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Search Results for: loz lawrey

The Australian Malaise – Toxic Times in the Land of Oz

By Loz Lawrey

I know I’m not alone.

I know others share my horror and disgust at the toxic temper of the global zeitgeist after thirty years of neoliberal rule.

Horror and disgust? I know, that makes me a “socialist” or worse, a “communist”. These are the contemptuous labels used by conservatives to dismiss anyone who disagrees with their selfish cold-hearted individualism.

Anyone who finds fault with a government which ignores expert advice and spends its time trying to squeeze the square-peg reality of our multicultural nation into the hollow round-hole of conservative ideology MUST be a commie.

A poisonous virus of fear, insecurity, racism, bigotry and toxic nationalism has infected many nations around the world and  Australia is following the herd … over the cliff, some might say.

What’s not to love about the Turnbull government as it rushes headlong to dismantle all aspects of our system of government which smack of inclusive social democracy? Well… everything, actually.

Every day, outrage upon outrage piles up as this hard-right conservative “Christian” dominated regime takes a sledgehammer to all the checks and balances that maintain fairness, equity and a clear vision of the Common Good in our society.

Seriously, I’ve had enough. Call me a leftie, a “bleeding heart”… whatever. I call myself a humanist. Or an Empath. Or just… someone who cares.

I care, not just for myself, but for all of us. And by “us” I don’t mean a white anglo-saxon judeo-bloody-Christian elite, I mean ALL HUMANS on the planet.

Australia, land of many races, the country best-positioned to exemplify inclusion, tolerance and acceptance on the world stage, continues to rush headlong down the ideological road to nowhere (for most of us) that is neoliberalism.

That means embracing a judgmental, arrogant, elitist, law-of-the-jungle, survival-of-the-fittest, winner-takes-all mindset and glorifying an ugly vision of a truly unhappy and divided society which throws the needy and disadvantaged off a cliff.

Former PM (some say war criminal) John Howard did much to set Australia on this miserable course.

Howard has always wanted to rewrite our history, excluding the unpleasant parts such as the genocide of native Australians, and he’s always been obsessed with the way history will portray him.

Well, suffer in your jocks, Johnny-Boy, because your legacy ain’t a pretty picture.

Howard decided to impose his white-bread definition of marriage upon us and (with no public consultation whatsoever) changed the marriage act to suit homophobic religious conservatives.

Yet it was the 2001 Tampa affair which fanned the flames of division in a nation which had spent years learning to welcome new arrivals over several generations. It was the speech Howard made at the time which truly poisoned the well of our public consciousness.

Who was the “we” Howard referred to when he said “WE will decide who comes to this country and the manner in which they come”? It’s hard to escape the conclusion that this cricket and queen-loving PM was referring to a colonialist ruling class of white men rather than the multicoloured multicultural “we” that includes us all.

Here’s the problem: When neoliberals say “we”, they mean “some of us”, not “all of us”. The neoliberal “we” excludes whole social sectors: First Australians, the unemployed, the sick and disabled, students, workers who belong to unions, pensioners, the elderly, asylum seekers… and more.

In a system that best serves the interests of the rich beneficiaries of uncaring capitalism, some groups of citizens are cut out of the herd and left by the wayside to fend for themselves.

Perhaps Howard’s real legacy was the normalising of blatant lying to the Australian people. Remember the “weapons of mass destruction”?

When the toxic Abbott regime slithered into power, lying was a given, something Australians had come to expect from their political class, particularly from the right. And Abbott, himself a former Howard minister, is naturally mendacious.

Turnbull’s approach is the same: tell the people what they want to hear, but promises (again, thanks to Howard) are all “non-core” these days.

The media massage and amplify the government’s toxic messages of condemnation: of their political opponents Labor and the Greens; of activist groups and organisations which hold them to account; of welfare recipients and those unemployed citizens competing for non-existent jobs.

In fact, if you don’t toe the line and swallow the bullshit served up daily as policy by the Turnbull ministry, condemnation is the best you’ll get.

There’s no doubt the Coalition is working hard to keep us all fearful, divided and depressed. We’re more compliant that way.

And they’re succeeding. Australia is in a state of malaise, and it’s getting worse.

I just had to vent and ask my fellow Australians: Are we there yet?

Are we miserable enough to throw these bastards out and demand a return to government in the public interest?

Or do we have to become REALLY miserable and outraged?

I know I am.

 

In praise of our ABC

By Loz Lawrey

ABC radio grew my mind. I mean it.

Each working day, throughout my career in the building industry, I listened exclusively to one of our public broadcaster’s fine radio stations as I toiled at my trade.

While my body performed familiar routine activities on this physical plane, my mind travelled the world, sharing the experiences of my fellow humans. I was sensing the zeitgeist, glimpsing the light of our potential, expanding my horizons, growing my understanding.

I heard sweet music. I heard the war of ideas. I developed an awareness of both world affairs and our own domestic political landscape. I felt informed enough to cast a well-considered vote at election time, proud to be a conscious contributor to our social democracy.

This is what a public broadcaster can do for a citizen and, by extension, society at large:

It can inform, educate and entertain. It can reflect the public consciousness and the nation’s conscience. It can help us grow into better people, both individually and communally.

At the end of the day, the ABC, at a cost of few cents a day from each of us, makes our society a better one. That is an absolute pittance if we acknowledge that its social value is beyond measure.

Where do we turn when bushfires rage in our regional areas? Whether in politics, sport or current affairs, the ABC is the source Australians look to for up-to-the-minute information.

So when I see the Turnbull government’s typical conservative agenda to use “financial unsustainability” or “unaffordablity” as reasons to erode services, reduce coverage, sack journalists and generally dumb down this fine national asset I get upset. Very upset. In fact, I’m “mad as hell … etc”.

When government policy development is premised on the financial “bottom line”, social impact and benefit projections are often ignored.

The ABC is intricately entwined with our nation’s history and social fabric, but when conservative politicians see a public broadcaster, their neoliberal instinct is to destroy it.

They see a “socialist” organisation that empowers people and challenges their own elitist authority and sense of entitlement. Their unthinking response is to break it up and dismantle it, in a gradual process of attrition achieved by continual cost-cutting.

The worship of predator capitalism and the preferencing of “the market” ahead of people and our society blinds conservative governments to the social gifts that can flow from an independent public broadcaster such as the ABC.

And this is precisely why Turnbull and Co. must be brought to heel. The arrogance of this government with its blatant agenda to dilute and undermine the people’s broadcaster is astounding.

When former PM Tony Abbott accused the ABC of not being “on the side of Team Australia”, he missed the point, absolutely: “Team Australia” is we, the people. Not some temporary government of the day our democratic process has thrown up.

Rupert Murdoch’s Newscorp has driven, over many years, an attack on good journalism globally, sending the quality and depth of reporting in a downward spiral into mediocrity.

Let’s face it, the Murdocracy does not encourage thought and consideration.

Murdoch’s presence on our planet has been, and continues to be, a brake on human evolution. His media empire has had a regressive impact on our social development.

After a lifetime of profiteering from divisive and often racist journalism, Murdoch has much to atone for: Spreading the hateful, anti-social tenets of neoliberalism through dumbed-down opinion pieces; demonising every social minority from welfare recipients to Muslims and publishing cartoons that vilify native Australians.

The Murdoch legacy will never be one to celebrate.

So now that a former Murdoch minion has been installed as the ABC’s new managing director by the Turnbull Trickle-down Team, those of us who value the ABC and wish to see it retain some semblance of its former glory are rightfully concerned.

So much damage has already been done. How much more will be done before Australians find themselves without a national broadcaster which operates unconstrained by the frenzied imperatives of profit-making, which rely on hysterical headlines trumpeting hatred, fear and division?

The Abbotts and Turnbulls of this world believe that once in power, every public asset they touch is theirs to do with as they wish, whether that means to sell it, privatise it or close it down.

Our public broadcaster should be off-limits to the barbarians of elitist entitlement.

Who do Turnbull and Co. think they are? Do they truly believe their (imaginary) “mandate” entitles them to ravage what is to most Australians a national institution?

 

The light on the hill is our line in the sand

By Loz Lawrey

In the Australian political sphere, clear, well-defined and distinct philosophical approaches have always informed policymaking on both sides of the political divide.

Right-wing pundits see themselves as living in the “real world”, dismissing dissenting views as those of “leftist dreamers”. Labor voters tend to draw inspiration from our shared vision of the “light on the hill”.

In 1949, at a Labor party conference just like the one happening this very weekend, former Prime Minister Ben Chifley defined the light on the hill as Labor’s “great objective, which we aim to reach by working for the betterment of mankind, not only here but anywhere we may give a helping hand. If it were not for that”, he said, “the Labor movement would not be worth fighting for”.

It is that principled and uncompromising worldview which has brought so much good to our Australian social democracy and held fast against the greedy and selfish assaults of powerful vested interests which have always pursued the enrichment of an elite few at the expense of the many.

Thus was drawn the line in the sand – the line behind which we unite, the line that so many of us see as differentiating left from right, empaths from sociopaths, progressives from conservatives.

In his workingman’s anthem “The Union Forever”, Billy Bragg sings of trade unions offering “comfort to the widow, a light to the child”. To me, this line has always encapsulated the inclusive values of the left-hand side: the caring, sharing, giving, helping lens through which the labour movement and its now confused and troubled child, the ALP, has always viewed the world.

I know such language is easily brushed aside as “leftist” and “loony”. The conservative neoliberal take on things always dismisses empathy as impractical, an unrealistic aspiration which policymakers in the “real world” must not allow to taint their considerations.

In the right-wing worldview the only factors on the table are the economic “bottom line” and the politics of vote-winning. The right defines sustainability not as that which is “ongoing for the common good” but as “what we can afford, what we are prepared to pay for and will keep us in power”.

Two sides of politics. Two worldviews, separated by a clearly-drawn line. This is our line in the sand. This is the line true Labor supporters cannot cross, because if we do we abandon principle in the pursuit of power.

This is what differentiates our position from that of those more concerned with their own self-interest than the common good. Because the pursuit of self-interest at any price is likely to require the abandonment of principle.

Thus do we snuff out the light on the hill, all in the name of “pragmatism”. Ah …
”pragmatism”. In the arsenal of weasel words deployed by those seeking to justify unfairness, austerity, cruelty, or warmongering, this is one of the most insidious.

“It’s a difficult issue”, they’ll say. “We’re not jettisoning our values or principles, we’re just being pragmatic. After all, this real world is a harsh, cruel and unfair place”. The fact that the “real world” is actually shaped and organised by humankind ourselves is conveniently overlooked. If the world is indeed cruel, then it is we who make it so.

This is exactly the way false and twisted depictions of social realities are foisted upon us. This is how the Greek public, after voting comprehensively against austerity measures now find themselves swallowing large servings of … you guessed it, austerity.

This is the way Australians are seduced by the “be very afraid, but don’t worry, we’ll keep you safe” rhetoric from the Abbott government.

And this is the way Labor leader Bill Shorten has shoved an unacceptable policy, straight out of the LNP songbook, down the throats of the Labor faithful. By adopting the Abbott government’s “boat turnback” policy, Shorten wants us to effectively slam the door in the face of desperate refugees, sending them off to even greater danger on so-called “leaky boats”. Out of sight, out of mind. It’s a cowardly, lazy, “let the navy deal with it” approach.

Under the banner of pragmatism in the “real world”, we have been sold a pup.

With a concession or two designed to appease us by implying a slightly more humane approach to border policy, apparently this policy dog will drag Labor over the electoral finish line in a winning position.

This mutt of a policy assumes too much, however. Though Abbott and his henchmen may tell us their boat turnback policy is effective, could they ever be believed? The ongoing secrecy, lies and complete lack of transparency around “on-water-matters” suggests not.

Will we ever know the numbers who have drowned and how many will in future because of this sociopathic approach? Will history define this policy as enabling the genocide, not of a particular race or nationality, but of the most desperate people on our planet?

This “turnback” policy mongrel is targeted squarely as an appeal to the most selfish, racist and xenophobic members of the Australian community. It kowtows to the regime of fear of the “other” with which Tony Abbott, and before him John Howard, have infected our society. All for a few lousy votes.

The evidence points to the fact that our democracy is broken. It has been subverted by its perennial enemy, corporate neoliberalism. Surely, rather than accepting and bowing down to a distorted conservative worldview, Labor should be working to dismantle it and return social justice to its rightful and iconic place as the figurehead of the Australian ship of state?

Once Labor cements inhumanity into its policy framework there will be no going back.

Masquerading as a pragmatic approach which will neuter strident government posturing, Shorten’s endorsement of Abbott’s cruel and inhumane turnback policy is proof-positive that Labor is irrevocably compromised. The line in the sand has now been crossed.

Now where can a Labor voter turn for leadership consistent with our “light on the hill” values? I constantly hear the cry from some that Labor is the “lesser evil” and therefore still worthy of our vote. “At least they’re better in general”, people say. Perhaps until now Labor was slightly better, but now the line has been crossed.

The same weasel-words and spin so effectively employed in service of the neoliberal agenda are now used by our own leaders to hoodwink us. They portray a cruel and inhumane plan of refoulement as “saving lives at sea”. We know it is not. Labor voters are not stupid. We are being forced by the party we love to espouse values we don’t. It’s time to walk away. The stench of uncaring cynicism is unbearable.

Will the votes Labor gains by this choice compensate for those it loses? Will an exodus to the Greens, minor parties and independents leave Bill Shorten and Richard Marles alone in an empty room talking to each other? Probably not, sadly. Time will tell.

One thing we can be sure of though: the real winners are likely to be the Greens. They certainly won’t be refugee asylum seekers.

 

National Rallies call for welfare change

MARCH AUSTRALIA Media Release

March Australia is hosting the National Welfare March at a number of locations around the nation this weekend.

“The time is now”, said Loz Lawrey, a March Australia volunteer. “Attitudes to welfare and welfare recipients have to change. We’ve been talking to Centrelink clients and they tell us it’s high time for this campaign. Australians expect fairness and equality, not a regime of fear-mongering and austerity”.

Mr. Lawrey said that many sectors of our society are either being publicly demonised by the Abbott government and the mainstream media, disadvantaged by funding cuts or simply ignored and left behind: the unemployed, sole parents, students, indigenous Australians, pensioners, students, sole parents, the disabled, domestic violence victims, war veterans, refugee asylum seekers, muslims and others. “People are sick of being vilified and abused by this government”, he said.

“Let’s face it, this isn’t just about people on welfare, we’re talking about the poor, the more than 2.5 million people in this country living below the poverty line”, he said. “And all those who live on that line or just above it. Do we really want a divided, more selfish society with ever-increasing inequality? Is this really the Australia we want to live in? Because that’s exactly what this government is creating. People want to know why Tony Abbott is pursuing policies that hurt so many in our community. The government keeps telling us that giving fair assistance to Australians who need support is unaffordable and unsustainable. We’re calling them out on that. There’s no reason a country like ours can’t sustain everyone.”

Mr Lawrey said that the language used by government ministers and many journalists was causing social division and would result in increased inequality. “They call all welfare recipients ‘dole cheats’ and imply that all Muslims are terrorists”, he said. “What happened to the Aussie vision of unity, inclusion and multiculturalism? What happened to the fair go?”

Queensland volunteer Keith Davis points to the punitive welfare measures being introduced by the Abbott government as a form of blame-shifting. “Over the past fifteen years or so both the LNP and the ALP have set up a system that not only keeps people below the poverty line, it also punishes people for their disadvantage”, he said. “The government should take responsibility for the job shortage and do something about it rather than engaging in constant cost-cutting and victim-blaming”.

“A growing number of people are chasing a diminishing number of jobs. Welfare recipients are not having a whale-of-a-time at taxpayer expense. Applying for social security is guaranteed to force you into poverty. We are not a third world country, yet over 2 million Australians are subject to a regime of government-enforced poverty. Most of us are on welfare because there are simply not enough jobs out there. Poverty is a curse. If you need to apply for a Welfare Benefit then you will be forced into Poverty.”

Mr. Davis added that raising rates of welfare assistance would benefit all Australians. “We’ve just seen Greece reject austerity”, he said. “The Greek people tried it and they know it doesn’t work. By cutting funding and punishing our most vulnerable, the government is choking the amount of money flowing through our economy. They are ignoring the most basic concept of economic and social investment: you have to spend money to foster growth. You have to make an investment in your own people. If money is the blood of our economy, we need a transfusion, for the health of our nation”.

For Information:
Loz Lawrey 0422 213 370
Keith Davis 0456 474 525
Candace Wirth 0420 420 842

The National Welfare March
https://www.facebook.com/pages/March-Australia-National-Welfare-March/1556559427941233

Rally Locations:
Saturday 11 July:
Gosford (Central Coast), NSW 10.00am
Contact: Jack Lloyd 0437586675
Launceston, Tas 10.00am
Contact: Alison Hosie 0455 289 128

Sunday 12 July:
Adelaide, SA 11.30am
Contact: Sarah Pinkie 0481 343 022
Wodonga, Vic 11.30am
Contact: Alan Lappin 0447 155 000
Brisbane, Qld 11.00am
Contact: Adrian Skerrit 0400 307 892
Evan Verner 0413 512 408
Hervey Bay (Fraser Coast), Qld 11.30am
Contact: Kathryn Wilkes 0422 681 287

 

Government Welfare Spin Draws Community Outrage

MARCH AUSTRALIA Media Release, 30 June 2015

A Daily Telegraph article on social welfare (“Australia’s welfare bill to top $190b with taxpayers funding 240 million payments a year” by Daniel Meers, 29/06/15) has been condemned as misleading by the March Australia people’s movement.

“It’s spin, pure and simple” said March Australia volunteer Loz Lawrey. “This is a public relations exercise designed to belittle and demonise welfare recipients, portraying the most struggling and disadvantaged in our community as lazy cheats stealing hard-earned tax dollars. You’ll notice the author didn’t consult any welfare recipients for their view on things. Instead he publishes the opinion of a small business owner who owns an investment property. The man works in public relations. What would he know about welfare delivery?”

Mr. Lawrey said that Work For The Dole programs are a poor substitute for job creation.

“Of course business people love the idea of using workers on slave labour rates. But it’s sheer lunacy to suggest that making people work for less than the cost of living will lead to any sport of future job prospects, prosperity or economic growth. Let’s face it, it’s not getting them back into real work on a living wage, it’s a form of punishment. I’m no expert, I’m just a concerned Australian but even I can see that the Abbott government is selling out its own citizens and trying to create a much bigger underclass of working poor than we already have in this country. They want a two-tiered economy.”

Mr. Lawrey pointed out that the facts and figures in the article were presented in a way that exaggerated the impact of social security on the economy.

“A certain percentage of our national expenditure has always gone to caring for those who need help. In the 2014 – 15 budget it’s listed as 35.1%. In 2002 it was as high as 42%. What’s the problem?” he said. “Scott Morrison and the Murdoch media are over-egging the omelette and it smells very similar to that so-called budget emergency – there one minute, gone the next. Portraying welfare as an impending economic disaster is another misrepresentation intended to soften the electorate up for more harsh spending cuts. This is yet another attempt to distract Australians for this government’s record of economic policy failure.”

Mr Lawrey said that the Abbott government’s rhetoric around welfare was dismissive and judgmental. “When Scott Morrison uses terms like ‘a tougher welfare cop on the beat’ he implies that all people receiving assistance are cheats who rort the system. People on welfare are being scapegoated. Welfare is not a dirty word, as the minister implies, and we need to face the fact that there will never be full employment. We will always have sick, disabled and elderly people in our society who need help and support. To deny them that would make us a mean, self-centred nation. Is that really who we are?”

March Australia is holding the National Welfare March in several locations over the weekend of 11-12 July.

Details at www.marchaustralia.com

Changing our Welfare Mindset

By Loz Lawrey

There is no issue that better highlights the polarisation of opinion in Australian society than welfare.

Even though the rich benefit from “hidden welfare” in the form of tax breaks, negative gearing, tax minimisation schemes, paid parental leave etc, the demonisation of welfare recipients always lands squarely on the shoulders of those most in need of real support and assistance.

The unemployed, the elderly, the disabled, the sick, indigenous Australians, war veteransthe list of society’s wounded is a long one. Sadly, those who dwell at the more vulnerable end of our social spectrum tend to be the very ones under constant attack from both government and media.

Who hasn’t noticed the dismissive, judgmental rhetoric coming from government ministers using labels such as “leaners” or “welfare cheats” to marginalise and condemn those who need help? Every statement we hear from the federal government implies that welfare recipients are lazy dole-bludgers playing the system and stealing taxpayer dollars. With media collusion over time, this patently false perception has taken hold in the minds of many working Australians.

When the March Australia movement was approached by welfare recipient Keith Davis to help organise a National Welfare March, the idea struck a chord with many of our volunteers.

Here was something positive we could do to help to focus attention on the need for positive change in attitudes to and treatment of welfare recipients. The National Welfare March aims to raise public awareness of the punitive nature of our welfare system and demand a fairer welfare response from government.

Over the past few weeks we’ve come to understand more about attitudes to welfare in our community. One thing we’ve learned is that those who hold negative perceptions of welfare and its recipients are often ignorant of the facts on the ground.

It’s very easy to dismiss people as bludgers if you yourself are working and can pay your own way. Why waste time learning about “losers on welfare” when you’re financially successful and a “winner” in your own mind?

Since it came to office the Abbott government has been hard at work fragmenting Australian society as it singles out minority groups for demonisation. Welfare recipients are portrayed as “cheats” and Muslims as likely “terrorists”. Other groups such as victims of domestic violence aren’t overtly attacked, rather simply ignored. Refugee asylum seekers are hidden from view.

A blatant “divide and conquer” strategy is being implemented. Abbott uses fear of “otherness” to garner support, telling a nervous electorate he will keep us safe from the dangers he has conjured up and told us we should fear.

Sadly, not everyone in our social democracy favours inclusion and social support based on the concept of “collective provision”. I have been stunned at comments such as these appearing on our National Welfare March Facebook page:

“So let’s get this correct. The least productive in society are marching to demand “more” at the expense of the most productive in society? Don’t bite the hand that literally feeds you.”

or

“I simply prefer a world where I keep the wealth that I generate. If and when I’m feeling generous, that is why we have a little thing called charity.”

This person goes on to say that those who require welfare payments are “fiscally incompetent or irresponsible”, that they have an “entitlement attitude” and that “people are poor because they make poor financial decisions, it really is this simple.“

There it is. This person could be one of Abbott’s cabinet ministers. Call it fascist, sociopathic, neoliberal, arch-conservative, hard-rightwing, whatever, it’s a mindset that must change.

It must change because it is based on lies and false assumptions. It is an arrogant, unfair and elitist worldview which dismisses as irrelevant the poorer, more disadvantaged sectors of our society.

In Australia it’s a struggle to survive on the minimum wage. On current levels of Newstart allowance it’s impossible to survive without extra charity from family or social support agencies. There is no “security” in our social security system. Being on welfare means being sentenced to a stress-filled life of struggle lived under constant threat of the possible termination of benefits.

By raising welfare entitlements to a level closer to the minimum wage the punitive aspect of our safety net would be removed. The resulting improvement in wellbeing would have positive flow-on effects for all of us. Crime rates would lessen. More money would circulate through our economy.

Casting welfare recipients as “other” or “lesser” belies the fact that we are all, now and then, welfare recipients of one kind or another. Even rich mining magnates benefit from tax concessions and industry incentives.

Welfare issues affect every sector and age group in our society; if not you, then someone you know. Most people have dealings with Centrelink and often Job Services Australia (Job Network) at some time in their lives.

Many of us are only one pay-packet ahead of financial insolvency. Lose your job, have an accident or perhaps a health issue and within weeks you may lose your home. Sometimes relationship or family breakdown, even homelessness, can follow.

In Australia the word welfare has come to be associated with laziness and social and financial failure. While in the odd case this may be true, it is clearly an unfair and false generalisation spruiked by those who can’t be bothered to inform themselves of the real facts around welfare on the ground.

After all, if you’ve never spent a thankless year unsuccessfully chasing work while your savings and asset base dwindles, how are you entitled to even comment on welfare issues? You’ve never been there, on the wrong end of the stick. If you have an opinion, what is it based on?

I myself have been on the wrong side of the welfare counter. It was not a pleasant place to be. Years ago I worked full-time for six months on a work-for-the-dole program in my local shire council offices alongside others on full pay.

Under this carrot-and-stick program I was promised possible work in the future (carrot) and threatened with loss of welfare payments (stick) if I didn’t comply. I made the same commitment to my employer, the same effort as other employees, but couldn’t pay my way or support my family. We struggled to pay the bills as our debts increased and my self-esteem diminished.

The memory of those times is very vivid for me and fans a flame of empathy for all welfare recipients, because I myself have been there. I know the soul-destroying experience of being stuck in that Centrelink queue.

It’s always easy to dismiss others with a few harsh words of judgment and elevate ourselves in our own minds, but attitudes to welfare provision which are rooted in ignorance and lack of human empathy can only be changed by educating and informing.

Perhaps the only way concerned Australians can arrest the Abbott-driven stampede towards the social abyss is to publicise the true facts behind every government policy, every action this government takes. How else can we cut through the spin and show the world that the emperor has no clothes?

Let’s pierce the membrane of lies and and misrepresentation behind which the government hides its true agenda. Peoples’ attitudes are very much informed and shaped by the mass media they’re exposed to. If we’re being fed a diet of obfuscation and misinformation then we’re being misled, some might even say brainwashed.

The March Australia National Welfare March rallies aim to change the public’s negative perceptions and end the demonisation of people who simply need help. It’s time to restore a sense of balance and social justice to the welfare paradigm. Our nation must embrace all its citizens equally. We must refuse to allow this federal government to divide and conquer us.

We know that some Australians don’t care. The Abbott government is doing its best to ensure that many more will stop caring. This is our challenge. How do we change the mindset of a nation? We work to inform the nation.

If you have questions or wish to volunteer or know more about the National Welfare March to be held in Brisbane, Adelaide, Perth/Fremantle, Wodonga (Vic) and Hobart on the weekend of 11 -12 July, please contact March Australia at:
Email: info@marchaustralia.com
Website: marchaustralia.com
Twitter: @WelfareMarch

Rallies Locations

 

Back to the Seventies . . . Remember Social Security?

Image from loon pond.blogspot.com

Image from loon pond.blogspot.com

Do you remember the days when better systems were in place to help the unemployed? Loz Lawrey reflects on those better days, and where the system started to go wrong.

Ah, the seventies. Heady days of my youth. I remember them well. A healthy job market full of “opportunities” for those who wanted them, and a social security system which really was a safety net providing help to those who needed it and benefiting our broader society as well.

In those days, crime was for the greedy, because the system actually provided a financial support allowance to people who, for one reason or another, couldn’t or didn’t work. No need to mug people to survive back then.

Unemployment Benefit (UB) (as it was called before the name was changed to the weasel-term “Newstart Allowance” in 1991) was paid to individuals who were “out of work, were capable and willing to undertake suitable work and had taken reasonable steps to obtain work.” Period. End of story. No further questions asked.

Still less than a living wage, it was enough to get by on for those prepared to live more communally by sharing housing and resources.

For those motivated in directions other than jobseeking, the Unemployment Benefit (fondly known as the Dole) offered a means of survival which bought them time to think, to seek, to create or simply waste their lives in ways inoffensive to society at large.

For some, the Dole was their arts grant, their opportunity to “have a go” in their chosen medium. Musicians, visual artists, writers and thespians abounded in a social environment which openly supported their antics, assisted by a system which indulged and tolerated them by providing meal money.

How friendly the system seemed back then. So many of my friends would move to Bellingen, Nimbin or other northern Shangri-La, then remember they had to notify Social Security that they had relocated. “Could you send my cheque to Seaview St, Coff’s Harbour, please? Oh, and in a month I’ll be moving to Fun Valley, Northern NSW.” No problem. Just send your form in . . .

There was no nasty requirement to “only move to areas of high employment” or to remain within city limits. In those days, the provision of welfare was a service to the community provided by our federal government for the benefit of all. Funded by citizens fortunate enough to be earning taxable incomes, those in need among us were held aloft by the welfare state, by our ‘Common Wealth’.

As a client of the Commonwealth Employment Service (CES) and the Department of Social Security (DSS), every citizen was treated with respect and most definitely given the “benefit of the doubt” with regard to the validity of their claim for assistance.

The CES was a long way from the $1.3 billion privatised Job Network case-management industry it has morphed into over time. It was a free taxpayer-funded service.

In those days life was simple. If you sought work, you checked “positions vacant” in the newspaper or you wandered down to the CES.

You checked the job-board notices and you had a brief interview with a case manager who would assess your suitability as a candidate for whatever vacancy was open.

If nothing was available at the time, the case manager would hand you a stamped, endorsed Unemployment Benefit form to “take down to Social Security”.

From that day on, until you found employment, a benefit cheque from the DSS would arrive every fourteen days.

Perhaps my memories of those times are rose-coloured, a soft-focus hippie-eyed view that leaves out the bad bits. But this is how I remember our social safety net, without the meanness, the uncaring sociopathic detachment of today’s system. Now, people are treated as cattle to be herded and criminals to be punished, easily manipulated by a “tick-the-boxes” profit-driven case management system where real-world outcomes for clients are of least and last concern.

Today, in an environment where 780,000 jobseekers are competing for some150,000 vacancies it is clear that people who can’t find employment aren’t lazy “leaners”. They are individuals who can’t find jobs because there simply aren’t enough jobs for everyone.

Sadly, the system as it’s currently structured is at worst badly broken, dysfunctional at best.

Privatising government services benefits no one but the private sector providers who fall over each other in the scramble to collect the golden eggs laid by the government goose.

Privatisation is the inevitable outcome of handing power to politicians who have lost sight of the public interest and view society as an economic business model, rather than an organic collective of Great Apes.

In such a model service provision becomes user-pays and profit-driven. The concept of “service” becomes subsumed by the quest for ever greater profits. Boxes are ticked, not to chart measurable positive outcomes for clients but to ensure the funding cash-cow can be milked into the future.

The privatisation of services and the selling-off of publicly-owned assets purchased over years by Australian taxpayers are not decisions which short-term governments should be empowered to make.

Surely governments of all stripes bear a responsibility to act as stewards of the public estate as well as responsible managers of our public accounts.

Selling state-owned assets to would-be oligarchs is a form of theft, a blatant betrayal of all Australians and their right to a share in the Common Wealth. A double betrayal in fact, because a profit margin is tacked onto the cost of services which were once delivered for free.

Privatisation is generally sold to voters with the hollow promise that competition among providers will lower costs. That promise however, is never fulfilled. Privatisation invariably inflates the cost and customers pay more.

At the end of the day, privatisation of government services is symptomatic of a culture of neoliberalism, a culture in which governments become too lazy to manage the services and infrastructure the electorate expect them to maintain.

Under a neoliberal regime, assets owned by the people are handed over to rich elites at bargain-basement prices. Wealth flows upwards, away from the majority and never trickles back down. The poor are made poorer.

The recent publicity around the dysfunctional privatised JobNetwork has exposed a fraud-riddled system in which profiteer contractors ride roughshod over the very clients they should be serving, with the sole aim of maximising their own business turnover.

Individuals are treated as grist to the job-mill, pawns in a game where the odds are stacked against them.

A common practice, known as “parking” in the job business, is to ignore the needs of clients seen as less employable, or perhaps older or requiring a greater investment of time and resources.

Thus the lives of many are violated, disrupted and put on hold by a corrupt system with skewed priorities which serves its own ends before those of its clients.

We’re a long way from the seventies. In those days we had a social democracy and it worked. Our society felt secure.

Today we have a Prime Minister who blatantly sows the seeds of fear and division. A Fearmonger-General.

With the Abbott government’s budgetary attacks on so many sectors of our society, life in Oz has never felt less secure.

Tony Abbott does not offer us a vision of unity and hope for the future. Instead he tries to drag us into his xenophobic, conservative and fearful mindset from the past. He doesn’t lead us forward, he takes us backward.

Sadly, we seem to have chosen (or allowed to be chosen for us) something lesser than we once had.

We’ve chosen privatisation, corruption, selfishness, fear, meanness and lack of empathy over the fair go.

Why would we do that?

In March, we’ll march again

We’re marching again, writes Loz Lawrey. And with good reason.

In 2008, when Australia faced a real and actual global financial crisis, sound economic initiatives by the Labor government of the day sheltered our nation from the pain suffered by other western nations.

In the months leading up to the 7th September 2013 election the Australian electorate was assaulted by a barrage of hysterical obfuscation that twisted facts and distorted reality, creating the false perception of a disastrous budgetary/national debt problem.

With no clear plan other than arrogant (and now clearly disproven) assertions of “grownup” economic competence, the LNP opposition bluffed its way into power, supported and enabled by business interests and a compliant media.

Sadly, a good government was laid low by a perfect storm of misrepresen-tation brought on by the collusion of neoliberal proselytisers, would-be oligarchs, mining billionaires, climate-change denialists, right-wing radio shock-jocks and media opinion-mongers.

Media magnate Rupert Murdoch was a central player in the Great Aussie Swindle, his newspapers reinforcing the illusion of “Labor’s mess” and promoting the Abbott campaign.

The incoming LNP government, with the hubris of the self-deluded who believe their own manufactured and spin-doctored myths, claimed a mandate to do whatever they wished in terms of policy implementation.

Australians had elected a far-right government with a textbook neoliberal agenda based on little more than a religious belief in free-market ideology, predator capitalism and the idolatry of greed.

It was a strange choice for a nation that had successfully weathered the global financial crisis and whose economy was the envy of other western democracies.

It was clear to anyone with their eyes open that the incoming Abbott government would treat the electorate with dishonesty and contempt.

The wafer-thin difference between a broken promise and a lie is invisible to anyone with a conscience.

Yet lies, delivered daily with weasel-words and blatant truth-distortion, have been the stock-in-trade of the Abbott regime.

Only three months after the 2013 election a group of concerned citizens came together on the social media platforms of Twitter and Facebook, galvanised into political action and democratic participation by the shock of witnessing what they saw as a disaster for Australia’s social democracy – the accession to power of a “lost-in-space” government of Tea Party ideologues with clearly flawed priorities and scant regard for the public good.

Democracy had been subverted, and the people had to step up.

By mid-March 2014 word had spread in classic grassroots fashion, and 100,000 people took part in the “March In March” protest rallies at some twenty-five locations nationally over three days to voice their disgust with the Abbott government’s performance and future intentions.

At these rallies the placards of those attending expressed outrage and concern at government decisions across-the-board, in policy areas from education to the environment, from health to climate change to the inhumane treatment of refugee asylum seekers.

The March protests culminated with the presentation of a “Statement Of No Confidence In The Abbott Government From The People Of Australia” at Parliament House in Canberra on Monday 17th March.

This document entered the history books two days later, when Greens Senator Scott Ludlam attempted (unsuccessfully, for technical reasons) to table it in the Senate.

Today, member groups of the community alliance of volunteers known as “March Australia” are hard at work planning protests for the weekend of 21-22 March 2015, the first anniversary of the March In March rallies.

From picnics in the park to full-on protest marches, people in communities around Australia will find their own ways to express themselves, raising their voices in support of the fair and just society we all value so much and the good governance we demand.

The public’s perception of an unfair, lying government shifting wealth upwards and demonising minorities is now shared by many who voted for Abbott in 2013.

This government’s policies will hurt most Australians who aren’t members of the privileged and wealthy elite, be they tertiary students, First Australians, union members, refugee asylum seekers, the unemployed, the sick, the disabled, the elderly or the poor.

There’s a strong likelihood that by March the number of “feet-on-the-street” will have swelled, now that even the government’s own MP’s have been copping serious flak from voters in their electorates over the LNP’s performance to date.

The knighting of England’s Duke of Edinburgh, Prince Phillip, yet another example of Tony Abbott’s unhinged “captain’s call” decision-making, has reinforced the public perception that our Prime Minister lives in a mental fairyland, totally divorced from the reality of everyday life.

Now that the Productivity Commission has been charged with conducting a workplace review, there is widespread concern that Abbott is intensifying his assault on working people and their entitlements, hard-won by unions over many years.

In other words, the government wants to remove penalty rates and unfair dismissal laws and reduce the minimum wage to a level lower than the actual cost of living, under the pretext that our economy needs business “flexibility” and “sustainability”.

It’s very hard to see how turning Australia into a Little America by entrenching a far greater underclass of working poor than that the one we already have will make for a better society.

The budget handed down in May 2014 was a turning-point, a watershed moment which laid bare the new government’s agenda, in all its elitist ugliness, for all to see.

Like a child who sees that the emperor has no clothes, Australians saw bad policies which demonstrate obvious contempt for the most marginalised and disenfranchised people in our society – in other words, a complete trashing of Australia’s cherished Fair Go.

Like that child, we must speak up. Our social democracy is being wounded daily, suffering blow after blow from a government which repeatedly lies and misleads us and has no respect for we, the people.

Those of us who care will march again in March.

The Schism and the ABC

The ABC and SBS provide tangible social benefits to Australia and contribute hugely to our cultural and intellectual life, writes Loz Lawrey. But because they aren’t profit-driven, they don’t fit nicely into conservative ideology.

Does the language used by those who speak for the Abbott government make you ill? Physically nauseous? Rhetoric can do that. You’re probably what they call a “leftie”, the term conservative neoliberals use for people who don’t subscribe to their dog-eat-dog worldview.

Those of us tarred with the “leftie” brush tend to see the world through a different prism to those on the far right, where belief and ideology often carry more weight than evidence-based analysis. We tend to care about our fellow-citizens and demand measured decision-making based on documented fact. Our aspirations encompass fairness, social justice and inclusion for all.

These concepts, which we regard as absolute necessities in a healthy democracy, are often dismissed by the right as cheesy socialist idealism, the naïve language of dreamers.

On social media platforms, when progressives and conservatives try to communicate, what begins as civil discussion quickly breaks down and turns into mutual vilification. This is why we tend to gravitate to groups of the like-minded, where our views are supported and encouraged. We like our feathers stroked, not ruffled.

Consensus is an impossible dream as long as those trying to reach it hold opposing views of the world, or the world they would like to see, and base their arguments on differing and often contradictory premises.

It is clear that any debate about the future of our government-owned media group the ABC and the hybrid-funded SBS is constantly subverted by diametrically-opposed and irreconcilable views of what these organisations actually are, what their purpose is and what they should be doing.

The conservative view is that they are businesses in pitched competitive battle with other privately-owned media outlets. So the argument from the right tends to go: “They’re businesses, so the government should privatise them. It’s not the job of government to run businesses”.

This very limited vision implies that the ABC and SBS exist solely for the purpose of making money. Naturally, those running the privately-owned broadcasting media share this perspective – they see the taxpayer-owned platforms as stealing their viewers, listeners and readers. In other words, as their competitors, stealing their income.

The progressive viewpoint is that the ABC and SBS are not businesses by any definition. They are community service-providers. They are not profit-driven organisations, but rather were created to serve Australian society by educating, informing and entertaining our citizens. They are, and should remain, taxpayer-funded services. The fact that some taxpayers are disengaged and unappreciative of the benefits of properly-funded public broadcasting shouldn’t play into this debate.

It’s as simple as this: the ABC and SBS provide tangible social benefits to Australia by their very existence and contribute hugely to our cultural and intellectual life.

The social awareness that becomes a possibility when governments support the arts and the exchange of ideas is an asset to the country as a whole, whether people choose to avail themselves of that awareness or not.

This is why all taxpayers should be pleased to contribute to the funding of healthy independent public broadcasting. It quite simply makes our country a better place, a place with a raised awareness and hopefully, a heightened social conscience.

It could be argued that the function of taxpayer-owned or partly-owned media has nothing to do with profit-making, rather that the charter of these organisations is to raise the consciousness of the nation by teaching our children and involving our adult population in an ongoing national conversation while keeping us informed. In other words, smartening-up the country and acting as a cultural facilitator. Making things better, and making Australia a better place to live in for ALL its residents, bar none.

Profit-driven media share no such lofty aspirations. Here the focus is on attracting passive viewers to absorb and assimilate the endless stream of mind-numbing advertising which is commercial media’s bread and butter.

So here it’s about dumbing-down, not raising up. It’s not about serving the consumers, it’s about using them to extract financial profit. People who submit to exposure to privately-owned broadcasting allow themselves to be mentally herded like sheep, to be manipulated by a form of social engineering controlled by money-men.

Image by @KieraGorden on twitter.com

Image by @KieraGorden on twitter.com

It’s true that neoliberal rhetoric tends to reduce every issue to the level of money: “Does it make a quid?” If it does, it’s seen to be of value.

So when progressives say “This is a wonderful organisation that delivers measurable social dividends for the Australian community”, the conservative response tends to be: “Yes, but does it make a quid?”

The Abbott government sees government itself as a business, hence the ongoing obsession with budget surpluses. If a surplus is achieved, money has been made and the “business” has proven itself successful. A budget deficit implies business failure. In the mind of the Coalition, “government” means “corporation”.

Opponents of the conservative regime paint a different picture of what government should be: a system-operating body that exists to serve the people who installed it by responding to their needs domestically and representing them fairly and equitably on the world stage.

In this context, what does a little debt matter when good outcomes are being achieved? Surely good outcomes, not financial gain, are the objective. Success and failure are measured on a different scale altogether, a scale which measures social benefits rather than profit margins. Clearly, in this view government is not a business, rather the clerical administrator of the nation.

Taking care of the nation’s affairs is not the enterprise of a business. Sure, the books need to reconcile and balance, but that is not the end in itself. A nation has no need to turn a financial profit. It’s not about the economy (although that needs monitoring), it’s about the people.

The schism between worldviews highlighted by the Abbott government’s assault on public broadcasting, underpins every argument between the political right and left and sabotages all attempts to find consensus on desirable outcomes.

Perhaps we need to revisit our definition of “government”. One accepted definition is that government is the system by which a state or community is governed. This means that those “in government” at any time are there to administer the affairs of the nation by maintaining law and order, funding infrastructure as needed and serving the needs of its citizens by acting in the public interest, while upholding social justice and human and civil rights.

No argument there from either side, you may say. But this is where perspective comes into play and rhetoric can skew the debate. The two sides of politics have differing interpretations of what it means to govern. The perspective of those on the right begins from the premise that people are stupid and that to govern means to control the populace, while those on the left start from the assumption that we’re not stupid and that to govern means to serve the populace.

With regard to the ABC and SBS, perhaps both sides need to align their assumptions before engaging in the funding debate. What is shocking to many ABC supporters is that those who are baying the loudest for its blood see it as a burden on the taxpayer rather than the iconic avatar of Australia’s consciousness that it has always been.

A Lesson in Displacement at the Bureau of Worldly Advice

Refugees are people. Let’s treat them as such. Loz Lawrey shares a recent experience with some refugees and despairs at the treatment this country affords them, while all these people are trying to do is give something to this country.

My sister-in-law Dagmara knows about displacement. As a little girl she left Poland with her mother in the 1980’s, a time when hundreds of thousands of Poles emigrated looking for jobs and a better life abroad. She feels empathy for people who find themselves forced to travel halfway around the world to escape war, social dysfunction or simply to seek a better life.

Dagmara is an artist and often uses installations and viewer participation in her work. Her latest creation is “The Bureau of Worldly Advice” at the Melbourne Town Hall. Held over a week, this event has attracted great interest and participation and has been, for some, a life-changing experience.

From the Swanston St pavement I see an office window with official-looking signage which declares it to be the Bureau of Worldly Advice. The front doors are open. This bureau looks just as one would expect an office in the Melbourne Town Hall to look: sober and clerical.

But there’s a twist. A young woman in a suit, dancing on the spot, spruiks a bold and brassy invitation to passers-by to come in for some “worldly advice”. Her antics attract curious smiles. Now and then, the invitation is accepted.

Those who enter find themselves in a spacious office containing several large desks, at which consultants from around the globe dispense “advice” to those who seek it. Stories are told, experiences shared and questions answered. There is effervescent laughter and the occasional tear.

These “consultants” are asylum seekers living in the limbo of Australia’s assessment process, their status as residents undetermined, their ability to move forward with their lives on hold. Yet they are here today in a spirit of affirmation, determined to focus on the positive aspects of finding themselves in this strange country at the mercy of an indifferent bureaucracy.

I sit down with Basir and Afifah (names changed), a couple in their early forties who have escaped the conflict and humanitarian disaster in Syria. They have so much to tell me that I struggle to take it all in. Each statement provokes several questions I haven’t time to ask. I am stunned at the lengths to which this couple go to preserve their sanity in an insane situation.

Since their visa status prevents them from working and earning, they spend their days as volunteers, giving their time and energy to our society which (for now) keeps them at arm’s length.

Basir and Afifah have been meeting and talking with new people all week. I am stunned by their openness, yet can sense how close to the surface are their most raw emotions. I realise that being here talking to me is part of their survival strategy, something they’re doing to stay grounded and in the moment.

Half an hour flies by and my consultation is over. I feel strangely emotional. I found myself apologising to Basir and Afifah for the treatment they continue to receive from my country’s government. They would not hear of it, determined as they are not to wallow in self-despair. They have seen what despair can do, so they tread the fine line that feeds the soul and avoids the repetitive mantras of hopelessness. By giving, they receive.

I am confronted, intrigued and ashamed. I scribble in the comments book before leaving. I feel like a spoilt, complacent child who has everything yet appreciates nothing. The simple bringing together of people from diverse backgrounds in one room has proved to be a powerful artistic statement.

The beholder becomes a participant. A conversation is begun, then ended all too soon. I am reminded of my own travels, of experiences and encounters in far-off lands, of the learning and understanding that flows from opening up to others.

Conversations like these break down barriers and lift us above our differences, reminding us that we are one humanity.

Perhaps all that we need in this world are more conversations like these.

March in March Seeks Online Volunteers

Got some spare time and want and want to help the March in March team? Then this message from Loz Lawrey is for you.

I’m a helper with the March in March Australia people’s movement, part of a small team that provides admin support and assistance to over 40 regional groups working under the banner of “The People United For Better Government”.

If you followed the March in March rallies you’ll know that we strive to provide a platform for all people to speak out on their issues of concern, and with this current government there are more than ever!

Recently our team has lost some members who’ve had to scale back their involvement for personal reasons.

Many hands make light work, they say, and we’re hoping to share the load among more volunteers so that we can all experience more balance (and sanity) in our lives.

We are looking for help from people with the following skills:

  • Technical/internet/social media
  • Art and graphics
  • Secretarial/clerical

Ongoing work includes: Facebook support, admin, clerical work (eg. mailouts), meme-making, info sharing etc, in fact anything and everything that oils the machinery of this movement and helps to maintain our network.

If you’d like to contribute a few hours of your time and energy each week your assistance would be greatly appreciated.

If you’re interested in volunteering, please email us at March Australia: info@marchaustralia.com

Merchants of Hypocrisy: Open for the Business of War

As the situation between Russia and Ukraine deteriorates to the brink of war, is our government entertaining the thought of joining in on this war, asks Loz Lawrey.

“Nothing is free. Someone always pays”, says Joe Hockey, “we must live within our means”.

Much has been made of the two simultaneous messages appearing on one newspaper’s front page: severe cuts to pensioner entitlements and the extravagant outlay of some $12.4 billion on weapons of war.

Accusations of hubris and hypocrisy are mere water off a duck’s back to this Coalition government, who are convinced they can do whatever they wish whenever they wish, regardless of public opinion.

Tony Abbott still claims an irrefutable mandate to make choices and decisions with little consideration, consultation or advice. As with John Howard, ‘instinct’ and ‘belief’ are enough. In other words, unfettered open slather prevails: “You elected us, so we’ve won and we’ll do as we please. About anything. And everything. Because we can”.

The joint strike fighter jets will, according to Abbott, “ensure our edge as a regional power . . . you just don’t know what’s around the corner . . . the world remains a difficult . . . and often a dangerous place”. Confrontational, assertive language. Some might call it the language of a warmonger.

Weasel-speak, flung about like a certain proverbial substance, is used to distract us and disrupt our analytical thinking before we reach any conclusions, a sort of bait-and-switch operation which leaves us ignoring important issues and giggling at trivia.

A slogan is uttered, a camera flashes, a ‘gotcha’ moment happens, and in the confusion important questions go unasked and unanswered. The media pack moves on.

Meanwhile the warm fireside tone of the delivery belies the harsh message aimed at preparing us psychologically for the kicking and beating this brutal government intends to consciously, deliberately, inflict upon Australian society.

Hockey’s psychobabble continues: “It is about the we, not the me” (sounds a bit like socialism) . . . “more use of co-payments must be made” (definitely conservatism).

But is it babble? Or well-crafted spin to prepare us for war? Australia’s apparently irreversible engagement with the U.S. and subservience to its foreign policy seems really stupid and ill-advised whenever the sabre-rattling between the U.S. and China or Russia begins.

Isn’t this how it works? Step one: encourage recession by talking down the economy and defunding everything. Step two: follow through with austerity measures to ensure across-the board misery. Step three: encourage minority-blaming, thuggery, social dislocation. Step four: mission accomplished: the people are crushed and ready for war.

I was born several years after the conclusion of World War Two. During my whole life war and conflict have been constants on the world stage, and Australian soldiers have died overseas in Korea, Malaya, Borneo, Vietnam, Afghanistan, Iraq and elsewhere.

One thing you can count on with the human race; we’ve always got a war going on. And Australia has always been prepared to send its young men out as cannon-fodder at the whim of the U.K. or the U.S. on the flimsiest pretext.

Remember the Weapons of Mass Destruction which never were? There are many who wonder why John Howard hasn’t been tried as a war criminal for committing our country to the U.S.’s unjustified invasion of Iraq in which so many Iraqis, Americans and Australians died.

What is war other than schoolyard bullying writ large? A line is crossed, battle is engaged, and the reason for it all is forgotten in the heat of the action. Bait and switch, again. And again.

The invasion of Iraq was not sanctioned by the United Nations. At the time, Howard justified the action by saying it had “a sound legal basis” in previous decisions of the security council. As usual, clever language was used to deflect questions and criticism about the lack of U.N. support.

Today both Howard and George W. Bush are happily retired while a country lies in ruins, her people struggling to subsist within a legacy of destruction and conflict.

Is this what we can expect from Abbott? Another neoconservative bequest of misery, poverty and unrest? Blind unthinking subservience to the megalomania of a foreign power which believes it owns the world? Young Australians scattered about the globe to die for nothing? Young lives to be chewed up and spat out by a global military-industrial complex that prevails to this day, the same one Dwight D. Eisenhower warned the world about in 1961?

How does the lie prevail, the lie that tells us something good is accomplished by slaughter and destruction?

As far as the Iraq war went, here’s how Howard justified it: “The government strongly believes that the decision it has taken is right, it is legal, it is directed towards the protection of the Australian national interest and I ask the Australian community to support it”. And support it we did.

Well, perhaps not all of us, but if we didn’t speak out then we too supported the invasion. I’ll declare myself here: I felt the outrage, but I didn’t express it. To my shame, I didn’t speak out.

Divided and conquered, we bury our misgivings and swallow the bitter pill of nationalism. We allow ourselves to accept the necessity for a conflict we don’t even comprehend. Then we participate in that conflict, convinced of the righteousness of our purpose. And history repeats.

That’s how they get away with it. By our silence we give consent. John Howard will never be brought to trial, because we would also be judging ourselves.

The huge government spend on fighter jets can only be seen as a “toys for the boys” indulgence by Abbott and Co. It’s hard to imagine our little airforce taking on Russia, the U.S. or China. And if we’re to ride on the coat-tails of the Yanks, don’t they have enough jets already? And what’s the real context of this? Defence? We’re hardly a match for a superpower, with or without jets.

Yesterday U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry issued a stern warning to Russia over the situation in Ukraine, saying “Whatever path Russia chooses, the United States and our allies will stand together in our defense of Ukraine”. More sabre-rattling. And what did Abbott say again? ” . . . you just don’t know what’s around the corner . . . the world remains a difficult . . . and often a dangerous place”.

Is it simply that there’s a mood in the world for war?

 

The message was delivered: no confidence in the Abbott Government whatsoever

A Statement of No Confidence in the Abbott Government has been delivered to the Australian Parliament as a message from the 100,000 people who took part in the March in March. And, writes MiM organiser Loz Lawrey, “As the intensity of the public’s dissatisfaction with this toxic government continues to grow, the message will be delivered again and again, over and over”.

“Let it be known, and entered into the public record, that on this day, Monday 17 March 2014, the People of Australia delivered this document to the Parliament of Australia.”

On a sunny Monday in March, a delegation of Australians presented a handwritten parchment to Adam Bandt, the Federal Member for Melbourne, at Parliament house in Canberra.

Adam had graciously agreed to accept the Statement of No Confidence and present it to Parliament on behalf of the more than 100,000 people around the country who attended the March in March rallies protesting the governance of the Liberal/National Coalition.

A few days later Senator Scott Ludlum attempted to table the Statement in the Senate, but sadly the tabling was disallowed on a technicality. Such a document had never been presented before, and the Abbott government narrowly avoided the need to officially respond.

The March in March 2014 Statement of No Confidence in the Liberal/National Coalition Government From the People of Australia was written and rewritten, passing through one set of hands and then another, from laptop to smartphone to desktop screen, added to and tweaked, then jigged and rejigged until it truly was a document “of the people”.

Those of us who took part in this joyous assertion of public sentiment knew all along that successful tabling and debating of this document was unlikely, since it didn’t fit the strict layout and presentation requirements for a petition and had no supporting signatures attached.

We also knew that petitions, even if they are tabled, are easily dismissed and require hundreds of thousands of signatures if they are to achieve any sort of real acknowledgment or response.

The Statement of No Confidence did not protest any single issue and made no demand for any particular outcome. With or without signatures the Statement was, and remains, an overarching assertion of public disapproval of this government’s decisions and the direction in which Abbott and his cronies are taking our country.

Although not yet officially tabled, the document still entered the public record via media news cameras and print coverage.

Despite the Abbott government’s refusal to publicly acknowledge the March rallies, it is aware of the Statement’s existence, and of its contents – the marchers’ message of No Confidence was delivered.

For the government and its cheer-squad in the mainstream media, a head-in-the-sand avoidance of the rallies and the Statement was the only possible response. To respond otherwise was to risk a humiliation even deeper than the serial embarrassments brought on daily by the public utterances of Abbott and his ministers, blithely reported by so many journalists.

The rallies that took place around Australia were a clear demonstration that there is great opposition to the ideologically-driven agenda of the Abbott government and that there is ever-growing public consternation (note the current polls) at the obvious attempts at social engineering, the blatant suppression of information, the retreat from transparency and accountability, the rorting and trough-snouting, as well as the lies and broken promises.

Oh, and it seems that some people are worried about the attacks on democracy and human rights, the abuse and mistreatment of refugee asylum seekers, the dismantling of environmental regulation and general trashing of our natural environment, the assault on wages and entitlements, and the closing down or defunding of every institution and organisation established to support and inform the public interest.

The lugubrious, repetitive pronouncements from “Smokey Joe” Hockey, whose pants seem to occasionally ignite and smoulder (leading to on-camera sweating and obvious discomfort), are grooming us for an austerity regime the like of which Australia has never seen. Let’s not forget that Abbott considers Maggie Thatcher a mentor to emulate.

Our country is suffering a concerted attack, by a government owned by vested interests, upon our vision of ourselves as a nation respected by the rest of the world for upholding standards of fairness and decency at home and abroad.

Thanks to Abbott and his cronies we are now viewed with global contempt – a xenophobic, racist raft of white supremacists floating in the Pacific, abusing all who come near. How have we allowed this perception of our multicultural society to take root and grow? Is this the reality?

Australia has never managed to grasp the opportunity afforded by the coming-together of our immigrant society (which includes most of us) and the First Australians whose land it is, to create an exemplary modern society of equals and forge a new history, free from the constraints, mistakes and influences of the past. Instead we import the dumbed-down culture of the deeply dysfunctional United States, ignoring the wealth of world culture that permeates our society.

Once, we were known as the land of the Fair Go. That’s right, the Fair Go. Sadly, according to Smokey Joe, the Fair Go gave us all a sense of “entitlement” which was simply not sustainable. So the Fair Go, and along with it all sense of decency and righteousness, of empathy and inclusiveness, must be swept aside to balance the books and satisfy the “bottom line”.

Apparently this will elevate us to the transcendent, nirvana-like state of “surplus”, despite the fact that many Australians will endure lives of misery and hardship in the process.

Conservative governments notoriously and conveniently ignore human suffering, dismissing any concept of social justice and equity, and reducing the discussion of public affairs to a mathematical equation of dollars and cents.

Only the elements of profit and loss are factored in, while the values and considerations of human hearts and minds, of skills, knowledge, intelligence, understanding and caring ( the very stuff of life) are sent to the margins.

And nowhere on the page is there any reference to the common, or public good.

Somehow it comes about that government of humans by humans no longer regards the human condition itself as relevant in the decision-making process.

Somehow the dollar, the measure of greed, becomes not just one factor among others, but the only consideration. A perversion of governance becomes entrenched in our system which government messaging and media manipulation grooms us to accept as the norm.

The marchers who attended the March rallies told their stories through the number and diversity of messages on the placards expressing community concerns and through the words of those who spoke. The Statement of No Confidence is the symbolic summary of those concerns.

The marches and rallies will continue. This people’s movement will grow. Already Marches are planned for Sydney, Adelaide and Perth for Sunday 18 May, while regional marches around the nation will take place at the end of August.

As the intensity of the public’s dissatisfaction with this toxic government continues to grow, the message will be delivered again and again, over and over.

And one day soon, to use the religious imagery favoured by Abbott, Australians will be delivered from evil.

Statement Of No Confidence Large

A statement of no confidence in the Abbott Government (image courtesy of Loz Lawrey)

In the Clash of Ideologies, Language Wins the War

Image courtesy of the australian.com.au

Image courtesy of the australian.com.au

Jim Morrison famously and prophetically said, “Whoever controls the media, controls the minds”. 

This is certainly the case in Australia.

In this guest post Loz Lawrey looks at how the media – the Murdoch media in particular – shape out attitudes and opinions.

In 1988, Professor Noam Chomsky reminded us that the media “serve, and propagandise on behalf of, the powerful societal interests that control and finance them” (1). Never has this fact been more blatantly obvious than it is today.

The glaring anti-Labor/Greens bias on display by the Murdoch-owned news media during the term of the Gillard Government exaggerated Labor’s dysfunction and gave credibility to a Liberal/National opposition devoid of policies or ideas, other than a plan to hand decision-making over to commercial vested interests.

Today much of the mainstream media’s energy is spent fulfilling the roles of apologist and spin doctor for a right-wing conservative government which serves the wishes of a global oligarchy.

Selective coverage of current affairs events, skewed “opinion” pieces disguised as news reportage, simplified “black or white” presentation which avoids all nuance – the mainstream media has an endless supply of tools for the manipulation of public perception.

There is, however, more to the message than what is essentially the delivery system, or the means of presentation. The TV or radio program, the article in the print media or even the political billboard are simply what the megaphone is to the voice – the means of imparting the message. It’s in the language that real power and control resides.

Political forces use language as the weapon of choice on the field of public debate – what some refer to as the battlefield of ideas. In this arena, the army with the sharpest, most evocative language will prevail. There is little need for true logic or reason to underpin one’s arguments, only that a perception of reasoned lucidity is created by the language used.

While all sides of politics strive for control of any public debate through their use of language, conservative forces in our society have become masters of what is known as weasel language, or weasel words. The terms come from the reputation of weasels for sucking eggs and leaving an empty shell – at first glance weasel words create an impression of real meaning supported by research-based evidence or expert advice, which upon closer inspection is found to be hollow and devoid of substance.

This mastery of language, together with the recent structural disarray in evidence on the left of the political spectrum, goes a long way to explain the survival of conservatism around the globe, despite its continuing assault on the public interest, both nationally and globally.

The work of bodies such as the right wing Institute of Public Affairs is as much about formulating the language used to justify its ideologically-based policies as it is in formulating the policies themselves.

Words such as “free” and “freedom” are tacked onto the labelling language used to define and create a perception of a proposal or idea. Hence we get “free market”, “free speech” and “freedom of choice”. Once you insert a word such as “free”, a benign impression is created of harmless intent.

So it is that when a spokesperson for the IPA argues that people should be “given the right” to work for less that $16 per hour, they are claiming that working for less than the established and agreed minimum is a freedom. In this way, shifting employment conditions closer to the slavery end of the spectrum is made to sound like a positive, liberating move. It will hardly be a liberating experience for those workers who endure it, however, when they find themselves working longer and harder for less or very little, unable to meet their own living needs.

The term “free market” creates an image of happy global business, unfettered by tariffs and protectionist regulations, with goods moving freely about, resulting in best outcomes for both business, workers and consumers. The fact that tariffs were developed as a means to counteract trade imbalance and injustice is swept aside, because who wouldn’t want “freedom” in the marketplace?

Now business regulation designed to level the playing field and increase real fairness in trade is labelled by conservative governments as “red tape”, an evil to be done away with. Environmental regulation intended to protect our natural heritage landscapes and control resource extraction is now dismissed as “green tape”.

These terms belie the fact that such regulation has been developed over many years in response to the perceived need to maintain balance and sustainability in all things into the future.

Even the term “sustainability” itself has been highjacked by the weasel-worders. When the term is used in the context of economic debate, any cuts to spending or public funding are easily justified. Old-age pensions? Unsustainable. A living-wage pay rise for child-care workers? Again, unsustainable.

The rhetoric of conservative ideology is cleverly employed over time to erode the positive public perception of ideas and institutions which are seen as contrary to the the right-wing world-view.

A gradual sanding-down of the public’s acknowledgment and appreciation of the workplace rights and entitlements won over years of union organising and picketing has been achieved by the repeated portrayal of unions as hotbeds of thuggery and corruption.

Dismissive rhetoric about “the left” ignores the fact that leftist political values are based upon social justice, inclusion and concepts of decency and fairness. The ongoing message is that an empathetic worldview is “loony” and that to embrace a cynical philosophy of “winners and losers” is to dwell in the “real world”.

In this way a political message has been delivered into the public sub-consciousness: that leftist views are “crazy” and “loony” in their consideration of the public good, and that right-wing extremist views which can only benefit a minority elite are “sensible”, “rational” and “economically sound”.

Somewhere, somehow, logic and reason lie bleeding and forgotten by the masses, while weasel words and tabloid headlines are regurgitated as valid arguments in the arena of public discussion.

(1)  Manufacturing Consent: The Political Economy of the Mass Media (1988)
     by Noam Chomsky and Edward Herman

 

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