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Victoria has a passion for progressive policies and a professional interest in marketing and communications. Victoria writes about politics and the media and how the media covers politics (#mediafail). You will find her tweeting at @Vic_Rollison, researching political communications at the University of South Australia and ranting about the Tony Abbott wrecking ball. Look out for her Open Letters and hope you never receive one.

Trump Played the Cookie-Cutter Media Like a Violin

cnn

The election of Trump has exposed a media so incompetent, so unqualified in their important job, so blatantly ill-equipped to report news usefully to the voting public, that surely they must take a slice of the blame-pie in everything that Trump now does to a mostly unsuspecting America, and in turn, the world. Although I could write a thesis about all the media’s errors, to make this digestible, I will boil down the main problems into two buckets: false equivalency and the cookie-cutter narrative.

False Equivalency

The false equivalency error came from the media’s automatic process of treating Clinton and Trump as being ‘just the same’. From the nomination onwards, Trump was given automatic credibility. His statements were reported without analysis, his words made into headlines without question or fact-check, his soundbites and tweets given an underserved legitimacy, because he was a big powerful man running for the top job. Trump never had to gain or prove his legitimacy for the role, because he was given it, automatically, by a media institution so used to reporting political contests from this perspective, they knew no other way to do it. He was fit to be President because he said so. No questions asked.

Importantly, this automatic legitimacy gave an equal amount of legitimacy to Trump’s supporters. The media’s expectation of Trump’s behaviour was so low that when his supporters were just as low, the media shrugged and reported it all like it was perfectly acceptable. No matter how vile, how badly behaved, how racist, how unthinking, sexist, hateful, unjust, how lowest-common-denominator they went, Trump supporters’ behaviour was accepted by the media as just an example of the just-as-legitimate-as-Clinton-supporters-other-side-of-the-debate.

These decimated standards and the resulting revolting behaviour don’t just disappear now that the election is over. Trump’s win have etched a stain, an indelible mark onto the American culture forever. The legitimising of hate and division is now permanent. How many times did you see a journalist sitting politely in a Trump supporter’s living room, sipping on a cup of tea, nodding empathetically while they told them how much they looked forward to throwing out the Mexicans? The media legitimise these views through normalising them into soundbites. You normalise these views and they become accepted and legitimate. You take down the standard of respect, the values of acceptance, and these abhorrent views spread like wildfire. How did Hitler come to power? Do journalism students study history?

But it didn’t end there. No, the false equivalency extended further, to the ‘they are just as bad as each other’ narrative. How many times did you hear a news report about the election start with words something like ‘as the two most unpopular candidates battle it out…’? On the morning of the election, Australia’s SBS were one of thousands of news outlets across the world who reported from the false equivalency lens with the headline: ‘US Votes: Americans pick their next president after divisive, bitter campaign’. Hang on, hang on just one second. Divisive and bitter why? This lens implies that Hillary Clinton played just as big a part as Trump in making the campaign divisive and bitter, slotting into the idea that the two candidates were equivalent, just as much to blame, just as unqualified, just as hot-headed, rude, abusive, and offensive and racist as Trump was for every second of every day of the campaign. Clinton held her head high every day, only once calling Trump’s supporters a basket of deplorables. One slip and it’s all her fault?

Where Clinton had 24/7 coverage of her email scandal (which she had numerous times been cleared of as an error, low and behold she is human, if this is the only thing they had on her, she’s almost spotless after 30 years of service), this one scandal was given equivalency to Trump’s daily scandals, plural, which were so numerous that he got away with all of them, so regular that not one was given the full attention it deserved, so frequent that they were all swept under the carpet-of-Trump’s-election-circus-media-show, as if not one of them mattered or not one of them helped to tell the story of Trump’s illegitimacy to be leader of the free world.

Imagine trying to explain to future generations how a man who screwed over his workers and contractors, destroyed livelihoods and lives, bankrupted himself and others numerous times, boasted of sexual assault, was accused of raping his ex-wife, of assaulting a 13 year old girl, of tweeting profanities and abuse at all hours of the day and night – imagine explaining how this behaviour was framed as ‘isn’t he entertaining, doesn’t he have great news value, more please, boys-will-be-boys, there is no standard of behaviour anymore, no one is expected to behave properly ever again’. How did this happen? How did he win by lying and cheating? How did Trump, like Andy Dufresne in Shawshank Redemption, crawl through a river of shit and come out clean on the other side? Whereas Clinton dips her toe in mud and is forever framed as dirty and untrustworthy? How did these two distortions of reality happen? The media enabled it through the false equivalency phenomenon, otherwise known as lazy, unthinking journalism.

The Cookie Cutter Narrative

This morning on Radio National, journalist and experienced foreign correspondent, Hamish McDonald, hit the nail on the head in his criticism of the media’s failings in their reporting of Trump. He said Trump’s win shows the mainstream media have to ask themselves ‘serious questions’ and described their election coverage as ‘disgraceful’. McDonald explained that the newsgathering process should involve journalists going out and finding a story, and then writing the story and sending it back to the head office to be edited and published. Everyone rightly assumes this is how news reporting happens. But the way it actually happens is that, in his experience, journalists spend time in the field, then they get a message from head office, telling them what the story is. They then try to make the information they have fit that story.

As regular readers know, I am studying political narratives, so McDonald’s analysis hit me on the forehead. What he describes is a propensity for the media to make the facts fit a pre-defined narrative, rather than letting the narrative evolve from the facts. Any fact that doesn’t fit the story is excluded. The sources used for soundbites, low and behold, fit the story, and those who don’t fit are excluded.

So what was the predefined story during the US election? See above. The false-equivalency, two-horse-race, bad-candidate versus bad-candidate, divisive-campaign-both-their-fault email scandal versus Trump all-encompassing-circus story was all we heard. How often did we hear about Trump’s policy plans and the constant inconsistency on display? Was there any analysis of how much his policies might cost? How often was he called out for lying? When were voters told the impact Trump’s ‘climate change is a Chinese hoax’ position would have on the planet? When was Trump asked for any detail about how he would build a wall and why on earth would Mexico pay for it? When was he called out for the contradictory policy positions he would take within minutes of each other? It’s almost liked the journalists pretended they couldn’t understand what he was saying, or that it was all too hard to fact-check, or that he’s just a joke anyway so who cares what he’ll do, let’s just have a laugh and worry about it later?

When were voters told, in any sort of useful detail, what it would mean for poor Americans to lose Obamacare, which had only just started having a positive impact on the lives of uninsured Americans? Trump has said he wants to roll back globalisation, to reinstate closed-down-industries, to return workers to coal mines, to tear up free trade agreements. When did he ever get asked how on earth he would make any of this pie-in-the-sky roll-back-to-the-1950s actually happen? And how many of Trump’s voters are going to be completely surprised at what he actually does, and totally despairing when they find their situations made much worse by a failed lying snake-oil-salesman who was only in it for his own ego? Face palm.

It is maddening to now see, after the election, that the media are running around like headless-chooks trying to find out what exactly the Trump presidency means for the people of the world. After the election. When it’s too late. When there’s nothing anyone can do about it. The facts that come out of this post-election investigation, analysis and scrutiny of Trump didn’t fit the two-horse-narrative before the election and are all too-little-too-late now.

The media played their part in Trump’s victory by letting Trump play them like a violin. And now we’re all screwed. The moral of Trump’s win is that lying and cheating gets you to the White House. Thanks a bunch.

Trying to Understand

trump-woman

Even before Trump won I did a lot of reading to try to understand why he would even get one vote, let alone millions. There is literally an avalanche of analysis pouring out of the internet with thousands of writers doing the same thing I’m doing. Racism. White supremacy. Economic anxiety. Wealth inequality. Anti-establishment and anti-political-correctness. I won’t try to condense this down to one reason, or a dot point list, or to try to explain away something so multi-faceted that it will take years, perhaps generations, to see what really happened. But I did find one insight necessary to highlight, because I think this one thing matters.

White women. Over half of them voted for Trump*. (*Half of the white women who voted, voted for Trump). Let that one settle as you ponder the photograph below.

trump-can-grab-my

It’s easy, as a middle-class, educated, professional, white, politically engaged, feminist, left-wing working mother to assume women everywhere would unfailingly support a female Presidential candidate. When I read Barbara Kingsolver’s impassioned plea for women to reject the Trump-bully, and to reject the notion that women aren’t really people, I felt a rage and a sadness that made me want to scream. But what we have learned from Trump’s victory is that one should never assume everyone thinks like they do. And one should never assume all women feel the same way about feminism as feminists do.

A small note now about fear and the rural versus city divide. I tweeted last night that no more analysis was needed about how Trump won other than to say Trump did a good job of scaring people, telling them he’d fix everything and, because they were too scared to need details or to think very hard about what he was selling, they all fell for it all hook, line and sinker. I stick by this short-hand analysis; fear was the basis of Trump’s campaign and he was very clever at exploiting many and varied reasons for fear in all voting demographics. Women included.

The rural and city divide is also important here. This analysis of the difference between rural America and city America is crucial to understanding Trump’s success. As an Australian who has never been to America, the America I thought I knew and loved, for the most part, voted for Clinton. The Hollywood, city culture, is the only version of American culture my experience can bring to mind. The ‘fly over states’, the red states, really are a different America – they’re miserable, poor, resentful, often unemployed, left-behind and incredibly easy to scare because their lives are, well, pretty crap. When Trump came along and said ‘I’ll make your country great again’, ‘it’s going to be huge’, they were desperate for him to be right, and this wave of desperation delivered city-dwelling-Trump electoral spoils even he probably didn’t believe were possible.

Now hold that thought when it comes to scared, white, rural females. What are they scared of in particular?

They’re scared of women like Hillary Clinton.

One of the hundreds of articles I read about the election in my quest to understand was this interview with Stephanie Coontz, a gender and economics expert at Evergreen State College. You can read it for yourself, but I’ll pull out the key points. Coontz says that it’s ‘women who have the fewest opportunities to compete successfully in the labor market’ who are ‘much more likely to support the policies and values that reward a traditional division of labor in the household’. It all started to make sense for me when I saw this. She went on to say, ‘Women with more social, economic, or educational capital are much more likely to support the activities of women making their own way in the world, to be proud when they see powerful women who stand up or who are getting ahead of men in any way’. Yep. And then this: ‘Women with less economic or personal autonomy are often drawn to a culture of family values that emphasizes men’s responsibility to look after women’. Are you with me now? Suddenly the abuse of Julia Gillard by Australian women made more sense. And finally, Cootz says that when women who emphasize their role in the family as nurturer, as the one who stays home to look after the children, when they see women like Hillary promising more rights for women, equal rights for women, they are scared because ‘women having all these freedoms from male control, they believe… it actually threatens women’s entitlement to male protection’. If Hillary can be elected President, if women can get equal rights, if women are valued in the workforce at equal rates of pay to men, then, these women fear this freedom will lead to the end of their promised role in life as homemaker. They fear equality, feminism, will cause a shift in the culture where men will no longer hold the role of breadwinner, and the women will no longer be entitled to their self-identity as home-maker.

I’m not saying this attitude is the only reason the majority of white women, mostly in rural areas, voted for Trump. I’m not saying that his misogynistic, pussy-grabbing, boys-will-be-boys persona was totally ignored by women because they were more worried about what Hillary represented than what Trump did (a male culture, in rural areas, which these women are no doubt very familiar and comfortable with). I’m just saying, there is something to this. Many women reject feminism and reject female leaders and reject the notion that women should be equal to men in all facets of life, but perhaps don’t always understand, even in themselves, why this is so. In order to understand these women, we need to know these women. Somehow, Trump got it. His promises to ‘lock Hillary up’ resonated with women who wanted her to get back in her place. Now it’s time for those, like me, who oppose everything Trump is about to do to America, to start understanding this too.

Bob Day’s Tangled Web

Day and Birmingham at NEVC visit, September 2015, from NEVC Facebook page.

Day and Birmingham at NEVC visit, September 2015, from NEVC Facebook page.

There’s a lot in the media this week about ex-Senator Bob Day. You may think this whole sorry saga is about Day’s dodgy dealings over the sale and rent of his electoral office and Day’s business failure. But pass the popcorn folks, because you ain’t seen nothing yet.

Before I start at the beginning, just a bit of context about profit-loving-free-marketeer-Turnbull’s apparently contradictory dislike for private training colleges. That’s right, Turnbull, who loves everything about profit in any situation, apparently makes an exception when that profit is being made by private vocational colleges. He recently said, when announcing a policy to limit what these profit-makers could charge students, that he needed to crack down to ‘weed out the rorters’. Hold that thought.

The beginning. The beginning was when Bob Day stood for the Liberals in 2007 and turned the marginal seat of Makin into the safest Labor seat in the country with a swing against the Liberals of 8.63%. Actually, that wasn’t the beginning, but it’s a fun fact anyway.

The beginning of this web is actually ex-Liberal, now-Family First Day’s maiden speech to parliament in 2014 when he laid out his political raison d’être by describing the minimum wage as an ‘absurd’ barrier to employment. Note the framing here. Day tries to make the worker the victim. He is trying to make an apprentice wage sound like an abundant amount of money. Which is a problem, wait for it, for the worker. That’s right. Day thinks workers should lower their asking price if they want some benevolent saint-like employer to take a chance on them and if they expect to be paid properly for their labour, well, they’ll never get a job. Absurd he calls it. Put more simply, Day, who I’m-sure-coincidentally-and-not-at-all-dubiously owned a multi-million-dollar construction company didn’t like having to pay young apprentices the minimum training wage, and could see a golden opportunity to smash this absurd protection-against-slave-like-wages by having a say in legislation passing the Senate. Using campaign funds from a huge donation to Family First from his building company, don’t forget.

By the way, let’s look at the rate Day is talking about when he mentions apprentice rates for young tradies. For a first-year carpentry apprenticeship in 2014, under the age of 21, the minimum wage is $12.42 an hour or $471.93 a week. Day thinks $45 a week above the poverty line for a full time job is an absurd amount of money.

This week, we’ve discovered how far along in Day’s plan he is to bring about his utopian paradise where he has slave-labour building houses for his construction company. Alas, unhappily for his investors, customers, workers and contractors, but happily for everyone else, this utopia will never happen for Day personally because, low and behold, the houses he was selling weren’t built very well (maybe the trades people weren’t very well trained #justsaying), were riddled with defects, didn’t meet schedules and sent the company Day owned broke, bringing down the Day house-of-cards with it. Day’s political slogan of ‘every family, a job and a house’ now reads more accurately as ‘every homeless family, a no-pay-job and a mortgage-on-an-unliveable-house’.

But wait, there’s more. Out of the shadows this week has been news that the Turnbull government have awarded a private trades training provider – North Eastern Vocational College (NEVC) – a $1.8 million grant, without tender, to run a pilot program delivering an ‘alternative model of apprenticeship delivery’. This college is linked to Day.

Before I describe how this alternate model appears to work, it’s important to know how NEVC currently fits into the apprentice system. I spoke this morning to a carpentry graduate of the college, who now has an apprentice who is currently a student there. NEVC is one of many private trades colleges which compete with the TAFE system to offer training to apprentices. These apprentices are working in apprentice carpentry jobs, employed by a qualified carpenter. NEVC training includes a small amount of class-room delivery, and then sign-off on certification throughout the apprenticeship, in order to ensure standards are met and ultimately an accreditation of a trade qualification. The cost for this training is, apparently, usually incurred by the apprentice’s employer at a fee of around $3,000 for four years. Through providing this payment, the employer (the qualified trades person), maintains the right to pay their apprentice the minimum-apprentice wage, which is below minimum wage. In other words, the $3,000 easily covers the $4 per hour reduction in the minimum wage, which amounts to a saving of $31,000 in wages over the four year apprenticeship. So, yes a trades person has to be busy enough to provide full-time work for their apprentice, yes they have to train that apprentice, but they also gain an assistant who they charge out to the client (possibly with a margin), who works hard, helps them complete their building projects and earns less than the minimum wage for their efforts. This model has produced thousands of competent tradespeople for the Australian economy. So, all in all, why is a reform, and an ‘alternative’ needed?

The answer to that question is reflected in Day’s maiden speech and in the report from the Liberal government’s consult-for-8-weeks advisory group who suggested the need for an alternative model. Note the advisory group was made up of private-training college providers. Funny that. Note there was no one from TAFE on the panel, nor a union representative. Funny that. In their report, one of their justifications for the need for a new model is ‘Industrial relations award conditions can adversely affect some pathways into apprenticeships’. Putting that in laymen terms, they are echoing Day’s mantra that the minimum apprenticeship wage is putting off employers from taking up apprentices. Can you see the web now?

Back to the grant given to NEVC, a training organisation Day had been chairman and director of for over 10 years, and the facility Day showed Simon Birmingham around in September 2015, a day Birmingham apparently does not recall. Resulting from Day’s lobbying efforts, NEVC has been awarded an eye-watering $90,000 per student, with two other training organisations also receiving million dollar grants to run the ‘alternative delivery pilot’. According to investigative work by Fairfax’s Heath Aston and Eryk Bagshaw, the alternative model will give the training colleges a ‘triple-dip’ of funding through not just the grant, but also by making student apprentices pay for their training through tertiary-education style HELP loans AND by charging employers to use the apprentices from the college. Let that settle for a moment. Suddenly the student is paying for the training, and the employer, and in turn, their client, is paying for the student to work on their project. So who’s making the profit here? Oh! The training college! Now it’s all becoming clear! You surely picked that Day wouldn’t run this training college out of the goodness of his neoliberal heart. What is not clear is whether the apprentices get paid for their on-the-job-training, and if so, how much – a crucial detail which so far has not been announced. Another question is, what will established tradies think when apprentices turn up on site, without a qualified trades person as their trainer, taking work from them? Even the fake-tradie might not vote Liberal anymore.

You see what I mean by a web? Suddenly the scandal over Day’s Senate resignation has blown up so that he’s just a fly in the web, broken wings, legs flapping. But Turnbull is the spider. You have to ask yourself, apart from Turnbull’s wish to smash a wrecking ball through the long-standing and successful Australian apprenticeship on-the-job-training system which has worked well for tradies, and in turn, the Australian economy for generations, and to promote yet another kick-in-the-guts-to-young-people, what do the Liberals want from this gift to Day? Why are they so suddenly, hypocritically keen to contradict the ‘private vocational training is making too much money’ line they rolled out only weeks ago?

A Senate vote? A single vote helping to pass the Australian Building and Construction Commission, in a bid to wreck construction unions, which, surely-not-another-coincidence, work to uphold the rights and wage conditions for construction workers INCLUDING APPRENTICE WAGES! Just wow. The whole saga is, what’s the word I’m looking for, it’s right on the tip of my tongue. Absurd? Yes. It’s all revoltingly absurd.

Give Clinton (and Gillard!) a break!

Image from heraldsun.com.au

Image from heraldsun.com.au

Next time I hear someone say ‘Clinton and Trump are both terrible candidates’, or some variation on this theme, I will scream. Part of the reason I find this statement so annoying, so unhelpful, and so unfair to Clinton, is because I still have post-traumatic stress after seeing the same thing happen to Gillard, when she was painted as falsely-equivalent to Abbott.

As a female leader or candidate, and as a progressive, there is a double layer of expectation. That expectation is that you are P-E-R-F-E-C-T in every way. So, for instance, if you, like Gillard, roll out over 300 pieces of perfectly legitimate, progressive and good-for-society policies and legislation, but there are one, two, maybe three things that you did which many progressives don’t agree with, you’re DEAD TO THEM.

For Gillard, it was one of her decisions about asylum seekers, a change to single-parent welfare and/or opposition to gay marriage which are the only policy decisions some progressives seem to talk about, remember, hold against her, and cause them to say Gillard is just as bad as Abbott. For Clinton, it’s her email scandal. Or her ties to Wall Street. Apparently there is no leeway to say ‘oh well, Clinton’s not the perfect progressive candidate’, or ‘Gillard’s not the perfect progressive Prime Minister’, but also to accept they are still a good progressive leader. And far preferable to their loony right-wing contender. For the ‘they’re dead to me’ crowd, there is no grey in the black-white judgement about whether either is a legitimate candidate or leader. No matter what policies Clinton puts forward, her quest to continue Obama’s legacy in most policy areas, and in some to improve them, is ignored. Her haters just focus on the areas where they don’t agree with her. It’s incredible how all the good policies, ideas, hard-work, commitment and leadership ability that Clinton and Gillard bring to the table, counts for nothing for some people.

There’s also the standard that ‘the woman did ok’ as long as she didn’t stuff up, such as many appraisals of Clinton’s debate performances.  But for Trump, if he doesn’t stuff up, he’s the winner. The bar is just set lower for men.

Now, I’m not saying it’s all a female thing, but I am saying females have encountered this problem before. For example, the expectation that female news readers are immaculate, thin, covered in make-up and definitely should not have grey hair. But men? Anything goes really. And what about the fact that Australian women are increasingly working just as many hours as men, but are still, in most families, doing the vast bulk of child care and household chores? Is this just a woman’s lot? For our female politicians, is it just their lot to be judged to be perfect or terrible, with no continuum, no balanced perspective, nothing in between?

It’s impossible to ignore the gendered part of this equation. But there is also a ‘progressive versus conservative’ element. Put bluntly, most right-wing voters don’t give a crap about the policies right-wing candidates serve up, as long as they promise to reduce taxes. But for left-wingers, you’re not just expected to have a policy for every-occasion, pushing the boundaries of progress every second of the day, and also to know every detail of these thousands of policies, and how much they will cost, at a moment’s notice. When you try to explain policy details, you’re called ‘beige’ and ‘uninspiring’.

Progressive leaders are also meant to live up to the hugely unrealistic expectation that they’ll win elections without making friends with business interests, while competing against the war-chest of business interests funding the neoliberal candidate on the right. So, for instance, Clinton is evil because she’s had paid speaking gigs for Wall Street bankers. No matter that she’s vowed to close tax-loopholes which see billions lost in corporate tax-evasion. No matter that she’s made wealth inequality the centrepiece of her ‘stronger together’ narrative. Because a New York Senator low and behold has some rich Wall Street supporters backing her campaign, she’s DEAD to many progressives. Sad, isn’t it?

I adored Julia Gillard as Prime Minister, and still count her as my number one hero. I didn’t always agree with her, but I’m not naïve to think there will ever be a politician who I could possibly always agree with. It is so disappointing to now be watching Clinton, who, like Gillard, will never be perfect, but shouldn’t be expected to be, written off as ‘just as bad as Trump’. Comparing Gillard and Clinton to Abbott and Trump, for a progressive, is like comparing a slightly blemished apple with a rotten, maggot-filled orange. Those saying ‘Clinton and Trump are just as bad as each other’, apparently, would throw both pieces of fruit in the bin and go hungry in another act of counterproductive, Abbott-electing ridiculousness, rather than give Clinton, or Gillard, the credit they deserve.

I will be excited when Clinton is elected as the first female US President. I will be critical of her decisions when justified, and appreciative of her good work when justified. As it should be.

Santa Is Not Coming

santa-turnbull

There seems to be a residual myth in the Australian political establishment that the real Malcolm Turnbull stills exists. You see this myth cropping up alongside all kinds of sideways excuses for why Turnbull is missing. For instance, Katharine Murphy implies the centrist-Malcolm is being held captive by the far right of his party: ‘If Turnbull moved decisively in the direction of centrist cooperation, various charges would be levelled against him in predictable quarters. He’d be thumbing his nose at the base. He’d be provoking Ray Hadley. He’d be emboldening Tony Abbott’. Michelle Grattan says he needs some more runs on the board, and to better define his narrative. I think it’s time we all grew up and come to terms with the sad reality. Santa Claus isn’t real. Never was real. Never will be. And he’s not coming over to your house to bring an iPad, a credible renewable energy policy or to make gay marriage a reality. The truth is, old Malcolm doesn’t exist. It was all just a con to make him palatable enough for first the seat of Wentworth, and then the job of Prime Minister. The fact is, the real Malcolm is exactly the Malcolm you see in front of you. The Abbott pig wearing lipstick. Malcolm’s narrative is just the same as Abbott’s. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

I’ll give you a moment to let this sad reality sink in before I make you truly depressed with a description of the Prime Minister we’ve all ended up with, while being played and teased with the idea he was something different. You see, the thing is, when we desperately want to believe something, us humans are very good at ignoring all evidence against it. That’s why people didn’t hear Malcolm when he said, in his first speech as Prime Minister, that he would lead a ‘thoroughly Liberal Government committed to freedom, the individual and the market’. A free-market. This stood out to me because I can see the neoliberal-wolf wearing the social-progressive-sheep’s clothing. But after the harrowing experience of Abbott, it’s no wonder the hopeful souls of Australia wanted so badly to follow the Pied-Point-Piper of Vaucluse over the edge of the neoliberal cliff. The fact is, ideologically, Abbott is a social-conservative who also happens to enjoy the support of neoliberal donors. Turnbull is a neoliberal warrior who doesn’t think social is a thing unless there’s profit in it for his Panama tax havens.

The one-seat majority, and the herd of angry Abbott-supporting backbenchers has actually been a gift to Turnbull. He’s using the slimy creeps, the George Christensens, the Eric Abetzs, the Cory Bernardis, as an alibi to say ‘I’m only doing stuff most people don’t agree with because I’m hamstrung by the right-wing of my party’. This idea works so nicely with the ‘it’s not my fault and I can’t help it’ fairy tale that it’s no wonder the myth of the old-Malcolm-will-return is still alive. But the thing is, in order to believe this myth, you would have to also believe that Malcolm cares more about hanging onto his job as Prime Minister than he does about doing the things he apparently believes in, such as addressing climate change and promoting marriage equality. But if this is true, this behaviour is a complete contradiction to the theory that Turnbull is an honourable man who has been side-tracked by the politics of his situation. Think of it this way; if the real Malcolm is siding with Bernardi to keep his job, doesn’t that make the real-Malcolm a real-bastard anyway? The whole point of Santa is that people want him to turn up. Who wants the bastard-Malcolm? Nobody.

But no, there really are myths within myths. The truth is, Malcolm talks about agility and innovation, while walking Abbott’s school and higher education policy which makes user-pays education less accessible, and the nation less agile and innovative. Malcolm talks about the moral challenge of climate change, when the real Malcolm wants the State’s to stop with their silly-renewable energy targets and to go back to coal like the good old miners-said-so-days. Malcolm could have scrapped Abbott’s 2014 budget welfare ‘reforms’, which aim to make it harder for young people to use the social safety net they need to stop themselves sliding into possibly-lifelong-poverty, but he has chosen to make this first order of business for his government. As it slowly dawns on everyone that Malcolm is neoliberal to the core, that he would sell off Parliament House to the highest bidder and rent it back to the government if he could get away with it, who would rather walk on hot coals than have a banking Royal Commission, who, if the apparently dead-buried-and-cremated WorkChoices could be reincarnated, would sew the ashes back together with his bare hands, he starts to look not just weak, but actually just as scary, if not scarier, than Abbott. A $20 billion tax cut to his big business mates at the same time as moralising a budget disaster? Of course he would. That’s Malcolm through and through!

In order to defeat an enemy, you must know the enemy. It’s time to stop falling for the ‘old Malcolm will return’ trick, and wake up to who he really is. He’s not spineless. He’s not being forced into a situation he doesn’t approve of. He’s not weakly refusing to answer questions about the behaviour of his right-wing colleagues because he’s scared to offend them. He’s not scared of them. He agrees with them. They’re talking on his behalf. Wake up Australia. The leather jacket was a prop. The public transport riding was public relations. There’s not a nicer version inside Malcolm waiting patiently to appear. This is him. This is all you get. Our Prime Minister is not the man you thought he was. Santa’s not coming because Santa doesn’t exist. Get used to it.

The Shit Media Storm

What I’ve witnessed in the last 28 hours, as South Australian has been experiencing the most severe weather event the Bureau of Meteorology says we have ever had, is the perfect case study of the absolute incompetency of the mainstream media and their desperation to turn absolutely every news story into a political contest, no matter the facts, logic, science and you know, reality.

South Australia’s weather event might be once in a lifetime. But the reporting is run of the mill, every day, and as pathetic as it always has been. I could write all night about the problems with the media’s framing of the unexpected state-wide blackout, but really it all boils down to this: the media jumps to conclusions based on politicised, populist statements from political players, without checking facts, without checking the validity of those statements, without questioning the likelihood of those statements representing truth, and then makes it the job of the people doing real journalism to contest the truth, after giving the anti-fact agenda a massive head start.

Here is an example:

xenophontweet

Channel 9 tweets a headline quoting Nick Xenophon linking the power outage to SA’s reliance on renewable energy. Apparently, if you’re a politician, especially a ‘maverick’, ‘king maker’, stunt-man like Xenophon, you can literally say whatever you like, no matter how ridiculous, how outlandish, how not-true and the media jump on it, repeating it verbatim and thereby making it ‘true’.

Xenophon’s quote set the media agenda in reporting the South Australian storms. This agenda was unquestioned as fact before any expert analysis was provided until many hours later. Now, the story is not about the storm or the blackout, but low and behold it’s an anti-renewable energy story. The renewable energy story is what the 24 hour news cycle dedicated itself to today. While the wind is still blowing, and the power is still off across many suburbs, reality (the wind blowing over crucial energy infrastructure and causing a blackout, which would have happened regardless of how that energy got into that infrastructure), now has to compete with political fear mongering. And whacko, the media have found themselves a political narrative which has all the ingredients to fit their lazy template: politicians are disagreeing, someone is blaming someone else, climate change policy gets a kick and there is lots of daily-occurance-whinging from SA Liberal leader, Steven-whinging-Marshall to provide all the sound bites needed to bash the Labor government with. Like a dog eating a bone, or a train on the tracks, the media literally can’t pull themselves away from this narrative, even when experts are telling them that of course renewable energy did not play a part.

If the journalists stopped for even a moment to think about it, they would probably laugh and agree that, yes, it is a little ridiculous to even mention renewable energy in this situation when it so obviously had nothing to do with the blackout. But that’s not the point. The point is the narrative. Xenophon set it and they ran with it and all of them, lemmings, follow suit, unquestioning, and apparently unable to even laugh at themselves while they do it. I’ve just finished watching a special segment on ABC Adelaide news where Sabra Lane explained that the political mess from this storm will carry on, now that questions have been raised about renewable energy’s impact on the blackout. With a straight face.

And the worst part of this whole sorry affair? The worst part is not just that the media is shit at their jobs and the public are let down and the real story is lost in a shit media storm. No, the worst part is the impact this style of reporting has on politics. Let’s take, for instance, Trump. Trump loves being able to say whatever outlandish thing he likes. He loves watching the media put it in big letters on the TV screen, or a sound bite on the radio, or a headline in a newspaper. He loves that it takes the experts a few hours to fact-check what he’s said, and by then he’s embroiled the media in a ‘political contest’ which automatically provides him with political credibility, even though the statement he made epitomises incredible. The media can deny it all they like, but their template-political-contest created Trump. They are the Frankenstein to the Trump monster. It might just be one big storm in South Australia, but the shit storm the media is really causing is a problem for the entire planet.

Shame on these so-called journalists. Shame on them for playing the game and turning everything into a contest, when the audience deserves better. Shame on them for failing in their responsibility to uphold the values of truth and objectivity in news reporting. Shame on them for undermining their profession and neglecting to do their job. Shame, shame, shame.

Clinton’s Narrative Has Arrived

Ever since Hillary Clinton clinched the Democratic Party nomination, I’ve been waiting for her political narrative to emerge. Just like when you’re waiting for a bus and it’s taking an age to appear, I was starting to feel a bit anxious about whether this narrative would turn up at all. In the meantime, the Trump narrative has been spiralling into unchartered depths of hate with a mix of lunacy and apocalypse. It became obvious a while ago that the overarching theme of Clinton’s narrative would have to be a message of hope, to juxtaposition against Trump’s narrative of despair. But the question I’m sure Clinton’s team have been working on, and finding quite difficult to answer, is how to use hope to argue against the message of despair, when the media, like magpies collecting shiny trinkets for their 24-hour-news-cycle-nest, give Trump all their attention. Even those journalists who don’t agree with Trump, and don’t seem to like him, still play his game and give him a free advertising campaign, which takes up all their time, leaving less time, and sometimes no time, to cover Hillary’s message, and policies, of hope. But the good news is, it would appear that Clinton’s campaign has found a way around this problem. Now let’s just hope it works!

So what is Clinton’s narrative? Here is a link to three of her Trump attack ads which have been running over the past few months. The most recent video shows young girls looking at themselves in the mirror, with the misogynistic words of Trump overlaid, denigrating the appearance of women and treating them as objects. Another uses the same style of message, but this time with injured war heroes and families of American soldiers killed in war, alongside Trump’s comments denigrating war heroes. The third ad similarly shows children watching TV as some of Trump’s worst calls-to-violence and hateful statements are made. The overarching narrative in this campaign is ‘the President is the ultimate role model; so what type of role model is Donald Trump? And if he’s not a good role model, he’s not a good leader’.

This narrative is clever for three reasons. The first is it’s almost impossible to argue with this framing of Trump as a bad role model. I’m sure he will try, as will his supporters, but it’s a pretty tough argument to make in both an emotional and rational sense, because of its link with children, bad behaviour, and values. Put simply, everyone knows that children should be brought up to be good people, and that positive role models help them to aspire to be good. Trump can’t exactly turn around and say ‘I hope your children swear and curse just like I do’. Well, he can, but I’m not sure it will go down that well. The best political narratives present arguments which are difficult to argue against. In my study of Labor’s mining tax narrative, my results suggested that from the naming of the mining tax policy ‘Resources Super Profits Tax’, to the entire narrative of ‘a fair share’, Labor missed the opportunity to frame the policy in a way that would have made it much more difficult for the Liberals and the mining industry to counter-argue. For instance, if the policy had been called ‘Mining Dividends for Australian Shareholders’ and had been justified as ‘a future wealth fund for all Australians’, it would have been much harder for the big miners to claim the policy was an assault on Australia’s way of life and was going to ruin us all.

The second reason the narrative is clever is again through its link to children, and in turn, a focus on a more positive future. David Penberthy recently, and surprisingly in a News Ltd paper, contrasted Pauline Hanson’s much-reported maiden speech, which he described as vane, insecure and racist with the the hardly-noticed-by-the-media maiden speech from Labor’s Northern Territory Senator, Malarndirri McCarthy, which he says showed humility, pride, intellect, decency and effort. The two speeches boil down to exactly the Trump and Clinton narratives I’m describing as fear and loathing versus hope and renewal. Everyone is acknowledging that things aren’t exactly great right now, but they are also offering very different reasons for why things aren’t great, and arguments about what we need to do to fix them. Clinton’s focus on children, which echoes Michelle Obama’s brilliant convention speech, reminds Americans that children represent hope for a brighter future, but only if those children are good people. This contrasts with Trump, who is doing a lot of complaining, but is failing to offer anything good for children to aspire to, representing his lack of positive solutions to fix the problems he complains about.

The last reason why Clinton’s narrative is crafty is because it’s an attack ad, framed in a positive way. Although political strategists seem to ignore all the research that says negative advertising puts voters off, and although the election of Tony Abbott on the most negative agenda Australia has ever seen would seem to disprove this research anyway, the fact is, you can’t have a consistent narrative of hope cloaked in negativity and fear. Fear belongs to Trump. So Clinton has to do something different. By dressing her message of hope in not only a positive narrative, but also a counter-narrative against Trump, using Trump’s own words no less, her narrative kills two birds with one stone and helps to finally give her campaign the overarching thread that it needs to rise above the nasty-noise of the Trump circus.

So there you have it. The narrative is there. The next question is, will the campaign stick to this message? And of course, the $64 million dollar question that comes next is; will the message work? The November poll will be around soon enough to give us the answer.

An Open Letter to Peter Costello

Dear Peter Costello,

I am writing in response to your allegation that the mining industry has been ‘treated shabbily’ by Australia. Apparently you don’t think they’ve had a fair deal, what with the billions of dollars of profit they’ve sucked out of the earth, from the dirt owned by Australian citizens. What would you like? For us all to give the mining executives a big hug, or a pat on the back, to say ‘thanks for royally screwing us over?’ Perhaps you would like us to cook them each a cake? A mud cake perhaps? Sorry. It never occurred to me to do this.

But hang on. You’ve said what you want. You want there to be a section in the Australian curriculum where school students are taught to bow down to the rich miners and kiss their toes, begging them to hire them to drive trucks for big bucks, and to spend weeks away from their family at a time, to live the Australian dream of helping mining executives get rich? What should this part of the curriculum be called Peter? Perhaps it could be a whole subject? Kissing Gina’s arse? How about, how-to-rip-off-battlers-to-line-the-pockets-of-shareholders? How about a practical-lesson-in-sending-Australia’s-wealth-overseas so none of us get any benefit from it unless we’re wealthy enough to have huge superannuation accounts? Wealth inequality for dummies perhaps?

But you really do have a point, in your funny old way of being wrong while still somehow managing to make sense. A bit like how you claim to be a really great ex-Treasurer, and to be oh so worried about debt and deficit, while also conveniently ignoring that little problem of your actual legacy which, low and behold, screwed all of us. I see a pattern of incompetence forming here. Richard Denniss puts your yearly cost to Australia at $56 billion dollars per year. Ouch Peter! What is it you like to say about inter-generational theft? Maybe everyone should learn all about your incompetence at school? Maybe we should have a Royal Commission into Peter Costello’s Incompetence to get to the bottom of how you managed to leave such economic destruction in your wake?

But really Peter, you’ve got a point about the mining industry deserving a place in the school curriculum. In fact, I applaud your call to give our children a chance to learn how they missed out on a once in a generation mining boom because the mining industry, with the help of your Liberals, crushed Labor’s super-profit tax in order to protect their unfair rort of taking all the wealth for themselves. I definitely think it’s a great idea to educate children about the ills of wealth inequality, so that they understand that life doesn’t have to be this way. They have a right to be told by their teachers that people like you shouldn’t be making decisions on their behalf. Because you don’t have their best interests at heart. And nor do the mining executives who you like to exalt as the mythical heroes of the Australian economy. I’m sure Australian children will be very interested to learn how your Liberals cancelled their chance to get their fair share of mining’s benefits, from the soil they all collectively own. They’ll no doubt be howling about this when they find out how much superannuation they’ve missed out on, money they needed in retirement. They’ll be pissed when they find out you preferred to let the mining executives live it up on their dime, stealing from their bank accounts so they’ll have to retire the day before they die. Good on you Peter. It’s definitely a good idea to tell all the kiddies about this con. Education is, after all, the key to a better future.

Speaking of education, I wonder if you have the figures at hand of how much education funding we could have enjoyed had your government, the one where you controlled the money, thought about taxing the mining industry properly and putting that revenue somewhere useful, such as into the education budget? Actually, let’s not get you to do the sums because we know how hopeless you are with accounting. Remember the time you sold all the gold at rock bottom price? When I say ‘the gold’, just to be clear, it wasn’t your gold Peter, it was ours. Remember when you lost billions of dollars of Australian money, money that belonged to those school children who never heard anything about it?

Now I come to think of it, you really should be ashamed of yourself Peter. You’ve screwed over the Australian people time and time again. I have no idea why anyone thinks it would be a good idea to listen to your opinion about anything. What are you doing these days anyway? When you retired you said it was to spend more time with your family. But then I recall, you’ve been appointed to, hang on, what the actual… Australia’s independent sovereign wealth fund? That’s really taking the piss Peter. You’re the last person I would let even think about walking anywhere near Australia’s Future Fund, let alone giving you the keys and letting you drain it all away, sell the farm and watch the proceeds melt to nothing, until the future is free of any funds. But of course you still get paid. What a joke Peter. What an absolute joke. Who on earth would give you such a responsible position, when you’re so clearly ideologically inappropriate and incompetently reckless with money to boot? I think I can guess.

I think it’s time you did the whole country a favour and just go away. And in particular, stay away from the young people Peter. You’ve done enough damage. You’ve treated us all very shabbily. It’s time we had a chance to fix your mistakes for the benefit of all our futures.

Yours Sincerely
Victoria Rollison

The wrong diagnoses, the wrong treatment

If your doctor misdiagnoses your disease, you’re probably not going to get any better. The same problem will arise for people in the UK who voted to leave the EU because of assurances from Brexit campaigners that they could ‘solve’ globalisation. Similarly for Australian voters who chose the Hanson or Xenophon treatment, attracted to the anti-free-trade-deal rhetoric, which promises to reverse the ill effects of globalisation. And of course, Trump’s supporters could find they have opted for the wrong prescription if he wins the US election.

The patients in this metaphor share similar symptoms of wealth inequality: they’ve seen their stable employment disappear in the industries their families relied on for generations – like automotive, whitegoods, steel production and fabrication, coal mining, clothing and footwear manufacture. They feel resentful that the ‘establishment’ political process has left them to fend for themselves. They never wanted to be reliant on government help, which makes them even more resentful of needing it. They’re not educated in the professions which would allow them to take advantage of a changing global work landscape. They feel priced out of their local job market and often blame unions for pricing them out. They’ve seen full time, ongoing positions degrade into casual, unstable working environments, leaving them constantly anxious about the future. Their fear of change is sometimes scapegoated to a fear of people who don’t look like them, the immigrants who they see as living-next-door representatives of the new world order that has caused all their problems. They are told by right-wing politicians it is their fault they are poor, and they are ‘leaning’ on society, when all they really want is to be contributing like they used to. It’s no wonder they’re visiting the doctor.

But the problem is, they’ve all accepted the misdiagnosis of globalisation. The Brexit campaign, the Hansons, Xenophons and Trumps have made a villain of globalisation, and have promised a treatment to fix this disease which won’t do anything to cure it because it’s not the disease they are suffering from. What’s really making them sick are the ill-effects of neoliberalism. They’re suffering from neoliberalism playing out on a globalised scale. So what they really need is treatment to fix the down-side of neoliberalism, not a fix for globalisation.

Once people come to terms with what they are really suffering from, it becomes much easier to talk to them about positive steps to solve the problem. The first thing we need to do is to stop voting for political leaders who think neoliberalism is the right answer. Malcolm Turnbull, for instance. Taking out the ‘lisation’ and ‘lism’ words from this complex situation, you could describe globalisation as a world market, and neoliberalism as a way of removing government mediation from regulating this market. Therefore, the only way to treat the disease is to change the rules by which the market operates, in order to share its spoils more evenly amongst all citizens.

I can already feel people flinching as they read the words ‘government regulation’, but that’s what we’re really talking about here. The treatment for the disease is government policy that aims to reduce wealth inequality which is caused by neoliberal agendas massively advantaging those who already have a foothold in the market over those who don’t. That means a legislated minimum wage and working conditions. That means supporting industries which are really important to the country, which employ lots of people, which in turn stimulates the economy and is therefore worth the investment – such as steel manufacturing, car manufacturing (it’s working for America!) and defence industries. It means investing government funds in high quality school, vocational and tertiary education so it is available to people who can’t afford to pay for it, in order to give them the resources they need to compete in a new market for jobs. It means healthcare available to everyone, no matter their income. It means guaranteeing those who are unemployed have enough government assistance to live in dignity, and be in a position to better their circumstances. It is providing infrastructure and government services which level out the playing field to make the opportunities of globalisation more evenly distributed amongst the whole society.

There are many advantages to globalisation which are hard to embrace when you’re suffering from neoliberalism. For instance, the availability of world markets for those engaged in high-paid, interesting and challenging work, such as in technology, engineering, professional services, design, science, academic, arts and entertainment fields. If you don’t have an education that makes you eligible for such positions (because you haven’t had your government-funded treatment for neoliberalism), it makes it hard to see these benefits. But once you feel better, globalisation doesn’t seem so bad.

The paradox is, the people offering the treatment to solve globalisation refuse to acknowledge that neoliberalism is the real villain here. Like Voldermort in Harry Potter, neoliberalism has become he who shall not be named and therefore it who shall not be blamed. It might sound like a story too good to be true: that you can have your globalisation cake and eat your more equally distributed economic growth too. But, all it takes is for voters to trust a government who is prepared to mediate the world market to make sure economic benefits of globalisation flow more evenly, not just to the privileged few.

Neoliberal governments, instead of offering the treatment people need, have been cutting back, stripping, undermining and hollowing out government’s role in every policy area imaginable. In doing so, they’re hurting economic growth, hurting the wealth of their country, and hurting the wealth of the individuals in these countries. We can all be better off by making all of us better off. We just need to identify the right treatment for the right disease.

Between a rock and a judgemental place

Today is Equal Pay Day. This event was celebrated yesterday by former Liberal PM John Howard’s observation that women won’t ever achieve equal representation in parliament because women stay at home with children. Thanks Johnny!

The fact is, modern mothers (as opposed to Howard’s 1950’s view of the world) are stuck between the proverbial rock and a hard place when it comes to navigating the daily compromise between motherhood and paid employment. The problem is, there is no right answer in our society, because society doesn’t know what on earth they want us to do.

There is so much pressure on women to uphold the ideals of feminism, where our education, our careers, our professional achievements are equally important to us (and the family income!) as our male counterparts. But, when motherhood comes along, as it did for me a year ago, there is just as much pressure, if not more from some quarters, for mothers to put our own needs and wants aside and to focus solely on caregiving to children.

The problem is, this predicament ignores the fundamental realities of the constant tug-of-war between what a mother wants for herself and what society expects of her. An obvious one is that each mother wants different things. Take, for instance, that I would prefer to work than stay home with my child. Even writing that sentence, I can feel the hot eyes of judgement from the keyboard warriors yelling at me ‘YOU SHOULDN’T HAVE HAD CHILDREN IF YOU DON’T WANT TO STAY HOME TO LOOK AFTER THEM!!!’ My daughter loves childcare and I couldn’t be happier with the level of care she receives. Thanks for asking.

For many people, wants are beside the point. Sometimes, financially, there is no decision because mother has to work to pay the mortgage, the rent, to put food on the table and to give the family the standard of living she chooses. So we’re stuck between judgements from society about what makes a ‘good mother’ and what makes a ‘good worker’ or ‘good provider’. It is no wonder this situation puts so much pressure on mothers, right at a time in our lives when we’re vulnerable, tired and frankly just don’t need any more crap.

The four big picture decisions in the motherhood and career game, which each family must make work for their circumstances are: 1) mother* leaves or stays out of paid employment while raising children, 2) mother works in paid employment even though she would prefer to stay home because her family needs her income, 3) mother works in paid employment even though she can afford to stay home; she chooses to work because she enjoys it 4) mother works in paid employment because she has to and because she wants to (the category, by the way, I fall into). *The vast majority of parents who stay home to care for children are mothers.

Let’s just get one thing straight and confirm that all four categories of woman are full time mothers and all four are working. Mothers who stay home work incredibly hard. On the flipside, just because a woman is in paid employment, doesn’t mean she isn’t a mother when her child is being cared for by someone else; whether at childcare, kindergarten, or in that messy 90 minute period between the end of the school day and the end of an eight hour work day.

A friend of a friend toured their local primary school and asked about after-school care facilities. The tour-guiding-principal responded ‘we offer after-school care, but we don’t recommend it for the little kids in reception and year one – they’re a bit young to be at school for so long’. Well-meaning or not, this comment is eye-roll-inducing judgemental. What the women on the tour in categories 2, 3 and 4 heard, who low-and-behold probably don’t have the flexibility to leave work in the middle of the afternoon, who already leave work earlier than they would like to, who race to pick up their children so they can get home in a reasonable time for dinner, is that they are bad mothers for expecting their children to be stuck in after-school-care while they selfishly work until 5pm.

So here we have a perfect example of how women can’t win and how the guilt-police get us either way. We are expected to live up to society’s expectation that we work just as hard as men at earning a living, contributing to the economy, being productive members of society in both a paid and unpaid capacity, and living up to our own measures of career success, while also being available as mothers. There is an expectation, a judgement made, that good mothers pick their children up directly after school, help with reading in the classroom and volunteer at the tuck-shop. In the case of working mothers like me with younger children, we are told by psychologists like Steve Biddulph that child care is bad for children or scientists tell us childcare causes respiratory illness, obesity, aggression and hyperactivity. Thanks for the helpful advice! Then there’s the everyday garden variety of unhelpful labels such as ‘full time mother’ to describe stay at home mothers, as if mothers in paid employment are only part-time parents. And of course stay at home mothers get judged for not ‘working’, when every mother knows how hard work it is looking after children at home.

So back to my idea about there being no single best-fit for every family. All the mothers of small children want and need something slightly different in their tailored career and motherhood mix. We all build a patchwork of support and compromise to make our choices happen. That often means putting careers on hold for a period, or paying a huge amount for childcare or a nanny, or calling on the help of grandparents, finding a more flexible or part time job and sometimes fathers making career sacrifices too. But society seems hell-bent on making us guilty for whatever choice we make. So we should ignore judgey mc-judgey society. The phrase ‘happy wife, happy life’ might seem trite, but instead we can extend it to ‘happy mother, happy family’. It’s hard enough being stuck between the rock of motherhood and the hard place of a career, but it’s even harder when you’re being judged for it. Whatever choice you make, bringing up small children is hard work; there is constant compromise, exhaustion and stress on both parents, along with a lot of joy which thankfully makes it all worthwhile. So we should be proud of our choices, and then get on with our lives, without looking back over our shoulder to check what everyone else judges as ok.

I won’t leave it there. Because it’s also up to all of us to stop judging other people’s parenting choices. We all know the judgers are just reaffirming their own decisions. It’s unnecessary. Be secure in your own choice, and accept that everything else is none of your business.

And one last comment to society as a whole; please work out what you want mothers to do and then make it a little easier to do that. If you want mothers to work, deliver childcare which is accessible, affordable and high quality. And schools have to stop expecting us to down-tools to pick up children at 3:30pm. Surely a highly productive, smart, innovative and agile society can sort this stuff out for everyone’s benefit.

Enough with the judging, Clementine

My favourite feminist, Clementine Ford, wrote this week about her experiences giving birth to her first child. I’m sorry to have to admit I was deeply disappointed with the way she framed her birthing decisions, and the sanctimonious judgement and culture of expert-doctor-mistrust which makes these decisions for all women, more difficult.

It’s worth describing my own experiences in this area. I am a twin and was born via caesarean, which is the safest way to deliver twins. When I gave birth to my daughter just over a year ago, I went into labour two and a half weeks early and, with the help of the blessed relief of an epidural, delivered my daughter after 16 hours of labour. My twin sister had her first baby 10 weeks before I gave birth. She was induced two days after her due date, and after 12 hours in labour, her obstetrician judged that the labour wasn’t progressing because her son’s head was too big to pass through her birth canal. So she was rushed into the operating suite and had an emergency caesarean. It did occur to us all that my sister and her baby would likely have contributed to the huge statistics of maternal and infant mortality had they been in the same circumstances 100 years ago. But of course, my twin sister and I might not have been alive ourselves had we not been born via caesarean 35 years ago. So all in all, the wonders of modern medicine get a big round of applause in our family.

What really upset me about Clementine’s description of her decision to reject an obstetrician’s advice to be induced soon after her due date, and instead to go into hospital on her own terms 36 hours after her water broke at 43 weeks, is that she is upholding a cultural expectation through her public telling of this story, that there is something wrong with ‘giving in’ to the advice of doctors. And that anything other than a natural birth is a failure.

To put it frankly, it is incredibly dangerous to have a child at 43 weeks. As an obstetrician commented below Clementine’s post, much more calmly than I feel able, the statistics, the science, is clear about this risk. One in 300 babies born at 43 weeks (3 weeks after their due date) are stillborn. So when a doctor advises that a woman who has seen her due date come and go consider an induction, it’s not because the doctor is trying to take away the woman’s right to choose the circumstances of her birth, it’s not because the doctor is trying to dictate the terms of the birth in order to advantage the doctor in some way, it’s not because they want to bully the woman by using words like ‘stillborn’ or force the woman to not have the natural birth experience they dreamed of having. The doctor advises an induction to minimise the risk of the baby not surviving. The doctor is doing their job to deliver a baby safely. This job, to again be blunt, is far more important than looking after the feelings of the mother. Full stop.

I find it hard to believe women in modern society, where we have so much scientific advantage over previous generations, who played Russian roulette during childbirth, aren’t more grateful for the advice and assistance they get from doctors. In fact, rather than be grateful, many women seem to instead mistrust the doctor’s advice and claim they, as the intuitive mother, know best. The anti-vax movement is caused by this exact same phenomena. Mother knows best. Intuition and ‘feels’, and an obsession with exerting full control over every medical decision, ahead of expert provided medical fact.

So back to cultural expectations. Why did Clementine choose not to be induced? Is it because she judges a natural birth as superior? Is it because she judges a woman who gives birth naturally to have done a better job of the birthing process? I find it hard to see anything else in her words, which are imbued with a sense of self-righteous post-justification of her decisions, and martyrdom in claiming to have waited for things to occur naturally, even if that made her difficult wait longer and harder.

The thing is, I’ve seen this attitude so many times before. I’ve seen the way society looks disappointed when mothers tell the story of ‘giving in’ to an emergency caesarean, or being embarrassed to admit they elected to have a caesarean because it was the safest way for them to give birth. I’ve heard about the birth plans that women make, to do it all naturally, to be at home, in water, and to not take drugs, which, whether they mean to or not, are automatic judgements of ‘weak’ women who have gone before them and had every drug the hospital offered to get rid of that god-damn-pain thank you very much. I remember the women in my pregnancy aqua-aerobics class who proudly announced they’d achieved their goal of a VBAC – a vaginal birth after caesarean. So they had to ‘give in’ the first time, but the second time, they did it naturally, and that apparently earns them even more bragging points than a natural attempt first time round.

This behaviour by mothers is the Mobius-loop of society judging mothers. Clementine’s piece surely wasn’t meant to judge, but it backs up the judgement, a judgement which in turn makes it hard for women to make smart, expert-informed decisions about the safest way to deliver their child.

The thing is, this judgement around childbirth is just the start of a judging journey for mothers which continues into every facet of parenthood. This judgement, the expectations of perfection in all things parenting, the ‘right’ way to do things, has a negative impact on a new mother’s confidence, security, faith in her own decisions, and her overall mental health at a time in her life when she is particularly vulnerable. From the breast-is-best breastfeeding brigade, to the organic foods only army, to cloth nappies versus disposable, to unpasteurized milk, to whether you choose childcare and a job over mother-of-earth stay-at-home sanctimonious ‘mamma bear’. Choose the wrong decision and the judgers’ judge you to have failed.

There is already enough judgement out there thanks Clementine, and I’m so disappointed you’ve added to it from your privileged position of popular feminist commentator. I wish you the best of luck with motherhood, which, as I’m finding after a year is so much more than the challenges of labour. All I ask of society is to celebrate childbirth, however it happens, and to minimise the risk of things going horribly wrong. I don’t think that’s too much to ask, is it?

An Open Letter to Malcolm Turnbull about Misuse of the Word ‘Free’

Bird in a cage

Dear Malcolm Turnbull

On the day you took the job of Prime Minister of Australia, you laid your flag in the ideological-dirt by proclaiming your intention to run a ‘thoroughly Liberal Government committed to freedom, the individual and the market’. I’ll cut to the chase. This letter calls bullshit on your misrepresentation of the word ‘freedom’. I think it’s time we all saw through this smug cover for what you are really running: a market that benefits the privileged over everyone else.

Let’s have a look at what the word freedom actually means. Here are two useful definitions: ‘The state of being free or at liberty rather than in confinement or under physical restraint’. ‘Exemption from external control, interference, regulation’. Comparing these descriptions to the rules that you prefer to run the Australian economy by, it’s obvious that your idea of a ‘free market’ makes us all, collectively, not-free.

The muddying of the water starts with your notion that government regulation constrains freedom. The only thing government regulation does, which is why, coincidentally, you don’t like it, is to constrain the greed of you and your rich mates so you can’t monopolise resources in order to keep getting richer. The fact is, your ‘rich get richer’ rules are constraining our economy and in turn, our collective wealth. Government policies which level the playing field are actually making us all freer, and richer. All of us.

Let’s look at your job as an example. If there existed a free market for the job of Prime Minister, the only thing I would need to get this job is to be the most merited candidate. Tony Abbott disproves the freedom of the Prime Minister market by showing that any moron, born with a silver spoon, with a private school education, who lives in a blue-ribbon Liberal seat full of voters who would vote for the Liberal candidate even if that candidate was a misogynist bucket of cement, who can box his way to Oxford, is eligible for the top job. No merit required.

You also disprove the idea of meritocracy in the market for Prime Minister yourself, through your waffling-weak-incompetence, which so far in a year has made you a bigger disappointment than the Australian swimming team at Rio. In your world, freedom might mean the availability of means in which to donate $2 million dollars to your own campaign, without even noticing it gone, to ensure you win government by a one seat majority. But that’s not merit Malcolm. That’s buying your way out of trouble.

What this really comes down to is that you say freedom fries and I say potato. Where you see freedom in mining markets, I see big miners paying their way out of a fair rate of tax for selling resources that belong to Australians. Where you see freedom in healthcare, where the rich have access to better lifesaving services, I see those who can’t afford the services locked into health problems that limit their freedom to do what they want with their lives. Where you see freedom when your government stops taking responsibility for a social safety net, and hollowing out services for the disadvantaged, I see a small square box that locks poor people into prison-like poverty, where they don’t have any freedom to live their lives in dignity. Where you see freedom in education, where the rich can buy their way to test scores that privilege their futures over those who weren’t born into wealth, I see the poor chained at the bottom rung of the ladder, which they have no hope of climbing because your rules have removed the rungs. This is not freedom Malcolm. This is entrenched privilege. This is stacking the deck in favour of the people who already own the deck and all the deck chairs on it.

You have famously said, over and over again, that there has never been a more exciting time to be an Australian. I beg to differ. Australia was better off without you and your greedy ideological crusade to lock us all away from a free Australia. A truly free market promoting government, under the real definition of the word free, would provide all the necessary regulatory requirements to ensure there is nothing constraining the freedom of all citizens to live a fulfilling life; to have the healthcare, the education, the job and career opportunities, the quality of life that should be afforded equally no matter the circumstances they are born into, to anyone who has the motivation and strive to achieve it.

Australia will never be the best version of itself until we strip away the limits to our freedom, which stop us meeting our full potential. When the rules you want us to play by mean that all the resources for wealth are unequally cloistered away by the upper-echelons of the wealthiest in society, and sometimes diverted into Panama tax havens, in order to privilege only the already rich and their offspring, to buy their way to success, to remove freedom for everyone else to compete, you do the whole country a disservice. When our collective talents aren’t given every opportunity to contribute – the freedom to contribute – our country is stifled by your rules of the game, where, low and behold, only people like you, the undeserving, can win.

You need to get out of the way of real freedom Malcolm. You need to stop being a roadblock in the way of meritocracy and embrace the true meaning of the word ‘free’. Only then will it really be an exciting time to be an Australian.

Yours Sincerely
Victoria Rollison

Census Fail: Failure of Liberal Ideology

We don’t yet know what caused the online census to crash. Either the site was attacked by hackers, or it couldn’t cope with the level of real traffic from people trying to fill in the survey. Either way, it’s a massive government failure. I’m not just talking about failure of security, planning, management and communication; though obviously it was all of these things. No, I’m talking about the beast of an elephant slobbering and wheezing in the corner of the room, which the media have done a great job of ignoring, but has crashed its way onto centre-stage regardless, in the most public and embarrassing way possible. By shitting on the floor.

The census fail is the public face of the consequence of slash-and-burn-small-government-cutting-spending-for-the-sake-of-cutting-spending-worldview which has been imposed on the public by the Abbott and Turnbull government and every Liberal government throughout history because, well that’s just how they roll. The Australian Bureau of Statistics, one of the victims of this mess, had a $68 million dollar cut in Abbott’s 2014 wrecking-ball budget. The same year, the census site was outsourced to IBM for $9.6 million dollars. I am not a tech-expert but I know enough about the internet to know that it costs money to keep sites secure, and it costs money to host a site on a server large enough to accommodate millions of users at once. If there’s not enough money, say if you’ve had a huge cut in the budget, you trim where you can. $68 million is a lot more trimming than a couple of redundancies and no biscuits in the tearoom. So when tech-experts scratch their heads and ask why on earth the census site could only cope with 1 million users an hour, when it needed to cope with 3 million during the peak evening hours, they should be drawing a straight line from the census fail straight to the small government ideology of the Abbott / Turnbull government.

The census fail has reminded us, not that we didn’t know already, that the budget is not just a spreadsheet of numbers, with cuts here, cuts there, cuts everywhere, which don’t impact on the reality of life in Australia. We’re not living in a virtual government spending world here. We live with the consequences of the Liberal cuts every day. Sure, we might consider ourselves a first world country with a high standard of living, as a country who is smart and has our shit together. But our government couldn’t even survey us without causing a huge debacle. The reason for this is because they cut-corners on the project. They treat the jobs of public servants – the servants to the people – like they don’t count. Like they’re dispensable. Multiply the census fail across every sector hurt by Liberal budget cuts, whether Federal or State governments, and you have the same problems occurring in education, health, public transport, the arts, infrastructure, social services, aged care, child protection, environmental protection, the list goes on and on. These cuts aren’t just abstract concepts. They impact on us. They impact on the quality of our lives. On the number of jobs in our economy. On our standard of living.

Just because we don’t all get to see the massive failures of government as publically as we saw the census fail last night, doesn’t mean there’s not a huge amount of pain out there. But it’s not just the pain we have to worry about. It’s the lost opportunities. An ineffectual, underfunded, badly run ideologically-skewed government is bad for all of us. Bad for our health. Bad for our education and skills. Bad for our economy. Bad for our wealth. Don’t believe me? Take a look at this article about the wealth of blue Democrat run states in America versus red Republican run states. The authors describe how red states, who ‘cut and extract’, are poorer overall than blue states, who invest in education, health, infrastructure etc. Even though blue states pay higher levels of tax to maintain this investment, low and behold, the investment pays off because the people in blue states are healthier (they live longer), they are better educated and they are wealthier.

So next time you hear Turnbull, or a journalist for that matter, explaining how sensible and wise they are for cutting government spending, to fulfil their goal of getting-government-out-of-the-way of their profit-making-mates, remember you’re the one hurt by the cuts. Your country is poorer because of Liberal cuts. You are poorer because of Liberal cuts. The census fail is a public humiliation for the Turnbull government. But it’s not just a technology fail. It’s a failure of ideology. Full stop.

Trump: the re-establishment of white male privilege

The left is never going to stop the rise of President Trump, the worst imaginable outcome, without acknowledging reality: the US election is not a debate over ‘right’ and ‘wrong’. No amount of emotional appeals to do what is ‘right’ or ‘good’ or ‘fair’ or ‘smart’ is going to convince Trump’s growing legion of supporters that they’re making a horrible mistake voting for this lunatic. We grow up thinking that when we’re arguing with someone, all we have to do is bring them around to our way of thinking and then they’ll agree with us, and we’ll all move on happy that the issue has been solved. But this is not the reality of Clinton versus Trump. The reality is a battle between the new American social order of inclusion, multiculturalism, tolerance, a black man as President, a woman as President, a society where there is no longer a pecking order of privilege where white men rule, versus Trump’s promise to take America back to the old order, to ‘make America great again’, code for ‘put American white men on top again’. There is no argument that will stop these people fighting for this hand-break turn, because, to put it bluntly, they have primal urge they don’t even consciously realise they are craving. But, like a dog chasing a rabbit, these voters are going after their prey with a determination which clouds any resemblance of rationality. Like zombies, the movement is contagious in its urgency and zeal.

George Lakoff explains the cognitive causes of this phenomenon in his description of the two types of thinking, which inform two world views; left wing nurturing views, which Lakoff calls the ‘mothering’ side of ourselves and the right wing authoritarian ideology, which Lakoff calls the ‘strict-father’ side. Lakoff’s explanation might sound simplistic, but he does acknowledge that all of us have the ability to think using both perspectives, it’s just that all people sit somewhere left or right on the continuum, where one type of thinking dominates our thoughts. Lakoff says Trump’s success has come from a connection he has made with the authoritarian side of American thinking, which wants to reinstate the social order, where strict-father is again head of the family. It’s important to note that this viewpoint can belong to both men and women who prefer to see men as the ultimate authority. And here is the crux of Trump’s success: he represents the perfect strict-father because he promises to put white men back at the head of the American family, back where they feel they belong, back where they are again ‘winning’ and in control of ‘their family’, or in other words, ‘their country’.

Progressives automatically celebrate milestones in America’s history such as the success of the civil rights movement, greater tolerance and celebration of gay rights, multiculturalism, increasing participation of women in the workforce and in positions of authority, the election of a black President, and now, the nomination of a female potential-President, as proof of the country’s fortunes. But, the left won’t win this election until they realise that for a huge number of Americans with authoritarian world views, many who feel disenfranchised and resentful due to growing wealth inequality, all these social changes represent an uncomfortable undermining of their perception of their own control over their country.

It’s no coincidence that Trump’s political career grew from his ‘birther’ movement campaign, framing Obama as an ‘illegitimate President’. Julia Gillard faced the same accusations of illegitimacy as Australia’s first female Prime Minister, culminating in misogynistic and sexist abuse by men who could not abide such a shift in the social fabric of their lives, where men were no longer in control. Trump’s constant catch-cry of ‘lock up crooked lying Hillary’ is a metaphorical promise to ‘put that damn woman back in her place!’

Lakoff says the authoritarian viewpoint places the social order in a neat hierarchy of privilege with white men at the top, followed by white women, then black Americans and Latinos, gay people and other cultural, religious and social minorities such as Muslims, cascading down the rungs of power. When authoritarian white men see these groups as gaining more rights, and therefore, in their perspective, undoing the natural social order, it is akin to their delinquent children running the family, and they will do anything to take back control. So we see this play out Trump’s promise to ban Muslim immigration and to make Mexicans build a wall. We see it in literally tens of millions of Americans accepting Trump’s outlandish, nasty, cruel, racist, sexist, defamatory, hypocritical, contradicting and scarily unstable statements, like water off a duck’s back.

It is too simple to just say ‘why are all these Trump supporters so stupid’, or ‘how can they all be so nasty’, or ‘so easily fooled?’ The truth is, it actually doesn’t really matter who Trump is or what he says, or how he says it; all he has to is promise to put white men back on top of the pecking order, and they will fight tooth and nail for him to bring about this outcome. Rational facts, emotive appeals to reason, hope and dignity, are irrelevant.

The left need to realise there isn’t an argument going on where Trump supporters will suddenly feel enlightened by the persuasiveness of a different viewpoint. Until the left understand that Trump supporters want a very different world than the one the Democrats represent, they will never convince them. I don’t have the answers, but it’s clear that the Democrats must start looking at the world through the authoritarian viewpoint in order to understand the end goal of a huge proportion of American voters. This is not to say they should pander to hatred, encourage division, or go down to Trump’s level. But you can’t persuade someone until you understand them, and you’re not going to change someone’s mind until you know what that mind is. The Democrats needs to find a way to frame their policies which works for everyone. The left needs to find a way to show why inclusion is good for everyone, no matter their worldview. And the left needs to get to work, because the problem is getting worse, and the election is only three months away.

We need to talk about Steve

After watching Steve Price block Van Badham’s attempts to speak about the cultural problem of disrespect to women, in what could have been a training video to teach people exactly what disrespect to women looks like, I was angry. It wasn’t just that Steve was being rude and aggressive, interrupting Van while it was her turn to speak. It wasn’t just that he used the oh-so-typical-sexist description of Van as ‘hysterical’, attempting to put her back in her place, to tell the silly woman to shut up. I am used to seeing privileged-middle-aged-white-men treating women like this, including me, all the time. No, the thing that made me most angry is that this behaviour is Steve’s bread-and-butter. This is what he gets paid to do. He is a shock jock. The ruder he is, the more controversial, the more unpleasant, belittling and unapologetic he is, the more he succeeds in his career. That made me angry, not just at Steve, but at our whole society, which not only normalises Steve’s behaviour, but incentivise him to keep it up.

If we lived in a fair and respectful society, the Steves of the world wouldn’t be paid to be nasty and rude. When we bring up our children to have good manners, to treat girls and boys as equals, to show other people, even those we disagree with, respect, and then they grow up to see the Steves of the world being paid huge sums of money to be the opposite of all these things, what standards are we setting as acceptable in our society? What behaviour are we ‘normalising’ for the media audience? What are we telling everyone watching that it’s ok to do to others?

The more shocking Steve is, the more likely he is to move up the shock-jock career ladder. The more controversial, the more likely he is to get a regular seat on TV shows like The Project and ABC’s Q and A. These shows, and other similar programs, such as ABC’s The Drum and Insiders, justify having Steves on their shows in the pursuit of balance. Steve represents the ‘right wing’ perspective. It’s not clear who is balancing out the ‘left wing’ perspective; is anyone who doesn’t yell at others and generally be insolent, grumpy and disparaging about everyone else automatically count as left wing? As I saw pointed out on Twitter recently, to really balance out the Steves, or the right-wing representatives from shady-paid-to-think-tank-organisations such as the IPA, you would need a representative from the Socialist Alliance or even the Communist Party to balance out the extreme views espoused by these so-called commentators. How often do the media have a communist on a panel, or even a self-proclaimed socialist? Very rarely as far as I can tell, and when they do have one (Van identifies as a socialist), they get hectored to the point of silence by the Steves of the world and the producers think this is fantastic entertainment. Is this balance? Is this fair?

Even if you accept this shallow procedural formulaic tick-the-box token-rude-right-winger on every panel, what do the Steves of the world show us about the way ‘right wing’ representatives are allowed to behave? I often hear the argument that the Pauline Hansons, Steve Prices, Andrew Bolts, Alan Jones, Tim Wilsons, Piers Akermans, Cory Bernardis, Miranda Devines, Paul Murrays, Gerard Hendersons and all the other myriad representatives of ‘the right’ should be given a platform to share their nasty perspectives of the world so that more reasonable people can pull them up on their views, and we can have mature conversations about what is ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ in our society. But Steve Price’s attack on Van Badham, which shut down her ability to express her very valid argument, is a perfect example of why, in practice, these right wingers always get away with doing nothing other than offending people, denigrating, refusing to be polite, refusing to back down when they’re quite obviously wrong, interrupting, never listening and generally personifying troll-like behaviour at every opportunity. And what do they get for this behaviour? Another seat on another television show or another column in a newspaper, or a highly lucrative job on a television or talk-back radio show. And what does society learn? That this behaviour is acceptable and the representatives of the ‘right’ can behave however they want because, you know, that’s just how they are. Really?

I’m personally sick of it. I’m sick of media organisations favouring this rudeness over rational, the bullying over fair, the shouting and nastiness over considered and eloquent. The media have fed the normalisation of behaviour which has led our society to assume that to be ‘right wing’ means you automatically get away with being a horrible person, but to be ‘left wing’ means you automatically have to put up with people being horrible to you, and this is just the way the world works. The more horrible you are as a right-winger, the more valued you are in the media. The more colourful, the more lucrative. It’s blatantly ridiculous.

This situation is never going to change until we have some standard of what is considered acceptable behaviour and there are negative consequences, rather than incentives, for behaving this way. I enjoyed watching The Project hosts Carrie Bickmore and Waleed Aly criticising Steve Price’s attack on Van Badham. In this interview, Steve admitted he didn’t care if the word ‘hysterical’ is deeply-sexist; he is going to keep using it anyway because, like a four year old, or Donald Trump, ‘he tells it like it is’. But the result of this interview is nothing unless it finished with one of the hosts saying ‘do you know what Steve? We’re not going to give you a platform to be rude to people anymore. We’re better than this and we don’t think it is good television to let you offend people from a privileged position on a national prime-time television show. We won’t have you on our panel anymore’. Only when this starts happening will the Steves get the message about the standards of acceptable behaviour in our society. It’s all very well for there to be public backlash, and for advertisers to withdraw sponsorship due to controversy, which I applaud. But Alan Jones still has his job. Sam Newman still has his job. Cory Bernardi still gets a spot on the Liberal senate ticket. What on earth will it take for these people to be told enough is enough? You can have a debate, sure. But there is absolutely no excuse for rudeness, put-downs, discrimination, sexism, personal-mockery and bullying. We don’t want our children behaving like this; it’s time we stopped accepting and promoting public figures who won’t live up to this standard.