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.

Some random adventures on Youtube

Kevin Rudd went on Q and A on Monday night, ostensibly to debate Tony Abbott, who wasn’t there. No-one really expected him to be there, because Tony Abbott realised a few years ago that he looks more stupid when he’s talking than when he’s on his bike or in his budgie smugglers. Which is saying something.

Anyway, Kevin Rudd’s response to one of the questions on Q and A has “gone viral”, according to the ABC. It wasn’t Obama in full flight but it was a good response to an increasingly outdated view, and you can watch it here. It’s the most watched Kevin Rudd video on Youtube.

Last year, of course, Julia Gillard’s attack on the “misogynist” Abbott also went viral. It was praised around the world and pilloried in Australia, which should hardly be surprising. It has far more views and likes and comments on Youtube than any other piece of Australian political anything. It’s right from the heart, mostly off the cuff, and very impressive.

So, I wondered, just how many Youtube results do you have to trawl through before you find Tony saying something impressive.

You have to go down a long way.

Past Tony being called out by Leigh Sales.

Past the bloke who called Tony a dickhead in a shop one day.

Past the time Tony stared weirdly and threateningly at a reporter who asked him a question. For ages.

Past the time Craig Reucassel pointed out that Tony didn’t understand the first thing about debt.

Past a whole series of GetUp ads that do nothing more than put Tony’s words into the mouths of ordinary Australians.

Past Paul Keating’s views on Tony.

Past Kerry O’Brien trying to work out when Tony is to be listened to and when he isn’t.

Past the time he hit on the apprentice at the factory he was visiting.

Past Keating again.

At this point – towards the end of the second page of results at just over 70 000 views – I thought there might finally have been a video of Abbott saying something intelligent, as I came across something titled “Tony Abbott Grand Slam”.

But it turned out to be former Liberal PM Malcolm Fraser’s turn to put the boot in.

So we continue, past Tony walking away from questions at his own press conferences.

Past Tony being kicked out of parliament.

Past Independent MP Tony Windsor’s views on Tony.

Past Tony trying to run out of parliament.

And so on, until eventually, at the bottom of the third page of Youtube hits, with just over 30 000 views, we get something promising to be “a classy, fiery display of modern political oratory.” Watch it and weep, Australia.

(By the way, I’m following Tony’s precedent here, and as far as I’m concerned he has neither a title nor a surname.)

(And also, if you’d rather not click on all those links you can sit back and relax with Tony Abbott the Movie instead.)

The irony of it all

So Tony Abbott will be Prime Minister, it seems, because the nation hates Labor. Not necessarily because of any of Labor’s policies, or their successes or failure, but because of who they are. Because of what they represent. Because they fought with each other for almost all their six years in power, and couldn’t put their petty squabbles aside in the interests of the nation.

In short, we as a nation are going to go out in droves and vote Labor out of power over a petty squabble between ourselves and Labor.

We are going to condemn Labor for its personality, its failure to sell its policies through an openly hostile mainstream media, and because it doesn’t seem to be led by good honest Aussie blokes, but by politicians.

Wouldn’t you think the nation could put the personal bickering aside for just one moment and focus on the interests of…itself?

Wouldn’t you think that just once since the 2010 election we could have forgotten how much we hated Labor, or Gillard, or Rudd, and just tried to work together for the sake of our own future?

Nope. Not Labor, and not us either.

We hate Labor so much they have already made up our mind to elect an alternative prime minister who hasn’t even released all his policies yet. He’s released some good ones, the vote-winning kind, the ones that spend heaps of our money, but nowhere near enough of the ones that save money. Isn’t that what we’re meant to hate about Labor, the way they spend too much of our money and don’t save enough?

We hate Labor so much that we are willing to have what would be one of the most important and enduring infrastructure updates in the nation’s recent history torn out of the ground, and replaced by another few decades of internet that is about as fast as you can get on a mobile phone in a capital city today, in 2013.

We hate Labor so much we are prepared to dismantle an emissions trading scheme that represents our best, and possibly only, chance to make a serious contribution as a nation to the global fight against climate change. We voted overwhelmingly for this scheme in 2007, we voted for it again in 2010 – though the novelty of the hung parliament and a few slips of the tongue by the then-prime minister made that kind of hard for us to understand – and finally, after several years of hard work by Labor to get it up and running, we are going to get rid of it. Because we hate Labor.

But we have morals, and we take the good with the bad. When we get rid of the ETS we’re also going to hand back the Labor bribes that we were given to compensate for it. We’re not going to stand for Labor’s Robin Hood act of taking money from rich polluters and putting it back in our pockets to help pay for any costs that are passed on. Oh no, we’re going to throw back our compensation payments, slash that income tax-free threshold back down to $6000 and each pay a couple of thousand dollars more tax, because we hate Labor. And if it hurts, it won’t hurt, because that’s just the price of hurting Labor.

We’re not new to this, of course. When Labor tried to put a tax on poker machine profits so that the money spent by problem gamblers could be redirected to serve the best interests of the nation, we rose up as one and condemned them, because we hate them. We did the same when they tried to play Robin Hood again and take money from the richest of the rich miners like Clive Palmer and Gina Rinehart, people who we identify with because they are good Australians and worked hard for their fortunes. We even managed to stop Labor from passing laws to make the media a little more honest with us, in part because we hate them, and in part because Rupert Murdoch is a great Australian bloke, and has done far more for this nation than Kevin Rudd or Julia Gillard will ever do.

And no-one would ever call us inconsistent. We have faith. We don’t listen to facts, or rational argument, or Labor propaganda, because we hate Labor. When Kevin Rudd speaks we turn off the TV, put our fingers in our ears and run outside, because you can never be far enough away from the stench of Labor. When people tell us to take a step back, think about our nation’s future and what we could do to improve it, what an ideal Australia would look like, we stop them right there. We can spot a brainwashed Labor stooge a mile off. This is the Australia we want to live in, and Labor is taking it away from us.

So when we go to the polls on Saturday, we’ll vote Liberal, National, Abbott, Hockey, Palmer, Katter, even Sophie Mirabella. We’ll vote for anyone who hates Labor, because anyone who hates Labor is our friend.

Except the Greens, because they hate jobs.

Some American things

I’ve been in America for almost a month and it’s time to put down some of my first thoughts about the place, in the form of some of things that have been unexpectedly weird. Of course I expected all the things we know to expect, like guns and Walmarts and stupid people (and also highly intelligent people) and fast food and the like, but here are a few things that have surprised me.

Gas

With the amount of wars the USA fights to ensure its control of the world’s oil, you’d expect fuel here to be rather cheap. And it is: most fuel I’ve seen is around $3.50/gallon, a bit under $1/litre. That’s about 50% cheaper than in Australia and half the price of European petrol.

What I didn’t expect is for it to be of such low quality. Most pumps here in Virginia offer “standard” petrol at 87 octane, “premium” at 89 or 90″ and “super-premium” or “ultra-premium” at 92 or 93. That’s pretty much on par with what we were getting in India a few years ago, and nothing like what you’d see at the pump in Australia, East Asia or Europe.

While low prices make fuel economy less important than elsewhere in the world, low-octane petrol limits the advantages car owners could get from newer economy-conscious cars. The result is roads full of larger and older cars than most of the developed world.

Cheques

In the 24 years and 360 days I’ve been alive I’ve dealt with one cheque (or check, in American). I got it as a prize at a high school speech night, lost it under a pile of clothes, found it a year later, took it to the bank and ended up paying a $40 fee for trying to cash an expired check. For everything else there’s Mastercard (and Visa, and EFTPOS, and online banking, and direct debit, and ATMs on every corner).

In the USA cheques are still very much a part of the everyday economy. Grace gets paid by cheque, people pay bills by cheque, and more than once I’ve had to wait patiently at the supermarket checkout while the person in front of me carefully writes out the full amount and signs on the dotted line. Included in the daily pile of junk mail that arrives at the front door are three or four different ads for “personalised checks”, replete with little rabbits, cats, pirate ships or whatever else you might want.

When I was looking at opening a bank account recently, Grace asked me, “I suppose in Australia you don’t have think about location when you choose your bank.” She was right: my money sits (virtually) in a Credit Union that I’m told has one branch and one ATM in the state, neither of which I’ve seen.

Trucks and Buses

This one’s kind of weird, but lots of buses in the US look like trucks. I see them as some kind of ode to the great American ideal of having anything you want trucked across the country for you on demand. Look, you can even truck humans!

You can see the might of American trucks on full display on any highway, or innerstate as they are known (the word is actually interstate, if you’re writing it). They act just like any other car, changing lanes at will, tailgating cars and driving in whichever lane they like. It’s so rare to see a truck in the slow lane that three-lane innerstates seem to function like two-lane highways with tremendously broad shoulders (it doesn’t help that there are entrances and exists every few miles, as the innerstates have to fill the gaps in local road networks).

Tax

America is meant to be anti-tax, anti-big-government, anti-all-those-kinds-of-things, right? Well, let’s see. Last year in famously high-taxing Australia I earnt around $25000, and paid less than $1500 in tax (if the Coalition is elected I would end up paying a whole lot more, as they’ll move the tax-free threshold from $18000 down to $6000, but that’s another story). An American who earns the same amount pays over $4000 in state and federal income taxes and social security payments, a huge amount of money for a low-income earner.

Tax also leads to a baffling experience at the supermarket, where nothing is as it seems. Just yesterday I paid $3.06 for a $2.99 box of spinach. Maybe someone should come up with the terribly sensible and almost universally practiced idea of including tax in the price!

Another thing that I find interesting is the way tax is talked about, which is always in a “what are we getting for it?” kind of way. There’s less agreement on the need for taxation, the need for public services and wealth redistrobution and all those other warm and fuzzy things the can provide than just about anywhere else I’ve been. It’s replaced by a sense that the government might just be ripping everyone off, and is probably going to steal our free speech while it’s at it.

Guns

Coming soon 😉

The one-quadrant election

So there’s an election campaign going on in Australia. While there are over fifty parties contesting, Australian elections are reduced in the eyes of the media and most of the electorate to a contest between the only two contestants likely to form government: Kevin Rudd’s Labor Party, which swings between centre-left and centre-right on the traditionally unrevealing two-dimensional political axis, and the Liberal/National Coalition, led by Tony Abbott, which swings between centre-a-bit-less-left and centre-a-bit-more-right.

There’s a whole reason that it happens that way, which for now we can leave at “what people are used to”, “what’s in the papers” and “where the money’s at”. While people would probably have a better chance of finding a party that represented their interests if they had more exposure to minor parties like the Greens, the High Speed Rail Party, the Pirate Party or the Sex Party, they also don’t want to waste their vote, which is exactly what a vote for a minor party in a two-horse race feels like. (Of course, preferential voting means it’s actually impossible to “waste your vote” in an Australian election, but many people don’t seem to know that, and less than 3% of us can be bothered to order the hundred-or-so candidates on the senate ballot paper). So despite the plethora of options on the table, we have two-party elections, two-party coverage, two-party polling, two-party debates, two-party campaigns and a two-party parliament, at least in the lower house.

All this should make life pretty easy. To vote, all you have to do is draw up (or think up) a little plane with four quadrants, like this (okay, wordpress isn’t helping me out, but I’m sure you know what it’s meant to look like):

Pros Cons
Labor
Coalition

And then you start to fill it in. After about a minute of brainstorming and quick jotting, mine looks like this:

Pros Cons
Labor Good NBN plans
Pretty decent economic management
Incumbency and unfinished plans
Get to keep some kind of ETS
Narcissistic leader
Can leader work with his team?
Dehumanisation of asylum seekers
Coalition Really generous PPL scheme
Historically decent economic management
Too generous PPL scheme?
Crazy backward leader who wants to turn Australia into the 1950s
Rude, personal attacks on Gillard govt
Incompetent shadow cabinet
Seriously flawed environmental policy
Dehumanisation of asylum seekers
Christopher Pyne

Yours might look different, depending on where you read your news and what you think is important, yours might be in your head, on a piece of paper, spoken out loud and thought about, whatever. But you have a basic knowledge of what the options are, and what voting for each side would mean, good or bad. Then as the campaign goes on you go back to that list, real or virtual, and you think about what’s important, and what’s not, and you add to the list, circle some things, cross others off, whittle it down, get a good feeling about one side or the other, and on September 7 you go in and vote. It’s kind of like buying a fridge, or a house, or whatever newfandangled gadgets people buy these days.

Now here I belatedly get to my point: this election, no-one seems to be doing any of this. This is the plane of a guy I worked with earlier this year:

Pros Cons
Labor Pink Batts Great Big Tax Worst Government Ever Backstabbing Bitch Stimulus Spending What a Waste of Money Mining Tax Doesn’t Work NBN What a Waste of Money Great Big Tax Worst Government Ever 300 Billion Dollars of Debt Can’t Be Trusted Another Boat Every Day Corrupt Incompetent Fools Craig Thompson Eddie Obeid Julia Gillard has Questions to Answer Set Top Boxes What a Waste of Money Worst Government Ever Great Big Tax
Coalition Not Labor

Don’t worry, my Enter key wasn’t stuck, I am trying to be faithful to his verbal diarrhoea. And yes, lots of those things don’t make sense, but leave that aside for a second. But does it sound familiar? You might have heard it from Alan Jones, or the Liberal Party, or the Courier Mail, or the Daily Telegraph, or your cousin (not going to link that one), or any of Rupert Murdoch’s Papers, or Miranda Devine, or a meme on social media, or somewhere else. In fact Media Watch gave us a revealing breakdown on monday night, so if you rely on the Daily Telegraph for your news (like my colleague did, for example) I can guess that your plane looks something like this:

Pros Cons
Labor 3% 55%
Coalition 19% 4%

The thing I don’t get is how happy some people seem to be, beaming about going straight to the polls armed with their one-quadrant-full of information (to be fair, they should by now also know a little about the Coalition’s strengths, if they’ve been keeping up with their Telegraph), ready to kick out the “worst government ever” and replace it with “good Aussie Bloke” Tony. Ask almost any question to these people, and the answer will come from the goldmine that is the “cons of Labor” quadrant. They don’t need to know anything else, they don’t want to know anything else. Labor is bad, end of story.

I think this attitude is stupid. I think it’s irresponsible. I think that every Australian should sit down before they vote and think about the pros and cons of either side, and if they can’t think of any, think why the fuck not? If they can’t put one of Tony Abbott’s real solutions in any box, anywhere, because he hasn’t actually told us what it is yet, they should think why the fuck not?

And speaking of why the fuck not, high speed rail, anyone?