Should Scott Morrison abolish all unemployment payments?

A: No. Why ask such a ridiculous question?

When it eventually dawned on the Australian government that a global pandemic requires governments to spend money, the prime minister was devastated. As treasurer, Morrison handed down the 2016-17, 2017-18 and 2018-19 federal budgets. All were in deficit. Morrison and the Canberra press gallery called these deficits ‘bringing the budget back into surplus’, a typical tory time machine lie.

In 2019, prime minister Scott Morrison, as ousted prime minister Malcolm Turnbull did before him, leveraged his artificially inflated budget bottom line to launch the Liberal Party election campaign. He also shut parliament for most business other than passing supply bills to avoid losing more votes on the floor of the house. The other prongs of his campaign strategy were: preference deals with Clive Palmer, who has been charged with fraud; giving billions of public dollars to Liberal and marginal seats; a stunt a day for the nightly news; and constant lies about his political opponents.

All of this was faithfully covered by the press gallery in ways that consistently served the interests of the Liberal Party campaign, whether ignored (the handouts), minimised (the Palmer deal), amplified (the stunts), or legitimised (the lies about Labor policy).

[Bear in mind that the richest areas tend to vote Liberal, so higher amounts of needs-based public funding should land in Labor electorates. Yet when the national press (as opposed to regional newspapers giving free publicity to people like Georgina Downer) did, eventually, start reporting on handouts of public money based on Liberal Party campaign priorities, their comparisons to Labor government funding models are false equivalence at best. Anyone comparing a Mt Druitt football field to Mosman rowing club knows nothing about Mt Druitt, needs based funding, or the role of government.]

Fast forward to March 2020. There is a global pandemic. Evacuees from Wuhan have been sent to the Christmas Island detention centre, 1500 kms from the Australian mainland. Cruise ship passengers are allowed to embark in February and then disembark in March to spread out across the country. Various levels of isolation restrictions are implemented by the Premiers and Chief Ministers. Scott Morrison maintains he will go to the footy and then walks it back.

Various ‘stimulus’ polices are announced, staged and piecemeal. He starts by announcing, in early March, that there will be one-off $750 payments to unemployed people in May and people on other income support in July, aimed at propping up the quarterly figures. At this point, Morrison still thinks he can manipulate the numbers sufficiently to avoid the appearance of recession.

This is despite the fact that the economy is already in recession in all but name, papered over only by federal government defence spending and the migration intake. The economy has been tanking since the first Abbott-Hockey government budget. Economic management under Liberal Party leaders Abbott, Turnbull and Morrison is so dire that the Reserve Bank governor has been calling for stimulus for years, including lifting the rate of unemployment benefit.

Also in early March is the announcement of more public subsidies for business owners who employ apprentices. This is aimed at corporations in unionised male-dominated industries and blue collar male business owners in swinging seats. They receive an eye-watering expansion of instant tax write-downs, from $30,000 to $150,000 for ‘tradies’ with turnover of up to $500 million (previously up to $50 million).

The big one.

In late March, the prime minister calls his third press conference in three days. Wringing his hands, hoping and praying, he announces ‘jobkeeper’, a wages subsidy to businesses for paying employees rather than standing them down. The announcement is aimed at stemming a steep rise in unemployment figures. A huge headline figure, later cut by $60 billion, is splashed all over the press. Also later, the subsidy is expanded to wealthy corporate religion, so the catholic church for example is collecting public cash; several rule changes are made to be absolutely certain public universities are excluded; and it is withdrawn completely from the childcare sector.

There is also a ‘corona virus supplement’ to top up the ‘jobseeker payment’. This is aimed at stopping footage of long unemployment queues – and heavy handed policing of destitute people in the queues – appearing on the nightly news. Still to come are almost a billion dollars for wealthy home renovators via builders aka tradies; and $650 million in announcements for the arts, of which about a third is for local industry and two thirds for Hollywood. These are framed by Scott Morrison as directed not only at performing arts creatives but also… tradies.

Each of these deeply ideological measures are reported as heroic. The accompanying slogans, carefully designed to confuse and mislead, are faithfully broadcast and published, with the desired result.

Barely two months after wage subsidy and income support supplements start rolling in May, the Morrison government starts leaking its plans for the future of the payments after its September deadline, to favoured journalists. This fuels endless press gallery speculation about a political statement slated for Thursday 23 July. The Juy statement was offered up by the government to replace the federal budget, which they cancelled.

Morrison then brings the income support component of the political speech that is supposed to replace the budget forward by two days. Why? Hard to say. Incredibly*, this political communications strategy generates blanket coverage that income support is to be ‘extended’. The narrative is aimed at well-off people who vote Liberal and like comforting pabulum to obscure the fact that the rest of us fund their investment properties, private health insurance, and elite school fees.

Some detail, and some context

Firstly, as the government fiddled around with eligibility for the wages subsidy based on its political priorities (like misogyny and religiosity), the ‘jobkeeper’ budget was cut by a whopping $60 billion inside the same month payments commenced. Now we are told it will be cut by $300 per fortnight per full time employee after September and by $750 per fortnight per part time or casual (under 20 hours) employee.

In addition, the corona virus supplement will be cut by $285, to less than half the original $550. The supplement is paid to people on ‘jobseeker’, and is aimed at deflecting from the huge realisation about to sweep through the population that our social security system, far from providing a safety net, is onerously punitive and pointlessly cruel. It creates and exacerbates mental health conditions. It drives people to despair up to and including to suicide. It also costs squillions in public money given ‘job agency’ proprietors like Liberal Party donor Sarina Russo.

The cuts are reported as ‘extending’ income support because he is announcing in July what the lower rate will be after the September deadline which the government announced in March. Clear as mud, I know.

Missing from media reports is the fact that the base unemployment rate had already been rebranded, from newstart to jobseeker (JSP), before any fiscal response to a global pandemic. At the time, it was routine Morrison government activity, cosmetic fiddling while Rome burns. Social security since the Howard government has been text book neoliberalism, designed to construe people on income support as latent jobs. The rest of society is invited to see poor people as responsible for what is caused by capitalists, as nothing more than the potential value of their labour to bosses. A degrading and punitive compliance regime, which forcibly transactionalises human relations and commodifies members of the working and underclasses to benefit rentseekers like Sarina Russo, has been called a digital workhouse.

Dickensian, but online.

Meanwhile, the news cycle is dominated by announcements and misinformation. Arguably worse is what top Australian psephologist and fellow blogger Noely Neate describes as scottysplaining. This is the fantasist editorialising on what Morrison could do (be a decent person, act in an intelligent and timely way, implement policy in the public interest) rather than who and what he really is (a heartless stentorian, a monstrous and profligate liar).

Morrison has long shown us who he is and we ought to believe him. This is a man who lies about charity workers and refugees in detention, costing us billions; who unlawfully extorts money from the lowest income workers to fabricate a budget bottom line, costing us billions; and cancels the parliament but will solicit corporate clients at the football, costing us billions. This is but a sample of what passes for Liberal Party ‘economic management’.

The political economy of the Liberal Party

The most critical element of the Liberal Party comms strategy is press gallery journalists invariably reporting, above the fold, on the home page, at the top of the bulletin, what Scott Morrison said. No matter what its relationship to reality, anything said by Morrison (or his ministers) is ascribed priority, and what Scott Morrison (or his ministers) say is what the Australian people, the audiences and readership out in the electorate, see and hear first. It is extraordinarily difficult to get cut-through for the purpose of refuting their lies.

This gift is not a function of who is in government. Only Liberal-led governments enjoy the vast benefit of this reporting model. Liberal opposition leaders have no difficulty in getting their deranged and false claims about Labor governments onto the front pages of  murdoch mastheads. The key is aligned corporate interests. The Liberal Party are the party of business, of awarding huge contracts, billions of public dollars, to the corporate sector – usually to see it wasted on greed and incompetence, as capital will.

A strange thing happened today.

The inspiration for this post is that something odd followed Morrison’s announcement about cutting the rate of jobkeeper wage subsidy and jobseeker corona virus supplement today. The press gallery departed from their devoted practice of unquestioningly reporting Morrison setpieces as policy facts and instead told us that the base jobseeker rate will not stay at its present low rate. Bewildering stuff.

To conclude, a brief overview of unemployment payment at the time of writing:

    • ‘Jobseeker’ is a pre-covid rebranding of newstart, sickness benefit and other income support payments. It is not a virus response or stimulus policy. It is the base rate of unemployment benefit that has not increased in real terms for over 25 years.
    • reporting that Scott Morrison has decided ‘to extend jobseeker’ is meaningless and not ‘news’, unless you think Scott Morrison could or should or would abolish unemployment benefits.
    • The corona virus supplement was announced in March 2020. Actual payments commenced in May and it was legislated to expire in September. The prime minister has now announced the supplement will be cut rather than expire at that date.
    • When asked if the base JSP rate is too low, the prime minister said his government is not considering the matter.
    • When asked if the base JSP rate is too low, the prime minister said his government is not considering the matter.
    • WHEN ASKED IF THE BASE JSP RATE IS TOO LOW, THE PRIME MINISTER SAID HE IS NOT CONSIDERING THE MATTER.

Recall that the first sector to lose access to ‘jobkeeper’ wage subsidies was childcare. Almost all the workers are low-paid women; and almost all working mothers depend on childcare to participate in the paid workforce. While today we are inundated with breathless reports of future cuts to the rate of jobkeeper as an ‘extension’, it has already been ‘extended’ to the catholic church and company directors; withheld from public universities, migrant workers, and the arts; and withdrawn from the child care sector.

Federalism 101

This post is written on unceded lands of the sovereign Darug people. I offer my respects to their elders and express my profound gratitude that our family may live safely here.

It has come to my attention that there are some gaps in Australian public knowledge of how Australian federalism works. While underemployed at home, I thought it might be useful to write up a bit of an explainer.

First Peoples First

There are two systems of law in this country, the first law of the land and the legal system imposed at gun point by the colonial power, the then-British empire, now reconstituted as the Commonwealth. This is not a controversial statement, it is historical and legal fact.

Historical because the law of the land was here when the British invaded and colonised the land and First Peoples; it is still here in the land and in the custodianship of First Peoples. These are ontological truths. To borrow from the Uluru Statement from the Heart, how could it be otherwise?

Legal because in 1992, the colonial law formally recognised the law of the land. I say ‘colonial’ because the High Court is a creation of the Commonwealth of Australia Constitution Act 1900 (Imp), which in turn is a creature of the British Parliament (Imperial). The court found that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples’ traditional laws and customs pre-date the assertion of sovereignty by the British Crown; their laws survived invasion and colonisation; and can determine what English law calls ‘rights and interests’ in land. The relevant authority lies with Mabo v Queensland (No. 2) (1992) 175 CLR 1 and Native Title Act 1993 (Cth).

While the land is the source of the first law of the land, Westminster systems rely largely on ‘authority’ for legitimacy. Longevity and repetition are co-existent sources of common law legitimacy, where longevity maxes out to 1189 (Statute of Westminster 1275 (3 Edw I)), a long time in white years.

There are many other differences, and similarities, between the two systems of law in this country, which I will not elaborate on here. The purpose of these introductory points is 1) respect and protocol. As with everywhere else in the world throughout human history – when in Rome, as the saying goes – when on Aboriginal lands it is protocol to respect Aboriginal law; and 2) establish the foundational legal relationships before looking in more detail at the next level of institutional power arrangements.

That next level is the federation of former colonies into states and the creation of the Commonwealth of Australia.

Federation and federalism

The first thing to understand about English institutions is that everything is arranged hierarchically; and the hierarchy is incapable of accurately portraying its own dominance. For example, the common law is presided over by judges drawn from the landed gentry class, who apply the law to commoners. These same people declare common law to be common sense (my analysis of conservative ideology here).

You can see this same dynamic operating when Scott Morrison hectors the Australian public about ‘common sense’ as though there is such a thing as sensible positions, held in common by a whole population. There isn’t. In reality there is just a man who wields enormous socio-positional power, demanding that everybody conform to his perspective.

In a federation of former colonies such as ours, the key hierarchical concept is paramountcy. This relies on the fiction that English subjects travel overseas with the common law in their kerchiefs or wherever, and then make or interpret rules according to conditions on the ground (the Blackstonian school). But they must not make new rules that are repugnant (conflict with) the law back home, which is paramount.

Examples are when the Colonial Laws Validity Acts 1865 (28 & 29 Vict. c. 63) were passed in Westminster, laws passed by colonial legislatures were validated unless repugnant to laws passed in England to govern the dominions. In other words, imperial but not domestic British law was still paramount. Later, another Statute of Westminster 1931 (Imp) released former colonies from imperial paramountcy (eventually adopted in 1942 here).

Similarly, our Constitution has a paramountcy provision (s. 109). If the states pass a law that conflicts with Commonwealth law – such that the people can not obey both laws at once – the Commonwealth law prevails to the extent of the inconsistency.

These are institutional power arrangements, illustrated by a hierarchy of laws. We also have a hierarchy of courts, which brings me to the next set of structural frameworks: the three branches of government.

Branches of government

Most people are across the three branches of government: legislature, executive, and judiciary. In theory, each institution operates as a restraint on abuse of power by the other two. This is the ‘checks and balances’ you may recall from school civics class. Also in theory, the parliament (legislature) is sovereign.

This is a cherished but mythical democratic ideal: the parliament is sovereign because, unlike the executive and judiciary, it is elected by the people to represent us. It is cherished because democracy sounds like a nice idea (it is). It is a myth because some of the executive are appointed (public servants) while the most powerful (ministers) are also elected, ie they are politicians. This gets messy and reliant on ‘convention’ when it comes to the prime minister advising the Governor General; or partisan factions, comprised of politicians who are also legislators, defenestrating an elected leader and spilling cabinet positions in the party room.

Anyway where were we? Sovereignty.

Sovereignty is the legitimate authority to govern a territory and the population within its borders. Fun fact that illustrates this: the Vatican is not a sovereign state because it has no permanent civil population. The Australian parliament is sovereign but not supreme, contrary to what AV Dicey, who is dead, would say (little law joke for yas). This is because its authority is delimited by a written constitution. Pre-federation colonial powers – ie not encoded into the constitution as Commonwealth powers – default to the states (or, more controversially, the Governor General). You have probably heard of these ‘unwritten’ areas of governing authority as reserve powers

These are distinct ways in which the Australian federation, despite its Westminster pedigree, differs from British governance in Britain, while still being weighed down by many of its internal inconsistencies and confused lines of authority. The UK is not a federation, their constituencies are a mishmash of ‘home counties’ inextricably rooted in feudalism and boroughs, many of them ‘rotten’. And their constitution is what their law calls ‘unwritten’ which means it is not contained in a single written document.

For example, the monumental Supreme Court decision (judiciary) last year that the Prime Minister (executive) acted unlawfully when he advised the Queen (executive) to prorogue the Parliament (legislature) is not just a textbook case of ‘checks and balances’, although it is that. The judgement also seamlessly enters the body of the common law. By virtue of its authority and hierarchy of courts, the decision becomes part of their constitution.

But back to Australia.

So the judiciary is also fairly straightforward, a hierarchy of courts, from the local or county or magistrates, to the state and territory supreme courts, up to the High Court of Australia. The Supreme Courts have special status, both as constitutional (Chapter III) courts and legacy colonial institutions. More recently created courts such as the NSW Land and Environment Court or the Family Court of Australia are creatures of statute rather than the constitution and history (colonial power).

(If you are wondering about this language of created and creatures, these are legal terms of art and my little dig at northern jurisprudence, which obsesses over sources of law. In reality, the land is the source of the law where I live; and the human mind and male violence are the sources of law in the western tradition.)

The High Court sits in its original jurisdiction to determine constitutional matters. Nobody else can do this. Nothing is unconstitutional unless or until the High Court says so. If the federal parliament purports to pass a law and that law is challenged and found to be ultra vires (beyond constitutionally-endowed authority to make), the High Court will strike it down in whole or in part.

This is important: the legislature is proactive, it can draft and table and pass a law according to the ideology and platform of the party or parties in power (an aging explainer of mine (2014) here). In contrast, courts are reactive, there must be a matter filed before it and then the court determines the outcome. Occasionally the court or chief justice may be asked to provide an advisory opinion, which has the weight of high-ranking legal advice but not the authority of the court. It is profoundly undemocratic to cite advice like this to rationalise sacking a democratically elected government which has the confidence of the House.

So when people ask what is the constitutional authority of the national cabinet? the answer is not applicable. The correct question is whether there are grounds to challenge the formulation of the national cabinet in the High Court. The answer is probably no, because it is a political, not a legal entity. The answer to whether such a challenge would be successful during a pandemic is almost definitely no. The High Court tends not to intervene when executive governments are exercising emergency powers.

Why? In the current circumstances, there is global and national consensus that we are experiencing an emergency. The government, however corruptly, is elected. It is making arrangements to respond to the emergency, or so it says, with the imprimatur of state Premiers and it is the states which constitute the federation. Leaving aside the territories and their chief ministers for a moment, the states are the constituent parts of a federation created by a constitution which endows paramountcy on the federated whole.

This is Federalism 101, Commonwealth of Australia edition.

The High Court would not intervene in Morrison’s ‘national cabinet’ because such an intervention would be akin to a judicial coup. If they ‘struck down’ the national cabinet as unconstitutional, who would govern? The Governor General (executive)? The High Court bench (judiciary)? The state parliaments (legislatures), in a pre-federation arrangement of colonies, which would imply accountability to what is now a foreign power (Australia Act 1986 (Cth); Sue v Hill [1999] HCA 30)? Her majesty’s loyal opposition, without an election and thus consent of the people?

Whither democracy? Our problem is political, not legal. Before turning to a political solution, a closer look at the trickiest – and arguably most powerful – branch of the tripartite system.

Executive government

This is the branch that gives law students the most headaches, for good reason: it carries residual power of the crown. The English slaughtered each other in great numbers 400 years ago to shift sovereignty away from absolute (despotic) monarchs and toward the parliament. Yet the Crown hangs around, a proverbial bad smell, seemingly impossible to expunge entirely. Even a whole hemisphere away this remains a bit of a problem, because colonialism.

In its simplest form, the executive is the ministry (cabinet) and departments (public servants) plus the Governor General. Note that unlike in the USA, where the President appoints his (sic) cabinet, our ministers are also legislators. So there is no separation of powers, any more than there ever was, like when the highest UK appeal court was the House of Lords – the knights temporal (landed gentry) and spiritual (bishops).

Like democracy itself, separation of powers is a cherished ideal, and carries with it useful principles, erratically applied. All manmade (socially constructed) borders, such as fences and institutional power – delineations that are not rivers or mountains or oceans – the boundaries are a moveable feast, ultimately determined by armed force or threat of its use.

To illustrate, police are executive government, and so are Centrelink and prison officers, and Peter Dutton, and the Premiers and Chief Ministers, and the Governor General, and tax collectors and chiefs of staff and secretaries of Prime Minister and Cabinet. They have enormous power of governance. Decisions about denying income support to citizens, or locking you in a cell, or banishing non-citizens to off-shore detention, are all within their purview, their legal exercise of state power.

Armed agents of the state, from the army and navy and airforce to police and BorderForce, are executive government. This is even more important to know as courts shut down and Parliament sits intermittently, with a hugely reduced quorum. The traditional checks and balances on executive power are hobbled, while ever more draconian measures are introduced almost exclusively by exercising executive power.

There is no doubt that police abuse the power they have; and no doubt about which sectors of the population police target with those abuses, such as Aboriginal women and girls..

Consider the police power to issue on-the-spot fines for being in public without reasonable excuse. The exercise of police discretion is reported as a solution, but on the evidence, this is the problem. The authorities release thousands of cruise ship passengers, a known and high infection risk, to spread out across the country. They now account for 10% of all coronavirus cases in Australia. What price paid by any minister or department head for this monumental mistake? I know the public are paying – for international travellers to be isolated in 5-star hotels – now that horse has bolted.

Or what about teenagers, who genuinely need time with each other? (Google it. They really, really do). Will teens be fined $11,000 at a skate park, when the state has made no effort to create safe spaces where they can be supervised, physically distanced but not socially isolated? What are the penalties for bosses who force young workers to do dangerous and demeaning work in return for the publicly funded ‘job keeper’ payment?

It is these executive powers, which enable armed violence of the state, that are now without even the slow and inadequate mechanisms of parliamentary or judicial oversight.

National cabinet is executive government in this federation

One headline matter of concern is that the Australian government has once again shut down the federal parliament, this time for five months. It is not prorogued, or closed pending an election. It is risen, not sitting. Resting, not dead. The government has changed the schedule of sitting days to not reconvene until August, but it will probably re-open before then, with a minimum of 31 MPs, to pass appropriation bills (explainer here).

It is worth noting that minimisation of sitting days, and thus accountability of executive government to the parliament, has happened with disturbing regularity during the current regime. By current regime I mean the Coalition government which came to office in September 2013, replaced its then-leader Tony Abbott in September 2015, and replaced his replacement in August 2018.

In between these outbreaks of chronic indiscipline and factional disunity, the Parliament has been closed for trivial, political reasons. A good example is when the Turnbull government prorogued parliament on the flimsy pretext of recalling it to pass union-busting bills. You know the bloke the press gallery said is a moderate? He used the Constitution (s. 5) for the first time since 1977 to pave the way for a double dissolution election, a move which ushered our most famous racist back into the Australian parliament, who in turn brought an actual nazi onto the Senate cross-benches. So that went well.

I am going to deal with the FAQs around federal-state responsibilities – such as rents (states) borders (federal) and national cabinet (political, not legal) – in a separate post. This is because firstly, this piece is already too long; and secondly, I want to include two other issues here before I wrap it up. One is the role of the fourth estate; and the other is a question I am asked more often than any other: what can we do?

Does the fourth estate hold government to account?

No. Media organisations are corporations, and press gallery journalists are very privileged, mostly white, people on high salaries. They have not lost trust in the government because they form their views based on personal interactions with politicians instead of how those politicians conduct themselves in high office, the way the country is governed. They are comfortable with – or ignorant to – the looming jackboot roll out, because they have press passes, and consider themselves to be exceptions to the rule.

There is another dynamic here, which sees the fourth estate march in lockstep with (tory) governments. Journalists assume the worst of the public, and governments fear loss of social order more than anything else. So both tell themselves that concealing information from the public is in the public interest, because panic. This is false. To return to the catastrophic bushfire season we just endured, there were very few examples of panic; and vast evidence of communities working together.

Hoarding toilet paper is not a breakdown of public order, but pretending it is the ‘thin edge of the wedge’, a floodgates fallacy, is convenient for government and the press. It can not and should not be extrapolated to anarchy. There is no logical line from strained toilet paper supply lines to jackboots on the street criminalising kids at skate parks while the prime minister shouts and carries on about going to school until, finally, he stops and concedes his kids are being kept home instead.

The reality is that the fourth estate is a pillar of power alongside the other three; and we can not expect gallery journalists to sacrifice self-interest for the public interest any more than we can expect Scott Morrison to put the social good ahead of his political objectives. They never will, and he never will. Public health considerations aside, these are political problems and require a political solution.

So what can we do?

My own view is that the Premiers and Chief Ministers, the Opposition and Greens and cross-benchers, and Liberal or Nationals or LNP waverers like Llew O’Brien, should move to an orderly transfer of power. I think they should insist on the necessity of recalling the parliament, and pass a no-confidence motion in the Morrison government on the floor of the House. Fear of this is the true reason the parliament has been placed in hibernation, as the lengthy introduction to this post recapped.

I think all this should be done with the goal of compelling Scott Morrison and then Anthony Albanese to visit the Governor General. I think the Morrison approach is recklessly indifferent to human life, crassly negligent of workers including unemployed workers, and nothing more than a continuation of policies that relentlessly transfer public resources to private interests; but now with more money. He has not adapted and responded to the pandemic. He is continuing on the same path, with the same agenda, the agenda that the press gallery called ‘no agenda’ throughout the 2019 campaign (which I wrote about here and here)

The example I cite in these discussion is when Menzies went on an indulgent overseas trip during the Second World War, returned to find he had lost the confidence of his party – as Scott Morrison should have when he got back from Hawaii last year. The party lost the support of independents, lost its parliamentary majority, Menzies resigned, his party lost government, and then lost the subsequent election.

The crucial point is that Labor formed government from opposition without an election, because we are not equipped to safely hold a federal election during a pandemic. There was an orderly transfer of power, from an arrogant leader out of his depth to one who governed in the national interest.

I will not be lectured on the Dutton diagnosis by this press gallery

The second most powerful man in Australia is hospitalised with Covid-19. In a crowded field, few men have done more to tear at the fabric of the Australian polity than Peter Dutton.

In June 2018, Dutton claimed the cruel and compassion-free asylum seeker policy of his government – designed by Scott Morrison and Jim ‘butcher of Fallujah’ Molan – ‘could be undone overnight by a single act of compassion’. Here is a bloke who aggressively pushed to repeal the law that provided for medical evacuations from our off-shore detention camps. This is race-based denial of medical care. At any given opportunity he promotes racism, particularly by conflating specific ethnic identities with what, on the evidence, would seem to be a vastly over-inflated terror threat.

A former Queensland cop, the Dutton special is to drop an absolute clanger, about migrants from Lebanon, say, or the whole of Africa. After letting his racist messaging spread and fester for maximum impact, the Prime Minister of the day, whoever that is, rolls out the tired line about Australia as the most successful multicultural (Turnbull) or migrant (Morrison) society on earth (an heroic assertion demythologised in Overland here).

Rinse and repeat.

Dutton has been hospitalised for Covid-19 after he returned from the USA. There, he met with the nepotistically elevated Ivanka Trump among others, and achieved nothing – or nothing I can find on the public record – in the national interest. The ABC is now reporting that Ivanka will ‘work’ – whatever she does – from home after exposure to a known infected person, to wit, Peter Dutton.

After Dutton released his Covid-19 confirmation statement at the classic trash-taking time of 5:50pm on a Friday night, the Prime Minister declared that neither he nor any other member of cabinet needs to be tested for the virus, and nor are they required to self-isolate. He tweeted:

In advice provided this evening, the Deputy Chief Medical Officer has reiterated only people who had close contact with the Minister in the preceding 24 hours before he became symptomatic need to self-isolate. That does not include myself or any other members of the Cabinet.

Typically, for Morrison political communication strategy, this statement is hedged by deflecting responsibility away from himself and on to someone else, in this case the Deputy Chief Medical Officer. Earlier this week Morrison, who has ignored increasingly urgent messaging from Reserve Bank Governor Dr Phillip Lowe for his entire prime ministership, claimed that the recent business handouts announcement is informed by advice from, wait for it, RBA Governor Dr Phillip Lowe.

Another example is his aggressive insistence that he would be going to the footy. Morrison carefully spread the responsibility for his poor judgement: I’m very comfortable with that my colleagues are very comfortable with that, he claimed unconvincingly.

At the time of writing, there was no word from the prime minister on why the Deputy CMO rather than the Chief Medical Officer is advising the entire cabinet about direct contact with an infected person. That same CMO has been wheeled out – looking like a hostage from where I sit – blink twice if you have been kidnapped, Dr Murphy – to share the stage with the Prime Minister as he delivers his grandiose announceables like cancelling mass gatherings (over 500 people) from Monday for the cameras.

Does it matter? The nonsensical public denial about whether cabinet should be tested will surely be reversed. Morrison walked back his footy fuckwittery within four hours, on the purported basis that his attendance could be ‘misrepresented’. By who? The press gallery loyally report his every word, rarely criticise his bad decisions, and invariably down-play the risk he poses.

Here is the Morrison comms pattern: make a badly-conceived announcement, like going to the footy on the weekend, be condemned by experts and the public (but not, on the whole, by the press gallery). He then ungraciously and aggressively walks his ill-conceived statements back and lies about lying. He shamelessly tells the press – and via the press the public – look Leigh, he is being completely upfront and perfectly frank or whatever weasel words spring to the prime ministerial mind.

It is worth noting that the things Morrison says are influenced by his deranged and backwards religion. His faith, about which he shamelessly proselytises straight to camera while denying that he is doing so, is populated by deluded and materialistic opportunists with an unwavering devotion to extracting profit from human loneliness and misery.

In sum, on his record, we can assume the prime minister will soon also reverse his dangerously irresponsible position that cabinet ministers do not need to self-isolate or be tested. Not least because the boss does not get to decide personal health service access on behalf of others. No boss has that right, and a boss who tries that is acting in violation of fundamental human and legal rights.

Until that happens: Deconstructing the Dutton diagnosis

Of all the people to find room for in our hearts, I would place Peter Dutton stone fatherless last, alongside Morrison himself.

The diagnosis is not cause for the Australian public to be ‘wishing Peter Dutton the best’ as David Crowe, chief political correspondent at nine/fairfax newspapers, condescendingly told ‘twitter’ – a social media platform, demonstrating his deep misunderstanding of ‘new’ (12-year-old) media – on here.

It is unsurprising to see Crowe joining the likes of Chris coal-spruiking Uhlmann and Michael false-balance Rowland in their disdain for their audiences – and thus for the electorate. It is no coincidence that the worst offenders in the Canberra press gallery belong to the same demographic group, the demographic that holds the most unearned positional power and are most threatened by the expansion of media beyond legacy print and broadcast.

The emergence of social media platforms has created space that include and more widely disseminate the views and experiences and expertise of women of many backgrounds, of First Nations and Black people representing a multitude of communities, from People of Colour. This does not suit the interests of those white males who have enjoyed dominance for so long.

Because the rise of social media and the complicity of the parliamentary press gallery in absolutely horrendous policy outcomes produced by the Morrison and Turnbull and Abbott governments – which the press characterise as ‘no policy’ rather than drastically harmful policy, as I wrote during the 2019 election campaign here – are matters of urgency during a pandemic, I am going to take a closer look at what Crowe, as a typical example of his professional and demographic group, said.

First, the message is designed for maximum outrage-trawling and clicks. We can deduce this from the fact that the tweet links to his article about the Dutton diagnosis.

Bad news. We should all be wishing @PeterDutton_MP the best. Twitter makes it easy for us to turn against each other but it is sickening to see at a time like this.

Bad news. Bad news for who? Certainly not the public. Dutton not only presides over monstrous cruelty and deliberately spreads racist hate, he churns through billions of our dollars with no accountability. Here is a story about mismanaging the transfer of over $1 billion in public moneys to private sector interests. Here is another, about Dutton giving almost half a billion public dollars to a company that subsequent reports demonstrate is wholly unfit to do business. It was the PNG government that eventually stepped in to stop the rot. Dutton is also going full speed ahead on handing visa application ‘services’ over to the private sector despite the fact that the lead bidder, Scott Briggs, is on the Liberal Party donor list. The prime minister claimed his listing is a typo. I have a bridge to sell to whoever believes that.

So, no. Taking Peter Dutton out of the public domain for a fortnight is not bad news for non-citizens seeking asylum or visas, nor for the vast majority of Australians, people whose communities he attacks, whose money he wastes, in whose interests he refuses to act. Crowe’s view may be shared with some professional colleagues, a few senior public servants (but not staff – Home Affairs has the lowest morale among federal government departments), racist haters, and presumably Dutton’s family. That does not translate to the population at large.

We should all be wishing @PeterDutton_MP the best.

It is just so embarrassing to me that a senior gallery journalist would signal what AAVE calls ‘pick me’ posturing like this. The pickme component is tagging the tweet to Dutton’s twitter account, to let the minister know that good ol’ Dave is busy busy, pushing back on Dutton’s behalf, against meanies who say mean things on twitter.

But it is also a wider pattern of certain gallery journalists who deliberately trawl for clicks-via-imagined-outrage. In this, Crowe joins the aforementioned Uhlmann and Rowland and other faves like Peter van Onselen and Joe Hildebrand.

There are two specific components to the method. The first is to pre-empt a response that may or may not materialise. Uhlmann likes to proclaim what ‘leftie twitter’ is saying without checking to see if anyone is in fact saying it.  He may be a senior gallery journalist, he also just makes stuff up. Apparently Peta Credlin has adopted this technique too, telling her Sky viewer that progressives are hating on Dutton. None of this is new, of course – tory thinking is never creative or new. Gerard Henderson has been telling whoever will listen what ‘leftists’ think for decades. He never checks, or even defines who these leftists are. Presumably anyone more progressive than himself.

In other words, trolling for ratings has merely migrated stock-standard tory method across platforms. In his tweet, Crowe assumes, without evidence, that there are people who are not wishing Dutton the best. This is a fair bet, not because people are mean, but because Dutton is a monstrous character who causes unspeakable harm.

The second component is to generate outrage for follow-up ‘analysis’ and then more clicks. Joe Hildebrand has elevated this to an art form, sitting up past midnight to diligently retweet every single positive comment, no matter how bot-like the source, for maximum irritation factor. He has doubled his online following – and presumably pay-rise leverage with his employers – with this particular brand of racist hate. It is unbelievably annoying to see his unstoppable bad-faith self-promotion in action. It is not impact-neutral, either. He shouts down and crowds out actual experts on racism as he goes.

The other teeth-grinding aspect of Crowe telling us how to feel about Dutton being diagnosed with coronavirus is the self-righteous superiority of tone. It is laughable to suggest that the Australian public take moral instruction from the parliamentary press gallery. If they want to start dishing out sanctimonious advice, they can start with themselves. It is the gallery who collectively backed Morrison, and Turnbull, and Abbott, all of whom are drastic failures as national leaders, into office.

Twitter makes it easy for us to turn against each other…

Again, the vast ignorance of what social media is and how it works is on embarrassingly bold display here. Twitter is a social media platform. Each account holder curates their own twitter experience. Some block en masse, others follow everyone back, journalists use it to broadcast rather than socialise (except when talking among themselves). And to signal supportive stances to politicians. A well-managed social media account reflects real-world relationships and networks. It does not exist independently of human society, it is not removed from the slings and arrows, the flaws and foibles, of human community.

Twitter makes it ‘easy’ to connect with communities of interest. It also makes it easy for some people to attack others, especially those with existing socio-positional power, like gallery journalists. But Crowe is not even doing that. He is just shadow-boxing, straw-manning, fabricating an imagined community of people ‘turning against each other’. If people were posting gloating comments about the Dutton diagnosis, it is certain sure they were ‘against’ his politics long before he got sick.

For the record, I saw few comments wishing Dutton ill, although I agree with most of the ones I did see. The most common view expressed in my newsfeed was that Dutton should be sent for quarantine on Christmas Island, the policy Dutton implemented for people returning from China. It is a view that strikes me as perfectly reasonable in the circumstances.

but it is sickening to see at a time like this.

This is just wrong, and shows a horribly tin ear. If David Crowe feels ‘sickened’ by people responding to the Dutton diagnosis, he is not actually sick from it. Seeing twitter comments has not made him unwell. At a time when thousands of people are sick and dying from a pandemic, and our leaders are failing us on a national level, projecting his mild discomfort at reading what we really think of the hideously cruel Home Affairs minister as ‘sickening’ is a ridiculous degree of self-centred and dense.

Just my opinion.

As I write, ABC Sydney radio is reporting on precautionary action at the Sydney offices where cabinet met on Tuesday. I can not find the story online yet, but heard it on the 12 noon news, and assume it will appear here soon. There is footage of hazmat workers posted by channel nine news reporter Chris O’Keefe here. The reversal of the current Morrison government position that cabinet need not be tested or self-isolated must surely not be too far away. I give it until the evening news bulletins.

 

 

 

 

Heroes of Green Wattle Creek (and the leaders who abandoned them)

As one of the longest and hottest days of the year dawned, Australians woke up to the news that two volunteer fire fighters, Geoffrey Keaton and Andrew O’Dwyer, are dead. The photos, published by the NSW Rural Fire Service, of each man smiling proudly and holding his baby for the camera are gut wrenching. They are western Sydney dads in their 30s, Aussie everymen.

Geoff is a Deputy Captain of the Horsley Park Brigade. He grins broadly, sunnies lifted to close-cropped hair, pride and just a hint of nervousness for the precious bundle in his arms. You have bought a meat tray ticket from this bloke. He helped you put up a tent in strong winds.

Andrew is also from the Horsley Park Brigade. He has taken his baby girl for a bushwalk. Their eyes are a matching deep purple blue. He has drawn her attention to the camera, she points and smiles for a father-daughter selfie. You can see his joy at showing her the great outdoors.

There is no doubt in my mind that fatigue played a role in the deaths of these two men. This is not jumping to conclusions. It is simple deduction. The fire season usually starts to hit hard in January and peaks in February. This year it began in September. In the past, it was not unusual for firefighters to hold the line until the rains come. This year there has been no rain.

Fire chiefs have repeatedly told the political leadership that action is needed, on the unprecedented length and intensity of the fire season, and the undeniable fact that climate change is the cause of this length and intensity.

The NSW Premier, on a photo opportunity fire ground tour with the Prime Minister, told journalists ‘not today’ when asked about the impacts of climate change on the catastrophe. The Prime Minister, asked about fire fighting resources and equipment at a press conference on religious discrimination, his pet culture wars project, said

And the fact is these crews, yes, they’re tired, but they also want to be out there defending their communities. And so we do all we can to rotate their shifts to give them those breaks but equally they, and in many cases, you’ve got to hold them back to make sure they get that rest.

Morrison has no role in shift rotation, so this claim is disingenuous at best. It is also evidence that he was briefed on crew fatigue before he jetted off for a family holiday in Hawaii. His overseas trip was repeatedly lied about by his office; and defended by friendly media on the basis that he has no operational responsibility for the fires. In fact, only the Commonwealth can authorise deployment of ADF personnel to fire support duties; and Morrison has repeatedly claimed he is in control of a ‘nationally co-ordinated effort’. So both the shift rotation claim and the operational responsibilities claims are, in typical Morison and his mates fashion, bullshit.

A litany of lies, which is no surprise

The woeful inadequacy of his response to the fires, to the fire chiefs and the press and the public, is matched by signature Morrison characteristics: gross inconsistency and self-contradiction, obvious dishonesty and post-facto rationalisation, deflection and distraction. A motor-mouth of jumblefuckery, he spouts thousands of words and says nothing of value.

Morrison has been like this for as long as I can remember him in the public sphere. He was crow-barred out of an extremely high-paying job at Tourism Australia for what was almost certainly corrupted no-tender spending of government money, as Karen Middleton reports here [$]. It is extremely difficult to get a Liberal Party operative out of cushy publicly-funded jobs, but then-Minister for Tourism Fran Baily somehow managed it, an indicator of just how badly Morrison conducted himself in the position.

He did not stop, though. Just continued from a position of higher authority. The practice of handing out public money to corporate mates without process or tender is a hall mark of his government and its predecessors, in which he was a cabinet minister. The preferred Coalition government unit of public cash handouts is around half a billion dollars: $423 million here, $444 million there, a shady $500 million worth of Commonwealth contracts everywhere.

Before ascending to cabinet and ultimately the prime ministership amid bullying so sexist that even the press gallery briefly noticed, the Morrison ruthlessness was in plain sight to anyone who cared to look. Spoiler: not the press gallery. They told voters throughout the election that Morrison was campaigning on his economic record without bothering to check how disastrous that record is, as I wrote here at the time.

So yes, the Morrison MO has been known since at least 2007 as he formally entered public life. Here are a few highlights.

His pre-selection is a case study in ‘faceless man’ backroom bullying. As shadow immigration minister he opined that then-Victoria Police Commissioner Christine Nixon should not have gone out to dinner during the catastrophic 2009 fires by saying it is ‘incumbent on all of us in public life to make decisions following that in the best interests of the ongoing nature of the program’. I mean. Look at it.

As Minister for Immigration and Border Protection, under a policy he co-designed with Jim ‘butcher of Falujah’ Molan, he refused to answer questions about asylum seekers who we have surely towed to their deaths. He called this ‘on-water matters’. Yet just this week I heard an ABC News24 panel say that the secrecy surrounding the Morrison family holiday was ‘out of character’. No, it isn’t.

The policy that drives Centrelink income support recipients to an early grave was championed by Morrison as Treasurer. In the dying days of the interminable 2016 campaign in which the Liberals lost 16 seats, he brandished his punitive cuts to social security payments as a sword, crowing about how tough it is to target the poorest people to pay for his budget bottom line. Robodebt has since been found by the Federal Court to have no legal basis, but the government is digging in. Why? Because its budget headlines are based on a fabricated figure that requires the forward estimates of Robodebt repayments.

Headlines matter more to this government than the Rule of Law. If they can not change the law to suit their political desires – most governments can and do – they simply ignore it.

Perhaps the defining characteristic of the Morrison prime ministership is his capacity to stare straight down the barrel of a camera and tell shameless and obviously disprovable lies. He calls emissions increases “reductions”. He claims to be “suspending” campaigning for the holy days of easter and then invites the press into his place of worship, a prime example of the moron magnet.

None of this is called out. If the defining characteristics of the Morrison government are lying and bullying, the defining characteristic of the parliamentary press gallery is an infinite capacity to bow to his alternative reality. They report contradictory pronouncements without batting an eye. The most recent example is the ludicrous headlines claiming that Morrison has ‘cancelled’ a holiday and is ‘rushing’ home. He hasn’t, and he isn’t.

All power, no repsonisbility

More importantly, defenders of the Morrison government have bought the fatuous line that the prime minister does not really have a role to play in responding to the catastrophe. According to Morrison on Friday morning, talking to a friendly broadcaster at the home of racist Sydney radio, he does not hold a hose, mate. He is not sitting in a control room. It did not trouble the press or, obviously, Morrison, that the prime minister has also said, and this is just in the last week:

Yes, they’re tired, but they also want to out there defending their communities. And so we do all we can to rotate those shifts to give them those breaks but equally they, and in many cases you’ve got to hold them back to make sure they get that rest.

It’s a national co-ordinated effort from the Commonwealth’s point of view, pursued through emergency management Australia, and the control centre there is also bringing in the involvement of the Australian defence Force and the many other agencies of government.

[national co-ordination is] led by a Cabinet Minister who reports directly to me and I deal with it directly with the premiers of the states and chief ministers of the territories. I don’t think it can any higher than that.

As is the case with all fire events, or as is the case with all flood events and other natural disasters, this actual national co-ordinated effort is desiogned to constantly look at these issues, post these events.

The Government has been working closely, as part of the national co-ordinated effort, to address the national disaster of these fires.

When I was speaking with the commissioner at the weekend out at Wilberforce where we have the megafire in the north west at the moment, we were talking through the crew rotations.

These are all direct quotes from the Prime Minister who ‘is not in a control room’ except when he is boasting about being in a control room, or you know, in control.

Now you would think that somebody would say, as I would and my mother before me, you can not have it both ways, prime minister. You seem to want your cake and to eat it too. But there is no matriarchal authority in this government, and none in the parliamentary press gallery. The Liberal Party is awash with toxic masculinity, and Morrison has done what the very worst leaders do: surrounded himself with yes-men. The gallery cows to his ruthless bullying and relentless lies. In the grand tradition of liberalism, they put their own interests ahead of the public interest.

As I write, multiple fires have been burning continuously since early November. The biggest of these, the Gospers Mountain megafire, is within my ‘watch zone’ on the north west fringes of greater Western Sydney. We get Fires near Me app notifications, sometimes hourly, as it moves in and out of the perimeter, as it is classified and re-classified from Watch and Act at the lower end of the scale to Emergency Warning at the top. We lose music from our lives as the radio is permanently tuned to tirelessly professional ABC radio emergency broadcasts, which deliver the most ominous status of all, Too Late to Leave.

The stress is difficult to describe. The volunteer fire brigades are not equipped to hold the line, and there is no relief – not rain, not higher shift rotations – in sight. Yes, they are tired prime minister. And this callous disregard for properly funding emergency services, and the self-serving hero narrative, has contributed to the deaths of two dads in western Sydney. May they rest in peace.

A dedicated fundraiser has been set up by the NSW RFS with permission from the families of Geoff Keaton and Andrew O’Dwyer. Details are available here.

 

Love in the Time of Terror: Slam at Sydney Film Festival

A shorter version of this post (with proper spoiler alerts) was first published at ACRAWSA blog on 7 June 2019. Many thanks to director Partho Sen Gupta and to Prof Alana Lentin for entrusting me with tix to a film on a Sunday night in Randwick (in the pouring rain! see review, below).

Love in the Time of Terror: Slam at Sydney Film Festival

Review by Ingrid Matthews

[Alert: Spoilers]

Slam is a devastating film. It is devastatingly good, intensely sad, and oh so accurate in its portrayal of racism in Australia.

The camera turns its gaze on two institutions in particular: the media; and law enforcement. It was the unfolding complicity between police and journalists – to co-create a story out of thin air, to fabricate evidence of a fiction flying in the face of facts – that drove Slam home for me. While based further west, I recognised those brightly lit restaurant strips and dank police stations immediately. I live here, and work here, and observe the yawning chasm between perception and reality created by media and the law every day of my life. I could smell that wet road.

The film is set around Bankstown, southern wedge of Western Sydney, an Arab-Australian population centre, urban sprawl of multitudes. It opens with Ameena (Danielle Horvat) slamming straight to camera, the rhythm and cadence of her words not immediately apparent as poetry, or not to this stranger in her world. Her performance is suspenseful, masterful, brave; she speaks the truth of colonisation from power to power, her words grounded in earth and addressed to mother.

The close-up tells us that she is woman, she is poet, and she wears the hijab, before panning back to show an enthralled and applauding audience. Then the scene fades as a cameo by Uncle Ken Canning places us squarely on stolen Aboriginal lands.

A poetry slam and a bustle of neatly clipped scenes – an alleyway, on-screen text messages, a cigarette smoked, a car in the distance through the rain – are fleeting moments with Ameena. For the rest of the film we get to know her indirectly: through her words, her mother, her brother, her best friend; her most private space, a bedroom wall that calls for freedom, a bureau drawer with the heavy wrought iron key to a home long taken. The ghost of her social media presence, while pivotal to the plot, is obscured by the clamour of traditional media voices: the radio news bulletins, the scrum of reporters, the tabloid journalist who constructs a fictional journey as the truth slides away, neglected.

It is through the voice of mother Rana (Darina Al Joundi) and eyes of brother Tariq (Adam Bakri) that we hear first that Ameena is late home, and then gone. Tariq’s responsibilities frame his sister’s disappearance: a late-night phone call from his (their) mum, the menacing thump of his car windscreen wipers, cut only by the intrusive voice of the car radio newsreader. His white wife Sally (Rebecca Breed) comes complete with an impossibly annoying family, relatives for whom holding a gin-tasting substitutes for personality. Their hearty bonhomie, sentimental singalongs and performative loyalty, blur into the background for ‘Ricky’ (his white people name).

Tariq drives alone through pouring rain to a dimly-lit police station. He feels the radio news bulletins in his bones. An Australian military jet has come down over the Syria-Iraq conflict zone and its pilot, who is sure to be white and male, a poster-boy for Australian martyrdom, is reported captured and destined for a gruesome execution. Childhood memories of his own father’s execution crowd his mind.

This tension bifurcates throughout the film. Each encounter is defined by whiteness and otherness. When Tariq reports his sister to the missing persons officer Jo Hendricks (Rachel Blake), he knows the threats of racist violence he has seen directed at his sister online are substantive. But instead he must bat away the flimsy threads from which a story about his sister will be spun.

– Marriage pressure?

– No.

Sometimes people just don’t want to be found, says officer Jo, convincing neither Tariq nor herself.

In contrast to the deceptive frame-up that awaits Ameena, domestic details fill in so much truth about the people who miss her in familiar trips across western Sydney. There is the modest red brick exterior for the Nassers, a cramped kitchen for best friend Hanan (Abby Aziz), a neat semi-detached bachelorette for Jo. The cultural poverty of whiteness is witheringly portrayed, in the heavy luxury of the in-law’s furniture (and conversation), to the sagging balloons strung above a concrete patio at Jo’s joyless family birthday.

Joylessness turns to menace turns to violence when Jo’s ex-partner, the father of her late son who has been killed on military deployment, follows her out, begs for her attention, stakes out her house. His hulking, drunken neediness is terrifying. Unlike the terror narrative imposed on Ameena, this man is less stereotype and more typology, a moving mountain who alchemises pain into anger and turns both on the woman he says he loves.

Meanwhile, Tariq searches the city for clues. He is aggressively rebuffed by her love interest (?) Omar, who has troubles of his own. Omar is a man criminalised by the state for being of middle-eastern appearance. Omar has stories of super-max – for what? Reporters gather daily outside Tariq’s old family home, outside his new family home. He and mother Rana, Ricky and pregnant wife Sally and their six-year-old daughter, become grist for the terror-narrative mill, for the quest to nail that JIHADI WIFE? headline.

As his mother and wife and daughter orbit his responsibility, Tariq orbits the absence of his sister Ameena. The loss of his sister, her absence, is filling with flashbacks.To a checkpoint in the desert, to his terrified younger self, to the loss of his father at the hands of those who are nowhere near western Sydney, but oh so close to himself, his memories, his life.

All this tension around the grieving Nasser family and friends, those who know Ameena, who love her and fear for her, is cut across by the cruelty of crisp newsreader tones, bulletins like bullets, telling Tariq what he already knows, that the Australian state will punish him, a man of middle-eastern appearance, for the imminent execution of the pilot, the son they sent to the middle east in a warplane.

As Tariq snaps, first at Omar and then at the reporters, police officer Jo brushes off her bruises and goes to work. Like the press pack, the police are determined to create a terrorist narrative from a missing woman who wears the hijab and performs poetry. They have brought in the feds, who want a reason for their fancy anti-terror funding. But the personal violence in her life has tilted Jo’s perspective. She stares down the higher-ups, stating that the case remains a missing persons matter, given there is no evidence to suggest otherwise.

Jo’s boss, another white man who directs his anger and perceived inadequacies at her competence and truth, spirals out of control. ‘We are under attack’, he shouts irrationally, attacking her in the confined space of the police station corridor. ‘You made me look like a fool! You look like shit!’

The Nassers, who are in fact under attack from the combined power of the press, the police, and hegemonic whiteness, have to do something. After all, the white in-laws are aghast. They are not racist, butthose people. Left unsaid is the mirror held up: as Tariq struggles with the violence that has invaded his life, he feels their condemnation, the false accusation. It is he, the ‘man of middle eastern appearance’ who has brought this discomfort into their lives, not the aggressive press pack, not the vested police lies, not the person unknown who caused his sister to… disappear.

Wife Sally packs up their 6 year-old daughter and leaves for the safety of her parents house. The white pater familias, he of gin-tasting proclivities, brings in an image-manager spin-doctor called Brian who, grand(dad) announces, ‘will know exactly what to do’.

[The audience laugh, but resignedly. The thought of a white male grandfather and his paid Pr guy knowing ‘exactly what to do’ about the disappearance of a young woman poet of Palestine, an Australian hijabi who fights for freedom from assimilation, whose story is being re-authored into JIHADI BRIDE? They can not bring her back to life, and do not care that she is gone. It is so sad that we laugh.]

Perhaps the most devastating scene of all stems from this intervention. Having lost his father and his sister, his family driven first from their Palestinian homelands and then from their suburban Australian home, Tariq appears at a media conference. He is flanked by Brian the media minder and two Arab men wearing [Islamic skull cap] taqiyah. Australia has been good to us, intones Tariq-Ricky. Education. Security. Freedom.

His recitation echoes the common Australian sentiment, one Jo had also earlier insisted on hearing from him. But Australia has been to good to you, she says, rather than asks. Yes, he replies obediently. The gnawing hollowness – presumably deliberately  reminiscent of captured westerners, recorded for blackmail purposes by executioners overseas – is haunting.

But director Partho Sen-Gupta knows his audience well. Cut to a celebration of new life, bursting with joy, the happy sound of Palestinian pipe, of homeland drum. People are milling, talking, dancing, smiling. Grandma Rana has donned the hijab, smiling despite carrying the kind of melancholy that comes from a world which took your husband on the way to a safer place, only to take your daughter at its destination.

As she reaches out and embraces her son, the police arrive. Jo, who maintained all along that Ameena is a missing person, is there; her colleagues who eagerly collaborated in the fabrication of a terror tale for the tabloids are there too. As the news is delivered, insects hum. Every Australian, no matter our ethnic background, knows that sound.

A special mention before I wrap up my observations of this exquisitely told story.

The sound designer excelled. The insects were essential to placing us between flashbacks, in tacking from the militarised desert overseas to the urban landscape of western Sydney. Men in uniform who pose an existential threat are the common thread. When dream and nightmare blurred with reality, between childhood and adulthood, Australia and Palestine, day and night, it was the insect sounds and birdsong that grounded me in time and place.

The other perfect touch in sound design is the throb of windscreen wipers on those drives through Sydney downpours. That rhythm melded with the heartbeat of baby in utero as Tariq and Sally attend an ultra sound appointment? I noticed. Sally being pregnant, and baby arriving, are not a prominent narrative strand in this film, but are essential to both story and mood, to film and to audience, and to our humanity. Life, after all, goes on.

No Glory to this Story

According to the ABC election calculator, there was a 0.8 percent swing against the Liberal Party and a 1.0 percent swing against the Labor Party. The Liberal party leader is the prime minister and the Labor Party leader is headed for the back bench.

Where did the votes go?

There was a 3.4% ‘swing’ to the party formed by Clive Palmer. This amounts to 3.4% of the first preference vote, because it was a newly constituted entity after the collapse of his previous foray into federal politics. Palmer is a self-proclaimed billionaire and former financial backer of the Queensland National Party (now the Liberal-National Party) when Joh Bjelke-Petersen, the most racist and corrupt figure in Australian politics, was premier for nineteen years.

Palmer stood a candidate all 150 lower house seats, and preferenced the Liberal Party in a deal that was signed sealed and delivered before the election. His party did not win any seats but presumably soaked up the protest vote and delivered those preferences to the Liberal Party, as his 3.4% was the largest of the ‘micro’ parties.

There was also a 1.7 percent swing to the party headed by Pauline Hanson, for a total of 3 percent of the overall vote. Hanson is a former candidate for the Liberal Party who was de-selected after the ballots were printed, on the basis of being racist, and elected anyway. She did a preference deal with the Nationals, again soaking up protest votes and delivering them back to the Coalition parties, who then won the election.

At the time of writing, the Australian Electoral Commission (AEC) reported what is called the 2PP vote (two-party-preferred, in fact four parties but that is not the topic today) was at 51.19% to the Coalition (Liberal, Nationals and LNP) parties and 48.81% to the Labor Party. The reported 2PP swing was at 0.84 percent. This means there was an overall swing of 0.84 per cent against the Labor Party and to the three Coalition parties after all preferences were exhausted.

Background to the numbers

Labor typically benefits from Greens Party preference flows more so than the Coalition, but not at a 100% rate. There is always leakage, however, and no love lost between the two. Both parties have a substantial proportion of members and voters who would never preference the other, based on deeply-held principles and ideological commitment.

This characteristic of Greens and Labor voters provides one of several entry points for wedge politics. We often do not hesitate to back a political viewpoint with moral principle and ideological coherence. Yet being passionate and articulate about how the personal is political, and for wealth redistribution or gender equality (for example), are well outside Australian cultural hegemony.

A typically comfortable household, the doctors and lawyers, will avoid discussing political economy (politics/ideology and money/wealth) among anyone outside their own kind (they call this ‘in polite company’ or ‘manners’). The business owners, the people who profit from job agency tax breaks and plumbers who collect subsidies just for employing an apprentice and so on, laugh off serious issues. Yeah mate whatever, I just work hard to get ahead, is the general gist.

In contrast, the preference flow to the Liberals, Nationals and Queensland Liberal-Nationals (LNP) from Palmer and Hanson was probably decisive to the election win. Palmer is the party defined by mining interests and Hanson is the party defined by racism. Neither party won any seats in their own right, or met the minimum 4 per cent of first preferences required to then receive $2.756 per vote. This cash is provided by the Australian public, for the purpose of funding free and fair elections.

It remains to be seen whether Palmer will receive any other return on his $55 million (according to Palmer) or reported $60 million (relevant reform recommendations here) investment in the preference deal with Morrison. Within days, Palmer was back in the media demanding coal mining approvals and boasting about the success of his anti-Labor advertising and pro-Liberal preference strategy. The ads promoted a non-existent policy (death taxes) on social media (facebook and youtube), as well as major media (newspapers and commercial broadcast) to the tune of tens of millions of dollars.

This messaging was echoed by Liberal politicians like Treasurer Josh Frydenberg and the highly compromised backbencher Tim Wilson, which allowed the false claim to leap from fringe advertising to legitimate story. The main dynamic at work here is that journalists are trained to report what people in significant public positions say, and Frydenberg is the deputy Liberal leader and Treasurer. The same phrases – inheritance tax, death duties – are then repeatedly broadcast by the same major media who were enjoying advertising revenue from Palmer. From there, ABC journalists join in on the basis that the Treasurer said it, everybody else is reporting it, thus it is a legitimate story.

There were many microcosm-mirrors of this, but the slogan run by Palmer, to the tune of $55 million-worth despite containing not a skerrick of truth, was legitimised by major media and thus took hold in the mind of the electorate. Like franking credits, it appealed to embedded values. Liberalism says that income/wealth is exactly commensurate with effort (‘hard work’), self-interest is rational, and individuals acting in self-interest produce aggregate social good.

This meritocracy mythology is what Liberals voters say they believe in but, unlike Greens and Labor voters who advocate for equality and justice, Liberals do not passionately defend the myths with facts or evidence, moral principle or ideological coherence. They do not have to, given such widespread acceptance that these false assumptions are true.

I have written in detail about meritocracy myths here; and about the shared ancestry of these political players, located with the Queensland Nationals (Palmer) and the Queensland Liberals (Hanson), the commonalities of colonialism, destruction of country for profit, and neo-nazi rhetoric in the Australian Parliament, here.

To summarise the numbers: the combined first-party preference vote for Palmer and Hanson was just under 6.5 percent. The 2PP swing to the Coalition parties was less than one percent. So the Morrison-Palmer and McCormack-Hanson preferences deals, between the leaders of the Liberal and Nationals parties and the mining and racists figureheads, was more than enough to bring the election home.

But why? Why?

Who would do such a thing? Where does the strategising, the gamesmanship, the idea that everything said by vested interests like media and political players is so critical to ‘informing’ us during the campaign and yet are somehow entirely independent – once the count is in – of the outcome? Who are these people who think they can ride out inaction on climate? Who can stand by as Indigenous and youth suicide skyrockets, as people on welfare are driven to an early grave, as refugees self-immolate?

Why do they hate democracy? And people? The planet? (same thing, same thing)

Hi. Welcome to the socio-political economy of patriarchal imperialism, liberal democracy and industrial capitalism. Hold on to your hats. It is quite a ride. But first, because legal analysis is not the dominant framework of this post (my rundown on the fact that laws are made by politicians here), a disclaimer: what follows does not hold any specific player in any field to any particular action. This in itself is a function of hegemonic whiteness, of patriarchal systems of domination and control, and of law (one area of law in particular, which in times past were satisfied by pistols at dawn).

BACKGROUND TO THE 2019 ELECTION OUTCOME: A HYPOTHETICAL.

People who know me in real life: what do you think happened?

Me: happened? Did I finish marking 100 essays on Native Title (no)? How did my son’s basketball team go on Monday night (big win, 55-27)? Or the tutorial on ‘reception’ of English law this week, voluntarily decolonised because nobody pays for that work (you could have heard a pin drop)?

People WKMIRL: you follow politics and so [paraphrased] I will listen to what you have to say. The question is, What do you think happened? At the election? What went wrong, do you think?

Me: Went wrong? For who? If you are asking me about my politics, I voted for the Liberal candidate.

PWKMIRL: WHAT? I don’t believe you. Never happened.

Me: Yep. I live in a marginal seat. I received a text message from Josh Frydenberg, the Treasurer and deputy leader of the Liberal Party, saying not to trust Labor because death taxes. My vote counts. And as a graduate economist, who understands liberal ideology, I worked through the all the issues and decided to vote for the Liberal candidate.

PWKMIRL: You would never do that. It is just not you.

Me: What do you mean, not me? There is nothing wrong with advocating for abolition of franking credits and then receiving a message from a man with massive socio-positional power and deciding that because I live in a meritocracy he must be right. And then going into the voting booth and putting a number 1 next to the Liberal candidate. I am a casualised working single mum in western Sydney. I meet my full income tax liabilities before I see the money. I pay another 10% when I buy goods and services. Plus I spend that post-tax income on feeding and clothing and housing my three children, all of whom are now people who work and pay tax. They are PAYE workers, so obviously they are directly connected to me as legal persons – humans, corporations, whatever, you know, whatever is a legal person – and because I invested my post-income and post-GST tax in feeding them and keeping them alive, the tax they pay is also tax I paid. That is how it works. I researched it, based on what Josh Frydenberg said about death taxes, and as a graduate economist, I am confident of my conclusions. Because what if my parents leave an estate and I have to pay tax on that? Then I would not be able to be a responsible citizen and self-fund my old age by not paying tax on their estate that they left me which I did nothing to work hard for and I would become a burden on the state by not paying a death tax to the state to fund public education. I would feel so bad if I did not plan for my own old age, by voting against death taxes, so that under the Liberal party I can live off an inheritance that I may or may not get. I mean imagine if I became a burden on the state! Unthinkable. I think the best thing to do to not become a burden on the state is to not pay taxes that may assist people living in poverty oh sorry I mean people who are a great big burden on the state and instead reap the benefits of publicly-subsidised investment properties and publicly-subsidised share portfolios.

So I decided to vote Liberal. Because of what Josh Frydenberg said in a text message. And because if I vote in my best interests, and everybody does what I do, that produces an aggregate social good. Right? Which is fine! This is a free country, after all.

PWKMIRK and online: But I can not imagine you doing that, Ingrid. You are just not the kind of person who would ever do that.

Me: if I did, it would be totally morally neutral, right? Nobody could judge me for voting for the Liberal Party candidate on the basis of what Josh Frydenberg said in a text message. Especially after I saw the same message legitimised by journalists who work for the ABC. After all, I trust the ABC. Plus I can vote for whoever I want and the Liberal Party told me that Labor would bring in a death tax.

PWKMIRK and online: I can not believe I am saying this but did you not know that Josh Frydenberg, despite being the deputy leader of the Liberal Party and the Treasurer of the country, lied about an opposition policy?

Me: oh, did he? Wow! Amazing, right? Because what I did was, I took what Josh Frydenberg said to me in a text message at face value, on the basis that he is a significant and trustworthy figure in a liberal democracy, ie the deputy leader of the Liberal Party and the Treasurer of the country. Then I applied what he said using my knowledge, qualifications and experience ie tertiary degrees in economics, political science, and law; and applied his words also to my fifty years including the last eighteen years as a working single mum in western Sydney whose children are Aboriginal; and then reached a conclusion, based on this lengthy, considered analysis of democracy and capitalism… to determine my vote.

I thought everybody did that?

PWKM and people who do not know me [backing away slowly after I cited extensive expertise and endorsed dominant values, which are mutually exclusive to my principles and values that I have developed over a lifetime]: no, Ingrid. Not everybody does that.

Me: oh, my mistake. But each and every individual vote which was not necessarily determined by the process I described still adds up to an aggregate democratic good, right? The result is the will of the people, yeah? Whether or not any particular voter interrogated what Josh Frydenberg said in a text message sent to their phone about death taxes, influenced their vote, and then turned out to not be a thing?

PWKM and people who do not know me: Stop. Please stop.

Me: …

Them: …

Me:…[deep breaths] None of the following is directed at any particular person. It is what it is: a tiny little bit of what I know, based on those tertiary qualifications from white patriarchal institutions in the disciplines of money and power – sorry, political economy and law – that I mentioned, and happen to have. I worked so hard for those degrees (that’s a little joke for yas).

How was the 2019 Australian Election Won?

There are people who derive income from setting up meetings between politicians and industry executives. Mainly industry, but also every other institution, such as religions, universities, and media. They are called lobbyists.

These people are what political journalists and parties call ‘numbers men’. Yes, men. If there is a woman who is paid millions of dollars to introduce Mike Baird to the National Australia Bank, or Clive Palmer to Scott Morrison? Please. Drop me a name. Look forward to meeting her.

It works like this. The Liberals numbers man – Labor does not have the same business model because unions are organised labour, not business, and therefore false equivalence distraction rhetoric is based on dominant liberal norms as the default and a waste of all our time – sets up a business where he is paid huge amounts of money to put Scott on the phone to Clive. Or Mike on the phone to NAB. Lines up Angus to run it by Barnaby to chat with Matt and Tony.

Whoever. That’s it. That’s the story.

But it is legal? I hear you say. Yes, it is. Are you asking me whether politicians who sit in the parliament – they collect over $200K pa – they talk for living – literally talk, nothing else – will pass a law to make it more difficult for politicians who sit in the parliament to personally financially benefit from being politicians who sit in the parliament?

Hmmmm. Maybe they will. Or not. Maybe I voted for the Liberal candidate in my marginal seat because I was worried about paying tax on a possible future inheritance because I want any wealth they accrued, for which I did nothing, for myself.

Or, who knows? Maybe I am not that kind of person at all.

 

Lies, damn lies and the flatlining economy

There are two main layers to the misinformation that dominates coverage of the economy during this election campaign.

The first is the Coalition relying on major media to report its economic narrative for the entire ‘policy’ component of its re-election strategy. Everything else is meat pies and footy, horserace ephemera, church on Sunday, pub on Anzac Day.

Secondly, there is a complacent and unhelpful view which even well-regarded economists and journalists, who know (or should know) better, are kicking down the road. This is the demonstrably false notion that the Liberals and Nationals lack a policy platform.

There is no truth to the Coalition economic narrative, which I refuse to reiterate, we have heard it often enough. Nor is there any truth to the idea that the Coalition has no agenda.

Lets start with some medium-term context on Australian governments and economic management.

The Australian economy was successfully steered through the 2008 Global Financial Crisis (GFC) by the Rudd Labor government. At the time, Treasurer Wayne Swan explained its Keynesian philosophy, which boils down to counter-cyclical government borrowing and spending, to minimise the hardship and cost caused by steep economic downturns, which cause mass unemployment.

Swan and Labor colleague Paul Keating (later Prime Minister, 1991-1996) are the only two Australian treasurers to be recognised internationally for their economic competency. A detailed Labor-Coalition comparative analysis by economist Stephen Koukoulas (disclosure: former Labor advisor) can be found here; and Tim Dunlop wrote a necessary debunking of the debt and deficit hysteria, after the disastrous Abbott-Hockey budget in 2015, here.

The GFC was caused by neoliberal policy settings that peaked during the Howard era (1996-2007).

Neoliberal policy settings, briefly

Neoliberalism transactionalises human relations, and commodifies identifiable sectors of the population, such as First Nations people, welfare recipients, single mums, disabled people, carers – some of whom are ‘dependant’ children themselves – refugees. Many people belong to more than one of these groups.

Like its classical liberal parent, an ideology designed to rationalise the pervasive inequalities produced by the English class system and industrial capitalism, neoliberalism comes with multiple lies of convenience. ‘Trickle-down’, for instance, is reverse rhetoric. It describes the deliberate movement of wealth and assets up the economic scale as its opposite.

One example is the ‘job active’ network. This Howard-era re-structure, which abolished the Commonwealth Employment Service, is made up of ‘small business’ whose only income is from the government. These private sector entities qualify for the $20,000 tax write down pitched to ‘Tony’s tradies’. The ‘business’ is paid by government for doing ‘case work’. Its employees can authorise cutting an unemployed person off Centrelink income for up to three months, for a ‘breach’ of their ‘contract’.

An unemployed person can receive no service at all, while the agency is paid public money for ‘managing’ them.

The Parents Next program is pretty much the same (see Luke Henrique-Gomes’ work on welfare recipients of many stripes here). A ‘provider’ can authorise cutting single mums off Centrelink for not attending an approved activity like playgroup or swimming lessons. This obviously also impoverishes our children, on top of the social stigma we experience. (Disclaimer: I am a single mum, no longer reliant on Centrelink payments. Reports on Parents Next are viscerally distressing to me. I often avoid these news stories for reasons of residual trauma).

So the ‘provider’ agency can cut single mums, and therefore children, off income support for failing to attend an activity – say baby was sick – that mum was otherwise attending before the ‘provider’ got involved. What happens is, Centrelink puts mum on the Parents Next program, and assigns her to a ‘provider’ who gets government money for having her on the books. This person says oh its okay, tick the box for the thing you are already doing.

The agency then claims cash from government, for mum taking her kids to an approved activity like swimming lessons, which she was previously doing, because she is their mum. But now she is subject to surveillance and compliance, and the provider can cut off her income on multiple pretexts. It is traumatising for anyone, but particularly domestic violence survivors, to be subject to this level of control.

A parallel model operates for NDIS and aged care ‘packages’. The money is paid to a ‘provider’, which has no income other than from government. The agency head sets up as a small business, complete with brand new cars and computers and smart phones, all tax deductible.

Does the government check that this public money is spent on the elderly or disabled people who are on their books? Take a guess. Are there any consequences if the provider trousers the cash and does nothing for the client, nothing for their carer, for the household? What do you think?

This is commodification of people, real people, who belong to specific, identifiable sectors of the population. If this shocks you, if it is a thousand miles from your lived experience, if you had no idea, the best response is to listen to those who are affected. If you can, offer support. Real, material support.

Also central to neoliberalism is the transfer of public resources to private interests. In this context, financial markets were deregulated beyond any effective oversight, while public assets were sold off to the highest bidder. In New South Wales, then-Premier Mike Baird sold all the information about all the land. This, in a society where land as the source of wealth (Edgeworth et al 2017 p. 2) is the central organising principle of property law.

A religious man and corporate banker, Baird then handed womens refuges built by feminists to the corporate arms of organised religion, like Mission Australia. Hundreds of women, and many children, have been killed by male relatives since then.

We were also told that ‘competition’ would drive electricity prices down when the poles and wires were flogged off. What happened? Widespread price-gouging, with electricity bills skyrocketing at four times the rate of the general price increases.

Meanwhile, across the globe, political leaders allowed the vested predictions of credit ratings agencies to hold enormous, unwarranted and ultimately catastrophic sway over fiscal decisions. This is the real sovereign risk, a term bandied about by economic illiterates who never point to the austerity imposed by the IMF on developing countries, for example, or by the EU on Greece.

That is neo/liberalism (same thing) in a nutshell.

Back to the federal election campaign

The twin failure by legacy media, of uncritically broadcasting the Coalition ‘going negative’ while pretending that same Coalition has no policy platform, is partly a self-fulfilling dynamic. The prime minister endlessly serves up repetitive and dishonest criticism of Opposition policy. He refuses to campaign on his record.

Reporting whatever lies the Liberals tell about Labor is a reversal of the public interest responsibility of the fourth estate. Major media outlets, or its more romantic conceptualisation the free press, are supposed to report what the government is doing, and what the opposition offers in the alternative.

The point is for voters, in a democracy, to have a meaningful choice at the ballot box.

What is the government doing, you ask? How can we glean the Liberal and National party policy platform from all this carnival barking? Well. First, canvas what the Coalition has done over the past five years in power. Then, check whether any Liberal or National Party candidate or representative – whether officially or by the traditionally worst political gaffe of all (accidentally telling the truth) – has repudiated or deferred or suspended or cancelled that policy position (eg Parents Next), the policy that we can all see with our own eyes, if we care to look.

It is not that hard.

The only actual argument the prime minister deigns to put on fiscal policy – other than the stunts and piecemeal announcements designed to dominate the news cycle – is that he, Scott Morrison, has a better one. Better than what? you may ask. Labor Labor Labor, is the answer, and the answer is not an honest one.

A growing list of eye-wateringly expensive allocations – the preferred unit of cash wastage seems to be a half-billion dollars – is sufficient evidence that Coalition claims about its economic management are untrue.

Back in 2014, the Abbott government announced it would slash over half a billion dollars from Indigenous Affairs, and it did. In 2017, the Turnbull government outright rejected the Uluru Statement from the Heart, and referendum proposal for an Indigenous Voice to Parliament, by press release. In 2018, the former Nationals deputy leader and Minister for Indigenous Affairs, Nigel Scullion, approved ‘Indigenous’ funding to mates in the cattle and fishing industries, including to fight native title claims. When questioned, he appeared unable to grasp what could possibly be wrong with that.

On Turnbull’s (and Morrison’s and Frydenberg’s) watch, $443 million was handed to the Great Barrier Reef Foundation, a tiny organisation run by a board peppered with mining industry executives. Under Morrison, $499 million dollars were allocated to the Australian War Memorial, which is run by an ex-Liberal Party leader who courts donations from, and sits on the board of, weapons manufacturers.

This was after said ex-Liberal leader Brendan Nelson entertained the idea of memorialising Operation Sovereign Borders at the AWM, an unspeakable proposition.

Speaking of how we have militarised asylum seeker policy, how about that $423 million approved by Home Affairs in a not-open tender to the beach-shack registered ‘security firm’ Paladin? Of course that is in addition to the ten billion+ dollars spent on off-shore detention, including $187 million to re-open and then close the cages on Christmas Island for no reason other than pre-election scare campaigning.

Going back a little further, to when Morrison was co-designing then-opposition coalition policy with James ‘butcher of Falujah’ Moylan, there is the estimated $400-600 million that Morrison and Abbott spent militarising our refugee policy. The rationalisation for this breathtaking outlay is the ludicrous claim that asylum seekers who arrive by boat are a national security threat. There is not one skerrick of evidence for this nasty rhetoric. None.

Add to that the $8.2 billion spent, with nothing to show for river health, on the Murray-Darling Basin Plan. Incredible that a $10 billion announcement in the dying days of the Howard government, when Malcolm Turnbull was Environment Minister, brought a sounder of swine to snuffle at the trough.

Note the $80 million spent on non-existent water that may or may not have flown downstream to Cubbie Station if there was a flood (see Anne Davies’ extensive body of work on water buy-backs here).

Then there is the mortal injury that is Robodebt. This oppression costs as much to administer as it recovers from welfare recipients, if you only count the dollars. Over 2,000 people have died after receiving AFP-branded notices of government-fabricated debts, according to the department that administers the program. The debt notices only go to working people of working age. In other words, they are probably not dying of natural causes, and they are certainly not dying of old age.

Is it irony that, other than for aged pensioners and veterans, the social safety net has been wholly dismantled? No, it is travesty.

Moving on.

Despite consistently dishonest claims by Liberal and National MPs, most notably chief carnival barker Scott Morrison, negative gearing almost exclusively benefits well-off households. You may have heard of opportunity cost, which I explain to students with the simple adage you can not spend the same dollar twice. The public cost of property owners, via negative gearing and rent assistance, pension asset tests and CGT exemptions, was estimated at $36 billion a year in 2013.

All that foregone revenue is a lot of public housing not built.

And then – deep sigh – what passes for climate policy. Like many others, I have written so much about this, including as a social researcher examining the entrails of the 2010 election, as well as during this campaign. It is desperately disheartening. I am exhausted by the sheer bloody-mindedness of it.

In brief:

The Abbott government repealed the price on carbon and replaced it with ‘Direct Action’, or paying big polluters to modify their plant and equipment. Emissions have increased ever since. Turnbull left this demonstrably ineffective nonsense in situ while his hapless environment minister, the now-Treasurer Josh Frydenberg, fiddled around with a ‘national energy guarantee’, which took out the Turnbull prime ministership. It was never legislated, and is now Labor policy.

Morrison re-branded this deliberately impotent free money approach as ‘climate solutions’. Rebranding is quite literally the only tool in his kit.

So I guess my question is:

Does taking billions of dollars from welfare recipients and First Nations people and PAYE earners and single mums buying school shoes, and giving it to mining companies and landlords and private off-shore prisons… does that sound like a government with no agenda to you? Like a party with no policy platform?

One final point

In February 2017, the Orwellian-named Fair Work Commission – which the Coalition, as with other federal statutory bodies, has stacked with political appointees – cut penalty rates (the top-up pay for working on Sundays and public holidays) to some of the most insecure, underemployed, and casualised workers in the country. A recent McKell Institute report found that if the Coalition are re-elected, some $2.87 billion will be transferred from low-paid workers to business owners and shareholders.

As any economist can tell you, the multiplier effect of $2.87 billion spent by members of low-income households, on essentials and in their local communities, is vastly more beneficial to the Australian economy than $2.87 billion in the pockets of people who have disposable income to spend on shares and overseas holidays and luxury imports.

In addition, PAYE waged workers pay tax before we see it. There are few – basically, no – tax deductions available to casualised workers in the retail and hospitality sectors. Business owners and shareholders, on the other hand, enjoy access to a huge array of tax write-down options.

This means that government revenue will decline as a result of the decision to transfer wealth upwards, in this case from low-income workers to business owners and shareholders. Why? Because we meet our tax liabilities in full, while business owners and shareholders are invited, by fiscal policy settings, to evade and avoid and minimise at every opportunity.

As with the reverse rhetoric mentioned earlier, the trickle-up nonsense so beloved by neoliberalism, this fiscal effect is the exact opposite of dominant economic narratives – about low-income workers and business owners – in the public domain.

To conclude

The 2019 budget, with its fabricated future bottom line, has sunk without a trace. And that is even with Treasurer Frydenberg, as part of his budget sell, releasing a picture of young Josh half-naked on his childhood bed. I am not joking. I wish I was. But it serves as a handy metaphor for this election. The public are poorly served by a campaign where the emperors are fully clothed, while legacy media pretend they are naked.

Imagining A Parallel Campaign

[This post was first published on the evening of 11 April at the group blogging site Ausvotes 2019, which I have signed up to for the duration].

After confidently calling the end of the 45th Parliament on Thursday 4 April (‘as we head towards the final hours of the 45th Parliament…’), the press gallery was forced to walk back these premature statements of fact within 36 hours (‘Morrison likely to delay election campaign by another week…’).

Turns out that ‘sources say next weekend has firmed as the preferred timing’, a prediction from the above article, was also wrong. The ABC News Twitter account posted at 06:37am on Thursday 11 April that Morrison had left the prime ministerial residence to call on the Governor General.

And no, this is not a post about political journalism in particular, or major media generally getting it wrong, although I often do write a lot of words [waves hands vaguely] along those lines.

Instead, I picked the above example from the last week to illustrate why I want to counter the overload of what we call ‘retail politics’ and ‘horserace reporting’. There is no good reason to report that the parliament is over when the claim has not been verified; or that the election will be called on a specific date – especially when it wasn’t.

The Great Moral Challenge of Our Time

There is every reason, in contrast, to report on the significance of climate policy stasis which Australia has endured over the last decade and beyond. Intergenerational equity is an internationally accepted principle that has informed global efforts around biodiversity and environmental sustainability at the highest levels since 1972 (United Nations Stockholm Conference on the Human Environment).

In more recent years, the principle has been supplemented by intergenerational solidarity and intergenerational justice, not least because we have failed to honour this basic commitment to our children.

It is a dismal reality that the current and previous Liberal party prime ministers have used the statement above (correctly ‘declared’ by the last Labor prime minister, Kevin Rudd), to beat up on their political opponents rather than enact meaningful policies on climate change.

Since the Coalition government repealed the price on carbon, emissions in Australia have increased every year (charted by Guardian Australia economics writer Greg Jericho here). Australians have the heaviest per capita carbon footprint on the planet.

And the UN reports that we are unlikely to meet our obligations to the international community, to intergenerational justice, or to the planet. This is so regardless of whatever comforting lies we are told by the Coalition about reaching our Paris targets ‘in a canter’.

Voice Treaty Truth

If climate change is the moral challenge of our time, the Uluru Statement from the Heart is the moral roadmap to our collective future.

Yet after this most gracious of invitations was issued to the non-Indigenous people of Australia, then-prime minister Malcolm Turnbull rejected it. He did this five months later via a press release signed off by then-Attorney General George Brandis and retiring minister for Indigenous Affairs Nigel Scullion.

The Voice Treaty Truth movement encapsulates priorities nominated by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples during twelve regional dialogues and the 2017 Uluru Convention. The near-unanimous consensus from these processes is firstly a referendum to amend the Australian Constitution to include an Indigenous Voice to parliament; and then Makaratta, a word gifted by the Yolgnu, meaning ‘coming together after a struggle’.

That the Voice be constitutionally entrenched is essential, because past institutional representation of Aboriginal people, such as ATSIC, have been created and abolished by successive governments. That Treaty come before Truth is also essential, because the truth-telling must be led by First Peoples.

In other words, the sequencing is integral. I learnt this at Uluru Statement events I have attended, from Dialogues facilitator and Uluru Convention delegates Teela Reid, a proud Wailwan and Wiradjuri woman and lawyer, and Thomas Mayor, a Torres Strait Islander man living on Larrakia lands and union secretary. (Any errors are my own.)

One of the most substantive messages on Voice Treaty Truth is the reality that ‘the people are ahead of the politicians’. Research conducted by Reconciliation Australia found that:

almost all Australians (95%) believe that ‘it is important for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people to have a say in matters that affect them’ and 80% believe it is important to ‘undertake formal truth telling processes’, with 86% believing it is important to learn about past issues (Karen Mundine, CEO, Reconciliation Australia, 11 February 2019).

We are unlikely to hear much about Voice Treaty Truth this election campaign; we typically hear little of First Peoples justice and rights in any timeframe. This does not mean future sovereign relations are moot.

Should it win government, the ALP has promised a referendum in its first term. So any reluctance by Labor to campaign on the courage of its convictions is surpassed only by the failure of the Coalition to grasp the import of the Uluru Statement from the Heart at all.

It’s the economy, because it always is

Announcing the election date at a press conference at Parliament House in Canberra, Mr Howard said it would be a decision for voters about who they trusted most to look after Australia and its economic future.

“This election, ladies and gentlemen, will be about trust,” he told reporters. “Who do you trust to keep the economy strong, and protect family living standards?” – Sydney Morning Herald, 29 August 2004

I intend to write more about fiscal policy during the campaign. In the meantime, I offer a few observations about the Morrison slogan on economic management, which is a myth based on a lie

First, like his other set-pieces – repeating the Turnbull trek to Tumut, re-branding Abbott’s ‘direct action’ (giving public money to big polluters) as a ‘climate solution fund’ (ditto) – Morrison’s catch-cry is copied from a previous Liberal Party prime minister.

The notion that this government has out-performed the previous Labor government on the economy does not stand up to the most cursory scrutiny. It is an absurd and dishonest proposition that a record of doubling the national debt, while presiding over growing inequality, exacerbated by falling or at best stagnant real wages, is somehow superior to management of the 2008 GFC so deft we dodged a recession.

The Labor economic strategy in 2008, at a time when greedy and destructive neoliberal chickens came home to roost on the watch of a new government, was praised globally, including by no other than Nobel Economics Prize laureate Joseph Stiglitz. For a moment there, everyone was a Keynesian, not that fiscal intelligence has a hope of prevailing in the birthplace of the Murdoch press.

Anyway where were we? Oh yes, the unoriginal branding without substance, and marketing rooted in dishonesty, disseminated by Scott Morrison. In my view, this duplicity and intellectual dishonesty goes to character.

Actions speak louder than words, so what does this sloganeering tell us about Morrison? That the prime minister has no creative thought or problem solving skills, alongside a complete absence of conscience?

As Minister for Immigration and Border Protection he was condemned by the UN Committee Against Torture. As Human Services Minister, as Treasurer, he presided over the most damaging welfare policies of three generations. You have to go back to captain inertia himself, Bob do-nothing Menzies, to find worse treatment of the lowest-income people in our society than by the incumbent.

Like most politics-watchers in this country, I am alert to the ‘preferred prime minister’ polling which shows that voters do not warm to Bill Shorten. And to be honest, I do not warm much to Shorten myself. But that does not matter, because it is public leadership that matters.

Possibly the worst metric on which the average punter could rely is personal judgements formed by journalists whose duty is to communicate policy choices to the voting public.

And that is why I have signed up for Ausvotes2019.

 

 

 

Australian Election 2019 Guide 1: Refuting the Rhetoric

Some time in the first half of 2019, the third conservative Australian prime minister in five years will be compelled to call an election, which his Coalition government will lose. That man is Scott Morrison, the dodgily-selected member for Cook, representing one of the whitest and most racist areas of Sydney.

The career best of Scott Morrison is a thing called Operation Sovereign Borders (OSB) which h e co-designed with former army general and now Senator Jim Molan, a man repeatedly and credibly accused of war crimes in Iraq. The multi-billion dollar policy rests on the entrenched false assumption that refugees who arrive by boat to seek asylum are a threat to national security.

There is literally no evidence for the proposition. None.

Like his predecessor, Morrison took the office in August 2018 by a secret ballot in the Liberal Party room. He ascended from chief persecutor of refugees via the Human Services ministry and its vicious and lethal cashless welfare and Robodebt policies; and Treasury, in a government that has doubled the national debt to over $350 billion. His government allocates vast sums of public money, in blocs of up to $500 million, to private sector interests, shell companies, charity fronts, and white nationalist legacy projects which I wrote about here, like $498 million to a war memorial which does not honour the Frontier Wars and $100 million on a single general in France.

Apart from the monumental waste represented by these fiscal facts, we have the grotesque spectacle of a parliamentary press gallery absolutely wedded to continually reproducing and disseminating the ‘received wisdom’ that Coalition governments are ‘stronger’ on the economy and border protection. Their pretzelesque reasoning? Polls indicate that voters believe these lies, so the media can and should keep publishing, rather than refuting, the same lies.

For the record, the last Labor government (2007-2013) was lauded globally by economists like Nobel prize winner Joseph Stiglitz for embracing Keynesian economic policy over austerity and sandbagging Australia from the worst of the Global Financial Crisis. The GFC was in turn caused by the kinds of neoliberal policies preferred by the Coalition, which are based on an entirely discredited and deliberately dishonest fallacy. The laughable ‘trickle down’ nonsense entails conservative politicians beholden to wealthy donors transferring public resources to vested private interests; and mobilising media complicity to disseminate the un-credible fabrication that rich people will share, later.

All of this is underpinned by unconscionable attacks on the poorest people and households and extensive, relentless racism. Racism is, by definition, also a lie. It assigns characteristics to people based on broad categorisations designed by white males. It has no factual or moral basis, which is not to say it has no efficacy: there is a reason white patriarchal societies are so deeply invested in reproducing racist lies for each generation. It works to maintain white supremacy.

In other words, the entire Coalition pitch is a mountain of lies. The Labor Party are by far the better economic managers on every indicator; and Australian-born citizens have committed every designated act of terror, as well as the vast majority of violent attacks not designated as terror-related, on Australian soil.

Recently, some influential political journalists belatedly decided to call out the Australian government on its refugee policy lies and vast costs. Despite the warm praise from colleagues, I am not linking to these half-hearted walk-backs. Above all else, major media protects its own erroneous and injurious decisions, like endorsing the misogynist and xenophobic climate denier Tony Abbott; and valorising the haplessly inept and hopelessly compromised Malcolm Turnbull.

So yes, we are finally seeing a few political journalists call out government lies and dodgy dealings. But. Those same media people are still reproducing the entrenched false assumptions that rely on a substratum of racism, and racism itself is a meta-lie. Just last week, Barrie Cassidy (ABC), Katharine Murphy (Guardian Australia) and Peter Hartcher (Nine Fairfax) – all very senior political personnel at outlets that engaged, progressive voters rely on – do this.

The vanity of the gallery is to assume that voters do not remember previous Coalition campaigns run on racism. From ‘bucketloads of extinguishment’ (superb Wik Peoples doco here) to ‘children overboard’, from the Northern Territory Intervention to Stop the Boats – newsflash – yes, we do. Of course, the goldfish paradigm has a purpose: deflecting from media complicity in debasing public debate and denying racist discourse.

Mainstream commentary invariably infers that Howard and Abbott, Turnbull and Morrison – and their compadres in cabinet and caucus – special mention to walking cadaver Phillip Ruddock and demonic walloper Peter Dutton – dehumanise racialised peoples because racism resonates in the electorate. While this is true, this type of ‘analysis’ also legitimises racist views articulated by powerful figures.

Using racism for the purposes of personal ambition in pursuit of power is a wrong in itself. Yet the strategy of mobilising racism is framed by political journalism as clever and successful, rather than dishonest and harmful.

Such favourable framing stems from basic tenets of liberal ideology. Neo/liberalism encodes self-interest as rational and aggression as competition; and asserts that the individual pursuit of both produces aggregate social good. None of this is true. We are a social species, not lone hunters. Unequal distribution of resources produces excess luxury for some and deprivation for others, not aggregate social good.

Enter the liberal tenet of just desserts: some ‘deserve’ that third yacht, that $40 million mansion, because reward is commensurate with merit. Back in the real world, inherited wealth derived from violent seizure of lands and collaboration with invaders is the predominant determinant of socio-economic standing. But meh, facts. Liberalism is an ideology, and ideologies rely on beliefs. This one was designed to rationalise wealth inequality, which it does by re-branding primogeniture with meritocracy mythology (as I explain here).

While some in the gallery have found their moral compass directs them to call out government lies, this stance is nullified where racist rhetoric is presented as a successful campaign strategy reflecting electoral attitudes, rather than a lie in itself which constitutes an objective moral wrong.

As mentioned, racism itself is a meta-lie; and lies are bad, right? The logic of racism as an objective moral wrong goes further. It is not complex. It simply observes that racism is never harmless. There is no upside to racism. There are gains to white people, huge gains, but white people do not experience racism.

Racism is an essential tool in the neo/liberal project, and we will see this again throughout the 2019 election campaign. The failure by our political media to join these dots is why I am spelling out the wrongs of racism in this way. Context is urgent, because the Coalition is increasingly desperate. When the political leadership is ramping up racist hate, white people in particular must consistently and diligently push back.

Journosplaining and other profitable pursuits

This post is written on the assumption that the current Australian government is defunct. Every outward sign appears, on my reading, to be the tip an iceberg, moving rapidly across the rising electoral oceans, to sink the Liberal Party of Australia. Good.

First, a caveat: I am ignoring the Nationals today because they are already a gerrymandered rump, with less than 5 per cent of the national vote at the 2016 election and 8.5 per cent for the Liberal National Party, which essentially means Queensland.

Like the disproportionate power wielded by former slave-holding states in the US Electoral College, there are many stories to be told about how, for example, the Nationals get to decide who is Acting Prime Minister when the Prime Minister is overseas despite their miniscule national vote. The influence wielded by charlatans like Barnaby Joyce is one; the secret Coalition agreement that quite literally constitutes the government of the country (which the Turnbull government spent 87,000 public dollars to keep secret) is another. Or how about the extreme racism mobilised by ex-Liberal candidate Senator Pauline Hanson, ex-Nationals MP Bob Katter and former Hanson/current neonazi Senator Fraser Anning that is endorsed by the ruling Coalition government.

But. Not today, Satan. Today I am predicting the annihilation of the Liberal Party at the federal election to be held in the coming months if not weeks; and why I do not care if the Liberal Party is wiped from the face of the Australian polity and neither should anyone else. multiple flashpoints support this call: the exodus of Liberal Party women; the relentless, undeniable, heat of this Australian summer; a million dead fish in a river killed by colonial ecocide. Liberal Party members should listen up too. Expand your working knowledge of free market ideology my mates.

A second caveat: I have no personal animus toward the Liberal Party. I do not know anyone in the caucus, and would probably not recognise a Craig Kelly or a Steve Ciobo if he passed me in the street.

Craig Kelly, you may recall, told the only Liberal MP who won a seat at the last election that she should not move to the cross bench but ‘roll with the punches’. Steve Ciobo is quite the character too. He told ABC Lateline, of our first and only woman Prime Minister, that her colleagues would ‘be in a rush to slit her throat’.

I mention these examples because misogyny is constitutive of this government. When it came to power in 2013, then-leader Tony Abbott was lavished with praise by the parliamentary press gallery as ‘effective’ and successful.

This is a hallmark of colonial and patriarchal societies. The vested dominant group admires and rewards kick-down strategies deployed by white males like Abbott. Vicious and dishonest aggression – aimed at women and children, at First Nations and Black people and People of Colour, at the rainbow (LGBTQIA+) community, at people with disabilities, the unemployed, single mums, the casualised working poor – is rewarded with governing power over other peoples’ lives.

That power is then predictably abused, to cause harm to the targeted groups. And five years later, the Liberal Party is on the brink of collapsing under the weight of its own toxic misogyny. Good.

The origins of liberalism and free market theory

Liberal, in ideological terms, means free. The most basic proposition of liberalism is that citizens are free and autonomous individuals who may think, speak, and act as they please unless a properly constituted sovereign government – in our case, the parliament – had passed a law which proscribes the thought, speech or action.

In the formative years (C18-19) of classical liberalism, only land-owning men, some of whom had property in human beings, were citizens. So the Westminster model of parliamentary democracy and English liberalism excluded Black people (who were slaves in this context), peasants/the working class (JS Mill referred to ‘labourers’, or specified ‘agricultural labourers’), women, children, and by association (because they were excluded from land ownership) disabled people and people of colour.

Colonised peoples of all hues were made subject to the laws of the coloniser and simultaneously excluded from representative/participatory democracy in theory and in practice, and from any recourse resembling justice in the justice system.

The general picture is of government by propertied white men, of propertied white men, for propertied white men. It is not unusual for liberalism to congratulate itself for the struggles against its structural norms, successful movements to dismantle its exclusivity like abolition of slavery, and ‘universal’ suffrage.

Men of political organisations such as the whigs tout these shifts as their victories, but it was Black people – slaves and former slaves – it was women – feminists and suffragettes – who put their lives on the frontline, in the face of violent colonial and patriarchal resistance, to secure basic rights in a polity that touts ‘freedom, democracy and rule of law’ as its fundamental values.

There are nations where the relationship between government and military determines national standing; there are forms of social organisation where religion is the predominant factor in the trajectory of history. In the liberal democracies, because resources are distributed by way of what is weirdly and inaccurately called capitalism (given that primogeniture, a constitutive feature of autocratic dynastic monarchy, is still the system by which wealth distribution is primarily determined), the central organising frame is political economy.

Liberal heroes like JS Mill opined that the magical market will correct an aberrant increase in the rise of food prices. The ‘logic’ (ideology) is that unaffordable food will cause the children in poor people households to die of starvation, thereby inclining poor people to exercise ‘prudence’ and produce fewer children. This, wait for it, leads to a lower supply of workers and thus employers ‘competing’ for labour will drive up the ‘price’, which in the ‘labour market’ is wages.

These despicable ideas were imposed in real time on Ireland, killing one million Irish people by starvation and causing the displacement by emigration of two million more. England treated Ireland and her people as a kind of social experiment to test warped ideas from men like Malthus and his acolytes. Its colonial-imperial descendant, the ‘Commonwealth of Australia’, views Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities, in the Northern Territory especially, the same way.

Wrong. First Nations Peoples, from Ireland and Scotland to Australia and Aotearoa New Zealand to Turtle Island and beyond, have place-based worldviews already. Look it up. My place and expertise is to criticise the terrible men and their ghastly ideas that inform the paradigmatic worldview of the Liberal Party of Australia, currently (but not for much longer) in government. For example:

[Therefore] it is impossible that population should increase at its utmost rate without lowering wages. Nor will the fall be stopped at any point, short of its physical or moral operation… Either the whole number of births which nature admits of do not take place; or if they do, a large proportion of those who are born, die. The retardation of increase results from mortality or prudence; and one or the other of these must and does exist in all old societies. Wherever population is not kept down by the prudence either of individuals or of the state, it is kept down by starvation or disease… (JS Mill 1848, Principles of Political Economy, Ch 11, On Wages p. 345).

In an age of abstinence as the only reliable form of contraception, Mill is implicating working class male brutality and rape in the way that the #notallmen crowd today desperately try to distance themselves from rapist murderer ‘monsters’. Like how Aboriginal men are framed as sexual predators to ‘rationalise’ the Northern Territory Intervention (white men make rational decisions) which in fact was designed for John Howard to get ‘cut through’ (self-interest is rational) because the electorate had stopped listening to his evil banality and he wanted to win an election.

He lost his seat, and government. Anyway. The general picture of liberalism must be supplemented by specific policy settings based on what our freedom-loving liberals call ‘free market theory’, which in turn is based on a set of spectacularly false assumptions.

An example is ‘perfect consumer knowledge’, where everyone in the used car market is assumed to be able to competently and confidently distinguish a lemon from a genuine low-mileage bargain. This is obviously not true.

Another assumption of classical free market theory is that there are ‘no barriers to entry’ into the market. This infers that I can start a media organisation (borrow money, secure land, buy plant and equipment, employ labour), and ‘compete’ against Fairfax or Murdoch. In this ‘competition’, I will use hard work and entrepreneurial spirit and innovative talent. The ‘most efficient’ of the players – out of me, Fairfax, and Murdoch – will ‘win’ ie make the most money. This is obviously not true.

These are over-simplified examples of course, presented to illustrate the absurdity of the ideology – literally the logic of ideas, where logic encompasses values, because ethics are integral to logic in the Athenian tradition – informing political economy under Liberal Party governance. This is their weltanschauung, the world view to which Liberal Party members purport to subscribe.

All of which brings us back to the existential crisis being felt by institutional power-holders who are touting for the survival of the Liberal Party in the Australian summer of 2018-2019. Why? It does not matter if the Liberal Party collapses under the weight of its own toxic misogyny. That just means that the market for toxic misogyny has dried up, and there is low demand for what the Liberal Party supplies.

Why I do not care if the Liberal Party implodes (and why the commentariat does)

This account is set out to contextualise the announcement by our current federal Minister for Women, Kelly O’Dwyer, that she will not be re-contesting the seat of Higgins at the 2019 election. So what? You may ask. Who is Kelly O’Dwyer? Well, O’Dwyer is a relatively young woman (42) and married mother who the Liberal Party holds up as evidence that they are not a male-dominated chauvinist-ridden organisation awash with vicious bullies.

Except they are, and now they have one less piece of tactical armour – which is the objectified value O’Dwyer represented to the Party – to sustain their phoney claims.

Her resignation announcement is the latest in a series of events exposing the fact that the Liberal Party is made up of unreconstructed misogynists and the organisation is collapsing under the weight of its own toxic ideology. Good.

The starkest indicator, partly lost in the noise of yet another party room-installed prime minister, was the miniscule 11 votes for then-deputy leader Julie Bishop. She is more popular, better-known, and least associated with institutionalised cruelty and budgetary incompetence, certainly in comparison to male contenders Morrison and Peter Dutton. But no party room prime ministership for Julie no siree.

At the time, former military Linda Reynolds put her name to eye-witness accounts of intimidation by party males towards women. Next, the male who was pre-selected in Wentworth, after Turnbull quit and while Liberal Party sexism was squarely in the spotlight, lost the blue-ribbon seat to independent woman Dr Kerryn Phelps. He has been re-pre-selected.

Julia Banks went to the cross-benches.

More men killed more women in horrific circumstances described as ‘domestic’.

Any wonder then that the electorate are ready to give this government a hiding to nothing. And make no mistake, the Liberal-Nationals Coalition can not win.

Enter the journosplainers and other vested interests from hell, intent on telling voters that expressing good riddance to a woman whose party has done incalculable harm to women while she is Minister for Women means that we are mean, and horrible, and haters, see, just ‘scoring political points’.

I am not sure how one disaggregates political points from an announcement that a politician is leaving politics, but according to the dominant narrative coming from politicians and political journalists, this is an objective that voters must in all conscience try to reach. Apparently our responses to the news that a financially secure white woman who chose to join the Liberal Party, who has collected an annual 6-figure salary from the Australian public plus maternity leave that we fought for while attacking unions and impoverishing single mums, just discovered that the Liberal Party hates women.

Righto, Bevan. I should be in her corner when she has never been in mine. You reckon?

[journalist] Shields for Fairfax wrote ‘don’t listen to the haters. Kelly O’Dwyer was a talent and the type of person the Liberal party desperately needs. This is a major blow.’

[journalist] Pat Karvelas at the ABC said ‘not surprisingly twitter is full of anti-Kelly O’Dwyer sentiment but mainstream political parties are at their best when they have strong women in leadership positions…’

[politician] Darren Chester Nationals MP posted Before rushing to score a political point about [Kelly O’Dwyer] decision to not recontest Higgins, just consider the long hours, separation from family & enormous workload for any young parent serving our community in Cabinet. Job well done Kelly. Good luck for the future.

[politician] Greens Senator Sarah Hanson-Young wrote ‘No doubt good things ahead for [Kelly O’Dwyer] whatever she does next. But a huge loss for the Liberal Party, for women in politics and the country. Thanks for always being a friendly face in Canberra. Good luck for the future!

All of these people hyper-linked to Kelly O’Dwyer, thereby guaranteeing that any replies would be tagged to her account. This snitch-tagging by sycophants directs vitriolic twitter traffic straight to O’Dwyer’s door. The same politicians and political journalists then declared that the online dynamic they specifically enabled, with their high-follower counts and major media platforms, makes voters bad and also social media is bad.

The most rudimentary study of structural hierarchies perpetuated under patriarchy and capitalism, of kick down culture, would predict that legacy media has a vested interest in kicking down on social media; and politicians have a vested interest in kicking down on voters. High-follower twitter account holders with institutional and structural power seek to discredit and de-legitimise the response from punters on social media because they want their world view, their political analysis, their (comfortable, private school fee- and Sydney-mortgage-paying) ‘expertise’ to prevail.

There is a lot at stake, folks. What if the punters elect a government that reduces the massive subsidises funded by the Australian public to the private school fees and private health care budget of very comfortable households headed by politicians and political journalists? I mean then where would we be?

Back in the (real) world, twitter punters were having none of it. We do not have to respect a woman who, as minister for women, saw her government implementing policies that cause massive harm to single mums and their children while she collects a six-figure salary. Why should we?

We do not care if the Liberal Party collapses under the weight of its own toxic misogyny. That has nothing to do with us. It is the author of its own demise and those who fear its collapse are people who benefit from its elitist policies and practices. Why would people who are harmed by the policies of Liberal Party government care if it chokes on its own cruelty, greed, and incompetence and dies? We wouldn’t.

The Bevans and the Pats, the Sarahs and Darrens, are frightened of the extent to which the current Liberal Party meltdown has exposed structural flaws in a system that pays their salaries and mortgages and crystalises inherited capital for their children.

If the poster woman for careerist motherhood-assistant treasurer-liberalism is resigning, what next? OMFG what if ONLY women without children (Gillard, Bishop) can ‘compete’ at the highest levels of politics in Australia? And conservatives STILL reject the most popular and competent politician in the caucus (who is a woman) for a discombobulated clownshow (who is a man)?

Could this mean that white patriarchy still reigns supreme?

If an avowed anti-feminist like Bishop or a phony proponent for [financially secure white] women like O’Dwyer can not hack the pace, do we have to concede that meritocracy is mythology? That coloniality is the constitutive ideology of the nation?

Yes, is the answer to that question. Yes, it does. But never mind. According to their ideology, the Liberal Party will bow out gracefully.

Never mind. Just think of how the Liberal Party treats women, or the car industry

The Liberal belief in free market theory extends to an abstract construction they call the marketplace of ideas. In this imagination, ideology ‘competes’ on a level playing field with all the other thoughts and ideas that humans construct and share with their friends or clan or political organisation or the electorate.

Should the demand for toxic misogyny dry up (or perhaps supply has saturated demand, there is a lot of toxic misogyny out there and value is scarcity after all), a true liberal will welcome this market signal that suppliers of toxic misogyny should and will be driven out of business.

Real liberals will celebrate the potential demise of the Liberal Party as the triumph of free market ideology, and be delighted that a new, less sexist political organisation will emerge to meet the demand for less sexist ideological ‘product’.

On the other hand, a host of vested interests and privileged individuals and groups might insist that the survival of the Liberal Party is a matter of national interest. Oh we must have a robust centrist party/credible opposition, the argument will go, ignoring the fact that the Liberal Party is not ‘centrist’ but a cabal of racist misogynists, and the liberal party is not in opposition but in government, abusing the power of incumbency, making terrible decisions that harm actual people who vote.

Anyone who says this is fine, anyone who can live with their conscience despite persecution of welfare recipients by Centrelink; rejection of First Peoples justice and rights as articulated in the Uluru Statement from the Heart; unaffordable housing, stagnant and declining wages and increasing inequality and casualised, insecure work; torture of refugees and asylum seekers; ecocide; climate denial; and the ongoing transferral of public resources to people and corporations who are in need of nothing, absolutely nothing, whose every material need is met…

good luck mate. You are on the wrong side of morality and the wrong side of history.

I could go on. But this is where we are. Yes, I too was taught to not say anything if I can not say anything nice. So to everyone who supports the continued existence of the Liberal Party, who thinks that people harmed by the Liberal Party should support the survival of the Liberal Party and therefore its capacity to harm us: I hope the door does not hit you on the way out.