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Mark Buckley was born and educated in Melbourne. He now lives in Central Victoria, and has a particular interest in politics, history, ethics and literature.

Website: https://askbucko.com/

Not everybody can be a star, Michael Sukkar

You can be pretty sure that Michael Sukkar will never be homeless. That is because, as of May 2022, he owned three properties.

You might be interested to learn that he was, for several years, our man tasked with addressing homelessness in Australia.

He was appointed to the ministry in 2017, by Malcolm Turnbull. He was the Assistant Minister to the Treasurer, with special responsibility for “addressing housing affordability”.

In February 2017 he was asked about his area of special responsibility, that being ‘housing affordability’. He responded this way:

“We’re also enabling young people to get highly paid jobs, which is the first step to buying a house,” he said.

There can be many ways to tackle housing affordability, but it would be difficult to find one which is more obfuscatory, or vague, or even misleading.

Here is a former assistant to the treasurer, a man with a commerce degree, and he thinks that increasing the income of potential buyers will address the problem of housing affordability.

A quick google search provides some alternatives, although he might not like the source. The Grattan Institute suggests some solutions:

“The Federal Government can improve housing affordability by reducing demand. It should reduce the capital gains tax discount from 50 per cent to 25 per cent; abolish negative gearing; and include owner-occupied housing in the Age Pension assets test. Housing will also become more affordable if more homes are built.”

Economics is often called the “dismal science”, but there are some maxims which have stood the test of time. “Supply and demand” in simple terms, means if you want to lower the price of an asset, increase the supply of the asset.

Far be it from me to tell a former assistant treasurer how to address housing affordability, but perhaps a small return to his old textbooks might serve to refresh his memory.

It would be useful to remember who he was assisting. Scott Morrison was the Treasurer at the time, and so it can be imagined that the pair of them often sat up, late into the night, discussing the best way to make homes more affordable to the common people.

It is difficult to know whether Scott Morrison’s belief in the prosperity gospel won out over economic orthodoxy, or was Michael Sukkar channeling Joe Hockey, who was famous for his own solution to the housing crisis.

You must remember that, when he advised first-home buyers to find a “good job that pays good money”. They must employ the same speech-writer.

So many mentors, so little actual sense.

Michael Sukkar eventually became a minister

In December 2020, Sukkar, who had earlier supported Peter Dutton against Malcolm Turnbull in their leadership tussle, was forgiven by Morrison, and promoted. His new roles included the roles of Assistant Treasurer, Minister for Housing and Minister for Homelessness, Social and Community Housing.

This was a shock to many, because he had consistently voted against making life easier for those who were doing it tough.

This included voting against capping gas prices, federal action on public housing, increasing access to JobKeeper payments, increasing housing affordability, increasing the age pension, and he even voted against treating the Covid vaccine rollout as a matter of urgency.

As a matter of fact, he also voted for drug testing of welfare recipients.

What does he do now?

Should you, dear reader, take comfort from the fact that these people are no longer in power, remember this. Michael Sukkar is currently the shadow minister for these three portfolios.

Shadow Minister for Social Services
Shadow Minister for the National Disability Insurance Scheme
Shadow Minister for Housing and Homelessness.

So, notwithstanding Mr Sukkar’s voting record, and his extreme social conservatism, it is likely that he would retain these portfolios if the Coalition was to regain power. That should be enough to keep you up at night.

 

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Let us punish immigration detainees twice

Now the police want to influence immigration policy. I blame it entirely on Peter Dutton, of course. For a retired policeman, he seems not to understand the most basic tenets of our legal system.

How Australian democracy works

Put simply, so that even coalition politicians can understand, the plan is that we, the people, elect parliaments. Once the parliament has been decided, the party with the greatest number of members forms government, and THEY MAKE LAWS.

Those parliamentarians then go through a type of cosplay, defined as the men dressing in suits and ties, and looking important, and serious. The women often wear red coats, as it signifies dressing for power.

If the men are feeling particularly performative, they wear ties which signify the tribe, or team they belong to. Tony Abbott liked to dress in blue ties, when he was not wearing bathers. This showed that he was conservative. Kevin Rudd favoured red ties, to signify that he was a member of the ‘social justice’ party, or the ‘socialists’, for short.

They then vote on whether laws are passed, and what those laws will regulate. This system works reasonably well, if you have people with brains getting elected, but this is not a foregone result.

Sometimes their dad was the last member, and there is something of a tradition of passing it on, down to the offspring, especially if you belong to the established parties.

This tends to dilute the quality of the representatives, but it is the closest they will ever get to an hereditary aristocracy, so we allow it.

Dutton is like a spear carrier for the resentful

He has emboldened Inspector Plods throughout our wide brown land to believe that they are the policy makers. Um, no, you enforce the law, as it is enacted by parliaments. A basic lesson in civics, really. Sadly, most of our citizens need it, because our education system is so appalling.

Re-punishing immigration detainees

This is a particularly stupid and wrong-headed attempt to prove how hairy chested we can be. The detainees Mr Dutton is so concerned about have ALREADY done their time, meaning that their debt to society has been paid. I know, they are foreigners, but still, if you have served your sentence, that is considered enough.

Australia does not (we hope) run parallel legal systems. If you are convicted and you serve your sentence, then you are free to go after you are released. Even if you are a foreigner.

Mr Dutton wants them to be re-detained. He appears to not know that the High Court of Australia has ruled that further detention is unlawful. That means that the government has no choice but to release them, because the High Court said so.

Instead of being locked up again, they should be compensated. Their indefinite detention was unlawful, and the reason they were still in detention is because successive governments ignored the fact that many had nowhere else to go, through statelessness, or because if sent back to their home country, they would have been subjected to draconian punishment, sometimes including death.

What is particularly disappointing is the way the Albanese Government has so abjectly accepted Dutton’s scare mongering and confected moral panic. Rapists and murderers exist within Australia’s population. If they have served their sentences, they are free to re-join society. But not if they are on a visa, or stateless.

That is the ridiculous position Dutton has put us in. Squawk loud enough, and Albanese and his government will break with judicial sense, and cave in to the populists.

And now police department heads are adding their voices to the squawking. Highly inappropriate, and again, led by a crass opportunist, looking to lead the disaffected and those who still cling to Australia’s outdated and embarrassing past mistakes, regarding immigration and race.

In breaking news, apparently even those detainees without criminal convictions will be fitted with ankle bracelets. You can’t be too careful.

The Attorney General appears to have no opinion. He must know the matter will end up in the High Court again, and yet he does not provide sensible counsel. So we will have a re-run of a High Court decision, and Dutton squawking again, and then another round of appeasement.

Do not think voting Morrison and his ilk out of office has saved us. We are still led by donkeys.

 

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Dutton has set the country back 50 years

From the moment the Liberals lost Aston in a by-election, Peter Dutton had to find a way to keep his job. Why not try and ruin Albanese’s simple plan for a better Australia, by doing what every other lazy wrecker has done? Make it all about race.

Albanese thought the Voice would be uncontroversial, symbolic, and a natural extension of the hand of friendship, from us to the original inhabitants. He failed to understand that Dutton was drowning, and he would be desperate to find a lifebelt. Defeating the Voice was that lifebelt.

Dutton took a while to get around to it, but his statement that the referendum would “re-racialise the country” set it up to fail. Because his statement did exactly what he was pretending to warn us against.

It introduced race to a discussion about disadvantage, and it brought out all the buried resentment and ‘what about me-ism’ inherent in rural and regional Australia.

He was channelling vintage John Howard, the bit where the Mabo and Wik decisions opened the way for ‘the Aborigines’ to swoop in and claim ownership of your house. It is crude, and simple, but it works every time.

Throw in a bit of class envy by talking about ‘the elites’, and the latte sippers, and you will create a tsunami of fear and doubt. How a bunch of Coalition politicians are able to characterise middle class urban Australians as elite is beyond understanding.

Maybe they should try explaining where Gina Rinehart sits in the class structure, or bankers and miners. I occasionally partake of a latte, but no-one has ever invited me to Anthony Pratt’s mansion in Kew.

If Dutton does not survive for long as leader, he could always move to America, where his shamelessness could prove handy in getting Trump re-elected. The recruitment of Jacinta Price and Warren Mundine was relatively simple. Getting Lydia Thorpe on board was pure luck. Who knew she would be against the proposal for a Voice? It turned out she sacrificed ‘the good’ in pursuit of her vision of ‘the perfect’.

Forget that they all seemed to have different agendas, and were individually not electorally potent, but they were all indigenous, and they were against the Voice.

This was probably the most effective tool the No side had. If the very people we were trying to help could not agree, then what was the point? Just another Black squabble, while we are all trying to put food on the table, and pay the mortgage, or the rent. The cynical use of these individuals will reverberate throughout their lives.

Their own people must be, in the main, confused. It is difficult to see their reasoning. Whatever it was, it was devilishly effective.

Analysis will decide what was the greatest factor in the defeat of the referendum, but Black on Black was catastrophic. Everyone I spoke to about the question mentioned it. And it gave otherwise well-meaning voters an easy way out. They could comfortably vote NO without appearing to be racist, even to themselves.

Of course, Dutton was unrelenting. He needed a win, any sort of win, and presumably to protect himself from questions he could not answer, he stopped holding press conferences.

Ken Wyatt has explained several times over the last couple of years, and memorably on the ABC’s Radio National program, that he took a detailed plan for the voice to the Coalition cabinet – twice. Remember he was a minister. So, unbelievably, was Dutton.

So they had it supplied to them, and Ken Wyatt even highlighted the actual pages to read. Apparently Dutton does not read, or he chose to forget. As for the Nationals, what seemed a bad early bet on No turned up trumps. Clearly they knew the well of racism and ignorance in their heartland.

I know this, because I live in a National seat, and the arguments against ranged from the nonsensical (the United Nations will set up homelands, which will be hived off from Australia, and set up as independent republics), to the more nonsensical (they will abolish Australia Day).

Some might have questioned Jacinta Price’s stance on black disadvantage. You know the one, where the ‘blackfellas’ have actually done all right from invasion and dispossession, because they have running water? Don’t forget her statement that “she [Burney] might be able to take a private jet out into a remote community, dripping with Gucci, and tell people in the dirt what’s good for them – but they are in the dark,” Price said. Apparently Linda Burney owns no Gucci clothing.

As for Warren Mundine, he has managed to move from once being president of the ALP, to being the Liberals’ star (unsuccessful) candidate for the seat of Gilmore, in 2019. It seems he left Labor years earlier, when Bob Carr was selected instead of him, to replace Mark Arbib in the Senate.

The unlikely pairing of Dutton and Thorpe is just that, unlikely. Apparently they have never met, and Thorpe has stated he avoids her, if he can. That did not stop the public seeing her as one of the No side’s greatest assets, and Dutton certainly did not continue to discredit her once she became useful to the No side. Her musing about ‘our Albo’ wanting her assassinated was fairly ‘out-there’, but she was useful.

Dutton didn’t have to field many questions on the sheer stupidity of his “if you don’t know, vote No” slogan, although Ray Martin did give him something of a ‘touch-up’. If analysed, it feeds the type of stupidity some in the backblocks suffer from.

I was told to take my own pen into the polling booth, as there was a good chance the Electoral Commission would use an eraser on my vote and change it, if I voted the ‘wrong’ way.

Every question time, there they were, the Liberals’ chorus asking for more detail, for more legal opinions, dividing the country by endlessly referring to the “divisive Canberra Voice”, from the parliament, which is, incidentally, in Canberra.

Nothing about closing the gap. Not much about the fact that it was a body which would be limited to an “advisory” role only. No mention of Howard abolishing ATSIC, or the Northern Territory intervention.

From the sidelines it looked like Albanese ran a terrible campaign. Perhaps he thought that, by being on the side of the angels, the Australian people would open their hearts, sort of like they did for the Matildas, but they didn’t.

Opposition Leader is a thankless task, but for some who think they have a destiny to lead, it is the best place to start.

Peter Dutton appears to be a person who has no idea of how people feel about him. This might be a blessing, because even amongst rusted-on Liberals, I have yet to encounter a Liberal voter who likes Dutton.

As for the other side, the result merely reinforced our perception of the man. So much time in the spotlight, so many terrible causes, so many blunders, so many potshots at his fellow citizens for being ‘woke’.

It now seems clear he has given up on winning back the Teal seats. That means his only path to power is a swing to the right, an appeal to the outer suburbs and the regions, where he hopes he can ride a wave of resentment and anger against the cities, and those ‘elites’.

One can only hope his dance with Trumpism is unsuccessful, because it would import even more racism and ignorance, more disrespect for science and experts, and angry old white men running the place.

 

Cartoon by Alan Moir (moir.com.au)

 

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Dutton reminds us of Abbott, but not in a good way

Reading Nikki Savva’s The Road to Ruin is a depressing read, because it validates what many of us believed before Tony Abbott became Prime Minister.

Tony Abbott and his road to irrelevance

Many believed he was unelectable. He lacked seriousness. He lacked grace. He, like so many other ‘Rhodes Scholars’, appeared to have gotten his degrees out of a Wheaties box. He believed that he understood the country and its people. He was dangerously over-confident, and heedless of consequences.

The mistakes flowed thick and fast, and the photos of him being coddled by his Chief of Staff, the cleaning of crumbs from his clothes, the solicitous looks bestowed on the ‘warrior prince’, reminded us of how our mothers prepared us for those ‘moments of truth’, like going to school on your first day.

His greatest mistakes were that he did not listen, not to his parliamentary colleagues, and not to the public mood.

Never a policy specialist, he imported what he needed from the IPA’s shopping list, and then failed to understand that Australia had changed.

He excelled in saying “No”. Loudly. As Opposition Leader he was never a believer in climate change, and he capitalised on the Labor Party’s convoluted and tortured responses to it. He can be squarely blamed for the current existential catastrophe, by sowing doubt where there was no room for any.

He also undermined, and removed the Liberal Party’s only hope for a successful future, Malcolm Turnbull. Turnbull is the acceptable face of liberalism, and the embodiment of the sensible centre.

Abbott played to the backward-looking members of the community, who put climate change, same sex marriage, Indigenous rights and multiculturalism into the too-hard basket. He thought he could rule without the cities, and frankly, without the young.

Peter Dutton has no idea of the damage he is unleashing

We are now watching a dreadful remake of the same movie. Peter Dutton is reprising the role of Abbott, down to the same faux seriousness, the same appeal to those who look backward, the same dog whistling to the chronically angry.

They want us to return to the golden days of fortress Australia, where we will choose the types who come to our shores, we will choose the low road, and we will bring the country to a position halfway between the cheerful nihilism of Boris Johnson’s Brexit, and Donald Trump’s failing state.

For a man of such limited intellectual resources, Dutton has managed to confect a formidable coalition of nay-sayers.

Of course, he didn’t have to work very hard getting the National Party on-side. They decided on a No vote before the ink was dry on the proposition.

Jacinta Price and Warren Mundine, who represent possibly the most potent symbols of the No side, are incomprehensibly voting against their own interests. Their power to split the vote, and hence the country, is immense. Lidia Thorpe, who seems to be sacrificing ‘the good’, for the sake of ‘the perfect’, is similarly powerful. And wrong.

Dutton’s reasons are purely self-serving

Dutton has continued with his paper-thin repudiation of the Voice referendum with a typically threadbare slogan worthy of Tony Abbott: “If you don’t know, Vote No.”

Anyone with a shred of intelligence would substitute the words “Find Out”, instead of “Vote No”. The No side is not interested in sharing enlightenment, they much prefer doubt and fear.

He has never bothered to calculate the cost, to his party’s standing into the future, or to the social cohesion of Australia.

His recent statement that he thinks the Coalition can win government in 2025 is pure fantasy. But therein lies his reason for going hard against the Voice.

He sees it as a one-on-one contest against Albanese, and in some ways he is correct. Albanese has allowed this to degenerate from a contest of ideas to a personal political battle.

As many have noted the Voice is an advisory body only and placing it within the Constitution merely stops it from being abolished, like ATSIC was, by John Howard.

The Voice, whether enshrined within the Constitution or not, can be ignored. That is the salient point of the whole issue. The fact of Constitutional recognition is nice, but it does not help ‘close the gap’.

That objective lies with us, as to whether we demand that governments listen, and having listened, act to redress wrongs, and build a reasonable future for our fellow citizens. It is the least we can do.

 

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How will they explain themselves to their grandchildren?

It is hard to understand the stupidity of Australia’s political leaders when it comes to the climate catastrophe. It is a given that the likes of Barnaby Joyce and Tony Abbott will ignore the facts as they unfold, but even they must have noticed what’s going on.

Maybe the political class don’t watch television, or read newspapers, or have relatives living overseas, but the rest of us do.

Two years ago there were horrific floods in Germany and Belgium, in mid-July 2021, which killed more than 220 people. Damage was widespread and was seen as far away as the Netherlands, Austria and Switzerland. In Europe, in summer.

In Australia we know the lasting devastation of floods, and the impossibility of future proofing. The only solution is to re-build, if re-build you must, on higher ground.

Is a flood more real if it happens in Germany rather than in Lismore, or Shepparton? Are wildfires more devastating when they happen in Canada or Greece? Does total destruction of a town in Hawaii mean more than if it happens in Mallacoota?

Ask Matt Canavan why he chooses to ignore the facts of climate destruction in Australia. What does he think of the lack of sea ice in the Antarctic this year? Some scientists think the rise in sea levels, caused by the undermining of the ice in Antarctica, could range from between 2 metres to 10 metres.

Imagine the harm to our coastal cities if it comes in closer to 10 metres. Well, they won’t be there anymore, so it’s not difficult to imagine the damage. It won’t make it hard to get onto the West Gate Bridge, because the West Gate Bridge will be an abandoned arc of empty roadway, and what would be the use of driving to Geelong, because Geelong won’t be there anymore.

Kardinia Park will be an empty reservoir. But enough imagining, already. For our intellectually challenged leaders, the plight of our civilisation is at stake.

Droughts and bushfires will alternate with flooding rains, as the seasons change. Mass starvation will lead to mass migrations, from those lands most affected, to those less affected.

If you think living in the mountains, far away from the mass populations of cities, will make you safe from the changes in the climate, think again.

Towns in the Andes mountains in Peru have reached 38°C or more, while in Argentina’s capital, Buenos Aires, temperatures above 30°C have been recorded; this month. It is winter there now.

Peter Dutton wants to fix the climate crisis with nuclear power. Does he know how long it takes to arrange for a nuclear power station to be approved, planned and built? Does he not own a clock, or a calendar?

On the government’s side of the ledger, more than 2,000 medical professionals have demanded that the Albanese government withdraw $1.5bn funding for the Middle Arm industrial development, in the Northern Territory.

The funding is a handout to assist the development of the huge Beetaloo Basin gas field. Labor is struggling to disguise the funding. Are votes in the short-term worth wrecking the climate?

We have been told that the earth is reaching, and in some cases, passing through “tipping points” for the climate.

It doesn’t take much imagination to recognise the utter failure of almost every government on earth to react to the crisis.

See the piss-ant state governments as they legislate to criminalise the actions of climate activists. Jailing them won’t achieve anything. It is as effective and as ridiculous as trying to stop the tide.

See how the so-called leaders of governments world-wide baulk at the difficult conversations they need to have with their citizens, to convince them that time has almost run out.

Believe it or not, but the scientists need to change their language, from calm reason to barely suppressed terror. We are facing Armageddon, and politicians are worried that people will either panic, or vote them out of power.

They need to get to the front. Show some leadership. Make change. Don’t worry about plans for fifty years in the future, your rubbish plans for nuclear subs and inland rail.

Worry about the end of civilisation as we know it. Worry about our children and their children. I don’t want my grandchildren starving because we had a leadership which valued the chance of a directorship with a gas company over the survival of humanity.

And the leaders of today need to know there is nowhere to hide if it all turns to manure. They were warned, and there is not a mountain high enough to escape to.

 

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Buyer beware – politicians!

Four years ago I wrote the following article. I have released it again, because it shows us the timeless nature of politicians. If it was not so disappointing, it would be funny. Enjoy!

When you buy a television you have an expectation that the thing will work, and that it will fulfil the purpose for which you bought it. In Australia we have a robust Consumer Law, which is quite exemplary, and quite differently from many of our human rights practices, it actually elicits praise internationally. There is one ‘product class’ excluded from its coverage, sadly – politicians, and all their works.

We do not have any laws which stop political parties from peddling untruths, such as the existence of death taxes in the most recent federal election. We do not have any laws which protect us from ignoramuses, or bigots. We are not in a position to ask for a type of warranty, a sort of guarantee that we are not being ‘sold a pup’.

This is surprising, if one thinks about the investment we make in each and every politician who crosses our path. There is the cost to our mental health when we discover that we have someone in the parliament who is not very clever, or honest, or as we have recently discovered, even eligible to be elected.

Then there is the actual financial cost to our taxpayer funds, where some expense claims are truly beyond belief. At this point I proffer the recent example of a senior parliamentarian, a minister, who used a governmental car, with a driver no less, to ferry his two pet dogs around Victoria. Others who, blaming their workload, are suddenly unable to perform their duties. One rather famously was forced, through loneliness, to spend more time overseas courting his intended, than he spent in Parliament. Others who have been charged with dishonesty offences, bankruptcy – the list goes on, and on.

These examples are mainly from the Victorian State Parliament. That is because I live in Victoria, and I am exposed to these clowns on a daily basis. I invite my readers to reflect on their own experience of their own state parliament; I’m sure you are able to dredge up many fun references to our elected dunderheads.

Will Fowles, however, caught my eye recently. He is the young man who became unhinged in his Canberra hotel, because his ‘medication’ was in his luggage, and his luggage was behind a closed door. So he did what any elected representative of the people would do – he kicked the door in, causing a furore which saw his fellow guests bundled out into the Canberra morning, which we all know, can be very cold.

His apology was at first instance less than fulsome, and it appeared to duck the issues raised by his behaviour. He offered to repay the cost of repairs, which is really the bare minimum, and he stated that he had paid his own way there. He was in Canberra for a celebration, unrelated to his Victorian duties. He did not address the reason why he had become violent and a threat to public safety.

He did, however, admit to long-standing mental health and addiction issues, but again that does not explain why he felt that he could destroy property, because he was inconvenienced by a locked door. Was the medicine an anti-psychotic, or was he drunk at the time? Was he fit to travel? What drugs does he use?

Enter Daniel Andrews, the Premier of Victoria. He was pleased that Mr Fowles had apologised, he was impressed that the apology appeared genuine, and he was satisfied that Mr Fowles would pay for the damage. He went on to offer his full support (on full pay) while Mr Fowles sought treatment. He came across as a caring boss, albeit one who wouldn’t be liable for Mr Fowles’ costs.

Those costs will be substantial. Firstly, Mr Fowles will be away from his place of work, and he will not be available to his constituents; he is unable to fulfil his duties, or to actually do anything other than to look after his mental health, and to seemingly address his addiction issues. His time away has been described as being ‘for several months’.

Probably due to politicians being chronically awful to other politicians, and a couple of attempted suicides among their ranks in recent years, they, as a class, have a new-found sensitivity toward their peers, whenever the term ‘mental health’ is mentioned. So they mostly swung behind the Premier’s offer of unlimited assistance to our young parliamentarian. I use the word ‘young’ to highlight not his age, but the amount of time he has been an Honourable Member – seven months.

By his own admission his mental health and addiction issues predated his election. This raises the issue of whether he had a duty to inform his prospective employer, the people of Victoria, through the agency of the Victorian branch of the ALP. It also raises the issue of whether, if he had been forthcoming with this information, would the good people of Burwood have voted for him? Were they offered a fair choice? Did his opponent suffer from a similar handicap? Were the electors ‘sold a pup’?

Employers routinely ask applicants whether they suffer from any condition which might impact on their ability to do a job. Often it is not a block to employment, as many good employers offer to make changes to the role, or perhaps the workplace, so that a good candidate can still take the position. Failure to answer truthfully is seen as legitimate grounds for dismissal.

Was Mr Fowles asked such a question? If he was not, why was he not asked? It seems to be the minimum of due diligence, and as it stands neither Mr Fowles, nor Mr Andrews, seems willing to cover the costs incurred.

We are stuck with him now, and he might continue in the role for years. So, too ill to work, after seven months in the job. He then takes sick leave, on full pay, for as long as needs.

He might even get a pension one day, if he can pull off a recovery.

So, four years later Will Fowles is in the news, again. It appears that he has incurred the wrath of Daniel Andrews, and ordered to leave the Labor Party.

He is still drawing his salary, and if he can brazen his way out of this pickle, he might score that pension. Ain’t Australian politics uplifting?

 

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Robodebt – Morrison’s latest disaster

In August 2022 Peter Dutton was interviewed in Adelaide. In a wide ranging interview he stated, many times, that if a Royal Commission was set up to look into Robodebt, then Bill Shorten should be the first minister to appear.

Asked several times about Scott Morrison’s responsibility for the scheme he repeated his charge that Shorten, alongside Tanya Plibersek, had designed the scheme.

Clear differences have since been identified between the two iterations. In an AAP Factcheck, it was found that Labor’s scheme required the input of actual human staff in determining whether there was indeed a debt, and another crucial difference was the burden of proof was moved from the government to the welfare recipient.

Scale was another. When the system was automated, the number of referrals and debts raised rose from 20,000 a year, to 20,000 a week.

Before the Royal Commission was even begun Mr Dutton implied that the Royal Commission would be a sham, and it would turn into a tricky political game, in which Anthony Albanese would attempt to inflict revenge on his predecessor.

A strange observation, when we see the damage done to over a half-million Australians. Many of them, and many others who simply believe in good governance, would be savouring the prospect of the likes of Morrison, Tudge, Porter and Robert being brought to some form of justice, whatever that looks like.

What was the report’s outcome?

If we fast forward to July 2023 the report has been released. It has named several former Coalition ministers, and several department heads and senior public servants, as having failed in their duty to oversee the program, and to deliver a fair and reasonable service to the taxpayer.

Mr Dutton now seems to think that, although he has now apologised for the scheme on behalf of the former government, the Labor Party was enjoying the findings of the Royal Commission way too much. He described Bill Shorten as “gleeful”.

It seems he seriously underestimated the Royal Commissioner, who has earned herself a reputation as a direct and fluent communicator, with a tendency to call a spade a spade. She has delivered a report which is clearly her own work, and not ghost-written by Anthony Albanese.

Most damning was her finding that the program was unlawful, and that somewhere along the line senior public servants chose to evade their responsibilities to the parliament, apparently to pander to Scott Morrison’s desire for favourable results, and favourable press coverage.

When Marise Payne was giving evidence before the Royal Commission, she was asked who ultimately was responsible when mistakes were made in formulating public policy. She answered, “Responsibility is always borne by ministers.”

Morrison was the senior minister at the inception, and he presented the policy to cabinet. The only problem was that, through ignorance, wilful or not, or plain oversight, the question of legality had not been settled, and this led to the subsequent finding that the scheme was “unfair and unlawful.”

How have the former ministers behaved since the Royal Commission?

Christian Porter resigned from parliament, before the Royal Commission began. Alan Tudge has resigned from parliament, after his evidence was taken. Stuart Robert has resigned from parliament, after his evidence was taken.

Scott Morrison has remained in parliament. He has disputed the findings of the Royal Commission.

Alan Tudge and Stuart Robert have also disputed the findings. Considering the short attention span of the majority of Australians there is no guarantee that the outrage will continue for long.

Are there to be any legal consequences for those named?

It is unknown how many of the key figures have been referred for civil and or criminal charges. Those so named will inevitably face some sort of accounting for their failures, although it might end up only involving a slap on the wrist.

When the political class prosecutes its own, there is always a feeling that me-tooism will prove too strong for their blood. Today’s witch-hunt often runs out of steam, so do not be surprised if, in a couple of years, they collectively decide to call it all off.

The whole sorry mess has been labelled as “cruel and crude,” but we will only know the outcome when the legal process has ended. Remember, it is a classic case of us against them. Politicians have been shown to put their own interests first, and we all know that maintaining the rage is not their strong suit.

Our political culture is imbued with a crude and cruel mind-set. We need to treat those who need our help better. Those on welfare, refugees and the disabled are our fellow citizens. Politicians use these groups as straw men, set up to divert our attention away from their own malfeasance.

If all else fails, it was a pleasure to see the likes of Morrison, Tudge and Robert squirming on the witness stand. Perhaps that is the only satisfaction we will get.

 

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The No crowd – honest doubts, or simple racism?

The problem with Peter Dutton is that, right or wrong, we feel we “know” him. We might have missed noticing the human side to the man, but that is because he spent so much time showing us how tough and no-nonsense he is.

He fits the stereotype of the Queensland Liberal, an old fashioned ‘head-kicker’. Being Opposition Leader is a difficult gig, but someone has got to do it. He is using Tony Abbott as inspiration, presumably, on how to be seen as strong, caring and highly moral.

We might have missed his wife saying, “he’s no monster”. The response to that statement is ready to hand: She would say that, wouldn’t she. It also begs the question – who said he was?

If we were to conduct a poll asking Australians about their impressions of Mr Dutton’s strengths and weaknesses, I would hazard a guess that most of us (at least those of us who use cutlery at mealtimes) would think he is uncompromising, set in his beliefs, and addicted to using fairly stale talking points.

Most of his pronouncements seem to highlight his concern for women and children, and an ongoing level of anxiety about pedophiles. He takes every opportunity to sprinkle the idea that he is awake to the “woke” tendencies in the community.

The first, and last impression we form about him, is that once he has decided on a pathway, he will beat that drum until he drops. Evidence and changing circumstances are not going to change his mind, because he sees electoral advantage in his path. This feeds the impression that he is more set on winning through, than evaluating the arguments.

So after what seemed at least a minute’s reflection, he has decided to take the Liberal Party way out to the lunatic fringes of conservatism. He will dog-whistle every Uncle Kev in the country, who has a sneaking suspicion that the Aborigines are ‘taking the piss’. Uncle Kev should study the Closing the Gap report, but Uncle Kev doesn’t read much.

There is a large cohort of Australians who have no interest in politics, and who actively avoid engaging with political issues. These people look at Dutton, in his suit and tie, talking about re-racialising the country, and they believe him. That is why we call it ‘dog-whistling’; because it appeals to the parts of the electorate who are too lazy, or too prejudiced, to look at the facts.

What is the Voice about?

My understanding has always been that the Voice was an attempt to enshrine some sort of recognition of the original inhabitants of our great country into the Constitution. Co-incidentally they also owned it.

The reason for enshrining the Voice into the Constitution is that once done, it cannot easily be overturned by a government which wants to remove it. The example of such bloody-mindedness is the abolition of ATSIC, by the Howard Government, in 2004.

Sadly, the ALP joined in with Howard then. This time the ALP is attempting to re-instate the process. It should be entirely non-controversial, considering it is purely an “advisory body”.

So, a recap: A symbolic recognition of our indigenous people, with an advisory remit to advise government on laws which affect indigenous communities.

Not particularly scary. Of course Malcolm Turnbull did not help, stating that it would form a third chamber of parliament. So he is not so great at Constitutional Law, or he was too lazy to read the Statement from the Heart.

Why are the Liberals opposed?

They think saying No suggests that they are protecting the Constitution. They think it projects a careful evaluation of Aboriginal Affairs, and that there are legitimate doubts. Of course, this is rubbish. Should the referendum achieve success, it will be open to this government, and to all subsequent governments, to ignore the advice the Voice provides.

But Dutton and the other geniuses who advise him have decided that there are enough Uncle Kevs out there, who resent any form of funding for Aboriginal communities, to defeat the referendum.

Their main argument is concern that Aboriginal communities want to change our Western style civilisation, and make the Voice some sort of super-cabinet, which will make pronouncements on matters as diverse as defence or the date of Australia Day.

As Linda Burney has said, they will OFFER advice on Indigenous housing, health, employment and education. That seems eminently sensible to most, thinking Australians. We must not forget that Aboriginal Australians are our fellow citizens – they are not an alien presence among us.

So if you want to evaluate Peter Dutton and his values, look at his parliamentary career. The clangers are many, the apologies few. I suspect that he has fond memories of the feedback he received when he walked out on Kevin Rudd’s Apology.

There would have been plenty of rednecks who secretly applauded Dutton’s action, and he perhaps has calculated that there are enough of them still around, to applaud his efforts at muddying the waters.

All his stance does is to further cement the thinking community’s opinion of the Coalition. Fairly hopeless, and socially and morally blind as well.

 

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John Howard wrecked Aged Care for all Australians

There is a definite turning point in the quality and the humanity of Australia’s care for the elderly. The Aged Care Bill 1997 (Cth) was introduced as part of the new Howard Government’s 1996 Budget measures. It was to prove a huge gamble, which still wreaks havoc in the Aged Care sector. And it created a distinctly new group of players in our economy. It showed a government naively putting its faith in the market.

 

It started with John Howard

It was a curiously shallow and unsophisticated Bill, which did not even bother to hide its malicious intent. Each of the recommendations was ‘loaded’ against the elderly, and the Opposition of the time was ineffective in their efforts to mitigate the harm of the Bill, even if they had wanted to. It was led by Kim Beazley, and he was powerless at the best of times, let alone when he faced Howard’s massive majority.

The private (for profit) sector has six big players, who do what ‘for profits’ do; they maximise profits, usually at the expense of their customers – tick. They feed on their smaller competitors – tick. They amass market power – tick. They become too big to fail – tick. They refuse even basic accountability, although they are massively subsidised by taxpayers – tick. That subsidy currently sits at over 70% of revenue.

The worst part is that the governments of the day, (and both sides have been at fault) continue to believe that corporates are better at delivering value for money. This belief endures, even though successive Governments have watched as their performance declined, while their revenues increased. So there is no recognisable corporate ‘efficiency’ being exercised; there are only tax avoidance measures, increased fees and reduced costs, which apparently can include starving their residents. And they continue to sting the Government.

 

What did the Act change?

The proposed changes in the 1997 Act were to consolidate funding arrangements for the then separate nursing home and hostel sectors, and provide for a single residential care system to determine the level of Australian Government subsidy for each resident.

They outlined a greater reliance on resident contributions to the cost of care, including through a system of accommodation bonds, and residential care benefits subject to income testing. They also proposed a relaxation of previous regulatory requirements, such as tight financial acquittal requirements, and their replacement by a ‘lighter-touch’ accreditation approach.

This grab-bag of ‘nothing regulation’ was the jackpot. It satisfied the neo-liberals, by making the system essentially ‘user-pays’; it consolidated the two areas of accommodations into one bite-sized chunk for the private equity groups, waiting on the sidelines; and best of all it really did use the term “lighter touch accreditation approach”, which just really means no oversight. (You have to love the euphemism team who drafted this Bill. Fun fact: euphemism: a mild or indirect word or expression substituted for one considered to be too harsh or blunt when referring to something unpleasant or embarrassing.)

 

What did the Royal Commission find?

There are so many issues which affect the Aged Care system that we needed another Royal Commission. That is because although we have had several in the last twenty plus years, no government has felt constrained to follow their recommendations, and so we are stuck with the ideologically driven mismatch of profit-takers and neglected frail clients.

The latest, which produced the Interim Report of the Royal Commission into Aged Care Quality and Safety was tabled on 31 October 2019. It stated that:

“… the aged care system fails to meet the needs of its older, vulnerable, citizens. It does not deliver uniformly safe and quality care, is unkind and uncaring towards older people and, in too many instances, it neglects them.”

Commissioners Richard Tracey AM, RFD, QC and Lynelle Briggs’s AO investigation into Australia’s aged care system led them to describe the aged care system as “a shocking tale of neglect”.

“The neglect that we have found in this Royal Commission, to date, is far from the best that can be done. Rather, it is a sad and shocking system that diminishes Australia as a nation.”

We wonder why the sector refuses to countenance proper, honest auditing of their work, or their costs. We must wonder anew as to why the stewards of our taxpayer dollars do not insist. It is our parents’, and our grandparents’, lives at stake here.

According to Professor Joe Ibrahim, Head of Monash University’s Health Law and Ageing Research Unit, residential aged care facilities (RACFs) are currently not required to disclose how many staff they have, nor how they spend government funding.

It is hard to understand how a responsible Government can sit idly by and allow itself to be rorted so spectacularly. Matthias Cormann, Scott Morrison and Josh Frydenburg have all been robbed blind, even as they were apparently ‘on duty’, protecting the revenue. Perhaps their attention wandered, as they had to keep watch on the unemployed, who are always plotting some form of chicanery.

 

How much are we paying for the system?

Australian Government expenditure for aged care throughout 2018–19 totalled $19.9 billion, an increase of 10 per cent from the previous year.

In 2018–19, over 1.3 million people received some form of aged care. The great majority received home-based care and support, and relatively few lived in residential care:
• 840,984 people received home support through the CHSP
• 133,439 people received care through a home care package
• 65,523 people received residential respite care, of whom 34,984 (approximately 53 per cent) were later admitted to permanent care
• 242,612 people received permanent residential aged care.

The sector, notwithstanding its perceived inadequacies, is expected to continue to grow its revenue by an annual rate of 5.4%. Its profit is expected to grow by an annual rate of 4.4%.

When asked about the finding that up to 50% of Aged Care residents were malnourished, Sean Rooney responded that the daily allowance for food per resident was $6, however that was at wholesale prices, and there were possibly supplements added, for some residents, and really that aged residents should not be compared to prisoners because they needed less calories. He leads the peak body, Leading Aged Services Australia.

The sector appears to be hugely profitable, and to pay very little tax. Although how would we know? They keep their operating costs secret, so we know their revenue, but we do not know their operating costs, so their profit remains a mystery. According to the ATO, the total combined income of all for-profit aged care providers was just over $5 billion in 2015–16, with a total profit of $529.3 million and after-tax profit of $402 million.

Companies can use various accounting methods to avoid paying tax. One method is when a company links (staples) two or more businesses (securities) they own together, each security is treated separately for tax purposes to reduce the amount of tax the company has to pay. Aged care companies are known to use this method as well as other tax avoiding practices.

Another practice is by ‘renting’ their aged care homes from themselves (one security rents to another) or by providing loans between securities and shareholders. See Tax Avoidance by For Profit Aged Care Companies Australia Report 2018.

 

The big players

Bupa, Australia’s largest for-profit aged care provider made over AU$ 663m in 2017. Over 70% (AU$ 468m) of this was from government funding.

Opal, the second largest for-profit company had a total income of AU$ 527.2m in 2015-16 (76% Government funding).

Allity had total income of $315.6 million, 67% of which came from government funding.

Japara had a total revenue of AU$ 275.5m in 2018, 72% (AU$ 198.7m) of which came from government funding.

In FY2018, Estia had a total revenue of AU$ 266.8m, 74% (AU$197.3m) of which came from government funding.

In 2018, Regis had total revenues of AU$ 280.5m, 71% (AU$ 198.2m) of which came from government funding.

As a basic principle, companies that receive millions of government subsidies must be held to a higher standard of transparency and must be publicly accountable. The fiasco which is the Aged Care sector has been sold off to profiteers, and we get what you would expect. If you don’t pay attention, they exploit the system, and the aged suffer.

The system is way too important to leave in the hands of companies whose first allegiance is to their shareholders. We need to re-build a strong public sector, augmented by not for profits. Throw away the neo-liberal playbook. Sink some money into aged care, because the community wants it. Our politicians have probably got a cosy little retirement haven set up for themselves, and probably paid for by us. The rest of the community should not dread old age, because our government of the day is too miserable to provide for ALL of its citizens.

 

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The Opposition – full of grumps and fantasists

If you were exposed to the last conservative government in Australia, you have just about seen it all. It was like a trip back in time, to a time when the communist scare had legs, when there was no such thing as ‘society’, and crony capitalism took over from the idea that Australia was the land of the ‘fair go’. And never forget the last prime minister really believed that he was chosen by God.

In the 1950s and 60s many in Australia were afraid that communism was going to sweep down from the Soviet Union, down through China, through South East Asia, with a short stopover in Indonesia, until it made its inevitable landfall on Australian soil.

Darwin would fall, and the absurdity of a new Brisbane Line was a part of the fever dream. We would abandon the country north of the Line, but our brave Aussies would rush to take up arms. It was hoped that we could push the communists back, preferably into the sea.

During Scott Morrison’s shambolic time in office, nothing reminded us of those dark days of fear and xenophobia like Dutton and his China bashing.

Of course, he had a lot of Coalition confederates, happy to take China’s money in the good times, but still wanting to blame them for the Covid-19 virus and attributing all sorts of evil to the Chinese Communist Party.

What was shocking was their willingness to re-visit those days, where the Communist word caused heartburn, and we stood behind LBJ. This time around it was Donald Trump providing us with a shield. Risky!

And we must remember Trump’s record of favouring white supremists. Was there a whiff of the White Australia Policy in our rush to condemn the Chinese? Is there a whiff of post-colonial racism in our demonisation of a document titled “Statement from the Heart”?

 

Dutton is a throwback to cold war thinking

Watching Peter Dutton as he struggles to find relevance is exhausting. There he is, wearing his scholarly glasses, using words like “history” and even referencing George Orwell’s Animal Farm. The quote he is using describes Soviet Russia in the 1930s and 40s and is laughable in an Australian context.

In my opinion it better resembles the belief system of the born-again community, where it divides the world into the ‘saved’, and those not saved.

“At a time when we need to unite the country, this prime minister’s proposal will permanently divide us by race,” he said.

If Dutton had acted like any sort of aspiring leader, he would have embraced the Voice as being essential, and as a necessary first step toward reconciliation with our original inhabitants.

He would have welcomed the opportunity to lead the cranky and the disenchanted in his party toward their better selves, but he has instead handed them more to be grumpy about, and sowed seeds of doubt, where none existed. All it takes is a reasonable amount of goodwill.

Even the Coalition would be aware that we have built our estimable modern achievements on stolen land. The least we can do is to give First Nations folk some acknowledgement of past wrongs, and a heartfelt promise that we will consult them in the future.

Everything about the Coalition these days reeks of grim reaction, of rejecting every aspect of modernism. Who do they think they represent? Not even Uncle Arthur, who terrorises all of our Christmas dinners, could hold to all these regressive ideas.

They don’t believe in climate change, because they haven’t read any of the science for the last forty years. They also presumably think those images of melting glaciers were photo-shopped.

They are panicking because they think a shadowy crowd of transgender kids is plotting to flood into girls’ toilets, for some unspeakable reason.

Although they know that there is a tsunami of hunger and homelessness, they do not want to vote for a $40 a fortnight increase in the Jobseeker allowance.

We need a decent opposition. But what we have is a Dad’s Army of nay-sayers, spooked by issues of gender, equality, law and order, reparations for past wrongs to our Indigenous fellow citizens, immigration terrors, and absolute panic that an unemployed person, somewhere in Australia, is rorting the system. God help us!

 

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Is our alliance with a Trumpian America worth it?

Over eighty years ago Prime Minister John Curtin prepared a New Year’s Eve message for the Australian people. It was written three weeks into the war with Japan. It was published in the Melbourne Herald on 27 December, 1941:

‘Without any inhibitions of any kind, I make it quite clear that Australia looks to America, free of any pangs as to our traditional links or kinship with the United Kingdom.’

With this message he informed the world that Australia’s foreign policy direction must change, in response not only to the military situation with Japan, but to Australia’s location in the Pacific. From then on, he states, Australia will be proactive, the architect of her own interests.

Australia disengaged from the ‘general war’ to concentrate on the Pacific conflict. Both Churchill and Roosevelt were surprised, and dismayed, but the die was cast. Australia survived the war, but only with massive assistance from the U.S. America has been the cornerstone of our foreign policy ever since.

Eighty years later, are Australia and the U.S. still a ‘perfect match’, or is it time to re-consider the partnership? Although America is still the pre-eminent power on earth, does Australia need its protection, and secondly, does America provide that protection, and if it does, at what price?

Is there a credible threat to us, or would we be more sensible to take a leaf out of New Zealand’s book, and be no-one’s enemy, and no-one’s target? It is important to look at our similarities, but also at the areas where we diverge.

Shared history, shared values?

For years, at least until President Trump was elected, there was a type of consensus that what we had in common far outweighed our differences. Recent events, particularly in America’s response to the Covid-19 pandemic, and then the Black Lives Matter protests, have thrown some doubt on that shared vision.

Many have used the “shared history, and shared values” argument to justify our continued relationship. Others question the value for Australia, which has stood loyally by its mighty ally, through its many wars, with not much to show for the effort, except in terms of lost lives, and wasted military resources. We were never there as equal partners.

We supported American wars whenever we were asked

Australia joined the U.S. in the Korean War, the Vietnam War, the First Gulf War in Iraq, the Afghanistan War, the Second Gulf War in Iraq. We even joined the so-called War on Terror.

When push comes to shove, Australia is expected to step forward, no questions asked. Perhaps the debt from 1941 – 1945 has been repaid?

Democratic standards

Australia and the U.S. are both nominally democratic societies, and yet there is a tradition in the U.S. of actively trying to suppress the vote for minorities, and to rig elections by gerrymander. There are efforts to outlaw postal voting, begun when in the midst of a global pandemic.

Australians are used to electoral matters being decided by independent umpires. We are not only encouraged to vote, but we are punished if we do not. So is America still a democracy, and is it worth defending?

Guns in America

Probably the most contentious right Americans possess is the right “to keep and to bear arms”. Covered by the Second Amendment and intended to permit the personal use of arms as a defence against state tyranny, it has mutated into a violent and uncontrolled gun culture.

In 2021, the most recent year for which complete data is available, 48,830 people died from gun-related injuries in the U.S., according to the CDC.

This was the highest number of gun deaths since 1968 (see here). Another side of this tragedy is that suicide accounts for almost twice as many deaths as homicide.

By comparison Australia’s gun deaths in 2019 were 229. It is incomprehensible to us living in Australia that Americans insist on their right to kill, and to be killed.

This situation is exacerbated by the militarisation of the various state police forces, and the sheer number of mainly gun-fuelled deaths. Most of those deaths are of Black men, arguably by overzealous police. Do we share the values of a nation which practices officially sanctioned, racially based murder?

Did Scott Morrison commit us to a war with China?

Our previous, unlamented Prime Minister ramped up the hysteria and the rhetoric concerning China. He committed a sum of $270 billion to defence, which included funding for long range missiles. These are presumably to warn China that we are deadly serious about defending ourselves, militarily, against our largest trading partner.

This can be traced back to a slavish desire, on Morrison’s part, to please Donald Trump. The ex-President, in an attempt to divert attention away from his own criminal governance of the country, had sought to demonise China for somehow ‘inventing’ Covid19.

By jumping on Trump’s bandwagon, Australia is going to be ‘protected’ if China reacts badly to our belligerence. That must be why we are investing in nuclear powered submarines, to be ‘delivered’, in dribs and drabs, if at all, in the 2040s.

It is uncertain whether human civilisation will even survive until the 2040s. Already climate change is contributing to mass migrations; droughts and floods are affecting food and water security; the West is already fracturing under the political pressures of exploding refugee numbers, and political volatility is out of control. Russia is just the first rogue state to bust out of the bubble.

Labor has drunk the kool-aid

The logic behind following the United States anywhere is flawed. It is a nation which seemingly needs wars, in order to keep its over-sized military busy, and focused outwards. How else to restrain its generals and admirals?

The American Century is over. The country is hopelessly divided, and its people are not only divided on political grounds, but also on economic, religious and racial lines. Inequality has morphed into something resembling the Middle Ages.

If America was once a trusted ally, the Trump presidency must have caused us to reconsider where we stand. A buddy this week, maybe not so much next week?

We need to tread carefully until the U.S. has a leader who can be trusted. Joe Biden is 80 years old. At his age, how long can we rely on his common sense? His main opponent will probably be Donald Trump, who is crazy, old and unstable.

This then is the horse we have hitched our wagon to. In Australian terms, “have we backed the wrong horse?”

 

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Book review: ‘Wolf Hall’ by Hilary Mantel

Wolf Hall is a work of historical fiction. It is meticulously researched, but Hilary Mantel has allowed herself ample space, in which she has thoroughly personalised the figure of Thomas Cromwell.

A divisive figure amongst historians, Mantel has created a personable, sophisticated ‘renaissance man’, humanistic and reflective. His ambition and his successes seem almost incidental to the story, and inevitable considering his intellectual attributes.

The book is set in the reign of Henry VIII, and Cromwell’s story is told from Cromwell’s point of view. It also incorporates a series of flashbacks, and tracks Cromwell’s rise from apprentice blacksmith to his brutish father, to being the King’s trusted Advisor and Counsellor.

Hilary Mantel has produced a narrative which allows us to get to know the great men and women of the time. Cardinal Wolsey, Thomas More, the Boleyn family, and that of the Duke of Norfolk are fleshed out credibly, if not totally accurately. Mantel’s Cromwell is an engaging man, and many of his exchanges are light-hearted, and his moments of reflection are self-aware, almost modern.

He moves further into King Henry’s orbit as his career progresses; from vagabond to lowly soldier, then a banker, a canny lawyer; his skills bring him to the attention of powerful men, until he is recruited to serve Cardinal Wolsey as his trusted advisor, and confidante.

His musings are of matters as diverse as the King’s appetites, sexual and otherwise; the King’s desire for a son and heir; how to channel money to the treasury, from monasteries he closes in a search for efficiencies.

He discovers that Henry’s great obsession is to find a way to divorce his current wife, and to replace her with a wife who will provide him with a son.

The book engages with the nature of power, and class, with King Henry’s journey from attractive and well-educated companion to a tyrannous rule, where many of his courtiers, and several of his wives, are cast aside, many of them executed.

The transformation is gradual, and the mastery of Mantel’s writing is in the command of the simultaneous strands of momentous change which Cromwell somehow navigates successfully.

As Henry ages Cromwell is tasked with, amongst other things, the break of the English Church from Rome, England’s relations with Spain, France, the Holy Roman Empire and the Pope. He is also tasked with managing the rise of protestant sentiment, especially after Martin Luther’s rebellion against the Church’s corrupt practices.

He becomes the instrument through whom Henry discards and finds wives, and the ‘fixer’ for courtiers, their wives and children; the closing of monasteries and the giving and taking of financial support; he even ensures that the King’s team prevails at jousting tournaments.

His growing knowledge of Henry’s power and of his nature terrifies him, but he is powerless to resist. He is shown as being familiar with Machiavelli’s master work, The Prince. It meshes with Henry’s reputation throughout Europe, as a tyrant. Nonetheless, Cromwell continues to accumulate property and riches.

Cromwell is portrayed as a basically decent man, who reflects on the often misguided motives of those he is forced to correct. To those who have wandered down the path of overt heresy, he attempts to provide a path to safety; he is disappointed when the help he offers is shrugged off.

His own beliefs are those he knows to be safe. He is not a man to risk his life for a theological dispute.

He is not in a position to defy the King, and so he carries out his orders, sometimes reluctantly. He likes Anne Boleyn for a time, but he does not hesitate to contrive a case against her. He is the ultimate pragmatist, and yet we are on-side with his struggles.

The rich texture of the times, and Cromwell’s place near the centre, is conveyed with power, humour, and a sense of gradually escalating doom.

The writing is powerful, precise and compelling. Mantel has total command of the time, the language, the theological disputes, the families in play against each other, the political realities, the pivotal roles and Cromwell’s progress to the highest positions in the law, in parliamentary politics, and in the Church. Her understanding of the relationships between the crowned heads of Europe is also outstanding.

If you have an interest in any of those subjects, then this book is magnificent.

 

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Was Pell a decent man? No

George Pell’s funeral in Sydney has shown clearly the divisions within the Australian community at large, the Catholic Church itself, and the conservative side of politics. It all boils down to whether or not Pell was a decent human being.

Aside from the well-known path from obscurity to eminence, there is the ongoing debate as to whether he was an innocent victim of ‘the mob’, pursued unfairly to his death, or was he, as Tony Abbott recently stated, “a saint for our times”?

The fact that the ribbons of remembrance were being cut and removed, as quickly as they were put up on the fence surrounding St Mary’s Cathedral in Sydney, was not a clear-cut battle between radicals and conservatives. The ribbons were placed there to remember the victims of child sexual abuse.

There are diametrically opposed views on Pell’s character, and his legacy, and they cannot both be right. We know a lot about Pell, and it is only fair to look at both sides. The central question is whether he was at the least a facilitator of pedophiles, or was he a spiritual leader for the Catholic Church?

In the matter of whether Pell was a child abuser, he has been ‘tried’ twice

The first was in The Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse. The second was more personal, in that he was the accused, rather than the church.

The findings of the Royal Commission

The Royal Commission found that:

“… by 1973, Pell was not only conscious of child sexual abuse by clergy’ but that he had ‘considered measures of avoiding situations which might provoke gossip about it’.”

In some cases, he actively moved the perpetrators on. Of course this only facilitated their actions in a whole new area, with no warnings given. He put the interests of the Church (his employer) above those of his charges.

When he later claimed to have been misled on the matter of moving dangerous priests from parish to parish, the Royal Commission found:

“We are satisfied that Cardinal Pell’s evidence as to the reasons that the CEO deceived him was implausible. We do not accept that Bishop Pell was deceived, intentionally or otherwise.”

This conscious ‘looking away’ continued for at least two decades. Rogue priests Gerald Ridsdale and Peter Searson, and two Christian Brothers, Edward Dowlan and Leo Fitzgerald, were the subject of complaints and statements that they were abusing children in his region. Subsequent court cases established their guilt.

The Royal Commission’s conclusion was that he was aware of child abuse, particularly within the Victorian diocese of Ballarat, and that he failed to take the required actions to protect children from predatory priests, and other religious staff.

As I have written elsewhere, Pell’s negligence was not about minor infractions. Whatever Pell thought, being raped is not like grazing your knee. You do not ‘get over it’. You suffer, and your family suffers. Your life often spirals out of control, and it often ends in suicide or premature death.

So, if we follow the Royal Commission’s reasoning, Pell was at least guilty of gross negligence, in that he was aware of criminal behaviour, he was in a position whereby he could have stopped the behaviour, and instead he re-located it.

Later on he concocted systems to either deny responsibility, or to lessen liability for the Church. He acted in the best interests of the Church, at the inevitable cost to the victims.

The victims lost their right to be heard, they were ignored or marginalised by the very organisation that their parents had entrusted with their care. Their physical and mental health was often ruined, and one can only speculate about their spiritual journey after their abuse.

It has been argued that Pell’s ‘solutions’ to the Church’s legal woes re-traumatised the victims. The removal of ribbons around the cathedral in Sydney merely reminded many of the disregard the Church has shown, for so long, for victims.

He was acquitted of sexual offences after two trials and two appeals.

His other trial was in the courts. He was found guilty, then again at appeal, but the decision was reversed by the High Court.

This sequence of events appears to be the only part of George Pell’s journey that Pell’s supporters remember.

The outcome then is that his supporters ignore the findings of a Royal Commission, but are prepared to accept the findings of the High Court. To suggest that this is ‘cherry-picking’ verdicts is as true as it is bizarre.

He abandoned the children in his ‘care’, although he likened his actions to a trucking magnate whose employee rapes a hitch-hiker. This is a very poor analogy, and it completely ignores the pastoral side of his calling, which roughly translates to a duty of care.

Melissa Davey, writing in the Guardian, quotes Pell’s barrister, Robert Richter as stating that the reason Pell was convicted was: “three years of royal commission shit”. He at least acknowledges that there had been a Royal Commission.

The verdict on Pell

George Pell has divided the country, and he will continue to do so. He was found to have facilitated the actions of known pedophiles, by consciously ignoring criminal behaviour, and by moving them on to fresh pastures.

He was charged with sexual offences against children, and eventually acquitted. This does not mean he was innocent. It means that the case was not proved beyond reasonable doubt.

On a moral basis, he spoke of having “not much interest” in hearing accusations against what were his ‘staff’. He seems to have had no understanding of what it takes to manage people, and to protect children. He appears to have had no insight into victims’ suffering, nor that of their family and friends.

For the conservative politicians who are swarming to support Pell, take a look at your own, contradictory position. Abbott, Howard, even Dutton are singing Pell’s praises, while apparently totally ignoring the findings of a Royal Commission.

As politicians they are aware of the legal and moral power of a Royal Commission, and yet two prime ministers and someone wishing to become one, dismiss the institution. I would call that contempt for Parliament, or contempt for logic.

A saint for our times? I would describe Pell as a rather shabby individual who failed on every measure. The fact that the conservative side of politics is now rallying around such a man, proves there is something rotten in our fair land. Children are our most precious resource, and look how they were treated.

 

Image from msn.com

 

 

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Peter Dutton – a man on a mission, or just wrecker?

The Liberal Party of Australia continues to present its worst face to the electorate. One would have assumed that Peter Dutton, one of the most unpopular politicians in Australia’s parliamentary history, could not possibly have been elected to lead an already discredited party.

But to the party which selected Tony Abbott in 2009 to the same position, one bad decision is never enough. After disposing of Abbott, who to his credit did actually win an election, they eventually woke up and replaced him with Malcolm Turnbull.

Of course, Turnbull was far too clever to be left in power, so the party chose Scott Morrison to lead them. He was meant to present a more likeable leader than his opponent, Peter Dutton. So far, there is very little to choose between the two. If you are a Liberal voter, you appear to be stuck between a rock, and a hard place.

Dutton’s public pronouncements do not help his cause

Over the years Peter Dutton has sought to present himself as a no-nonsense ‘straight talker’. It is hard to reconcile his public statements with the pleasant, personable man that some of his supporters attest to.

He described the belongings brought to Australia by refugees as:

“… the world’s biggest collection of Armani jeans and handbags up on Nauru waiting for people to collect it when they depart.”

When commenting on past immigration under Malcolm Fraser, he stated:

“The advice I have is that out of the last 33 people who have been charged with terrorist-related offences in this country, 22 of those people are from second and third generation Lebanese-Muslim background.”

He decided that:

“… the reality is people (in Melbourne) are scared to go out at restaurants of a night time because they’re followed home by these gangs, home invasions, and cars are stolen and we just need to call it for what it is. Of course, it is African gang violence.”

He was much more sympathetic towards white South African farmers, however:

“I do think on the information that I’ve seen, people do need help, and they need help from a civilized country like ours.”

Heaven help them if they should become pregnant, though:

“Some people are trying it on. Let’s be serious about this. There are people who have claimed that they’ve been raped and came to Australia to seek an abortion because they couldn’t get an abortion on Nauru. They arrived in Australia and then decided they were not going to have an abortion. They have the baby here and the moment they step off the plane their lawyers lodge papers in the federal court which injuncts us from sending them back.”

This statement was a factor in Shane Bazzi’s tweeting that Dutton was a “rape apologist”. Dutton then sued, and won, only for the original verdict to be overturned on appeal.

Adding to his sense of frustration with migrants, or refugees, or both classes of people not from South Africa, he elaborated on the theme of “anchor babies”, an anti-immigration term popularised in Trump’s America.

This was in relation to two specific children, and their parents of course; Sri Lankan couple Priya and Nadesalingam and their Australian-born daughters Kopika, and Tharunicaa:

“It’s been very clear to them at every turn that they were not going to stay in Australia, and they still had children. We see that overseas in other countries, anchor babies…the emotion of trying to leverage a migration outcome based on the children,” he told Macquarie Radio.

Dutton has been accused of being racist

We can only really list his mis-statements and allow readers to draw their own conclusions.

Dutton walked out on the apology to the Stolen Generation, and proffered the following apology for his boycott:

“I didn’t appreciate the symbolism of it, and the importance to Indigenous people.”

He was caught making a joke about the rising sense of doom amongst Pacific Island nations, as they face possible extinction of their homelands, due to climate change:

“Time doesn’t mean anything when you’re about to have water lapping at your door.”

Is Dutton just another naysayer?

His grandstanding about the Voice to Parliament is grating, because it seems to be playing a non-existent tune. The Voice has been explained, ad nauseum, as an advisory body, only.

It will not be a third chamber to the Parliament; it will not legislate. It will advise the mostly non-indigenous parliamentarians about purported effects of legislation affecting indigenous Australians. It will not advise on national security, nor will it advise on defence matters.

And yet, ignoring his seeming irrelevance in modern Australian political life, Dutton continues to be treated as if his concerns are real. As the Prime Minister bends further backward to appease Dutton, the rest of us are forced to watch, and listen, as he inches towards understanding.

The remaining two Liberal premiers have now joined the Federal Government, and the other state premiers, in supporting the Voice to Parliament.

Dutton is isolated on policies, and on attitude

So now Dutton is marooned with the likes of the crew at Sky News, and David Littleproud’s strange fringe party. He then made the effort to attend George Pell’s funeral, and he was outraged by the decision to leave King Charles off the $5 note.

These are the current issues which marginalise him even more from mainstream Australia, or at least those voters who are under seventy years of age, and not conspiracy theorists.

Add it to his climate skepticism, and the Liberal Party of Australia is doomed to spend a very long time out on the fringes. It begs the question of how long he can be allowed to make the party not only irrelevant, but one which seems to delight in choosing unpopular causes to champion.

He seems to be channelling Tony Abbott, and we know where that leads.

 

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George Pell was an ambitious bully

It doesn’t matter whether you are a Catholic or not. George Pell is a success story. From humble beginnings to a Prince of the Church. You don’t have to be steeped in Roman theology to know that a cardinal is a person of great eminence and power.

But it is inescapable that Pell had a blind spot. He never liked children, and he did not seem to understand them. He clearly did not value them, nor did he see their innocence as fragile, or precious.

Pell’s attitudes were formed at school, and I have a special insight as to why he was so blind to children’s needs. I went to the same school, around a decade later than he did.

St Patrick’s College is in Ballarat, and it prides itself on a form of education closer to a gulag than a school. Pell himself personified many of the qualities that they valued.

Courage, resilience, toughness, a willingness to bear pain without showing it – these are their virtues. Add a rigorous education, with generous amounts of physical discipline thrown in, and you have the recipe for what Pell became – an intellectual bully, with a chip on his shoulder, and unlimited ambition.

Many of us have spent a lifetime undoing the harm that that form of education unleashed on us. Not Pell, though. He used it to get to the top of an international organisation.

We were schooled in mythology; the mythology of the downtrodden Irish, but no matter the odds, we would triumph through stubborn persistence and, a belief that we were on the right side of the religious divide. We were still taught Latin, and adherence to ‘the Faith’ was not optional.

Young people these days are blessed, in that they have not had to endure the prejudice that Irish Catholics underwent when I was young. We were even drilled in how to wear our school uniforms when we were in public. We had to present better than the Protestant students, because we were ‘the other’, and we were expected to be louts.

So we were in our own minds an oppressed community, but we would prevail because we were stronger, and better educated, and whenever we were presented with a level playing field, we would prevail. Society as battleground.

Pell was a ruckman in the First XVIII, and a feared and ruthless competitor. St Pat’s were perennial champions, and Pell was their captain and their enforcer.

In those days many Catholic families followed an informal policy of ‘giving’ a child to the church. This meant one, boy or girl, would be selected to become a member of the religious community.

This was an ancient tradition, and it saw boys choosing to become, if they were clever, priests. If not so bright, religious brothers. Girls were suitable candidates for nuns. The parents usually made the call; seldom did the child. This serves to remind us of the primacy of the Church in many Catholic homes.

When the horrors of the sexual abuse scandals broke, many of the victims were not believed by their parents. Many were sent back into the very classrooms they had escaped; sometimes they were abused by those they had complained to.

It does not matter that Pell escaped conviction for actual sexual predation. He was found to have facilitated the acts of others, by looking the other way. He knew about the abuse, but he was not that interested.

Presumably he believed that children who were raped would recover, as they would from a grazed knee in the playground. That can be the only reason he repeatedly moved-on those he knew, or even suspected, to be rapists. Send them to another parish, or diocese, and after a time spent offending in new pastures, move them on again.

How do you grow to be an adult and still not know that rape is wrong? How do you rise through the ranks of an organisation of educated individuals, and not know that not only is it against the law of every civilised nation, but that it is devastating to the victims?

How did this man, a Doctor of Philosophy, not understand that he was meant to regulate his staff, and to ensure the safety of their youthful charges?

Pell failed on every measure of a good life

Pell’s failures were not only moral. He failed in every aspect of his elevated career. He failed as a Christian, as a leader, as a priest, as an administrator, and as an adult.

He knew about children’s suffering, but he placed the reputation, and the finances of a corrupt organisation above those for whom we are all responsible. There can be no excuse, because he KNEW, and he did nothing.

The commission concluded that:

“… by 1973, Cardinal Pell was not only conscious of child sexual abuse by clergy, but he also considered measures of avoiding situations which might provoke gossip about it.”

Why is he supported by so many prominent Australians?

John Howard and Tony Abbott have both been conscious supporters of Pell. Both have served as prime ministers, and their opinions carry weight. It appears that the further you are to the right of the political spectrum, the more likely you are to support Pell.

Although Pell was acquitted of sexual assault, he was not found innocent. The charges were set aside by the High Court of Australia, as being “unsafe”.

Both Howard and Abbott have degrees in Law. They presumably know that, notwithstanding the High Court’s ruling, the Royal Commission found that Pell, at the least, knew, but did nothing. The fact that he was not crippled with guilt, and self-loathing, speaks volumes about his character.

The fact that these two eminent Australians continue to support him, suggests men who care little for what is right, but who continue the endless culture wars.

That leaves us living in a curiously barren landscape, where we forget the words of their saviour, “Let the little children come to me and do not stop them, for the Kingdom of God belongs to such as these.”

 

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