like a “communist party” with all control centralised.

Palmer’s UAP seems to have a problem communicating with those outside the party. The yellow and black advertising around the country promises ‘freedom forever’ but doesn’t even attempt to explain what the ‘freedom’ is and how they aim to get us there. Some time ago, we ventured onto their website and asked for some information on why we were lacking freedom, how the UAP was going to implement it and what benefits there were to the rest of Australia should Palmer’s UAP gain enough seats to form a government. Despite concerns about getting large quantities of spam email – we actually got nothing, not even an answer to the question.

Palmer is also known for his views on COVID vaccines. At the end of February, Palmer was rushed to a Gold Cost private hospital after contracting the Delta version of COVID and double pneumonia. According to a report on several websites, Palmer refused ICU treatment at the hospital and discharged himself. He then

called specialists in the US who treated former President Donald Trump …

where he was fast-tracked into a drug trial where they pumped a cocktail of five antiviral drugs into him.

Two of the drugs included ivermectin and hydroxychloroquine, which have not yet been approved by the Therapeutics Goods Association (TGA).

Palmer’s senior management contacted American gastroenterologist and Ivermectin advocate Professor

Thomas Borody along with a team of US specialists.

The US doctors worked with Palmer’s doctors to monitor his treatment at home, including having an ambulance waiting outside in the event he needed to be rushed back to hospital.

“I would have died otherwise, without doubt,’’ Palmer told Sky News.

It does seem to be Palmer’s way or the highway. What chance is there of any MP reliant on Palmer’s patronage representing the views of their electors rather than Palmer’s? Representing views other than Palmer’s worked so well last time – just ask Jacqui Lambie, who lasted all of 6 months as Senator reliant on Palmer’s patronage about a decade ago.

Are the two major parties any better? The ‘traditional pre-election budget wisdom’ of throwing truckloads of cash to interest groups hasn’t overhauled the government’s perceived popularity. It probably didn’t help that the night Prime Minister Morrison was slapping his mate Treasurer Josh Frydenberg on the back and congratulating him on delivering the best shot at an election winning budget, retiring Senator Concetta Fierravanti-Wells was in ‘the other place’ laying into Morrison for alleged bullying and autocratic behaviours.

At the end of March, Morrison and NSW Premier Dominic Perrottet ratified a number of candidates for the federal election, rolling the State Executive in the process. The State Executive had been attempting to establish candidates in a number of federal NSW seats for months with a lack of support or assistance from Morrison and his supporters. The battle has turned legal with various groups arming themselves with lawyers and going to court – then appealing decisions that go against them.

Senator Fierravanti-Wells retired as her other option was to be placed in an unwinnable position on the Liberal Party’s NSW ‘Senate ticket’ as an outcome of the bickering. Fierravanti-Wells certainly isn’t the first to suggest that Morrison is not the ‘good Christian’ that rode in on the white charger to save the Liberal Party when Turnbull was deposed, and there could be just a little ‘spite’ in the timing and verbiage. It certainly was timed well enough to keep the discussion going around Morrison’s reported ‘his way or the highway’ behaviours.

Later the same week, NSW Upper House MP Catherine Cusack joined the fray. Cusack, who lives in North East NSW and announced her resignation from the NSW Upper House two weeks earlier over the lack of flood relief, stated she was a Liberal Party MP who would not be voting for the re-election of the Morrison Government. She went on to accuse

Morrison of having “ruined” the Liberal party and said he had “trashed” its values over two decades, as state director, “then as a scheming MP and now as prime minister finding loopholes in our constitution to delay preselections in order to get his way”.

She criticised Morrison for “forcing moderates to vote for [former Liberal and now United Australia party leader MP] Craig Kelly” when his preselection was under threat before the 2019 election.

She has warned she will vote against the prime minister over factional “scheming” and politicised allocation of flood relief.

“But he has outdone himself engineering a federal intervention to jump over the organisation all together.

“He got what he wanted at the expense of destroying our rules-based selection system and disgusting virtually every member of the NSW division.”

Crikey recently discussed the current war in the NSW Liberal Party and claimed that Morrison is up to his neck in the political intrigue. It seems the traditional mum and dad business owners that have supported the Liberal Party for decades are being pushed out and replaced by fundamental Christians, who are more interested in power for power’s sake than promoting a (small “L”) liberal philosophy. As Crikey suggests

It’s a situation as self-destructive as anything that’s going on in Labor – but you won’t read about any of it News Corp, not in any depth. Thank God they’ve decided to stay away from cheap political sensationalism at last!

What is it about conservatives and clinging to power?

What do you think?

 

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Hydroponic native plants to detox PFAS-contaminated water

University of South Australia Media Release

They’re the non-stick on Teflon cookware, the stain resistance in Scotchgard, and the suppression factor in firefighting foam, but while the staying power of PFAS chemicals was once revered, it’s now infamous as PFAS substances continue to infiltrate the environment and affect human health.

Now, new research from the University of South Australia is helping to remediate the ‘indestructible’ PFASs as scientists show that Australian native plants can significantly remediate PFAS pollutants through floating wetlands to create healthier environments for all.

Conducted in partnership with CSIRO and the University of Western Australia, the research found that PFAS chemicals (per- and poly-fluoroalkyl substances) can be removed from contaminated water via Australian native rushes – Phragmites australis, Baumea articulata, and Juncus kraussii.

Phragmites australis, otherwise known as the common reed, removed legacy PFAS contaminants by 42-53 per cent from contaminated surface water (level: 10 µg/L).

According to the US Environmental Protection Agency, exposure to PFAS may lead to a range of health issues including a decline in fertility, developmental delays in children, increased risk of some cancers, a reduced immune system, higher cholesterol, and risk of obesity.

UniSA and CSIRO researcher Dr John Awad says that this research could alleviate many of these environmental and health risks by providing a clean, green, and cost-effective method to remove PFAS from the environment.

“PFASs are often referred to as ‘forever chemicals’ because they don’t break down, instead accumulating in the environment and in our bodies where they can cause adverse health effects,” Dr Awad says.

“In Australia, PFAS concerns often relate to the use of firefighting foam – especially legacy firefighting foam – which accumulates in the surface water of our waterways.

“Our research tested the effectiveness of Australian rushes to remove PFAS chemicals from stormwater, finding that Phragmites australis was the most effective at absorbing chemicals through its roots and shoots.”

The study used constructed floating wetlands as a mechanism for plants to grow hydroponically. Dr Awad says floating wetlands present a novel and flexible way for natural remediation systems.

“Constructed floating wetlands can be readily installed into existing urban environments, such as holding reservoirs and retention basins, making them highly manoeuvrable and adaptable to local waterways,” Dr Awad says.

“Plus, as this innovative water treatment system does not require pumping or the ongoing addition of chemicals, it is a cost-effective remediation system for PFAS removal.

“Add native plants to the mix and we have delivered a truly clean, green and environmentally-friendly method for removing toxic PFAS chemicals from contaminated water.”

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Christian Woke in Politics – Injustice, Persecution, and Freedom

By Brian Morris

We should prepare for the mantra of ‘Religious Freedom’ to arise once again – with a freshly engineered version of the Religious Discrimination (privileges) Bill. That is, of course, if our Pentecostal prime minister is returned at this election.

In that event it will simply be more PR and spin from the Christian Churches and politicians, despite Philip Ruddock’s 2018 Religious Freedom Review showing there was “no impediment” to religious freedom in Australia.

But the Review made concessions to religion which – with the help of Christian Porter and the Morrison government – morphed into several troubled versions of the Religious Discrimination Bill (RDB). In February 2022 the Bill was “shelved”, but it was not defeated.

Its failure to pass into law, however, did create even greater angst for the religious right. There was already a form of ‘Christian Woke’ – or claims of religious racism – which arose from the sense of injustice and persecution when Same Sex Marriage was legalised.

The RDB remains a means to re-establish Christian authority for religious fundamentalists – especially on the LGBTI issue. They still wish to impose their religious “ethos” within education, together with the ability to hire and fire teachers and reject students purely on the basis of their sexuality.

While mainstream print and electronic media have reported widely on Religious Freedom – since the Ruddock Review – it has been almost exclusively based on the religious and political aspects of the proposed legislation.

Missing in this entire four-year debate has been the secular and ‘A-theist’ (footnote) argument. It’s not just in the political and social justice context (of banning LGBTI teachers and students) – but also a need to question the vagaries of fundamentalist Christian doctrine that has dominated media commentary.

And that includes the broad swathe of secular policy – well beyond RDB and religious education with its ultra-Christian sensibilities. There is an upsurge of evangelical self-righteousness which seeks to further entrench its influence in the media and in state and federal politics.

We have at least one federal candidate who says, “I want God’s kingdom to penetrate the political mountain.” This sounds very much like the very far right religious philosophy of “7 Mountains Mandate” that seeks to dominate the whole of society. And Kimberly Horn is not alone in her quest. It’s well worth watching the Lance Wallnau video.

So too the hundreds of Pentecostals who have joined the Liberal Party – and there’s a strong argument why undeclared evangelicals in parliaments further weaken our badly compromised “Separation of Church and State” which has gradually been whittled away.

And, of course, we have a Prime Minister who says he was “called to do God’s work.”

It’s not sufficient that print and electronic media merely report these facts – the problem here is that there’s scant secular or A-theist commentary on WHY a growing religious influence in politics and the media is socially regressive.

What ever happened to the media code of, “without fear or favour”? Is it just easier to ignore every aspect of the A-theist argument for fear of a Christian backlash – a reprimand from the Catholic Archbishop of Sydney, or simply a flood of cranky Christians flooding the switchboard?

The devoutly religious have two well-practiced clichés that they roll out to combat a rare challenge that gets run by the media. Invariably it’s to dismiss comments that come from ‘communistic atheists’ or ‘militant secularists’. No debate is needed!

It’s the secular and A-theist majority that need to be calling for more ‘freedom’ in mainstream media. When was the last time we heard or read any substantial challenge to the flawed foundations of fundamentalist Christian doctrine that constantly undermines the progressive secular agenda?

And surely it’s high time that all federal candidates – including current parliamentarians – were made accountable to the electorate. We really do need to know how their religion, or lack of faith, will influence their party’s position on a raft of social legislation.

An IPSOS poll showed 78 per cent of the public want religion separated from the business of government, yet we continue to see a sharp upsurge of politicised Christianity. Australia is already regarded as a ‘soft theocracy’ with far too much religious influence in government.

So it really is time to dispel this myth of ‘Christian Woke’ – they are not a persecuted cohort by any stretch of the imagination – on the contrary, their political and media influence is extensive.

Aided by Scott Morrison, politicians, and a raft of Christian lobbies religion has been placed on a pedestal by most of mainstream media. They appear captivated by the pomp and ceremony, and by the authority a very remote and out-of-touch Christian hierarchy.

And it has become a media taboo to question that authority. And not least the apparent veto to challenge the flawed foundations of Christian history that underpin the doctrines and dogma which for centuries have thwarted progressive social policy.

So it would be politically relevant for the public to regularly hear the secular and A-theist voice – those who speak for the 78 per cent of citizens who oppose politics being driven by religion.

And there is no shortage of topics that challenge the illusion a ‘Christian Woke’. Their claims of injustice and persecution are merely elements of shrewd marketing to maintain a consistent religious PR and media relations profile.

Footnote: A-theism is not, per se, “anti-religious” – nor does it malign people of religion. Rather, it is free to question the religious doctrines that underpin fundamentalist views on all contemporary social and secular issues.

 

Brian Morris is a former Journalist and Public Relations professional and the author of Sacred to Secular, a critically acclaimed analysis of Christianity, its origins and the harm that it does. You can read more about him here.

 

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The Risk of the Religious Right: Christian Libertarianism

By Lucy Hamilton

It arguably took one presidential term in America for the nation to move from a modern nation with a loud Religious Right, to one where in 9 states a woman enduring a miscarriage will fear arrest for the charge that she caused it.

She is also likely to lack a swift end to her tragedy because doctors will be too frightened (or lack the training) to proceed with a D&C (dilation and curettage). This grieving woman will then be susceptible to septicaemia as the pregnancy ends, potentially over the course of weeks. Across 42 states, 536 pieces of legislation have limited access to abortion.

At the same time, LGBTQI Americans are suffering a concerted attack on their rights and safety. Idaho, for example, is threatening life sentence felony charges to parents or doctors who prescribe puberty delaying treatment, even if they leave the state.

It is hard to imagine Hillary Clinton allowing this Religious Right minority takeover without a monumental battle. Not least because up to 84% of Americans still support some access to abortion, and 67% of Democrats actively support trans rights.

Australia is a little further behind in the political power of our Religious Right, but it is growing. It is not regular religious faith that is troubling, but the political intentions of an immoderate faction. The philosophy underlying their agenda is “Christian Libertarianism,” even if many will not have heard the term. It explains this minority imposing its harsh definition of Christian morality on their nation at the same as the cruelty of Religious Right politicians’ policies towards the poor and vulnerable.

As our nation has embraced progressive positions, such as legislating to enable marriage equality, conservative religious groups are putting more pressure on the Coalition government to be their voice. With roughly 9 American-style Evangelicals (Pentecostal) and conservative Catholics in the federal cabinet, there is only limited resistance to the lobbying.

The trajectory looks likely to become entrenched as galvanized Christian groups branch-stack traditionally “conservative” seats. A recent article suggested that the Coalition might be willing to abandon progressive seats like Kooyong, hoping to hold power in the more conservative outer suburbs and rural areas. The National Party candidate for Richmond, Kimberly Hone, is such an Evangelical, with a social media history that echoes Katherine Deves’ controversial opinions.

A 2018 investigation exposed the Mormon and conservative Christian campaign shaping the Victorian Liberal Party. As the authors note, their impact outweighs their – as yet – minority numbers: “they are well-organised, they turn out to vote, and they are coalescing against rapid social change.” They compound that impact by targeting secular candidates such as the IPA’s James Paterson; his defence of his seat drives him to promote their religious agenda.

Deriving from the American Religious Right is the sense that conservative Christians are beleaguered. Progressives, they believe, have conquered education, entertainment and much of government. Rainbow flags on logos on social media suggest to this group that they have also lost commerce to the Left.

Perceiving themselves as embattled underdogs, rather than the fringe of the establishment with all the associated protections, they are fighting hard to keep their belief systems central to conservative government.

Rather than the conservative private religion of the Australian tradition, however, these new branch members and their selected candidates are introducing American religious Right tenets to the mainstream of Australian “conservatism.” With that pressure, it is becoming ever less conservative and more extreme.

The Religious Right in America has moved from the fringes of Republican thought after the Great Depression to being its driving force in 2022. Government programs were the province of communist Iron Curtain countries and welfare was socialism. Man should have the freedom to be poor. Vast sums from enthusiastic businessmen funded the Evangelical propaganda units tying freedom and God to American identity. It created the philosophy that has pervaded the Religious Right, Christian Libertarianism.

Libertarian political ideology demands freedom from government, tax, and regulation. It also asserts individuals’ right to determine their private morality provided they do not harm others. “Christian Libertarianism” by contrast, rejects the individual’s freedom of conscience and demands government impose their particular religious morality on the nation. This is partly because the dominant Evangelical majority in the Religious Right believe in Millennial prophecies where the nation must be moral under God’s law to ensure Christ’s return. Christian Nationalism – where the religious elect must control the nation – is a belief held by 20% of Americans.

This theocratic thinking is represented in Evangelicals here too. One example is National Party candidate Hone’s description of her mission: “I want to bring God’s kingdom to the political arena. And I want God’s kingdom to penetrate the political mountain.” David Hardaker, in his series investigating the growing religious impact on Australian politics, suggests part of Scott Morrison’s rejection of accountability might lie in his sense of himself as a divine agent “truly accountable only to God.”

 

Image from newprophecymovement.com.au

 

Outgoing NSW Liberal MP Catherine Cusack has endorsed the federal Greens candidate for the region, in outright rejection of the “wrecking ball” these Religious Right candidates are “putting through the Liberal and National parties.” She despaired: “They destroy moderates who cross the floor, they destroy trans people, and they do it in the name of God. It’s so destructive. It’s not liberal values, but it’s also not Australian values.”

The seeping of Republican ideas and strategies into our own conservative politics means the underlying Christian Libertarian philosophy is increasingly powerful here. On one hand the ideology is utterly committed to the freedom of individuals and businesses to operate without interference, as well as the intrusive public programs that might limit the suffering of the poor. Scott Morrison’s prosperity theology faith where wealth is a sign of God’s blessing and poverty a sign of his condemnation is emblematic. Intervention for the poor is against God’s will, and the Morrison government’s harshness to the needy is obvious. Paradoxically though, this freedom stops at the bedroom. Morrison’s support for Katherine Deves in her attacks on trans rights bows to this strict morality. Dominic Perrottet may not claim the label Christian Libertarian, but it describes his expressed beliefs with precision.

Part of the strength of this small demographic is the forging of a broader “conservative” identity against the progressive ideas represented by the Greens and the teal indies which they label socialist and an existential threat. The Coalition faces competition for these votes from the United Australia Party and PHON. They share the “freedom” rally anti-vaxx sentiment, and opposition to Covid health measures; the online Qanon/conspiracy network responsible has been absorbed into the Evangelical worldview. The Religious Right is also deeply sceptical of climate science. Coalition politicians around Australia have worked to avoid alienating Clive Palmer’s ralliers. Labor is treading a cautious path aiming to continue supporting both their traditional centrist religious vote as well as the progressive social vote.

Australia is echoing the American attack on trans people with other campaigns yet to follow the predictable American models. Amanda Stoker, Assistant Minister for Women, has been beginning to mainstream anti-choice arguments, and George Christensen introduced an anti-abortion bill to parliament last year. The Australian Christian Lobby is not only attacking Liberal candidates who crossed the floor to demand amendments to the religious discrimination bill, but is also campaigning against candidates who support late-term abortions (which are basically an emergency medical procedure).

These are the steps towards the cliff over which the US is now, suddenly, tumbling. Australians need to approach this election with full understanding of what a Coalition under siege from religious extremism means for us. The American model should scare us.

 

Lucy Hamilton is a Melbourne writer with degrees from the University of Melbourne and Monash University.

 

 

 

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La Trobe meets regional Net Zero targets

La Trobe University Media Release

La Trobe University’s Mildura and Shepparton campuses are officially Net Zero – the first Victorian university campuses to achieve this important milestone.

The announcement comes as part of the University’s $75 million commitment to become carbon neutral across all its campuses, including Bundoora in Melbourne, by 2029 – with all of its regional campuses expected to reach the target by the end of 2022.

La Trobe University Vice-Chancellor Professor John Dewar AO said he was proud of what the University had been able to achieve in a short timeframe.

“We announced our ambitious plan less than three years ago, in August 2019, because not only was it the right thing to do, it also made good economic and environmental sense,” Professor Dewar said.

“I’m thrilled to announce today that – through good planning, innovative thinking and a firm focus on achieving our goals – two of our regional campuses have achieved their target several months ahead of schedule.”

Professor Dewar said that as a University focussed on building a better world, it’s important that La Trobe leads by example on critical issues like climate change.

“Many organisations have bold targets for reducing their emissions – but moving from ambition to action can be where the real challenge lies,” Professor Dewar said.

“We’ve set very specific goals, and we’re achieving them through timely actions – and now our staff, students and communities will benefit for years to come,” Professor Dewar said.

Greater Shepparton City Council Mayor, Councillor Kim O’Keeffe, said the achievement was a positive step for the region and worked to support the need for urgent climate emergency action.

“Greater Shepparton City Council are working consistently to help promote and improve the climate and sustainability of our region and it is fantastic to see organisations across the municipality understand this need for change to maintain a safe climate for all,” Cr O’Keeffe said.

Councillor for Environment and Sustainability at the Mildura Rural City Council, Jason Modica, said the achievement is a significant step forward for the broader community in its ongoing work to slash the region’s carbon emissions.

“It’s great to see other large and respected organisations in our region doing great work in this area, and along with our own response to the climate emergency, I think we’re really putting our region on the map in terms of creating a more sustainable community,” Cr Modica said.

A range of projects have been implemented on each campus, including the installation of rooftop solar panels, energy efficient LED lights, mechanical system efficiency upgrades, and batteries to store solar energy.

In 2021, La Trobe generated enough renewables across all campuses to power all regional campuses for the entire year. Today in Mildura, 78 per cent of the campus is self-powered during the day. In Shepparton, the solar panels alone supply 36 per cent of the campus’ daytime energy use.

La Trobe’s Shepparton and Mildura campuses received their certification through Climate Active – Australia’s collective action. The campuses are the first Victorian ‘precincts’ to achieve certification.

In addition to the implemented initiatives, La Trobe University has partnered with Greenfleet on a local revegetation project to offset the small percentage of emissions not reducible through on-site interventions.

La Trobe’s Nangak Tamboree Wildlife Sanctuary is providing 5,000 seedlings to a revegetation project in Kinglake, Victoria. The land is traditionally owned by the Taungurung and Wurundjeri Peoples, and will become home to an ecosystem for a variety of native birds in the area.

A breakdown of initiatives implemented on each campus include:

In Mildura:

  • At peak operation the campus is 100% powered from onsite renewables
  • Installed a 130 Kw solar system, enough to power 25 houses
  • Replaced 800 light fittings with energy efficient LEDs – 100 per cent of campus lighting is now LED.
  • Installed Tesla Power Wall System to store solar generated on-site
  • The campus is currently over 65 per cent powered from onsite renewables
  • Chiller replaced with energy efficient chiller
  • Installed high efficiency chilled water pumps and Variable Speed Drives.
  • Heating, ventilation and cooling Building Management System optimisation

In Shepparton:

  • Installed 115 solar panels, which is enough to power over 20 hours
  • Replaced 807 light fittings with energy efficient LEDs – 100% of campus lighting is now LED.
  • Has an organics pick-up and processing system, which benefits local farmers
  • Heating, ventilation and cooling Building Management System optimisation

 

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The cheap gotya

By 2353NM

The ‘Gold Star of Dishonour’ for the most unedifying display in the first week or so on the 2022 Federal Election campaign is a tough call.

Is it George Christensen announcing his cynical candidature on the One Nation Queensland Senate ticket? If an elected politician runs for election and fails, or is disendorsed by their party, the taxpayer funds a ‘resettlement’ allowance of around $100,000. Christensen, who announced his resignation from the House of Representatives at the conclusion of the last Parliament has announced he is contesting the election as a member of One Nation. One Nation have placed him in the third spot on their Senate Ticket for Queensland, which makes Christensen almost unelectable. According to their website

We are a party that stands for Australia and Australian values. We defend our constitution and stand up against global agendas for the individual rights and fundamental freedoms of all Australians.

The team at One Nation puts people before politics and we will continue to fight for Australia and its citizens.

Facilitating an existing politician to potentially access a $100,000 ‘golden handshake’ is an interesting interpretation of ‘Australian values’.

Or is the winner the Australian media? Looking for cheap sensationalist headlines rather than actual reporting and information sharing has brought them to relying on the cheap ‘gotya’, rather than seeking out information and presenting it in a readily digestible package for their consumers.

A few weeks before the election, Prime Minister Morrison was asked the cost of various staple items including milk and petrol. He didn’t have an answer, which brought howls of how out of touch he was. If you pop down to the local Aldi, Coles or Woolies, there is a range of milk so vast, even a milk producer sent it up in their advertising of yet another variation on the theme some years ago.

 

 

Do any of the media actually expect the Morrisons to jump into the family car on a Thursday night and do next week’s grocery shopping? You’d hope the security people would ensure that won’t occur.

On Day 1 of the campaign, neither Albanese or Morrison covered themselves with glory according to the media. Albanese was asked what the ‘cash rate’ was. He didn’t know the answer. The question showed a lack of understanding, rigour and research.

Labor leader Anthony Albanese was asked straight up: What’s the unemployment rate and what’s the “RBA rate”.

He didn’t answer the second question at all and fumbled on the answer to the jobless rate.

Later he fronted the media and apologised for getting it wrong.

But immediately after that a journalist asked him again, “What is the cash rate?”.

He answered: 0.1.

This time, it was the answer the journalist was looking for, but in this case they were both wrong.

The cash rate, as set by the short-term money market, as of Monday, was 0.06 of a per cent.

It’s the interest rate banks pay to borrow funds from other banks in the money market overnight.

That’s different from the Reserve Bank’s “cash rate target” which is currently 0.1 per cent.

Morrison was ‘caught out’ on the composition of his cabinet, which is a little more concerning as he is the one that chose his cabinet. Education Minister Alan Tudge announced he would be resigning from his position in March. As at Day 1 of the campaign, Morrison correctly stated while Tudge had stood aside and an acting Education Minister had been appointed, Tudge still held the warrant from the Governor-General to hold the position and still was technically Education Minister. Regardless of the election outcome, all Ministers return their warrants to hold office at the end of the election process so even if Morrisons Coalition wins, there is no guarantee that Tudge will be in cabinet in the next Parliament. Arguably sloppy management but equally as arguably it could be a compassionate response to an employee of the Crown that is under severe stress.

Regardless of the media’s obsessive chase for the easy story, our political leaders are human and make mistakes. The wisdom of effectively ‘winding up a clockwork doll’ that looks like Morrison or Albanese every morning and expecting them to perfectly parrot overly rehearsed responses to expected questions day after day is ridiculous and shows there is no substance behind the facade. It really doesn’t matter if Morrison doesn’t know the price of milk or fuel for his car (which fuel are you talking about – E10, 91,95,98, diesel or even LPG?). It’s probably a good bet that anyone who drives an EV or relies or public transport with occasional use of taxis or ride shares has no clue on the current petrol price either. Chances are if he loses the election and retires he will probably have to be retrained in filling a car, pushing a shopping trolley, using an ATM and many other ‘life skills’.

Greens Leader Adam Band spoke at the National Press Club on Wednesday 13 April and said

Like, elections should be about a contest of ideas. Politics should be about reaching for the stars and offering a better society.

And instead, there’s these questions that are asked about – can you tell us this particular stat or can you tell us that particular stat? And those questions are designed to show that politicians are somehow out of touch and not representative of every day people.

Bandt is correct, What is important is that Morrison and Albanese do have an understanding that the recent significant increase in fuel prices has increased transport costs for a wide variety of goods, services and materials that come into the country, moved around the country and are exported from the country rather than how much they would pay for petrol if they took the Comcar into the closest petrol station on the way to their next engagement. In a similar way, while the price of a bottle of milk does influence your living costs, there are greater concerns than the media’s implied ‘crisis’ – if the price goes up 10 cents, no one can afford milk on their corn flakes every morning.

While Christensen is a deserving nominee – we expect no better of a politician that has been in the business of attracting attention to himself for years – the winner of the ‘Gold Star of Dishonour’ for the first week of the election campaign has to go to a significant proportion of the Australian media. While we all like to expend minimum effort in the successful completion of what ever job we are attempting, in a lot of cases we have to try harder. As most of us will not have the opportunity to talk with both Albanese and Morrison during this election campaign we are relying on the media to ask meaningful and relevant questions on our behalf. So far they have generally failed miserably.

What do you think?

 

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Barrow Boys and Spiffs

By Andrew Klein

Barrow Boys and Spiffs: The Australian federal government – parties that damaged the nation – a reflection on the last three years of political escapades in Australia.

I remember listening to the Banking Royal Commission. One of the chaps who was nailed in the first few minutes, confirmed my own view.

In banking, there was a deleterious change in culture that occurred about 30 years ago. In essence, profit before ethics.

I have watched this Australian tragedy unfold since the days of Howard. I mention banking only as an aside, bankers were once regarded as reliable judges of character and pillars of the community.

I remember that 40 odd years ago (I was very young) my banker gave me a reference and it mattered. These days? Spiffs in fancy suits trying to sell questionable products.

Anyway, the fear-mongering that Howard and others engaged in enabled every opportunist meandering through life. The sort of niche pond dweller who at other times , would have ended life as a runner for a bookie in a pub or less.

When I was very young there were these bizarre little shops in Swanston Street Melbourne (a couple of hundred meters away from Flinders Street) and they were operated by men who would sell the most useless rubbish at faux auctions, and people bid and bought.

I grew up and in the 1970s when I put on my first uniform (I was terribly naïve and wanted to serve my country and better the community).

By the time I hit 30 I had seen some terrible things but I was hopeful. I believed that good people could make a difference, that with enough information the general public would make informed decisions. I had travelled and had become familiar with the Middle East, Europe and Asia and by the time that I was 40 I had grown up. Sorry for the digression, the context I suppose.

I am now hitting 70 and I don’t recall a golden age; I recall hope for the future.

Now, after years of watching the antics of Canberra politicians, my own Victorian and those globally, I find that the last 30 years have contributed nothing. In fact, we have gone backwards.

The antics of the Liberal National Party (LNP) are not the cause of the decline, the LNP is a symptom. The spiffs have taken over selling fear and hatred.

I see things today that frightened me when I was a teenager and then only because I had become aware of them. I lived through a time when we worked hard at including others by offering equitable approaches like education and opportunity.

I vividly recall Howard and Abbott lying and deceiving the public on so many things and people lapped it up. These creatures tickled the underbelly of fear and reignited tribalism.

I am stunned that under performers like Joyce, Morrison et al would even get a run in politics. They are the mediocre operators, the spiffs selling trinkets in those long forgotten shops in Swanston Street.

In those days the less discerning consumers would buy these baubles only to find them break and the police would close the barrow boys down and move them on.

Of course they would reappear, suckers are born every minute and at times they would reinvent themselves and open car yards and the media would have a field day exposing the shysters.

Sadly, there is no one empowered to move the spiffs and barrow boys out of Canberra.

More often than not they are not committing a crime, they are opportunists skirting the edge of the amoral and the party commends them, the voters buy the cheap offensive trinkets looking for that golden opportunity to prove that they too have mastered the art of the deal.

Me, I am considering options. I no longer feel at home in the country of my birth, I have seen my country lose so much. Not to a foreign threat or foe but to the mediocrity and its acolytes. Those who measure a man worth only in coin.

I still travel and I am very familiar with Asia and though this might seem bizarre, there are cities there (small and away from the tourist haunts) that remind me of my youth. Covid has changed much of that but I live in hope that I will travel before I peg it.

The buildings are reminiscent of Australia in the 70s and 80s. The people are friendly and I find that entire families eat together rather than farming the kids out to McDonald’s. I know that these places too have their problems, often very serious problems and maybe that is why the people still value each other and the families that they are part of.

I look at that and consider if I have time to make a difference in my life, to end my days feeling that it has been worthwhile.

Right now I see the Tim Wilson carry on, the greed and the pervasive bullshit that I can sense and almost smell that exudes from the likes of Morrison, Dutton and Josh.

The damage these things have wrought and the damage they have done.

Then I see the faces of those who surround me admire the Trumpisms, the valueless and utterly demeaning.

I see the future of Australia, the little kid who tells his mum that a career as a ‘barista’ sounds cool and what’s worse, I see her agree because she too is lost.

I visit the cemeteries and see my friends, their names and the crests on the plaques. I remember how they died.

I have buried their sons and have tried to keep faith with their children. I see their children struggle daily with the cost of living, the lack of affordable housing and utilities.

I see men and women profit and receive accolades and know they ventured nothing.

These creatures get to feel the morning sun whilst my ‘brothers’ smoulder in the dirt.

Australia, you could have been a great place to get old in and die in but you gave birth to things like Fraser Anning and worse.

Australia, you went to sleep and you let hope die!

 

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Media bias and the public agenda: Gotcha questions examined

By Melissa Marsden

Sunday’s episode of ABC Insiders showed viewers exactly what media bias is all about and how, come election time, even some of the most respected journalists can fall into the trap of playing double standards.

Despite some criticism of the Liberal government’s election campaign, more of the discussion focused on gotcha moments than actual policy.

Political Editor for news.com Samantha Maiden began the discussion by declaring that Opposition Leader Anthony Albanese needed to “sharpen up”, having days earlier been unable to provide the exact statistic of people currently unemployed across Australia.

In the same breath, when referring to Prime Minister Scott Morrison, Maiden merely stated that he had committed a “blunder” at not knowing the price of bread and milk.

Maiden’s false equivalency between the two failings shows just how the media’s bias against the Labor party has flourished over the years.

Just last week in an article in The Advertiser (paywalled), Maiden said that:

“Unlike the “gotcha” questions the Prime Minister Scott Morrison was asked at the national press club earlier this year … what’s the price of milk, bread and petrol? … these are not figures that bounce around and he should have known the answers.”

Everyone can forgive a brain freeze now and then.

Just think back to student exams, that moment you are asked a question you know the answer to but you just can’t pinpoint it. A number rarely brought up in everyday life.

The price of bread and milk however, for most Australians, is far easier to remember.

For Australians struggling to find employment, or are facing the increasing wave of underemployment, the exact statistic is of less importance than the consequences of that predicament.

Let’s remember that official employment figures fail to include Australians who are working casual hours, struggling to make a living wage.

Perhaps this is where gotcha questions have their merit.

Not to back politicians into corners where statistics get regurgitated like they are being read off a spreadsheet – rehearsed and memorised, not felt or experienced.

But instead to highlight the broader social issues at play.

Unemployment, insecure work and failings in the welfare system have left a trail of vulnerable, and at times angry Australians fighting to have their voices heard.

Both sides of politics have failed to adequately address this issue.

Scott Morrison has repeatedly told Australians that they will receive “a fair go for those who have a fair go”, failing to accept any responsibility for the conditions that force people into insecure work and welfare.

Likewise, Labor too have failed to commit to a revue into or action towards an increase in the rate of JobSeeker rates, instead choosing to emphasise an increase in social housing and rent assistance.

Maiden’s quizzing of both Albanese and Morrison’s awareness of simple living costs may have been ‘gotcha questions’ – however a journalist can only ‘get you’ if you are unprepared.

Perhaps what Maiden meant was that during a federal election campaign all politicians ought to be doing their homework before fronting up to the media.

Particularly when attempting to show the public who can both manage the economy and understand the everyday struggles of working and vulnerable Australians.

As a university student, a young person, a woman and a person with a physical disability, looking for opportunities to earn a living, whether or not a statistic was remembered plays less on my mind than the actual policies that are or aren’t on the government’s agenda.

Not to mention the economic, gender, age and ability biases that so often play into how people are or are not able to secure work.

Maiden said that the prices of bread and milk ‘bounce around’, is that supposed to be a reference to whether you opt for plain white, sourdough or brown, full cream, skim or lactose free?

As someone who has spent significant time counting every dollar before entering the supermarket you soon remember the price of 2L of skim milk is in the $2-3 dollar mark depending on the brand ($2.60 to be precise for Woolworths Lite Milk).

Semantic arguments about fluctuation in the prices of goods detracts from the core issue of inequality and disadvantage.

Regarding unemployment figures, perhaps instead of asking ‘why didn’t Albanese know the answer’, the media should ask ‘why is the consequences of unemployment and underemployment bigger issues in the public sphere’?

We shouldn’t forget that the media are after all the gatekeepers of knowledge in society.

Not only do the media report on political missteps and failings but they are also the ones who decide what is considered important enough to emphasise.

They are the ones who determine that the everyday consequences of increased cost of living, poor welfare and housing are less important in the day-to-day news cycle than whether or not a politician is or isn’t ‘on-the-ball’ enough to pull a fact out of the air in front of a camera.

As much as I respect journalists like Sam Maiden, perhaps it is the media who need to ‘sharpen up’ and put inequality back on the public agenda.

That is not to say some journalists haven’t done just that.

There is still much to be done before structural inequality is given as much weight as a gotcha moment.

This article was originally published on Independent Australia.

Melissa Gillian Marsden is a passionate advocate for social justice and a self-confessed political junkie.

It was almost destined that from the moment I was born I would forever have a lot to say. The Granddaughter of a proud Yorkshire woman and fellow Leo zodiac, I would always retain the ability to “talk under water with a mouth full of marbles”. Likewise it was unsurprising that from an early age I was instilled with a fierce sense of loyalty, protectiveness of loved ones and a love of arguing my point (even if it ended in tears).

After being diagnosed with a life long, life threatening medical condition six weeks after my birth and suffering a traumatic brain injury at the age of six years old leaving me with low vision and short term memory loss, I suppose I knew from the beginning that fairness and equality are notoriously contested and complex issues. I was also taught that not everyone views people with disabilities as ordinary people- capable of great success and failure, strength and weakness that can be (although admittedly not always) completely irrespective of that disability.

Now as a 25yr old university student with degrees in politics, international relations, history and currently journalism I have come to the conclusion that perhaps my love of understanding why the world is the way it is and the tools I have developed whilst at university can be used to shine a light on issues of injustice whilst allowing me to have a good rant at the debates raging in public and political discourse.

* * *

Melissa runs her own blog, Framing the Narrative, and can be followed on Twitter @MelMarsden96.

 

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Payment for Services Rendered

By Andrew Klein

I have often asked myself how easily some dismiss the genuine suffering of others, not only because we hear the words “The Others” which in some instant magical way reduces the duty of care or merely the act of being a decent human being to an act that can be balanced by adding figures and financial worth of those concerned.

I find myself thinking about a way of life, a society that measures the value of another by their ability of being seen as an individual; capable of spending monies that in the long term buy no more than short term consumer items.

One can walk through the shopping isles dedicated to the youngest among consumers, or those that will be shaped into ‘Consumer Hood‘ not because being a consumer has any particular merit but parents and those that render love and care to the very young are compelled to make a public offering that provides proof to those that may question the level of non-consumer items that have been provided.

There is almost a pernicious and cunning approach that finds those that provide unquestioning love and affection as carers and parents being forced into spending money or acquiring debt to publicly prove that. Goods that need not be branded with ‘child’ friendly logo find themselves carefully replaced by similar items but marketed with brands that for marketing reasons display all manner of figures or linked with the latest fashions or products.

Of course items such as Band-Aids or shampoo remain the same yet they now find their way into the shopping trolley or bag. How does one value the true worth of a parents or care givers love for a child or one that needs such timeless and priceless affection? Of course it is not possible to put a price on such things at any point in time and by making this an issue, we create no more than future consumers that very often have failed to appreciate the real value of those things that matter and build up a powerful drive to own and possess that which appears to be public proof of those things that are perceived as having some inherent value where in reality their true worth is limited to the ability to render financial returns to those that understand the various marketing and shopping models.

I may not be a great observer of these events but I have seen enough to understand the frustrated look on the face of a parent or carer. The howling of a child convinced that a water bottle with the latest movie motive being regarded as an essential for survival.

Maybe I am getting old and grumpy; this is very possible indeed but I have also observed those that have to manage their financial budget to cope with a world that often cares very little for the turmoil that is created in the well filled alleys that parents must pass through to get to a checkout, where once again they are faced with products designed to tempt younger minds that as yet do not understand the challenge that parents may be facing trying to balance their budgets living from pay day to the next.

The percentages are there for the asking, the marketing of goods being an art form.

Those that attempt to bring up children that have a future in a harsh and ever more expensive world must face many a sleepless night; raising a child in a world like ours is not always easy and many of the problems faced are not limited to any particular part of the world as we share a very Global World.

I know that governments love to bandy around statistics with the abandon of young lovers frolicking in the grass, the ink on one report barely dry before another is prepared. In hindsight, I question much of that which has been created and is encouraged. I see young families managing and often struggling; I am often amazed by the level of care and love that is displayed by those that are facing the hardest of times. None of this has anything of a ‘B’ Grade TV show about it but seems more like an ‘A’ Grade disaster pending.

With all that is done and worse, that which is left undone for many reasons I sit here and wonder if a day will come when governments take people seriously and parents and or carers will find an understanding ear when it comes to the cost of raising children and caring for those that need more than platitudes .

It would be of interest to see a government form with the words; “Payment for Services Rendered” laid out in a user friendly manner.

 

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Election 2022: Back Towards the Mainstream After the Sky News Debate?

By Denis Bright

The Sky News Debate turned out to be a civilized forum despite a touchy interchange about the perceived security problem in the Solomon Islands from both sides of mainstream politics. This largely pleasant tone contrasts with the firebrand rhetoric from the federal LNP during the post-1996 era. Populist rhetoric has been successful in delivering so many seats to the LNP largely on preferences from minor parties in Queensland and NSW.

Now the far-right of Australian politics is taking command of this populist campaigning style. This is taking some of the old oxygen out of the sails of the LNP in campaigning mode.

Networks like Sky News have elevated the representatives of the far-right with a degree of reverence which they do not deserve.

Sky News has indeed offered the far-right of Australian politics a free kick in its bizarre forum for maverick parties on Paul Murray’s Live Pub Test.

The saturation advertising from the United Australia Party (UAP) is also a real challenge to democratic processes. This will give the UAP a level of influence which is derived from the strategic use of preferences in key marginal seats. In the past, this allocation of preferences has been to the federal LNP but Clive Palmer is still waiting for a confirmation of future polling trends before making his call on the allocation of preferences from a vital 5-10 per cent base across key marginal electorates. The results will be influenced by the prevailing social demography.

Almost a sixth of voters are still attracted to the far-right minor parties. Boredom is a big factor in the disenchantment of voters with the major parties.

In Week Two of the campaign rolls, there have been no king hits on either side of mainstream politics. Eyewitness and Sky News networks portray democracy as a vacuous media game in their quest for better news ratings. Verbal slip-ups or nasty tirades at meet the people events in pubs and shopping precincts are all part of the strategic media packaging of news and current affairs. This media game offers little real coverage of policy options for our future.

It is understandable that many potential constituents do not even bother to enrol to vote in the resultant political charade.

While the latest Newspoll results after preferences seem to be highly favourable to Labor (53/47), there are still substantial challenges to the hegemony of both major parties in the detailed results.

Largely private polling on a seat by seat basis in marginal seats will be needed to assess the strength of Labor support in highly marginal seats. The results of this private polling will be withheld until the final days of the campaign and leaked to media networks in a very opportunistic fashion when it is too late to change the course of events.

There is time for Labor to focus more on the concerns of voters in its more disadvantaged traditional heartlands across a vast swathe of electorates in most state and the Northern Territory electorates where concern about inner-city electoral concerns is minimal.

A weakness in the LNP current approach is its emphasis on populist macro-economic rhetoric which is of little concern to voters. The UAP in particular is now stealing the LNP’s old thunder on this issue with its saturation advertising. One of the most deceptive agendas in Australian politics is the ongoing discussion of public or government debt levels which covers budget debts levels.

Ordinary voters are confused by this emphasis on public budget deficits. During the GFC years and the more recent COVID-19 crises, public debt levels saved the national economy from mass unemployment. Temporary relief was offered to the business sector to maintain staff levels during the most recent pandemic. These same voters know that the really important debt level is within their own households to meet housing costs and essential purchases or even car repairs to get to and from workplaces. It is quite churlish of UAP advertising to frame the major debt problem as a crisis in macroeconomic management.

This level of national public or government debt is quite low by international standards. It is dwarfed by the upsurge in private household debt in Australia’s $1.5 trillion economy.

When the Howard Government was elected in 1996, household debt levels had already risen to 60 per cent of GDP as the costs of housing and rents spiralled after the two post-1975 recessions to that date.

The spiral in household debt has continued as shown by the long term data from Trading Economics. Private household debt is running at twice the levels prevailing when the Keating Government was defeated in 1996. The Howard Government succeeded in passing on the debt level to private households in the name of neoliberalism.

Tax concessions to property investors have contributed to the household debt through inflated rental and housing prices.

An average home in Sydney or Melbourne now has a median price of well over $1 million. Many households are on a financial treadmill which contributes to the stresses of life from illness, family breakdown or other emergencies.

The LNP has added to these burdens with its underfunding of childcare support, incredible rates for private health insurance and bonds for access to aged care centres.

A household debt level of 120 per cent of Australia’s GDP equals a debt of over $750,000 per person across Australia. Political insiders with more access to economic data would be able to quote the level of private household debt with add on age group profiles and specific details of debt levels in households with mortgages. The Newspoll/YouGov site would have all this data for access by privileged clients.

Hecklers of the left would once interrupt Robert Menzies during the 1950s about his LNP government’s commitment to disadvantaged households in financially stressful times like the 1953 recession when Labor scored an extraordinary result in the half senate election that was soon torpedoed by the antics of the Petrov affair in 1954.

Household debt levels deserve a higher profile in the middle and later phases of the current election campaign from our current crop of mainstream LNP political elites.

The so-called mavericks from minor far-right parties who are largely poised to allocate preferences to return the Morrison Government. Unless there is a better response from the progressive side of politics, the number of confused voters can be expected to grow. The goodwill from the recent Sky News Debate needs to be consolidated in the interest of democratic values and the future stability of Australian politics which has been in a volatile state from too much name calling since the last days of the Howard years. Any quest for policy solutions is likely to be well rewarded by the electorate over this style of campaigning with its largely vacuous qualities in my local Ryan electorate in Brisbane.

Vital issues like action on climate change and the restructuring of the market economy on more sustainable grounds are well and truly air-brushed by this style of populist self-promotion. I do hope that this type of advertising and mail-outs to constituents are not funded by electorate allowances at taxpayer expense when so many families are enduring economic hardship in flood-prone parts of the Ryan electorate.

Today’s offsiders are largely from the far-right of Australian politics.

Denis Bright is a financial member of the Media, Entertainment and Arts Alliance (MEAA). Denis is committed to consensus-building in these difficult times. Your feedback from readers advances the cause of citizens’ journalism. Full names are not required when making comments. However, a valid email must be submitted if you decide to hit the Replies Button.

 

 

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