Category Archives: Ongoing embarrassment

I can’t sleep. I blame Turnbull. I am only half joking

Dear Diary,

Today I reviewed the Learning Guide to the compulsory first year Torts unit so the unit I am running over Summer School – Advanced Torts and Civil Wrongs – will not duplicate earlier content.

Then I liaised with the first year unit co-ordinator so the advanced unit will be interesting and fit the expectations and interests of the elective class.

After that I worked with the faculty administrator to book the Moot Court for oral presentations from 4 January 2017. This was very time consuming because the university administration and faculty staff are not in agreement as to whether we should return to work on 4 January. As a casual employee, this is of no moment to me: if I am there I am paid, if I am not, there is no income to feed my children. But I can not finalise the assessment requirements for the unit I am running until these details are sorted by those who enjoy holiday pay and sick leave and long service entitlements and what-not.

Of which I can only dream, but whatever. No doubt all the meeting time spent on whether or not 3 January is a paid leave day or something has been an efficient use of education resources. But I was talking about me and what I did today.

Dear Diary

Today I tutored for five hours under the ITAS program (Indigenous Tutorial Assistance Scheme), a job that brings with it the joy of working with a Gamilaraay woman who is going to be a top lawyer one day. This is the program that Tony Abbott promised to abolish as part of his commitment to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people under the Indigenous Advancement Strategy (IAS) that saw millions of dollars allocated to white organisations to perpetuate colonial and charity-based models to “help” Aboriginal people. I didn’t really have the time for this job but an auntie asked me and the student is great and now it is not a job but a human relationship and besides here is a Gamilaraay woman future law graduate who is committed and awesome and when my kids come in from school they recognise immediately that we are working and studying and that matters and what if the funding is cut before she graduates?

In the hours before and after ITAS tutoring I marked 10 property law assignments on the scope of Native Title after Akiba v Commonwealth (2013) and I’m happy to say that most of my students seem to have a comprehensive grasp of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples’ rights and interests in land and sea including for trade and thus commercial purposes under the NTA 1993 (Cth) as amended. Makes ya proud that does.

Like every other day, I am also responsible for three lives – my two teenagers and I – my oldest offspring lives independently – our food, our housing, our moral code, our education and health. Where would we be without endowment and Medicare I hate to think. Today, that meant little more than cooking dinner: my kids are pretty independent these days. It so happened that one teen offspring arrived home with not one but two friends, who simply had to stay mum, and can we have some of that stew? Well, duh. Why would I make a pot of stew if not for people in the house to eat it?

This is my way of saying that for the past 25 years I have done paid and unpaid work, I have paid my rent or mortgage and taxes, done what my employer expected, conformed to what society demanded – singularly, in my case, but that is not ignore two-parent families – taken responsibility for the welfare of human beings I brought into the world….

Imagine then, my joy, when I heard about the second reading amendment today.

That my efforts in the paid work sphere, which net considerable tax receipts for the federal and state governments these days, me not being in a position to off-shore my tax liabilities, and of a disposition that I would not wish to, given that I think universal education and health care are universal goods, so I end up contributing to the half-million-dollars-plus per year, in salary alone, not to mention expenses and costs, to a bloke with over $200 million in assets, who to all intents and purposes appears incapable of organising a piss-up in a brewery.

Imagine my joy, by which I mean imagine my incandescent rage, as a person who nets less than 20% of the Turnbull public purse remuneration, when I hear Christopher Pyne refer to “a series of events that led to this outcome and it is a pity”. That would be the same Christopher Pyne whose judgement is so meritorious that we not only pay him a 6-figure salary but also sign off on his authority to employ, on a $150K pa salary, a senior ‘innovation’ advisor who lacks the insight or judgement on whether or not to strip to his dacks and insult the flag and thus the nation of Malaysia when out and about with his equally expensively remunerated mates.

Have I mentioned? Reward for merit is the most desperate lie of liberalism.

The “series of events” Pyne referred to was a proposed amendment to a second reading speech on a bill in the House of Representatives. The “outcome”, the one which “is a pity” was the vote that saw the government vote for an Opposition amendment to its own bill.

A vote. In the House of Representatives. That would be where the party with a majority forms government. Not to labour the point hur hur but if voting in the House of Representatives on their own Bill is not their day job, why am I sending a third of my income to the ATO to accommodate these people in Canberra and remunerate them to the tune of at least five times my annual income when I can competently perform the tasks entailed by my job yet they can not competently say ‘aye’ or ‘nay’ on cue?

What. Is. The. Point. Of. The. Turnbull. Government?

Today, Malcolm Turnbull lectured us in front of the Singaporeans on the rule of law.

Today, Malcolm Turnbull conceded a position on the NBN Committee to Pauline Hanson – because she asked him to.

Today, a former Solicitor-General – utterly tastelessly – compared the current Solicitor-General to a dog on a leash.

Today, the Attorney-General doubled down on his misrepresentation of advice from the Solicitor General with respect to laws that embody the bigotry of this government: the Australian Citizenship Amendment Act 2016 and the proposed Bill on a marriage equality plebiscite.

Imagine being a good lawyer – an impeccably-credentialed, beyond-reproach, top of executive government lawyer – and see a man like George Brandis misrepresent your legal opinion on what a majority of the High Court would do with regard to a possible future constitutional challenge to a bill as being advice with regard to a different, later version of the bill (a grossly xenophobic and racist bill).

As though Solicitors-General go around giving advice on what the High Court might do in its original jurisdiction lightly. As if such legal opinions are the playthings of the Attorney General. Brandis is abominable.

The Turnbull government made history today because no government in the history of federation – a very short history, a mere 116 years – voted against itself in the house where government is formed.

In the words of the leader of the House… what a pity.


Abuse of power is systematically rewarded

‘Move him upstairs?’ is a sentiment from the acutely observed BBC series ‘Yes, Prime Minister’. It is a tip of a line which conveys an iceberg of British culture.

‘Upstairs’ is the House of Lords, where governments send inconveniently misbehaving blue blood or otherwise powerfully connected men. It is a tool in the meritocracy mythology toolkit.

Reward for merit is the most desperate lie of liberalism.

Say some Tory – they are almost inevitably conservative white men – a politician or judge or banker, for instance – is caught in a tabloid scandal. It is the family values guy sending pictures of his penis to young women. The sanctimonious homophobe snapped leaving a gay club. The misogynist judge who waxes lyrical on how women are responsible for rapists. The fetishists and embezzlers and fraudsters and thieves, engaging the services of a bondage madam, charging the taxpayer for the wedding travel, or the helicopter transport to a party fund-raiser.

But the political leadership does not need the headache. The ludicrous hypocrisy, the sleazy and often criminal creepiness, are seen as a distraction from the latest announceable. This is what passes for government under neoliberalism. An endless string of reactions, distractions or announceables: an inquiry here, a defence contract there. Some other vapid unoriginal tried-and-failed effort to hold unaccountable power to account –  a tribunal, a committee, a commission.

One solution, a kind of predecessor to the dead cat, is to reward these transgressors for something else. An OBE for services to justice, for example, or a knighthood for outstanding contribution to the financial community. Hide him in plain sight, because the caravan will move on soon enough.

The caravan always does.

This technique is not funny, and it is not clever. The well-connected transgressor is not hilariously embarrassing; he is a drain on society, a wrongdoer whose reputation is treated as of greater value than the actual lives of minor offenders such as a drug addict or petty thief.

Take the idiot Australians recently returned from Malaysia. The privilege of their whiteness and maleness is not defined by the internet of things, as one major newspaper implied today. White male privilege is real and it is dangerous. It is violent and harmful. It plays out at every level of our society.

For example, two of the three police officers investigated by the Western Australian coroner over the death of Ms Dhu have been promoted. They have more responsibility than when they not only failed to ensure adequate care for a dying woman but expressed viciously nasty racist views directly to her as she died.

They are now on a higher salary. Move them upstairs.

As The Saturday Paper editor Erik Jensen observed, anyone expressing surprise at the boorishness of private school- and sandstone-educated white men does not know how privilege works. Rich white guys are trained to behave in exactly this way. The young ‘gentlemen’ of all-male institutions like The Kings School and the residential colleges of the University of Sydney are routinely schooled in consequence-free crassness; and have been for centuries.

It is another inheritance in this country from the toxic British tradition. The Kings School is a wannabe Eton, Sydney Uni is our Oxford-equivalent. The father institutions produce the Camerons and the Bojos, incompetent to a man. Their incompetence is not least because no mistake, no matter how monumental, ever results in lessons learned – except perhaps in how not to be caught; or in how to throw other people’s money at crisis-managing the next terrible, dangerous, destructive decision.

Stirring up racist violence to win an unnecessary referendum designed to resolve internal conservative differences which wiped up to three trillion dollars off global financial markets? A promotion to a senior cabinet position awaits. This is not to suggest that global financial markets are not riddled with corrupted dealings – of course they are – but has David or Boris paid any kind of price for the mess they made? Are they destitute? Condemned? Disgraced?

Nope. For a campaign demonstrably founded on racist hate, Bojo was promoted to Foreign Secretary. That’s how it works. Cameron has for the moment gone home to his luxury mansion, free to get on with whatever he chooses to do. Who knows, he could do a Tony Blair and end up being paid millions to speak on peace in the Middle East. Wreck havoc, pose as the solution instead of the problem.

Look at Joe Hockey, ensconced in the most prestigious diplomatic posting in the gift of the Australian Prime Minister. For what? Contributions to Treasury governance? Hardly. For agreeing to go quietly in an internal conservative power struggle. Like Cameron.

Or is Washington the second top post? Word is our man in London, Alexander Downer, could make way for George Brandis at the UK High Commission.

Downer lived there as a child, bless, when daddy held the position. Downer is also the former conservative Howard government Foreign Minister who presided during the corrupt wheat-for-weapons dealings by Australian entities in breach of UN sanctions against Iraq while we were at war there. Talk about reward for merit.

Brandis is the conservative Attorney General who has chanced his luck with fibbing about a meeting with the Solicitor General, a Senior Counsel of impeccable credentials who is angry enough to have made his displeasure public.

Send them upstairs.

Then there is John Howard, neck-deep in reviving the legacy of Menzies, a man who had to be stopped by unionised labour from selling iron to Japan as Japan was seeking to take Australia by force.

Nothing stops this white-washing drivel. Howard and his pet project are endlessly, tediously promoted, for free, all over the media. Hours of airtime on the national broadcaster is not quite a seat in the House of Lords. But it does go to legacy, which conservatives value as much as power, knowing the two are essential to maintain their born-to-rule mythology.

Mall this is on the same spectrum as the men who embarrassed the government and the nation this week in Malaysia. As many commentators have pointed out, it is not that these men do not know what they are doing is out of step with everyone around them. It is that they do not care.

They are not ignorant. They are arrogant.

The father of former senior defence industries “innovation adviser” John Walker told the waiting media that the ‘boys’ – all in fact men who have been adults for between 7 and 11 years – will now go home and get on with their lives. Indeed they will. And not one of the protagonists will see anything wrong with that.

(The Sydney Morning Herald reported at 9.15pm Saturday that Walker junior has tendered his resignation and minister Pyne has accepted it. Expect to see Walker on a similar or higher salary somewhere sometime soon.)

Walker senior also told us ‘there was no charge’. This is not true. The charge was public nuisance, and his son along with eight mates pleaded guilty to the charge. Their connections – called ‘remorse’ in the law and the media – then saw no conviction recorded, so the offender does not end up with a criminal record.

Tony Abbott availed himself of the equivalent provisions in NSW at a similar age.*

We can safely surmise that Walker senior knows his son was charged, and with what offence. Given he was there in Malaysia and there in court and all. Nevertheless, Walker senior has – oops – confused the case outcome with his son never having been charged in the first place. In this rarefied world, ‘there was no charge’ is code for ‘they did nothing wrong’.

It is worth noting that Aboriginal people have died in custody for less – singing ‘who let the dogs out’ in earshot of a policeman; being a victim of domestic violence with unpaid fines.

We could power the world and feed the hungry with the resources which are currently misallocated to exonerating men who are recipients of reward-for-merit (ie fuckup). Men who should – but will not – live out their days in penury and despair for their miserable actions.

A couple of forces are at work here. The first – previously mentioned – is deep and deeply harmful emotional and financial investment by liberal ideology in meritocracy mythology.

Another is the Great Man in History myth. Which is (falsely) tempered by the equivalence of the flawed human. Only men can be great, but all humans are flawed. This shallow but convenient equivalence is deployed to fallaciously refute the obvious. Churchill or Turnbull (or whoever) is not great. He is a drunk or a fake (or whatever).

When this is pointed out, the dominant narrative shrugs metaphorically and says oh we are all flawed. Who among us is not? Let he who has not sinned…

The narrative is upside down. People raised in environments epitomised by Eton or Oxford are more likely to be deeply flawed. Such a system produces terrible characters. People who start wars. Interfere in others’ wars. Send other people’s children to fight those wars. Create material conditions that perpetuate imperialism and poverty and displacement. Financial crises from which they but not the poor escape.

People not raised in these toxic institutions may have been just as deeply flawed as a Bojo or a Walker, but we will never know. This is because the elite male has so much more capacity to do harm. I can not send another person’s child to war, whether I want to or not. Tony Blair can. John Howard can. Abbott certainly wanted to, and it is his legacy that has seen the Royal Australian Air Force implicated in a war crime.

So enough with the trivialisation of Walker and his mates. The nickname is not funny. White male privilege is not a figment of the internet. The men may have had no conviction recorded, but they pleaded guilty and their plea was accepted by the court. They are, by their own admission, guilty of the charge that Walker senior tried to talk away. They are dangerous, because the message as represented by the literal and figurative father tells them they did nothing wrong.

What really matters about all this is that the ranks of the current ruling party are awash with this demographic; and that the Liberal Party is utterly incapable of reforming itself out of this ugly culture.

*Abbott was also charged with indecent assault for groping a young woman between the legs. I wrote this post before the latest news from the US and do not want to risk trivialising the allegations of Trump’s sexual criminality. For the record, millions of women are sharing similar stories right now; and characterising individual, powerful men as monsters is to miss the point.

Malcolm and women: More concern troll than feminist

Malcolm Turnbull says he would call himself a feminist, like it is some movement he can just join with no invitation, no credentials, and no effort. Much like the rest of his life really, except feminism is not as easy to join as lunch at a men-only club, or the Liberal Party. Some of us have standards.

The quote was immediately butchered to claim that Malcolm Turnbull is a feminist – which he demonstrably is not. We know this because at the same time he nervously joked about the ironing. Women who are feminists do not posture and perform for the cameras about who does the ironing when outing themselves as feminists. That is a thing that men who are not feminists do. Men like Tony Abbott.

Malcolm Turnbull says he would describe himself as a feminist – he just left off the end of the sentence: ‘to garner votes’. We know we can find this implied premise in the sentence because we know Turnbull would say anything to win votes. Saying things, after all, is a lot easier than devising actual policy, like wealth distribution that does not transfer wealth upwards, or standing up to the lunatic homophobic right, or even standing up to his own Treasurer, Scott ‘release the costings’ Morrison.

This is a man we pay $500,000 per annum to traipse around, looking like death warmed up, while telling us fibs. That is, when he is not making a dribbling fool of himself in an embarrassingly transparent attempt to connect with the 99% whose net worth comes in under $200 million.

I speak, of course, of the tasteless and mawkish daddy video. The one about which Turnbull clarified separation arrangements regarding the marital bed. I’m not making that up.

Some of us did engage with what Malcolm put on show, which is to say, his mummy issues. This is so predictable that it must have been at least partially the point. It is not a feminist point, nor a feminist thing to do. It is a trollish thing to do. He is trolling a dead woman, his own late mother, who gave him life on this earth.

If this seems a long bow, here is what Turnbull said when asked why he released the video:

It’s important to honour your parents, Mark. It’s important to honour your father.

See what he did there? It was probably not even deliberate. He is a man running for office and running on empty. What’s a bit of defensive erasure and misplaced anger at his late mother, on the national stage?

Turnbull has form in trolling women. His first announcement as Prime Minister was to restore one third of the $300 million that had been ripped out of services for women escaping violence. A third of that third was earmarked for ‘awareness-raising’. This is a Liberal Party favourite. It is code for fat cheques to donor mates who run or have interests in advertising companies. See ‘ideas boom’ for further evidence of this garbage substitute for policy.

Meanwhile, unlike feminist-run women’s refuges, ‘awareness-raising’ (profiteering from misery) is not a proven success at stopping men’s violence towards women and children. The ads are essentially designed for comfortable Liberal voters to tsk tsk at how terrible is domestic violence while nodding knowledgeably: isn’t it nice that nice Mr Turnbull (or that nice Mikey B in NSW) is ‘doing something’.

Something like spending taxpayers’ money on advertising campaigns designed to make conservative voters feel better about voting in a cabal of racist sexists who can not sell a policy in a seven week election campaign but they can keep a torture camp or ten up and running.

Similarly, in his first cabinet, Turnbull announced NSW Senator Marise Paine would become our first woman defence minister. He was swiftly reminded that Ros Kelly was a junior defence minister in the Keating government. Minor quibbles. What Turnbull wanted was the grandiose claim, the great man in history narrative, the ‘first’ status – using a woman or two to get there is of no moment to him.

Incidentally, how much have we heard from the Defence Minister when it comes to terror announcements, overseas fighter deaths and the like? Nothing? Has George Brandis taken over that role? How about threats to the nation state, non-existent as they are compared to most places in the world? Anything? Or do we see that role fall to Peter ‘BorderForce’ Dutton, when he is not tripping over his own shoe laces, or the rubbish falling out of his mouth?

Paine may be the first woman to be a fully fledged Australian Defence Minister, but that does not mean Turnbull was not merely trolling women while the men retain the bombs and terror and brassy uniforms stuff for themselves.

But we were talking about Turnbull and his relationship with his parents, who both died last century. If the outbreak of amateur reverse-Oedipus analysis was not predicted, Turnbull and his team are even more embarrassingly incompetent than even I thought possible, and I have zero regard for the man or his team. I see no skill in policy or politics. Simple abuse of incumbent power, explored at length here, is all I see.

In short, the single dad schtick is a narrative for which I have zero empathy in this context. Here is why. I am a sole parent. I have actual parenting to do. Turnbull is 61 years old, his father has been dead for 30 years, he holds the most powerful job in the country.

What does he want from us? This whiny, needy, multimillionaire thinks the best way to woo my time is with a tacky pitch to the dudebro vote with a posthumous poverty narrative wrapped in meritocracy mythology. Nuh-uh. No.

My take is the infamous Turnbull judgement (again). Like the decision to talk about the ironing, a line which, to a sizable portion of voters, immediately recalls his predecessor. Or his decision to feign outrage that Opposition Leader Bill Shorten dared to state a known fact: that women take by far the most responsibility for childcare.

Remember the GST increase thought bubble and tax-based federation revolution that lasted mere days? Here, too, Turnbull has form.  As a backbencher in 2005, Turnbull spent months undermining then-Treasurer Peter Costello on tax policy, and released his proposals with apparently no insight into the toes on which he trod – judgement, judgement – or the opprobrium he would incite. His proposals sank without a trace – because Turnbull could not read the political landscape.

Yet on ascension to the prime ministership, Turnbull exhumed the dead tax cat and threw it on the table. Only to discover that the Australian electorate was no more interested in his sweeping gestures than was Costello. Funny, that.

Then there is the constant sloganeering – also reminiscent of Abbott. In fact, except for the unsubstantiated hypothesis that Turnbull is better suited to Prime Ministering than opposition leadering (he has proven to be terrible at both), it is Abbott who comes up rosier in any comparison with respect to sloganeering. This is because Abbott was not exposed as a serial plagiariser as well as a predictably repetitive liar.

The United States Chamber of Commerce in Washington, District of Columbia, U.S., on Wednesday, Jan. 14, 2015. Photographer: Pete Marovich/Bloomberg
Jobs & Growth banners, The United States Chamber of Commerce in Washington, District of Columbia, U.S., on Wednesday, Jan. 14, 2015. Photographer: Pete Marovich/Bloomberg

Yet here is Turnbull blathering jobs and growth until he is grey in the face, drearily invoking the least successful Liberal Prime Minister since at least McMahon. No wonder the team decided a circuit breaker was in order. What a pity they did not hit on telling the truth about policy as an alternative approach.

Unlike those who are remunerated to assemble actual insights into the Prime Ministerial performance, I see no point hashing over marriage equality, the republic, and climate change. We all know Turnbull has blown these policies; and that such abject failure has ‘disappointed’ those who were sure he was up to the Prime Ministerial job.

In a kind of creepy-daddy-karma twist, a poll in his seat of Wentworth published this week, men over 55 who are most ‘disappointed’ in Turnbull’s performance. I can just see their silver heads bobbing sadly as they tell pollsters in a sorrowful tone. No, we are not angry with him, just disappointed.

Which brings us full circle to the emotional immaturity Turnbull unwisely put on display to the Australian electorate. As one mate remarked, it is almost as though this is a therapy session. To which I replied that the whole tawdry exercise seems like the electorate has been press-ganged into providing group therapy – for a man who wants for absolutely nothing – and I for one resent it.

I am a feminist. I have actual parenting to do. Not half a century ago. Right now. Whether the Prime Minister is feeling nostalgic has no bearing on current housing costs, or the state of public education, the casualisation of the work force, the fact that coal and CSG mining are trashing country for generations to come.

As better minds than mine have noted, he did not even have the grace, or brains, or antennae, to link the video thing to restoring sole parent supports removed by Gillard. That would at least have played the feminist card more effectively. Cynically, but even cynical-yet-effective would be a step up from vacuous attention-seeking.

Malcolm wants me to divert my attention to him – and thus away from my income-insecure job, and my children, and parenting responsibilities, and family and friends and writing and actual policy and promises. Really? For a purported position on feminism and a tear-jerker bro clip that erases his dead mother and exploits his dead father?

This poorly-judged attempt to humanise a sitting prime minister who is also a multimillionaire – a man who wants for nothing, nothing …  is little more than a transparent plea to the Australian electorate that we gratify his seemingly bottomless hunger for power and insatiable desire for approval.

Daddy track messaging: More Turnbull strategy from a US television series

There is a scene in the final series of The West Wing where pollster Joey Lucas and Josh Lyneham, heading the campaign for Democratic candidate Matt Santos, explain how daddy-track and mummy-track campaign messaging works to junior staff.

JOEY: All this attention on the leak story, it’s magnifying the inevitable “Mommy Problem”.

RONNA: Mommy Problem?

JOSH: When voters want a national daddy…someone to be tough and strong and defend the country, they vote Republican. When they want a mommy, someone to give them jobs, health care…the policy equivalent of motzah ball soup, they vote Democratic.

As most politically engaged Australians noticed last month, Malcolm Turnbull was trying out yet another slogan when he ‘advised’ the Governor General to recall parliament. His strategy was designed to turn around his flagging popularity and take back the agenda from the Opposition, who had been releasing policy initiatives rather than sloganeering and backflipping. The grand announcement was classic daddy-track messaging and received accordingly by the predictable cheer squad in the mainstream press.

While conformist journalists praised the announcement as bold and Turnbullesque, Turnbull took to the airwaves to sell his paternalistic brand. He hectored and waffled about why the taxpayer should continue to subsidise the fourth and seventh investment properties of wealthy Australians. He spelt out the double dissolution election provisions in our constitution to senior journalists more patronisingly than the way I teach the same provisions to first year law students. It was squirmingly embarrassing and confirmed a long-noted view of Turnbull: he has terrible judgement.

And throughout these appearances, Turnbull kept repeating his new mantra, ‘continuity and change’.

Of course the punters in my corner of the twittersphere were onto it immediately. Another three-word slogan, we scoffed. Listen to Big Mal now hoho he has well and truly caught the three-word disease, said we. Oh so it’s continuity and change now is it. How much more sophisticated than Stop the Boats… wait. No. It is utterly meaningless.

I do not know who first googled the phrase and found it on the side of a fictional campaign bus from a US comedy series. Certainly Mark DiStephano over at Buzzfeed was one of the first to tweet it out. The show itself, VEEP, even bought into the ensuing hilarity and confirmed the slogan was grounded in meaninglessness, which seems apt enough.


But all of this is old news and, outside social media, generally poo-pooed by commentators and punters who take themselves oh-so-seriously. You know the ones. They claim Twitter is a hive mind of manufactured outrage and adopt other pompous positions when their perceived seniority is threatened by new media, or millennials, or affordable degrees, or whatever it is that made the scared weird little guys feel scared and weird and little today.

Fast forward to 16 April, and at a completely unnecessary cost of millions, the Australian parliament has been elaborately prorogued with much ushering of black rods and what-not. Pomp and circumstance, sit down as I tell you this, are adored by conservatives. Nothing appeals more to the bunyip aristocracy than the archaic rituals of the colonial-imperial power.

Pomp and circumstance wells the conservative heart. Ushers of black rods and what-not remind them of ‘traditional values’ like shouting ‘neutrality! That’s our thing shut up! Only we can say what is neutral!’ while using and abusing ritual and tradition for cheap and grasping political ends such as desperately trying to stay in power while falling behind in the all-important opinion polls.

The claim that the Governor General is neutral – and that to suggest otherwise is some kind of taboo – suits conservative political ends. It is an exercise in invisibilising and reflects a wider methodology of wielding incumbent power. If the government can convince the commentariat and the electorate that the Governor General is neutral, while busily politicising the office of the Governor General, we may not notice the way incumbent power is being exercised to shore up the incumbent position.

In the same way, Coalition politicians use state power to extend ever-greater control over the citizenry – or specific groups of citizens, such as welfare recipients – while claiming to be the party of ‘small government’. Cashless welfare is not small government, nor are control orders or data retention, or billions spent to torture asylum seekers. This is big-taxing, big-spending, huge-control-over-human-lives government. Yet they persist with the lies of liberalism, because that is the preferred method of neoliberalism. It is all around us, yet invisible, like air – and like air, neoliberal politicians would have us believe that their power is inevitable and natural. It is not.

So has bold daddy Mal called on the Governor General to issue the writs for his double dissolution election on 2 July 2016 yet? No. The Australian parliament had nothing to do once it was recalled at massive expense and the Senate rejected the ABCC bill as per a simple phone call or news feed could have told anyone.

So in a predictably fractious and dreary, repetitive question time, Turnbull then told the Australian parliament that he will wait until after the budget.

‘I will advise the Governor General’, the Prime Minister shouted across the chamber, ‘the Governor General will consider that request, that advice, and he will make a decision.’

This, the Prime Minister lectured us patronisingly, is in accordance with convention.

Ah yes, convention. Like ushers of black rods and the neutrality of the Governor General, it is “convention” to pretend that the Governor General ‘considers’ the advice of the Prime Minister and then makes a decision. Simultaneously, it is “convention” that the Governor General do as the Prime Minister advises. This is clearly a win-win for both parties. Any action, even if it is the complete opposite of a previous or future action, can be justified by convention. No wonder convention is a thing beloved, if regularly flouted, by conservatives.

But the issue for the people is whether the electoral process, the constitution and conventions, the Governor General and the law, are being used for political ends by the Prime Minister in a bid to retain government.

The problem is this. The recall of parliament was done in the proper fashion, by letter from the Prime Minister to the Governor General, which Turnbull assured Cosgrove was legally backed by his Attorney General. You know the one – a QC who can not open the second tab on spreadsheets.

In the small print was a claim that the ABCC bill was so important as to warrant the recall of parliament because the government ‘believes’ that among other things the ABCC will boost productivity.

Obviously the government can believe any old thing it likes – and does, such as the meritocracy mythology that cloaks its every attack on the poor. However, this claim not only has no factual basis, it has been comprehensively disproved by economics professors at Griffith University.

The belief in a positive relationship between the ABCC and productivity began life as an error in an Econotech consultant report commissioned by a former Coalition Prime Minister who also had a notoriously loose relationship with the truth.

The falsity of the productivity and other claims, made by the Prime Minister for the ABCC to the Governor General, have been tracked by Crikey here and The Guardian here and New Matilda here. Among others. There is no doubt whatsoever that the government’s “belief” is a false belief. Not just lacking evidence but founded in – ahem – error (that’s the polite term). A known falsity that has been comprehensively disproved, a mistake that has been corrected by experts. Whatever, the claim is demonstrably false. Turnbull is lying.

There are those who would dismiss the fact that Turnbull is lying as mere politics, say hey, all politicians are liars. Sure. Both these responses are a reasonable reading of the situation.

But here is the problem. The Governor General cited the Prime Ministerial reasons for requesting that he recall Parliament in the Parliament, during the pomp and circumstance of proroguing the Parliament. His speech included the false claims regarding productivity, claims that the Productivity Commission has ‘distanced itself from’ in ‘unusually strong terms’.

The conservative position on this highly questionable speech by the GG is to shout convention! The speech contradicts any suggestion that the GG is above politics and the conservative response is to shout shut up! Neutrality! Only we can pronounce on what is neutral! It is the GG, and thus it must be neutral! That is how the GG or neutrality or convention or whatever suits us works!

Whether it is in the grand tradition of liberal democracy to politicise supposedly neutral offices, or for the head of state to mislead the parliament, is obviously up for debate. I would tend towards a yes stance here. We are talking about a system of government that simultaneously produced the doctrine of separation of powers while making the highest court in the empire a subset of an unelected upper house comprised of landed gentry. This is neither liberal nor democratic and it certainly indicates that nothing is above politics or immune from the power of incumbency.

Either way, the facts remain. The Prime Minister has relied on disproven claims for a belief he says the government holds. He has politicised the office of the Governor General. He has upheld the longstanding tradition of deploying the power of incumbency for personal political ambition. He has shouted convention! Tradition! Neutrality! Shut up! To anyone who points out these blatantly obvious facts.

The next day, Turnbull was citing his ‘strong expectation’ there will be a double dissolution election on 2 July 2016, and maybe there will be. But what’s that Skip? Strong, you say? Is he a big strong man in contrast to that wishy washy opposition? Like a big daddy sort of thing?

The next day, the concerns of the commentariat became the ‘risks’ for the Prime Minister and his strategy – risks that Turnbull imposed on himself. Recall this grandiose double dissolution announcement – once he had secured Senate voting reforms favourable to his party – was hailed as a bold constitutional manoeuvre, nay, Turnbullesque.

Here is what that adjective means: to say or do anything for power, no matter how narcissistic or false, no matter what abuse of incumbency and voting reforms and politicisation of a supposedly neutral institution. And above all else: to desperately project a public image of competent masculinity, while in the backrooms an unruly family of spoilt brats squabble among themselves.

Mommy problem




Southern Cross Ink: on patriotism and violence

Five years ago I went to my first ever Big Day Out. It was a 40th birthday present from my then-17 year old son. We had recently all acquired nanos, courtesy of the Rudd government stimulus package. The offspring loaded mine with music he thought I might like, based on the unfortunate happenstance of coming of age in the 80s. I fell in love with Muse and MCR. He remarked that I have the musical taste of a 15 year old girl.

Anyway, Muse were headlining and there I was with three teen boys – all with lily white skin – and a backpack filled with lychees and olives and sunscreen and a small lunchbox for ice cube refills. The boys were just shy of their 18th birthdays. I made them put on sunscreen in return for beer.

After that, I went back each year. Last year we went with my daughter. At 15 she was old enough for her first big music festival.


Jaz at the Kasabian set, 2010; EvaClaire on Jaz’s shoulders watching Snoop Dogg, 2014

That first BDO was a culture shock. I saw aggressive racism from white men that was overt and overtly ugly. At the time, racist attacks on Indian students were being reported – and the racist component of those attacks largely denied by our political leadership.

As Kevin Dunn (2010) wryly notes, a majority of Australians agree that racism exists in Australia, while 100% of Australian politicians say that it does not.

Around mid-afternoon, in other words in broad daylight, I was walking behind three shirtless young white men draped in our flag and swearing in broad Australian accents. We were at the food court. The food court is a strip of caterers selling meals from all over the world. Both they and I stopped at the dumpling bar.

The white men started raving at the proprietor to go back to his own country. They pulled at their own eyes and affected fake accents to use a range of abusive racist slurs that I have not heard since the 1970s. Back then the words were used more casually than abusively – which is still racist, but marginally less threatening.

As the other two helped themselves to wantons, one of the men leaned in and scooped up fried rice from the bain marie with his bare, filthy hands, tipped his head back, and poured the rice into his boozy gob.

This gross spectacle, of white men behaving violently while asserting cultural superiority – over a man who had clearly laboured night and day to prepare beautiful delicate food – lasted several long minutes. I moved into the space to be served, and to distract the bigots.

They ended their attack with the c-word. I told the closest man to stop speaking like that. Just in my mum-voice: ‘stop speaking like that’. He looked surprised, apologised, and said he was not talking to me. ‘Not you’, he said, like he was the politest guy any mum could meet. I said I don’t care who you’re talking to and moved to place my order. The men moved on. I paid for my dumplings and followed them around at a distance for a while. There were no police or security nearby. I gave up and went back to the main stage.

It is not unusual to observe white men being obscene while asserting that some other group is inferior to them. We heard it this week with Tony Abbott blathering about the superiority of western culture. I have written long and often about Western civilisation, a force of despicable destruction of people and the planet. We also harm our own, having produced a generation more likely to be diagnosed with obesity, diabetes and depression than any other maladies. This is not success.

Later that afternoon I saw a micro-version of the same event. A shirtless young white guy walked up to a drinks wagon, shoulder-shoved the vendor, and dived his hand into the cart, helping himself to several bottles of iced tea. He chucked some ice in the vendor’s face and walked off.

When I relayed these stories, the response from white Australians was nonchalance and denial.

Where was security? Was a common question. Security? What about human decency? At least, unlike with crimes against women, people did not blame the vendors. Yet responsibility quite obviously lies with the violent men; and this was simply not voiced.

This is the Australia we live in; a place where white men who are violent are rarely called to account, and are invariably given the benefit of the doubt. Responsibility for their violence is shifted sideways onto someone else including onto people who were not there, by people who were not there.

Text analysis

I decided to have a look at the wider culture, a culture that supports and fails to condemn the sorts of actions described here. The data set I chose was comments from web pages about BDO and the flag.

The traditional date for BDO Sydney was, for years, the 26 January long weekend. But in December 2005, several large groups of white men violently attacked people of colour in the southern Sydney beach suburb of Cronulla. In January 2006, BDO was a site of ongoing racist violence, including reports of white men demanding people of colour ‘kiss the flag’. The following year, because of these people, organisers asked festival goers to leave their flags at home.

A simple request, easily honoured. Naturally, therefore, the tabloids went nuts. Politicians rushed out solemn statements on rights and flags. The rights of white Australians were, as ever, prioritised and aggressively promoted by white Australians in positions of power: politics, corporations, mass media. The right to not be harassed and assaulted took second place to this jingoistic pandering.

It is my observation that the proliferation of Southern Cross tattoos can be traced to this time. After all, if your Australian flag is on your skin, you can’t leave it at home, right?

That’ll show those Muslims. Or festival organisers. Or someone. Something.


A photo I took with permission ‘for cultural research’ of a festival goer in 2011; the tabloid response to requests to leave the flag at home.

The Daily Telegraph poll hardly bears examination. It is self-selecting, as are the data discussed below; but the Tele poll is also pre-empted by the headline, while the Fairfax data are not.

I used two Fairfax web pages, from Sydney and Melbourne (The Age). The Sydney Morning Herald post asked:

What do you think of the flag controversy? Is the Australian flag a provocative symbol – akin to ‘gang colours’ – as organisers of the Big Day Out suggest? Or is it a unifying symbol? What do you think of the decision to discourage people from taking it to the concert?

This comment thread had 679 entries. Along with 142 comments on The Age post, this represented sufficient bulk to run a text analysis. There was no article, just an open comment thread. I copied the comments into word documents and cleaned up some of the spelling and capitalisation (Aussie and aussi; bdo and BDO) for digital text processing

Central to the digitally-generated semantic map is Cronulla. The suburb name is in the intersection between two theme circles labelled racist and flag. The word riots did not appear – which I suspect it would today. Everyone is referring to yesterday’s anniversary as ten years since the Cronulla riots.

Closer analysis revealed why: the word Cronulla itself had become shorthand for ‘racist riot’, as in ‘we don’t want another Cronulla’ (Sydney) or ‘we don’t want a Cronulla here’ (Melbourne).


Semantic map of comments at Fairfax in response to ‘the flag question’

A few years earlier a friends’ daughter, who is a young Koori woman, had asked me if Southern Cross tattoos are white supremacist. Her question prompted me to subsequently ask men with Southern Cross tattoos – a tow truck driver, the pizza delivery guy, strangers at BDO – what their tattoo means. Each man replied with some variation of the phrase Aussie pride’.

The link between white supremacy and ‘Aussie pride’ can be seen in the semantic map. The word racism is more closely associated with Australia and Australians than any other concept. Nearby, racist gets its own theme circle. In the same circle is the word patriotism.

The map works on co-occurrence. It is more than a word frequency count. It is a visual representation of which words travel together most closely, to each other, most often. The highest ranking results then become the label on the theme circle. The map is showing that more concepts (the dots) are more closely and frequently associated with BDO, flag, and racist than other words (the theme circles usually reflect the question. If not, the researcher should check whether, or how, the data wandered off topic).

So while the men I asked about their Southern Cross tattoos (which in turn either symbolises or forms part of an Australian flag) said ‘Aussie pride’, the Fairfax readers closely linked the concept of racism to Australian and racist to patriotism – all wrapped around by the dominant theme: flag.

Not all semantic maps mirror life quite so closely: racists claiming patriotism, being dominating, while wrapped in the Australian flag. Again, this is only a representation of what interested Fairfax readers wrote online, but it is not a small sample.

In the view of this self-selecting cohort, the problem with the Australian flag at BDO is racist patriotism.

Predictably,  Prime Minister (Howard), Opposition leader (Rudd), and Premier (Iemma) all weighed in, against the organisers and for the flag. Of course for these political leaders, the issue was not racists flaunting the flag but their freedom to do so. This also reflects what Dunn (2010) has found and what most Australians know: that there is racism in our communities; and that the political leadership deny (obfuscate, minimalize, distract from) its existence.

One reason for political denialism around racism is that politicians facilitate racism.

This comment was typical of reader responses:

Unfortunately, some people fail to see that this is John Howard’s Australia, where racism is allowed, as long as you disguise it as patriotism.

While I agree with this sentiment, I disagree that the situation is some kind of random misfortune. The media coverage, politicians’ statements and informal conversations all pointed to historical, structural, and continuously reproduced racist patriotism with harmful consequences and without negative consequences for the perpetrators.

It may seem a long bow to join these dots from racist patriotism, the Australian flag and Southern Cross tattoos, to a white supremacist outlook, or ideology. More factors must also be present, and shown, such as hate based on race. A key indicator of such hate is violence perpetrated by white people against non-white people, with racist intent, or on the basis of race.  According to the Fairfax commenters, this factor was also present.

There were multiple accounts of the flag-kissing story in the comment thread: ‘I was at BDO last year and idiots wearing flags were making people kiss it and punching them if they didn’t.’ Is this eye-witness verification? The answer depends on to what degree we suspect (or know) that people, with the option of anonymity, make up claims on online forums.

The answer is yes of course some people do, and some forums are more likely to attract rubbish claims. But the claims can also be matched to observations and  experience: of Fairfax forums, of the way white men wearing flags (and others) behave at BDO.

Either way, demanding that a person kiss the flag is trespass to the person and threat to assault. Given the demographics of the parties, it is almost certainly also in breach of s. 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act 1975 (Cth). That’s the section that makes unlawful an act that is ‘reasonably likely, in all the circumstances, to offend, insult, humiliate or intimidate’ a person or group on the basis of race. Punching anyone of any race is assault.

I can’t help wondering how many men were held legally or socially to account for kiss-the-flag humiliation, intimidation or assault. Probably, like the events I witnessed, nobody was held to account in any way. In my view, such inaction – along with the tabloid headlines and tacit consent by the political leadership to obscure violence behind the flag – actually facilitates this specific kind of violence.

Other eyewitnesses observed that ‘love of country’ was used by those ‘idiots wearing flags’ to be violent and to excuse violence. There is a case to be made that patriotism is itself innately violent. Patriotism is certainly mobilised around violent actions, like war. It is toxic masculinity at its worst. From declarations of war to war crimes, from group threats and assaults at BDO to racist violence at Cronulla, these scenes are initiated and enacted by men.

Jingoism, however, was not confined to young men, only the incidents of violence.


Festival-goers dressed in matching ‘heart Aussie’ tees with temporary southern cross tattoos, an older man with permanent Southern cross tattoo – taken with permission.

There is one more theme from the Fairfax comment threads I want to look at, particularly since one of the first reported arrests today was of an older man wearing an Aboriginal flag tee shirt.

Of course which organiser would have the balls to say that no Aboriginal can bring an Aboriginal flag alongside saying no one can bring an Australian flag.

This comes from the ‘special treatment’ handbook of racist ideas. It assumes that authorities are intimidated by Aboriginal people when in fact authorities are extremely racist and violent and oppressive towards Aboriginal people. There is a persistent view that Aboriginal people enjoy special rights – rights that white Australians do not hold. This false conclusion is signalled in this comment. The author implies that Aboriginal people may be able to bring their flag while others can not.

This is racist nonsense on several levels. Firstly, no-one was stopped or “banned” from taking the Australian flag anywhere. People were asked to leave their flags at home, due to racist violence disguised as patriotism. Many chose instead to bring more flags.

More relevantly, Aboriginal people do not wrap themselves in their flag and go on violent drunken rampages, or persecute people of this or that ethnic or religious group. This simply does not happen.

At the time, there would have been fresher memories of the 2004 civil unrest in Redfern. Those events were sparked by the police yet again causing the death of an Aboriginal person and being exonerated by the state.

A community in deep pain, expressing anger at loss and state-sanctioned racist violence, is not comparable to a group of drunken white guys targetting people of colour with threats and assault. There is only one commonality here, and that is white men perpetuating structural violence based on race. This commonality is conflated using  false equivalence, via those casually enabling responses I mentioned above: where white men are being violently racist, we shift their responsibility sideways, whether on to victim-survivors (Aboriginal people, women, children) or onto some vague general non-presence (where was security?).

Even the more informed comments about BDO and flags carried a vague idea of Aboriginal First Peoples somehow denying mainstream – white – rights.

Unless you are Aboriginal, we have all come from somewhere outside Australia. The notion that this should be banned is disgraceful, embarrassing, ignorant, and downright pathetic.

We have seen far more debate and precious little progress since then. Adam Goodes is booed for displaying his culture. Justice for Miss Dhu remains out of reach.  In the Northern Territory police enthusiastically exercise paperless arrest powers while knowing for a fact that it will directly cause more deaths of Aboriginal people in custody.

Violence is no less violent when wrapped in a piece of cloth. The analysis here strongly indicates that racism is exacerbated by overt patriotism, as symbolised by the flag. By the same dynamic, patriotism is used to simultaneously mobilise and excuse violence.

It does not have to be this way. Remember Cathy Freeman, effortlessly embracing her identity? She was criticised for this gesture of reconciliation too. What does it tell us that even Cathy Freeman, holding two flags aloft after winning Olympic gold on home soil, is perceived as threatening to a certain kind of white Australian?

If anyone holds deep knowledge of surviving violence and adapting to multiculturalism, it is Aboriginal Australia.







Abbott government ministers hate their ministries and everyone in them

In a sort of political version of Opposite Day, an idea has been kicking around social media for a few weeks on how to best understand the mystery that is the awfulness of the Abbott government. The idea is the Anti-Ministry, and it was quickly recognised and repeated because of the obviousness of its accuracy.

For starters, the Commonwealth government is headed by Captain No himself.

Tony Abbott remains in stubborn denial of the fact that he is no longer the leader of the Opposition but in fact the leader of the government. Leaders set the culture and tone and outlook of any organisation. This is so even when the specific leader lacks any actual leadership qualities, as with the current Australian Prime Minister.

Once I heard the Anti-Minister idea, I saw evidence that every man in cabinet behaves as though he hates his portfolio and everyone in it. This is not so bizarre. Consider the fact that the ruling LNP touts itself as following free market ideology, yet hands out huge corporate subsidies. This is a party that claims to be for small government and freedom, yet interferes in the lives of citizens to the extent that the grocery shopping habits of poor people are brought under its purview by force of law.

In that spirit then, here is another shopping list: of the Cabinet and their area of responsibility. Every single one of them is acting against the interests of those for whom he is responsible as a minister.

Malcolm Turnbull pretends that destroying the National Broadband Network and gutting public broadcasters ABC and SBS is good policy. Turnbull is the Anti-Communications Minister.

Kevin Andrews wants to cut pensions in real terms and bar job-seekers who are under 30 years old from any income support at all for up to six months. He is the ultimate Anti-Human Services Minister.

David Johnston disses Australian Submarine Corporation workers while failing to mount an argument against falls in real wages for defence force personnel. He is not the defence minister, he is the Anti-Defence Minister.

Greg Hunt wrote his Honours thesis on climate change policy. As minister, he has overseen dumping dredge fill where it will damage the World Heritage-listed Great Barrier Reef. As anti-Environment minister, his greatest triumph to date is the repeal of the highly successful, market theory-based price on carbon.

George Brandis the Attorney-General. He champions “free speech” at the expense of legal redress for members of minority groups when their human rights are violated. The highest law officer in the land is demonstrably anti-justice.

Barnaby Joyce, elected by National Party-supporting farmers, looks out for mining interests that destroy farmland. His boss Warren Truss goes a step further, by being the Anti-Deputy Prime Minister. Truss is the second highest-ranking politician in the country, yet no-one ever sees him.

If Christopher Pyne does not hate public education, he has a funny way of showing it. In just over a year in office, the Anti-Education Minister has trashed the great social justice project that is represented by the Gonski reforms; and pushed to quadruple the cost of tertiary education.

Likewise, Peter Dutton displays every sign of hating universal health care, a cornerstone of our democracy. Dutton reckons that charging again for doctor visits – on top of the Medicare levy – should deter poor people, who have the worst health outcomes and the lowest capacity to pay. As of today, this ideologically confused “price signal” is current policy from the Anti-Health Minister.

I’ve published thousands of words, and spent far too much time, on Joe Hockey and his cigar-chomping buddy Matthias Cormann here and besides, The Kouk does the job far more professionally and pithily than I can do.

Suffice to say that the two most senior ministers on budgetary matters are running up debt while running down confidence, and with it, the economy into the ground. They are Anti-Economy Ministers.

Together, this cabal are the Anti-Ministry.

At the top of the Anti-everything cabinet is something called the National Security Committee. This four-person inner sanctum is dedicated to distributing the message that Australia is under existential threat from frightening external sources. The purpose of this political strategy is two-fold: to distract from gross human rights abuses, the LNP-created budget mess and serial ineptness; and to justify further inteference in the lives of citizens, such as via data retention.

Again, this fits the Opposite Day pattern. If there is a country in the world more remote from anywhere and under any less existential threat than Australia, it is beyond the wilds of Siberia. Greenland, perhaps (yet no less vulnerable to climate change, about which we hear nothing – too real). If there is a law less representative of small government and liberal freedoms than data retention, I am yet to come across it this century.

The National Security Council is made up of the invisible Truss, who we need not mention again, and Morrison, Bishop, and Abbott. What a treat are these three: a trifecta of terror-mongering ghouls, pushing their political ambitions via manufactured threat after jumped up faux-military spectacle.

Leaving aside the euphoria of seeing a one-term LNP state government defeated tonight GO VICTORIA WE LOVE YOU the Anti-Ministry thesis sprang from deep frustration at the sheer deceit that shines through in every policy statement and political message put out by this negative-only government. It is the lies, and the lies about the lies in Opposition, compounded by the piles of lies in government, that are starting to bite.

The only woman, Julie Bishop – who unsurprisingly is the least-worst at her job (work twice as hard for half the recognition because chromosomes and all that) – is getting a bit of a soft-focus run as potential leadership material at the moment. There’s probably no need to go there right now – she is attracting plenty of attention, and vitriol. I am old enough to remember when the LNP turned in desperation to the other woman Bishop, the one making as much a mockery of Parliamentary process today as Abbott makes of “leadership”.

That leaves Morrison and Abbott. Of course the culture of the Anti-Ministry is ultimately down to Abbott, the man who set the Captain No train on its seemingly unstoppable runaway track. He is stubborn and deceitful and practices a peculiar type of denialism that could be mere thick-headedness but probably contains a dose of malice as well. In other words, his refusal to switch from his Captain No oppositionalism might be simply because he lacks the skills to do so – but I doubt it. Abbott does come across as pretty thick, but he has some strategically smart advisers.

Either way, Abbott’s failure to adapt to the rather serious matter of being head of government is the hallmark of his Anti-Government: run by an Anti-Cabinet and, without exception, a slew of Anti-their-portfolio-responsibility Ministers.

Half the National Security Committee, Tony Abbott and Julie Bishop, tend to crowd the stage to glorify, in faux-solemnity, such events as the deaths of Australians on a civil aircraft, or our participation in the blowing up of people and property in Iraq. Again. These two use the same old tactics, politicising the military, surrounding themselves with brass to try and buy popularity and credibility by association. This is an association which, like Abbott’s other crutch, the churches, is mired in a culture of sexual abuse that stretches back decades if not centuries. They appoint the same old men as proved incapable of peace-keeping or creative diplomacy last time or the time before that.

The remaining member that counts, Scott Morrison, also surrounds himself with military brass to cement in the public mind that asylum seekers are a military threat to Australia. In reality, the war is on another continent, a war in which we are doing our unnecessary and uninvited bit to create more displaced persons through state-sanctioned violence – the worst kind. It is in this way that Morrison perpetuates the most horrendous Anti-Ministry charade of all. We actively participate in destroying the lives of thousands overseas. We then deny any sanctuary on our home soil to those victims of the violence we visit on foreign nationals.

While Abbott and Bishop are the architects of Australian contributions to the bloodbath in Iraq, Morrison is responsible for the inhumane, insanity-inducing conditions of off-shore detention as established by our government.

It is a close-run thing, but Scott Morrison is barely second to his boss in hypocrisy and deceit; and almost certainly, due to both his personality and his position, outdoes the rest of them for inhuman cruelty. His inhumanity is so appalling that this month the UN Committee Against Torture sanctioned our treatment of asylum seekers under the Convention Against Torture. Against Torture. Australia. And Morrison has minors in his care.

This and two other approaches under the Anti-Immigration Minister stand out from the more mundane racism, mendacity and dehumanisation. The first is the way this Anti-Government is wilfully and ignorantly damaging our standing abroad. We are not particularly important, so our reputation is easily damaged while our diplomacy is routinely ignored. The UN CAT Committee decision and refoulement of refugees to homelands where they are at very high risk of being tortured and killed, put our name out there for being in breach of international law. Negative negative negative. Given its approach and composition, how could this government produce any other outcome?

The other two are at the domestic level. These are the two that demonstrate that this government is so Anti-Everything except being in government that it is trashing our shared democratic principles; as well as their own liberal ideology. The shared principles are the separation of military and civilian law and function in a democracy. The military are for self-defence; other members of the executive (immigration department officials, say) are for non-military tasks. We have seen this line become increasingly blurred elsewhere, such as the military-issue equipment being used against civilians in Ferguson, Missouri.

Implying that asylum seekers are an illegal and invading hoard dehumanises asylum seekers and thus diminishes us all. It also diminishes our own understandings of the separation of powers; and the distinction between what is a foreign threat requiring a military response; and what is a domestic jurisdiction requiring action by public servants such as customs officials (who have also recently been given stronger law enforcement powers around the so-called threat of “foreign fighters”).

This deliberate blurring of foreign dangers and manageable numbers of desperate people means that we are unlikely to recognise an actual threat when we see it. For example, our most important allies/trading partners, the USA and China, are acting on climate change and the Anti-Australian government is refusing to respond. This is a far greater threat than a trickle of desperate survivors of wars in which we participate.

The Anti-Immigration Minister, right this moment, is overseeing a policy which ensures that desperate people fleeing from persecution will be worse off for having entered his sphere of influence. Morrison, whose 90-odd communications staff must be working overtime at our expense today, is busily denying that we oversaw the refoulement of 36 Sri Lankan asylum seekers. No doubt he is hoping the story will sink under the Victorian election outcome.

I heard Morrison say three times in as many minutes this afternoon that the asylum seekers had been screened “in person”. Is there some other way of processing asylum seeker applications? Of course there is not, but because we are no longer processing applications at all, Morrison kept repeating that the government had screened the asylum seekers “in person”.

The whole depressing spectacle of course is also giving paid to the lie that the government has “stopped the boats”. How are Australian officials screening asylum seekers at sea on boats which have stopped setting out for Australia?

This is a man whose heartless cruelty in the governance of people fleeing persecution –that’s asylum seekers to you and me, or “illegals” to the dehumanising mind-set of the Anti-Government – is comparable only to his mammoth hypocrisy in calling himself a Christian. Can a human being be illegal? If so, under what law, international covenant or cultural norm? The answer is no. Morrison is deliberately perpetuating a lie and dehumanising asylum seekers. He is the Anti-Immigration Minister. Every single one of them.

It should be remembered that over 90% of asylum seekers under at least the last two administrations, both ALP and the LNP policies, have been found by the department and Refugee Review Tribunal to be genuinely fleeing persecution. These decisions, some of which proceed through the Federal Court and High Court appeals processes, are made under the terms of the 1951 Refugee Convention and our unforgivably compromised Migration Act 1958 (Cth). This is the legal system we have, the one all government ministers as well as naturalised citizens, swear to uphold. Naturally, therefore, the Abbott government has installed a man with the heart of a persecutor to oversee people fleeing persecution.

The remaining outrage is the rampant profiteering from human misery that is facilitated by this Anti-Immigration government, at mammoth cost to the Australian taxpayer.

While the horrifically flawed and jumped-up defence policy Operation Sovereign Borders operates to politicise the Royal Australian Navy, it also operates to enormous financial benefit of giant corporation Transfield.

The Transfield contract is reported to be for $1.2 billion of our taxpayer dollars. And according to multiple credible sources, such as the UN-endorsed agency Save the Children and the highly-regarded Asylum Seeker Resource Centre and its equally well-respected CEO Kon Karapanagiotidis, asylum seekers who are forcibly sent to off-shore detention by the Australian government are exposed to huge dangers such as sexual assault, including of children, by armed guards.

Two men have paid the ultimate price, one by medical neglect and one by armed violence. Neither of these deaths were from natural causes, both were preventable, both occurred due to the actions and decisions of people we, the Australian taxpayers, fund – along with the money we forward to the pure profit of the corporation and its shareholders. Estimates vary, but the cost of off-shore detention is said to be between $400000 and $800000 per person per year. Even for such a colossal cost, Reza Berrati was not “secure” under the management of “security” corporation Transfield. He is dead, killed by agents of the state, people whose wages are funded by us.

Another man who costs us many hundreds of thousands of dollars in salary, staff, travel and so on is responsible for the well-being of asylum seekers, including children. In March this year, the former Sydney broadsheet reported that Morrison had 66 spin doctors to massage his litany of lies into media messages. By June, this had become 95 “communications” staff – presumably said spin doctors and associated assistants. The cost is reported to be over $8 million per year, on top of thousands in media monitoring retainers. This extremely expensive person presides over multiple forms of abuse carried out by our staff, via our contracts, via our elected government.

That Morrison is responsible – and under the principles of the Westminster system he is in fact both responsible and accountable – for these inhumane policies and practices while calling himself a Christian says nothing for Morrison or his religion. These tragedies have resulted from the decisions of his government. These atrocities are committed by agents of the state – via the “efficient” private sector – efficient at profiteering, that is – representatives of a state that we have elected.

All this is for political ambition, of course. Morrison is eying off the prize. There will be no refraining from covetousness for this self-proclaimed Christian. He is not as stupid as a box of hammers but he is about as Christ-like as a packet of razorblades. He will probably get Treasury at the first ministerial re-shuffle. Who knows, he will probably get whatever he wants for battering away at the ludicrously named Operation Sovereign Borders, a label in the finest tradition of the Anti-Immigration Minister, with its implication that the persecuted and the destitute are invading our remote and safe and wealthy island. How revolting. What a hypocrite. Yet entirely in keeping with the social media thesis that invoking Opposite Day is the best way to make sense of every single thing this government says and does.

Joe will be the first to go

Over at my favourite blog of all time is a critique of Miranda Devine listing the academic and professional qualifications of federal government members. It is one of those shallow obsequious pieces of writing in which Devine specialises, all hagiographic knob-polishing, as loonpond calls it, but it has one interesting feature. Devine did not list the sterling university career of Joe Hockey.

Joe is just like the rest of them, a wealthy male who attended an elite university and obtained qualifications in law. A quick google shows his double degree was in arts and law, but Devine was not for googling that day.

One might have hoped that with all those economic-law degrees floating about the place, one of their holders might be put in charge of the national budget, but that is not how our system works. Despite the elaborate story-telling that is required to sustain facades like ‘reward for effort’ and ‘merit-based promotion’, these narratives remain twisted fairy tales of self-interested lies, disseminated to paint poor people as lazy and rich people as virtuous.

The current federal government is dominated by white men in a culture that – despite the massive work done by generations of women and people of colour – is dominated by white men. Two stand out from the crowd.

The first is Foreign Minister Julie Bishop. Julie is doing her thing, propped up by the usual media toadies. Our foreign policy, what there is of it, lacks any substance or strategy or generosity to the developing world. But she gets out there and sells it relatively competently. She does not serially demonstrate incompetence and complete insensitivity the way Abbott and Hockey do. She’s from Western Australia, so the NSW Independent Commission of Corruption (ICAC) is not closing in on her fund-raising activities. She is credible on her portfolio in that shallow, 24-hour news-cycle, no-need-for-actual-depth-or-knowledge way. Her unsavoury actions as a corporate lawyer defending those nice insurance companies against nasty asbestiosis sufferers are unreported and unscrutinised outside social media. She has followed in the footsteps of a certain breed of thick-skinned and wilfully-ignorant privileged white woman by publicly denying feminism.

The other one is Hockey. Joe is not white. No matter how many blue ties he dons and elite educational institutions he has attended, he will never be a white man, and they know it and he knows it and this is the root of Joe’s try-hard wannabe callousness and aggression. He will never quite belong, but he desperately wants to, so he is always on the lookout for opportunities to out-white-man the white men.

It is relatively well-known that Joe’s family hail from Palestine and Armenia. The two groups have been ruthlessly persecuted: the Palestinians by the Israelis and the Armenians by the Turks. Both groups have suffered, if not final solution genocide, then at the very least genocidal intentions aimed at their peoples.

Being a politician, Joe dusts off his heritage every now and then and trots it out for political gain. The most memorable occasion was his dishonest and calculated histrionics about children in detention when in opposition. We haven’t heard much from Joe on children in detention, or murders in detention, or criminal neglect in detention, since Joe became Treasurer. We haven’t heard anything because Joe does not care about people in detention, not children, not anyone. Like a lot of rich people, he wants to pull up the ladder that he had the privilege to climb, and spit on those below.

But Hockey is in all assorts of trouble. Six months after it was tabled in the House of Representatives, much of his budget has not passed the Senate. The odious Finance Minister Matthias Cormann is being wheeled out to sell the compromises and deals and back-room bargains the government is trying to close. Cormann is no better at budget salesmanship than Joe, but he is white, even if he is the worst thing to come out of Brussels since the sprout (as comedian Subby Valentine quipped last week). Whiteness routinely attracts credibility, and is rewarded with it on a silver platter by the gutter press.

The state of ICT having reached where it has, there is ample evidence kicking about the internet that Joe Hockey is a deeply unpleasant man. The most recent story doing the rounds, and the inspiration for this post, is that Joe called the Mayor of North Sydney at 6pm on a Friday night to discuss the placement of outdoor furniture at a pizza restaurant. The Mayor has denied taking the call. Joe has not denied making it. In one column I saw, Joe seemed to be proud of throwing his weight around in front of his children while childishly tantrumming for not getting what he wanted, which was an outdoor table and footpath realignment or something.

What a truly awful man. The cigars on budget night also got a wide airing. There they were, Hockey and Cormann, chomping away on the best Havana could produce, in celebration of kicking the poor from here to next year – on health, education, and income support. The three most fundamental universal tenets of our liberal democracy went up in a puff of smoke, driven skywards by a bunch of bandits who call themselves Liberals. Revolting.

Then there was the dancing. Joe was reportedly dancing in his office with the wife while the primary-school aged son entertained himself to the tune of ‘Best Day of My Life’. Again, ew yuck gross, but what about the excuse Joe gave the next day? ‘It was more to do with our little boy’ Joe assured ABC radio. He hadn’t seen his boy for want of budget work, you see, so when he did see the child he was so happy that he danced with his wife while the child sat by in dad’s office. No politicisation of family there, nope none at all, nothing to do with budget night celebrations. Just sheer joy at seeing his son. Ugh.

All this is repulsive of course, but the real problem is reflected in the nickname bestowed on Hockey: eleventy. The man can not add up. He is economically illiterate. A dunce. Bottom of the class. He can’t explain the budget, partly because he doesn’t care about its impacts on the most vulnerable, but chiefly because he has no idea what he’s talking about. Like most powerful incompetent men who are promoted way beyond their abilities, he only has two settings when called out: indignant and sooky. This is the bully mode of operating, for all bullies are cowards who project their inner sookiness with aggression. Anger and self-pity are pretty much the two least attractive traits in any person, and are most certainly hideous when displayed in public by complacent, self-entitled, smug male elites.

So Joe is a terrible politician, stumbling and bumbling about his portfolio, appearing sweaty and dishevelled on television, unnerved, incompetent and in turns impulsively arrogant and horribly stupid. He does not grasp fiscal matters and he can not sell his message.

Joe is also the member for North Sydney. While we await the findings of the ICAC, here are a few observations that suggest to me that Joe will be the first minister in the Abbott government to be demoted.

The first is the obvious demographic flaw of having been born a brown person yet choosing to join the Liberal Party. The Libs are no place for women or gays or brown or black folks. Every person who belongs to one of these groups and the Liberal Party is asking to be exploited and demoralised and hung out to dry. I simply do not get Aboriginal membership of the Liberal Party, or women members of the Liberal Party. But then I do not really get membership of political parties in general. All political parties strike me as hyper-masculine aggressive spaces where women are shouted down and talked over and belittled and ignored.

Next, the North Sydney Forum, the fund-raising sub-branch of the Millennium Forum established for the election of Joe, is looking a bit tarnished when a key fund-raiser was called before the ICAC in August. The trail is murky, and I do not have the investigative skills of the great Kate McClymont, journalist hero of the ICAC hearings, who recently spoke so eloquently on the terrible experience that is a lawyered-up politician intent on quashing public debate through the cunning use of defamation law. But anyway, here goes.

There are laws against accepting money from developers in NSW, because the relationship between developers and politicians has been showed to be continually, systemically corrupt. Yet the developer corporation Buildev continued to donate to the Liberal Party through various guises. Emails obtained by the corruption watchdog show that developer Nathan Tinkler was not shy in articulating his demands for returns on his investment-donation from the ruling LNP government. Two state Liberal MPs resigned over specific corrupt dealings with developers. Another seven have moved to cross-benches to await the ICAC findings. Those who resigned have been replaced with Labor members. The LNP decided not to contest the by-elections. Again, this is at NSW state political level. ICAC has no remit over federal matters.

The state-federal intersection gets difficult to trace. It requires a stronger grasp of the relationship between the parliamentary representatives who form government and political party structures – fund-raising, pre-selection, state executive and the like – than I have or care to acquire. These parliamentary and administrative arms of the Liberal party are separate on paper, yet obviously overlap in life: membership, degrees of influence that numbers men have over candidates and safe seats and so on. To claim that the two are separate or independent entities is legal sophistry. Each exists for the other.

The Millennium Forum was headed by executive chairman Paul Nicolaou, a former head of the pubs and pokies lobby group and acting state director of the Liberal Party. The organisation has been quickly dismantled and rebuilt as the Federal Forum, with the same purpose, structure, and avarice. The Liberal Party is awash with trust fund lawyers and corporate types who are expert in the accrual and disguise of wealth. The replacement of the Millenium Forum with the Federal Forum may fool nobody, it is a tried and tired trick, but it still works to keep the law at bay and the money rolling in.

These dodgy favour-sellers are the end-product of an ugly mix of politics, power, wealth, and deception. The misuse of the law for one’s own ends, like some kind of rich boys’ vigilante posse, perverts the spirit of the law. Exploiting every letter of every relevant law, many of which they have had an active hand in making or amending, is gross and naked greed, wealthy westerners at our absolute worst, corrupting democratic processes for the sordid ends of the power-addicted uber-rich.

The other piece of writing on the wall centres on yet more emails, this time from the desk of Federal Liberal party director Brian Loughnane. This one is also deeply murky on many levels. Briza is married to Peta Credlin, who is Tony Abbott’s chief of staff. Credlin is ubiquitous, ever-present, globetrotting, permanently by Abbott’s side, always quick with a sanitary wipe or a handy word for those hair dye and spray tan and clunking inanity emergencies.

Here is the rub. If the ICAC closes in on corrupt donations to the Liberal Party, and the Millennium Forum has been replaced by the Federal Forum, and the North Sydney Forum is all about Joe, and the federal director is married to the chief of staff and the shit hits the fan, someone will have to take the fall. Political parties are like every other political organisation in the history of humanity that has recognised the ancient powerful usefulness of the sacrificial goat.

The goat is almost certainly Joe. The ICAC problems are centred in Sydney and surrounds. Abbott and Credlin will be protected at all costs. Joe is brown. He is terrible at his job. The North Sydney Forum has been selling a pup: access to Joe for annual membership of $22,000 per annum. We too have been sold a pup, of course, paying millions in salary and benefits to a Treasurer who can’t explain indexation without slurring the poor and revealing the depth of his arrogance and ignorance.

The age of entitlement is over, declared Joe, a bloke who demands that an elected mayor should take time out on a Friday night to soothe old Joe over street furniture and fire regulations. Poor people don’t have cars chortled Joe as he struggled to explain an increase in the fuel excise despite the fact that he is remunerated to the tune of $400,000 every year by us to know, understand and communicate such concepts. I never intended to offend anyone sweated Joe, as true to his breed he proved yet again that it is absolutely impossible for born-to-rule elite men to offer sincere apologies for their multitude of careless oversights, brash ignorance, and cruel determination to make others’ lives a misery.

As invisible as Joe after another of his jaw-droppingly incoherent ramblings on the budget are the national economic figures under this pack of brats who endlessly tout themselves as the party of economic management. I wouldn’t trust them with the lunch money. They are stupendously bad at economic management. They don’t know what they’re doing and they don’t care. Hockey is even worse than John Howard as Treasurer under Fraser, and Howard was until now the worst Treasurer in living memory. He knew nothing, got there on the numbers, and sheer rat cunning. Joe is worse.

The best source is over at the blog of Steven Koukoulas but here is a brief summary. Both business and consumer confidence are lower than each index has shown since before the election. Employment is down. The economy is barely growing, and at a sharply lower rate. The dollar has dropped to the high 80s against the greenback after being above parity under the previous government. The budget deficit has more than doubled in the one year of LNP government. Yep, the Libs have run up more debt in a year than Labor accumulated during two terms and responding to the Global Financial Crisis. The Labor deficit was genuine policy-based Keynesian economics that kept us out of recession. The LNP deficit is sheer profligacy and poor management.

We have no climate policy except the absurd notion that paying $2 billion to big polluters to not pollute is some kind of substitute for policy. Our dream of a National Broadband Network – an obvious social equaliser with massive economy-wide efficiency dividends – is in tatters. Our Prime Minister has committed to spending half-a-billion dollars per year in another baseless shameful invasion of Iraq despite the fact that the Iraqis do not want us there. Super jets. Rich parents paid to breed. Continued fuel subsidies to foreign-owned mining companies while the punters pay more at the bowser. Increased costs to access health services. And the absolute basest fruit-loopiest insult of all: a call from the king of all haters and juvenile stunts himself, Tony ditch-the-witch no-doesn’t-mean-no Abbott, calling for a debate on increasing the goods and services tax “without hurling insults”. He said that with a straight face. He is beyond help.

There is another reason I chose to remind ourselves of the odious characters in charge of our economy. The government has appointed the equally self-entitled mega-miner Twiggy Forrest to review welfare spending. Twigs reckons the road to empowerment of low-income households is to foist an in-kind no-cash system on the nation’s most impoverished citizens. In the grand tradition of these things, it is being touted as a ‘healthy welfare’ card. No booze, no smokes, just government-approved spending from the bullshit department of the party of small government and freedom telling you what you may buy in the way of groceries for your household.

This disgusting piece of social control, this gross invasion by government into the tiniest details of the private lives of citizens, this revolting meting out of punishment to people who are actively impoverished and oppressed by the state, has already been around for seven years in our national laboratory for oppressive impoverishment, also known as remote Aboriginal communities.

These kinds of government actions are deliberate humiliation of the poor. It is extreme neo-liberal ideology of the worst kind, the kind that says poor people are lazy and rich people not just hard-working but somehow retrospectively endowed with great wisdom and virtue – because they’ve plundered and manipulated their way to a fortune through cheap access to mineral resources, rent-seeking, wage-cutting, mass sackings and the rich man’s gambling den, the stock market.

Think twice about invisible Joe. His day is coming sooner than the rest of the bandits running around at our expense, shafting all but the wealthy, and pretending to govern the country.

The “envelope” metaphor:

I heard Alistair MacGibbon, Centre for Internet Safety (ANU) on ABC 702 Drive using the envelope metaphor on Tuesday afternoon (August 5). He specifically said that metadata includes information on the ‘front and the back’ of the envelope. Abbott only retained the ‘front of the envelope’ part which is why his mangled bullshit about ‘where the traffic comes from’ made absolutely no sense at all.

By the time he appeared on TV that night, someone had spelt it out for him (again) and he cleared up any misunderstanding with this explanation: “It’s not the content of the letter, it’s what’s on the envelope … it’s not what you’re doing on the internet, it’s the sites you’re visiting. It’s not the content, it’s just where you’ve been, so to speak.”

Maybe Abbott genuinely can’t see the difference between leaving a digital footprint and shredding or burning an envelope. Or maybe he just pretends to be this thick. Perhaps he never independently assesses any policy idea. I think he hears what he wants to see and sees what he wants to hear.

I think I got that right.

The TV quote above is from this site:
The author unambiguously states that the ‘envelope metaphor’ is “a dangerous falsehood”.

I tend to agree

Repeal s18C. Get offended. Often

Treasurer Joe Hockey is offended by wind farms. And criticisms of his unspeakably cruel and greedy budget. Immigration Minister Scott Morrison is offended by a case being brought on behalf of 50 drowned asylum seekers. And people praying in his office. The default response of government ministers to truth is that they are offended.

This is true. Truth does offend members of the Australian federal government. It causes them to hesitate, for nanoseconds. The artefact of memory, the residual sense of the moment when they could still say they entered politics to do good – to serve the people, to create positive change – is finally severed, floats free, never to return. Any conviction that the ideology to which they subscribe has the capacity to serve anything or anyone other than themselves and their corporate sponsors is cut adrift for the final time. It is replaced by increasingly shrinking, urgently repeated phrases prefaced by statements of belief. “No, Sarah, what I was saying was, I believe that…” in various formats and guises. The emptiness of these claims exposes the fact that they have no belief at all (as do the shameful claims to hold Christian “beliefs”, from Morrison of all people). Instead, we hear a desperate desire to believe one’s own bullshit, a desire so desperate that none know what they believe anymore; but only what they are supposed to believe. Today. Or for this station’s audience. Or when the sun comes out in June.

Asserting that some personal-party-political “belief” is any kind of grounds for policy making is not new; but its unwelcome presence on the political stage is particularly noxious in the age of climate change. Just quite when the self-interest of denialists became permitted to dominate public debate over scientific evidence can be traced to the fatal decision of Kevin Rudd to back away from an emissions trading scheme in 2009.

The backstory is long and dull. The Greens voted down the first bill in the Senate, the Prime Minister negotiated with then-Opposition leader Malcolm Turnbull rather than call a double dissolution election. Both lost their positions – Rudd to Julia Gillard, Turnbull to Tony Abbott. Not on the sidelines but front and centre to the whole debacle were the feral employees of the Murdoch Press, columnists and editors and headline writers who have lost all sense of media standards, if they had any.

As with the concerted campaign to switch from “global warming” to “climate change”, the language war on scientific fact was won by denialists. The climate change narrative was skilfully reframed by people whose only skill is to obfuscate facts and reframe narratives for political ends. Now the debate was about whether one “believes” in climate change or “doesn’t believe” in climate change. The anti-climate action position was sustained by nothing but lies and political expedience – and claims of personal “belief”.

This is base. It is debased. It is a foul gamble with the future of the earth and intergenerational equity. It benefits no-one but the fossil fuel and other compromised corporate kings of today who can clearly sell out their own grandchildren for profit. It is also what we have, what we must live with, and in the case of the carbon tax repeal bill, what is going through the Commonwealth House of Representatives tonight.

In addition to the terminal threats posed by these monsters of capital, therefore, is this debasement of language – and thus principle, for changes in language are never meaningless, regardless of whether Abbott assaults our ears with his “terminological clarification” (Oh FFS). The precautionary principle, ditched. The principle of intergenerational equity, jettisoned. The “new policy” (and I use the word loosely) is defended in media interviews on the basis of “belief” and, even more ridiculously, what is “offensive”. Suggest to Joe Hockey that wind farming is a sustainable renewable alternative to coal. Wind farms, he asserts, offend him. Point out to Scott Morrison that Reza Berati, the Iranian asylum seeker who died during an armed attack by local guards whose employment is funded by the Australian taxpayer, was murdered on his watch. The mere suggestion is offensive to Scott. Not the murder, mind. That Scott is any way accountable.

Our Foreign Minister likes to lecture others on when to be offended. Apparently she missed the memo about getting offended by the whiff of truth in interviewer questions, and instead has told everyone else to stop getting offended by Abbott’s unreconstructed sexism. She is wheeled out to be a woman defending a misogynist, a trick used by both parties: oh look, she’s a woman, and she’s defending him, so his sleaze and creep must be a figure of our collective imagination. Nothing at all to do with the fact that he’s her boss, and she’s in cabinet and wants to stay there. Nor the fact that she’s a woman and is therefore the chosen spokesperson for the defence. Nope, she sincerely “believes” there is nothing offensive in the winking, the references to a candidate’s sex appeal, or the daughter’s looks, or the rest of the chauvinistic shit for which he is constantly, incomprehensively forgiven. Constantly, because he keeps doing it; incomprehensively, because he keeps doing it.

Peculiarly enough, the defence of Abbott is always that he has three daughters. This is not in itself evidence of non-sexism. The fact the he relentlessly paraded the daughters before the cameras throughout the campaign and referred to their looks in his leering bumbling way is not refuting evidence at all – it is the opposite. For me, the special corner in his hell should be reserved for the way he treated our first female prime minister, Julia Gillard. Among an embarrassment of choices, the nadir is his snide mockery of the anti-rapist campaign “no means no” by saying Are you suggesting to me that when it comes to Julia, no doesn’t mean no? Many fellow bloggers have listed myriad quotes and links – just google Tony Abbott sexist quotes – I can not rake over these nasty expressions of Abbott’s personality again. What niggles at me the question of whether the electorate perceives each as a vote-winner, or as forgivable ‘gaffes’, or simply overlooks the obvious character defects signalled by such ugly language.

But I headed this entry with reference to the planned repeal of “offence” from section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act 1975 (Cth). There was a reason for that, and it is this: anything that goes for blackfellas seems to incite collective white panic. It is a common misconception among elites that social justice policies will cost them dearly. Since nothing is more dear than the hip pocket, elites campaign relentlessly against equalising policy like the NDIS, universal healthcare, increased investment in education among lower socio-economic groups and so on.

This may showcase their complete economic ignorance. Do privileged people know that most estimates put returns on social investment at between $17 and $34 per dollar spent on early childhood interventions such as baby health nurses and other family supports? That’s upwards of $17 returned on every dollar spent. The savings are in reduced costs of healthcare, welfare, public housing, and the big one: the criminal justice system. The profits are in employment, increased productivity and increased tax receipts.

Or it may showcase their naked greed: the privileged definitely understand the transfer of power that comes with such equalising policy as investing in education and adequate housing in impoverished neighbourhoods (neighbourhoods which have been actively impoversished, by guess who). Returns on investment may include the privileged hearing criticism of their narrow world view, or for once competing with a less loaded dice, or actually competing. This is unappetising to a group who have invested centuries in convincing themselves and others that their assets are the product of hard work, and represent “just” rewards (as opposed to the indolent poor, who receive “just” desserts). As George Monbiot points out, “if wealth was the inevitable result of hard work, every woman in Africa would be a millionaire”.

But the point. In 2008, Kevin Rudd apologised to the Stolen Generations. The Aboriginal Stolen generations. Those Aboriginal children who were forcibly removed from their families, many if not most on grounds of being Aboriginal. It was a crime second only to the original dispossession and massacre. And then, what? All of a sudden it seemed like everyone was getting an apology. Not that the subsequent recipients did not deserve a heartfelt apology. They did. As do many more who are systematically oppressed and impoverished by the state. But it was like anything those blackfellas get, we must have too.

The taking of offence has followed the same trajectory. A group of Aboriginal people proved in a court of law that a white columnist had behaved extremely offensively. The offence was proved, the offender was found in breach of the Racial Discrimination Act. The offendees were entitled to the offence they took, AT LAW. All of a sudden every elite in the land was offended; or lecturing on who was entitled to be offended, and by what. And that everyone has a right to be offensive (this last claim, from the highest law officer in the country, is so absurdly false as to be embarrassing: there are no legislative gurantees of free speech in Australia, offensive or otherwise). The gist of it is this: if those blackfellas can be offended, we can too. The same thing happens with “entitlement”. While the Tories merrily feather their nest with their extremely expensive entitlements (like taxpayers funding their travel to hob-nobby weddings), the rest of us are lectured over ‘income support’ pittances, less for a week than MP per diem allowances for a day away from home.

When petulant elites hijack the victim role while asserting their right to victimise (a la Bolt and Brandis), someone has probably had a basic human right recognised by power. Members of a less powerful group have probably been recognised – by power – as having had their basic rights denied – by power. The Bolts of this world do not like such recognition. They push back, and push back hard. When the next key sentiment emerges from this nasty government, the pattern is sure to repeat.

The ongoing embarrassment that is Tony Abbott in government

There were, and are, far more important daily outrages again today than the umming and erring of the Australian Prime Minister. But I couldn’t come at them, having depressed myself stupid by reading Robert Manne’s wise and prescient profile of Tony Abbott circa 2009 in The Monthly. The article, written during the first Rudd government, draws on Abbott’s record as a Howard government minister, and was re-linked today by my blog of choice (daily loonpond doses available at in the wake of the horrific news streaming from Iraq this week. In it, Prof Manne references at length the Abbott manifesto Battlelines, a copy of which I am the proud owner, courtesy of a 40th birthday present from the remaining Liberal party member with whom I can bear to speak (if he wasn’t married to an altogether more intelligent and compassionate person, I would probably fall out of touch completely, or at least for the duration and reconstruction).

It was a timely reminder. I had forgotten, for example, that the ham-fisted gold-plated Paid Parental Leave Scheme Abbott cooked up to encourage more babies from “women of calibre”, and his nasty proposal to impoverish and dehumanise unemployed people under 30, first appeared way back then. Anyone could have done their homework and seen this LNP train wreck coming from the day Abbott won the leadership by a single vote. And that is precisely what Prof Manne did. What cold comfort then that he has only ‘I told you so’ rather than ‘phew, thank goodness Abbott shared what he really thinks and we all ran a mile from that’.

Prof M starts with the Santamaria legacy, making a persuasive case that it is core to understanding Abbott the man and politician (as David Marr concurred a week or so ago, in The Saturday Paper). He then canvasses the general inconsistency of the Abbott mind, building to a crescendo of criticism that in my secret dreams I, too, am capable of writing and seeing published in a reputable magazine:

“….in defending the Howard government’s Iraq record, Abbott argues that “it was to liberate other people, to advance everyone’s interest and to uphold universal values that ‘the coalition of the willing’ went to war.” Does he not understand that he has just given us a kindergarten version of neo-conservative strategic doctrine, albeit one from which the explicit ambition for undisputed American global hegemony has been conveniently excised?
Abbott’s discussion of the Howard government’s involvement in the invasion of Iraq points to something in his political personality altogether disconcerting. As a con-sequence of Iraq, certainly tens and possibly hundreds of thousands of people have died. Abbott was a member of the government that took Australia to war on the basis of a false intelligence trail. There is, however, no trace of anguish or even defensiveness in his discussion. A similar moral imperturbability is found when he discusses the Howard government’s treatment of asylum seekers or the question of Indigenous reconciliation. Despite the fact that the prolonged detention of asylum seekers inflicts grievous suffering and serious mental illness on very many innocent people, Abbott is apparently untouched. The rights of the asylum seekers, he tells us, have to be balanced against the rights of Australians to protect their borders. No more needs to be said. Abbott has reluctantly come to accept the apology to the Stolen Generations. His grudging tardiness is explained by the fact that, as he makes clear in Battlelines, he regards the dispossession and destruction of the Aboriginal people as merely a failure “to extend to Aboriginal people the kind of sympathetic understanding that was readily extended, say, to the Irish and their predicament” and the decades-long forced removal of Aboriginal children as “a mild enough form of racism”. No less disconcerting are his unbelievably superficial discussions of the Global Financial Crisis and the impending catastrophe of climate change. Although the ideological folly and the material greed of the most respectable brokers and bankers of Wall Street were responsible for the most devastating global economic collapse since the Great Depression, Battlelines shows Abbott’s naive faith in the beneficence of market capitalism altogether untouched. Even more seriously, Abbott must know that if the climate scientists are right, there is a chance that the very future of the Earth is in peril. Yet, because the issue has been thoroughly politicised and because his fellow conservatives in Australia and abroad have opted for do-nothing climate change denialism, Abbott is content to thoughtlessly follow their lead.”

See the full article in The Monthly at

So there it is, it’s all there, out there on the web for anyone and everyone to see, the jabbering incoherence, the radical religionist, and the relentless mendacity of all free market ideologues who babble about small government while spending taxpayers’ money with the kind of thoughtless abandon that comes to those who have never actually earned their keep at all. As pithy truth detector George Monbiot points out, if wealth really is “the inevitable result of hard work and enterprise, every woman in Africa would be a millionaire.”