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.

Another letter to the PM

Dear Prime Minister,

Last week I received an invitation from your education minister Christopher Pyne to sign a petition about the cuts which your government has caused at the ABC. Mr Pyne’s contention was that the power of the people ought to be listened to by the people in power, and that a petition signed by a significant number of people should have been cause for the ABC to reconsider its planned cuts to its Adelaide staff. Mr Pyne’s petition had an original goal of 500 signatures, suggesting that he thought 500 signatures to be a number sufficient to cause a rethink on the part of the ABC executive. As the petition attracted more and more media coverage and attention, Mr Pyne increased the goal of his petition to 1000, then 1500, then 2000, then 2500, then finally to 5000. So far he has achieved just under 3000 signatures.

On Nov 19, Mr Pyne tweeted, “We’ve hit 200! Thanks to all for kindly helping to promote my petition to stop ABC Board from cutting SA production. ”

Later that same day he tweeted, “Great response! 1000 people have joined me in wanting ABC production to remain in SA.”

On Nov 20, Mr Pyne tweeted, “.@mscott hasn’t responded to my 2 letters from Aug & Oct.Maybe James Spigelman will respond to the 2100+ petitioners?”

Today, Mr Pyne wrote to Mark Scott and James Spiegelman AC QC asking that they reconsider their recent decisions, noting as evidence in his favour that “over 2500 people have joined me in supporting ABC South Australia’s future.”

In light of the above, my questions to you are as follows:

1. What does your government think of the petition at Just in case Joe “eleventy” Hockey is doing the maths, or Malcolm “inventor of the internet” Turnbull is driving the mousey thing, I’ll copy and paste the number of signatures into this email, to make it easier for you to read.


Just in case you are actually reading this yourself, and not having it read to you, I’ll spell it out in words in case they are a bit too big to understand.

Two hundred and seventy two thousand and thirty four.

2. Are you excited at the prospect of being voted out at the next election, and becoming the first first-term federal government in forty years?

3. Does it make you happy to have to employ extra public servants just to read letters like this?

I would particularly like a reply to question 3, as it will help me decide how to frame my future correspondence. I would appreciate a reply via Australia Post, because I would be proud to own something with your signature on it, and because while we’re throwing money at the miners, the polluters and the tax dodgers we may as well throw some at the posties as well.

Kind Regards,


A letter to the “Prime Minister”

Dear Leader,

As a member of the Australian public, I’m glad that you’ve explained the Syrian conflict to me in terms that I can understand.

However I’m a little rusty on my history. I’ve been thinking through all the wars we learnt about in school – you know, the big ones – and I’m struggling to work out which ones were baddies vs baddies and which ones were baddies vs goodies. There might have even been some goodies vs goodies wars in there, but I’m so confused right now I don’t know if that’s even possible.

So I need you to help me out here, because I’m not that good at complexity, and that’s why I elected you to do the heavy thinking for me.

Let’s go.

The Boer war was the earliest war we learnt about in school, but with Australia Day coming up we should probably think about the wars (you can think of them as skirmishes, if it makes you feel better) the British invaders fought against the Aborigines who lived here in 1788. It seems to me the Aborigines were just hanging out on their land when the white guys decided to rock up, land a few hundred prisoners and turn the place into their own. The British also had guns, and smallpox, so I’m going with goodies vs baddies on this one.

The Boer War, then. I don’t remember much about it from school, but Wikipedia tells me that “27,927 Boer civilians died in concentration camps, plus an unknown number of black Africans (107,000 were interned).” So that’s baddies for the British (and us). It also tells me that “Many Boers were dissatisfied with aspects of British administration, in particular with Britain’s abolition of slavery on 1 December 1834”. So baddies versus baddies it is.

World War I seems to have been fought between the Belgium-raping Germans and the shipwreck-surviver-massacring English. Baddies on both sides.

World War II is too long to get into here, but definitely seems to have been baddies vs baddies.

I’ve been to Vietnam, so I can tell you that the US (we were on their side) were definitely baddies, they poured Agent Orange over hillsides, wiped out whole populations, destroyed their land for decades and left landmines everywhere. Apparently the Viet Cong also did a massacre or two. Baddies vs baddies.

Yugoslavia and its successors: I’m a little rusty here, but Wikipedia suggests this one may have been baddies vs baddies vs baddies vs baddies, until NATO arrived and ended the war, eventually, but also caused more war crimes to be committed, killed a lot of civilians and destroyed a lot of buildings. So baddies vs baddies vs baddies vs baddies vs baddies?

Afghanistan (you can certainly help me with this one, you were in government when we decided to fight in it!). On the one hand we have a country that refused to immediately turn over some people who had planned an attack which destroyed some buildings in New York. On the other we have a country that invaded another, that kidnapped, tortured and abused prisoners of war, and that fights via unmanned planes that routinely bomb entire families. Not to mention the fact that it trained the people it was trying to capture in the first place! I think we can go with baddies vs baddies again.

Iraq: this one is actually difficult. The US (that’s the side we fought with, you were at the front of that charge as well) are definitely bad. First they made up a whole list of reasons to invade another country that were lies, and the rest of the world knew they were lies, and the UN body that exists for the sole purpose of determining the truth of such lies knew they were lies, and everyone was telling us they were lies, but the US and the UK and Rupert Murdoch and you, Mr Abbott, you said they weren’t lies, and you went to war. Then this is what you did to the people you went to war with. Iraq on the other hand, who knows. I’ll leave that one to you.

I’m going to stop now, because I don’t think this is helping at all. In fact, isn’t it starting to seem like all wars are just baddies vs baddies? Actually, isn’t that kind of the whole point of war?

I know I said your statement made sense to me at first, but I take it back. Right now I’m even more confused than I was before you explained it to me!

When you say that this one is baddies vs baddies, what do you mean? Do you mean it’s a war? Do you mean people are killing each other? I really hope you don’t mean – though I kind of suspect you do – that it’s Muslims vs Muslims? Or do you just mean you don’t understand it?

Please explain.

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.