My first thought on hearing the news of the hostage situation in Sydney’s Martin Place this morning was ‘those poor, terrified people and their anxious families. What a horrible thing to happen!’ and then slightly irrationally (because fear can be irrational), I thought ‘and just before Christmas too’ as if this made the horribleness of the situation more horrible. The next thought I had was condolence to the Islamic population of Sydney and Australia who will, no doubt, be frightened by this situation not just because of the randomness of such an event happening in our peaceful country, but because they know, like they found out after September 11, that their communities will be blamed, hated, abused, discriminated against and generally shunned by large sections of the non-Islamic Australian community through no fault of their own. Perhaps they’re not just scared. If I were them, I would be furious.
I was a teenager when the Port Arthur massacre happened, and I don’t recall there being a backlash at the time against white people with blonde hair. I’m a white person with blonde hair, and no one has ever heaped me into the ‘possibly a mass murderer’ bucket along with Martin Bryant. Or more recently, Norwegian Anders Breivik, who apparently killed 69 young political activists because he didn’t like their party’s immigration stance which he saw as too open to Islamic immigrants. In fact, in neither case do I recall the word ‘terrorist’ even being used to describe the mass murders of innocent people.
As soon as I saw the images of the white Islamic text on a black flag in the window of the Lindt Café on the news this morning, I knew Australian bigots would be singing with the cries of ‘I told you so!’ and I was right. According to The Guardian’s commentary of today’s events, King Bigot, Ralph Cerminara, leader of the anti-Muslim organisation Australian Defence League, hurried down to Martin Place to rant about Muslims and was moved on by police. Charming stuff. But of course Ralph is not alone. I noticed Greens MP Adam Bandt received a series of bigoted responses to this tweet:
Here are 5 of the first 6 responses on the twitter feed:
It’s important to note, not that Murdoch’s Daily Telegraph cares to be accurate, that the flag photographed in the window of the café is not an Islamic State flag. We don’t know anything at all about the hostage takers yet, they may be Islamic State supporters, they may not. But Murdoch’s newspapers, and the bigots who take this news as truth won’t let unconfirmed facts get in the way of a good excuse for some old-fashioned fear mongering and racist bigotry.
This ‘how-much-profit-can-we-drag-out-of-this-tragedy-that-we-know-barely-anything-about’ afternoon edition Daily Telegraph front cover makes the very dubious statement of ‘THE INSTANT WE CHANGED FOREVER’. But have we changed?
The only thing that I can see as having changed in this situation is the level of comfort bigots feel about being openly racist towards people of Islamic faith. And that’s the very real, very scary, very confronting part of this tragedy. Not just that this shocking, violent siege can happen to innocent people on a quiet Monday morning a week before Christmas. The tweets to Adam Bandt show a side of Australia that we all know is there, but we prefer not to think about. These bigots are the reason asylum seeker policy is such a political hot potato in this country, and why Tony Abbott is able to be elected promising to ‘stop the boats’. These nasty racist people aren’t a rarity. And they vote. Welcome to Australia. We haven’t changed a bit.
I wrote recently about the mainstream media narrative of ‘yes the Liberal government has problems, but they’re no worse than the previous Labor government’- showing that these journos can’t possibly criticise Abbott without throwing in the tired old ‘but Labor was just as bad’ comment, to keep their Labor bashing credentials alive. Now we have a new play on this theme, which isn’t really a new play for this blogger as he’s been writing on this topic for some time. Tim Dunlop has contributed this week yet another edition of his narrative that the problem is the two party system – and that the Abbott government is the two party system’s symptom, not a problem in itself. Here are three recent Drum articles by Dunlop on similar themes: this one is about the problems with a two party system being unrepresentative of community attitudes, this one is a suggestion that our elected representatives could be chosen by lottery, and this one is about the community’s preference for independents and minor parties which is a symptom of a ‘a deeper democratic malaise’.
I’m going to go out on a limb here amongst left wing bloggers and will say to Dunlop, and those that agree with him, what are you talking about? What if Dunlop and people who share his views are so obsessed with their idea that our democratic system is ‘broken’ that they’re purposely looking the other way, rather than seeing all the good that has come out of our democratic system in the past, and how much good could still be done?
When Gough Whitlam died this year, there was an outpouring of grief combined with a celebration for what this leader had achieved in the very short time he led a Labor government. Correct me if I’m wrong, but this success happened in a two party system. And what about Prime Minister Julia Gillard who led a minority government successfully, in a two party system, so successfully that she was the most productive Prime Minister this country has ever seen. So this broken system that Dunlop is writing about, this system that no longer represents the wider community’s values, how was it able to produce a minority government of such amazing, but admittedly unsung and largely unappreciated, success?
I’m currently researching political narratives and framing, and I’ve learned that once a frame is secure in someone’s mind – once it’s a ‘thing’, people find it very hard to see a situation through this frame in the same way that someone else with a different frame sees it. So I would argue that Dunlop and I both think we’re equally right and perhaps we are. But let me at least argue my case as to why Dunlop’s frame clashes with mine.
Dunlop’s frame is that the previous Labor government, and clearly the current Liberal government are not interested in representing the wider community and are only interested in ‘the echo chamber of the concerns of the broader political class’. Dunlop therefore, having made this decision, lets this perception of Labor and Liberal politicians run through every judgement he makes about politics. Major parties are apparently out of touch. Minors and independents the only true representative leaders. Apparently minor billionaire Clive Palmer and his PUP Senators, Motoring Enthusiasts, Family First’s Bob Day and the now independent Jacqui Lambie amongst them.
My frame, however, is that politics is about good policies and, equally as important, implementing good policies. My values align with Labor’s values and a Labor government is therefore the best chance I have of seeing policies implemented that align with my values. I don’t just want good ideas from politicians, I want the opportunity to see these ideas become reality and therefore I will fight for Labor’s opportunity to do this. This doesn’t mean I agree with everything the Labor government does. But broadly, I do see their values aligning with mainstream Australia – at their very heart they aim for sustainable economic growth, healthcare, education, employment and opportunity for all Australians no matter what background. I see these values at the heart of Labor’s policies and for the most part, I am happy to passionately fight to see Labor achieve policy success with these values that I know align to mine. So I clearly come at this from a different view point from Dunlop. Where I see Labor government success, he sees a problem akin to Tony Abbott.
Dunlop mentions that he sees the two party system as being only interested in ‘allegiance to the economic system of market liberalism’. Yet he doesn’t mention what system he would prefer they had allegiance to. Perhaps this is where Dunlop’s disappointment comes from (and I would argue that this is not a mainstream malaise). The Liberal Party is the party of economic rationalists. The Labor Party promises to civilise capitalism – to try to reduce the inequitable power between labour and capital. But Labor has never promised to get rid of ‘market liberalism’ altogether and perhaps anyone who expects that they should is bound to be disappointed that they won’t. Again, I wonder what Dunlop would prefer from a government? A denial of globalised capitalism and a protectionist communist democracy instead? Or maybe he wants a coalition government of random small and individual factions, who have to fight out every policy to get a backroom deal done for themselves, at the expense of the wider community, and at the expense of long term planning and vision for the country? Maybe he wants a system of self-interested pork-barrelling, as outlined by Kay Rollison here. That’s the thing about Dunlop’s anti-the-system commentary; he’s very good at saying what’s wrong with the way things are now, but never quite gets to a point where he has a sensible suggestion of what could work better. And no, I don’t count a ‘lottery’ as a sensible suggestion.
And speaking of a lottery, then we have Dunlop’s preference for minor parties and independents, who apparently are another symptom of the problem with the two party system (although this is where I’m confused as to whether Dunlop sees them as a symptom or part of a solution). I’m sorry to say this about a blogger I respect, but again Dunlop, what are you talking about? The most uninformed voters I know choose the most random of independents and minor parties because it’s trendy. Because it’s hip to be ‘against the established parties’, to be an ‘anti-politician’. Not because it’s smart. Not because it’s going to be ultimately productive for their values into policies agenda. Not because they actually have any idea what on earth these independents and minors stand for. How many Family First voters realised Bob Day is on a mission to destroy the minimum wage? Seriously – poll them and see how few took any notice of Day’s very well-known values. Or what about another South Australian Senator, Nick Xenophon, who has just announced that he is starting a political party. A party based on what values? Xenophon got elected to the Senate in 2008 on the values of getting his face on TV through stunts and promising to axe pokies. I have no idea what happened to his passion for pokies policies because it’s not been mentioned in a long time. But I wonder how many people who mindlessly voted for him were aware of the lottery of votes their elected representative would contribute to in order to help the Liberals get their Direct Action joke-of-a-policy through the Senate, and more recently to reinstate Temporary Protection Visas. But that’s the thing about independents and minor parties – they escape any sort of criticism from people like Dunlop. Apparently they win the day they get elected, and after that they have a blank slate to do and say whatever they like – and no one who votes for them, or publically supports them, ever calls them out. What about when the Greens blocked Rudd’s ETS. Sorry, I haven’t forgotten because this is one policy I am extremely passionate about and I hate the idea of minor parties playing politics with it for their own electoral purposes, when the fate of our future is at stake. But no, there’s no criticism from anyone who voted for the people outside of major parties. No, it’s the major parties that are the problem apparently. The hardworking, values driven Labor MPs are heaped in with the conniving Liberals as if they’re all from the same stock. They’re just as bad as each other.
If Dunlop was clearer about what is was actually advocating in place of the two party system, I might be able to more clearly define why I disagree with him. But ultimately, it’s his prerogative to keep writing on this topic if that’s what he wants to do. And I’ll keep pointing out that I disagree with him. I believe Tony Abbott is the problem with Tony Abbott and I’m not interested in people trying to make excuses for this problem by blaming the two party political system. And I’ll be fighting, in our two party system, to get rid of him in 2016. Whether the minors and the independents are interested in supporting this campaign is also clearly, a lottery.
If there’s one thing I’ve learned in my marketing career, it’s that a brand does not belong to those who own it. Nike is not defined by what Nike chooses to say about Nike. Your local restaurant can claim to be sell the best meal in the city. But none of what they say matters nearly as much as how those who consume the brand identify with the brand. Perception is reality when it comes to branding. No one is ‘cool’ because they say they are. Even people’s personalities are a reflection of what others think their personalities are. Someone else decides you are shy and it doesn’t really matter what you think you are. If others see you as shy they will treat you like a shy person. People are cool because other people think are cool. People who try to be trendy are the least trendy. Trendy is other people’s perception of you.
It’s exactly the same with political narratives. I’ve been learning this the hard way by studying the political narratives of the major parties in relation to Labor’s mining tax. What I’m finding is that Labor did have a clear message when it came to the mining tax, but they never had a consistent narrative because the electorate never saw the mining tax the way Labor hoped they would. I’ve been reading everything Labor said about the mining tax from the day it was launched in May 2010 to the day Kevin Rudd was fired from the position of Prime Minister (an excruciatingly long seven weeks), and I’ve seen with my own eyes the effect that the electorate’s perception of the mining tax had on the Labor Party. In the first couple of weeks, Labor announced the policy with the confidence of people who think they’re going to be patted on the back. They felt they were the bearers of good news. But it all fell apart very quickly.
Why wouldn’t Labor expect to be congratulated for introducing the mining tax? Ordinary Australians were being told that their retirement savings would be pumped up at the expense of billionaires who would remain as billionaires while they chose to keep making billions out of mining. Every company in Australia was being offered a tax cut and small businesses were getting generous tax allowances on top of this. Infrastructure spending was increasing, equating to many new jobs in construction – an industry that employs thousands more people than mining and that has a much bigger multiplying effect on the economy. A super profits tax, by its very nature, does not affect jobs. The argument for the mining tax was sound and Labor communicated this argument clearly. The resources the billionaires were mining were owned by us. So why shouldn’t we see some benefit from them being pulled out of the ground, something that can only happen once? Why shouldn’t we each improve our own individual sovereign wealth fund, our superannuation account, during a once-in-a-generation mining boom?
The argument was sound. But for some reason, all Abbott had to do to oppose the mining tax was to say it would cost jobs (something which is completely untrue) and the whole Labor argument fell to pieces. The electorate preferred the doom and gloom negative message from Abbott which was dutifully reported as fact by an always-compliant-to-right-wing-messages-of-doom media. Even when the mining tax was still a popular policy, the electorate still turned on Labor and took the word of Abbott and his big-mining donors over the word of the Labor government. As soon as Labor realised they weren’t being patted on the back, their argument wobbled, and then cracked, and then broke. There was chaos. They lost confidence in what they believed in. If the electorate doesn’t want the mining tax, what do these ungrateful sods want? For Rinehart to keep getting richer while they all stagnate or get poorer? You can see it right there in Hansard. You can feel the Labor government pulling their hair out in despair. Their mining tax argument died because the electorate didn’t buy it. The narrative is owned by the people, not the government. The perception of the policy is owned by the voters. And once they decide they don’t like it, there’s very little you can do, or more importantly, say to change that.
There’s a lesson in this for Abbott. Not that he’s the type to learn lessons. I’ve seen right wing commentators, and even members of Abbott’s governments complaining that they need a better narrative. But a narrative is just a reflection of the story voters are seeing rolled out in front of them through everything the government does. Every policy announcement. Every policy outcome. Every press conference, every interview, every comment. All of this shows people the story of the government. You can’t fake it because it is what it is. You can manicure your Facebook profile to look like you have a glamourous, exciting, interesting life, but if your life is ordinary, unglamorous and run-of-the-mill, your Facebook friends aren’t going to be fooled. And the electorate hasn’t been fooled by Abbott. He can say all he likes about what his government stands for. He can sprout three word slogans like ‘open for business’ and he can promise a grown up government and one who takes responsibility for their actions. He can also try to focus on the parts of his first year which he thinks were successful, and hope that everyone forgets all the bad bits. But there’s no lying because we’re all here. We can see the economic figures which show the country is worse off than it was under the Labor government. We’ve watched Abbott break promises. We know we don’t like university deregulation or the end of universal health care or cuts to the ABC or innumerable other policies which have been inflicted on an unsuspecting electorate. Abbott can try to justify his cuts to welfare as good for the economy, but we can all see these are ideological attacks, inconsistent with the Australian value of fairness and egalitarianism.
People need to stop talking about the narrative as if it’s something that can be manufactured to justify behaviours of the past. Everyone’s personal story is told in the way they conduct their lives and a political narrative is no different. Abbott’s narrative of petty ideological revenge on his political enemies is as clear as day to anyone who cares to look. We own Abbott’s narrative and there’s nothing he can do about it except to change his behaviour. He’s made it clear he has no plan to do that. So his ever growing unpopularity will continue to increase. And his government will be voted out after its first term because of it.
As if a switch has been flicked, as if a group memo has gone out (perhaps from Rupert Murdoch), Australian political journalists have all very neatly and in a scarily synchronised fashion all decided there are problems with the Abbott government. I don’t want to sound ungrateful, but this is the biggest case of too little too late that I have ever witnessed. It is now official that the mainstream political press is exactly one year and three months behind the independent media who, like me, have been pointing out to our readers since the day Tony Abbott became Prime Minister, that he is not fit for the job. Actually that’s not true. I and most others were saying it for six years before that. And now, after over a year of relentless, daily horrors from the Abbott camp, including internationally embarrassing gaffes, broken promises, horrible and unfair revenge policy, rorting of the public purse, corruption and mean spirited behaviour, it’s as if they’ve all suddenly had permission to point out that there might be a problem here. Low and behold, I think they might be right! Even a broken clock is right twice a day.
But if only it ended there. No. There’s another clause in the ‘you may now point out how bad the Abbott government is’ memo which they have all dutifully complied with to the letter. Not that I think it took any convincing. You guessed it. They only have permission to call the spade of the Abbott government a dysfunctional spade if they also maintain their completely misrepresentative and downright dishonest anti-factual narrative of Labor dysfunction at the same time. So the narrative goes like this: Abbott’s government is bad. We only just noticed. We also can’t help but notice it’s just as bad, if not possibly not quite as bad, as the previous Labor government.
Don’t believe me? I hear people like Bolt, Albrechtsen and Alan Jones have been piling on Abbott in their own synchronised act of ‘let’s give Julie Bishop a run’ narrative, while carefully laying the blame mostly at the feet of Abbott’s support team. Because criticising Abbott himself would be career suicide for these types I assume. I’m not, however, going to link to these bottom-feeders. But I will link to Murdoch-Liberal-lite commentator Peter van Onselen, who today contributed this piece: ‘Wheels are falling off as Abbott careers to year’s end’. This article provides bad feedback from Abbott’s Liberal friends about his dire political situation, and also helpfully highlights this line:
‘So far, however, Abbott’s government more closely resembles the dysfunction of the Labor line-ups he fought so hard to defeat.’
Then we also have Peter Hartcher, who today contributed ‘Abbott’s rudderless ship won’t scrape by’, which quotes numerous un-named Liberal sources who are ‘panicking’ about Abbott’s terrible performance (Hartcher’s favourite sources are un-named). Hartcher then summarises:
‘Is the rising panic justified? The comparison with the Rudd and Gillard years is particularly striking. In a couple of ways it is apt.’
I won’t bore you with the ways that Hartcher thinks criticism of Abbott is an apt comparison with Rudd and Gillard, as it’s really just more bullshit from a journalist we have come to expect this sort of bullshit from. Anyone who has read Gillard’s My Story will understand Hartcher is the lowest form of gutter rat ever to inhabit the Press Club and can’t be trusted to report anything about Labor in a way that is objective and fair. Here is a quote from Gillard about Hartcher and his similarly badly behaved Press Club colleagues:
‘No journalist apologised to his or her readers when dramatically reported [leadership vote] deadlines passed in silence, nor publically discussed how they themselves were systematically used and misled in order to puff up claims about the number of Labor members who wanted to vote for Kevin Rudd. A few, like Peter Hartcher, became combatants in Kevin’s leadership war’.
So not only was this man, Hartcher, a key player in the leadership dysfunction that he then wrote about I assume every week for the three years of Gillard’s government (although I couldn’t say this for sure because I gave up reading him after the first broken-record Labor-leadership-tensions crap), he is also still a keen-perpetuator of the misleading information that the previous Labor government was dysfunctional. How this man is still employed and still welcome in the Press Club is beyond me. I’ve written before about how leadership dysfunction doesn’t automatically lead to political dysfunction. Note this isn’t an opinion. This is based on fact. Even while Gillard was fighting against Rudd’s betrayal and white-anting, she was delivering political stability, in a minority government. Here’s another quote from her book to back up my opinion with some facts:
‘Minority government delivered the nation effective and stable government. This was the most productive parliament, able to deal with the hardest of issues. During the terms of my government, members of parliament sat for more than 1,555 hours and 566 pieces of legislation were passed. This is more legislation than was passed in the last term of the Howard Government, notwithstanding their complete command of parliament with a majority in both the House of Representatives and the Senate.’
This record can’t even be compared with Abbott’s first year as Prime Minister, because any comparison would just be too ridiculous to even contemplate. Abbott’s biggest achievements are noted as turning good policy off. The Mining Tax. The Carbon Price. And his ability to stop. the. boats. Even if you’re a Murdoch hack and you think these three policy successes constitute achievements, and not crimes against Australia’s future and the lives of desperate asylum seekers, it’s still a very lonely looking policy achievement scoreboard. It can’t compare to Gillard’s success because it’s too pathetic to even begin to compare. Abbott’s budget is a barnacle covered ship that never even set sail before it became a rusted shipwreck. Abbott’s government is defined by, is awash with failure to its very core. There is no justifiable comparison with the previous Labor government that does justifiable comparisons justice.
Lastly, I’ve include Lenore Taylor. Even when Taylor is being accurate and generally reasonable in the Guardian about the awfulness of the Abbott government (and to be fair, she has been very critical since the start of Abbott’s term), she still manages to get a punch in for the previous Labor government. It does seem to be entirely compulsory for every member of the Press Club to follow this pattern. In her article today, ‘Three things that a good government would do’, Taylor wrote:
‘Abbott told his party room on Tuesday (in the same speech in which he promised to clean the barnacles and before all the confusion about what they were) that his government’s “historical mission is to show that the chaos of the Rudd/Gillard years is not the new normal”. After a truly chaotic week we can safely say that mission has not been accomplished.’
The Labor-government-was-dysfunctional narrative is just not true and everyone who repeats it is treating their readers like idiots. It’s just not true. It’s a misrepresentation of political reality. It’s certain proof of journalistic bias and misinformation. It was rampant throughout the media for the entire length of the Labor government’s previous two terms. And now the myth continues as journalists come up with ways to justify how they missed the incompetence of the Abbott government while the Abbott government was campaigning to become the Abbott government. They missed their opportunity to scrutinise the Abbott government and for that reason they should never be trusted ever again. It’s not like any of them have the courage to stand up and say ‘yes, we got it wrong. Our obsession with Labor leadership tensions led us to misrepresent the Labor government as a bad government when on all objective measures it was a surprisingly successful government. We’re sorry we did this, and we’re sorry our focus on this one political angle prevented us from properly scrutinising Opposition Leader Abbott and his plans for Australian. We’re all paying for our mistakes now’. You just won’t ever see this happen. So instead we get bullshit served up to us as truth. Even when the broken clocks are correct twice day, they’re still wrong about the Labor government.
I know the person on Twitter who suggested that we could all crowdfund the ABC to save the 400 jobs and the services that are being cut by Abbott’s savage ideological slash and burn of our national broadcaster was just trying to be helpful. But no. Sorry. There will be no crowdfunding of the national broadcaster. Unless by crowdfunding you mean paying taxes and seeing the revenue from your paid taxes being spent on the public broadcaster that we all value. Oh, hang on, I just realised tax is a form of community crowdfunding. So yes, we should continue to crowdfund the ABC. And we should continue to be horrified while Abbott and his merry-wreckers continue to swing their wrecking ball through public institutions that we, Australian tax-payers, and generations of Australian tax-payers have, through our hard work, payment of taxes, and community support, built through the community act of paying taxes and giving public institutions support.
Because that’s what’s really at the heart of this whole shemozzle, which is currently called the Abbott government, but in future will be referred to as the one-term-blip-resulting-from-the-biggest-mistake-Australia-ever-made. At the heart of the Abbott government is an ideological war to cut, slash, burn, decimate, belittle, downsize, nullify, reject, outsource, kill-off, delegitimise and ultimately wreck the public institutions that make up the Australian civilisation. Abbott and friends care to ignore that these institutions, these publically funded, owned by all Australians, including those who can afford to pay tax and those who can’t, these valuable assets to our community, are not his to wreck. It’s not his farm to sell off. It’s not his pool to piss in. It’s not his hard work that has paid for any of this.
I’m getting mightily fed up with Abbott’s attitude towards our collective assets. Abbott’s government has sold of Medibank Private. They’ve smashed the ABC and the CSIRO. The Climate Commission was the first on the chopping block and has since been generously crowdfunded by Australians worried about climate change, and is now the Climate Council. Abbott’s doing his best to turn our Medicare system into a no-longer-universal-healthcare-system where ‘users pay’ for the privilege of being cared for when they’re sick. Our higher education students could soon have free-market interest rates assigned to deregulated and growing university fees. Our public schools have had massive funding cuts*. *School chaplains excluded. Our health system has had massive funding cuts and is becoming the problem of under-funded State governments who have no choice but to cut services. The renewable energy sector is disappearing and the manufacturing industry has been all-but killed off with thousands of jobs with it. Abbott’s slashing and burning is ripping at the very heart of Australia. He’s ripping at the very heart of our communities. He’s wrecking the civilisation that we have all crowdfunded into existence and kept running. Why is he doing this? Why does a dog lick his balls? Because he can. (And he enjoys it very much).
Let’s have a look at a world where Abbott’s ideological utopia ‘user pays’ agenda overrides the collective spirit of a social democracy. Note, Abbott’s predilection for a user pays system extends only to people outside of his family and close circle of fellow neo-cons. Frances Abbott doesn’t have to pay for her own education. Abbott doesn’t have to pay for his private travel to attend campaign events or to promote his book for private profit. And Abbott’s friends, like Gina Rinehart, don’t have to pay for the government-funded infrastructure they need to continue to pillage our national wealth and to resent every cent of tax they pay for this self-entitled privilege. No, it’s just us plebs that should be forced to ‘user pay’. So this means every road is a toll road. Don’t leave for work without your credit-card linked toll-pass. You can’t get out of your driveway without it! Traffic lights would also be toll points, as would zebra-crossings for pedestrians. You won’t step foot in a school or a hospital without individually paying for every doctor or teacher that you come into contact with. You can swipe your credit card on the way into the classroom or emergency surgery suite. Need the police? Before they respond to your emergency, they’ll check your credit limit, by which stage the intruder may have already bashed you to death. Is the government intending on sending Australian troops to war? The war won’t start without at least 10,000 interested funders and everyone who doesn’t fund the war will be put on a list and excluded from any peacekeeping in the future, and instead used as human shields. Need to use a toilet? At home or when you’re out and about? I hope you have your credit card with you. You can’t use the sewers without it. There’s a nice big open park and playground down the road. Admittance by booking and credit card only. What about access to the internet? Yes, I know we already pay ISPs to hook up to their streams, but whenever you access a wireless network, your credit card will be charged accordingly to fund vital research work into technological innovation that used to be done by our national researcher, CSIRO, but is now done by private firms who will not make their technology available to anyone who doesn’t pay for it directly. Oh, and you want democratically elected leaders? One vote equals one dollar. How many dollars have you got? Doesn’t this sound like a fun place to live, in Abbott’s utopia? But the good news is, there won’t be any need to pay for the ATO as there will be no taxes. So all the money you earn you get to take home (well, whatever is left after funding all of the above). What’s that? You can’t afford to see a doctor? You’re unemployed and you’re sick. Well bad luck for you! You were born into the wrong family! In Abbott’s utopia, only the rich survive. That’s actually the point. That’s the fucking point of Abbott.
I know we have two years to go, but I’m ready to vote Abbott out today. Does anyone feel like helping me crowdfund a new government? I’m sick of watching this one wreck our place.
Weird and graceless. Shorten’s description of Abbott’s G20 address to world leaders was spot on. We all know that Abbott doesn’t perform well at public speaking. And we never expected him to say anything inspiring, intelligent or even informative at the G20. It’s not like he was going to admit he’d been wrong about climate policy and could Obama and Xi Jinping please help him to fix his faults. No, what we expected was for him to be uninspiring, unintelligent, and to say not much at all. Like he usually does. Because let’s face it, we’re used to three word slogans repeated slowly, spread out amongst ahh, err, arh, urms ad nauseam. But that’s not what we got from Abbott yesterday. Surprisingly, we got worse than this. Which is why it’s worth taking a closer look at what he actually did say.
The closest I’ve seen to criticism of the speech from the mainstream media, who surprisingly unwrapped Abbott from his Teflon coated bubble wrap for a millisecond to give him some negative feedback, was that the speech was more suited for a domestic audience than a meeting of world leaders. This is true, but was by far the least worst thing about what Abbott actually said. As a member of that domestic audience for whom the speech was apparently targeted, I found it highly offensive. Not just partisan, immature, whingey, unbecoming of a Prime Minister, badly delivered and embarrassing to the country. Look at what he actually said and I think you’ll be offended too:
‘Two issues in particular that I lay before my colleague leaders: we have tried to deregulate higher education, universities, and that’s going to mean less central government spending and effectively more fees that students will have to pay. We think that this will free up our universities to be more competitive amongst themselves and more competitive internationally but students never like to pay more.’
Correct me if I’m wrong, but I thought Pyne’s argument was that deregulation of university fees would make fees less expensive? Pyne has also argued that his policy is a ‘good deal’ for students, although this was clearly never the case. How is it a good deal to be paying more for something and having to pay interest you previously didn’t pay, whilst getting the exact same product you used to get? But the point is, Abbott’s government always argued that this policy was about improving the university sector – not about balancing the budget. Yet yesterday, Abbott was using this policy failure (let’s call a spade a spade that has failed to get through the Senate) as one of the reasons he’s finding those revolting peasants in his kingdom so terribly hard to force into line. Because students ‘never like to pay more’. Apparently Abbott’s budget woes are nothing to do with his and Hockey’s incompetence and are instead apparently all university students’ fault and their sense of entitlement that they should be able to get an education without taking out a mortgage on their future. An education, by the way, that benefits the long term economic success of Abbott’s precious economy. Not that Abbott seems to be able to put two and two together in this way. Abbott hadn’t finished yet though, because it wasn’t just the students who were to blame. It was also the sick.
‘The other reform that has proven very, very difficult for us is to try to inject more price signals into our health system. For a long time most Australians who went to see a doctor have been seen at no charge and we would like to see a $7 co-payment for people who are going to see the doctor. In most countries this is not unusual. In most countries, this is standard that the doctor can charge a fee, but it is proving to be massively difficult to get this particular reform through the Parliament.’
Those pesky sick people and their sense of entitlement that they should be treated in a health system that they pay for through their taxes that was set up to look after all Australians from cradle to the grave. How dare these revolting peasants think they should be able to see a doctor for free when they are sick! But at the heart of this whole argument is that a ‘price-signal’ (you know, like the carbon tax was a price signal to reduce carbon pollution) will reduce visits to the doctor, and will therefore reduce the cost of this universal health sector, which is funded by Australians through our tax system. The only way this could ever possibly be the case is if Abbott believes that Australians aren’t really sick and are actually just whingey hypochondriacs who need to be put off from their whingey hypochondria through a price signal. Or, his government believes that poor people who can’t afford the $7 co-payment should put up with being sick and shouldn’t be treated for ailments that could become much worse if not treated, such as lumps that can become a range of life threatening cancers or a heart problem that could easily be treated before it becomes catastrophic heart failure. Perhaps Abbott would prefer the poor just died without costing his budget any money. See why I felt offended? I was also frustrated that Abbott forgot to mention that his great-big-GP-tax was not actually going to be used to fund a budget surplus. It was being used for a $20 billion research fund for use by the private research sector. At the same time as Abbott is cutting the apparently wasteful CSIRO. Funny the small facts Abbott chose to leave out of his grand whinge.
But ultimately, if you were really listening, you’ll have heard that it wasn’t just the students and the sick and hypochondriac Australians who are to blame for Abbott’s inability to fulfil one of his apparent four core promises to ‘get the Budget under control’. Because right up front, Abbott said this:
‘…it doesn’t matter what spending programme you look at, it doesn’t matter how wasteful that spending programme might appear, there are always some people in the community who vote, who love that programme very much’.
Get that people? It’s all of us voters who are so stupidly in love with government spending on programs that are just a complete waste of government spending. It’s all our fault that Abbott can’t balance his books! Us stupid voters refuse to let him send a wrecking ball through our civilised society that we have spent generations building! How dare we block his wrecking ball!
So yes, I was offended, as a member of the domestic audience that was the true target market for this speech. But once I had calmed down and thought about it for a moment, I realised that I was also incredibly proud of Australians. Abbott can blame us all he likes. But the fact of the matter is that the worst of Abbott’s budget – the parts that hit the most vulnerable hardest – like the GP co-payment, like Pyne’s assault on the higher education sector – are being blocked by our democratically elected leaders in the Labor Party, the Greens, various independents and low and behold, the Palmer United Party. So we might be dumb enough to elect Abbott in the first place, but I hope the world leaders, and those across the world who may have been tuning in, can see we’re not dumb enough to let him wreck the place, no matter how hard he might be trying.
Look at this photo of Julia Gillard. Does this look like an innocent person – someone who has just been vindicated by a Judge as having played no part in any criminality in relation to a union slush fund 20 years ago? Or does it look like someone guilty, with questions to answer, being rushed away from cameras, refusing to make eye contact with her accusers? This is the image that the Sydney Morning Herald used to accompany a headline which you would think would be good news for Julia Gillard, and bad news for the media who relentlessly pursed this story to no end:
Royal commission on union corruption told Julia Gillard should be cleared of any crime
The article moved quickly from reporting that The Royal Commission into Union Governance and Corruption found Gillard innocent, to report that her ex-boyfriend, Bruce Wilson, and his colleague Ralph Blewitt should face criminal charges. Kathy Jackson is also recommended for criminal charges. Remember Blewitt and Jackson and their work to bring down the previous Labor government? No? Don’t remember these links? Why am I not surprised?
To the average media consumer, who doesn’t follow independent journalism, who relies on their news from mainstream journalists such as those at Fairfax, you would never know that Ralph Blewitt’s accusations towards Julia Gillard were used relentlessly by right-wing-nut-job-chief Larry Pickering (you know the guy – he likes to draw politicians with huge penises) to push the media to keep saying that Gillard had ‘questions to answer’. You might wonder why the media would follow the lead of the un-hinged Pickering and the word of Blewitt, who was blaming Gillard for something he himself was being accused of doing in a bid for immunity. You might also not realise that Kathy Jackson was the very same Kathy Jackson who ‘blew the whistle’ on Craig Thomson’s misuse of union funds, who is also partner of Tony Abbott’s good friend Michael Lawler and a favourite guest of the right wing extremist HR Nicholls Society, and was misusing union funds herself at many tens of times worse than Craig Thomson. This article quotes the misuse for personal expenses at $660,000. But this link between right wingers and criminality in unions is never mentioned is it? This link to a 2012 article where Tony Abbott is praising Kathy Jackson as heroic is never mentioned. These people with vested interest in bringing down Labor politicians, who are accused of doing the exact same things as they are accusing Labor politicians of doing, who have links to right wing politicians and media identities are never properly investigated because no journalist wants to make the link between stories they’ve been writing, and the obvious campaign by Abbott to not just destabilise Gillard’s minority government, but to smash unions and workers’ rights with them. Remember Ashby versus Slipper, another campaign orchestrated by Abbott’s Opposition to try to bring down the Gillard government? Remember how Michelle Grattan used Craig Thomson and Peter Slipper as reasoning as to why Julia Gillard should resign?
You’ll notice that most of the stories that I’ve linked to in the above paragraph were written by journalists at Fairfax. I use Fairfax in this case purposely. I could have used News Ltd, but no one takes News Ltd seriously as they don’t actually employ journalists and prefer to work at being grubby partisan hacks so there’s no point reminding everyone why we don’t read News Ltd. I could have used the ABC, who went with this very ABC-like headline to report the news of Gillard’s vindication in the slush fund affair:
Trade union royal commission submissions question Julia Gillard’s professional conduct but clears her of any crime
Of course the ‘questions’ had to be right up there front and centre, and the vindication the afterthought, added later. The ABC is terrified of Abbott and people like Chris Kenny who accuse them of left-wing bias so they prefer to let Murdoch set the agenda than to actually do any journalistic work themselves for the good of the public who fund them.
I actually used Fairfax not because they are the worst case of bad, on non-existent journalism in Australia. There is some investigative journalism happening at Fairfax, which the stories about Jackson, and Ashby and Michael Smith prove. But what frustrates me, and should frustrate the public at large, is the apparent inability for these journalists to pull bit-piece stories together to tell a wider story, which no media outlet in the county has had the courage to tell. Simply, the media went after Prime Minister Gillard ferociously over Thomson, Slipper and the AWU slush fund affair. The media mauled Gillard’s leadership over these ‘scandals’, running with a fixed narrative of Labor chaos, Labor dysfunction, Labor failure, Labor leadership tensions. This fixed narrative refused to join the dots between the Thomson, Slipper and AWU affair and the Liberal Opposition – who through Jackson, through Blewitt, through Larry Pickering, through Pyne’s deep involvement in the Ashby plot, were the ones goading the media on to destroy their political opponents. This fixed narrative also seemingly didn’t notice, or chose not to see, that the Gillard government was the most productive government this country has ever had. Where are the facts Fairfax? Buried in a political smear campaign?
But as journalists we should have the courage to act for more than the lofty notion of freedom of speech. We have a duty to be the voice of the powerless in our society, to stand up for them.
Were Fairfax Media journalists standing up for the powerless in our society when they were complicit in a campaign to wrongly accuse Julia Gillard of criminality in relation to the AWU slush fund affair? It’s too late to go back and apologise for this error – the damage to Gillard’s political career and her progressive policy platform is already done. But what about Jackson and Ashby? Are Fairfax journalists standing up for truth, for the powerless voters who knew nothing of what was happening in the Thomson and Slipper affairs when Fairfax journalists refused to join the dots between these Labor ‘scandals’ and a campaign by Abbott’s opposition to destabilise the Labor government? And what about union members, whose working conditions, wages and rights will be damaged by Abbott’s campaign to destroy unions? Where are the journalists speaking truth to power on behalf of the Australian public, instead of on behalf of the Abbott opposition, and now Abbott government?
I note that Fairfax reported, but never mounted media campaigns that culminated in suggesting the Prime Minister resign, stories about Abbott’s rorting of tax-payers funds for private travel, his daughter’s secret $60,000 scholarship, his own involvement in a slush fund to destroy Pauline Hanson’s electoral fortunes (this was much more recent than 20 years ago). Is Fairfax saying that they’re only interested in following stories that can damage Labor governments? And if so, can they please explain how this represents their role of standing up for the powerless in society? I think it’s time that journalists realise that they have their own questions to answer. And until they satisfactorily answer them, the powerless in society should continue to distrust them.