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.

A quick word on a tragedy

At the back of my parents’ attic, in a box marked “Ed,” is my first year 5 assignment, an A3 poster titled “All About Me.” In the middle of the page my eleven-year old self had written, by way of introduction and in handwriting not all that different from today’s, a line repeated by millions of Australian children.

When I grow up, I want to play cricket for Australia.

As a kid, like so many other Australians, I lived for the game. When it wasn’t a match it was a net session, or a hit in the backyard, or in the kitchen, or in the bedroom with a little autograph bat signed by the New South Wales team. If it wasn’t a game it was catching practice, or training, or sitting around with the old man discussing tactics and field placements, or helping my grandpa roll the pitch and paint the lines for Christmas Eve. At other times, of course, it was lying in bed listening to Jim Maxwell and Henry Blofeld and Peter Roebuck and Harsha Bhogle, or sitting and reading until memorised that little blue bible, The Laws of Cricket.

There were thousands of us, and he was one of us. Every player who has ever gone on to play for Australia, any player who has gone on to play Sheffield Shield, was one of us. The game is so complex, so rich, so imbued with history, that you can’t just play it. You have to live it. Phil Hughes lived it, as so many of us have lived it. He was better than us, he was braver, he was more determined, and he was the one who made it, and was going to make it again.

His death hits me hard because he remained, till his very last day, one of us. As good as he was, he remained defined by how good he could become.

That eleven year old kid wouldn’t have cared for celebrity girlfriends, fancy cars and a free ride from the selectors. He would have wanted be brilliant, to be unique, to be strong, to be loved by his teammates, to be respected by his opponents, and to score runs for fun. He would have wanted to be Phil Hughes.

I want to write about the war

Australia’s at war again, they say
But you wouldn’t know it.
You can’t see it on the streets
In the pub
At the park
On the train
Anywhere, really
It’s a silent war
A newspaper war
Goodies and baddies
A war we’re not meant to feel.

A million miles away bombs drop from high above
Some controlled by computers, some by Australians
Noble warriors of this patriotic team

There is blood.

Whose war are we fighting?
Who are we killing?
We don’t know.
They don’t know.
As it should be.

Back home, and morning doors are opened; plastic swords are sheathed
High definition cameras enter private spaces
Constructing a threat

Ten years ago we marched.
Half a city spoke
When (un)Australians still had voices.

Ignored, they returned to their houses
Now who is left to speak?
As left and right link hands and send us off to battle
Who is left to fight?

In Team Australia, dissent lives at the margins.
At times subtle: lone woman, midday sun, sacred flame, our flag (and hers).
At times intense: Brothers and sisters, split by a fence
In their hundreds
Denounce the West.
Rightly, yes, but how has it come to this?

The problem with job interviews

I had a job interview last week. It didn’t go too well. This post will be another self-indulgent rant, so if you’re not into that kind of thing, return to Facebook.

Before I begin the rant, I need to acknowledge and accept the obvious:

The problem with the job interview was that I was rejected.

Just in case someone wanted to come along and accuse me of only complaining because I didn’t succeed. Well duh, that’s the point. If they decided I was the ideal candidate then I would have decided theirs was the ideal interview process.

But they didn’t. So now I’m going to complain.

The interview in question was for Teach for Australia. To provide a bit of backstory, I applied three years ago and got as far as the “selection day”, a swanky affair at a big corporate office in Melbourne with free tea and coffee and pastries (I foolishly bought breakfast on the way there, a n00b mistake) and sandwiches and a whole lot of people saying nice things and offering friendly advice and then asking questions like this:

Tell me about a time you have failed.

I was stumped. I don’t really do failure. I cruised through uni with the cushy and perfectly acceptable WAM of right-on-the-cusp-of-HD, drunk some beer, made a lot of friends, watched anime, travelled around the world a bit, destroyed my knee, took some courses here and there and you know, got by.

If I’d ever failed I must have forgotten about it and moved on. What’s failure, anyway?

The other question I stumbled over was even simpler:

Do you use a diary?

Good question. Not exactly. Kind of? I write lists. I have a notebook, I plan shit. I don’t forget my appointments. I know when I have to do something and I do it. Do I have a diary, like with all the dates and days marked out and everything? Well, um, no. Not technically. Not one with a black leather cover and the word Diary in shiny gold letters on the front, if that’s what you’re asking.

I failed.

I called them to get feedback and they said I was great at achievement but lacking in organisation and humility.

I now had an answer for the one about failure.

A few months later some genius took my note taking system and decide to market it as the bullet journal. An answer for the one about the diary.

***

So a few years later I’m sitting at the table waiting for the phone to ring, ready to go. It’s a phone interview. I’ve been through this stage before so I know what to expect. I should be fine, especially if they ask about failure. Or diaries.

But they didn’t. They didn’t even ask me the same questions as the phone interview last time. Not even similar questions. It’s basically that selection day all over again, on a broken phone line from across the world.

(I appreciate that I changed tenses for no reason and thus maybe wouldn’t be a very good teacher after all)

The nice man, whose name was either William or Liam and thus went unnamed for the rest of the conversation, got right into it:

Tell us about a time when you had to lead a team to accomplish a shared goal.

We were off and racing. Sure, I said, I can do that. I had a job at UTS where the aim was to ensure that nothing got too fucked up. I supervised half a dozen staff, we did our jobs, nothing got too fucked up. We went to the pub after work, had a beer, and did it again the next day. After a few weeks without fucking anything up, we took a couple of days’ leave and went to sleep.

Can you tell me a little bit more about the outcome of your leadership?

Well yeah, sure, I mean, I was the leader, and we didn’t fuck anything up. What am I, some sort of self-promotion guru? Not every job has metrics and KPIs and all that jazz,  and besides, I thought you were after humility. We just did what we had to do, got home at midnight, went to bed and started work at 7am the next day. Anyway I waffled on for a while about perfectly true but mundane things like writing new procedures and reports and having less fuck-ups than the year before but not having any numbers to prove it because, you know, that’s how the real world works.

In hindsight I probably should have mentioned diversity, but I’d already rambled on for long enough. Eventually I stopped digging and asked for the next question.

Tell us about a time in an academic or professional setting in which you had to overcome a difficult challenge in order to achieve a goal.

The Teach for Australia website tells me this question is designed to assess one of eight core competencies, resilience. Sadly, being a resilient person and being able to impressively answer this question are not quite the same things. Out went years of resilient activities that I did just because I bloody well wanted to:

  • Living in Singapore, Nepal, Canberra, the USA
  • Swindling visas
  • Riding around Lahore on a motorbike
  • Traversing India in a rickshaw
  • Travelling alone across Asia
  • Hitchhiking across Europe
  • Baking cheesecakes till my back broke
  • Falling in (and out and in and out and in) love
  • Fighting with the Indian police
  • Living in villages you won’t find on Google Maps
  • Being groped, more than once
  • Arguing with strangers on the internet

And so on. All out, to be replaced by ten minutes more waffle about the difficulties of writing an Honours thesis and managing my time and how, well, you know, technically you’re right, I haven’t even achieved my goal.

Epic fail.

Thank you for attending your recent phone interview with Teach For Australia. We enjoyed hearing about your background and experiences.

Unfortunately, after carefully considering all of your interview responses, I regret to inform you that we have decided not to progress your application to the next stage of the selection process. The reason for this is that the evidence you provided in the interview was not as strong as other candidates who we spoke to.

So the point of this rant is that they must have been asking the wrong questions, or looking for the wrong answers, because I’m the person they need, and they didn’t get me. I can’t be broken, because I’m the one writing this blog post, so I get to decide the rules. I’m also really tired and I’ve been staring at a screen all day and starting this post at this time of night really wasn’t a good idea.

And in any case, it doesn’t really matter. Teach for Australia’s market is people in a hurry: people who want to teach without spending two years learning to teach and people who want to do something more useful before they start their careers but don’t want to do something more useful badly enough to let it interrupt their careers.

That’s fair. Maybe the point of this blog post is that, unlike them, I’m hardly in a hurry. And maybe it showed.