Simple minds

GoodBadPolitics is a complex beast. The vast majority of Australians don’t want to even think about how complex it is, let alone read articles about this complexity. Which I assume is why the vast majority of political journalists and commentators in this country make it their mission to tame this complex beast into black and white, easily accessible and ultimately lazy generalisations.

An example of this sort of lazy writing aimed at perpetuating the simplistic idea that ‘major parties are just the same, rotten to the core, as bad as each other and can’t be trusted’ was predictably contributed yesterday by Waleed Aly. Aly uses this theme as the frame from which he makes most observations about politics. Before you say ‘I can already see where this is going. Victoria is hell bent on defending the Labor Party so of course she is going to be annoyed by Aly’s article saying Labor and Liberal are both corrupt’, please read on, because I hope I’m not as predictable as Aly is.

I was mortified by the Labor Party’s decision to put Joe Bollock at the top of their WA Senate ticket. Bollock is a dinosaur who doesn’t belong in the Labor Party. I don’t care what apparently amazing work this dinosaur has done in the union movement. His views on abortion, his homophobia, his treatment of his Labor Party colleagues and his fondness for his Catholic buddy Tony Abbott should disqualify him from being president of a local branch of the Labor Party, let alone the number one candidate on a Labor Senate ticket (the easiest way to become a highly paid politician with a very generous pension).

I am sick of seeing unqualified union parachuted Labor candidates selected by a few Labor executive members with no consultation from the community. But (and you will find complex politics requires a lot of ‘buts’) that is not to say that all union candidates are bad (as that would be a simplistic analysis) and it’s also not to say that all Labor politicians are ex-union officials because clearly these politicians are in the minority in the party. In saying that, there is no reason why the union movement can’t provide an array of highly qualified and fantastic Labor candidates as it has previously (think Greg Combet, Bill Shorten (improvement needed) and of course Bob Hawke). Union leaders work every day to better the working, safety and wage conditions of the workers they represent. For this reason, I would prefer a politician with a union background any day of the week over a lawyer (even a union lawyer like Julia Gillard), a self-interested business owner or, as is the case for Liberals like Tony Abbott and John Howard, someone who tried other careers and was no good at any of them.

So as you can see, the issue of union involvement in the Labor Party is a complex one. Community preselections should improve the quality of the candidate, as those who have been put forward by the union or by the community would be subject to scrutiny before they are chosen to represent the party. I don’t count Craig Thomson and Joe Bullock as ex-union officials who I admire, and nor do I count Kathy Jackson, ex-union official and wife of Tony Abbott’s mate Michael Lawler as a reputable human being. So just like in the private sector and the public sector, and in any large community or social group, unions have good people in them, corrupt people, hardworking and passionately committed people, people with a sense of entitlement, and mixtures of all these traits. Like any large cross section of the community, the union movement can’t be generalised. Neither can union candidates to the Labor Party, and neither can all members of the Labor Party. Major parties are by their very nature full of a range of different people and the behaviour of one, two or even a handful amongst hundreds should not simplistically dictate how the entire population are framed in the media. Complex, but not that hard to explain. Are you still with me Aly?

I wrote this week about the way that bad behaviour, or even alleged bad behaviour, within the Labor Party is portrayed by the media as a ‘whole of party’ problem, which I’ve even heard called a ‘disease’. Yet the exact same bad or allegedly bad behaviour in the Liberal Party is treated as unfortunate incidents in the careers of otherwise upstanding members of the free market loving community. When commenting on bad behaviour in the Liberal Party, just as I predicted, writers like Aly do their best to make the behaviour of the likes of O’Farrell, Sinodinos and Tony Abbott who stands by these men, a problem for the Liberal AND Labor Party. In the same breath, Aly explains that this problem is why minor parties like the Greens and Palmer United Party are seen as better options to the electorate. And this is where the simplistic ‘major parties are bad, minor parties are good’ frame becomes absurd.

You only have to interrogate the values of Clive Palmer’s Palmer United Party for three seconds to see that the party exists to further the interests of billionaire Clive Palmer for the benefit of Clive Palmer. Palmer doesn’t want to pay the Carbon Price. Palmer doesn’t want to pay the mining tax on super profits. Palmer wants coal to be dug out of the ground forever, and wants everyone to believe Greg Hunt when he says the magic pudding of coal will never end. Palmer wants a coal port on the Great Barrier Reef. Palmer wants the power to reduce the influence the government can have on limiting his greed. But rather than interrogate Palmer’s self-interested, anti-community values, the mainstream media heaps Palmer in with the Greens using the simple frame that they must be good and pure because they are ‘not a major party and therefore pure just for the very fact they’re not a major party’. Palmer gets called a ‘larrikin’ politician, a ‘anti-politician’, a ‘colourful character’, which might work for the simplistic sideshow, but doesn’t really help the public to understand the policy ambitions of a man who has an incredible amount of money to help sell his image to the public, and is set to make an incredible amount of money by influencing government policy in his favour.

You would think the Greens would dislike being put in the same bucket as Clive Palmer. Yet I see a lot of evidence on Twitter that Greens supporters are happy that Palmer is growing his political influence. The number of Greens supporters I saw enthusiastically celebrating the WA Senate election result because there was a swing away from both major parties towards the Greens, and to a larger extent towards Clive Palmer, was scary. I thought Greens were progressives? I thought Greens wanted to save the environment and stop mining coal? I thought Greens wanted to keep the Carbon Price and wanted the Mining Tax rate raised? I understand Palmer might have said something positive about the Greens stance on asylum seeker policy once. Is this enough to make Clive Palmer best friends with the Greens? Has the world gone mad or has the ‘minor parties are by their definition pure because major parties aren’t’ attitude become a ‘disease’ infecting otherwise intelligent people through reading too many articles by the likes of Waleed Aly? But wait, it gets even more complex. The Greens did a preference deal with the Palmer United Party in the September election, preferencing PUP ahead of Labor in South Australia in order to save Sarah Hanson-Young’s Senate seat. For a party who paints themselves as pure, surely the Greens have just added a complex layer to their brand of identity politics that is about as coal-loving politically grubby as you can get?

Next time you hear someone simplifying politics down to ‘big parties are bad and small parties are good’, think about the complexity of what is really going on. Think about how many hard working, passionate, intelligent, talented and committed progressive politicians in the Labor Party are smeared by the ‘Labor is corrupt’ frame that the media reports every political news story from. Time and time again, I ask progressives to unite to beat Tony Abbott, and then I see Greens supporting Clive Palmer and I realise to many, asking progressives to unite is far too simplistic a plea in what is clearly a much more complex situation than I can grasp.

Words matter

BarryOFarrellWords matter. When things happens in politics, the tone of how events are reported, the words that are used, and the way situations are framed are not organised by random. The mainstream media chooses the words they use very carefully. Today the media have presented their preferred frame for the resignation of Barry O’Farrell as: he mistakenly lied to an ICAC enquiry because he forgot that he received a $3,000 bottle of wine from the CEO of Australian Water Holdings. But of course O’Farrell didn’t resign because of his problems with ‘memory’. He resigned because he could no longer deny a personal expensive-wine-recipient, hand-written-note-receiver, phone-call-taker-relationship with someone who was earning over a million dollars a year as CEO of a company in a public-private partnership with the government Barry O’Farrell was in charge of up until today. This information is completely absent from the media’s framing of this story. But just imagine for a moment if one part of this story was different. Imagine for a moment that Barry O’Farrell was a Labor Premier. Imagine if Tony Abbott, standing by O’Farrell and brawling with a journalist asking questions about corruption, was a Labor Prime Minister. The ‘chaos, scandal, dysfunction, smear’ machine works in overdrive for Labor stories, but can’t even get out of second gear when Liberals are involved.

Does everyone remember when Julia Gillard apparently had ‘questions to answer’ over her very long time ago ex-boyfriend’s alleged involvement in a union ‘slush fund’? I’m sure you remember the media circus around this apparent scandal surrounding events 20 years in the past. According to a search of newspaper articles from the last three years that mention ‘slush’, ‘Gillard’ and ‘awu’, there were 923 articles written on the subject, of which 373 were contributed by The Australian. When I did another search and took out ‘slush’ and ‘awu’, but left in ‘Gillard’ and added ‘questions to answer’, the search revealed a whopping 4,017 articles, of which over 1,000 were from The Australian. Obsessed much? And even after Gillard bravely spent an hour answering every question the press could think of, even when they ran out of questions, there were still apparently ‘questions to answer’. This Labor ‘chaos, scandal, dysfunction’ story was salivated over by the mainstream media for three years, yet Gillard was never found to have done anything wrong. You would think journalists would learn not to take story advice from deluded creatures like Larry Pickering. There is no better example than this of the huge gulf between the way the media reports apparent scandals involving Labor politicians, compared to real scandals involving Liberal politicians.

Remember the way NSW Labor MP David Campbell was treated after he was stalked by Channel 7 and filmed going into a ‘gay’ sauna (is that illegal?). What about the way Craig Thompson’s story dominated the news after he allegedly paid for prostitutes on a work credit card years before he was in parliament (2,127 news articles mention ‘credit card’ and ‘Craig Thomson’). Or the reporting of ex-Liberal and independent-yet-linked-to-Labor-as-Speaker Peter Slipper’s scandal over private text messages, alleged sexual harassment of James Ashby (which was later exposed by Justice Rares as a spurious case) and the misuse of travel claims (which were fractional compared to Abbott’s own misuse of travel claims to sell his book Battlelines for private profit).

There is absolutely no doubt that the mainstream media revel in anything that even looks like belonging to Labor with even the hint of a scandal, no matter how inconsequential, and how much reality can actually be assigned to such apparent scandal. But when it comes to blatant scandals and corruption, right in the very heart of the Liberal Party, the oh so familiar ‘nothing to see here, move along’ attitude is rolled out by the media, mixed with ‘you can’t trust any politicians’ line to make sure Labor gets smeared at the same time as Liberals.

Even when two people from opposing sides of politics are both involved in the exact same scandal, the way the media treats their ‘Labor’ version of the scandal, as compared with the ‘Liberal’ version, is quite clearly not the same. An example of this is former NSW Labor member Eddie Obeid and current Liberal Senator Arthur Sinodinos. I checked how many times newspaper articles mentioning the words ‘Obeid’ and ‘scandal’ also included the word ‘Labor’ and I found all three words included in 89% of cases. I did the same thing for ‘Sinodinis’ and ‘scandal’ to see how many times the word ‘Liberal’ was included with these two words. The result was 74%. Words matter. And apparently the words ‘Labor’ and ‘Liberal’ matter the most.

Pinks Batts and Red Tape are not naughty words

ImcallingbullshitThe LNP government are experts at using a carefully selected set of ‘naughty, bad, bad Labor’ words to frame an issue to their advantage. They work hard to keep these words negative for Labor, to wed them to bad connotations, and to insert them into any situation, especially when they’re on the back foot. Negative words like ‘unions’, ‘pink batts’, ‘waste’, ‘red tape’ and ‘Craig Thomson’. It should be obvious that they’re doing this, but unfortunately the electorate don’t think very hard about what is actually being said. They just let the negativity wash over them, and Labor ends up getting bashed, unjustifiably, time and time again. And of course the media don’t help, because they adore anything that even looks like Labor bashing. So these negative words find themselves all over political sound bites all over the news. Like a virus, they get spread around the electorate, eating away at Labor’s credibility, particularly amongst disengaged voters.

It’s important to understand that this is not dog whistling. This is strategic framing. The Liberals are experts at this tactic, and Labor are terrible at combatting it. But if Labor are going to win the next election, they need to get better at communicating. They need to learn how to defend against these words, to shift the frame and to expose the Liberals for what they are really saying. They need to turn these ‘naughty’ words into toxic words for Tony Abbott.

I know it’s not easy. I know Labor’s first instinct is to try to explain the complexity of an issue, to throw facts at the problem. But this is not going to work. It’s time Labor realised that facts are the domain of the left, being abandoned by right-wingers long ago. As George Lakoff, framing expert and author of ‘Don’t think of an elephant’, explains, progressives need to get over the myth of ‘Enlightenment’ which is that:

“The truth will set us free. If we just tell people the facts, since people are basically rational beings, they’ll all reach the right conclusions”.

I must admit, I’m a victim of this myth. I throw facts at Liberal bullshit all the time. But just as Lakoff says, facts just bounce off Abbott voters. They’re impervious to rational argument.

So what can Labor do? What should they say to combat these words being used against them time and time again? I’ve written before about Labor’s communication problems, and how these problems overshadow the great policy reforms of the previous Labor government. So it’s time Labor tried something new. Here are my tips about what Labor should be saying in the media (mainstream, independent and social), to build their own frame. Just by using two sets of these naughty words together, you can see that Labor can turn the negative words frame to their advantage:

Pink batts and Red Tape

This week, Joe Hockey said:

“If we don’t get on top of the proper management of the NDIS, not only would it not be sustainable, but it could end up as big a farce as the pink batts program or the $900 test program”

This is clearly Joe Hockey on the back foot, worried about how he will explain that his government is putting at risk the NDIS, by putting a hiring freeze on public servants who need to run the program. He is also no doubt pre-empting a change to the NDIS funding in the budget, now that Abbott’s government has decided they have run out of money. It’s clear there are several layers of bullshit intertwined in this short statement. But focussing just on ‘pink batts’ for a moment. These are two short words, that when put together, cause havoc for Labor. Let me lapse into old habits and throw in some facts. The Home Insulation Scheme was no more dangerous to installers than the industry was before the government funded stimulus scheme was implemented. A scheme that successfully insulated (and ironically cut energy usage) in over a million homes. As eloquently outlined in this Independent Australia article:

“The CSIRO’s basic research – developed further by Possum Comitatus at Crikey – found the rate of fires, injuries and deaths was actually four times higher during the Howard years than during the period of the home insulation program”.

The lack of knowledge of this fact amongst the electorate is evidence of Labor’s failure to defend against the ‘pink batts’ frame. So moving right along, since we know facts don’t help, let’s look at what Labor should be saying, by throwing in another Liberal negative frame: ‘red tape’.

We all know Liberals say they’re cutting ‘red tape’ because they want to do a favour to their rich business mates. We know the regulations they are cutting are actually really important for consumers and workers to keep people safe, to save the environment, to protect communities from rampant greed and to safeguard employee rights. We all get that right? Yet, we now have a government who has celebrated ‘repeal day’, where over 8,000 regulations (rights) are on the chopping block. And the Australian public have mostly stood by and welcomed this attack on all of us. Go figure. It’s actually too hypocritical for words to, in once sentence, enact a Royal Commission into the ‘pink batt debacle’ at the very same time as you’re cutting hundreds of regulations that stop private businesses, like the ones that took up the government funding to install home insulation, from putting profit ahead of safety. That’s right. Private companies hired the workers who tragically died due to a lack of regulation and training in the insulation installation industry. Abbott is hypocritical beyond Bullshit Mountain. And no, I’m not asking Bill Shorten to say this. Don’t forget, Lakoff says not to think about an elephant. Don’t mention Abbott. Labor needs to make their own frame. Because defending against Abbott’s frame just gives his words more prominence, and in turn more value. But how about this for a frame that meets these parameters. How about Shorten say this whenever he’s in the vicinity of a camera or a Facebook meme:

We welcome an enquiry into safety within the home insulation scheme. We welcome any inquiry, no matter how politically motivated to try to make Labor look bad, to make sure workers have the rights to a safe work place and the regulations that enshrine these working rights in law. Unions protect workers’ rights in this way. Perhaps if more of the workers installing home insulation were part of a union, these tragic deaths might not have occurred. At a time when the government is cutting regulations that protect workers, and that make sure young men and women don’t die in workplace accidents, it’s important to remember that ‘red tape’ is not a naughty word. It’s often not until the tape is taken away, that we realise just how badly we need it.

Then say it again, and again and again. See how that goes Labor. See how often Abbott and his team mention pink batts and red tape after this new frame has been heard by the electorate a couple of hundred times.

The Missing Ingredients

Bolt March in MarchThere have been some great contributions covering the March in March on the AIMN and other independent news and blog sites during the week. And not surprisingly, many of them are critical of the lack of coverage this national grass roots protest movement received in the mainstream media. Before I am accused of being a ‘MSM hater’, which is apparently what I must be since I don’t read most mainstream newspapers, which is of course my choice as a consumer, I do note that some outlets have covered the march. And unsurprisingly some have been better than others. However, overall, the coverage has been small in proportion to how big this news story is and much of it has been misrepresentative of the marches even when they were mentioned. So why do I care about the coverage of the March in March you may ask? I have a few reasons:

  • Because the people who marched had a message for the rest of our community, and we deserved to have this seen by those who would never be engaged enough in politics to march.
  • Because the opinion of 100,000+ marchers should, in a free and democratic society, have their message reported in a factual and balanced way, not dismissed and censored because people in positions of power don’t wants us speaking out.  (BO and Bongs? Charming stuff from the Murdoch press).
  • Because the way the mainstream media reported the March in March is indicative of a larger ‘insider versus outsider’ attitude in the media. Journalists aren’t representing the interests of their community, they’re representing the vested interest of a small number of powerful people who are part of the problem and part of the reason we marched in the first place.

So I’ve been having a think about what key ingredients March in March was missing that made it so irrelevant and non-newsworthy to the media. I was also thinking about how irrelevant most of the other news that journalists write about is to our community interests. And so I decided to come up with a list of things the March in May organisers might want to consider including in the next march, to see if we can garner the attention of a press that has so badly let us down:

1)      Craig Thomson

There definitely wasn’t enough ‘scandal’, ‘chaos’, ‘credit cards’ and ‘prostitutes’ involved in the March and March. So it’s no wonder the mainstream media weren’t interested. If we could get Craig along to the next march, and ask him to cry, the media pack that sits on his tail all day might happen across the march too and might get some footage inadvertently over Craig’s shoulder.

2)      Politicians

Jacqueline Maley in the Sydney Morning Herald, to her credit, contributed this piece during the week to explain why the SMH chose not to report the march. But not to her credit, the reasoning was very weak. Apparently her newspaper would have been more interested in the march, like they had been more interested in the Convoy of No Confidence, she said, if politicians had attended. Except, umm, that was the whole point of this being a grassroots movement. That was what made it newsworthy. The fact that there was no Greens versus Labor story, and there was no politician spin on the event, and there was no ‘the Oppositions says’ catch-all line to report on afterwards, made this event all the more interesting.

But doesn’t this reveal a deeper problem with the way that politics is reported in our media? Doesn’t this highlight exactly why there is such a huge misalignment with the political news that we are served up, and the political news we want to read? Journalists like Maley, and like all the other people who ignored the significance of events like March in March, and – to give just one other example – ignored the significance of Julia Gillard’s misogyny speech, can’t see the wood for the trees. They can only see ‘politician versus politician’ – who spoke better, who gaffed, who tripped on the grass, who had a ‘better day’ in front of the cameras, who is backgrounding and leaking about whom. But we, in the community, don’t care about this sideshow, because in the most part, it’s irrelevant to us. We don’t see politics as a ‘two horse race’, with political actors not just part of the story, but the story themselves. We care about the impact that political policies have on our community. This is why we marched. Because we’re worried about the Abbott government’s impact on our community. The fact that the media doesn’t get this is the most telling thing about this whole situation. If the mainstream media are wondering why they don’t connect with their audience anymore, this is where they could begin with their process of self-reflection.

3)      A three word slogan

Most of the criticism I’ve seen about the March in March centred on the fact that there weren’t clear aims for the march, that there were too many different agendas and that there wasn’t one ‘cause’ that brought it all together. So what the media is basically admitting with this criticism, is that they can’t comprehend a complex and diverse event, which brings together a wide range of community concerns. They can only comprehend politics in sound bites and three word slogans. Axe the tax. Yeah, they all got that loud and clear. And this ‘short messages’ obsession explains their fascination with ‘rude’ placards. As if these defined the march and were the most newsworthy element (even though few placards contained swear words). But the line ‘we’re here for our community’ – apparently doesn’t cut through in quite the same way.

Again, the very point of the March in March was that there wasn’t a single point to it. This is why so many thousands of people marched in major cities and regional areas throughout the country. As I said in my speech to the gathering on the steps of Parliament House in Adelaide – We might all have our individual outrages about the Abbott government. But what binds this passion together, what binds our values together is the understanding that Abbott is not just bad for all of us, as individuals, though he certainly is that. No, why we’re really here is because we know he’s bad for our community. And our community is us. We know we’re in this life together.

The concerns of a large cross section of our community, who are willing to get out of our houses, off the internet, and march together, is obviously far too complicated a concept for political journalists in this country to understand. And again, isn’t this telling. Isn’t this the problem with how they report politics to us on a daily basis? A three-word-slogan doesn’t adequately explain all the complexity in an environmental policy like the Carbon Price. The problem of asylum seekers coming to Australia by boat is, as we’ve seen, far too complex a situation for the media to even bother to investigate. So all we hear them say is ‘boats have been coming’ and ‘it’s all Labor’s fault’. Sorry, life isn’t as simple as that. And if the political journalists don’t understand that, they’re in the wrong job.

We will march again, and we will continue to criticise the mainstream media who, for a long time, have been representing their own interests, and not the interests of their community. This will of course, if it hasn’t already, lead to their ultimate downfall. Because when they ignore us, we ignore them. And when they’re ignored, they disappear. But ignoring us won’t make us disappear.

Marching for my community

Today I marched with my community at March in March Adelaide, and was honoured to have a chance to speak. Here is my speech:

Adelaide March in MarchThank you to the organisers of March in March for inviting me to speak today.

If you’re wondering who I am, I’m one of you. I’m not a politician. I’m not a journalist. I’m not a lobbyist. I’m not a mining magnate. I don’t own a newspaper. I’m not an ‘insider’.

But perhaps that is a benefit. Because it’s often the people on the outside who can see best what is happening inside. And right now, all I can see in our country’s recent past is the wreckage strewn in the wake of the Tony Abbott wrecking ball. And all I can see ahead is a whole lot more trouble for the country that we all love.

So today I would like to share with you my ideas about the lessons our community need to learn to protect ourselves from this type of government in the future. This is partly a manifesto to inspire a One Term Tony scenario. But it’s also more long term than that. It’s about making sure that we don’t just react and defend against right wing ideologues and their vested interests. It’s about laying the foundations for a progressive ideas platform that will erase the very reasoning behind people’s terrible decision to vote for right wing ideologues like Tony Abbott.

So what’s this manifesto’s central theme?

Quoting a musician I greatly admire, Gurrumul: united we stand, divided we fall. Together we’ll stand, in solidarity.

That’s the crux of it. We’re all in this together.

And I think all of us here know that.

We might all have our individual outrages about the Abbott government. But what binds this passion together, what binds our values together is the understanding that Abbott is not just bad for all of us, as individuals, though he certainly is that.

No, why we’re really here is because we know he’s bad for our community. And our community is us. We know we’re in this life together.

We know the life of Reza Berati is no less important than our next door neighbour, or one of our own family. We know when any Australian loses their home, or their life from a natural disaster, we all mourn. We know that when someone at Holden loses his or her job, it damages all of us. We know that if someone we’ve never met doesn’t get the education opportunities they deserve, we all suffer. We know that when we go to work each day, or when we stay home caring for a family member, and wherever we are all over South Australia and Australia, we are building something together. That’s what makes us, us.

Now, I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking that even with all of us, Abbott still won the election in September. And you’re right, this is a problem. But that’s why we need to turn our attention to those who voted for Abbott. Those who have forgotten that when we say ‘us’, we mean ‘them’ as well.

If there’s one thing Abbott is good at, like a person who punches holes in walls, it is frightening people. And when people are scared they turn inward.

When they’re scared of the monsters Peta Credlin created, they turn inward. Non-existent monsters like the great. big. tax, mining companies shedding jobs, regulations, in other words, worker’s rights, which apparently ‘strangle’ enterprise and ‘corrupt’ unions. All complete nonsense. But voters believed it.

Australia turned inward when the majority of us voted for Tony Abbott. We rejected kind and compassionate when we chose to stop. the. boats. We rejected common sense when we decided the money spent saving our economy, our livelihoods from the Global Financial Crisis, was wasteful. And we rejected science when we put our fear of an increase in electricity prices ahead of our determination to slow climate change.

Abbott promised these scared, threatened and oh so gullible people that he would fix everything.  That it was a good idea to be selfish and mean and greedy. To forget that they lived in a community. Dog eat dog is back in vogue. So we need to fix this.

We need to show people that when they turn their backs on their communities, they lose out, every time. We need to remind people that unemployment in industries they don’t work in is bad for them as well. Since they care so much about their electricity bills, let’s run with that and remind them how much climate change will cost our community, in money terms.  This community is made up of individual thems. Let’s show people that wealth doesn’t trickle down. Let’s prove to Australians that a richer Gina Rinehart makes nobody else richer. Except perhaps Gina’s still in the will daughter who definitely won’t be giving any of her inheritance away. Abbott might believe that Holden workers are on their own now that their jobs are gone. But they’re not on their own, because they belong to our community.

No one should ever be told they’re on their own, in the bad times, or the good times.

That is why we need to remind people, in the words of US Senator Elizabeth Warren that no one in this country gets rich on their own. And then we need to remind them that the country’s wealth is something they can enjoy and something they can share, but only if they make the smart decision to support their communities, which in turn supports them.

The path to prosperity for the nation and the path to healthy communities is not individual success. It’s success for all of us. It’s really that simple. Once you understand this, once you use this idea to frame how you see the world, suddenly Abbott looks like a horrible option.

Suddenly progressive policies aren’t scary, because they represent the common good. We should be helping our fellow Australians up the ladder of social mobility. Not kicking it down and burning it as Abbott is doing now. A stronger you makes our team stronger. And our team is all of us. We’re all part of the same team.

Thank you all for standing here with me today and for standing up for your community. Let’s go forth and spread the word. Let’s remind people who have forgotten this basic idea. United we stand. Divided we fall. Together we’ll stand, in solidarity.

Rollison family March in March

An Open Letter to Scott Morrison

ScottMorrisonDear Scott Morrison,

You’ve probably guessed that this is not fan mail. I’m sure you do have fans, but I don’t think there would be many game enough to admit it after your recent behaviour. Trolls perhaps, but not people. Why not people, you may ask? Succinctly, because no person with a shred of humanity, the sort of humanity needed to qualify as a human, could ever condone what you are doing to the world’s desperate asylum seekers who come to Australia begging for help.

Before you ready your list of excuses as to why it’s justifiable for someone to be murdered inside an Australian detention facility, there is no justifiable excuse you could possibly provide that will go anywhere near being a justifiable excuse. According to witness reports, a man has died after having his throat cut and sustaining head injuries. His name was Reza Berati. He had a family and friends who loved him. He had a personality. He had a whole life ahead of him. And he was murdered. With violence most compassionate people wouldn’t accept against an animal. A man was murdered. There’s no other way to describe it. You did not carry out the violence, but you were in charge of the person who did, and you were responsible for the victim, Reza Berati since he was in your care.

In the statement you snuck out on Saturday night in the most spineless of fashion, you admitted that your previous statement was based on incorrect information. We are experienced enough with your character to know that we will never find out what you knew and what you didn’t know when you released the wrong information. But I would like to point out that, even if you were personally misled, and you went with the information that was available to you, then you might not be as evil as it would appear, but you certainly are incompetent. So what is it Scott? Are you guilty of making up the first statement or are you incompetent in taking someone else’s word for it without endeavouring to find out the truth? Surely, in this situation, the truth would have been easy to find. If an asylum seeker was killed outside of the Manus Island detention centre, there would have been evidence of this. Because the crime scene, which I presume you are treating as such, would have been outside of the boundary of the detention centre? Or are you claiming you don’t know where this boundary is? This is becoming a bit of a pattern of not-knowing – the Navy apparently also did not know where the Indonesian maritime border was, on several occasions.

And we all know why you changed the official record. It was not because you respected the truth and wanted it to be known. And definitely not because you deeply regretted what you were finding out and wanted to make it clear how badly you felt about it. Because you didn’t feel bad about it. That’s obvious from what you have said and how you have said it. Tony Abbott has even congratulated you for the part you have played in this murder. And that’s the most immoral part of this situation. You’re proud of yourselves for being ‘uncompromising’ and ‘tough’ as if this is a chess game and your strategy has been successful. Think about that for a moment Scott. Someone is dead. Someone has been killed and many others horrifically injured in violent, hauntingly terrifying situation and you are proud of yourself. What is wrong with you Scott? This is not a game. This is Australia’s humanity being denigrated forever. Because you are doing this in our name.

However you try to play down this situation, it’s never going to work. Not just because the UN is now involved, and you’re destroying Australia’s human rights reputation on an international scale. No, it’s far worse than that. The worst of it is that this situation was no accident. When people drown at sea on their way to seek refuge in Australia, their loss of life is just as devastating as the loss of Reza Berati. And when young men installing installation are killed because their bosses don’t train them how to do their job safely, their loss of life is just as devastating as the loss of Reza Berati. But the difference with this death was that it was no accident. It wasn’t just one out-of-control person carrying out violence in an otherwise well run operation. Ever since you started your crusade to ‘stop the boats’, you made it clear you would do that by whatever means possible. And this murder has been part of that. This murder is the only place your ‘stop the boats’ strategy could go.

Before you think you can wash your hands of this, I want you to know that this is not going away. Murdoch might want everyone to forget, but we are not going to forget. And we are not going to forgive until you do the only thing you could possibly do to fully apologise for this crime by resigning from Australia’s Parliament. Reza Berati deserved better. His family and loved ones deserved better. Tony Abbott said proudly that you are not a wimp. But what he forgot to mention in this character assessment is that you might not be a wimp, but you’re also an evil, untrustworthy fool. And Australia deserves to have better people representing us.

Yours sincerely
Victoria Rollison

A protected species

VicRollisonABCSAVotesLast Monday night, the ABC held a live televised debate to kick off the South Australian election season. I attended, eager to see how SA Premier Jay Weatherill performed against the incredibly weak Premier-wannabe, Opposition Leader Steven Marshall. Never heard of him? Neither has South Australia.

With the election coming up on March 15, depressingly, the Liberal Opposition is ahead in the polls. This is even after Abbott and Hockey bullied Holden into leaving, which will have a massively detrimental impact on the South Australian community. And even though Marshall is mimicking the negative-no-details-except-for-vague-motherhood-statements-about-tax-cuts-fixing-all-the-State’s-problems campaign that Abbott successfully used to win the Federal election, South Australians still seem determined to make the same mistake twice. On the subject of jobs, Marshall has promised to cut 5,000+ public service jobs, which like Abbott’s pledge, don’t seem to count as ‘real’ jobs as he also promises that there will be ‘more jobs’ under a Liberal government. And of course SA will have our own Abbott style ‘Commission of Audit’ after the election, for Marshall to identify new ways to slash and burn towards smaller government at a time when austerity could very quickly cause a deep recession. It’s incredibly frustrating to say the least.

What we have seen of Marhsall’s campaign so far are ads that don’t even mention his name or show his face, with mean, dark music, and a scary deep voice suggesting there are leadership tensions in the South Australian Labor Party. But I kid you not, they don’t even suggest an alternative Labor figure who is supposedly anonymously threatening Weatherill’s leadership. But hey, I guess it worked for Abbott to hype up Gillard versus Rudd, so why would the SA Liberals let a little inconvenience like no leadership tensions in SA Labor get in the way of a negative advertising campaign? Faceless men, and all that. (Talking of leadership instability, check out how the SA Liberals stack up. Pot Kettle Black? The only reason Marshall got the Leadership in the first place is because the rest of the SA Liberal Party had already torn apart more experienced contenders in a leadership war lasting numerous years.)

So with this hypocritical advertising campaign in mind, when the ABC debate Producer emailed the audience asking for questions, I submitted this:

  • Question for Steven Marshall: Tony Abbott won the 2013 Federal election with a very negative campaign. From what we have seen of your campaign so far, you are following his lead. My question is, do you worry that the South Australian public are looking for a positive alternative who has vision for the future, rather than someone who just wants to bag the opposing side?

It’s a tough question, but it’s fair. It goes to the very heart of Marshall’s bid to lead South Australia, and for that reason, I think the viewers deserved to hear an answer. But no. Even after a follow up email from the ABC Producer to again ask the audience for question submissions after I had already submitted mine, this one didn’t make the cut. So, in front of what felt like a heavily stacked Liberal audience*, the questions that were asked were, as usual, invitations to bash Labor, whether that bashing be with a big stick or a small twig. Anything would do.

We had questions about jobs and business tax cuts, two questions about mental health policy, niche questions about regional population growth, train services being disrupted on hot days (with no mention of climate change), a good question about the treatment of women in parliament, a Gonski question from Twitter and three vague vision questions, including one asking what the two candidates agree on. But what we didn’t have, and what we never see asked on Q&A or by an ABC journalists when interviewing politicians, is a question that could be considered a tough one for a Liberal to answer. When in the last few years, the hardest question Tony Abbott has been asked on the ABC’s 7:30 is ‘did you read the report’, it’s clear the Liberals, and in fact anyone from the ‘right’ will be protected as soon as they enter a conversation with our national broadcaster.

So since I’m bitter and twisted about my question for Marshall being culled before it had a chance to be answered, I have three other questions that I would like to ask Marshall, which I can guarantee the ABC would never let me ask:

  • You spend a lot of your time talking down the South Australian economy. You even cite your reason for going into politics as being a very narrow mission to make sure your two children don’t leave South Australia when they become adults. My question is, don’t you think it’s bad for the South Australian economy to constantly talk it down, as the effect of consumer confidence can become a self-fulfilling prophecy?
  • Your answer to ‘how will you create jobs for South Australians’ is ‘I will cut payroll tax’. We see from the current example in the US that tax cuts do not create jobs, because the business owners just take the extra profit for themselves. There is no reason for business owners to hire more people just because they’re making more money. Growth in jobs comes from an increase in consumer and business demand. So how are you going to increase consumer and business demand to actually increase jobs?
  • Whenever you are asked a question about your plans as Premier of South Australia, you bring everything back to a discussion of the economy and how you will fix it with tax cuts. My question is, have you realised, or are you likely to realise sometime soon, that we live in a society, not an economy? And do you think it’s important for the economy to serve our society, and not the other way around?

It’s hard to know why the ABC goes to such great lengths to protect Liberals from answering these tough questions. I suppose it has something to do with the Liberals’ wish to cut jobs at the ABC, and to an ingrained bias towards Labor bashing (whether Labor be in power or not) under the guise of ‘balance’. Perhaps ABC Producers have such trouble getting the Liberals onto their television and radio shows that the last thing they want to do is scare them away.

In South Australia particularly, we rely on ABC coverage of politics, as we’re basically a one Murdoch newspaper city. But what we get from the South Australian ABC is the same Labor bashing, Liberal free-ride that we see across the country. The South Australian election might be irrelevant to all other Australians, but I think you’ll agree that my questions for Steven Marshall would really be suitable for any Liberal politician in this country. Yet on a national scale, these questions remain unasked and for that reason, unanswered.

*The ABC producer for the SA leaders’ debate provided the following breakdown about the voting intentions of the audience. I stand by my personal observation from the number of people clapping in the audience, that the audience was heavily stacked to the right. I asked if I could bring two other Labor supporters with me but was told there were no more seats – so I’m not sure how come there were quite a few vacant seats around me.



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