Clinton’s Narrative Has Arrived

Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton speaks during a campaign stop, Monday, April 25, 2016, in Wilmington, Del. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke)

Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton speaks during a campaign stop, Monday, April 25, 2016, in Wilmington, Del. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke)

Ever since Hillary Clinton clinched the Democratic Party nomination, I’ve been waiting for her political narrative to emerge. Just like when you’re waiting for a bus and it’s taking an age to appear, I was starting to feel a bit anxious about whether this narrative would turn up at all. In the meantime, the Trump narrative has been spiralling into unchartered depths of hate with a mix of lunacy and apocalypse. It became obvious a while ago that the overarching theme of Clinton’s narrative would have to be a message of hope, to juxtaposition against Trump’s narrative of despair. But the question I’m sure Clinton’s team have been working on, and finding quite difficult to answer, is how to use hope to argue against the message of despair, when the media, like magpies collecting shiny trinkets for their 24-hour-news-cycle-nest, give Trump all their attention. Even those journalists who don’t agree with Trump, and don’t seem to like him, still play his game and give him a free advertising campaign, which takes up all their time, leaving less time, and sometimes no time, to cover Hillary’s message, and policies, of hope. But the good news is, it would appear that Clinton’s campaign has found a way around this problem. Now let’s just hope it works!

So what is Clinton’s narrative?  Here is a link to three of her Trump attack ads which have been running over the past few months. The most recent video shows young girls looking at themselves in the mirror, with the misogynistic words of Trump overlaid, denigrating the appearance of women and treating them as objects. Another uses the same style of message, but this time with injured war heroes and families of American soldiers killed in war, alongside Trump’s comments denigrating war heroes. The third ad similarly shows children watching TV as some of Trump’s worst calls-to-violence and hateful statements are made. The overarching narrative in this campaign is ‘the President is the ultimate role model; so what type of role model is Donald Trump? And if he’s not a good role model, he’s not a good leader’.

This narrative is clever for three reasons. The first is it’s almost impossible to argue with this framing of Trump as a bad role model. I’m sure he will try, as will his supporters, but it’s a pretty tough argument to make in both an emotional and rational sense, because of its link with children, bad behaviour, and values. Put simply, everyone knows that children should be brought up to be good people, and that positive role models help them to aspire to be good. Trump can’t exactly turn around and say ‘I hope your children swear and curse just like I do’. Well, he can, but I’m not sure it will go down that well. The best political narratives present arguments which are difficult to argue against. In my study of Labor’s mining tax narrative, my results suggested that from the naming of the mining tax policy ‘Resources Super Profits Tax’, to the entire narrative of ‘a fair share’, Labor missed the opportunity to frame the policy in a way that would have made it much more difficult for the Liberals and the mining industry to counter-argue. For instance, if the policy had been called ‘Mining Dividends for Australian Shareholders’ and had been justified as ‘a future wealth fund for all Australians’, it would have been much harder for the big miners to claim the policy was an assault on Australia’s way of life and was going to ruin us all.

The second reason the narrative is clever is again through its link to children, and in turn, a focus on a more positive future. David Penberthy recently, and surprisingly in a News Ltd paper, contrasted Pauline Hanson’s much-reported maiden speech, which he described as vane, insecure and racist with the the hardly-noticed-by-the-media maiden speech from Labor’s Northern Territory Senator, Malarndirri McCarthy, which he says showed humility, pride, intellect, decency and effort. The two speeches boil down to exactly the Trump and Clinton narratives I’m describing as fear and loathing versus hope and renewal. Everyone is acknowledging that things are exactly great right now, but they are also offering very different reasons for why things aren’t great, and arguments about what we need to do to fix them. Clinton’s focus on children, which echoes Michelle Obama’s brilliant convention speech, reminds Americans that children represent hope for a brighter future, but only if those children are good people. This contrasts with Trump, who is doing a lot of complaining, but it failing to offer anything good for children to aspire to, representing his lack of positive solutions to fix the problems he complains about.

The last reason why Clinton’s narrative is crafty is because it’s an attack ad, framed in a positive way. Although political strategists seem to ignore all the research that says negative advertising puts voters off, and although the election of Tony Abbott on the most negative agenda Australia has ever seen would seem to disprove this research anyway, the fact is, you can’t have a consistent narrative of hope cloaked in negativity and fear. Fear belongs to Trump. So Clinton has to do something different. By dressing her message of hope in not only a positive narrative, but also a counter-narrative against Trump, using Trump’s own words no less, her narrative kills two birds with one stone and helps to finally give her campaign the overarching thread that it needs to rise above the nasty-noise of the Trump circus.

So there you have it. The narrative is there. The next question is, will the campaign stick to this message? And of course, the $64 million dollar question that comes next is; will the message work? The November poll will be around soon enough to give us the answer.


An Open Letter to Peter Costello

petercostelloDear Peter Costello,

I am writing in response to your allegation that the mining industry has been ‘treated shabbily’ by Australia. Apparently you don’t think they’ve had a fair deal, what with the billions of dollars of profit they’ve sucked out of the earth, from the dirt owned by Australian citizens. What would you like? For us all to give the mining executives a big hug, or a pat on the back, to say ‘thanks for royally screwing us over?’ Perhaps you would like us to cook them each a cake? A mud cake perhaps? Sorry. It never occurred to me to do this.

But hang on. You’ve said what you want. You want there to be a section in the Australian curriculum where school students are taught to bow down to the rich miners and kiss their toes, begging them to hire them to drive trucks for big bucks, and to spend weeks away from their family at a time, to live the Australian dream of helping mining executives get rich? What should this part of the curriculum be called Peter? Perhaps it could be a whole subject? Kissing Gina’s arse? How about, how-to-rip-off-battlers-to-line-the-pockets-of-shareholders? How about a practical-lesson-in-sending-Australia’s-wealth-overseas so none of us get any benefit from it unless we’re wealthy enough to have huge superannuation accounts? Wealth inequality for dummies perhaps?

But you really do have a point, in your funny old way of being wrong while still somehow managing to make sense. A bit like how you claim to be a really great ex-Treasurer, and to be oh so worried about debt and deficit, while also conveniently ignoring that little problem of your actual legacy which, low and behold, screwed all of us. I see a pattern of incompetence forming here. Richard Denniss puts your yearly cost to Australia at $56 billion dollars per year. Ouch Peter! What is it you like to say about inter-generational theft? Maybe everyone should learn all about your incompetence at school? Maybe we should have a Royal Commission into Peter Costello’s Incompetence to get to the bottom of how you managed to leave such economic destruction in your wake?

But really Peter, you’ve got a point about the mining industry deserving a place in the school curriculum. In fact, I applaud your call to give our children a chance to learn how they missed out on a once in a generation mining boom because the mining industry, with the help of your Liberals, crushed Labor’s super-profit tax in order to protect their unfair rort of taking all the wealth for themselves. I definitely think it’s a great idea to educate children about the ills of wealth inequality, so that they understand that life doesn’t have to be this way. They have a right to be told by their teachers that people like you shouldn’t be making decisions on their behalf. Because you don’t have their best interests at heart. And nor do the mining executives who you like to exalt as the mythical heroes of the Australian economy. I’m sure Australian children will be very interested to learn how your Liberals cancelled their chance to get their fair share of mining’s benefits, from the soil they all collectively own. They’ll no doubt be howling about this when they find out how much superannuation they’ve missed out on, money they needed in retirement. They’ll be pissed when they find out you preferred to let the mining executives live it up on their dime, stealing from their bank accounts so they’ll have to retire the day before they die. Good on you Peter. It’s definitely a good idea to tell all the kiddies about this con. Education is, after all, the key to a better future.

Speaking of education, I wonder if you have the figures at hand of how much education funding we could have enjoyed had your government, the one where you controlled the money, thought about taxing the mining industry properly and putting that revenue somewhere useful, such as into the education budget? Actually, let’s not get you to do the sums because we know how hopeless you are with accounting. Remember the time you sold all the gold at rock bottom price. When I say ‘the gold’, just to be clear, it wasn’t your gold Peter, it was ours. Remember when you lost billions of dollars of Australian money, money that belonged to those school children who never heard anything about it?

Now I come to think of it, you really should be ashamed of yourself Peter. You’ve screwed over the Australian people time and time again. I have no idea why anyone thinks it would be a good idea to listen to your opinion about anything. What are you doing these days anyway? When you retired you said it was to spend more time with your family. But then I recall, you’ve been appointed to, hang on, what the actual… Australia’s independent sovereign wealth fund. That’s really taking the piss Peter. You’re the last person I would let even think about walking anywhere near Australia’s Future Fund, let alone giving you the keys and letting you drain it all away, sell the farm and watch the proceeds melt to nothing, until the future is free of any funds. But of course you still get paid. What a joke Peter. What an absolute joke. Who on earth would give you such a responsible position, when you’re so clearly ideologically inappropriate and incompetently reckless with money to boot? I think I can guess.

I think it’s time you did the whole country a favour and just go away. And in particular, stay away from the young people Peter. You’ve done enough damage. You’ve treated us all very shabbily. It’s time we had a chance to fix your mistakes for the benefit of all our futures.

Yours Sincerely
Victoria Rollison

 


The wrong diagnoses, the wrong treatment

doctorpatient1If your doctor misdiagnoses your disease, you’re probably not going to get any better. The same problem will arise for people in the UK who voted to leave the EU because of assurances from Brexit campaigners that they could ‘solve’ globalisation. Similarly for Australian voters who chose the Hanson or Xenophon treatment, attracted to the anti-free-trade-deal rhetoric, which promises to reverse the ill effects of globalisation. And of course, Trump’s supporters could find they have opted for the wrong prescription if he wins the US election.

The patients in this metaphor share similar symptoms of wealth inequality: they’ve seen their stable employment disappear in the industries their families relied on for generations – like automotive, whitegoods, steel production and fabrication, coal mining, clothing and footwear manufacture. They feel resentful that the ‘establishment’ political process has left them to fend for themselves. They never wanted to be reliant on government help, which makes them even more resentful of needing it. They’re not educated in the professions which would allow them to take advantage of a changing global work landscape. They feel priced out of their local job market and often blame unions for pricing them out. They’ve seen full time, ongoing positions degrade into casual, unstable working environments, leaving them constantly anxious about the future. Their fear of change is sometimes scapegoated to a fear of people who don’t look like them, the immigrants who they see as living-next-door representatives of the new world order that has caused all their problems. They are told by right-wing politicians it is their fault they are poor, and they are ‘leaning’ on society, when all they really want is to be contributing like they used to. It’s no wonder they’re visiting the doctor.

But the problem is, they’ve all accepted the misdiagnosis of globalisation. The Brexit campaign, the Hansons, Xenophons and Trumps have made a villain of globalisation, and have promised a treatment to fix this disease which won’t do anything to cure it because it’s not the disease they are suffering from. What’s really making them sick are the ill-effects of neoliberalism. They’re suffering from neoliberalism playing out on a globalised scale. So what they really need is treatment to fix the down-side of neoliberalism, not a fix for globalisation.

Once people come to terms with what they are really suffering from, it becomes much easier to talk to them about positive steps to solve the problem. The first thing we need to do is to stop voting for political leaders who think neoliberalism is the right answer. Malcolm Turnbull, for instance. Taking out the ‘lisation’ and ‘lism’ words from this complex situation, you could describe globalisation as a world market, and neoliberalism as a way of removing government mediation from regulating this market. Therefore, the only way to treat the disease is to change the rules by which the market operates, in order to share its spoils more evenly amongst all citizens.

I can already feel people flinching as they read the words ‘government regulation’, but that’s what we’re really talking about here. The treatment for the disease is government policy that aims to reduce wealth inequality which is caused by neoliberal agendas massively advantaging those who already have a foothold in the market over those who don’t. That means a legislated minimum wage and working conditions. That means supporting industries which are really important to the country, which employ lots of people, which in turn stimulates the economy and is therefore worth the investment – such as steel manufacturing, car manufacturing (it’s working for America!) and defence industries. It means investing government funds in high quality school, vocational and tertiary education so it is available to people who can’t afford to pay for it, in order to give them the resources they need to compete in a new market for jobs. It means healthcare available to everyone, no matter their income. It means guaranteeing those who are unemployed have enough government assistance to live in dignity, and be in a position to better their circumstances. It is providing infrastructure and government services which level out the playing field to make the opportunities of globalisation more evenly distributed amongst the whole society.

There are many advantages to globalisation which are hard to embrace when you’re suffering from neoliberalism. For instance, the availability of world markets for those engaged in high-paid, interesting and challenging work, such as in technology, engineering, professional services, design, science, academic, arts and entertainment fields. If you don’t have an education that makes you eligible for such positions (because you haven’t had your government-funded treatment for neoliberalism), it makes it hard to see these benefits. But once you feel better, globalisation doesn’t seem so bad.

The paradox is, the people offering the treatment to solve globalisation refuse to acknowledge that neoliberalism is the real villain here. Like Voldermort in Harry Potter, neoliberalism has become he who shall not be named and therefore it who shall not be blamed. It might sound like a story too good to be true: that you can have your globalisation cake and eat your more equally distributed economic growth too. But, all it takes is for voters to trust a government who is prepared to mediate the world market to make sure economic benefits of globalisation flow more evenly, not just to the privileged few.

Neoliberal governments, instead of offering the treatment people need, have been cutting back, stripping, undermining and hollowing out government’s role in every policy area imaginable. In doing so, they’re hurting economic growth, hurting the wealth of their country, and hurting the wealth of the individuals in these countries. We can all be better off by making all of us better off. We just need to identify the right treatment for the right disease.


Between a rock and a judgemental place

1950smother

Today is Equal Pay Day. This event was celebrated yesterday by former Liberal PM John Howard’s observation that women won’t ever achieve equal representation in parliament because women stay at home with children. Thanks Johnny!

The fact is, modern mothers (as opposed to Howard’s 1950’s view of the world) are stuck between the proverbial rock and a hard place when it comes to navigating the daily compromise between motherhood and paid employment. The problem is, there is no right answer in our society, because society doesn’t know what on earth they want us to do.

There is so much pressure on women to uphold the ideals of feminism, where our education, our careers, our professional achievements are equally important to us (and the family income!) as our male counterparts. But, when motherhood comes along, as it did for me a year ago, there is just as much pressure, if not more from some quarters, for mothers to put our own needs and wants aside and to focus solely on caregiving to children.

The problem is, this predicament ignores the fundamental realities of the constant tug-of-war between what a mother wants for herself and what society expects of her. An obvious one is that each mother wants different things. Take, for instance, that I would prefer to work than stay home with my child. Even writing that sentence, I can feel the hot eyes of judgement from the keyboard warriors yelling at me ‘YOU SHOULDN’T HAVE HAD CHILDREN IF YOU DON’T WANT TO STAY HOME TO LOOK AFTER THEM!!!’ My daughter loves childcare and I couldn’t be happier with the level of care she receives. Thanks for asking.

For many people, wants are beside the point. Sometimes, financially, there is no decision because mother has to work to pay the mortgage, the rent, to put food on the table and to give the family the standard of living she chooses. So we’re stuck between judgements from society about what makes a ‘good mother’ and what makes a ‘good worker’ or ‘good provider’. It is no wonder this situation puts so much pressure on mothers, right at a time in our lives when we’re vulnerable, tired and frankly just don’t need any more crap.

The four big picture decisions in the motherhood and career game, which each family must make work for their circumstances are: 1) mother* leaves or stays out of paid employment while raising children, 2) mother works in paid employment even though she would prefer to stay home because her family needs her income, 3) mother works in paid employment even though she can afford to stay home; she chooses to work because she enjoys it 4) mother works in paid employment because she has to and because she wants to (the category, by the way, I fall into). *The vast majority of parents who stay home to care for children are mothers.

Let’s just get one thing straight and confirm that all four categories of woman are full time mothers and all four are working. Mothers who stay home work incredibly hard. On the flipside, just because a woman is in paid employment, doesn’t mean she isn’t a mother when her child is being cared for by someone else; whether at childcare, kindergarten, or in that messy 90 minute period between the end of the school day and the end of an eight hour work day.

A friend of a friend toured their local primary school and asked about after-school care facilities. The tour-guiding-principal responded ‘we offer after-school care, but we don’t recommend it for the little kids in reception and year one – they’re a bit young to be at school for so long’. Well-meaning or not, this comment is eye-roll-inducing judgemental. What the women on the tour in categories 2, 3 and 4 heard, who low-and-behold probably don’t have the flexibility to leave work in the middle of the afternoon, who already leave work earlier than they would like to, who race to pick up their children so they can get home in a reasonable time for dinner, is that they are bad mothers for expecting their children to be stuck in after-school-care while they selfishly work until 5pm.

So here we have a perfect example of how women can’t win and how the guilt-police get us either way. We are expected to live up to society’s expectation that we work just as hard as men at earning a living, contributing to the economy, being productive members of society in both a paid and unpaid capacity, and living up to our own measures of career success, while also being available as mothers. There is an expectation, a judgement made, that good mothers pick their children up directly after school, help with reading in the classroom and volunteer at the tuck-shop. In the case of working mothers like me with younger children, we are told by psychologists like Steve Biddulph that child care is bad for children or scientists tell us childcare causes respiratory illness, obesity, aggression and hyperactivity. Thanks for the helpful advice! Then there’s the everyday garden variety of unhelpful labels such as ‘full time mother’ to describe stay at home mothers, as if mothers in paid employment are only part-time parents. And of course stay at home mothers get judged for not ‘working’, when every mother knows how hard work it is looking after children at home.

So back to my idea about there being no single best-fit for every family. All the mothers of small children want and need something slightly different in their tailored career and motherhood mix. We all build a patchwork of support and compromise to make our choices happen. That often means putting careers on hold for a period, or paying a huge amount for childcare or a nanny, or calling on the help of grandparents, finding a more flexible or part time job and sometimes fathers making career sacrifices too. But society seems hell-bent on making us guilty for whatever choice we make. So we should ignore judgey mc-judgey society. The phrase ‘happy wife, happy life’ might seem trite, but instead we can extend it to ‘happy mother, happy family’. It’s hard enough being stuck between the rock of motherhood and the hard place of a career, but it’s even harder when you’re being judged for it. Whatever choice you make, bringing up small children is hard work; there is constant compromise, exhaustion and stress on both parents, along with a lot of joy which thankfully makes it all worthwhile. So we should be proud of our choices, and then get on with our lives, without looking back over our shoulder to check what everyone else judges as ok.

I won’t leave it there. Because it’s also up to all of us to stop judging other people’s parenting choices. We all know the judgers are just reaffirming their own decisions. It’s unnecessary. Be secure in your own choice, and accept that everything else is none of your business.

And one last comment to society as a whole; please work out what you want mothers to do and then make it a little easier to do that. If you want mothers to work, deliver childcare which is accessible, affordable and high quality. And schools have to stop expecting us to down-tools to pick up children at 3:30pm. Surely a highly productive, smart, innovative and agile society can sort this stuff out for everyone’s benefit.


Enough with the judging, Clementine

PregnancyMemeMy favourite feminist, Clementine Ford, wrote this week about her experiences giving birth to her first child. I’m sorry to have to admit I was deeply disappointed with the way she framed her birthing decisions, and the sanctimonious judgement and culture of expert-doctor-mistrust which makes these decisions for all women, more difficult.

It’s worth describing my own experiences in this area. I am a twin and was born via caesarean, which is the safest way to deliver twins. When I gave birth to my daughter just over a year ago, I went into labour two and a half weeks early and, with the help of the blessed relief of an epidural, delivered my daughter after 16 hours of labour. My twin sister had her first baby 10 weeks before I gave birth. She was induced two days after her due date, and after 12 hours in labour, her obstetrician judged that the labour wasn’t progressing because her son’s head was too big to pass through her birth canal. So she was rushed into the operating suite and had an emergency caesarean. It did occur to us all that my sister and her baby would likely have contributed to the huge statistics of maternal and infant mortality had they been in the same circumstances 100 years ago. But of course, my twin sister and I might not have been alive ourselves had we not been born via caesarean 35 years ago. So all in all, the wonders of modern medicine get a big round of applause in our family.

What really upset me about Clementine’s description of her decision to reject an obstetrician’s advice to be induced soon after her due date, and instead to go into hospital on her own terms 36 hours after her water broke at 43 weeks, is that she is upholding a cultural expectation through her public telling of this story, that there is something wrong with ‘giving in’ to the advice of doctors. And that anything other than a natural birth is a failure.

To put it frankly, it is incredibly dangerous to have a child at 43 weeks. As an obstetrician commented below Clementine’s post, much more calmly than I feel able, the statistics, the science, is clear about this risk. One in 300 babies born at 43 weeks (3 weeks after their due date) are stillborn. So when a doctor advises that a woman who has seen her due date come and go consider an induction, it’s not because the doctor is trying to take away the woman’s right to choose the circumstances of her birth, it’s not because the doctor is trying to dictate the terms of the birth in order to advantage the doctor in some way, it’s not because they want to bully the woman by using words like ‘stillborn’ or force the woman to not have the natural birth experience they dreamed of having. The doctor advises an induction to minimise the risk of the baby not surviving. The doctor is doing their job to deliver a baby safely. This job, to again be blunt, is far more important than looking after the feelings of the mother. Full stop.

I find it hard to believe women in modern society, where we have so much scientific advantage over previous generations, who played Russian roulette during childbirth, aren’t more grateful for the advice and assistance they get from doctors. In fact, rather than be grateful, many women seem to instead mistrust the doctor’s advice and claim they, as the intuitive mother, know best. The anti-vax movement is caused by this exact same phenomena. Mother knows best. Intuition and ‘feels’, and an obsession with exerting full control over every medical decision, ahead of expert provided medical fact.

So back to cultural expectations. Why did Clementine choose not to be induced? Is it because she judges a natural birth as superior? Is it because she judges a woman who gives birth naturally to have done a better job of the birthing process? I find it hard to see anything else in her words, which are imbued with a sense of self-righteous post-justification of her decisions, and martyrdom in claiming to have waited for things to occur naturally, even if that made her difficult wait longer and harder.

The thing is, I’ve seen this attitude so many times before. I’ve seen the way society looks disappointed when mothers tell the story of ‘giving in’ to an emergency caesarean, or being embarrassed to admit they elected to have a caesarean because it was the safest way for them to give birth. I’ve heard about the birth plans that women make, to do it all naturally, to be at home, in water, and to not take drugs, which, whether they mean to or not, are automatic judgements of ‘weak’ women who have gone before them and had every drug the hospital offered to get rid of that god-damn-pain thank you very much. I remember the women in my pregnancy aqua-aerobics class who proudly announced they’d achieved their goal of a VBAC – a vaginal birth after caesarean. So they had to ‘give in’ the first time, but the second time, they did it naturally, and that apparently earns them even more bragging points than a natural attempt first time round.

This behaviour by mothers is the Mobius-loop of society judging mothers. Clementine’s piece surely wasn’t meant to judge, but it backs up the judgement, a judgement which in turn makes it hard for women to make smart, expert-informed decisions about the safest way to deliver their child.

The thing is, this judgement around childbirth is just the start of a judging journey for mothers which continues into every facet of parenthood. This judgement, the expectations of perfection in all things parenting, the ‘right’ way to do things, has a negative impact on a new mother’s confidence, security, faith in her own decisions, and her overall mental health at a time in her life when she is particularly vulnerable. From the breast-is-best breastfeeding brigade, to the organic foods only army, to cloth nappies versus disposable, to unpasteurized milk, to whether you choose childcare and a job over mother-of-earth stay-at-home sanctimonious ‘mamma bear’. Choose the wrong decision and the judgers’ judge you to have failed.

There is already enough judgement out there thanks Clementine, and I’m so disappointed you’ve added to it from your privileged position of popular feminist commentator. I wish you the best of luck with motherhood, which, as I’m finding after a year is so much more than the challenges of labour. All I ask of society is to celebrate childbirth, however it happens, and to minimise the risk of things going horribly wrong. I don’t think that’s too much to ask, is it?


An Open Letter to Malcolm Turnbull about Misuse of the Word ‘Free’

Bird in a cageDear Malcolm Turnbull

On the day you took the job of Prime Minister of Australia, you laid your flag in the ideological-dirt by proclaiming your intention to run a ‘thoroughly Liberal Government committed to freedom, the individual and the market’. I’ll cut to the chase. This letter calls bullshit on your misrepresentation of the word ‘freedom’. I think it’s time we all saw through this smug cover for what you are really running: a market that benefits the privileged over everyone else.

Let’s have a look at what the word freedom actually means. Here are two useful definitions: ‘The state of being free or at liberty rather than in confinement or under physical restraint’. ‘Exemption from external control, interference, regulation’. Comparing these descriptions to the rules that you prefer to run the Australian economy by, it’s obvious that your idea of a ‘free market’ makes us all, collectively, not-free.

The muddying of the water starts with your notion that government regulation constrains freedom. The only thing government regulation does, which is why, coincidentally, you don’t like it, is to constrain the greed of you and your rich mates so you can’t monopolise resources in order to keep getting richer. The fact is, your ‘rich get richer’ rules are constraining our economy and in turn, our collective wealth. Government policies which level the playing field are actually making us all freer, and richer. All of us.

Let’s look at your job as an example. If there existed a free market for the job of Prime Minister, the only thing I would need to get this job is to be the most merited candidate. Tony Abbott disproves the freedom of the Prime Minister market by showing that any moron, born with a silver spoon, with a private school education, who lives in a blue-ribbon Liberal seat full of voters who would vote for the Liberal candidate even if that candidate was a misogynist bucket of cement, who can box his way to Oxford, is eligible for the top job. No merit required.

You also disprove the idea of meritocracy in the market for Prime Minister yourself, through your waffling-weak-incompetence, which so far in a year has made you a bigger disappointment than the Australian swimming team at Rio. In your world, freedom might mean the availability of means in which to donate $2 million dollars to your own campaign, without even noticing it gone, to ensure you win government by a one seat majority. But that’s not merit Malcolm. That’s buying your way out of trouble.

What this really comes down to is that you say freedom fries and I say potato. Where you see freedom in mining markets, I see big miners paying their way out of a fair rate of tax for selling resources that belong to Australians. Where you see freedom in healthcare, where the rich have access to better lifesaving services, I see those who can’t afford the services locked into health problems that limit their freedom to do what they want with their lives. Where you see freedom when your government stops taking responsibility for a social safety net, and hollowing out services for the disadvantaged, I see a small square box that locks poor people into prison-like poverty, where they don’t have any freedom to live their lives in dignity. Where you see freedom in education, where the rich can buy their way to test scores that privilege their futures over those who weren’t born into wealth, I see the poor chained at the bottom rung of the ladder, which they have no hope of climbing because your rules have removed the rungs. This is not freedom Malcolm. This is entrenched privilege. This is stacking the deck in favour of the people who already own the deck and all the deck chairs on it.

You have famously said, over and over again, that there has never been a more exciting time to be an Australian. I beg to differ. Australia was better off without you and your greedy ideological crusade to lock us all away from a free Australia. A truly free market promoting government, under the real definition of the word free, would provide all the necessary regulatory requirements to ensure there is nothing constraining the freedom of all citizens to live a fulfilling life; to have the healthcare, the education, the job and career opportunities, the quality of life that should be afforded equally no matter the circumstances they are born into, to anyone who has the motivation and strive to achieve it.

Australia will never be the best version of itself until we strip away the limits to our freedom, which stop us meeting our full potential. When the rules you want us to play by mean that all the resources for wealth are unequally cloistered away by the upper-echelons of the wealthiest in society, and sometimes diverted into Panama tax havens, in order to privilege only the already rich and their offspring, to buy their way to success, to remove freedom for everyone else to compete, you do the whole country a disservice. When our collective talents aren’t given every opportunity to contribute – the freedom to contribute – our country is stifled by your rules of the game, where, low and behold, only people like you, the undeserving, can win.

You need to get out of the way of real freedom Malcolm. You need to stop being a roadblock in the way of meritocracy and embrace the true meaning of the word ‘free’. Only then will it really be an exciting time to be an Australian.

Yours Sincerely
Victoria Rollison


Census Fail: Failure of Liberal Ideology

Census FailWe don’t yet know what caused the online census to crash. Either the site was attacked by hackers, or it couldn’t cope with the level of real traffic from people trying to fill in the survey. Either way, it’s a massive government failure. I’m not just talking about failure of security, planning, management and communication; though obviously it was all of these things. No, I’m talking about the beast of an elephant slobbering and wheezing in the corner of the room, which the media have done a great job of ignoring, but has crashed its way onto centre-stage regardless, in the most public and embarrassing way possible. By shitting on the floor.

The census fail is the public face of the consequence of slash-and-burn-small-government-cutting-spending-for-the-sake-of-cutting-spending-worldview which has been imposed on the public by the Abbott and Turnbull government and every Liberal government throughout history because, well that’s just how they roll. The Australian Bureau of Statistics, one of the victims of this mess, had a $68 million dollar cut in Abbott’s 2014 wrecking-ball budget. The same year, the census site was outsourced to IBM for $9.6 million dollars. I am not a tech-expert but I know enough about the internet to know that it costs money to keep sites secure, and it costs money to host a site on a server large enough to accommodate millions of users at once. If there’s not enough money, say if you’ve had a huge cut in the budget, you trim where you can. $68 million is a lot more trimming than a couple of redundancies and no biscuits in the tearoom. So when tech-experts scratch their heads and ask why on earth the census site could only cope with 1 million users an hour, when it needed to cope with 3 million during the peak evening hours, they should be drawing a straight line from the census fail straight to the small government ideology of the Abbott / Turnbull government.

The census fail has reminded us, not that we didn’t know already, that the budget is not just a spreadsheet of numbers, with cuts here, cuts there, cuts everywhere, which don’t impact on the reality of life in Australia. We’re not living in a virtual government spending world here. We live with the consequences of the Liberal cuts every day. Sure, we might consider ourselves a first world country with a high standard of living, as a country who is smart and has our shit together. But our government couldn’t even survey us without causing a huge debacle. The reason for this is because they cut-corners on the project. They treat the jobs of public servants – the servants to the people – like they don’t count. Like they’re dispensable. Multiply the census fail across every sector hurt by Liberal budget cuts, whether Federal or State governments, and you have the same problems occurring in education, health, public transport, the arts, infrastructure, social services, aged care, child protection, environmental protection, the list goes on and on. These cuts aren’t just abstract concepts. They impact on us. They impact on the quality of our lives. On the number of jobs in our economy. On our standard of living.

Just because we don’t all get to see the massive failures of government as publically as we saw the census fail last night, doesn’t mean there’s not a huge amount of pain out there. But it’s not just the pain we have to worry about. It’s the lost opportunities. An ineffectual, underfunded, badly run ideologically-skewed government is bad for all of us. Bad for our health. Bad for our education and skills. Bad for our economy. Bad for our wealth. Don’t believe me? Take a look at this article about the wealth of blue Democrat run states in America versus red Republican run states. The authors describe how red states, who ‘cut and extract’, are poorer overall than blue states, who invest in education, health, infrastructure etc. Even though blue states pay higher levels of tax to maintain this investment, low and behold, the investment pays off because the people in blue states are healthier (they live longer), they are better educated and they are wealthier.

So next time you hear Turnbull, or a journalist for that matter, explaining how sensible and wise they are for cutting government spending, to fulfil their goal of getting-government-out-of-the-way of their profit-making-mates, remember you’re the one hurt by the cuts. Your country is poorer because of Liberal cuts. You are poorer because of Liberal cuts. The census fail is a public humiliation for the Turnbull government. But it’s not just a technology fail. It’s a failure of ideology. Full stop.