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

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

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

Review by Ingrid Matthews

[Alert: Spoilers]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

– Marriage pressure?

– No.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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No Glory to this Story

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

Where did the votes go?

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

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

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

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

Background to the numbers

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But why? Why?

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

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

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

BACKGROUND TO THE 2019 ELECTION OUTCOME: A HYPOTHETICAL.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I thought everybody did that?

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

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

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

Me: …

Them: …

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

How was the 2019 Australian Election Won?

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

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

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

Whoever. That’s it. That’s the story.

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

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

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

 

Lies, damn lies and the flatlining economy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Neoliberal policy settings, briefly

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Back to the federal election campaign

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

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

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

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

It is not that hard.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Moving on.

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

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

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

In brief:

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

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

So I guess my question is:

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

One final point

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

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

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

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

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

To conclude

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

Imagining A Parallel Campaign

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

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

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

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

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

The Great Moral Challenge of Our Time

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

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

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

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

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

Voice Treaty Truth

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It’s the economy, because it always is

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And that is why I have signed up for Ausvotes2019.

 

 

 

Blood on all their hands

In the 2010 federal election, the Liberal Democrat Party in New South Wales polled around 96,000 votes. In 2013 their first-placed candidate polled around 416,000 votes. This analysis shows that the party increased its vote by over 50 times, or 5000% between 2007 and 2013.

Wow! That party is on the up and up! It must be quite something, right?

Well, no. According to the winning candidate, some people “voted for us because we were first on the ballot paper – there is always a sizeable number of people who don’t care… Then there are some people who mistook us for the Liberals, probably the Liberals, but they could also have mistaken us for the Christian Democrats or even the ordinary Democrats.”

In his own words, David Leyonhjelm was elected by the donkey vote, lazy Liberal Party supporters, a few illiterate Christians, and someone who forgot that the Democrats disappeared in a puff of GST smoke (watch that space).

Here is the same information in formal logic terms. There are correlations between the facts – exponential increase in the vote, the number one spot on the ballot papers (which is drawn from a hat), the apathy of rusted-on Liberal Party voters – from which we can draw conclusions. Correlation is not causation. Correlation can, if researchers have sufficient context and skill, be evidence of causation. What this means is that there are plausible reasons – correlated facts – that explain what probably, in all likelihood, ahead of other random non-correlative or non-fact based explanations, caused the outcome.

Of particular note: the candidate posits that he was not elected on his policies or abilities or appeal, but due to the party name and its lucky ballot paper placement. He is an elected representative who is not representative of the electorate. In the parlance of liberalism, his achievements are not on merit.

This pro-gun, anti-feminist, aging white male ‘libertarian’ nevertheless took a seat in the Australian parliament on the recently increased backbencher salary of $203,020 a year (plus expenses). Not bad for a lazy liberal constituency and some donkeys. At the same time, penalty rates have been cut for some of Australia’s most insecure and lowest paid workers. The government has legislated future income tax cuts of over $7000 a year for people who are paid – wait for it – over $200Kpa. Low and middle income workers get about $10 a week.

The total cost to the budget bottom line is an estimated $140 billion over ten years – the time period chosen by a government facing certain defeat in the next 18 months to sell what are basically budget booby-traps. Structural deficits in the Howard-era model. Pre-legislating to sabotage an incoming administration may seem extreme, but is really nothing more than variation on a very familiar theme. The post-electoral budget blackhole scream was long a best-selling performance, until then-Treasurer Peter Costello introduced the Charter of Budget Honesty in a moment of panic. Like all tory policy, this became an opportunity to tell lies in set pieces designed for the dissemination of dishonesty.

Meanwhile, the unemployment payment for people who would notice $10 a week – or $7000 a year – remains unchanged. The conditions for income support have been made, by the usual method, which is by passing legislation, ever more immeasurably, horrifically, breathtakingly, cruelly, and fatally worse.

Anyway where were we? Oh yes. Before coasting into the Senate on the previously unexplored opportunities of the lazy Liberal donkey combo, Leyonhjelm was a failed candidate for Liberal Party pre-selection. And since then, collecting millions in AEC campaign allowances on the way – on top of that $200Kpa – he has, like the racist Hanson, voted with the conservative Coalition government 60 per cent of the time.

Who cares? Well, very few people, until the day the parliament rose for the 2018 winter recess and South Australian Greens Senator Sarah Hanson-Young stood to read into the Hansard the disgusting remarks this aging white male ‘libertarian’ regularly shouted across the chamber – sexual harassment, given the Senate is her workplace – under parliamentary privilege. What followed was a full week of media coverage.

The ABC, among less credible and trusted news organisations, chose to provide a platform to the sexist senator to repeat his revolting remarks, multiple times. This is entirely predictable. There he was, talking talking, given every opportunity to legitimise, validate, disseminate and amplify his crass and nasty message… by the 730 Report, on ABC Sydney radio, on Radio National.

This is irresponsible and dangerous. Here is the evidence.

David Leyonjhelm speaks directly to a group in our society euphemistically known as MRAs, or Mens Rights Activists (predictably, a white man has been given a platform to opine on this obvious fact without noting the complicity of the media. It is in the Guardian feel free to google it). These men are aggressive, angry, violent or potentially violent, and their core culture is derived from separated fathers. Violent men who have less domination and control over a woman who has left them and their children than they once exercised are extremely dangerous.

In a developed country with universal health care, the most dangerous time in a woman’s life is leaving an abusive male. One third of all homicides were preceded by domestic violence. Not coincidentally, the vast majority of mass shooters in the USA are men who have previously abused women they know. The same is true of the ‘terrorist’ Man Haron Monis, a man who probably was mentally ill, unlike all the white males who kill family members and are unreflexively offered this benefit of the doubt. Monis sent letters to then-Attorney General George Brandis, flagging his questionable stability, but nothing was done. His actions were later used to justify more ‘anti-terror’ laws; but not to increase funding for women’s shelters or mental health services.

The angry violent men who blame women for their inadequacies are the audience Leyonhjelm wants to reach. His purpose is simple: re-election to the Senate. This is the workplace where he harasses Senator Sarah Hanson Young with nasty innuendo that he has repeated widely courtesy of legacy media, including three times on the ABC Sydney radio drive program in one half-hour segment.

Every time, Leyonjhelm is increasingly enabled to reach his audience of angry men. It does not matter what false equivalence is later offered up as ‘balance’, such as interviewing Senator Hanson-Young the next day. Any media professional who thinks that irrational and angry men will tune in the next day to carefully weigh up the ‘other side’ is a fool who a) knows nothing about angry violent men; and b) has been played. The damage is done.

At the end of a week when Leyonhjelm was indulged all over the airwaves and his hideous opinions discussed at length in print and online, a separated father shot dead his two children in cold blood and then killed himself. Another man has been arrested for burning down a house with a woman inside. He was reportedly her ‘carer’. She is dead. Think about that. Two more men have been arrested for murder. Both victims were women with whom they were or had been in a relationship with the killer. Think about that, too.

Here are the facts which correlate. A pro-gun, anti-feminist politician who speaks directly to angry violent men was provided with widespread exposure to espouse his nasty hateful views across multiple media platforms. These decisions by editorial teams amplified his views well beyond an otherwise tiny audience. Given the credibility and trust in which the ABC in particular is held, these decisions validated and legitimized him as an elected representative. Remember, he was elected by a donkey vote and some lazy Liberal Party supporters. He needs exposure to survive, and was given it.

By the end of that week of saturation coverage, the average rate at which men kill women in this country – which is one per week – had tripled. Then there was the child-killer. So four times as many men killed five times as many victims as are killed on average in what are euphemistically called ‘domestic violence incidents’.

That is the correlation. Is there a causal connection?

My answer is yes. First, the increase is so great as to not be statistically insignificant. Sorry to be so cold, but this is the kind of logic that males with influence, but who are none too informed on male violence, demand of women. I said earlier that correlation is not causation, and that correlation can be evidence of causation, if the person joining the dots has the context and skills to do so. When the person with the requisite skills and knowledge is a woman, and a pro-gun anti-feminist has been given a platform to communicate with his constituency of angry men, the Science is Facts!! crowd start shouting in defence of violent men at women survivors of domestic violence.

So, we muster more logic, tedious and unnecessary to anyone with an ounce of humanity as this ought to be, and do the thing, which is to account for other possible variables. For example, we know that men are more violent to more women in particular sets of circumstances. These circumstances include big sporting occasions, holiday periods, and the hotter months. The football factor is so pronounced that there are advertisements in the UK showing how many more men will beat up women when England loses, which it just did, in the World Cup.

Were these factors present during the week in which Leyonhjelm broadcast his misogynist views to his angry male audience via a complacent and complicit media which can only perceive ‘balance’ from its own programming perspective? No. There was no footy grand final, no long weekend, no commercialised religious tradition. It is the middle of winter.

There is one other conclusion available: that at the end of a week when the media widely disseminated and legitimised the crass and misogynist norms of a male parliamentarian, we saw a significant but completely random increase in the number of men killing women and children. Maybe.

In news that will surprise nobody who knows anything about male violence, in the aftermath of the slaughter this week, an even less plausible thesis has been offered.

Like David Leyonjhelm, the institutions in our society are white and patriarchal. This is true of politics, the parliament, government, bureaucracy. It is true of media and families, corporations and industry, religion, universities, the arts. What this means, and it is not a complex proposition, is that the executive, the people with the most authority and influence over other people’s lives, is dominated and controlled by white men.

What has this apparatus in its wisdom ponied up in response to saturation coverage of a man whose politics encourage violent men? A campaign to reinstate the womens shelters which were smashed by premier Mike Baird in New South Wales? Funding and support for women to secure safe and affordable housing for themselves and their children? A spotlight on the billions wasted on anti-terror measures when men terrorise women and children in their own homes every day of the week?

In the midst of peak violence week, Fairfax produced this headline: Leyonhjelm has ignited outrage that is years overdue. It is not a terrible article. Its author, the highly respected Stephanie Dowrick, has many good points to make. And I, too, hesitated to write about Leyonjhelm at all, given a week of exposure culminated in a week of men killing women and children at such a massively increased rate.

But this is just my own little platform and I felt strongly that the case for correlation as evidence of causation had to be made. Sometimes a blog serves the simple purpose of saying, yes, I do think these phenomena are related. I have done my homework. I do understand the arguments. And I wrote about it.

My response is both emotional and logical. I am a domestic violence survivor, and so are my three children. And? None of us should have to parade our pain to legitimise an emotional response to the levels of violence that are tolerated and enabled by white hetero-patriarchy, which cares only for its own. I am also a teacher to future lawyers on logic and critical thought, and co-authored a text book in the field. So I have extensive scholarly knowledge and extensive lived experience. This does not stop many men in multiple contexts presuming to hold greater insight than I do.

Violence is emotional, and I should not have to out myself as a survivor or tout my academic credentials to make such a straightforward ontological point. But I do, because here we are. None of us get to resign from patriarchy.

I am not here for the absurd argument that a gun-loving woman-hater started a conversation or that this is a good thing™. I am not here for the erasure implicit in the bland observation that people are talking about it now when we have been talking about it for years. I am vehemently not here to allocate credit to a vile politician, and the media who legitimised his views, with having done anything, anything at all, to assist women and children escaping from a violent man. If you think ‘police can’t do anything’ or the courts ‘hands are tied’ or that AVOs are ‘just a piece of paper’, wait until I tell you about the efficacy of the commentariat congratulating themselves for having a conversation.

If you can see the blood on all their hands, and are stuck in workplaces and social environments and conversations with people who can not, this post is for you.

 

 

 

AND SO THIS IS ANZAC DAY

Like Valentines day and Halloween, which were non-events when I was growing up, the twenty-first century incarnation of ANZAC Day bears no resemblance whatsoever to when World War vets were alive and marching and telling interviewers that war is an unmitigated disaster of the human project that we should always, always caution against under any and all circumstances.

My memories are as clouded by time and nostalgia as the next person. Commonality of human trait is not an easy thing to pin. As a student and scholar of jurisprudence, I often examine such questions; and I tentatively offer that nostalgia, like curiosity, is a characteristic shared, if not by every individual human, then by most if not all human cultures.

From the 1970s: colour television. Seeing someone we knew on screen was a BIG deal. Nowadays it is practically impossible to not see people we know on screens, given how widespread is the smart phone as a medium. But back then the old black and white television behaved the same way as those TVs in the Mad Men scenes, vertically scrolling without anyone tapping a touch screen; fizzing and zapping and jumping at the slightest movement of an aerial or the weather.

Both my parents were born during the second world war. Each wedding photo of my grandparents shows a beautiful woman in a stunningly elaborate white gown, and a man in uniform. When my own children were born, and when I left and became a single mother, I gleaned a strength from those photos that defied how little I really knew of their lives. I would talk to my grandmothers in the car when I felt alone; or late at night when the children were asleep.

The context is not what government or politicians or media tell me ANZAC Day is about. It is the oral history passed on by my mother. It is the sure knowledge that both my grandmothers were alone with a baby, my mum and my dad, and that my grandmas knew how difficult that can be. Keeping a baby alive, keeping baby fed and clean and clothed and happy, is not easy. It is not easy in isolated circumstances, beyond our control, because of violence, like wars and domestic violence. This is how I connected to my grandmothers in those moments when I thought I might go under, and here is what they – and the existence of my mum and dad – reminded me: we are not entirely alone. Baby is a person too.

The human condition is social. The human spirit is geared for company. The baby, the child, the young person, the tween and the teen and the adult, is a person. One of the hardest lessons I learned from my children, and there are many, was the simple insistence: I am here too mum. Yes, I struggled with housing and utility bills and the uselessness of the law to ‘protect’ us hur hur and education and sport and all the responsibilities, of course I did.

But here is the thing. Not only were my kids always there, they are great company. Being around them is fun, and enlightening, and uplifting. And they had no choice. What were they supposed to do, compete in a free market of more or less terrible parents? The only adult human who could negotiate this treacherous world on their behalf is me.

When I was five and six and seven, on the 24th of April, my mum would ask if we wanted to be woken up to watch the march. A big drawcard was that we might see grandad on television.

Two memories: the ecstatic excitement, always with a tinge of doubt, as the parade passed the cameras. Was it our granddad? There he is! It’s Dee! We called my mum’s dad Dee, he was David, named for his maternal uncle who was in turn overseas in 1918, when my grandfather was born. In case he never came back, my mum would share gravely, a story passed down as families do.

And then it was Don’t Touch! Don’t put your greasy fingers on the screen! For years I thought I had uniquely greasy fingers. Many years later, when the greasy finger marks of my children obscured blindspot vision checks while driving, I came to appreciate why greasy finger marks should be discouraged. Lol.

After we watched the ANZAC Day march, and saw – or maybe saw – grandad on TV, we went about our day. Dad would tell me and my sister to pick up the dog poo and the damn bones so he could mow the lawn, a task we hated (we hated all tasks). Mum would tell us to put away the dishes, and clean our rooms (ditto). In other words, a normal day. Domestic tasks. Household chores. Family matters. A household headed by two people whose lives were irreparably shaped by the second world war, and their parents were more so, literally lived and born into it.

This is my ANZAC Day memory. This is my knowledge of what is called world war. Not the Bean or the Monash, nor the Greste or the ABC. My grandmothers are why I am here today and I pay my respects to everything they did.

*my mum’s dad his family in WWII there were 5 siblings Barbara, a WAC, her husband Colin, all the brothers Ted (Edward), Derek, David and Leonard their surname is Giblin thank you

The Aboriginal Child Placement Principle is Unenforceable at Law

Late last year, the Nationals member for Lyne in New South Wales was appointed assistant minister for children and families. In a tired and predictable charade, this comfortable white man appointed to a well-paid position is learning for the first time of harsh conditions in which many First Peoples live since the theft of their country. When I lived in Alice Springs in 1994-95, which was peak Mabo-scare time, it was then-Opposition leader Alexander Downer who took out his hanky while touring remote communities.

Indigenous poverty is a direct result of colonisation. There was no alcoholism, and there were no hungry children, here for 65,000 years. As Senator Malarndirri McCarthy recalled at the annual Dr Charles Perkins AO Memorial Oration in 2016, one of Dr Perkins’ key messages was to ‘never leave anyone behind’. This is not a political slogan, as it would be in my culture, but a central organising principle of Aboriginal societies.

Junior minister David Gillespie says he had his ‘eyes opened in the last couple of weeks’ to pervasive problems which have never been solved by comfortable white men recently appointed to well-paid positions and discovering for the first time what First Peoples have known all their lives and have tried, with staggering patience, to tell government and white Australian society.

He added “If a child is being raped we can’t just say it’s OK on cultural grounds.”

According to SBS (link above): ‘Dr Gillespie believes the need to keep Aboriginal children in Indigenous communities “doesn’t trump other issues’”… He believes it’s “pretty poor” only 143 of the nearly 48,000 Australian children in foster care last year had been adopted.’

In news that will surprise no-one, Channel 7 Sunrise invited two white people to comment on whether white families should be ‘allowed’ to adopt Aboriginal children. There is no law against the state placing Aboriginal children with, or being adopted by, white families, although it is difficult to tell whether the Minister understands this.

The Minister and the Media

The first task is to call out the shoddy breakfast television show Sunrise, which many Aboriginal and other people have done, as in this Twitter moments. This is not cost neutral: responding to the endless, exhausting stereotyping of Aboriginal identity has a price.

Meanwhile, the nasty Sunrise segment opens up space on other media platforms for Gillespie to repeat his message; and for his message to gain traction and credibility. This has already happened with a soft interview on ABC24 asking whether ‘laws should be changed to allow’ white adoption of black children.

So another call-out is crucial, because the premises for Gillespie’s remarks are wrong.

The peak Indigenous body National Congress of Australia’s First Peoples swiftly released a statement, saying that Congress

“agrees that vulnerable children should be removed, but we are troubled by the knowledge from past Royal Commissions of the dangers of neglect and abuse perpetrated within institutions and of the failures of many out-of-home-care alternatives. We desperately need to know: where we are removing our children to?”

Congress’s statement underscores the fact that there is no evidence of Aboriginal people expressing the view that child abuse should be ignored on ‘cultural grounds’. In reality, there is footage from all over the country, most recently Tennant Creek, of Aboriginal people saying the exact opposite.

So who is Gillespie talking about? Well, he did mention [white] child protection workers expressing fear that they will be labelled racist for removing Aboriginal children, so maybe it is them. In reality, Aboriginal children are disproportionately removed for ‘neglect’, the most flexible, shall we say, ground for removal. In contrast, non-Aboriginal children are more likely to be removed for physical or sexual abuse.

As it turns out, these patterns of decision-making, and the ministerial and media focus on physical and sexual abuse, are racist. It is a function of imposing white middle class values and standards on Aboriginal families, of ignoring and erasing the ongoing trauma of dispossession and colonisation, and a failure of empathy. It is white savourism in compound, base, and damaging forms.

Meanwhile, the chatter sparked by Sunrise will cause more apprehension, fear, and exhausted resignation that the same fights must be fought over again just to keep Black children with Black families. The unfounded or fabricated impressions are broadcast to a receptively racist public, who uncritically consume messages about Aboriginal identity. The messages attack Aboriginal parents where it hurts any parent most: their children.

Here is a brand new junior minister for children and young people who has chosen to stigmatise and re-traumatise and gaslight Aboriginal people, blaming the Blacks for the failures of the state, and all the evidence shows that the state is a terrible, terrible parent.

The Minister and the Law

That well-paid white men seek media attention to drive their political ambition at the expense of Aboriginal children is not new, but it never gets any less revolting. Who had heard of David Gillespie before today?

Gillespie is a federal minister, but child protection is a state responsibility. So he is out of his jurisdiction, telling ABC24 he is ‘stimulating policy’ discussion. Thanks, minister. More seriously, the NSW Children and Young People (Care and Protection) Act 1998 does not create any enforceable rights regarding placement of Aboriginal children with white or Aboriginal families. This is a little-known but important feature of the Act.

The specific exclusion of enforceable legal rights or entitlements is in s. 7 of the NSW Act:

7 What is the role of the objects and principles of this Act?

The provisions of this Chapter are intended to give guidance and direction in the administration of this Act. They do not create, or confer on any person, any right or entitlement enforceable at law.

This section governs Chapter 2, which includes “Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Principles”. The Aboriginal Child Placement Principle is an important principle, enshrining in law a preferred mode of practice – kinship care – and was hard-fought.

The principle was agreed at national level and then enacted into state and territory legislation, a not-unusual federated model. It directs social workers to seek to place Black children who are removed with family or kin first, or Aboriginal households. Placement with non-Aboriginal families is meant to be a last resort.

There are similar provisions in s. 10A with regard to prospective adoption of Aboriginal children. Yet the Minister, while tending to conflate out-of-home (foster) care with adoption – which are very different for children, family, and carers – generated multiple headlines shouting Let White Families Adopt Aboriginal Children – Minister.

Where are we then?

There is no law to be changed, because there is no law barring placement of Aboriginal children with white families. No child protection worker has ever faced legal consequences, whether under the Racial Discrimination Act 1975 (Cth) or any other statute, for breaching the Aboriginal Child Placement Principle, because the [NSW] Act which contains the Principle specifically rules out the possibility of creating or conferring any ‘right or entitlement enforceable at law’.

The remarks by the minister (whether thoughtless, ignorant, or malicious) create the impression that Aboriginal families are uniquely deviant or incapable – when they have successfully raised their children and passed on their knowledge for a longer continuous period than any Peoples on earth.

The errors of law and fact implied or stated by the Minister have been enthusiastically repeated, first by the odious Sunrise and then by the rest as space opens up in its racist wake. Meanwhile, like many who enjoy the same demographic privilege as him, the junior minister for children and families appears to have strolled into his quarter-million-dollar-plus per annum position with an alarming lack of knowledge, experience, and empathy. At the same time, he has achieved several goals of most politicians. He got his mug on the telly, lifted his name recognition, and stamped his brand of paternalism on his portfolio. this was done at the expense of Aboriginal children, young people, parents, families, and communities.

Politics 2017 Finale: The Bin Fire Edition

So much to take credit for, so little effort! A Royal Commission instigated by a Labor Prime Minister; a Yes campaign in which the work done and harm suffered was by people other than the political class; a by-election won by a conservative man called John; a MYEFO presaged by strategic leaks to produce misleading headlines!

All bundled into a convenient narrative of the prime minister getting his thirtieth chance or his fiftieth reboot or his mojo back or whatever. It must be quite something, to repeatedly, endlessly, receive the benefit of the doubt on a national scale. Especially when any lingering doubt has long since departed the minds of thinking observers.

Because what the prime minister wants (ending the year on a “high note”) is indistinguishable from the national interest, right?

Yeah nah.

This month, between the house and the hustings, many long-term issues – the Uluru Statement, off-shore refugee camps, the NDIS – were put to the prime minister in a solo appearance on the ABC QandA program. It was a golden opportunity to show the intellect and statesmanship that allegedly forms part of his political repertoire.

He didn’t though, because it doesn’t, and he can’t.

The Terrible Show

Turnbull oozes a smugness that many mistake for charm. Then someone holds him to account for some dodgy nonsense he has said, or his government has done. Suddenly the smug-charm turns to outright condescension, he belittles and bullies, manipulates facts, and misleads his audience.

When host Virginia Trioli asked about a recording which, the evidence suggests, must have been leaked by security services, Turnbull implied she was impugning the spooks. He told Iranian Australian and ship-wreck survivor Yaser Naseri that he cares about asylum seeker deaths at sea (he doesn’t); he told Tommasina Owens of his fine grasp on the difficulties faced by her aging father caring for her brother with severe disabilities (he doesn’t). He did not answer Michael Doyle on his future vision for recognising Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people (he couldn’t).

This bonfire of vanities culminated when Teela Reid, who participated in the Regional Dialogues, asked about the Uluru Statement. After reeling off the usual spurious points – mischaracterising the Voice to Parliament as a House of Parliament (it isn’t); asserting that Indigenous MPs represent Indigenous constituencies (they don’t) – the prime minister used a technique called gaslighting.

Gaslighting is when the speaker not only distorts the question (“straw man”) but also seeks to make the other person doubt their own position, loyalties, or self-worth. Turnbull accused Ms Reid of disrespecting Indigenous MPs (she didn’t) while asserting that he himself has the greatest respect for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander history, culture, and people (he doesn’t). He put this argument while disrespecting an Aboriginal woman on national television.

For the record, Ms Reid remains confident of her position and respect for her people.

Yes Success

December kicked off with the passing of an amendment to the Marriage Act. Pushing on through measurable harm resulting in increased demand for mental health services, raising and dispersing funds not only for activism but for support, the rainbow community finally saw marriage equality made law.

When the prime minister, who did not campaign, rose to move that the bill be read for a third time – an essential step to making a bill into law – he accidentally gave a victory speech instead. The Speaker reminded him to do his job, and the error was edited from history. As is always expected of progressive punters – conservatives actually know they are the nastier bunch – the Yes folks generously shared their joy with all.

Responses to responses

The Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse is a grave moment. Its scale is gargantuan: five gruelling years, more than 1.2 million documents; testimony from over 8,000 people; a 21-volume final report; more than 400 recommendations. By all accounts, the commitment, professionalism and thoroughness of the Commission were impeccable.

Did Turnbull and the (then) responsible Minister, Christian Porter, rise to the occasion?

On the last day of hearings, Porter was tweeting a selfie at the cricket with John Howard. He followed this up with an awkward speech thanking the Commission and survivors, and boasting about increased sentences for child sex offenders, a common political response with no known efficacy.

Presumably Porter had been tapped for promotion and was merely going through the motions.

“An outstanding exercise in love”, declared Malcolm Turnbull creepily, of a child abuse investigation. He also reiterated his policy of limiting and capping the compensation costs, which are to be borne by the Australian public. The policy rules out redress for victims with a conviction for a serious crime. Given that police routinely escalate charges against Aboriginal suspects, this will disproportionately disenfranchise Aboriginal survivors. The policy is racist, arbitrary, populist, and unjust.

Predictably, catholic church leaders conducted tacky, tone-deaf press conferences, speaking to the obscure theology of the confessional seal, and defending their vows of celibacy. On Insiders, veteran church-watcher David Marr called their defence of the confessional ‘barbaric’. Social media exploded. But the depravity of grown men who purport to be virgins discussing celibacy and theology when the true issue is sexual abuse of children went without comment from our political leaders.

Another by-election

If you thought the skin-crawling display from Joyce and Turnbull in New England (my write-up here) wait til you hear about the oratorical wit of Bennelong MP John Alexander.

‘John is an honest man’, Turnbull shouted at the happy throng, despite the fact that he had lied on a statutory declaration about checking his eligibility parliament. ‘A hard-working man’, crowed the PM, among other hackneyed descriptors invoking a tennis career rather than political career – because what political career?

In real life, this retiree-in-waiting bunks down in Bondi while renting his Moss Vale mansion for $1400 a night – without declaring it. He says sexist, racist and ableist things on camera. He makes non-apologies, and channels Donald Trump, saying ‘no-one has done more for people with disabilities than I have’.

This is not true. Thousands of people, including children, care for people with disabilities from dawn to dusk and every hour in-between every single day for a carer’s allowance that amounts to 7 cents an hour above the Newstart rate… so no, John. Stop lying.

MYEFO

The Mid-Year Economic Fiscal Outlook (MYEFO) was delivered by a man whose degree is in ‘applied economic geography’ and who has apparently now been informed that cutting wages dampens demand, and consumption, and growth.

The trick to MYEFO is for Treasurers to cut spending, preferably targeting people who conservative politicians hate, like students and migrants and children. This disinvestment in education and social cohesion is called ‘savings’. The budget deficit increase projection is revised downward, and presto! An economically illiterate press babble ignorantly about ‘slashing debt’. By the time financial journalists produce a more sober analysis, of falling real wages and rising public and private debt, the government got the headlines it wanted.

The caravan moves on

And there it is. A quick trip across the Australian political landscape reveals long-term issues like First Peoples justice and rights, our torture of refugees, and what was once enthusiastically sold as ‘debt and deficit disaster’, have gotten nowhere. It shows a prime minister with no vision for the future, and apparently no capacity to form one.

So season’s greetings! Thank you for your time, and for your shares and comments. I look forward to writing more next year.

*This post was first published by Independent Australia on Wednesday 20 December 2017

Marriage equality and Joycean humility: the week that was

Nobody with ears could mistake the words of recently re-elected Nationals Party leader Barnaby Joyce for stirring speechmaking. But in a close run thing, the indulgent nonsense from Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, when the House of Representatives eventually reconvened to debate marriage equality, was the bigger oratorical mess.

Joyce first. The footage of his breathlessly anticipated return to Canberra shows Barnaby muddling through a poorly-conceived and grossly misleading analogy on eligibility for the national parliament.

“We threw ourselves under a bus”, said Joyce of his decision to stay on in cabinet and the parliament until disqualified by the High Court of Australia. “Matty Canavan came out the other side, I got stuck under there for a little while.” The camera zooms in briefly on that footy ruck neck and his lanyard strap. VISITOR.

That VISITOR stamp was a momentary reprieve from an otherwise grim reality. The thumping Joyce victory is disappointing and dangerous. I lived and voted in New England from 1989 to 2002, and visit every year to see family and stand with community against coal and coal seam gas mining. I have written at length that Joyce talks the farming talk while walking the mining walk.

The Joyce victory is a betrayal of traditional custodians and their country, of farmers and food production, and of looming climate catastrophe. It is also telling of a hyper-masculine culture that many voters knew why Mrs Joyce and their daughters were not on the campaign trail, and voted for him anyway.

That reason was kept strictly under wraps until Joyce was safely back in Canberra in record time. As ABC political editor Andrew Probyn told Insiders, the fastest turnaround from by-election to swearing in was previously 11 days. Joyce took four days. That timing was essential to avoiding the referral of several Coalition MPs to the High Court for potential breaches of the Constitution, but Joyce had other matters on his mind.

While preaching on ‘traditional marriage’ – whatever that is – to the parliament, Joyce announced publicly for the first time that he is currently separated ‘so that is on the record’. Presumably he meant ‘on the record as of this exact moment’. Joyce later told radio 2GB that he disclosed his marriage breakdown – widely tipped to be caused by his adultery – so as not to appear hypocritical. While a worthy goal, this is logically unattainable goal, given events and the passage of time.

“Some Nationals also feel that locals may have voted for Mr Joyce on principle,” reported the ABC, “or in sympathy because they felt the High Court citizenship ruling had been harsh.”

What principles? Joyce tracked across the electorate – was there was a New England pub he did not visit? – telling his constituency he did not understand why a fine bloke like his good self was disqualified from the parliament. This actively encourages ignorance of, and disrespect for, the Constitution. Which is his call, except that Joyce votes on laws that govern this country, and collects a hefty parliamentary salary, under that same Constitution.

But the by-election was not about the Constitution, because Joyce is apparently some kind of unreconstructed retail politics genius. “If you want to focus on the person in the weatherboard and iron they will give you the grace of their vote,” he said. That is code for the poor white rural (Australianised rustbelt) vote, as Joyce told Fairfax here.

The reality is that New Englanders know which side on which their bread is buttered. The cache of having the Deputy Prime Minister as the local member is real. Government largesse rains down upon New England at a greater rate than in any other electorate. At the same time, you could count the number of New England farmers who support government handouts on no hands. Agrarian socialist entitlement is as intractable as it is invisible to its beneficiaries.

Anyway, it worked. A victorious  Joyce said he is “completely and utterly humbled”, as shown here with an equally humble Prime Minister. You can practically smell the humility.

 

If the Joyce victory speech was a clatter of misplaced triumphalism and cringe-worthy hypocrisy – which it was – nothing can top the way Turnbull carried himself during the passage of the bill drafted to legalise marriage equality.

The highlight of the Turnbull “gay marriage” speech – such a staunch supporter, just ask him – was this piece of patronising gibberish:

“Co-dependency is a good thing. If we believe two gay people are better off together than living alone, comforted only by their respective cats, then why should we deprive that relationship of equal recognition?”

The question, recall, is equality before the law – specifically sections 5 (definition of marriage between a man and woman) and 88EA (recognition of overseas marriages not between a man and woman) of the Marriage Act 1961 (Cth) as enacted under s. 51(xxi) of the Australian Constitution (the marriage power). Since 2004 – the date at which ‘traditional marriage’ was defined by the Howard government – and until Friday 8 December 2017, that definition discriminated against same-sex couples.

It is not about religion, or sex education, or de facto relationships, or cats. It is fundamentally not about whether “we believe two gay people are better off together than living alone”. They can do that now, without scrutiny by the entire electorate. Yet having put thousands of people through an unnecessarily protracted and intrusive survey process, the Prime Minister endorses legal recognition of rainbow couples getting married by grossly insulting single gay people, complete with cat schtick. Classy, huh?

Turnbull then cited David Cameron, the bloke who brought on Brexit. That still-unresolved matter has seen an increase in hate crimes, cost millions, and was essentially designed to outsource petty internal differences between two white conservative men who attended Oxford University.

Sounds familiar, doesn’t it?

“And for those to see this [sic] as an ideological issue”, Turnbull brayed in that paternalistic hector that he imagines portrays gravitas and great moment, “recall British Prime Minister David Cameron as he spoke for marriage equality six years ago: ‘To anyone who has reservations, I say Yes, it is about equality, but it’s also about something else: commitment. Conservatives believe in the ties that bind us; that society is stronger when we make vows to each other and support each other. So I don’t support gay marriage despite being a Conservative. I support gay marriage because I’m a Conservative.”

There it is. Turnbull outs himself as a conservative by quoting an actual Tory.

I mention this, because one of the most irritating features of the Turnbull government years is a press gallery which insists on the existence of moderate Malcolm. This is not true. Turnbull is an ideological chameleon, a man of ambition rather than loyalty, who once reportedly said “I could never succeed in the Labor party as it would be unforgiving towards someone who had been a successful businessman”.

The idea that Turnbull may have joined the Labor Party is ridiculous. Turnbull married into blue-blood Liberal heritage, as he reminded us in the second reading speech extracted above. As we watch Trump unravelling live on his twitter stream, the proposition that being a businessman somehow trains an individual for public life is exposed as the self-serving lie it has always been.

It does not matter how enthralled our fourth estate remain by “the Prime Minister held court as he regaled all and sundry with witty anecdotes about his days as Kerry Packer’s lawyer”. Whatever, Phil. This is a lawyer who as a politician basically concedes that his team are announcing a new legislative package designed to criminalise and otherwise control their political opponents (Senator Sam Dastiyari and GetUp! if you were wondering). That is not democracy but authoritarianism, so at least Turnbull himself has finally put to bed the myth of moderate Malcolm, given myriad other examples, including the shabby lonely cat dig at single gay people.

The bill reaches the House of Representatives

Tone-deaf as that verbal imagery was, the next day Turnbull’s performance was substantially worse. As those carefully watching the procedure would have noticed, Turnbull was not responsible for commissioning the drafting of ‘the Dean Smith bill’. It began legislative life as a private members bill, introduced in the Senate.

After the postal survey results were announced, Turnbull assigned passage of the bill through the lower house to himself. In the normal course of events, a bill is tabled (first reading), debated (second reading) and passed (third reading). In this case, the second reading was interminable. Every MP and their dog wanted a position on the record. The conservative derailment exercises in pre-defeated amendments went on and fucking on.

Even Tony Abbott, who campaigned against his own sister and delayed the reform for as long as politically possible, whose electorate returned a 75% Yes in the postal survey, who left the chamber so as not to vote on the bill – and whose ‘traditional marriage’ hypocrisy is as well-kept a secret as Joyce’s – got his mug on the news as he banged on with his bigoted bullshit.

The debate was also derailed by that s. 44 disqualification vote which Joyce snuck back in just in time to defeat. But eventually, even all the boring bigots had had their say and the House was ready for the Prime Minister to move that the bill be read a third time so that it could be passed into law, pending the signature of the Governor General and the clock striking midnight.

Naturally, given the suspense and patience of those in the public gallery, the rainbow community, and everyone else watching at home, the Prime Minister rose and moved that the bill be read for a third time so the speaker could bring on the vote and the thing be done.

Just kidding. Turnbull rose to move the motion, but instead started shouting about what a great day it was for Australian democracy. He boasted about the shoddy postal survey which cost $80 million and saw a swift rise in mental health stresses for LGBTQI+ people. He waved his arms and thumped his tub. When he had exhausted his misplaced triumphalism, the prime minister sat back down to what he imagined was appreciative applause for himself.

The Speaker was thus compelled to ask the Prime Minister to rise again and move that the bill be read for a third time, without which the vote can not be called.

This moment has been edited out of every inch of footage I have seen of the vote. Why? Either it is mere procedural glitch, of no shame or moment to a prime minister who, naturally, was feeling exuberant that marriage equality – or gay marriage, as Turnbull, in the language of the No campaign, said consistently throughout. If Turnbull failing to move that the bill be read a third time is a trivial and meaningless oversight, it surely can be shown. After all, that moment is as accurate an account as any of what actually happened in the chamber in the moment the bill was passed.

Maybe commercial television has the clip on repeat, but in the mediascape I inhabit – the Guardian, Fairfax, the ABC – nobody is showing the clip of the Speaker reminding Turnbull to do his actual job. Nobody is commenting on the fact that Turnbull rose to perform an essential step in the passage of a bill into law, but became so distracted by his own vanity that he failed to perform this simple task.

At last

The final step in making a bill into law is the Governor General giving royal assent. Then all that remains is for the clock to tick past midnight on the commencement date. So off to Yarralumla went Turnbull, godspeed, with his Attorney General George Brandis. Interestingly, given nobody threw brickbats at Turnbull for fluffing his final lines, Brandis got all sorts of feathers for his cap for being visibly moved by the reform. This is a simple manifestation of inherent bias to incumbent power: individualise and heap praise on the good (you are quite emotional, Senator), while ignoring or universalising (it could happen to anyone!) the bad.

While Dean Smith, the first openly gay Liberal member of the parliament, received a gift of the pen used by the Governor General, he did not get to share the limelight with the Prime Minister on leaving Yarralumla. In a piece to camera framed by the French doors of Government House – and presumably recorded by the PMO media team – Turnbull again sang his own praises, alone.

The strategy here is obvious enough. Just in case media had mischievously broadcast historical truth and shown him messing up procedure the day before, Turnbull wanted to command his own legacy and take credit for the new law no matter what mistakes he made along the way. Any media advisor knows that the news of today supercedes the news of yesterday, so it was a sure bet. Right on cue, the piece-to-camera was broadcast far and wide.

The most lasting image, by AAP photographer Michael Masters, must go to Labor MP Linda Burney and Nationals MP Warren Enstch; and the final word to Ms Burney, who lost her son Binni Kirkbright-Burney during the protracted campaign. She spoke incredibly eloquently and courageously:

“I support marriage equality as someone who has and has had loved ones who identify as LGBTI,” she said. “To them marriage equality would mean so much. I honour these people, in particular my late son, Binni.”

 

*This is an updated account of marriage equality debates and the return of Barnaby Joyce to Canberra following a by-election in the seat of New England. An earlier version was published by Independent Australia on Wednesday 6 December 2017, before the Marriage Act Amendment (Definition and Religious Freedoms) Bill 2017 (Cth) had passed the lower house, and before Joyce was sworn back in as Deputy Prime Minister.

The usual, thanks

When I started this blog in 2013, it was to debrief from the coming tsunami of nasty policy and toxic dishonesty that I was sure would inevitably flow from an Abbott government. Two years later, in 2015, I did not assume that Malcolm Turnbull would be an honest and statesmanlike Prime Minister.

I listened carefully to that first press conference, where Turnbull failed to restore the quantum of funding Abbott had cut from services providing shelter and support to women and children escaping male violence. Turnbull allocated a third of the $100 million funding restoration to advertising companies, presumably companies which benefit from Liberal Party ad-buys. He implied the money was new funding. He sounded smug and arrogant.

I assume the decision to make this grandiose announcement, rather than some other grandiose announcement, was political strategy. Liberal polling probably showed that Abbott alienated women voters, and so Turnbull was despatched to ‘charm’ the swinging voter woman of the (extremely limited) Liberal Party imagination.

The same vibe was on show when Turnbull announced his first ministry, which was in fact a ministerial re-shuffle, given the Coalition government was still in its first term. With great fanfare, he trumpeted Marise Payne as the ‘first’ defence minister, and political reporters duly accepted this as fact. When it was pointed out that Ros Kelly was a junior minister for defence science and personnel a full two decades earlier, the claim was refined to first ‘stand-alone’ defence minister or some such.

Either way, the claim is bollocks. It is designed for headlines, not grounded in fact. There is no single or fully fledged defence minister when someone with the status and influence of Christopher Pyne is also in the field, in this case, as minister for defence industry. The submarine build in South Australia promise was a massive part of the almost-lost 2016 election (my longer thoughts on that expensive nonsense here).

In typical Turnbullesque style – of which the hallmark is extremely poor political judgement – the relationship between Payne and Pyne is reportedly toxic.

None of this bodes well for merit-based economically-efficient decision making in the defence portfolio. But then no Liberal Party appointment ever does. Its members are incapable of redistributing tax revenue for the purpose of providing essential government services. Basic government functions are not what a bunch of private school boy grads have any qualifications, life experience, wisdom, or skills, to do. How could they?

It is against this backdrop that I watched yet another nadir in political reporting emerging this weekend. Does this mark a turning point for the Prime Minister? asked the Sydney Morning Herald, implying that it has faithfully documented that which Turnbull requires a turning point from: two years of ignominious policy failures, leadership so weak it would have been cut down if there were any (male) alternative, and crushing disappointment in the electorate, expressed in the 21 losing polls breathlessly counted by the waiting reptiles.

The ‘point’ was to ‘turn’, apparently, on Turnbull telling a backbencher ‘we are having a political discussion about it. We have a sensible policy.’ That is what we the readership are supposed to see as a turning point in the shabby gutless political leadership of the nation. Here is the context, verbatim, from the front page of News Review:

As shut-downs go, it could not have been more emphatic. Environment and Energy Minister Josh Frydenberg had just presented to the Coalition party room details of the government’s long-awaited energy policy. Flanked by government officials from the energy market regulators, his presentation, while lacking detail, was well-received.”

The party room reportedly applauded this evidence that Turnbull could ‘shut down’ Tony. That is what we are supposed to get excited about. ‘Details’ of a policy which was ‘lacking detail’, but that is okay because it was well-received in the Coalition party room by… the Coalition party room.

This is meaningless twaddle to anyone outside the party room or the parliamentary press gallery. There is no evidence that Turnbull will not continue to bow to Abbottian influence, as he has in this ham-fisted ‘energy’ policy. There is no evidence that the National Energy Guarantee (NEG) will not see increased emissions and increased prices while locking in Australian reliance on coal (a far better and more detailed critique here).

Most of the gallery, to various extents, attempt to not merely report but also to sway political news and audiences. This desire and its attendant practices cuts across outlets: it is standard for Chris Uhlmann or Peter Hartcher or Laurie Oakes or Sharri Markson to insert themselves into the story. They do this not just to safeguard their own access and Insider status, but also to be players, and to appear to be players.

To safeguard access and become a player is self-defining, to a degree. It represents some power over what may become the top story and what may be buried. Any one of these big names can make a poor call with impunity. They do not get the sack. Rather, they tend to justify rather than retreat from the entirely wrong prediction or garbage partisan analysis.

This is what the entire corps, minus The Guardian and The Age did, literally as a body, when endorsing Abbott in 2013.

Anyhoo. If the SMH was weak conformity to a weak government message on a weak government policy, the Saturday Telegraph this weekend was breathtakingly, shamelessly interventionist. The Dirty War on Barnaby Joyce was a grubby and internally contradictory hotch-potch of defo lawyer-edited innuendo and garbled insider gossip.

Now I have no time whatsoever for Joyce, except to write up the many ways in which, on my analysis, he has failed his constituency, himself, the government, the constitution, and the electorate. And if there is one thing I have less time for than the political failures of Barnaby Joyce, it is the ‘private life’ – political reporter speak for ‘sex life’ – of Barnaby Joyce.

But I admit to being curious. Not as to what Barnaby gets up to between the sheets – yuk – but as to why the Telegraph chose to break this ‘story’ – as I said, better described as innuendo – now.

The entry point to media-political player status is the sure knowledge that Prime and other ministerial media staff will pour over who is perceived as having ‘won’ the news cycle of the day. The winner is never the punters. This is an Insiders’ game.

So we can be sure that there is no benefit to either the Australian electorate in general or the voters of New England in particular to the editorial decision that saw sexual innuendo about the Deputy Prime Minister splashed across the front page of the Tele. The article, with a Sharri Markson and Miranda Devine by-line, purported to point to former New England MP and potential by-election opponent Tony Windsor.

But there is no way the collateral damage would not splashback on Joyce, and no way these two players could not know that.

So who is the target?

First, it is worth recalling that the Murdoch press generally is stacked with Abbott defenders who are still cranky that their Tony was supplanted by the hollow conservative pretender who they, hilariously (and harmfully, to the polity) perceive as a leftist and progressive political leader. Of course Turnbull is not left and not progressive and not a leader, but that does not trouble the minds of the political players of the Murdoch press.

Second, Joyce is before the High Court of Australia, along with six senators, on the matter of his capability to be elected or sit in the Australian Parliament under s. 44 of our Constitution. It is possible that the operation of the section will be found by the Court to disqualify him from sitting, from the date of the 2016 election. This would prompt a by-election order from the High Court sitting in its capacity as the Court of Disputed Returns.

Third, and this is key, the government is a lot more bothered by the Joyce constitutional position than it is publicly letting on. Turnbull has been shouty in his support in the parliament, which is unhelpful at best. Why would a High Court take kindly to being shouted at by politicians? Why is the Prime Minister, a qualified and enrolled barrister, breaching (absent parliamentary privilege), the doctrine of separation of powers?

This is a ‘spirit of the law’ rhetorical question: there is no ‘letter of the law’ of the doctrine of separation of powers to breach – it is based in principle, not statute.

But Turnbull also chucked Joyce under the bus outside of the Parliament. Or at the very least, Turnbull trolled Joyce outside of the Parliament. Unless, that is, we accept that the Turnbull political antenna (always badly broken), is so bad that he did not understand that dragging the Joyce properties in Narrabri into the gas debate was a really terrible idea.

Maybe. I have consistently pointed to the lack of evidence to support claims that Turnbull is terribly intelligent. But even I doubt that Turnbull could be so thick as to publicly invoke the Joyce properties near Narrabri during a gas supply presser by accident rather than by disingenuousness.

So Joyce is on the nose and possibly on the way out. The government is sending up the balloon, signalling that he may be cut loose. Is that really a basis on which a pair like Sharri Markson and Miranda Devine would file this?

The popular Nationals leader, who faces being kicked out of Parliament next week over his dual citizenship, has for months struggled with issues that have affected his marriage of 24 years.

That is the second sentence. The first is even more self-servingly interventionist political-reporter-as-player:

Embattled Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce is in the grip of a deeply personal crisis that has now spilled into public life at the very time he is fighting to save his political career.

But whatever the crisis is, it had not ‘spilled into public life’ via a couple of tweets, but via the Saturday Telegraph front page. The Tele literally ‘reported’ what it was doing by reporting what it was doing, which was to ‘spill’ whatever is going on for Joyce in private – does anybody care? I know I do not – ‘into public life’.

The Tele front page also refers to ‘his dual citizenship’. This is fantastically unhelpful to Joyce. He has renounced what was his New Zealand citizenship by descent. The Solicitor General spent considerable time, before all seven judges of the High Court, making the case that Joyce had no knowledge and thus was not on notice of any citizenship by descent and as such had no ‘allegiance’ to a ‘foreign power’ under our Constitution.

The Commonwealth in Re Joyce (represented by Commonwealth Solicitor General Dr Stephen Donaghue QC) is up against contradictor Tony Windsor (represented by Justin Gleeson SC, former Commonwealth Solicitor General). The High Court decision is imminent. It is frankly impossible that the Tele editors and writers are not fully cognisant of the government tension about the decision, the representation, the political implications. Of course they are.

And here is an unmistakable political intervention, cementing the Joyce (former) dual citizenship status in the minds of the punters, while avoiding the precise claim.

Over at The Guardian, the political editor sent a pair of pointed tweets:

  1. There’s something of a convention in Aus politics: unless there’s criminality, coercion or abuse involved, private lives are private.
  2. It’s a good convention. I hope we stick with it.

This message was prima facie addressed to 120,000 twitter followers. It is also an intervention, in the sense I have been using the word, the political reporter as political player. The purpose is to maintain a specific reporting culture, one that has not served the electorate particularly well, whatever the benefits to the journalist or political classes.

Both claims are unsupported and unsupportable.

Saying that a convention is good and should be kept, because it is a convention and good, is not a strong claim (my credentials for assessing the strength and logic of statements and claims here). Both are also demonstrably disprovable: Channel Seven broadcast images of then-NSW Transport Minister David Campbell at the entrance to a known gay spa, Laurie Oakes decided to reveal details of an affair between Gareth Evans and Cheryl Kernot.

In addition, what is convention for politicians and political reporters – collectively – is not necessarily accepted (as convention or anything else) by the people. In a democracy, the media is the fourth estate, and has specific obligations, to operate in the public interest. The people are not some afterthought. The commoners are the third estate, the commons (I have previously written on this at length, for example here, here and here).

Whatever. I am personally grateful for the presence of The Guardian in the Australian political landscape. I mention these tweets in support of the more general thesis that political reporting tends to be somewhat insular. I disagree with the general assumption that what is convention for the political/media class should be accepted at face value by the electorate.

In sum, this weekend we have seen:

Fairfax leading with the claim that a hopelessly compromised Prime Minister somehow turned a corner on energy policy and thus his prime ministership when the policy is a cypher and according to polling he is approximately infinity corners from turning his political fortunes in a positive direction ;

The Murdoch press running a front page on a hopelessly compromised Deputy Prime Minister who is before the High Court on his qualification (eligibility) to be elected or sit in the Australian Parliament so naturally they ran with what he may or may not be doing in his sex life, couched in terms of what may or may not impact on his ‘marriage of 24 years’;

The Guardian political editor on twitter saying that private political lives are private which yes of course all decent people agree they should be except that this is a government which is currently, right now, at a cost of $122 million of public moneys and counting, running the Australian Marriage Law Postal Survey on the private lives of punters so…

So.  I guess I have said what I have to say. The standard of politics and political debate and coverage of political debate…  is quite something.