Happiness - and despair

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Category Archives: News and Politics

Happiness – and despair

The only psychology I have studied formally was a unit on the psychology of teenagers, which was part of my Dip Ed (Secondary), which I undertook when I was living with three teenagers.

So my knowledge in this area is far from expert, having been mainly gleaned from experience in a family, in life, from reading and in teaching.

Emotion is an experience which is incredibly hard to define. When trying to explain what is ‘felt’ in a very non-concrete way, the same words can mean different things, because every experience is unique to the individual.

Research seems to indicate that sociopaths and psychopaths may lack the ability to empathise with, and hence show compassion to, other people.

Their understanding of emotion is stunted and warped.

Maybe there are too many we have elected to govern us who fit into these categories

Happiness is something more than drug induced euphoria. Many people use the word when maybe ‘contented’ might be more appropriate than ‘happy’.

One source of real happiness which many experience arises from helping someone else.

Paying a truthful compliment to a stranger, helping someone in need, particularly if you have gone out of your way to do so – these can produce a response which is quite uplifting, while making another individual more comfortable with life.

Yet we seem to live in a society which demands that we be self-reliant and leave others to look after their own needs, and those who do help others, for no fee, are denigrated as fools and do-gooders.

I am fully convinced that climate change is happening, that it is going to result in serious changes which will make life for many unbelievably uncomfortable, if not impossible, that we currently have just enough time to prevent the most extreme outcomes, but need to take action now, and that the selfish blindness of those who look to their own needs before those of others risks dooming our descendants to an unpleasant life.

Looking to the needs of others can be a source of giving and experiencing extreme happiness.

Concentrating on our own current desires can leave others in the depths of despair.

This is not religious dogma – this is an acceptance of our humanity.

We do not need to support a government which delivers policies which damage many in our society. In fact we have a moral duty not to do so!

We do not need to go to the bloody lengths of a revolution such as those in France and America in the 1700s.

But our need to overthrow this current government demands a high level of civil disobedience if we are to effect the policy changes we need so urgently.

The government does not have a mandate to give temporary help and then withdraw it prematurely, leaving people in penury and deep despair.

They have, through the childcare policy debacle, shown that they are quite capable of going down that path.

Whoever might benefit from that approach, they sure as hell are not the ones most in need of help.

I joined Extinction Rebellion because I am prepared to work to change policies that are damaging people and their future existence.

There are not thousands in the NT who can pour out onto the streets and protest, but there are in other places. They cannot safely do so yet, because of the continuing need for social distancing.

So now is the time to plan.

We have to oppose government policies which benefit corporations while harming individuals.

We can do this!

I am sure my recent Open letter to Scott Morrison did not travel very far, but responses to it certainly indicated that I am far from alone in being critical of our present, so-called, leader and the policies he and the Coalition government promulgate.

Plan to be ready to be safely out there to protest, and meantime, study the concept of civil disobedience.

It is time to stop talking and start planning for action before it is too late!

I end as always – this is my 2020 New Year Resolution:

“I will do everything in my power to enable Australia to be restored to responsible government.”

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Bye bye, Mathias. Is Spud next?

By Grumpy Geezer  

Senator Mathias Pubert Cormann has chucked his car keys into the trifle and announced his pending retirement from politics after 7 continuous years of rogering the country as Grand Fubar of Finance.

Pubert’s track record includes doubling all debt accumulated by all governments since 1854, while:

“Through the past six years of the global recovery Australia has tumbled from near the top of OECD rankings to among the losers on unemployment, underemployment, wages growth, productivity, income per person, median wealth, retail sales, infrastructure development, interest rates and the value of the Aussie dollar.”

Apart from innumeracy Cormann’s other skill is said to be that of Senate looney-whisperer – surrendering any pretence of ethics by horse-trading with broomstick pilot Pauline Hanson and her strap-on Malcolm The Dwarf Tosser Roberts.

Despite, or perhaps because of his appalling record, his shifty deals and his Hayekian world view Pubert is held in high regard by the Tories which says much about the lack of principles and depth of talent in the Liberal Party wading pool. The net result is that Cormann’s departure is a plus for the country and it has animated the pundits with speculation on a reshuffle.

It has been conjectured that Spud Dutton, Pubert’s best bro and his co-conspirator in the shivving of Truffles Turnbull, is to be removed from despot depot at Home Affairs and its beloved ranks of dark-uniformed goons and door-breakers and shunted to Defence.

The prospect of Aldo Fitler being handed the keys to the ADF barracks, munitions stores and troop carriers is a nightmare of Trumpian proportions. Yet those in the know suggest that the Defence portfolio is a departure lounge for pollies on the outer, and Spud is not one of Smirko’s favourite people.

“Scott didn’t trust Dutton at all and regarded him as deficient in all respects – character, intellect and political nous.” Malcolm Turnbull – A Bigger Picture.

The sentiments are apparently returned:

“Of course, if Mathias had a poor opinion of Scott, Dutton’s dislike of him was even stronger.” Also from Malcolm’s book,

Agreeing with any of Spud’s opinions is a bit like enjoying the same picnic spots as Ivan Milat. Spud’s the type who’d buy his kids a 15 year old cat for Christmas so he wouldn’t have to go to the trouble of abandoning it by Easter, his personality attracts cadaver dogs from afar and he picked up his inter-personal skills at an abattoir.

However, Spud’s dislike of Smirko is rational, if lacking in self-awareness. They both revel in the mistreatment of the 2 Biloela kiddies locked away in the Kinderlager on Christmas Island and the demonising of minorities. They’re both authoritarian bullies and cowards who hate scrutiny and accountability. Their mutual loathing is understandable; it’s as if each sees his own reflection in the other and seeks to deny the reality of their own awfulness by projecting it onto the other.

The departure of Cormann and possible sidelining of Dutton in a reshuffle would be welcome news should there be any capable, principled alternatives to take their places – keeping in mind that the Reprehensibles rule in the squalid kakocracy of Tory politics.

Where in the L/NP effluvium are the curious minds, the talented, the ethical or those who see politics as serving the public interests rather than their own? Where are the idealists rather than the ideologues, the creatives vs the creationists, the thinkers not the cultists, dogmatists and evangelicals?

Trust in the government is essential to a healthy democracy, it’s not just an option where spin is a suitable substitute for truth. In a crisis it is indispensable yet Morrison sees it as a PR opportunity. Cormann may be going and Dutton may be headed for the wood-chipper but we are stuck with the opportunistic Morrison and his fellow cultists, disaster capitalists, grifters and incompetents.

Cartoon by Alan Moir (moir.com.au)

Tories and pandemics

Tim Smith, Tory member for the Victorian state seat of Kew, a man of bovine intellect and the presence of a lasagne thrown from a speeding car has been desperately trying to raise his profile, in true Tory style, by politicising the pandemic.

Smith’s great-grandfather founded Ferguson’s Cakes in 1901. The family sold their shares in the business but Timmy seems to have retained some familial fondness for confectionery – this once dedicated rower’s spreading deportment suggests he may have simply served as skiff ballast.

During his tenure as MP Dim Tim has overseen two consecutive 5% swings against the Libs in what was a blue-ribbon Tory enclave.

While Premier Dan Andrews slogs his guts out and Bill Shorten volunteers his labour on the front lines Albo-style this douchebaguette tweets his bile and hypocrisy and Smirko, again using “Jen and the girls” as human shields takes time out to go to the footy. We have a crisis and Smirko continues to screw Australia. Daggy style.

Image from Twitter (via @jodilee_7)

This article was originally published on the Grumpy Geezer.

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Rachel Maddow on the daily madness

Let’s hear it for the ‘leader’ of the free world.

And just to recap…

It’s exhausting but we must keep speaking out until we get leaders who care more about people and the planet we inhabit than they do about their own ambition.

As Jason Wilson wrote some months ago, “Australia’s right is simply incapable of adopting a critical stance on US conservatism. They are under its tutelage.”

How bad does Trump have to get before we stand up?

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We live in shadowy times and white men who inhabit it lead us further into darkness

As a man who is but months away from turning 80 I hope that I have inherited some characteristics of the prudent sage.

A man with awareness, and knowledge, which enables me to speak through my longevity with authority about the society, I have grown up in, taken from and invested in.

Many things disgust me about many societies of the world, none more so than the people’s aptitude for electing moronic individuals who show no understanding of life and the living of it.

In the fool’s paradise of America – who the world once viewed, rightly or wrongly, as the world’s policeman – the people elected a president who in his madness matches that of the Roman Emperor Caligula for his decadence and depravity. He is, in fact and inaction, a mass murderer of his own people.

America has always thought of itself as being exceptional which “as a lie,” has been a magnificent propaganda success.

When Donald Trump promised he would make America great again, “Instead,” writes Noel Turnbull;

“… he has presided over a significant collapse in belief in American exceptionalism.

While the rest of the western world … has always been conscious of what really makes the US exceptional – racism and limited democracy; constant waging of war; appalling health care for poorer citizens; worker exploitation; religious extremism; massive inequality; organising coups and assassinations in nations around the world; torture of prisoners; and the ignorance, hypocrisy and myopia which allows many citizens to deny it all. …and to add to that list of the exceptional, The Economist (20 June 2020) reported that the US is one of only 13 countries (along with Venezuela and Syria) where the maternal mortality rate increased between 2000 and 2017.”

It is time that those with the capacity to change laws that might prevent the mass murder of people and refuse to do so were made to account.

We live in dark times.

The Brazilian people elected a right wing conservative politician in Jair Bolsonaro, 65, as its president. In the past few days he has announced the he has tested positive for COVID-19.

He has repeatedly flouted all of the rules of combating the virus. If infected, he would quickly shake off the illness thanks to his “athlete’s background,” he said.

“There’s no reason for fear. That’s life,” the president added. “Life goes on. I thank God for my life and the role I’ve been given to decide the future of this great nation that is called Brazil.”

Has he really been tested?

In Russia the people have voted to give their president an unprecedented lifetime in office. He is reputed to have made a fortune of $70 billion. How did he get it? No one knows.

We live in dark times.

In Australia where political apathy has grown year upon year it would seem that the worse the government governs, the more popular they become.

We have a Prime Minister on an annual salary of close to half a million dollars (in the top three in the world) saying that the Government will not be increasing the unemployment benefit of $40 a day because it might dissuade people from applying for a job.

It is then that you  understand there is something profoundly wrong, something seriously flawed with his understanding of the world and how people survive in it.

In 2013 Australia’s citizens elected the far-right politician Tony Abbott whose sole aim in life seemed to be to destroy things, not to build things. His first budget was universally acclaimed as the most uncaring ever.

Now approaching their 8th year in power it is hard to point out any major advances made by the three conservative Prime Ministers of the period. Abbott, Turnbull and Morrison have all been consumed with the power that personal entitlement brings to the job rather than what they could have done bettering the lives of the people.

So corrupt has Australian politics become under these scoundrels, its democracy in tatters, that on questions of trust, Transparency International’s recent research found that 85% of Australians thought that some federal politicians were corrupt.

And now the art of diplomacy has also suffered … in favour of an aggressive defence policy toward China.

We live in dark times.

British citizens, of course, not to be left out of the world’s irrational need of the far-right brought about by endless fear campaigns rejected any hope of a leftist revival by snubbing Jeremy Corbyn over the buffoon Boris Johnson. Now with Brexit behind it the people expect that Conservatives will make things right again.

We live in dark times.

Throughout Europe, France excepted, a swing to the right is occurring with Italy, Germany, Spain, Austria, Sweden, Finland, Estonia, Poland, Hungry, Slovenia and Greece are tending toward anti immigration, nationalism and far right-policies.

Why then do ordinary folk vote against their own self-interest? Conservatives in Australia have never given pensioners, for example, a raise in their pension. As I said earlier, the dole will be kept low and benefits to the rich and privileged won’t be touched. Yet it is amongst this cohort that the conservatives have their greatest strength. The over 65s form a solid base.

“Just why these people put their faith in conservative leadership?” you might ask. “Why do they instinctively vote for the LNP when it is Labor who is more likely to address their concerns?”

The answer is in a psychology of fear that conservatives portray. A fear of change of instability, insecurity, having something taken away. Conservatives are averse to both change and science.

The conservative has a need to convince his potential followers and adherents that they are always under threat, real or imagined, and it is only their leader who can control events that might affect their well being.

Conservatives also have a built-in fear of the aforementioned and when it overlaps with the same fears in the poor and middle classes they form a mighty powerful voting group.

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

Religion too plays its part in the psychological fear campaigns of the conservatives. They focus on religions (particularly the Pentecostal) aversion to change and the preservation of life as is.

I previously wrote that:

“I remember as a young boy seeing pictures on posters in trams, in the newspapers, and news shorts at the cinema with pictures depicting the communist hordes thrusting their way towards us. There were others with hundreds of Chinese rolling across Sydney Harbour Bridge in their rickshaws with guns and communist flags.”

Less-informed voters unfortunately outnumber the more politically aware. Therefore, conservatives feed them all the bullshit they need. And the menu generally contains a fair portion of untruths.

If their religion is under threat then so to is their well-being. Threats come in abundance, anything from foreign military threats to domestic terrorism, exaggerated fears of minorities and immigrants, pluralism, disease, violent crime, or government overreach. Even a virus that is a sign from God.

Fear draws people into protection from it. It gives poor people approval to vote against their own best interests.

I began this piece by saying that.

It is so true of Australia. Australian conservatives have long been the champions of fear. They have won many elections with it and will continue to do so until confronted.

We live in dark times.

My thought for the day

It’s difficult to cast yourself in a new light when you’re surrounded by the politics of darkness.

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An open letter to Scott Morrison, PM

Mr Morrison,

Do you realise how much better off you are than the vast majority of Australians who are directly affected by your policy decisions?

You have a certainty of income – unless your Coalition colleagues decide to sack you, which, sadly, is unlikely to happen in time to benefit the rest of us.

You have a very substantial income, and, literally, the power of life or death over millions of people.

That is a scary responsibility, yet you seem to manage to perform your functions in the total absence of empathy or compassion.

Your sole driver appears to be, to leave a legacy as a superior manager of the economy.

Believe me – your hubris is such that you are blind to the mess you are making of things.

The best decision your National Cabinet made, was to make child minding free – although the way you did it actually hurt those providing the service – which was not clever.

Your decision to willfully cut short the period for which this would apply was – to use a gross understatement – woefully misguided.

Your adherence to ideology and blindness to alternative approaches is damaging the lives of a majority of Australians.

I won’t begin to talk about the damage you have done, by treating as criminals desperate refugees, for whom safe haven in Australia – where they could (and some have – in outstanding fashion) contribute to our benefit – has been denied.

Many of those people have died, some through suicide, and if you are not ashamed of yourself, then you are indeed a hollow man.

What sort of a Christian are you to put personal prestige in front of following the teaching of a man you claim to worship?

You seem to have an inexplicable hostility towards education, having severely damaged our tertiary system, ignored the incredible importance of early childhood education, and encouraged the enrichment of shonky operators in the TAFE system, so that we now need to bring in skilled tradespeople from overseas – at least pre-COVID-19!

Yet, for unfathomable reasons, you continue to shower largesse on wealthy private schools, while denying sufficient funding for desperately needed services in public schools in low socioeconomic areas, and for children with special needs.

The way in which you outsource services to for-profit organisations certainly benefits the shareholders of those organisations, but is highly detrimental to those receiving an inadequate service from insufficiently trained personnel, who belittle the skills of those who seek professional jobs, requiring skills far above the level of those job providers.

Being the Prime Minister of a multicultural country like Australia demands vision, compassion and genuine leadership.

Looking back at your career history, it is clear that your major skill is self-promotion and you have achieved advancement using methods which do you no credit.

Your “this is my leader” gesture to Malcolm Turnbull, as you schemed to replace him, showed clearly how shallow is your sense of loyalty.

Judas springs to mind.

One thing is crystal clear.

You do not have what it takes to be a leader, but you ride on the backs of others – as with the National Cabinet – while ensuring that you are the one in the limelight making the announcements – particularly if there is any kudos to be gained in the process.

Your financial treatment of those who are long term unemployed or underemployed does you no credit.

They may include a few ‘dole bludgers’, and certainly some of them may squander money on drugs – more likely cigarettes and alcohol than cocaine – it is mainly the wealthy for whom that is the drug of choice!

We need proper rehabilitation services to help those who are genuinely hooked on ice and other drugs of addiction. In fact the desperate shortage of psychological services for those with mental health problems is appalling in a wealthy country.

Another issue needing urgent attention at national level is the decriminalisation of drug use, but that will have to wait until we are back on an even keel!

The COVID-19 pandemic is a worldwide phenomenon. Who knows if or when there might be an effective vaccine.

Economically, we will inevitably suffer in consequence, and our ability to survive will not be helped by a worsening relationship with China and the mess that is the USA under Trump as POTUS.

Those are issues outside our control, where we have to adjust to their effects, but the highest priority is the survival of our citizens.

PLEASE stop putting the economy first, but remember, it is important in the context of doing the best it can to benefit those in our community who are in most need of help.

At present that is not the case.

People would not be dependent on, and stigmatised by, ‘welfare’ if government seriously considered alternatives – like a Universal Basic Income and a job guarantee.

We have people whose understanding of economics has moved on to reject neo-capitalism and ‘the market rules’ approaches.

Those viewpoints have put enormous wealth in the hands of massive corporations, while creating an ever-increasing gap between rich and poor. Look at the information gleaned from the Banking RC?

Corruption in government itself, where ‘pork barreling’ has gone way beyond something to which we can turn a blind eye, would benefit from another Fitzgerald Inquiry!

In short – this country is in a mess, and, while some of current policies have helped us suffer less than many from the pandemic, we cannot afford to be complacent and think about returning to normal – largely because there no longer is a ‘normal’!

We are now crying out for a vision that puts people’s needs first, whatever the cost

Many, reading this rant, will tell me I am wasting my time.

I disagree.

If I feel this strongly, then I am confident there are many others with similar concerns.

We cannot afford to wait for the next election.

It is dangerous at present to congregate in the streets to demand action, so maybe we need to flood our MP’s mail boxes with protests and demands for policy change!

I end as always – this is my 2020 New Year Resolution:

“I will do everything in my power to enable Australia to be restored to responsible government.”

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The Hypocrisies of Recognition: The Supreme Court, Native Americans and the McGirt Case

The Supreme Court of the United States has barely had time to gather its collective breath these last few days. Among its decisions, including those dealing with President Donald Trump’s financial records, was that of McGirt v Oklahoma. The case furnishes a detailed discussion on the extent Native American self-governance survived the assaults of the US Congress and the creation of the State of Oklahoma in 1907.

The Creek (Muscogee) Reservation itself arose from circumstances of predation and cruelty. Forcibly relocated from Georgia and Alabama, “the Creek nation,” wrote Justice Neil Gorsuch, “received reassurances that their new lands in the West would be secure forever. In ceding their land East of the Mississippi River, a pledge by the 1832 treaty was made that the “Creek country west of the Mississippi shall be solemnly guaranteed to the Creek Indians.”

By the narrowest of decisions, the court found 5-4 against the state of Oklahoma. The state authorities had claimed that the Creek Reservation did not survive the “allotment era” and had been “disestablished.” Jimcy McGirt, convicted by an Oklahoman state court of three sexual offences that had taken place on the Creek Nation Reservation in the north-eastern part of the state, had claimed otherwise. As a member of the Seminole Nation, he submitted in post-conviction proceedings that the State lacked jurisdiction to prosecute him. The relevant statute was the federal Major Crimes Act, which provided that, within “the Indian country,” any Indian committing certain offences “shall be subject to the same law and penalties as all other persons committing any of [those] offenses, within the exclusive jurisdiction of the United States.” His initial effort to seek a new trial in federal court failed, leading to the Supreme Court petition.

That period of central government nastiness in the late nineteenth century known as the “allotment era” had a purpose common to other frontier societies: the assimilation of the native intransigents through means designed to wean them off their traditional customs. As the zealous Captain Richard Pratt opined in 1892, the United States needed to “kill the Indian in him, and save the man.” Enough with the physical massacres; what was needed was a concerted effort to Americanize and civilise, a form of spiritual genocide. Pratt envisaged doing so through education, including the US Training and Industrial School he founded in 1879 at Carlisle Barracks in Pennsylvania. Out with the “savage” habits: tribal language, identity and long hair; in with the new American, albeit a stunted one with his nerves extracted. Such education was to be rudimentary or, in the words of President Teddy Roosevelt, “very, very limited.”

In terms of property, the allotment era was trumpeted by the passage of the Dawes Act of 1887, also known as the General Allotment Act. This entailed breaking up tribally owned reservations and allocating them to individual households, though the process came with a nasty catch: such divided land would initially be held in trust; Native American households would have to prove their competence in exercising full “fee simple” property rights. The result, in many instances, was also the selling of Indian land to non-Indian purchasers.

In his address to Congress in 1901, Roosevelt gave his boisterous assessment of the statute. “The General Allotment Act is a mighty pulverizing engine to break up the tribal mass. It acts directly upon the family and the individual.” The Act had enabled sixty thousand Indians to become US citizens.  It was now essential, Roosevelt suggested, to “break up the tribal funds, doing for them what allotment does for tribal lands; that is, they should be divided into individual holdings.”

The majority, ruling in favour of McGirt, affirmed that the land in question remains a reservation that gives the federal government exclusive jurisdiction over crimes committed on it. In doing so, the court also confirmed the continuing existence of a reservation stretching some 19 million acres including eight counties and most of Tulsa.

In their skirt through the legislative record, the majority found no statute “evincing anything like the ‘present and total surrender of all tribal interests’.” The transfer of individual plots, whether to Native Americans or others, “did not disestablish the reservation.” A body of statutes and treaties over time confirmed the legal standing of the Creek Reservation. The majority rebuked the argument that States had claimed powers “to reduce federal reservations within their borders.” To imagine such a power would enable States to “encroach on the tribal boundaries or legal rights Congress provided, and, with enough time and patience, nullify the promises made in the name of the United States.” Despite various efforts by Congress to intrude upon Creek self-governance, these were not sufficient to suggest disestablishment. “Oklahoma and the dissent have cited no case in which this Court has found a reservation disestablished without first concluding that a statute first required that result.”

Chief Justice John Roberts, who managed to avoid being in the majority in all 5-4 court decisions this term, was glum about the consequences. The decision was a torch taken to state governance. “Across the vast area, the State’s ability to prosecute serious crimes will be hobbled and decades of past convictions could well be thrown out. On top of that, the Court has profoundly destabilized the governance of eastern Oklahoma.” The majority judgement had also created “significant uncertainty for the State’s continuing authority over any area that touches Indian affairs, ranging from zoning and taxation to family and environmental law.”

Roberts further bristled at the idea that Congress needed to be wordily explicit in terminating a reservation, having “made abundantly clear its intent to disestablish the Creek territory.” Just look at the historical record, the chief justice urged. Congress “supplanted the Creek legal system with a legal code and court system that applied equally to Indians and non-Indians.” It “systematically dismantled the governmental authority of the Creek Nation, targeting all three branches.” It “destroyed the foundation of sovereignty by stripping the Creek Nation of its territory.”

Justice Gorsuch, in his judgment for the majority, had little time for such worries. To suggest an army of inmates rushing to seek new trials in federal courts was “admittedly speculative, because many defendants may choose to finish their state sentences rather than risk prosecution in federal court where sentences can be graver.” Besides, no actual intention to terminate the legal standing of the Creek Reservation could ever be found.

In all the excitement, it would have been easy to have overlooked the predecessor case of Sharp v Murphy, in which the court heard argument on the same question as that of McGirt. The case stalled in its tracks in 2018 as Gorsuch had recused himself, having served on the 10th circuit of the US Circuit Court of Appeals, comprising Oklahoma. Instead of going through re-arguments there, Sharp was restored to this calendar term and duly decided in favour of the inmate Patrick Murphy “for the reasons stated in” McGirt. Murphy had also committed his crime within the boundaries of the Creek Nation.

Having anticipated the decision, somewhat, Oklahoma Attorney General Mike Hunter, along with all Five Tribes affected by the decision, including the Cherokee, Chickasaw, Choctaw, Seminole Nations, issued a statement committing the parties “to ensuring that Jimcy McGirt, Patrick Murphy, and all other offenders face justice for crimes for which they are accused. We have a shared commitment to maintaining public safety and long-term economic prosperity for the Nations and Oklahoma.”

The decision of McGirt masks the crude realities of institutional, colonial violence. It perpetuates an illusion, a discredited understanding between Native American nations and the US federal government. That was the lingering “promise,” as Gorsuch claims, “[o]n the far end of the Trail of Tears,” one that was never kept. Chief Justice Roberts was very much on to it. In letting the cat out of the bag on Native American-Indian relations, he suggested that Congress had acted in a manner entirely inconsistent with preserving any semblance of Creek sovereignty. We are left with the Native American Indian in confused legal dress, trampled, abused, deceived by history but with only a symbolic heartbeat.

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Information and critical thinking do matter

By 2353NM  

When Prime Minister Morrison was advised there was the risk of uncontrolled spread of a deadly pandemic on the horizon early this year, he was slightly wiser than at Christmas when he left a burning Australia in the ‘capable’ hands of Deputy Prime Minister and National Party Leader Michael McCormack. Morrison gathered the state and territory leaders together to devise a strategy to manage the Australian health and economic systems through what was certainly going to be unprecedented times. The decision was to listen and act on the advice of the country’s Chief Medical Officers and in the process of saving lives, effectively kill economic growth. Ultimately the strategy was successful on both counts, thousands of lives have been saved and the economy is in recession.

After considerable prompting by evidence such as the millions of people lining up outside Centrelink offices due to the closure of all but essential services, Morrison’s Government created JobKeeper. It offered a flat wage to those people that no longer had meaningful work or an employer without income to convert to wages and other business expenses. At the same time they relaunched the ‘Newstart’ unemployment income support payment as JobSeeker and doubled the rate to something approaching a value that people could pay the rent, utilities, transport costs and finally afford to be able to buy wholesome food instead of starving.

The Arts industry, which is basically anyone from the busker at the railway station through movie producers, authors, orchestras, ballet companies as well as all those that are paid to entertain or provide the logistics for those that entertain also saw their income just stop. As did restaurants, cafes, hotels, sports stadiums, casinos, universities and so on. Airlines grounded the majority of their planes and eventually the Federal Government funded the maintenance of a skeleton service primarily to keep freight moving around the country. Retail literally shut up shop and media companies reduced output as the advertising dollar stopped dead. Murdoch’s Newscorp decided to stop physically printing around 100 newspaper titles across the country, forcing those who want to access the local news to online consumption at a price, certainly not ideal for older residents of regional communities that don’t necessarily have the skills to use a computer or ‘smart’ device, even if they owned one.

While some concessions were made for some of the groups above, with the promise of some targeted assistance yet to come, may were left to their own devices. While ‘private’ university staff were eligible for JobKeeper, public university staff were not. The Federal Government also doubled the cost of various university courses designed to teach people how to think critically (Arts courses that generally don’t have a direct link with a job). Despite the excellent service to communities affected by bushfires and other weather events during the summer, the reduction in comparable funding to previous years (known to most outside Morrison’s ‘Canberra bubble’ as funding cuts) programmed some time ago for the ABC were implemented.

As a consequence of the funding cuts, ABC recently announced a number of ‘initiatives’ to save money including sacking 250 people. News.com.au (owned by Murdoch’s Newscorp) reported

Prime Minister Scott Morrison has argued there have been no cuts to the ABC’s funding after the national broadcaster announced 250 job losses.

The ABC unveiled the cuts on Wednesday, with the 7.45am radio news bulletin to be scrapped as up to 70 news division jobs disappear.

Mr Morrison said the ABC’s overall funding was increasing each year.

“There are no cuts,” he told reporters in Sydney on Thursday.

ABC managing director David Anderson said on Wednesday that operational funding would be more than 10 per cent lower in 2021/22 than it was in 2013.

The overall amount the corporation receives from government will rise from $1.062 billion in 2019/20 to $1.071 billion in 2021/22.

But an indexation freeze in funding is set to cost the ABC $84 million over those three years.

Nine Media recently reported that in a letter to the relevant minister Paul Fletcher, ABC Managing Director David Anderson offered to increase regional reporting in their news coverage should the latest ‘indexation pause’ be reversed

If indexation was restored, combined with savings and efficiencies that the ABC has identified in recent months, the Corporation would be in a position to commit an additional investment of up to $10 million per annum to employ more journalists in regional Australia and generate more content from regions for the local and national stories,” Mr Anderson wrote.

Several government sources have confirmed Mr Fletcher did not reply to the letter, nor did he discuss the proposal with the ABC or his National Party colleagues, who have constantly raised concerns over the future of regional media outlets, following a spate of natural disasters including last summer’s fires.

Murdoch’s Newscorp claims that local content previously reported in 100 printed newspapers will be retained both online and in the remaining physical newspapers. Maybe those in Morrison’s ‘Canberra bubble’ believe the Courier Mail, published in Brisbane, will represent the local concerns of all the people that live between Brisbane and Townsville which is the next outpost of the Newscorp empire that uses printers ink. You would probably have a hard time finding those outside the ‘bubble’ that shared the belief. ABC was offering to go and represent the communities. The relevant Minister, according to the report, didn’t even bother acknowledging the receipt of the ABC’s offer.

There is a larger issue here. Clearly the Morrison Government really doesn’t care that local people won’t get local news. Sometimes the news may be favourable to the government, sometimes it may not. That really doesn’t matter, accountability does. Local media is effectively the watchdog on the Council that doesn’t apply their own zoning laws, the reporter of the death of a local hero, or that 15 year old Johnny from the local school is going to represent Australia, or even that the local supermarket is expanding to meet demand. If the ABC were providing the news, their reporters are bound by the ABC’s Charter to be balanced and accurate; neither of which was guaranteed by Newscorp’s papers.

Cartoon by Alan Moir (moir.com.au)

So, Morrison’s Government is ensuring that local communities don’t have local information. When you add in that the Morrison Government is also dissuading people from enrolling in tertiary education courses that teach critical thinking, he is also taking away the ability of people to distil the real information from the ‘fake news’. In short Morrison, like Turnbull and Abbott before him are trying to dumb us down to believe whatever story those in power wish to tell us. Maybe George Orwell’s 1984 was closer to reality than we thought.

Accountability matters. If there is no media in regional areas, there is no accountability for the council that rorts the system, the politician that doesn’t deliver what they promise or the numerous other newsworthy incidents that happen in regional communities each week. Murdoch’s Newscorp has made a business decision to effectively withdraw from large parts of Australia blaming lack of profitability. The role of providing accountability therefore defaults to the ABC, which is not profit driven by nature. As Morrison’s Government has deliberately cut funding for the ABC to perform this role — what’s he hiding?

What do you think?

This article was originally published on The Political Sword

For Facebook users, The Political Sword has a Facebook page:
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How The Black Lives Matter Protest Enables Me To Drink And Drive

It seems that Dan Andrews has stuffed up by allowing a protest to go ahead. I know this because every second person interviewed by the media is telling me so.

The other interviewees are concentrating instead on the poor management of the hotel quarantine. Apparently it’s not a good idea to use a private security firm to look after people unless they’re looking after people on Manus and Nauru. And apparently the guards weren’t trained properly so that they didn’t realise that the people under quarantine would have to follow the same social distancing rules as everyone else in the community. No, for once, the Liberals are outraged that a private company was used instead of the public service!

Of course, this lack of training and basic common sense from the security guards is Dan Andrews fault and he should resign because when you employ someone to do a job and they stuff up, then you should take responsibility and resign. Remember how Angus Taylor resigned when someone is his office stuffed up? Oh, that’s right, the AFP said it was all ok because someone said sorry. Ok, well Michaelia Cash? When that guy tipped off the press about the raid and… Oh, that’s right he moved on and she stayed.

All right, this is different because it’s a Labor premier and we all know that Labor are responsible for everything that happens under their watch while the Liberals are totally irresponsible.

Perhaps I’m slow, but I’m still yet to understand how the Black Lives Matter protest was Andrews’ fault. He did ask people to not protest, but that wasn’t enough. Apparently he should have stopped it. Exactly how you stop a protest I don’t know. And surely police arresting people when they refuse to cooperate would have been more likely to spread the virus than simply allowing them to march.

Whatever, it wasn’t stopped and so even though there were only one or two cases from the actual march, it was the effect on the people doing the right thing. Apparently, all those people who were doing the right thing said, “If those people can get away with that, then why should we stay at home? Let’s stop using hand sanitiser and masks. Let’s all go out and shake hands with as many people as possible!”

Yes, I remember how I felt when Peta Credlin got off her drink driving charge. I remember saying to myself: Fuck safety. I’m going to drink copious amounts of alcohol before I get into my car because the only reason I’ve had for not doing that it the fear of getting fined. No, it hasn’t been the concern for my own safety or the safety of others, it’s only been the fact that I felt that everybody had to abide by the same rules but after Credlin, I’ve decided that if the rules aren’t going to apply in every case, then I’m free to do what I like and it’s all George Brandis’ fault for writing her that letter to show to the magistrate!

No, I didn’t think that at all, and it’s certainly a worry if anyone actually decided that just because we had a protest that risked people’s safety then they should be free to ignore all the health requirements…

So, if I put the narratives about the recent Covid-19 surge being all Dan Andrews’ fault together we end up with this:

There was a protest and some security guards who were so badly trained that they didn’t know not get too close to the people they were guarding or let them go shopping. The security personnel who thought they were just there to open the doors and to share cigarette lighters and bodily fluids, noticed that the BLM protesters weren’t fined so they decided to stop social distancing because it just wasn’t fair!

Mm, perhaps I should send that off to Rupert. He might be able to find me work as a replacement for one of his columnists, or if he can’t afford to pay me, he might be able to arrange for me to get preselection for a safe Liberal seat!

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Leadership and popularity

[Terry Mills has defended his fracking flip-flop, saying he doesn’t believe the ‘pipe dream’ will improve the Territory’s finances. Picture: Katrina Bridgeford]

My knowledge of Australian political history is somewhat limited because I was not born here and have only ever lived in the Northern Territory.

Some PMs and Premiers stand out more than others – not always for good reasons – but there are only two for whom I have a significant level of respect.

One is Don Dunstan, a former SA Premier, and the other is Gough Whitlam and the same reason for my choice applies to both – they were leaders who introduced policies which were needed and provided that leadership in a moral framework.

I will explain the importance of this later.

The two major parties in the NT have been the CLP and the ALP, and we also have a Greens Party.

Following a devastating loss at the last polls, the CLP has shrunk, but several former members have formed breakaway minor parties, one of which is led by a former CLP Chief Minister, Terry Mills.

Some weeks ago, on a Wednesday, when I was doing my Greta Thunberg stint outside NT Parliament house, Terry stopped by to discuss fracking with me, and insisted that, since contracts had been signed for fracking to proceed, the NT would expose themselves to sovereign risk if those contracts were cancelled.

Ignoring the fact that ‘sovereign risk’ is possibly an inappropriate term, the main issue was that he regarded the NT Government as being committed to continue fracking.

Then an opinion poll showed that a significant proportion of the NT voters are opposed to fracking, so he publicly reversed his support for continuing – to howls of ‘political expediency’!

As it was being reported, he actually came out to to where I was again sitting in front of Parliament House, to talk to me, and ensure that I knew that he had changed his policy!

I was dubious that he had made the change for reasons related to the need for action on climate change, which, for me is the only issue of current importance for government apart from COVID-19!

Then he did some homework, and was reported as having changed his mind, because continuing with fracking for CSG would not be economically viable as the price of gas is falling.

In actual fact, I believe the real story in the NT is much more complicated and convoluted, but, anyway, today (8/07/20) being Wednesday (again!) he took time to come out to talk to me this afternoon.

(I am not sure why Terry Mills uses me as a sounding board. I am not an important person. My opinions are not totaIly unknown, as I regularly write letters to the NT News, many of which they publish – largely, on their part, to stir up controversy (good for business) – and there are many fairly abusive responses from those much further right in their politics which clearly identify me!)

His position now is that a majority of the people in the NT do not want fracking, so he is changing his policy in order to offer the NT voters what they want!

I sometimes wonder whether too much reality TV (which I never watch but hear about!) has engendered this emphasis on pursuing popularity.

A few generations back, parents of teenagers were prepared to be unpopular, with a view to ensuring that their children were appropriately protected from the many risks arising from immature decisions.

Reality TV encourages people to vote actors out of the drama, popularity being the only criterion.

But in government, what we need more than anything else is transparent leadership, based on ensuring that policies provide us with what we need to be healthy, in all senses, as a nation.

Because a policy is supported by a majority does not guarantee that it is good policy, so trying to be popular is a dangerous game, IMHO.

It is brutally clear that our current PM, Scott Morrison, is obsessed with the economy. He has been in the forefront of pressuring a return to ‘normal’, ASAP, following the economic impact of the COVID-19 lock down.

He must still be grieving over the fact that the pandemic knocked his ‘back in black’ for six!

And Victoria’s current woes show how ill-advised that pressure was.

In my discussion today with Mr Mills, I expressed my opinion that policy based on popular demands was not an ethical way to conduct politics. After all, we elect a government to provide a system which is better for us, and if they have made promises over what they will do, and a majority have elected them, then that is what we expect them to do.

But, hopefully, before making those promises, they will have at least explored what we need, as well as what we say we want.

Now – back to the moral framework.

A majority of the Australian public, in all states and territories, have expressed a need for action on climate change. We are not so stupid as to think that one state, territory or even country can achieve what is necessary to reduce emissions, but we are intelligent enough to realise that, if too many states, territories or countries hang back from taking action, we will never succeed.

In some ways the COVID-19 epidemic has put a spanner in the works by distracting attention from climate action, but, by the same token, it has also caused a temporary reduction in emissions, as manufacturing plants have been temporarily shut down, and general traffic has reduced.

What we desperately need at the moment is for ideology to be removed from the planning process (sometimes the impossible does happen!) and for governments at all levels to look much more closely at what we need, given that we are effectively starting from scratch and people are desperate for a sense of security and certainty!

Thousands are concerned about mortgage payments or rent.

Probably thousands of landlords are also concerned about their mortgage payments, too.

Thousands are concerned about finding a job.

Life is never going to be the same for today’s adults.

Approaches to government finance can and must change. A UBI has major problems but it is also an initiative which could buy the government time, more simply than using processes which cause them to be get tangled in a mass of complex ‘welfare’ measures.

People need food, a roof over their heads, ability to move around, once infection levels are under control, and children need an education.

We really can afford to worry later about where the money is coming from!

We are a fiat nation!

To force people into poverty because of action taken by government – yes, it was necessary, but it has also been destructive – is immoral and probably illegal.

And – thinking of legality – the illegally obtained money from Robodebt MUST be returned ASAP!!! In full, immediately and with no adverse income tax implications!

In general I feel that politicians are far more interested in helping themselves than in helping us – and since we elect them, we have to take some blame for this.

If we want to keep the bastards honest, we have to make the moves and ensure that we are led by people who do have a moral compass.

I end as always – this is my 2020 New Year Resolution:

“I will do everything in my power to enable Australia to be restored to responsible government.”

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Government’s inaction on young workers’ struggles having abhorrent results

By William Olson  

A recent run of statistics regarding Australia’s young people in the workforce, occurring prior to and during the COVID-19 pandemic, reveal an alarming trend towards record levels of unemployment and under-employment for men and women in that demographic.

And with that, it only highlights the growing inequality happening within the country.

Citing a current national average of 12 workers vying for every available job, the Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU) points out that the job market for the 15-to-24-year-old demographic is at a 42-year low since the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) started tracking such data in 1978.

With regard to unemployment and under-employment figures for that demographic, 37.8 per cent of young workers are either out of work or looking for more hours at work, with many of them only clinging onto their jobs via the Morrison government’s JobKeeper scheme.

“Young people are facing conditions that we haven’t seen since the 1970s. They need support from the Government to ensure that they come out of this pandemic with a job,” Michele O’Neil, the ACTU’s president, said when the ABS statistics were released.

“What they are getting instead is baseless assertions from the Morrison Government that they aren’t taking their opportunities. The data clearly shows these opportunities are a figment of the Government’s imagination,” she added.

O’Neil also implores those within the government to act on extending or increasing the JobKeeper and JobSeeker schemes before they are due to expire within the next three months.

“Cutting JobKeeper in September would be a catastrophe for the millions of Australian workers who are currently using it to pay their bills and rent,” said O’Neil.

“We need leadership and a plan for job creation from this Government, not a tired rerun of blaming unemployed young people for the fact they can’t find a job,” she added.

The ACTU also points out that a greater concentration of the unemployment and under-employment problem as it pertains to young workers lies in regional areas, such as in regional Queensland and regional Tasmania.

The ACTU, while foreshadowing an unveiling of its plan to inspire an employment revival in those areas next week, has also hit out at the government for not addressing the issue, nor for having a plan which inspires unemployment numbers to drop in those regions.

“Our message to Australians in regional Queensland and Tasmania is this: The Morrison government needs to step up and deliver a comprehensive plan to protect and create jobs. The Australian union movement has a comprehensive plan for jobs that will rebuild our economy in the aftermath of the pandemic and the government are welcome to use it as a starting point,” O’Neil has declared.

“If the Commonwealth government won’t provide leadership on this, Australian unions will,” she added.

Exploitation among international students is also ripe on top of the frustrations of young workers. A survey of over 5000 international students at the University of New South Wales and the University of Technology Sydney has come to the following conclusions surrounding wage theft and poor employment conditions and entitlements:

  • Three out of every four students surveyed are being paid below the legal minimum wage, per the National Employment Standards set out by the Fair Work Commission;
  • One of every four students surveyed are even being paid less than $12 per hour;
  • During the pandemic, international students have had their superannuation stolen;
  • These students have had to wait in long lines at food banks in order to survive;
  • And two out of every three international students surveyed did not seek information or help at work, because of “visa concerns or fear of job loss”.

Tony Burke, in his role as shadow minister for industrial relations, says that the findings of the survey have an impact on all workers within Australia, and not just the demographic of younger workers.

“Exploitation of people on temporary visas puts downward pressure on wages of all workers in Australia. Just like temporary migrants, Australians are experiencing wage theft on a wide scale which makes the first recession in 29 years even more challenging for hard-working Australians and their families,” said Burke.

Kristina Keneally, the ALP’s deputy Senate leader and the shadow minister for immigration and citizenship, concurs with Burke and his views to interpret the study.

“When the coronavirus pandemic began, Scott Morrison said we were all in this in together but the experiences of international students in Australia paints a vastly different picture,” said Keneally.

“Unlike Scott Morrison, Labor will always speak out against the exploitation of workers – including the exploitation of international students – expose it and organise against it,” she added.

That sense of determination from the opposition can only help in arresting the inequalities of younger workers and international students. Now to get assistance of effort from others of similar interests.

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Constitutional Failure

If the COVID-19 pandemic has revealed one thing, it is the total inadequacy of the Australian Constitution.

Like most people, I know a little about a lot of things and am slightly better informed than many in a few areas, while really expert in none! So I beg your tolerance for my presumption in writing this article.

I arrived in Australia when I was well, into my thirties and have been here for nearly 50 years, coming without the State-centric bias enjoyed by many Australians.

In fact, having been in the Northern Territory since before self-government, any sense of being locally controlled is not ingrained.

And I have studied, and for a few years practiced, law, so am possibly more familiar with the Australian Constitution than are many dinky-Di, born and bred Aussies.

And it falls far short of what is needed in the 21st Century!

Those who drafted the Australian Constitution, had the task of choosing which powers to take away from the existing states to transfer to the embryonic Commonwealth government.

They also fell over backwards to make sure that a minority of more populous states could not force changes to the Constitution onto the other states, while also allowing the range of powers of the Commonwealth to be expanded by mutual agreement between the States.

At the time of federation, the politics of the world was very different, and trade tended to be on a less global scale. Even within Australia, which regarded trade largely in the context of the British Commonwealth, it appears that it was necessary to ensure there were limited barriers to trade between the states.

But as corporations grew and expanded their power beyond state and country borders, the complications arising over conforming to varying state legislation became insurmountable. So the states and territories agreed to cede their powers in this area to the Commonwealth which was done by passage of the Corporations Act (2001) Cth.

This was far from being the only instance of having overarching legislation, and, when, in the 1970s, the Commonwealth decided to introduce Family Law legislation, WA – which has long wished to secede from the Commonwealth – decided it would not be be bound by federal legislation, and introduced its own Family Law Act.

The biggest nightmare in this context – for everyone, not just lawyers – is that there are 9 sets of legislation affecting criminal law, which makes crossing state boundaries a nightmare on occasion!

At the time that I was admitted as a barrister and solicitor in the NT, lawyers did not have an automatic right to practice in other jurisdictions – just as, years ago, those accredited as teachers, accountants, etc were only qualified within their local jurisdictions, and had no automatic right to have their qualifications accepted in other states – but, thankfully, we have moved on, at least in most specialist professional areas.

But this pandemic has highlighted the problems this causes when States and Territories have exclusive powers, which, in the case of State powers, cannot be brushed aside by the Commonwealth government.

So we are currently faced with a Commonwealth government, which has its attention firmly fixed on the national economy, in a stand-off with State governments, some of which understandably wish to keep inter-State borders closed in order to limit the spread of COVID-19.

I am not sure how the Coalition federal government was persuaded to establish a National Cabinet. While it has assiduously avoided including representatives of the Federal Opposition, it has, thankfully, included Premiers of varying political persuasions, which provides a much more balanced base from which to develop reasonably non-partisan policy.

It is, I suspect, the only reason that the national Coalition government was persuaded to introduce stimulus legislation, similar to that created by the ALP in the GFC, which has always been heavily criticised by Coalition members in the intervening years!

But this it not a GFC. It is not even a conventional recession.

It is a crisis occurring as a result of a Pandemic, occurring at a time when conservatives are refusing to accept the need for global action on global warming, and, tying the handling of the situation to a politically driven system, is heading us into total disaster.

Just as, in wartime on the scale of WWII, politics has to be set aside and the experts called in to provide clear advice, we now need to get right away from politics and opinions and work with facts. Otherwise the world we bequeath to our descendants will be in an appalling state.

And there is nothing in the Constitution to enable us to force the government to set up, not just a National Cabinet, but a non-partisan National government, whose advisors are not chosen heavily from the ranks of those whose wealth is derived from fossil fuels!

As a nation, we are struggling as a result of the lack of a plan to deal with a pandemic. It might be a once in a 100 years event, but if we are honest with ourselves, we have been dealing with crisis after crisis in recent years – driven by climate as well as economic and health issues – which should have alerted us to the need to planning for a catastrophic event.

The most recent 4 Corners program highlighted the dreadful situation being endured by those coping with winter, without proper resources, following the bush fires, ignored, despite promises of help, because the COVID-19 pandemic is dominating the headlines.

Governments are failing us – and part of the reason is that they are so intent on planning for people, without consulting with people. Ideology destroys awareness of the needs of those whose life style differs massively from that of the decision makers.

This is as true for our First Nations as it is for those whose livelihoods and homes were destroyed in the Black Summer!

The only good news for governments is that we cannot demonstrate en masse because of the pandemic restrictions!

We have a possibly once in a lifetime opportunity to refine plans to force governments to be more sensitive to the needs of those who would not necessarily vote for them!

Please let’s not waste that opportunity!

I end as always – this is my 2020 New Year Resolution:

“I will do everything in my power to enable Australia to be restored to responsible government.”

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The Coronavirus Seal: Victoria’s Borders Close

The state of Victoria is being sealed off from the rest of Australia. On Tuesday, at 11.59pm, the border with New South Wales will be shut with publicised resoluteness. It is happening at the insistence of politicians across the country with a panicked urge. On the way are reminders about the miracle that was federation in 1901. That a Commonwealth was ever formed from the Britannic nuts and bolts of an invasive penal settlement was remarkable, given the otherwise innate hostilities, not to mention competitiveness, the states had shown to each other.

The last time this happened was a touch over a century ago, when the borders were sealed in a response to the ravages of pneumonic influenza, inaccurately named Spanish flu. The venture is going to be heavily policed. Human personnel, drones and surveillance equipment will be deployed. 55 ground crossings including four major highways, 33 bridges, two waterways, various numbers of train stations and airports will be subjects of interest. Even with this, there is scepticism. Viruses will find their carriers and unwitting accomplices, however impressive the policing effort.

The closure, according to Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews, will be “enforced on the New South Wales side, so as not to be a drain on resources that are very focused on fighting the virus right now across our state.” Residents in border towns must apply for permits for movement between the states. As the ABC describes it, “Only permit holders, emergency services workers, freight drivers and returning travellers will be able to cross into New South Wales from Victoria.” The penalties for breaching such rules are severe: $11,000 in fines or six months in jail. Businesses on the border face ruin and considerable opacity in terms of regulations.

While that is happening, 3,000 residents in Flemington and North Melbourne continue their quarantine in the public housing towers that have been designated as COVID-19 hotspots. Promises of assistance made by Andrews have yet to materialise in any meaningful way. Mental health practitioners and social workers seem few and far between. The government food supplies remain spectral. That said, FareShare, despite being a charity, claims to have provided, at the prompting of the Department of Health and Human Services, Sunday roasts, vegetarian casseroles and family pies, supplemented by 3,500 quiches and 1,600 sausage rolls. The charity has set up, according to The Advocate, “an emergency cool room packed with thousands of nutritious, cooked meals” in North Melbourne, though it is hard to see how these “cater to a range of cultural and dietary preferences”.

The feeling that “prison food” is being supplied to “inmates” is unmistakable, though even that has been in short supply. As Nine News reported with much fanfare, “A daughter and her elderly mother trapped in Melbourne’s public housing lockdown have broken down in tears, detailing how they have only been given four sausage rolls to eat in more than 48 hours.” But no matter: this has provided charities such as FareShare with a few good publicity snaps. The show of false remedies must go on.

While this is taking place, the premier remains convinced that food and toys are making their way to the residents. “This is a massive task and the message to everybody in the towers… (is)those staff – thousands of them – are doing the very, very best they can and they will continue to do everything they can to support those who are impacted by this lockdown.”

One thing is distinctly not in short supply. The police, some 500 of them, are out in force on all nine estates. These armed officers have been shown to be as ill-informed as the residents. Communal spaces continue being used; movement through the buildings is permitted. The prospects of mass infection through the tenements seems likely. Even the healthy stand condemned.

Residents are mouldering in desperation. Papers with the pleas of “Treat us as Humans: Not Caged Animals” have been pasted against windows. Malevolent attitudes, many traditionally prejudiced against public housing residents, have been given a good airing. To that have come good dollops of racial presumption. It all looks fitting for such critics: the darkies, the ill, the derelict, being fenced by police, monitored less for their safety than the greater good of society. The diseased, as with epidemics in history, will be walled up.

One of Australia’s most conspicuous reactionaries, One Nation leader and Senator Pauline Hanson, spoke approvingly of such measures. Never one to shy away from the race card and its impurities, she suggested that the residents in the nine towers were “drug addicts” and “alcoholics”, which was not helped by the fact that they could not speak English. Even this was a bit much for the good people of Channel Nine’s Today Show. “The Today Show has advised Pauline Hanson,” came a statement from Nine’s Director of News and Current Affairs Darren Wick, “that she will no longer be appearing on our programme as a regular contributor.” Perhaps hypocrisy is less palatable in the morning.

The spectacles unfolding in North Melbourne, Flemington and parts of the city convey an ugliness that has become normalised in certain countries. Public health is not merely a matter for doctors and health practitioners but truncheons. Another sentiment is also detectable: a certain delight at Victoria being made whipping boy and pariah of the states. All this shows the power a virus can wield. To coronavirus go the spoils.

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Hasta la vista, baby! I won’t be back.

I noticed a marked shift in sentiment this 4th of July. I admit to being a reader of tea leaves and a man who pays attention to stellar alignments. As a self-confessed hard-nosed rationalist I don’t know why I seek out these signs in the zeitgeist. But the resignation of Matthias Cormann and the ALP’s victory in the Eden-Monaro by-election, summarised in this ABC News clip, convinced me a cosmic flux is underway.

Despite a painfully obvious and ongoing kowtow by the ABC to the LNP, this news does not bode well for Prime Minister Scott Morrison. Rupert Murdoch was convinced ScoMo had it in the bag, but somehow Scotty from Marketing got it wrong. As we all know the Dirty Digger does not like his plans to go astray. More on the Murdoch/LNP cabal later.

The man who bungled the numbers for Peter Dutton’s tilt at Malcolm Turnbull, Matthias Cormann, knows only too well that the Queensland hard man is gunning for the top job. The LNP’s failure to win Eden-Monaro especially with the Prime Minister’s personal popularity ratings at an all-time high, (if you can believe Newspoll) gives Dutton a rationale for a spill in the not-too-distant future

Here is why.

In 1992 US Democrat spin-meister James Carviile came up with the phrase “the economy, stupid.”

Since his appointment as Finance Minister Matthias Cormann managed Australia’s economy, for better or worse, thanks to his knack of being able to do deals with some of the most stupid senators ever to impart their skid marks onto the chairs of the Australian Senate.

With the Cormannator’s departure, the LNP loses the only politician in its ranks capable of successfully sooling Paul Keating’s “unrepresentative swill”.  And this is a serious problem for a Government financed in part by the Murdoch Shilling. Cormann, who does not blink, is the only senior Government Minister with the smarts to strong arm a Bill through the Senate. This Bill —  yet to materialise —  would fulfil Murdoch’s goal of selling-off the ABC.

With Cormann’s departure and the status quo in place in the Lower House, the demise of the ABC will not happen in the foreseeable future.

Instead Australia is about 10 weeks away from an economic precipice.

As of September 1 Job Seeker and Job Keeper are at risk of being withdrawn from the Australian economy. With the Covid-19 outbreak in Victoria looking in every practical sense like a page from Albert Camus’s novel The Plague, the LNP has no credible replacement for Cormann to either run the nation’s finances or negotiate tricky legislation through the Senate.

Not that Cormann was particularly good at his job as Michael Pascoe points out in this scorching indictment in The New Daily.

But with Cormann’s departure from Australian politics, no amount of spin by News Corp can save the LNP from losing the next election which will be held in the depths of a severe recession, if not a depression.

News Corp’s spin of an essentially status quo by-election made the former ALP Prime Minister Kevin Rudd, gasp. As for the ABC, despite the rude sneers of Patricia – Follow my Twitter Feed – Karvelas during an interview with the ALP Opposition Leader Anthony Albanese, and the talk-over-the-top-of Labor-spokespeople, and ex Sky News presenter David Speers, its saving precept remains embedded in its Charter.

No government of any political persuasion can outwit this cornerstone of our nation’s identity,

When I worked as a producer for the ABC I learnt a fundamental lesson, namely the ABC is divided into four divisions. Each competes with one another for its share of the Budget. The divisions are:- News, Current Affairs, Sport and Regional. There are numerous name variations, but despite different sub-sectors of the ABC bureaucracy, the divisions are how the ABC conforms to its Charter. So whether it’s a collapse in the price of wool or bush fire coverage or sports reporting in rural Australia, the ABC will continue to make it uncomfortable for politicians, no matter how many of its staff are made redundant.

Staunch support for the ABC in rural Federal seats such as Eden-Monaro, and National Party stalwarts of the ABC like John Barilaro reinforce the feeling in my bones that the ABC will survive.

Gawd help us if Rupert Murdoch gets his way.

Henry Johnston is a Sydney-based author. His latest book, The Last Voyage of Aratus is on sale here.

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Spiked Concerns: The Melbourne Coronavirus Lockdown

It all looked like it was going so well for Australia and Victoria, in particular. They could point to the mishandling of the Ruby Princess, a cruise ship that docked in Sydney and whose passengers disembarked chocked with coronavirus, precipitating 700 cases and some 21 deaths across the country. It had, till now, been the single most contagious incident in the COVID-19 annals of the antipodes. Victorians could hold their heads hubristically high.

Then, the dreaded spike returned. Before journalists had time to file, or armchair warriors time to muster their thoughts, the coronavirus beast had gotten away from an Australian state that had prided itself in reining in numbers and playing the game of suppression. Victoria’s quarantine regime was seemingly in tatters; COVID-19 had found its way through the channels of community transmission.

Now, nine public housing towers in Flemington and North Melbourne with some 3,000 residents have gone into “complete lockdown.” Residents are not permitted to leave their abodes for five days. The police are holding the fort.

The hindsight wizards are all coming out from under the covers, ignoring that old wisdom that pandemic policy is an unruly, fickle thing. The Andrews government has been accused of incompetence and hubris. Greg Sheridan of the Murdoch stable of reactionary politics was jubilant at the failings of the premier. “Daniel Andrews is now clearly the worst-performing, most unsuccessful premier or territory leader in Australia in managing the COVID-19 outbreak, despite being more authoritarian.” Why, asked Fairfax press correspondent Peter Hartcher on Sunday, did Andrews not respect the plague lessons of old?

A host of problems have surfaced to pull the carpet from under the state government. Central and defective is the issue of the quarantine regime itself, one that seems to have fallen into a state of ruin. With a rise in COVID-19 infections in late June, Andrews found himself scratching his confused head. There were claims that the new outbreak might be traced to an errant cigarette lighter used by staff working in hotel quarantine. They had kept their distance, claimed the premier “but sharing a lighter between each other.” There were also “carpooling arrangements between staff, which mean they were in closer contact than we would like.” A terrible understatement.

It did not take long for the critics to train their interest in the very idea of having security guards supervising the entire program. Recruits with spotty levels of training, much of it horrendously so, were used to supervise the quarantined guests. And it showed. Various transgressions and malpractices took place. Some security personnel had sexual congress with their guarded quarry, a point that delighted such outlets as the Herald Sun. The number of guards listed on duty at any one time was inflated as part of an effort to charge more for fewer services. Personal protective equipment was worn for extensive periods of time without change, and loose supervision meant that quarantined families could still visit each under for recreational pursuits. Such practices were replicated at various hotels, leading to a spurring on of the contagion.

There have also been increasing numbers of returning travellers and residents who have refused to be tested for coronavirus. In the rage that has followed, sinister motives and a good deal of malice have been imputed. Conspiracy theories were underlined. As Jane Williams and Bridget Haire suggest in The Conversation, such testing never yields “neutral” information. “People may refuse medical testing (if they have symptoms) or screening (if no symptoms) of any type because they want to avoid the consequences of a positive result.” Casual workers, for instance, face the perils of few if any sick days. Jobs can be lost during the course of quarantine.

The Andrews government now faces the coarsest of options, none of them palatable, few of them desirable. To send armed police to effectively detain a vulnerable population, many immigrants, many with a less than sympathetic disposition to the boys and girls in blue, may not be the most politic of moves. In this sense, the premier has his hands tied. Saddled with the moniker “Red Dan” and now having the spectre of the Wuhan experiment of bordering up buildings manifest itself in Melbourne, risk scuppering any credible efforts. In that most vulgar of terms, Andrews is wedged. Individuals like Sheridan howl about the “politburo” style of the Victorian premier but would equally object to firm measures if they were not taken.

The reaction from residents in the public housing towers is predictably rattled. Sudanese national Awatif Taha, who has been a resident in the Flemington public housing flats for 18 years with her husband, paints a troubling scene of crowded tenement spaces, insufficient government services and poor channels of information. Community leaders were not enlisted in the cause. “So how do I feel about what happened on Saturday, with us being told we would not be allowed to leave our units for at least five days? I feel really good, but it was a shock. I don’t know why they didn’t talk to us before Saturday.”

Sensitivity is being reiterated, but this is becoming a trope on a loop. Articulating it somehow makes it manifest, but there is no sense yet how each resident in these towers will be given the tender reassurance and compassionate hand when they are also being considered the problem. The premier has announced a scheme of hardship payments and around the clock support (food, medical and other services). But these are people being held against their will, for their own good, and they are also being tarnished in the endeavour. They are also being detained in facilities that are themselves conducive to infection. As acting Australian Chief Medical Officer Paul Kelly describes it, such buildings “are vertical cruise ships, in a way.” Pandemics, as with other destructive phenomena, fall unevenly upon populations.

There is also a fear that such selective approaches are merely delaying the inevitable, by which time the entire state will find itself returning to the severest of restrictions. The Victorian government has already designated lockdown restrictions for those in “restricted postcodes”, but this has merely re-enforced perceptions of the suburban unwashed misbehaving in the margins while teasing out fears of a more punitive approach. The “militarisation and policing crackdown,” warns advocacy coordinator of the Police Accountability Project Daniel Nguyen, “will disproportionately impact communities already weary of being targeted and exacerbate their sense of isolation during this lockdown.” The prevalent perception is harsh: Stay there, you nasty lot, in the Bantustans of Broadmeadows and Keilor Downs.

The opposition, resoundingly trounced at the last state election, is doing what any aggrieved loser does: find faults in the government with fanatical dedication. They have had much to play with of late. But the insistence on using private contractors to deal with public health problems is hardly unique to the current Andrews government. Unfortunately, and possibly perilously for the premier, the uniformed personnel were not there where they might have mattered most.

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In Amazing Shock Eden-Monaro Votes Pretty Much How It Did A Year Ago!

Let me begin by saying that not only has Roger Federer never beaten me at tennis, but Tiger Woods has never won a round of golf against me.

Ok, I suspect the main reason for that is because they’ve never competed against me, but if they did they’d probably win… But they’d only win by the fact that the rules benefit them by allowing them to use their superior skill.

Sort of like the unfair way Labor won on preferences in Eden-Monaro… Or the shifty way that Julia Gillard was allowed to govern in 2010 by forming a coalition with the Independents and Greens. As Tony Abbott suggested at the time, that just wasn’t fair because only the Liberals and Nationals are allowed do that. Why they even call themselves the Coalition so it’s really not fair when someone else does it.

Of course the point I’m making about Federer’s lack of success against me is simple: It’s really not something that tells you anything about a likely result in the future. Sometimes history can help you predict what’s likely to happen; other times history is irrelevant. The fact that no federal government has won a seat from the Opposition in over a hundred years is not a statistic that makes it impossible. Before we conclude that it’s all uphill for a government we need to look at some simple facts about by-elections and why it’s unlikely for a government to win a seat held by the Opposition.

  1. For a start, the seat was previously held by the Opposition. This means that sometimes it would be a blue ribbon seat that wasn’t marginal and therefore unlikely to be lost.
  2. Secondly, governments sometimes don’t bother to field candidates in by-elections because there’s very little upside and it can look bad when there’s a massive swing against them.
  3. By-elections aren’t likely to cause a change of government so people often feel free to vote for the Opposition candidate just to keep the government on its toes. By-elections are even less likely to cause a change of government when you vote for the status quo.
  4. While the government can pork-barrel in general elections, when they do it in by-elections, it’s more likely to be met with cynicism. “If you really think we deserve gold-plated public toilets on every street corner, why didn’t you do it before the local MP resigned?”

So while last week various journalists were telling us that Eden-Monaro would be a tight contest, now the same journalists seem to be suggesting that it was probably a waste of time that the Liberals even bothered to field a candidate when history was taken into account. It’s amazing, apparently, that it was a close contest and that’s thanks to the popularity of Scott Morrison, while Labor winning a marginal seat on preferences is just a reflection of Albanese’s lack of cut-through and surely there needs to be leadership speculation because we need to talk about what Labor are up to because they’ve been in power for six of the previous twenty-four years and they may one day actually be contesting an election which they can’t win because we’ve been telling you for years that their leader is “unpopular”…

I know I’ve said this before, but the question on the opinion polls is never “Do you like Leader X?” It’s not even: “Would you like to share the Big Brother house with Leader X?” And it’s certainly not: “Do you regard Leader X as a potential romantic partner or friend?”

The question is always about whether you approve of the job they’re doing or whether you think that they’re better than other alternatives. In the case of the latter, asking someone whether they’d prefer to eat Brussel sprouts covered with cow dung or being forced to listen to all the speeches of Pauline Hanson non-stop for twelve hours, it does not mean that cow dung Brussel sprouts are actually popular and I wouldn’t suggest using the dish as an audition for Masterchef.

In 2013, I’m sure that many Labor voters wanted Albanese instead of Shorten as leader because of Shorten’s role in the removal of Rudd and then Gillard. And yes, they probably also thought he’d do a better job. However, I suspect that if you asked a bunch of Labor members now whether they found Albo more likeable than Shorten, followed by do you think he’s doing a better job as Opposition Leader, the answers would not be the same for each question.

Morrison’s “popularity” is people saying that they think he’s done a reasonable job with the Covid-19 response. It doesn’t mean that they’ll forgive him the next time he decides to do something like go on holiday during a national emergency. And it’s not the sort of popularity which will necessarily translate into votes.

Why did so many people in Eden-Monaro vote Liberal then? Well, there’s a number who believe that the Labor Party is the work of the devil and it would be better for all concerned if we did away with these silly elections and just declared the Liberals the rightful party of government. Undoubtedly some others may have thought that the Liberals are the government so the best way to get assistance is to elect a government MP. And, of course, a number of the electorate are connected with Defence and may have only voted Labor because Mike Kelly was their sort of guy. When you take all that into consideration, getting less than forty percent of the primary votes isn’t actually great news for them either.

Finally, I’d like to say farewell to Mathias Cormann. Not just him of course, but he’s a least doing the decent thing and deserting the ship. His steady hand on the Finance ministry has helped get Australia where it is today. Yes, I know that we’re about to slide into recession but, according to Nine media, the economy will bounce back. Ok, not in terms of jobs or wages, but that economy thing which I would have thought included jobs and wages but no, in keeping with the austerity theme, it’s only growth these days – jobs is being cut from the slogan.

Apparently the Liberals have a five-year plan to restore things, which given the fact they’ve been in power for seven years does seem a little late. “Yes, we’re into the ninth year of our five year plan!” seems a little bit like the Carlton Football Club which coincidently has had quite a few Liberals as members so perhaps they’ve picked up something.

However, it’s good to have a five-year plan because that means that when they go to the next election, they can say that we’re completely on track because we didn’t expect things to be fixed until after the election when we’ll be BACK IN BLACK and there’ll be two chickens for every pot and nobody need go without toilet paper.

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