Bring on Anzac Day

A few months ago, in the weeks that followed Tony Abbott’s near-death experience, a couple of prime ministerial tidbits stuck in my mind.

The first was a line in an article from, of all places, the Australian:

Insiders say that, these days, Abbott sits for much of the day in his office in Parliament House pondering national security, Islamic State and reading Winston Churchill

The second came through the grapevine, and it said that the real reason Abbott pleaded for another six months was not for the chance to win the people over, nor to hand down another budget, but to lead the nation through the centenary Anzac celebrations.

Ever since I’ve been waiting for Abbott to re-emerge as Winston, or at least a pale imitation thereof. It hasn’t happened.

Sure, he has tried, as was well charted by Geoff Kitney in the Australian Financial Review last week. But no one has really cared.

Despite his longing for an overseas conflict, all Abbott has managed to commit our troops to is training the Iraqi army, a relatively low-risk, low-reward assignment in which Australia joins a long list of nations including Romania, South Korea, Jordan and itself. It’s hardly an inspiring mission.

Abbott’s “Death Cult” parlance on Islamic State has not taken grip in the minds of the public. It’s a phrase people associate more with the Prime Minister’s desperation than the enemy he used it to describe. The public is not convinced that ISIS is a bigger threat than any of our other Middle Eastern adversaries of decades gone by, and is less convinced than ever that fighting wars thousands of miles from home is the best way to stop terrorist attacks on our shores. The public may be right, or the boy (and the father before him) may have cried wolf.

On metadata, Abbott won through the dangerous indifference of the Labor party and the general resignation of the public. But what was bad policy by the opposition was probably good politics: they avoided arming their detractors while giving their supporters no less than what their supporters have come to expect. Any votes they lose from their stance will only flow to the Greens, while Abbott lost a chance to position himself as the man of decision he longs to be.

His attempts to divide the public have, by and large, failed. While the Reclaim Australia movement has grown rapidly its supporters are vastly outnumbered – including at their own rallies – by normal, sensible Australians who see it as a shameful reflection on what our nation has been allowed to become. He has managed to pit opposing views against each other, but not to convert any more of the public to his own. Unable to bring Australians over to his side, he has searched for larger groups to side with: the anti-anti-vaccination-mothers-on-welfare crowd may be large, but it includes (and already included) almost the entire political spectrum. For a self-styled wartime leader, taking on such a small enemy shows weakness rather than strength.

For months now Abbott has refused to become sidetracked by things that matter, hoping that by the time he next sits down for a conversation (as he likes to say) on economics, health or industrial relations he’ll start from a position of trust. It’s now clear, on the eve of Anzac day, that’s not going to happen.

Abbott has stabilised but he has not won. He has not climbed back to parity, or near it, in  the polls. He will not get a better chance.

On Monday it will once again be 2015, not 1915, and Abbott’s khaki shield will cease to offer the protection it has during this brief reprieve. The public will once again want to know his plans for the budget, for Medicare, public education,  social services and foreign aid. They’ll want to know how he’ll tackle the “debt and deficit disaster” – a phrase coined back when people were listening – while passing the test of basic fairness. It’s a huge challenge for a man so deeply indebted to the rich and powerful.

Next week the future will be back on the agenda. That’s why I can’t wait for Anzac day.

Australia Day

I’m a bit late this year, but I still wanted to jot down a couple of disconnected thoughts. As with last year’s post, my views may change in the morning!

Our asylum seeker policy is a national shame, and we all own it

Hundreds of innocent people are locked up in our name. At least two have died, but we don’t count them.

We routinely send refugees back to face torture and persecution in the countries they have fled.

We pay foreign governments to help them prevent refugees from leaving in the first place. This is the direct, no-exaggeration-required equivalent of paying the Soviets to put another layer of bricks on the Berlin Wall.

We are one of the richest countries in the world. We are collectively some of the richest people in the entire history of the world. Yet we have more important things to care about. Going to the beach. Buying those new shoes. Getting trashed with the boys. Making dogs chase mechanical rabbits.

I had written something about the hand of friendship we extend to the people fleeing the very same wars we are fighting. I take it back. There is no hand of friendship. We offer nothing.

We all need to own this one, because we do all own it, whether or not we care.

Our society neglects the traditional owners of ‘its’ land

Where are the indigenous voices in our society? I have come across strong, powerful indigenous voices on a few occasions this year and each time I have been blown away. Unfortunately those experiences have been a long way from the mainstream, where indigenous representation seems limited to Adam Goodes and Noel Pearson, at least when the latter praises an old white man friend of his or goes in to bat for a (typically failed) government policy.  I have nothing against Adam Goodes, but I wish our society would pay more attention to the grassroots voices and stories of people like Amy McQuire, Barb Shaw and Chris Tamwoy. Hell, even reading Bringing them Home would be a start.

Abbott’s citizenship almost matters

It doesn’t really. He’s doing an awful job whether or not he’s in there legitimately, and he is theoretically capable of doing a good job whether or not he’s in there legitimately. If our MPs are allowed to give confidential information to the intelligence services of foreign nations without even a slap on the wrist, I fail to see what difference a passport should make.

At the same time the whole issue raises some interesting questions. Why have the law at all, if we don’t actually care whether the PM (or any other MP) has dual citizenship? If that’s the case then why was the law written in the first place? Would we let a foreigner born in Pakistan, Malaysia, Japan or Brazil into the top job without asking for some proof of their legitimacy?

Would we let them continue in the job unchallenged if they then knighted one of their former-countrymen for absolutely no apparent reason? Somehow I don’t think so.

Muslim people are people

I’ve removed the paragraph on Islamophobia because  the whole “discussion” about whether Muslims are good people is seriously stupid. Why are Muslim people any different to any other people? Do we discuss whether redheads should be treated and trusted the same as other people? Gay people? People with parking fines? Zoroastrians? It’s 2015, I should fucking hope not.

The Asian Cup has been a fabulous tournament, and more people should be aware of it

A slightly more lighthearted thought, which I’m about to ruin with seriousness, for the tournament has been a great advertisement for the point I made above. Sadly I don’t think many rusted on Islamophobes would have seen Omar Abdulrahman’s magic over the past three weeks, or have been in the stands for Iraq v Iran.

Climate change

It’s real, it’s here, it’s not going away. At least not while we all live the same lives we lived last year, and the year before, and the year before that, and wait for Tony fucking Abbott to do something about it.

Abbott, Israel, and things. And baddies.

So the first couple of months of Tony Abbott’s reign have surprised no-one who paid any attention to Australian politics for the preceding two years, and a lot of people who thought they could get away without paying much attention at all. He’s started off by trying to make as many unpopular decisions as possible before people wake up, but maybe now they’re starting to rise. Not that we haven’t said that before.

I’m not going to write about everything Tony Abbott does, because that would be too depressing, but now and then he does something so ridiculous that I feel need to say something. In the week or so there have been three such issues, but I didn’t write about the first two (Sri Lanka and Indonesia) because I was lazy, busy, and had just read a satirical article somewhere on the internet about people who comment on a topical issue and talk about the fact that they’d cared about this issue all along but didn’t say anything because no-one was listening. Which was pretty much my position.

So, to this week, and Israel.

Mention the Israel-Palestinian conflict in most of the world and you’ll hear criticism of the powerful, expansionist Israeli state and sympathy for the Palestinian cause. Mention it here in the US, Israel’s strongest (and at times only) ally and you’ll likely hear the opposite. Mention it in Australia and nine times out of ten you’ll hear something like this:

It’s very complex. These people have been fighting for thousands of years. It never stops. It will never stop. I don’t know if anything can be done about it. It’s just too complex a problem.

A cop-out, basically. Baddies vs baddies, in other words (not that Abbott would ever describe Israel as baddies). Sure, the problem is complex, old and difficult to solve, but nothing is impossible. The global community has been trying to solve this problem for decades, often hindered by the US.

These maps show how land is distributed in Palestine these days, and how it has changed since the creation of Israel:

Not a fun place to live if you’re on the Green side. As you can see the Palestinians have lost almost all of their land and many of the pockets of land they still have are cut off from each other.

So what are we voting for here? Or not voting for, as it happens?

The UN resolution calls for ”prevention of all acts of violence, destruction, harassment and provocation by Israeli settlers, especially against Palestinian civilians and their properties”.

Shit, preventing violence against civilians? Perpetrated by settlers who have stolen and continue to steal huge swathes of land and natural resources that would have been the building blocks of a Palestinian state? Sounds like we need a little bit more balance here, sounds like a terribly complex problem.

Meanwhile settlement continues on a daily basis, those little green pockets getting smaller and further apart. Fried chicken.

So why would we abstain? Who knows? A little bit of ingrained racism, a little bit of misguided love for the USA, a little bit of the government not knowing what it’s doing? Probably a bit of all of the above. Whatever it is, it’s not a proud day to be an Australian.

Life goes on

Well, there goes the NBN, the carbon price, etc. etc.

A more selfish Australia? Pretty close to the mark. Maybe a government more in line with the (hopefully momentary) selfishness of its voters and backers.

It will be fun watching the great negotiator in action with the likes of the Liberal Democrats, the First Nations Party, Clive Palmer’s PAP and The Greens. And the Nationals, and his own party for that matter. If Labor starts to look united a double dissolution might not turn out the way Tony plans.

As for that part of the population that believes in social justice, progressive politics, sustainability and a fair go?

Over the past few years it shrunk. Over the past few months it strengthened.

And for the next few it may take solace in the fact that Australia might be the only place on earth where it’s just about acceptable to call the sitting Prime Minister a cunt.

Forget Labor, this is Abbott’s victory

It’s time to be clear about something: if the coalition is elected to govern on Saturday, it’s not just because they’re not Labor.

That’s the story we’ve been hearing for months, if not years. The story many of us have wound up believing. The Labor party is so bad, and have governed so poorly over the last six years, that all Tony Abbott had to do was show up – and often not show up – and he’d walk into power almost unopposed.

But to paint Abbott as a passive beneficiary ignores his vital, unique contribution. For Abbott has done a lot more than wait idly for the crown to fall on his head.

To start with he led the most prolonged, most negative, most distasteful series of attacks on a sitting Prime Minister that most of us can remember. For three years he refused to address PM Gillard by any more than her first name, repeatedly turned his back on her in parliament (when he was there at all), repeatedly attacked her character, her personality, her ability and, yes, her gender.

He chased her for months and months over allegations of improper conduct in some kind of union thing. He told us every day that she “still had questions to answer”, while unable to tell us just what those questions were.

He sank to the level of Alan Jones, and then even lower, suggesting that her government should’ve “died of shame”. As low a blow as the House has heard.

Few of us could carry out an attack so completely devoid of compassion. Julia Gillard certainly couldn’t have done it.

Then he had to lie. Constantly.

He lied to us each time he said the government was “paralysed”, couldn’t get anything through its parliament, and had lost the confidence of parliament. The Gillard minority government passed hundreds of pieces of legislation; Abbott’s coalition supported 87% of them.

He lied daily about the perilous state of the economy – Joe Hockey’s belated policy costings show us once and for all that the Liberal Party have no real concern about Labor’s levels of spending. Not that we needed them to confirm what economists have been telling us all along.

He lied daily about those costings – a day out from voting we are yet to see the properly detailed costings that we were promised “in good time” before the election.

He lied about Australia’s debt, again and again and again, not just about its size but its relevance, which is close to zero.

He lied about the coalition’s policy on climate change, “direct action”. He told us that he was committed to action on climate change, only to admit that he doesn’t care whether or not the scheme actually meets its targets.

He lied about his alternative to the government’s NBN. He lied by telling us his FTTN plan would offer anything near the level of improvement that the NBN promises. He lied by telling us that his plan was billions of dollars cheaper than the NBN, while ignoring the ongoing costs of maintaining badly deteriorating copper and the revenue that Labor expects to be generated by its completed network.

He lied about asylum seekers, repeatedly talking of “illegal arrivals” and “illegal boats”. He kept up this language despite being reminded on numerous occasions of its inaccuracy.

He lied about the carbon tax, so consistently, so boldly and so infuriatingly that a proper rebuttal would probably constitute a PhD. To start with, it wasn’t really a tax. It didn’t wreck the economy. It wasn’t a wrecking ball, a python, or any other bizarre metaphor. Neither Whyalla nor any town like it was wiped off the map. It wasn’t responsible for massive hikes in the price of power, water, rent, petrol or lamb roasts. Carbon emissions fell.

He lied each time he said the government was illegitimate. If being elected doesn’t make a government legitimate nothing does.

He was happy to use his daughters as ornaments to make himself look a little better in the final weeks of the campaign. He was willing to spruik their bodies – not their brains, not their nature, not anything relevant, just their looks – to a national TV audience in the hope of a few more votes. He did the same with his female candidates. 

He was frequently willing to say one thing to one audience and the opposite to another. It took a breathtaking display of arrogance to give us “direct action” on one hand, “complete crap” on the other. To talk fiscal conservativism and cuts while promising billions upon billions of dollars of new spending. To cut the tax rate by 1.5% and replace it immediately with a 1.5% levy. To sell low-taxing government one day; speak of slashing the tax-free threshold and refusing to rule out GST hikes the next. To have his ministers deny and downplay his promises to people who might have been put out by them. His hatred of Gillard was accompanied by calls for kinder, more positive politics. His only consistent stance has been his hardline hatred of asylum seekers, contradicted only by his claimed love of Jesus.

Time and again he ran from questions, even at press conferences he’d called. He refused to be interviewed on the ABC after he was correctly called out for commenting on documents he hadn’t read. He refused to appear on Q and A and face the audience’s questions. And at the same time he had the temerity to put himself forward as a serious candidate to lead the nation.

To pull off such a campaign took a whole lot more than just being there. It took more than Labor shooting itself in the foot, time and again. It took more than a complicit and uncritical media. It took more than the apathy of the public to a band of politicians they were sick of.

It required, on Abbott’s part, a level of meanness, of arrogance, of gall, of disdain that few in the community could even imagine possessing. And perhaps that’s why it took so long for us to see it for what it was.