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John has a strong interest in politics, especially the workings of a progressive democracy, together with social justice and the common good. He holds a Diploma in Fine Arts and enjoys portraiture, composing music, and writing poetry and short stories. He is also a keen amateur actor. Before retirement John ran his own advertising marketing business.

Great Australian political policy stuff-ups: Howard wins in a canter.

For those who have been following my posts of the Great Australian political policy stuff-ups, I have decided to, instead of continuing downs the path to a long excruciating conclusion, to bring my research to an abrupt if not obvious end.
The Liberal National Party has governed for the majority of the post-Menzies years and obviously, it would be they who would have made the most major policy stuff-ups.

So, to date, I had completed Menzies, Whitlam and a list from the IPA. Rather than letting my list linger like a bad smell, this post contains a list of my findings of the Greatest Australian political policy stuff-ups.

So let us start with Sir Robert Menzies.

Communist Party ban

The Communist Party Dissolution Bill was passed by parliament. After it was enacted in October, the law was challenged in the High Court and, on 9 March 1951, was held to be unconstitutional.

Referendum on Communism

A referendum to alter the Constitution so as to grant parliament the power to outlaw Communism was lost narrowly.

Nuclear testing

In September 1950 Menzies agreed, without any serious scientific or political consultation, to allow the British to test a nuclear weapon on Australian soil. On October 3, 1952, the British detonated a nuclear bomb on a ship — HMS Plym — off the coast of the Montebello Islands in Western Australia.

This was a site they had chosen themselves with no Australian consultation.

War in Vietnam

Perhaps the biggest ever cover-up in Australian political history is how we became involved in the Vietnam War.

On April 29, 1965, PM Menzies shocked the House of Representatives when he rose to speak. With gloomy voice, he said that he had received a letter from the South Vietnamese government to join the war.

It was a lie.

National Service lotteries

Cabinet decided to re-introduce compulsory military service, which had ended in 1960. The National Service Act enabled the government to conscript men for a two-year term with a further three years in the Reserve. Marbles denoting birth dates were drawn from a lottery barrel to select those who would be called up. Between the first ballot in 1965 and the last in1972, some 63,000 men were conscripted.

500 died in a war that was none of our business.

I have omitted Harold Holt, John Gorton and Billy McMahon.

Gough Whitlam

Whatever your political disposition there cannot be any doubt that he changed the nation, with many excellent policies, for the better.

As for the other side of the ledger, the economics, I would suggest that history is beginning to look favourably on the intellectual giant that he was.

Others who lived in his extraordinary times would disagree entirely, particularly with his economics. I concede this and leave you to your view.

Malcolm Fraser

His time in government could be considered uneventful along side Whitlam or any of those that followed. By placing economic management at the centre of politics he sought to explain how economic activity sat with the social life of a nation.

However, he never understood the new paradigm of economics that had begun under Whitlam. It was a policy fail of monumental proportion.

The then Treasurer John Howard understood it and wanted to implement what Hawke and Keating did later.

Bob Hawke

He defeated Malcolm Fraser and arguably became Labors brightest ever Prime Minister. A reformer who did more than any other to reform the Australian economy. He had such fine cabinets that policy errors are difficult to find.

His major error was that he clung to power for too long and in doing so prevented an orderly leadership succession.

Paul Keating

Keating was the big ideas man who couldn’t sell them. He had a vision of Australia becoming of a republic, justice for our first nations people, a larger connection with Asia, and his support for Marbo was set in stone.

His policy errors were that he believed in a GST but didn’t introduce one and that he amended the Migration Act to provide for mandatory detention of irregular arrivals that was to be a disastrous decision.

John Howard

During the decade of his Prime Ministership, he made many poor decisions.

He became Prime Minister in 1996. His legacy will be long debated. On the one hand, he was the consummate politician who read the public mood like no other. On the other hand, he was a sly conniving politician who pandered to popular sentiment. The lying little rodent as one of his ministers describes him.

It was in his rein that the decline in our democracy started. He introduced changes to the tax system and introduced a GST that affected pensioners and lower paid workers the most.

Much of the blame for the gas shortage that Australia is suffering from now can be blamed on Howard. He very irrationally sold it all to China at a bargain basement price. It is but part of the energy debacle that exists today.

Perhaps the decision to commit Australian forces to the second Iraq War is his worst. Without a scintilla of proof that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction, without even asking if there were any he sucked our nation into a quagmire of terrorism. It was a decision to please George Bush and nothing more. The war on terror still continues today.

Housing

Domestically he introduced a capital gains tax, increased the first homebuyers grant and increased immigration. All of which increased demand. Investors entered the market and years on we suffer from his idiotic decisions.

We experienced a once in a century mining boom that resulted in untold budget surpluses. At the end of it, there was little left. Howard had squandered it on over-60 superannuation tax holidays, other super concessions, and family payments to middle-income households, age-based tax concessions, and lots of income-tax breaks for middle to higher-income households.

Most of these presents came in the budget of an election year to buy votes.

All he achieved was increased inequality and making the rich richer.

Education

He had an almost fetish like need to pamper to the rich by increasing Federal funding to the richest schools which they have spent on non-educational luxuries.

Like his other concessions they have all been difficult to remove and they, to this day, remain a burden on the budget.

The Republic

Being the royalist that he is he played a “divide and rule” role with the 1999 Republic referendum instead of leading the nation through it?

Health

He eroded Medicare by mischievously misdirecting money into tax deductions for inefficient private health insurance. In doing so he tried to return Medicare to a 1960s style healthcare system.

Gold reserves

Howards Treasurer Peter Costello sold two-thirds of Australia’s gold reserves for the rock-bottom price of $US306 per ounce (Today, gold is about $US1590 per ounce).

Kevin Rudd

He was blessed with a prodigious intellect and will best be remembered for the apology to our indigenous “Stolen Generations” and his handling of the World financial crisis. He also coined the phrase “the greatest moral, economic and social challenge of our time” in reference to Climate Change.

Home insulation scheme

The Pink bats’ scheme because of its poor administration became a policy disaster for Rudd. Reports of house fires, possible fraud and the deaths of four young insulation installers led to numerous enquiries.

After a Royal Commission instigated by Tony Abbott, Rudd accepted his Government’s responsibility for systems failures that led to the deaths, describing them as a “deep tragedy” and acknowledged the pain of the families involved.

Building the Education Revolution

This saw 23,670 school building projects around Australia rolled out in quick time.

Tony Abbott continuously complained about cost blowouts resulting in an enquiry headed by Brad Orgill, the former CEO of UBS Australasia.

3% of complaints about the scheme were proven, but the commission found that most projects were an advantage to the school and the community. Ask your local Primary School Headmaster what he or she thinks.

Julia Gillard

Gillard followed Rudd and so began the revolving door politics of the last 10 or so years. She led a minority government and Abbott, the Murdoch press and the shock jocks immediately began attacking her on the basis of her sex.

She had some handsome policy victories such as the Royal Commission into Child Abuse, the National Broadband Network, putting a price on carbon, the National Disability Insurance Scheme and reforms to education. Not bad in anyone’s book.

Unemployment

On the other side of the ledger in terms of policy stuff-ups her failure to stop unemployment from rising clearly went against her.

Sure this was complicated by the GFC that we were still recovering from but also from a silly obsession with a budget surplus.

Tony Abbott

Abbott came to power after 6 years of the most negative opposition the country has ever seen. If nothing else he was the most professional liar to ever walk the halls of parliament.

His negativity was famous. It both gained him government and lost it for him. He was the worst Prime Minister the country has ever had and came into power without any policies and left without any.

He did have success in stopping the people smuggling trade but it divided the nation.

He removed the price on carbon, a terrible decision only based on politics, and the minerals resources tax.

That said there is nothing more to say about this characterless man of no redeeming features. His greatest success was that he turned his party from its Liberal beginnings into the far right conservative one it is today.

Malcolm Turnbull

Malcolm Turnbull entered through the revolving door and instantaneously chucked all his principles into the nearest rubbish bin. In doing so, he became the greatest hypocrite of a Prime Minister the country has ever seen. He also fell into the lying mindset of Abbott.

The policies on the many things he had carried with him like Climate Change he gave over to the far right of his party. He might lay claim to Marriage Equality but that was undoubtedly people led.

Scott Morrison

It is too early to judge Scott Morrison but he too has thrown away policies on energy, climate change and many others.

He shows all the qualities of Abbott and Turnbull. Of one who wants the rich to become richer in the expectation that they will share some of their riches with their fellow humans. Fat chance.

My thought for the day.

“In the recipe of good leadership, there are many ingredients. Popularity is but one. It, however, ranks far below getting things done for the common good.”

 

Previous instalments:

Great Australian political policy stuff-ups (part 1)

Great Australian political policy stuff-ups (part 2): The Menzies years

Great Australian political policy stuff-ups (part 3): Whitlam – how does history judge him?

 

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Great Australian political policy stuff-ups (part 3): Whitlam – how does history judge him?

Perhaps the most controversial Prime Minister we have ever had. I first became interested in Whitlam after he defeated Jim Cairns in a leadership battle by one vote. My first sighting of him was at a rally in the Melbourne suburb of Greensborough during the 1972 election.

He stood tall in the back of a ute and as the sun began to set the figure of the great man – with the crash through or crash attitude – was driven onto the football field.

That he became Prime Minister is but a circumstance of history.

In his brief three years the Prime Minister produced profound and lasting changes – reforms that could not have been so broadly conceived and so firmly implemented by a lesser man.

The Whitlam Government without doubt was the most creative and innovatory in the nation’s history. Under Whitlam, Australia’s foreign policy also came of age.

His first action on becoming PM was to order the immediate release of all draft resisters, the removal of troops from Vietnam and the recognition of Communist China. He then legislated to change the voting age to 18.

His Government made education its top priority and poured money into schools and colleges throughout the country. He put an end to political gerrymanders and decriminalised homosexuality.

He gave to the people of today who still hate him with a vengeance, a free university education.

He created Medibank, set up community health centres and gave a new deal to pensioners.

He took an active role in urban improvement and development, providing funds directly to local government for sewerage.

Women received recognition and a degree of pay equity. He gave a healthy boost to sexual equality. He saw to it that Aboriginal advancement became a major issue.

He promoted greater Australian ownership and control of resources, legislated against restrictive trade practices, introduced the most civilised and sensible divorce laws in the world.

He gave encouragement to the arts with grants, and in his final budget implemented some fundamental reforms that made the income tax system considerably more equitable.

He and Barry Jones were responsible for the formation of the National Film and Television School in Sydney from which an entire industry developed.

Whitlam himself dominated both his party and the Parliament, and he commanded respect when he travelled overseas in a way no previous Australian Prime Minister had.

The Whitlam Government introduced a record number of Bills, and a record number were enacted, though the Senate rejected 93 Bills, more than the total number rejected during the previous 71 years of the parliament.

Having said all of that, any fair-minded person would have to say that he had considerable success in many areas.

However, in this piece I am looking for policy failures.

After Whitlam’s death Andrew Bolt was quick to describe his failures as thus:

The disaster was inevitable. With the Budget blown and the international oil shock hitting a weakened economy, the Whitlam government saw unemployment nearly triple, the tax take double, the deficit blow out and inflation soar to almost 20 per cent.

Bolt – as usual – doesn’t know what he is talking about. He makes no allowance for the oil shock and an American recession.

He adopted multiculturalism, only to encourage a dangerous new tribalising of Australia.

There he goes with the vagary of his racism:

And that is the third lesson from Whitlam’s mistakes that Labor unlearned and even the Liberals seem to be forgetting with a race-based change to the Constitution.

No, more modest leaders suit Australia best and hang around longest. They are the leaders who know Australians wish to live their own dreams and not those of their prime minister.

Australians expect their leaders to lead creating opportunity to fulfil their dreams. So it would seem that, on one side, there are the Gough haters who see his period in office as a disaster in monetary terms and his changes in society as a bigger disaster.

Then there are those who take into account, when observing his economic decisions, the extenuating circumstances surrounding them.

Astonishingly, Whitlam changed Australia forever, and in just three short years. There is no question about it. What has to be decided is whether the benefits of his many reforms exceeded their considerable economic costs.

For this assessment I turn to Ross Gittins (respected economics journalist) who in 2014 wrote the following words in an article titled Reformer Gough Whitlam oversaw economic chaos but it was not all of Labor’s making” (which explains the circumstances that prevailed at the time. In part it tells us how a government who hadn’t been in power for a couple of decades came into power when world economics were totally unsuited to naive “do good” politicians):

What Labor’s True Believers don’t want to accept is that the inexperience, impatience and indiscipline, with which the Whitlam government changed Australia forever, and for the better, cost a lot of ordinary workers their jobs. Many would have spent months, even a year or more without employment.

But what the Whitlam haters forget is that Labor had the misfortune to inherit government just as all the developed economies were about to cross a fault-line dividing the post-war Golden Age of automatic growth and full employment from today’s world of always high unemployment and obsession with economic stabilisation.

Thirty years of simple Keynesian policies and unceasing intervention in markets were about to bring to the developed world the previously impossible problem of “stagflation” – simultaneous high inflation and high unemployment – that no economist knew how to fix, not even the omniscient and infallible John Stone.

It was 30 years in the making, but it was precipitated by the Americans’ use of inflation to pay for the Vietnam war, the consequent breakdown of the post-war Bretton Woods system of fixed exchange rates, the worldwide rural commodities boom and the first OPEC oil shock, which worsened both inflation and unemployment.

The developed world was plunged into dysfunction. The economics profession took years to figure out what had gone wrong and what new policies would restore stability.

Money supply targeting was tried and abandoned.

The innocents in the Whitlam government had no idea what had hit them; that all the rules of the economic game had changed.

The point is that any government would have emerged from the 1970s with a bad economic record. Malcolm Fraser had no idea the rules had changed, either. His economic record over the following seven years was equally unimpressive.

I will now to turn to Gough Whitlam’s life and legacy: experts respond in The Conversation for a summary of what those experts say, starting with Richard Holden, Professor of Economics at UNSW Australia Business School writing on Whitlam’s economic legacy:

The Whitlam government is remembered as transformative and revolutionary: sometimes fondly, sometimes not so fondly. In the economic sphere, the most salient memory is typically ballooning spending, a failure to appreciate the perils of inflation, and allowing a wage-price spiral from 1974. This was bad. Really bad.

But there is also a hugely positive side of the Whitlam economic ledger. The introduction of the Trade Practices Act in 1974 brought Australia into the modern economic era in dealing with harmful monopoly practices. The revolutionary 25% cut in tariffs acknowledged, and did a lot to further, the crucial role of international trade for Australia. In this sense, Whitlam put a lot of faith in markets – a faith that was frankly rather lacking under Robert Menzies.

What Whitlam did wrong – and there was plenty of it – was relatively easy to fix. What he did right was incredibly hard to do. And that is the economic legacy for which he should be remembered.

On his education legacy, Hannah Forsyth, Lecturer in History at Australian Catholic University says that:

Almost 20 years before he was elected prime minister, Gough Whitlam gave words to an idea that remains central to his legacy: everybody in Australia is entitled, without cost to the individual, to the same educational facilities, whether it be in respect of education at the kindergarten or tertiary stage or the post-graduate stage.

After the 1972 election, education was made free, including university study.

Historians, educationalists and political analysts have attempted ever since to smart-arse their way out of how important this was.

On health, Anne-marie Boxall, Director, Deeble Institute for Health Policy Research, Australian Healthcare and Hospitals Association; Adjunct Lecturer at University of Sydney observed that:

When reflecting on the introduction of Medicare nearly a decade later, in 1984, the health minister at the time, Neal Blewett, commented that it would have been very difficult, if not impossible, to have implemented Medicare if Medibank had not first been introduced. Medicare now enjoys bipartisan support and is acknowledged as the basis of one of the best health systems in the world. We can largely thank Whitlam for it.

I now draw from the sobering article Gough Whitlam left a long list of achievements by Damien Murphy at The Sydney Morning Herald. Murphy remembers that:

Gough Whitlam is perhaps best known for the manner in which he prematurely exited from power rather than how he chose to wield it

But wield it he did. Whitlam’s short three-year shelf life as prime minister is generally recognised as one ofAustralia’s most reforming governments.

Conservative government has been the norm in Australian politics since federation and their preference is for reform by increment rather than by rush. Consequently, much of what Gough Whitlam built – such as a free university education – has been torn down by successive governments on both sides of the political spectrum.

Conclusion

Whatever your political disposition there cannot be any doubt that he changed the country for the better.

As for the other side of the ledger, the economics, I would suggest that history is beginning to look favourably on the intellectual giant that he was.

My thought for the day

The left of politics is concerned with people who cannot help themselves. The right is concerned with those who can.

Previous instalments:

Great Australian political policy stuff-ups (part 1)

Great Australian political policy stuff-ups (part 2): The Menzies years

 

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Great Australian political policy stuff-ups (part 2): The Menzies years

When one talks about Sir Robert Menzies one is expected to show reverence for a Prime Minister who is admired as the father of Liberalism.

I am not one of those to worship at his feet. He certainly was the founder of the Liberal Party and the longevity of his rule is to be much admired. His legacy is another thing.

However, the length of his service relied heavily on an effective continuous communist scare campaign (he kicked the communist can down the street for as long as he could) that lasted for many, many years.

Masterfully and skilfully he exploited Cold War fears and the threat of Communism.

Together with a disastrous split in the Labor Party and the lack of a worthwhile leader were also distinct advantages.

In addition to these he enjoyed strong economic growth of the sheep’s back, so to speak. He nevertheless showed no sense of farsightedness for what might lay ahead.

Just how he would have performed in the chaos of today’s politics will never be known.

More British than the British he was a monarchist with somewhat of a royal fetish for The Queen.

I once saw him coming out of the Bank of Adelaide crossing Collins Street in Melbourne and enter the Australian Hotel opposite. He was an imposing figure with a sagacious intellect and sharp wit.

I still have his book Afternoon Light in my library shelves. It is an autobiography that compared with others I have read is totally boring.

He was also a cricket follower of some repute and spent many hours watching the game. In fact he spent much time overseas attending conferences in Europe and even more in his beloved England.

My first political memory of him was when under his leadership I experienced my first recession: 1960, I think it was.

* * * * *

For part two of this piece I have examined a time-line of his life and made a list of what I conclude are policy failures.

I selected what follows from the National Archives of Australia. If you peruse the list I selected from you will find some worthwhile initiatives such as Colombo Plan and the ANSUS Treaty and the completion of the Labor Policy for the Snowy Mountains Hydro Scheme.

The two failures that remains indelible on my mind were his, without any serious thought to the consequences, were when he allowed the British to test nuclear weapons on Australian soil and second, when he committed Australian combat troops to fight in Vietnam when he did not have to.

I shall expand on these as you read through the list.

Please note that much of the research that follows comes from the National Museum Australia and where I expand on the Vietnam war and Nuclear testing I have used the recollections of Green Left Weekly (author Ken Cotterill) whose memory matches my own.

03 Sep 1939: Australia declares war on Germany

After German troops invaded Poland on 1 September, Britain declared war. The Dominions, including Australia, followed with separate declarations the same day.

Six weeks after Australia entered World War II, Prime Minister Robert Menzies announced the reintroduction of compulsory defence training.He was, when in England, invited to attend the war cabinet meetings.

The next two paragraphs are taken from the National Archives of Australia:

Menzies strongly supported British appeasement policy on Nazi Germany – keep the door open for negotiation, but also prepare for war – and was as surprised as anyone else by the signing of the German–Soviet non-aggression pact.

Australia and Canada were also reluctant to sacrifice their soldiers on Europe’s battlefields for the Sudetenland. From the standpoint of domestic policy, there was no alternative to Chamberlain’s course.

(There was, actually. There was no reason or motivation for Australia to join this war it had nought to do with us).

Menzies was also concerned about Japanese intentions in the Pacific and took steps to establish Australian embassies in Tokyo and Washington in order that Canberra could receive independent advice about developments to Australia’s north.

With the end of the Nazi blitzkrieg on Poland, the period of the ‘phoney war’ meant community fear and apprehension gave way to complacency

Germany successfully invaded Denmark and Norway, and then began its assault on Belgium, Holland and France. By the end of June 1940, France had fallen and Britain, supported by its dominions, stood alone against Nazi Germany.

Menzies responded to these developments by calling for an ‘all in’ war effort. With the support of John Curtin, leader of the Labor Party, the National Security Act was amended to provide the government with enhanced powers.

23 June 1950: Communist Party ban

The Communist Party Dissolution Bill was passed by parliament. After it was enacted in October, the law was challenged in the High Court and, on 9 March 1951, was held to be unconstitutional.

12 April 1950: National Service begins

The first call-up notice was issued under the National Service Act. The Act provided for compulsory military training of 18-year-old men, who were then to remain on the Reserve of the Commonwealth Military Forces for five years. Between 1951 and 1960 when the scheme ended, over 500,000 men had registered, 52 intakes were organised and some 227,000 men were trained.

22 September 1951: Referendum on Communism

A referendum to alter the Constitution so as to grant parliament the power to outlaw Communism was lost narrowly.

3 October 1952: Montebello atomic tests

I think it fair to say that in today’s environment it would be committing political suicide for a Prime Minister to grant another nation free access to his country’s land to test nuclear devices (which were tested in the Montebello islands off W.A.)

Nuclear weapons’ testing

Ken Cotterill, in an article titled The crimes of Robert Menzies in the Green Left Weekly writes that:

By the early 1950s, Britain was desperate to gain nuclear power status. However, the US was reluctant to help them or even allow them to use testing sites in the US. The breakdown in friendship had been sparked by the fact that several British scientists had been double agents working for the Soviet Union.

Distrust further escalated when, in early 1950, British scientist Klaus Fuchs, who had worked on the Manhattan Project that had created the first atomic bomb, confessed to being a Soviet spy.

What had not been detected was that Fuchs, who was born in Germany, had been, and still was, a member of the German Communist Party.

Fuchs, via a series of contacts, had passed on secrets of the workings of the atomic bomb to the Soviet Union. This helped the Soviet Union to detonate an atom bomb in August 1949 in what is now Kazakhstan, four years ahead of CIA projections.

The British, having been spurned by these developments, were determined to test a bomb of their own. But where? Canada was considered, as were remote islands in the Indian and Pacific Oceans. But then British eyes turned to Australia and their old pal Menzies.

In September 1950 Menzies agreed, without any serious scientific or political consultation, to allow the British to test a nuclear weapon on Australian soil. On October 3, 1952 the British detonated a nuclear bomb on a ship — HMS Plym — off the coast of the Montebello Islands in Western Australia.

This was a site they had chosen themselves with no Australian consultation.

The bomb was as big as the Hiroshima bomb. British and Australian servicemen, watching from ships, viewed the emerging mushroom cloud dressed in clothing fit for a day on the golf course.

In 1956 the British detonated a second bomb on Trimouille Island and a third on Alpha Island, both part of the Montebello group.

Maralinga

Cotterill continues:

Britain, with Australian help, had joined the exclusive nuclear club. Meanwhile, the radioactive fallout from the tests, thanks to the prevailing westerly winds, moved eastwards across Western Australia and towards the eastern states, the Pacific and beyond.

With Menzies’ blessing, further British atmospheric nuclear tests were carried out at Emu Field and Maralinga in western South Australia. From 1953 to 1957, there were nine tests in all.

In South Australia, Aboriginal people told of dark clouds enveloping the landscape. Servicemen, in light clothing, cleaned equipment used in the tests. Some aircrew were ordered to fly through the radioactive clouds to gather debris.

Others were ordered to drive tanks through the blast site after the explosions. None wore protective clothing.

One radioactive cloud from an explosion at Emu Field drifted over a small Queensland town and stayed there as it rained. The town later developed a cancer cluster.

On May 7, 2003, the Adelaide Advertiser ran a front page story on the mysterious deaths of 68 new-born and still-born babies that, over time, had been born to women who had been living with their husbands at Woomera, the secret weapons testing base in South Australia, north-west of Adelaide.

The babies all died during the years that atmospheric nuclear testing was taking place at Maralinga.

Unsurprisingly, former Prime Minister John Howard, in his recently published biography called The Menzies’ Era, devotes a single paragraph to the nuclear tests in Australia.

The first British atomic tests were held in the Montebello Islands, 120 km northwest of Dampier, Western Australia. Tests were then moved to Emu Field in north-western South Australia.

He poisoned his own country and countrymen with radioactive fallout.

26 January 1958: Nuclear start-up

Returning to the National Archives of Australia:

The Australian Atomic Energy Commission’s nuclear reactor at Lucas Heights near Sydney began operation. The research facility was established in 1955 after the Commission was set up under the Atomic Energy Act in 1953. It was renamed the Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation in 1987.

16 November 1960: Credit squeeze (Now called a recession)

The government’s response to accelerating inflation and falling wool prices led to a recession. This was the first post-war pitfall for the energetic building industry, eager car salesmen and committed consumers.

28 April 1965: War in Vietnam

Perhaps the biggest ever cover-up in Australian political history is how we became involved in the Vietnam War.

On April 29, 1965, PM Menzies shocked a half-empty House of Representatives when he rose to speak. With gloomy voice he said that he had received a letter from South Vietnamese government to join the war.

Australian troops would be sent to Vietnam to support United States forces.

The first battalion arrived in Vietnam the following month. After March 1966, National Servicemen were sent to Vietnam to fight in units of the Australian Regular Army. Some 19,000 conscripts were sent in the next four years.

What Menzies did not say was that his government had approached the United States requesting such an invitation. When the cabinet papers were revealed 30 years later no letter was mentioned or found.

500 young men unnecessarily lost their lives and 3129 were injured. Thousands of brave ex-servicemen were traumatised by the conflict. Many committed suicide. Others became seriously ill, blaming the combination of toxic chemicals dumped on Vietnam by the Americans as the underlying cause of their illness.

The question of course is how they get away with it.

The war that we should never have been involved in cost the nation 500 young lives. All because of a bad policy decision.

5 November 1965: National Service lottery

Cabinet decided to re-introduce compulsory military service, which had ended in 1960. The National Service Act enabled government to conscript men for a two-year term with a further three years in the Reserve. Marbles denoting birth dates were drawn from a lottery barrel to select those who would be called up. Between the first ballot in 1965 and the last in 1972, some 63,000 men were conscripted.

My thought for the day

When you make a decision be careful because at the same time you do so you will also reveal your character.

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Great Australian political policy stuff-ups (part 1)

We have always thought of ourselves as the lucky country: Young and full of enthusiasm for what the future holds. Chock-full of pride for what we have achieved thus far in many fields from sport to science. Indeed, we have much to be proud of.

We live in a land of abundant resources: Of copiousness mineral reserves and a growing economy; a rich diversity of multiculturalism with a high standard of education and a health system that serves us well.

We can claim by virtue of our First Nations people the oldest continuous living culture on earth.

But something is wrong.

Allow me to pause for a moment and ask a question: How have we come so far given the things we have stuffed up along the way and are still doing today?

When you think about it some stuff-ups go back a long time and others are more recent.

Nonetheless, we have an abysmal record. The building of the Snowy Mountain Hydro was undoubtedly a major achievement but our current efforts on energy policy are an abject failure.

I will go back as far as I can to take a look at what was said about past policies; the Menzies, Whitlam, Hawke, the Howard years as well as look at the current efforts of Abbott, Turnbull and Morrison.

In my lifetime I have and still, am witnessing some disastrous policies that have come from both sides of the political fence. Some have been the result of a naked lust to implement policy simply to satisfy a craving for ideology. Others are as a result of the consequences of economic ignorance.

The right would argue that some policies have taken us further away from the Liberal ideals of small government, equality of opportunity and freedom of contract.

It was 2006 when the Institute of Public Affairs published a paper titled “Australia’s 13 Biggest Mistakes”.

Contributors were: Richard Allsop, Chris Berg, Jason Briant, Scott Hargreaves, Alan Moran, John Roskam and Louise Staley.

This is a link to the original document and some further explanation as to why these 13 were chosen. Reading it will give you an insight into the conservative mindset.

I would though, given that the Liberal Party has morphed into an extremist party with extremist views, question just what the authors’ point was at the time and just how many of the current government’s stuff-ups they would include, if indeed any, today.

One wonders why they wouldn’t have included the Vietnam and Iraq wars, for example, or the NBN.

In any case, it makes for some interesting political history. And please don’t be put off by the fact that it is an IPA publication.

13. Invention of Canberra (1908)

At 13 they list the invention of Canberra and question its existence.

“No wonder Canberra is the last bastion of belief in the transformative power of Government.”

12. Patrick White Wins the Nobel Prize (1972)

“The Nobel Prize commendation said that White ‘for the first time, has given the continent of Australia an authentic voice that carries across the world’. Duly anointed, the author was able to establish the now-crowded space in which authors act as the self-appointed conscience of the nation.

Meanwhile, the insult implicit in the commendation—the notion that without White we are a literary terra nullius—was politely ignored. For the agents of the new culture, there was too much to be gained.”

11. Federal money for science blocks at non-government schools (1963)

“This was the beginning of federal aid for private schools and the beginning of the end for the possibility of a student-centred system for funding schooling in Australia.”

10. The Release of Cane Toads (1935)

“A cane toad is notoriously difficult to eliminate by such methods, and not even backing a ute over one will guarantee its demise. Instead, the RSPCA recommends euthanasing it in the freezer.”

9. Publication of John Stuart Mill’s On Liberty (1859)

“Published in 1859, On Liberty is one of the foundation documents of modern liberalism. Its arguments for freedom of religion and freedom of speech were radical and enormously powerful. On Liberty was compulsory reading for colonial politicians in Australia—and there was a tendency to think that if Mill said it, then ‘it must be true’.”

8. The Labor Party Split (1955)

” ‘The Split’ kept the Liberals in power and kept Labor out of power during the 1950s and 1960s.”

7. Immigration Restriction Act (1901)

“The effect of the White Australia Policy was in limiting of the Australian imagination, a common rejection or fear of the foreign and unknown, which pervades many aspects of Australian life today including trade, culture, religion and the adoption of new technology.”

6. WA Town Planning and Development Act (1928)

“The upshot has been a progressive and accelerating reduction in land available for housing. This is often conducted in the name of preventing sprawl, even though barely 0.3 per cent of Australia is urbanised. Most importantly, it has brought a vast increase in prices. In real terms, since 1973, a standard housing block for a new house has increased by between two-fold in Melbourne to a staggering ten-fold in Adelaide.”

5. The Uniform Tax Cases (1942 and 1957)

“One of the greatest fallacies of Australian politics is the claim that the Constitution is difficult to change. What is usually forgotten is that a referendum is only one way of changing the Constitution? Another way the Constitution can be changed is by the decisions of the High Court, and successive Court judgements have completely subverted the balance between the Commonwealth and State governments. The 1983 Franklin Dams case was a clear demonstration of the willingness of the High Court to abandon federalism as a constitutional principle.”

4. The Montreal Olympics (1976)

“The huge funding of sport has also undoubtedly increased the pressure applied to governments to fund other special interests, such as the arts.”

3. Wireless Telegraphy Act (1905)

“The Wireless Telegraphy Act of 1905 inaugurated the century-long comedy of errors that is Australian media and telecommunications policy. The sector of the economy that has been characterised by some of the most rapid technological innovation has, at the same time, been cursed by governments concerned more with their own power than with the demands of consumers.”

2. The Harvester Judgement (1907)

“The Court took evidence relating to the cost of living at the time, and declared that a wage of 2 pounds and 2 shillings for a six-day working week would enable a man with an average-sized family, to live in ‘frugal comfort’, thus effectively establishing the basic wage.”

1.The End of the Reid Government (1905)

“It seems more likely that by giving up on key parts of their agenda in 1904–05, the Free Traders condemned the ideals of free market liberalism to the wilderness for decades to come.”

Next post deals with the Menzies era.

My thought for the day

People need to wake up to the fact that government affects every part of their life and should be more interested. But there is a political malaise that is deep-seated.

 

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The weight of so much baggage

Australians in their somewhat laconic fashion voted to give arguably the worst government in its history another term in office. Little did they know that it would continue carrying its baggage around with it like lost passengers at a domestic baggage terminal.

When you take a look at the current load of baggage it is carrying you realise that nothing has changed. Their propensity for stuffing things up compares with not being able to find one’s car at the Melbourne airport and then not being able to afford the car parking.

The Minister for Government Services, Stuart Robert has been running from one media studio to another trying to defend the use of Centrelink’s contentious Robodebt.

However, despite numerous errors, even a deceased person being chased for an alleged debt, they show little sympathy and they keep on doing it.

Angus Taylor, the Minister for Energy has spent another bad week searching through his luggage trying to find answers to all the questions he was asked last week. As it stands he looks as though Pauline Hanson’s One Nation has let him off the hook.

It seems a conversation with an unnamed Yass farmer (ha, ha), and not the interests of his family had prompted the minister Angus Taylor, to “request briefings from the environment department about a listing to protect native grasslands, he told parliament.”

Really, talk about the pub test. He wouldn’t pass a flight attendant’s luggage test he is so weighted down by his guilt.

Oh and don’t forget that it is Angus who has been charged with bringing our energy prices down. By the end of this term in office they will have had 9 years to do so, with no signs yet.

It has been three years since an attempt was made to bring Question Time up to date, and another attempt is being made to fix it. I’m suggesting they will come up with yet another band-aid solution because things like Dorothy Dixers wont even make the terms of reference.

Question time in the Australian Parliament is just an excuse for mediocre minds who are unable to debate with intellect, charm or wit, to act deplorably toward each other. And in doing so debase the parliament and themselves as moronic imbecilic individuals.

Then, internally at least, the Liberals are still having problems with the treatment of women.

One of the first prominent Liberal women to campaign for quotas, the former Victorian senator Judith Troeth, has urged state divisions to take action to improve the party’s culture, and says new sexual assault allegations involving staff are “absolutely deplorable”. (“Merit” isn’t working, so it’s time to introduce quotas, The Guardian).

Not to mention the utter inhumanity of refusing a rise in Newstart. It has now come to the point that the Coalition are prepared to place a surplus ahead of the welfare of the people. How many more will they put onto the streets? Sorry to say it, but we have a very sick government.

The left of politics is concerned with people who cannot help themselves. The right is concerned with those who can.

And at the risk of repeating myself, what has the government, after 6 years, got to show in terms of Aged Care. It has been known for decades that a crisis would eventuate. Sure we have an Aged care Royal Commission but there are known problems that could be attended to now. It’s as though the baggage collection wheel continuously revolves but no one wants to collect his or her baggage.

A classic example of this government’s inability to govern has to be the $5 million review into the Home Affairs portfolio.

The Senate demanded that the review, which was announced in last years budget, be produced. Peter Dutton – showing his usual disdain for criticism – refused to produce anything.

On the attack, Labor’s Home Affairs spokeswoman Kristina Keneally said:

“This is either the single most expensive single piece of paper in the history of this chamber, or a blatant rejection of the will of the Senate by a minister who is allergic to scrutiny.

There was no single consolidated report prepared as part of the strategic review process.”

The department claimed even though $5 million had been spent on the review, Mr Dutton seems to be of the view that he is answerable to nobody.

Wouldn’t it be good if in our parliament, regardless of ideology, we had politicians whose first interest was the peoples’ and not their own.

Now let’s move onto poverty,where we find the incidence of it on the increase and you can put it down to government decisions like moving people from welfare to Newstart.

A respected University of Melbourne study has found that:

“… the annual Household, Income and Labour Dynamics in Australia (Hilda) survey, released last Tuesday, found the proportion of people living below the relative poverty line – 50% of the median income – increased in 2017, from 9.6% to 10.4%. Poverty rates also rose using the lower “anchored” measure in both 2016 and 2017.”

“A tightening of the screws” was the phrase used to describe the government’s rearrangement of the welfare system, which has seen Australians moved off higher pension benefits and on to the Newstart allowance.

Labor went into the election with the intention of addressing an unfair system whereas the Coalition always has the poor in mind when seeing that the rich and privileged are not touched.

Now let’s glance an eye towards Indigenous affairs and the Aboriginal desire for recognition in the constitution and a voice in parliament. Not unreasonable, you might say, but not that simple when you have a bunch of middle-aged white men mistily and audibly telling them to know their place.

For that reason, as much as I want it too, I believe it wont happen.

Noel Pearson – a man who knows how to call a spade a spade with the best use of words in Australia – has taken politicians and conservative media commentators like Andrew Bolt to task over what he deems as unfounded opposition to constitutional reform. “Only lies will defeat us,” said Pearson.

I don’t believe that even a voice as powerful a Pearson’s will move the racists in the government.

Whilst action on climate change has dropped off the radar – for the time being – it won’t take much to resurrect it, probably at that time the electorate realises that the government plans to do nothing. Yes, nothing. No, it won’t take much for it to resonate with voters.

It may take a disaster for our reactionary senses to reawaken the monster but it will happen.

On top of all that (above) they are still carrying the luggage from the Medevac bill and is determined to have it repealed. As it stands the government would, if the bill is defeated, have to make financial allocations to keep and maintain Christmas Island. In doing so it would blow a hole in the budget … and we all know what that means.

Other baggage still left of the conservative merry-go-round of too much baggage is the continuing saga of Josh Freydenberg’s eligibility to sit in the parliament, and if the court takes the moral high ground it took with the all the others then all sorts of possibilities arise.

Carrying so much baggage for so long is a heavy burden and it takes a certain kind of person to do so. You need to be strong, with a certain kind of religious fervour.

OMG, that reminds me that the Religious freedom review recommendations are due to be released soon and on top of that the enquiry into Crown Casino.

That’s a lot of baggage to carry for so long a journey.

My thoughts for the day

The Liberal Party has always been a party of elites and would be’s. The idea that economics and society are intertwined is abhorrent to them. Economics is the domain of the rich and privileged and society belongs to those of class and privilege.

It’s not often I agree with politicians who say the American gun problem is a mental one. The mentality of politicians certainly is.

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Mass murder: The prose of a president past

This was the Barack Obama the world had come to know over his two terms as President of the United States. In a statement delivered on social media this man of unique principle made his thoughts known to the world and more importantly to the people of El Paso, Texas, and Dayton, Ohio.

He is still the concerned eloquent President he ever was. Capable of consoling words that the current incumbent could only ever dream of delivering: comforting words that mattered in the aftermath of yet another horrible shooting.

Yes, the incumbent President, also spoke from a teleprompter, using words calculated to defect any blame from him, to not refer to the obvious cause of the massacres. Guns.

The comparison between the two presidents could not be more stark. With Obama we have a sense of understanding, of one individual giving consolation to another.

It is fair to say that Obama had his share of frequent horrific massacres however, he always confronted them firstly with empathy for the victims and their families and secondly with a clear statement of cause: thirdly with measures of prevention together with moral clarity during his eight years as President.

His haters, and there were many, who say he did nothing, never admitted that he only ever had a window of 5 months when he controlled both houses thus rendering much of his tenure a lost cause. Against him was a Conservative party determined to vote against every bill he put up. They even signed an agreement to do so.

Individuals like Trump who embrace a racist white supremacy ideology cannot understand a call for tolerance and diversity that should be the hallmark of American democracy.

Where a call for bi partisan action is paramount if the sanctity of life is to live on instead of devaluing it, as Trump is inclined to.

Although not pure of heart we in Australia fail to understand why some white Americans see a necessity to act so insanely, so violently in order to maintain such a misguided sense of superiority.

In the entirety of his eight years as President I cannot ever remember a loss of clarity where he expressed compassion and heartfelt sympathy followed by an identification of the problem and the solutions possible.

Conservatives, in reality, only ever offered more of the same. Another massacre without a defined date.

Trump’s obvious racism, his constant vilification of immigrants together with his constant call of white superiority by violence offers no solution. His personal moral code towards women is sick and disgusting.

Writing in The Atlantic, David Graham reminds us that Obama is still presidential, Trump is all a President shouldn’t be:

” … whilst Trump’s efforts at consoling and uniting are intermittent and clumsy, it feels as though the role of president is vacant, and Obama is sliding right back into it by habit—his and the nation’s.”

The President alluded to the mental illness of the shooters. Obama had legislated to prevent anyone with a history of mental illness from purchasing guns. Trump reinstated it. Why did he do so?

Read carefully Obama’s language as it condemns Trump’s racial and ethnic hatred and violence without naming him.

“We should soundly reject language coming out of the mouths of any of our leaders that feeds a climate of fear and hatred or normalizes racist sentiments; leaders who demonize those who don’t look like us, or suggest that other people, including immigrants, threaten our way of life, or refer to other people as sub-human, or imply that America belongs to just one certain type of people.”

Indeed it is masterly prose from a former president walking a fine line between condemnation and occupying a place above it.

America is a huge and complicated country. Its success has been born of the annihilation of one race and the enslavement of another.

It goes without saying that they would be a greater nation with more men like Obama … and less like Trump.

And a wonderful time was had by all

My thought for the day

It is time that those with the capacity to change laws that might prevent the mass murder of people and refuse to do so were made to account. After all they are as guilty or as mad, whatever the case, as the perpetrator himself.

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And the dead are many

Have you ever experienced the desperation of being injured, trapped in a motor vehicle after being in an accident?

The dread that wraps itself around you and impregnates your mind with terror in war – complicated only by your disagreement with it. Have you stood by the man next to you and watched the mutilation of his body by an AK47?

I cannot confess to it. No, I can’t.

Have you faced the loss of a child in the excruciating pain of birth? The emptiness that lives in the labyrinth of your stomach and is destined to do so for the remainder of your days.

As a man, I cannot.

What of the aftermath of an operation? Have you experienced the throbbing? The awful impact of unwanted pain?

Yes, I can.

What do you know of the loss of love both given and accepted? Its past and its future?

You measure life’s value by what you make of your own.

Love and life are taken from us often in the most unpredictable ways. The pain of two massacres suffocates us with an unconscionable reality that 50 people have been injured but the dead are many.

The shootings experienced by the people of Ohio and El Paso, Texas are the 21st and 22nd  mass slaughters of human beings by deranged or sick individuals in the United States this year.

The total for the year thus far is now 125, not including the perpetrators.

Add to the 50 injured there are also 29 dead, and the hearts of many more will carry the memory of it for the length of their lives.

Mothers, fathers, sons, daughters, brothers, sisters, cousins, in-laws and friends will suffer a kind of agony that only comes with pointless loss. Loss that always wants an answer even when one is out of reach.

“Live with it,” is their only comfort.

But the “why” of it remains to torture angry folk who feel distraught by their inability to do anything.

The “why” of it tells me that a long time ago the right to bear arms was given because at the time, lawlessness ran rampart.

It may well have been justified in the early 1800s, however, to justify the need today is to also suggest that law enforcement in the greatest country in the world has made no progress.

The word greatest doesn’t belong here. Nor does vengeance beside it.

My thought for the day

The streets should be full of peaceful protesting people but they are afraid of the powerful evil minds that rule them.

PS: I forgot, such are my tears, for the pain of shattered communities.

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Reforming question time: A few less mouths that roar

In last Wednesday’s Melbourne Age there was a piece written by Max Kostowski about an upcoming inquiry into Question Time.

Those who follow my words would know that Question Time is just one of the many elements that form our democracy that I think are badly in need of an overhaul. I am of the view that until our democracy goes in for a long-overdue service we will not be able to extract ourselves from the crisis we find our democracy in.

The original inquiry was set up in 2015 but ran headlong into the 2016 federal election and never saw the light of day.

At that time Julie Bishop quipped that question time “does more damage to the Parliament than virtually any other issue.

The terms of reference for the new inquiry to be headed by Queensland Liberal Ross Vasta with will be decided later in the current sitting and “members of the public will be able to lodge submissions.

Question Time in terms of the time it takes from the total parliamentary sitting is rather insignificant but given it is the prism through which the public form an opinion of how our parliament goes about its business, it is very important.

As it is now the general public when they see snippets of this particular function of parliament must be left wondering if a rehearsal of Macbeth has descended into comedy.

It is a serious time put aside for the opposition and crossbenchers to ask questions of the government pertaining to its function.

It should be a Q&A period, which provides information about the current functions of the government, and an opportunity for the opposition to keep the government on its toes.

As I have said in the past, as it is currently conducted it is devoid of wit, humour, words of intelligence and those with the eloquence and debating skills to give them meaning.

Mostly it embraces a maleness that believes in conflict as a means of political authority over and above the pursuit of excellence in argument.

Some Speakers have been better than others with the current Speaker Smith and former Speaker Harry Jenkins among the better.

Bronwyn Bishop – when Speaker – in her partisan efforts of undiluted bias allowed Question Time to descend into a bear pit of mouths that roared with loudest being the angriest.

She gave the appearance of having an intent dislike of men with a bitchy witch-like headmistress’s loathing more suited to an evil character in a Harry Potter movie than a democratic parliament. Without doubt she was the worst Speaker ever.

No one would wish Question Time to be reduced to polite discussion without challenge. Nonetheless, all too often it can only be viewed as a combative match between two protagonists shouting at each other, and at the same time degrading the parliament and its politicians.

Before any agreement is reached on how Question Time would serve our democracy better than it does now we must first ask ourselves just what purpose it serves under the existing rules.

To do this I need to refer the reader back to my original post.

The Parliamentary Education Office tells us that the purpose of Question Time is to:

“… allow the opposition to ask the executive government questions and to critically examine its work.

Ministers are called upon to be accountable and explain their decisions and actions in their portfolios. Question Time also provides ministers with an opportunity to present their ideas, their leadership abilities and their political skills.

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

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

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

During Question Time, government backbenchers also pose questions to ministers in order to highlight government policies and achievements.

These are prepared prior to Question Time and are known as ‘Dorothy Dixers’, after a magazine columnist who used to write her own questions and answers.

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

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

Well in short that’s the purpose. Does it work in reality? Of course not. The new Speaker Tony Smith has reignited a modem of decorum but its structure doesn’t allow it to function properly.

Prior to the 2010 election the then Manager of Opposition Business, Christopher Pyne –  better known as the Mouth That Roared, or Mr Fix It – had this to say:

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

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

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

This was of course more bullshit from the Coalition.

Ministers could not care less, but the way in which they answer shows them up as a shambolic gaggle of incompetent unedifying politicians not in the least interested in enhancing our democracy.

Question Time has deteriorated to the point of uselessness. It is untenable, so biased that there is no purpose in asking questions.

Ministers must be made more accountable.

Whatever the government’s terms of reference for the up-coming inquiry might be you can be sure they won’t damage the advantage incumbency.

At the same time the government is leaving open suggestions from the community.

Let the ideas flow

I have a number of ideas on how to improve Question Time. Consider the following:

1 I propose appointing a panel of former speakers from both sides of the House to rewrite the standing orders that reform Question Time without ‘Dorothy Dixers’.

2 An independent Speaker who is not a politician. Not only independent but elected by the people. A position with clout. A Parliamentary Speaker’s Office with the power to name and shame Ministers for irrelevance. Power over politician’s expenses. It could include a ‘Fact Check Office’.

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

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

5 Freedom of Information could also come under the umbrella of the Independent Speaker’s Office with it deciding what could be disclosed in the public interest.

6 Dorothy Dixers would be completely outlawed because they serve no purpose. If backbenchers want information then pick up the bloody phone.

Question Time is not a public relations department. It should only ever be about Government accountability.

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

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

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

10 Mobile phones could be banned.

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

My thought for the day

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

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If it was good enough for Abbott then it’s good enough for me

1] As a former leader of the National Party and Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce has, according to established practice, every right to speak on issues not accorded other backbenchers?

So why the surprise when, like Abbott, he thinks he has been treated badly, that he doesn’t speak out.

He is doing nothing more or nothing less than what Abbott did for three long years. The only difference is that he probably won’t shoot with the same accuracy as Abbott but will hit a few targets nonetheless.

In some areas, like Newstart, previously known as the dole, he might even hit some unexpected areas of the target.

Barnaby has chosen for his first incursion into leadership revenge a policy that should be close to the hearts of country people for it is there that we find huge areas of unemployment.

The Nationals win the country vote because there is no another choice. They are not well known for their work in the country. The NBN, for example.

Sure, people have fallen for the government’s lies (am I allowed to use that expression) about job creation. Primarily that it is they who have created so many jobs.

Other than public service jobs, they don’t create any. And on top of that the jobs that have been created are only keeping pace with immigration.

No extra jobs are being created at all. The leader of the National Party (I can never remember his name such is his charisma) brings all his powers of creative thinking together in suggesting they try another town. The last time I looked for every available job, 19 people wanted it.

With business groups, unions, John Howard, Reserve Bank Governor Philip Lowe, ACOSS, the Opposition, the crossbenches and many other MPs in favor of a rise in the fortnightly Newstart, Barnaby has picked a policy that has public sympathy to kick off his 3-year cycle of revenge.

723,000 Australians – or thereabouts – are on the Newstart allowance. Singles have to survive on about $40 a day.

The payment has not increased in real terms for 25 years. These are not the dole bludgers the government would have you believe.

You could join them tomorrow.

In a TV doorstop Barnaby said:

“It’s just the very nature of being poor. It’s more expensive to live; things go wrong, they need to be fixed, cars breakdown because they’re old, the heater you buy is the inefficient one.”

In saying no to any increase the Prime Minister has invented a new phrase, as reported by Katharine Murphy in The Guardian:

“The Prime Minister declared the Coalition will not engage in “unfunded empathy”when it comes to raising the Newstart rate, and has ducked a direct question about whether he could live on the payment.

Amid calls from within his own ranks to boost the benefit, the prime minister was asked in question time on Monday whether he could live on the Newstart rate of $40 a day.

Morrison acknowledged the payment, worth $277.85 a week, was “modest” but said the focus should be getting unemployed people into jobs.

Morrison said unlike Labor, he would not engage in what he termed “unfunded empathy” about boosting the payment. “I will not go out as the Labor party did at the last election pretending they’re going to do something about Newstart but they won’t tell Australians how much they’re going to increase it by, how much is that going to cost and how are they going to pay for it”. “I won’t do that,” the prime minister said.

The Prime Minister is engaging in a load of bullshit here. Firstly, Labor said it would hold an enquiry with the view to increasing the payment. They were straightforward about it. Secondly, what does unfunded empathy mean?

I’m assuming that he is empathetic to the plight of the folk on Newstart but doesn’t have the funds to support a rise. If I am correct then Scott Morrison is unequivocally telling lies.

He has billions to hand out in tax cuts to those who don’t need it and has promised a surplus. He has buckets of it.

Scott Morrison will never be able to escape the fact that on the one hand he proclaims and preaches the grace and goodness of the teachings of Jesus but with the other he takes from those who can least afford it with all the unworthiness of a fraudulent leader.

The fraud is that the Prime Minister is so desperate to achieve a surplus that he is prepared to let people starve in order to get one.

The governments words and actions bring into question the very essence of the word truth. Or they have at least devalued it to the point of obsolescence.

Barnaby Joyce is an angry, self righteous, unintelligent man with no redeeming features. One who sees the past as a representation of his own present and future.

An intellect of Turnbull’s sagaciousness would have been glad to see him gone. The burden must have been heavy at times.

He doesn’t have the same cunning as Abbott but will still cause some grief along the journey.

2] Who would have thought that after three years of never achieving a leading position in any Newspoll that the first one after the election we would see the LNP 6 percentage points clear of the opposition?

How does that work? Well I have no idea, no explanation what so ever. Nor it seems does Newscorp. Let me repeat. Newspoll has the government 53-47 to Coalition and offers no explanation as to how it happened. Not even a hint as to if they may have changed their methodology or if they are using the same old landline methods. Do they intend doing anything different in the future.

According to the latest polling the worse the government governs the more popular they become.

The poll has the Coalition at 44% of the primary vote (41.4% at the election), Labor at 33% (33.3%) and the Greens at 11% (10.4%). One Nation is at 3%, which compares with the 3.1% they scored at the election when contesting 59 out of 151 seats.

Scott Morrison’s approval scored a new high of 51%, up five on the pre-election poll. Anthony Albanese’s Newspoll ratings is at 39% approval which is the “first net positive approval rating for an Opposition leader since 2015” but at the same time the worst Newspoll debut for an Opposition Leader since Andrew Peacock in 1989.

But really, as l have repeated so often, the only purpose a poll serves 3 years out from an election is to tell us how the parties are tracking at the time. It certainly doesn’t tell you who might win. Maybe Newscorp should consider quarterly polls and not create anti-Left stories around each one.

My thought for the day

We have some brilliant people in the country. The trouble is that none of them are in politics.

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State murder in the name of his re-election

Whilst watching Donald Trump’s announcement about William Barr’s decision to reintroduce capital punishment, his demeanour took me by surprise. It was what I can only describe as being in the presence of evil. I’m not one to over dramatise but it was really spooky.

What was it that had prompted the President of the United States of America to sign off on Attorney General William Barr’s decision to reintroduce an act as barbaric as that of any perpetrator? An act that in evidence is proven to be of no deterrence at all.

It was the look on his face that caught my attention. Since his election l and millions of others have become used to his fits of malevolent self-righteousness, but this was different.

This time it was like looking into the face of a person with malicious foul intent. One determined on revenge for something only he was capable of understanding.

His facial contortions looked as though they were of a man whose ability to self-reason had been replaced with a furious out-of-control anger. He would execute people to satisfy it.

Or he would do so to get himself re-elected.

‘What had taken him so long?’, probed Rolling Stone:

“The only surprising part of the Trump administration’s choice to restart federal executions is that it took the president this long to make it. As a matter of pure politics, Donald Trump would probably like nothing more than to have a national debate over the next year about what sort of justice ought to be meted out to convicted murderers. Such a dialogue during the primary season will likely rile his base, track his “American carnage” motif, and distract reporters away from coverage of the administration’s malfeasance and the president’s own legal troubles.”

Only a person lacking any sense of moral correctness would sacrifice the lives of others purely for the purpose of enhancing his own re election possibilities.

“Had the enlightenment passed him by?”, I asked myself.

Has politics in the United States become so fractured by this imbecile that it would not encourage millions to protest the disposal of human life in this way; that the people would allow its President to bring “state ordained murder” down to the level of first degree murder simply for political expediency?

America may be the most advanced technological nation on earth but its social progress on matters of great moral importance is still fighting its way out of the dark ages when mysticism was rampart.

The Washington Post reminds us that:

“Last Tuesday President Trump refused to apologize for the full-page ad he ran in 1989 calling for the reinstatement of the death penalty after the arrests of the Central Park Five [now a Netflix feature film] and suggested the men might still be guilty, even though they were exonerated years ago.”

“Ten days after the brutal rape and beating of a female jogger in Central Park in Trump, then a real estate developer in Manhattan, took out a full-page ad in four New York City newspapers demanding the death penalty be reinstated. Though he did not name the five teenage boys of color arrested for the crime, most people at the time interpreted the ad as Trump calling for the execution of the boys.”

This event took place in 1989 and the five boys aged between 14-16 were later exonerated by DNA evidence and another man’s confession.

Yet Trump has still never apologised for his part in the sentencing of 5 innocent kids to death.

The Office of the American President was once viewed by its people as an office of prestige and importance. Trump has reduced it to one of ridicule and contempt.

The man is a biased racist with an inability to admit that he is ever wrong. As a distraction from all the hypocrisy and chaos he has allowed to enter the White House, it comes as no surprise that a timely debate on capital punishment would re-ignite his base and be a distraction to the Democrat’s Primaries.

As if to demonstrate how deep racism goes in the land of milk and honey, in June of this year Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said:

“We tried to deal with our original sin of slavery by fighting a Civil War, by passing landmark civil rights legislation, elected an African American president,” McConnell said. “I don’t think we should be trying to figure out how to compensate for it. First of all, it would be hard to figure out whom to compensate.”

It has been 16 years since an execution was last carried out in the US. Only a cynical politician of Trump’s ilk would reintroduce capital punishment at this stage in the election cycle.

He is a sick, deluded man of no redeeming features, full of racial hatred, bile and misogyny. A deluded, pathetic liar unsuitable for the highest office in the land, if not the world. He sees complex problems and impregnates them with populism and implausible black and white solutions.

He is a person of limited intellect and understanding, only capable of seeing the world through the prism of his own wealth.

The far edges of knowledge seem to have passed him by. Matters requiring deep ethical, philosophical and moral judgement seem beyond him.

Many others including mental practitioners have declared him in need of treatment. I for one agree with them.

My thought for the day

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

 

Here’s to your health, if you can afford it, that is

1 I listened with much interest to a speech by the National President of the Australian Medical Association Dr. Tony Bartone at the National Press Club last Wednesday.

He raised many issues of importance to all who use the medical system however; the general thrust of his address was the need to overhaul the system.

One would think that an area as complex as health with all its future requirements would almost necessitate a permanent board of review given the good doctor described the system as being on the “precipice of possible demise.”

Or is that the job of the Minister?

It seems to me that we take rather a flippant view of our health care system just waiting for something to go wrong, or on the cusp of it, and then react with extra funds to fix the problems.

Like many things that are the preserve of this government, reaction is the go-to fix-it method; whereas what is needed is a pro-active approach.

Greg Hunt outside of mental health and occasionally announcing new drugs to be added to the pharmaceutical scheme appears to have little interest in the future of his portfolio. His attitude hasn’t differed from when he was Environment Minister and his lying knew no bounds.

If you woke up this morning with more health than illness… You are more blessed than the many who will not even survive this day.

In his speech, Dr Bartone said that the government should put an end to the endless reviews and ‘talk-fests’ that had taken place in recent years and take action on the known issues that were substantive.

There are so many things that need doing but cannot be done because of an imbalance between what we spend on vital needs such as health care and what we give away to the rich and privileged.

It sometimes feels like the conservatives are in a race to prove that drip down economics actually works. Labor’s plan that they took to the election required the rich to pay a bit extra in tax so that our national health care scheme can function without all the periodic reviews and ad hoc solutions. It also included for the first time that our teeth would become part of our health and that the growing problems of mental health be properly addressed.

The toward zero goal for suicide is an admirable one but words without action are just that, words.

I am convinced beyond doubt that the undisciplined use of iPads and other gaming devices will eventually destroy or radically change traditional communication with our children/grandchildren.

Back to Dr Bartone, he said that:

“… the combined effect of increasing private health insurance premiums and the long-standing freeze on Medicare payments to general practitioners was seeing young and older Australians avoiding getting health treatment for conditions they should be.”

The budget has 1001 things pulling at the common good strings of the community, but none is more deserving than the health of the community.

With conservatives, however, the overriding need that must always be served first is looking after the wealth of the rich and privileged. Tax cuts together with a budget surplus that proves, in their minds at least, that they are the better money managers are far more important than the health needs of the community or a rapidly aging population for example.

Dr Bartone encouraged a broad-brush approach to fixing the problems. He also added that:

“… the increasing premiums was affecting the health insurance industry causing people to forego surgeries because of the cost.

The head of the association also hit out at the government for inaction on mental health, indigenous health and the freeze on Medicare rebates, saying there had been enough reviews into these issues, the government knew what to do and needed to get on with it.”

Further evidence of the disdain in which they hold the portfolio is the rather high ratio of ministers. Greg Hunt has an amazing capacity to appear to be doing something whilst doing nothing. Just as he did in the environment portfolio.

“To look at only parts of the system is not working, we need to look across the entire medical system and take action on what we already know needs to be done,said Dr Bartone.

To understand the conservatives dislike of public services like our health system one firstly needs to look at their ideology, which believes in the individual’s capacity to pay. The more wealthy and successful you become then the higher you go up the list.

History shows Conservatives would, if they could, privatise many government functions in the belief that the work is done better by private enterprise.

From Wikipedia 

The Coalition Howard Government had announced that Medibank would be sold in a public float if it won the 2007 election, however they were defeated by the Australian Labor Party under Kevin Rudd which had already pledged that it would remain in government ownership.

The Coalition under Tony Abbott made the same pledge to privatize Medibank if it won the 2010 election but was again defeated by Labor. Privatisation was again a Coalition policy for the 2013 election, which the Coalition won.

However, the public perception that privatization would lead to reduced services and increased costs makes privatizing Medibank a “political hard sell.”

It is this same perception that safeguards the future of the NDIS and public education. Some things are indeed sacrosanct to the Australian people. It is only socially progressive governments that would dare introduce such measures.

2 The Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton now has more powers over the citizens of this country than anyone before him. Why is it necessary? The only thing I can think of is that they are devoid of common good ideas that might make things better for the people.

3 Now let’s get this right. Take the jobs market for example. The government promises thousands of jobs in the period before the next election although they are, other than the public service, not responsible for employing anyone.

The numbers of jobs created barely keeps up with the immigration numbers meaning we have a permanent pool of unemployment.

4 The Drum is fast becoming the ABC’s flagship political program. It uses a number of presenters who all know their stuff. At first, I didn’t think I would like the format but on reflection, I have become a fan.

Each day at 6pm they cover a broad range of subjects by guests from both sides of the political divide with women taking a major portion of the guest spots.

Tempers often flair but respect for the presenter is such that it never seems to cross the line. The ABC can beat many drums with this one.

5 “Whatever else you do, Renewable Energy Target, or anything else, they can be no cheaper than putting an explicit price on carbon,” Martin Parkinson, the outgoing head of the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet told ABC’s 7.30 on Thursday night.

Add that to the evidence of Tony Abbott’s former Chief of Staff Peta Credlin that they only ever treated climate change as a political plaything what do you have.

Yet more proof from the core of the right that they are nothing more than political gutter dwellers.

My thought for the day

We can sometimes become so engrossed in our own problems that we can easily overlook the enormity of the suffering of others.

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Serving the people, your ideology, or serving God. What comes first?

What is the agenda of this government? What is their narrative for the future of our country? What is it we should be hearing from our Prime Minister? Does he intend that in a future economy we should be the world leader in (wait, I’m thinking) solar toothbrushes?

How does he see the nation with all the problems that we face both externally and internally in 20, 30 or 40 years? Will we follow the rest of the world into a technological future with renewable energy being our main source of power or will we still be reliant on coal. Will we be driving electric cars or pushing scooters.

All the old political fights of the Abbott, Turnbull and Morrison years have found a permanent place in the new Government. They continue to fight about the same old things, with themselves and their opposition.

The government this week, well at least so far, has gone out of its way, even after being offered the pipe of peace, to be seen to be looking for a full on blue in many policy areas.

“It’s all Labor’s fault,” argues Morrison. Albanese answers with “They are the government, ask them” The media are confused by the emptiness of power.

Is it all Morrison knows? Perhaps it’s indicative of a leader either out of his depth or an inability to frame an agenda in his mind. Is bashing his opposition all he has to offer as a leader. Does he, as a Christian, not hear the words of Jesus? “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you”

He is excellent at a sort of pseudo aggressive politic but lacks the depth of worldly acumen to paint a picture of our country’s future like a Whitlam, Hawke, Keating or even Howard.

What has emerged thus far from Morrison is a rather nasty, for a Christian at least, attempt at a full on class war. Exactly what the good citizens of Australia don’t need, but it hides behind their ignorance.

At the moment he seems intent on wedging Labor on everything including the Newstart allowance, climate change, asylum seekers, Constitutional recognition for Indigenous Australians, drought relief, ongoing problems with the Murray Darling, union bashing and the impending religion report and free speech, of course.

Frankly speaking, the rich and privileged have so many ways to avoid paying tax that they are now giving it to them no questions asked.

Everything was Labor’s fault under Abbott then Turnbull, and then through Morrison’s first period and now he is continuing the theme with all the gusto of the 1812 overture.

For me it is a sign of a leader who has run out of things to spruik about his own government.

At present it is the Pyne and Bishop problems that seem to be occupying the Prime Minister’s time.

With all the power a good leader has, he could, if he wanted, put most of this behind him in 6 months leaving 30 months to concentrate on nation building. That’s if he overcomes his indifference.

The problem though is getting over the hurdle of the current list of problems all of which are interwoven in ideology in one way or another.

Let’s take a look.

Most of the observers I read or listen to agree that Newstart needs to be higher. Even their own MPs agree that it would be impossible to live on $40 dollars a day yet the Prime Minister categorically insists it wont be raised.

There are two reasons for this. One is that the cost would obstruct a surplus that they so ideologically seek.

Two is the construct of a class war. They govern for the haves, not the have nots.

Where is the Christ in that?

The subject of climate change will continue on its current path of disbelief even though conservatives believe that market based economies are better placed to fix the problem. The fact that this phenomenon is destroying our planet seems to be beyond them.

Where is God’s name in that?

The ideas of today need to be honed with critical reason, factual evidence and scientific methods of enquiry so that they clearly articulate the currency of tomorrow.

The issue of asylum seekers will be with us for as long as the conservatives think their incarceration is proving to be a deterrent to others. Liberals would have been done with the issue but conservatives wring the neck of any issue that enhances their reputation of being tough. Compassion is not their Jesus.

Constitutional recognition for Indigenous Australians will not under this government  see the light off day so long as the word equality speaks its name on the document. The government will go through the motions of change of course but as Socrates said: “The secret of change is to focus all your energy on not fighting the old, but on building the future.”

Why is it that religion assumes it has some bizarre ownership on people’s morality. To assume that an atheist is any less moral than someone religious is an absurdity.

A drought relief fund has in the past few days been passed by the parliament. Funding will come from the Building Australia Fund, which has sat dormant since the 2014-15 financial year. It doesn’t fully satisfy Labor, but it resolves the issue for the time being. The funding won’t start until this time next year, which  makes a mockery of the government’s need for urgency.

Why the Lord would provide funding but not rain remains a mystery.

The upkeep of the Murray Darling Basin and the distribution of its resources still remains a problem with not enough people genuinely wanting to save the old girl. It isn’t beyond the scope of human kindness but it seems not to live in the hearts of conservatives. Another decision based on looking after one’s own first.

Delight thyself also in the Lord; and he shall give thee the desires of thine heart. (Psalm 37:4).

Pyne and Bishop cannot escape the criticism of many that have gone before them. Everyone knows the solution is a simple piece of legislation that would prevent ministers from taking jobs for two years that reflected the portfolio to which they had oversight.

Pyne, Bishop and Morrison might even be called before a Senate Standing Committee to answer a few questions.

The proposal that under the federal government’s Ensuring Integrity Bill anyone with a vested interest could apply to the Federal Court to have a union official disqualified seems a bit over the top; even draconian, even like Union bashing.

This is but another battle over ideology. If it had its way it would be rid of the unions altogether. The same goes for the ABC, which in the Roy Morgan Annual trust survey just released remains the most trusted media outlet. Only 7% of those surveyed said they didn’t.

My thought for the day

Nothing has ever stood in the way of science and technology. Its advancement has been staggering. So why are the conservative political forces so opposed to it?

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There is also a drought of compassion

1) You would be a touch inhumane if you didn’t think the drought wasn’t having a calamitous effect on individuals, families and towns throughout this blond Australian landscape.

You would be even more merciless if in the scheme of things you turned your back on a politically bipartisan approach to helping those on sunburnt properties overcome the sorrow of their quandary.

There are many who in despair have given up the fight, given up their love of the land, defeated by endless sacrifice to an unforgiving sky and less caring land. Many suicides serve as testimony to the truth of it.

Why then is our Christian Prime Minister who says he prays for the drought’s end, playing politics over aid for these poor folk?

The situation is simple. Labor will lend its support to at “any level” the Coalition names so long as the money isn’t taken from another portfolio at which our Prime Minister has responded by saying he will deal with the crossbenches instead.

All very smart because he can then say, and be technically correct, that Labor didn’t support the plan.

Hypocrisy never seems to reach drought proportions in the land of Scott.

2) At first I couldn’t believe it. So much so that my morning coffee burnt my lower lip and I will be walking around with a strange look on my face for the rest of the day.

“Anthony Albanese calls on MPs to lift the standard of political discourse.”

“And that when you call someone a liar flippantly you don’t really have another gear to go to after that.”

Albanese is turning out to be a quintessential campaigner for a better parliament. Will he succeed where Turnbull failed? My fear is that the hard heads of many a Labor veteran still wants him to do the old biffo routine.

Anyone who has followed my writing over the past 6 years knows perfectly well where I stand on this issue. Democracy has been stolen from us. It is worthy of rescuing. True tough intellect can win the day.

3) I wonder when those who so enthusiastically voted for the $1000 bribe instead of better services for the community in which they live will wake up to the fact that Morrison intends to do nothing about reducing our climate emissions and we will not meet our Paris target.

4) Isn’t it truly lamentable that a senior Australian public servant can be paid $886,000 PA and at the same time be doing an awful job?

Well so found a review of APRA led by former ACCC chief Graeme Samuel, that “leadership, people and culture” were issues and that it “should address variation in leadership capability for all management levels”.

“You can’t earn $886,000 [as Mr Byres does] and not be fully responsible for leadership, transparency and contestability.” Senator Patrick told The New Daily.

It seems it is not only the Government who is minus any management skills.

“History is just an ongoing commentary on the incompetence of men.”

5) Besides the truth this Government has always been loose with money but when one of most well known, and popular citizens by the name of Smith, receives a $500.000 Franking Credit return from the tax office and then complains that he doesn’t need nor want it. Well, then I wonder just how many folks are getting tax returns of this size.

It’s a pity Dick didn’t raise the issue during the election campaign. The rich have that many tax rorts to choose from that they must become confused at the end of each financial year.

Meanwhile, the country’s most vulnerable people are left wondering what they did wrong.

“How is it possible for the inherited rich and privileged to understand poverty?”

6) The funniest thing though is that last week we had The Australian newspaper saying that “stubborn” workers were responsible for wage stagnation, because they were failing to switch jobs often enough.

Yes, I know you think I’m joking but I’m not. It’s all mixed up in this politics of “what’s in it for me?”

I hear what you’re saying. Yes, I know we have a Christian Prime Minister.

7) What follows are a few snippets from a piece by Dr John Falzon a Senior Fellow, Inequality and Social Justice. He was national CEO of the St Vincent de Paul Society from 2012 to 2018.

“Labor did not convince people that it would make their lives better.

The distance from being underemployed to being unemployed to being homeless is not long.

At one of the booths a few of us had some interesting conversations with the two young people handing out for Palmer’s United Australia Party.

There was a sense that they were being told to be grateful for whatever they got, a bit like the neoliberal formula for the ideal labour market.

Like Treasury’s bizarre attempt yesterday to blame “stubborn” workers for wage stagnation, because they were failing to switch jobs often enough. Thankfully there are signs that Labor may be about to draw the line on some of this.

Unless we succeed in collectively re-framing what it is to be a member of society, what society is, how the sense of the social can triumph over the primacy of private profit and private gain, our policies will not cut through, they will not scratch the neoliberal itch, they will not speak to the broken soul of the nation. This is a struggle that is not limited to what happens in parliament. It is, above all, a struggle that needs to be waged in workplaces and in the community, in suburbs and in regions.”

8) An interesting proposal. Should we abolish private health insurance for a public system only?

9) Peta Credlin was discussing Getup. Said ban them from handing out how to vote cards. Make them conform with the requirements of a political party.

10) The Leader of the Opposition tells his shadow cabinet not to call the Government liars and the Prime Minister tells his Ministers to stick to their portfolios and limit media appearances. Wow.

11) The words “Send her back” repetitively chanted at a Trump rally are a shocking indictment of how politicians use words for propaganda.

”America may be the most advanced technological nation on earth but its social progress on matters of great moral importance is still fighting its way out of the dark ages when mysticism was rampant.’’

13) Newspoll after a disastrous 12 months or more of getting it wrong was rumoured to recommence today.  A no show. Make of it what you may.

My thought for the day

“Ask them, they are the government.”

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Know your place; we were born to rule (part 2) – Morrison and the religious connection

“But the Bible justifies the abundance of poverty and the “money shower” the government pushes from the poor onto the rich is immoral.”

This was the ‘question’ my unidentified Facebook friend posed.

In Part 1, and in my recent writing I have been trying to explain the concept of religion and politics working hand in hand in an Australian, or indeed an American context.

Pentecostals were some of Donald Trump’s earliest religious supporters and now view his election as the fulfilment of God’s will.

George W. Bush was also embraced by politically conservative Christians because he had a much-documented mid-life experience of being born again, and spoke about God and Jesus as though it was second nature to him.

This was all very acceptable in a country that places belief in God before any appreciation of science.

One should not, however, fall into the trap of thinking they were as one in their faith. Bush saw it as his religion. Trump liked it because it embraced the prosperity gospel, which Americans sometimes refer to as a “health and wealth” theology.

They believe that God rewards faith with good health and financial success.

Now in Australia, we are confronted with a Pentecostal born again Prime Minister in Scott Morrison who the flock sees as God’s answer to much fervent prayer. No less, a miracle.

That he would have genuine asylum seekers incarcerated on a tiny island in the middle of nowhere indefinitely, never having committed a crime, bothers his fellow Christians, not in the slightest.

That he would pray on the same platform with a pastor who is guilty of protecting another who was guilty of committing acts of pedophilia matters not.

These are born again Evangelical Fundamentalist Christians who believe God still speaks to people through tongues, visions, prayer, prophecies and is still actively involved in the lives of people and arranging the world’s affairs.

The picture of Scott Morrison praying with 21,000 worshippers at a Hillsong convention, when he promised to govern for all made me feel decidedly uncomfortable.

There are many things wrong with the image of a PM trying to preach politics to his constituents from a pulpit when we are a secular country. Particularly when Hillsong is attached to the Pentecostalism prosperity movement. Its senior Pastor Brian Houston who wrote, “You need more money” (1999), urges readers to discover God’s “amazing financial plan” for their lives.

Most of these churches originate from the Assemblies of God Church. In my experience, they preach to a youth market who tend to drop away as they get older.

Again in my experience, they are not only taught a prosperity doctrine but also a power of positive thinking theology with an emphasis on abundant and prosperous living within Pentecostalism.

I have come to the conclusion that one of the truly bad effects religion (any religion) has on people is that it teaches that it is a virtue to be satisfied with not understanding.

Until the arrival of the second-rate actor Ronald Reagan, Evangelical churches had taken little interest in politics. He invoked their support and upon victory rewarded them with educational and charitable programs and the money to complete them.

Since then, the born again churches have been significantly involved in politics and elections and for the very first time, conservatives found themselves very much married to the Evangelicals.

Now it is happening in Australia with the Liberal Party recruiting members from Evangelical churches.

When America gets the flu we at least catch a cold, so the saying goes.

But the Bible justifies the abundance of poverty and the “money shower” the government pushes from the poor onto the rich is immoral.

Today, 39.2 per cent of Australians had no religion in the last census – outscoring all other groups.

Well except for the fictional Jedi faith (not recognised as an official religion) had 48,000 dedicated followers. So based on these figures we are not a Christian Country.

Now allow me to address the third part of the question posed by my unknown observer.

I believe that a commitment to the use of critical reason, factual evidence, and scientific methods of inquiry, rather than faith and mysticism, is the best way of providing solutions to human problems.

Yet again let me put on my “in my experience” hat on.

Pentecostal churches don’t see their mission in life as looking after the poor. Their mission is saving souls for Christ. Jesus said he would not come again until the Gospel is preached to all the peoples of the world.

Along the way, they preach a gospel of wealth and make megabucks from tithes books, CD, videos other promotional material. And it’s all tax-free, costing our coffers $500 million annually.

Looking after the poor is the mission of the Salvos, Uniting Church, World Vision, Compassion Australia, Australian Red Cross and the Anglican Church. Four of the top five churches in Australia are mainstream church-based. What wonderful work they do. Pentecostals take no part.

So my answer to the writer’s question is that the Bible does not in any way justify the abundance of poverty in the world today.

To the contrary, there are literally dozens of scriptures obligating us to attend to the sick, the poor, and those in need of our help.

There are other scriptures that speak of wealth and to those who have obtained it, that they have a duty of care to those in the community who need help.

You may ask why a benevolent God doesn’t do more to help, but that is a question for another day.

Yes, Jesus was the world’s first socialist.

How is it possible for the inherited rich and privileged to understand poverty?

Pentecostals and others of the same ilk invented the gospel of wealth in order to make money, believing the more money they had the more souls they would reach. In doing so they have made millions but at the same time have brought their faith into disrepute.

Morrison’s 3rd round of tax cuts is but one illustration of supporting the privileges of those who have had a go and succeeded. But has he considered if those not on the list had an equal opportunity?

We pay taxes to form a society. If we pay more the better society we get.

And of course, there are those on the threadbare Newstart allowance who must be punished for their tardiness in not getting a job. I wonder if our PM has looked at how many wanted the same job. Last time I looked it was 19.

So on the last point, I cannot find any scripture justifying the “money shower” the government pushes from the poor onto the rich.

Author’s note: If the person who posed the questions to me could identify himself I would be most grateful.

My thought for the day

When asked as to my belief or otherwise in God, or indeed my atheist contemplations, I can only say that I am in a perpetual state of observation. Just looking. I prefer not to be labelled as anything, really.

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Know your place; we were born to rule (part 1)

“I would love to read your thoughts on the following concept,” said the message on Facebook. It continued:

“Many politicians in many ways use religion. Our PM uses it to falsely justify his actions that are morally corrupt.

Walking through a street of homeless people while pushing through the phase three tax change, would create guilt in the heart of most of us.

But the Bible justifies the abundance of poverty and the money shower the government pushes from the poor onto the rich is immoral.”

I get many such messages in the course of a week or so and the subject of this one was not unusual.

The only difference seems to be the inclusion of religion.

There are many questions that arise from these words. The first being where does one start. Perhaps the best way might be to simplify the question. Let’s base it on thus:

“It seems to me that since coming to power, increasingly the Prime Minister is, more and more, gradually incorporating his religion into his governance but at the same time it is the rich who seem to be getting the largest slice of the pie.”

So let’s begin by saying that a conservative government won the election, not a liberal one.

Conservative philosophy or ideology believes in the individual’s rights to pursue life and its rewards with a minimum of government interference while at the same time being responsible for his or her own decisions.

The problem with that is that we are not all born equals. We live in a failed system. Capitalism, the conservative measure of all individual success, does not allow for an equitable flow of economic resources.

With this system a small privileged cohort become rich beyond conscience and almost all the others are doomed to be poor at some level.

Never in the history of this nation have the rich and the privileged been so openly brazen.

The ‘know your place’ saying is firmly embedded in the consciousness of all conservatives and was poignantly demonstrated last week.

The born-to-rule cliché about the Liberal Party has been firmly embedded in their psyche for as long as I can remember.

Know your place means to accept your position within society and not seek to improve it. To look upon your superiors with admiration. You will hear the phrase used by older members of the Coalition infrequently but the sentiment still remains.

The first instance of its meaning was when the Minister for Indigenous Australians, Ken Wyatt, an Aboriginal himself, announced at the National Press Club that a referendum to include a constitutionally enshrined Indigenous voice to parliament would be presented in this term of office.

Within 48 hours no less the Prime Minister put Wyatt in his place. Other Ministers followed suit and by the weekend I concluded that it wouldn’t get up.

For me this was just another unedifying example of the same sort of wrecking by the conservatives far right wing of the Coalition has been inflicting on the nation for the past six years. There is no doubt the far right is now very ably led by the Prime Minister, vigorously so, and with the addition of his religious beliefs.

Meritocracy is a term used to imply that those at the top of the social scale have merit and a slur against those at the bottom.

How they expect Indigenous Australians to suffer two rejections of the Uluru Statement and then face, with good will, participation with a good heart for yet another alternative is so beyond me that the words ‘know your place; we were born to rule’ take on sinister implications of racism and return to haunt me and test my thinking.

Aboriginal people were here long before white people. Now, outlandish as it is, they need to ask our permission to be mentioned in their own country’s constitution.

It was only at the beginning of last week that Scott Morrison in front of 21,000 people closed a Hillsong meeting promising a referendum on Indigenous recognition.

The second and equally immoral ‘know your place; we were born to rule’ incident was with the out-and-out unqualified junior minister Luke Howarth telling the homeless to look on the bright side.

In his usual maladroit style Howarth was giving notice of a typically conservative harsh austerity toward anyone doing it tough.

99.5% is the proportion of Australians who are “homed”, according to the new federal homelessness minister, who hopes to “put a positive spin” on the issue.

A half of 1% of the population are homeless.

“Know your place; we were born to rule.”

But don’t miss the point here. If you are on the other side of the coin and you work hard and aspire to move upwards  your efforts will be rewarded collectively with $158 million in tax cuts and various other tax lurks and subsidies guaranteed to reinforce our shift to an even more unequal and friendless society.

The biggest gift to the rich and privileged in Australian economic history.

This of course was the desire of the former treasurer Joe Hockey when he produced his never to be forgotten horror budget of 2014. In its support he said:

“Governments have never been able to achieve equality of outcomes … It is not the role of government to use the taxation and welfare system as a tool to ‘level the playing field”.

Josh Freydenberg in yet another example of Know your place; we were born to rule mentality isn’t allowing anything to get in the way of a surplus. Not even the economic good of the country. It’s not even negotiable.

“Whilst walking through a street of homeless people, pushing through the phase three-tax change, might create guilt in the heart of most of us,” conservatives would think nothing of it.

“Know your place; we were born to rule.”

The less well-off, because they will spend it, have been promised $1080 and are rushing the tax office to get it.

Education and Health are usually the first victims of their austerity. The first victims of equality opportunity.

But the Bible justifies the abundance of poverty and the “money shower” the government pushes from the poor onto the rich is immoral.

Those on the right to excuse any real effort against poverty often quote; “The poor will always be with us”. They are mistaken because Jesus was actually quoting another well-known Biblical phrase—from a well-known passage of the Jewish Torah.

Everyone hearing him back then would have caught his drift.

“If among you, one of your brothers should become poor, in any of your towns within your land that the Lord your God is giving you, you shall not harden your heart or shut your hand against your poor brother, but you shall open your hand to him and lend him sufficient for his need, whatever it may be … For the poor you will always have with you in the land. Therefore I command you, ‘You shall open wide your hand to your brother, to the needy and to the poor, in your land.’ (Deuteronomy 15:7-11)”

 

So often the pastors of Pentecostal churches and others of their ilk cherry pick scripture and give it a conversion to mean something else.

When I read the sayings of Jesus Christ I can but conclude that he was the world’s first socialist.

Those conversant with scripture will know that he spoke much about the obligations of the rich to feed and cloth the poor and the dangers of wealth. The origin of the prosperity movement lay squarely with the Pentecostal churches and can be dated back to 1800s.

When Jesus said, “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth” (Matthew 6:19), the term ‘lay up’ did not simply speak of having possessions, but of your possessions having you. Lay up could be better translated ‘hoard’ or ‘stockpile.’

The Pentecostal churches took up the ‘greed is good’ standard and when Ronald Reagan invited them into the political fold, greed is good, like rust, permeated all sections of American society.

The Facebook reader in the final part of his question posed the following point:

“But the Bible justifies the abundance of poverty and the “money shower” the government pushes from the poor onto the rich is immoral.”

However, I cannot in good faith give a reasonable answer. That requires some length so I will follow it up in my next post on Saturday 20 July.

My thought for the day

Invariably when I read about how successful people are, the measure is always the value of their assets. Why is this so?

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