Saturday, September 29, 2012

Shame, Alan, Shame.

Loathe as I am to give oxygen to the ramblings of an embittered old man, some things need to be challenged. Tomorrow's Sunday Telegraph will feature a near-full-page article describing how broadcaster/shock-jock Alan Jones told a group of Young Liberals attending the Sydney University Liberal Club President's Dinner that Prime Minister Julia Gillard's father John, who passed away recently, “died of shame.” He said:

“The old man recently died a few weeks ago of shame. To think that he had a daughter who told lies every time she stood for parliament.”

Now, I don't care which side of the political divide you may be on, or what you may think of Jones... or Gillard, for that matter. A statement like this, made by someone with influence and clear political affiliations, is a gutter act that must be rejected in the strongest possible terms by all sides.

To lose a parent is unbearable. It's a loss I know, and that so many have experienced... and for Jones to use Gillard's loss as merely another excuse to spray abuse at her is nothing short of vile.

It's particularly ludicrous that Jones should speak of shame, when clearly he has none. His is a moral compass gone askew.

I expect Jones' statements to be widely condemned; I can only hope that the Liberals who invited him to speak join that condemnation.

But if you're reading this and you feel as I do, I urge you to make your feelings clear in the only way that Jones will understand.

Boycott his radio station. At the very least, tell them how you feel.

Boycott his advertisers. You can find them here.

Make him irrelevant. Make him forgotten.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Sex, Lies & An ACL Video

It’s funny how one thing can lead you to another. This morning on my Twitter timeline, I noticed some tweets from people I know and admire, taking Lyle Shelton to task.

Now, Lyle Shelton is the Chief of Staff with the Australian Christian Lobby, better known as the ACL. That much I knew, but I didn’t know what Shelton had said other than that it was something about bestiality. Alarm bells were already ringing but I’m a curious sort so I checked his Twitter account.

I found this:

That’s one heck of a statement from a guy who professes to Christian values! Especially when you consider that Peter Singer is not, in fact, a “sex-with-animals advocate”. Yes, he wrote about the concepts of zoophilia and animal abuse ten years or so ago, but he specifically does NOT advocate the practice. Shelton’s statement is factually incorrect, something I suspect he knows.

But: a moment’s thought. In his tweet, Shelton links Singer with the Greens. Not hard to do, Singer co-wrote The Greens (published in 1996) with Bob Brown and stood unsuccessfully as a Greens candidate for Kooyong in 1994 and the Australian Senate in 1996.

Shelton then goes on to pose the question, should they (The Greens) be trusted to redefine marriage? That’s the key point to his tweet. Shelton and the ACL are diametrically opposed to allowing same-sex couples to marry; smearing Singer’s reputation is merely a device to link the concept of same-sex marriage (and those who support it) with bestiality. It doesn't even matter in this context whether Singer advocates the practice or not. The insinuation is simply being used by the ACL to further their agenda.

Gutter muck of the worst kind.

But: a second moment’s thought. Shelton’s previous tweet (made nine minutes before his abhorrent Singer slur) made the following observation:

What was this? A video on the consequences of changing marriage? A video which “continues to go viral”?

Hmm, I thought. Resisting the temptation to click on Shelton’s link straight away, I hit Google and moments later arrived at an article published two days ago in The Australian. Titled “Kirby stars in Christian same-sex attack video”, it was a blow-by-blow description of the ACL-produced video. According to the author, Ean Higgins, the ACL were planning on sending the video to 110,000 people with the hope of getting it to “go viral”. The mention of Kirby in the headline refers to retired High Court judge Michael Kirby and he doesn’t exactly star in the video; the ACL have used footage of him answering questions at last month’s Senate Inquiry into same-sex marriage and interspersed it with other footage.

The tone of Higgins’ article was decidedly odd. There was much talk of the “polyamorous community” and “polyamorist activists”, who along with the Greens were apparently “outraged” that the proposed same-sex bill doesn’t include multi-partner marriages. Little evidence of this outrage was presented; it came across more as an advertisement for the video and a classic beat-up about non-existent issues than an actual factual piece of reporting.

By now, I was intrigued. Back to Google I went, and within minutes much became clear. Over recent months The Australian has published several articles linking same-sex marriage to polygamous marriage and a supposed campaign by the polyamorous community to bring the two together. These articles are consistently lightweight and speculative; worse, they completely misrepresent not only the proposed legislation and the mood of the community, but also the few people they actually quote. One of those people was Rebecca Dominguez; it took me under a minute to find a letter that she wrote to The Australian (and published on her blog, which is quite excellent) pointing out their mistakes and manipulations of her words, refuting their claims and requesting an apology. To date, The Australian has published neither the letter nor an apology to Ms Dominguez.

(note: I contacted Ms Dominguez before publishing this article. See, Ean? It's not that hard.)

Higgins wasn’t the only journalist at The Australian involved in this misinformation campaign, but he has certainly been the most prolific. Four articles in the past month alone featuring the Greens, same-sex marriage and the polyamorous community. It’s no wonder that Higgins’ articles are regularly republished on the ACL website.

Which leads me, somewhat circuitously, back to the ACL, and that supposedly viral video. Returning to Twitter, I clicked on Shelton’s link (which had also been tweeted by ACL Managing Director Jim Wallace and the official ACL Twitter account) and was directed to the video.

Hosted on Vimeo, it’s called “'Marriage Equality'- no consequences? Wait a minute....”. I didn’t bother watching it; after reading Higgins’ plug, I didn’t need to. And besides, I made my thoughts on the “gaymarriage” issue perfectly clear not that long ago.

But Vimeo collects statistics about its videos. And here’s the graph for the ACL video which, in Shelton’s words, “continues to go viral.”

Viral? Umm... no. Considering the video was emailed to 110,000 people, and written up in a national newspaper, it’s a pretty dismal performance. If anything, this is proof that the ACL video, rather than going viral as they hoped, is actually suffering from “viewer’s droop”.

You can’t *make* something go viral; it happens or it doesn’t. An excellent (relatively recent) example was the “Anti Carbon-Tax Durka Dur” video (published on YouTube by @_spock). He didn’t make a big deal about it, but it went nuts and amassed well over a hundred thousand hits in only a few days. The ACL video, by comparison, is a dud. Maybe a “Marriage Equality Consequences Durka Dur” video would fare better.

Or maybe Shelton and his ACL film crew should have gone back to the classics, and posted a link to Sex, Lies & Videotape. Given the tweets from Shelton’s account that triggered this little foray into the grubby, smearing tactics of the ACL and The Australian, it would have been far more appropriate.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Barry’s Budget: A Lesson Learned From Clubs NSW

I’m starting to wonder how long it will be before Barry O’Farrell bites the bullet, declares his government a not-for-profit enterprise and applies for membership with Clubs NSW.

Let’s face it, they’ve been looking after the clubs industry since the day they won office. There was the Memorandum of Understanding they signed with Peter Newell and Anthony Ball from Clubs NSW before the 2010 election, which promised not only to look after clubs, but also to protect their gambling interests.

There was the 2011 “horror” NSW budget which saw slashing cuts everywhere except the registered clubs industry, which instead was patted on the head and sent on its way with generous tax breaks.

There was the recent reworking of poker machine entitlement transfer rules, designed solely to allow clubs with multiple venues to shift their pokies from less profitable sites to more profitable sites without giving up entitlements.

And now we have the 2012 budget. No specific largesse for the clubs this time around (awww) but now more than ever the O’Farrell government is behaving like a supposedly non-profit poker machine behemoth. Panthers, maybe, or the Rooty Hill RSL.

Why do I say this? Well, consider the opening statement of this media release yesterday from Honest George Souris, the NSW Coalition Minister for Gambling and other stuff:

“The NSW Government has committed $15 million in the Budget to combat problem gambling through high quality counselling services, research and education and awareness activities across the State.”

Now, put aside for the moment that counselling, research and education (at the expense of more targeted measures like, ooh I don’t know, actually making changes to poker machines or venues) is the stated policy of Clubs NSW.

Put aside the fact that problem gambling services in NSW are paid for not by the government, but by the Responsible Gambling Fund, which (as their annual report states) is funded by a 2% levy on gambling revenue from Star Casino. Not clubs or hotels; just the casino.

And put aside the fact that there is no indication if this is $15 million over the next twelve months, or five years, or whatever. I’m prepared to be generous and assume it’s $15 million a year.

The problem is that for the 2012/13 financial year, the NSW budget’s modelling shows that the government expects to rake in $1.2 billion in poker machine taxes from clubs and pubs alone.

(click on the image for a better look)

Yet they’re handing back $15 million. That’s something like 1.25%. And they’re talking it up like it’s a good thing.

Now THAT’S how you act like a club!

All Barry has to do now is install a fake waterfall, some plastic palm trees and an all-you-can-eat buffet at Macquarie St and the transformation will be complete. At least then they’ll have an excuse to lose money.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

What A Fool Believes

The Herald Sun today reports that Tony Abbott is warning his colleagues not to succumb to the temptation of “believing they would win.”

That article, by Phillip Hudson, is here. It’s full of the usual Abbott rhetoric, faithfully reported, along with talk of Kevin Rudd (of course). That can only be there to take attention away from the fact that the latest Newspoll results show Julia Gillard is once again Australia’s preferred Prime Minister, despite (or perhaps because) of the attack-dog politics the Coalition has employed over the past couple of years.

But hang on a minute. Wind back the clock to the beginning of March this year; at the Queensland Liberal National Party state launch, Abbott was introduced as “the next PM” and made the following bold statement:

“Stephen Smith and Bill Shorten and now Bob Carr might think that they're the next prime minister of Australia, but I think I'll be the next elected prime minister.

Off the cuff? A throw-away line? Maybe. But as this Michelle Grattan article in the SMH shows, it was a sign that Abbott believes the top job is his.

Only now he doesn’t.

Or does he?

It’s hard to be sure. Both of these statements, made less than three months apart, were delivered verbally... and as Abbott himself said two years ago (again reported by Phillip Hudson), not everything he says is the “gospel truth.”

This from the man who repeatedly calls Gillard a liar.

Maybe we shouldn’t believe that either.

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Coalition Stuck In The Lobby

It’s hard to deny that lobby groups in Australia have grown increasingly powerful and strident over the past few years. We have only to look back to the success of the recent mining tax and poker machine reform campaigns to see that all it takes to defend the indefensible is a wad of cash and a platform to shout from.

Sadly, these tactics have gradually infected our political arena. Now more than ever before, the politics of denial and obliteration have gained ascendancy, and the implications are dire. “Whatever it takes” is the new catchcry emanating from Canberra and echoing around the country via a media body that has grown fat on sensationalism and conjecture. Facts, it seems, are optional and easily ignored.

Consider poker machine reform, an area I have followed closely since the 2010 Federal election. From the moment this became a possibility, the industry swung into action to protect its bottom line. Australia’s clubs, hotels and casinos formed an alliance behind Clubs Australia (itself no more than a mouthpiece for Clubs NSW) and turned up the blowtorch. Nothing was safe.

There was hysteria and outrage about the possibility of fingerprinting poker machine patrons. There were strong assertions that gambling problems were symptoms of deeper issues and that the machines themselves were blameless. There were predictions of nationwide carnage with hundreds of venues to close and thousands of jobs to be lost. There was the “It’s Un-Australian” campaign and following that, the “Won’t Work Will Hurt” campaign that specifically targeted individual MPs and encouraged their constituents to vote them out of office.

All in all, it was a relentless and coordinated attack where the end was all important, and the means were whatever it took.

Of course, this was only the first phase of the campaign. Once it proved successful, with the proposed reforms being watered down to an industry-friendly shadow of the original concept, the second phase began. Suddenly Clubs Australia began describing themselves as “champions” of reform, working tirelessly to help Australia’s problem gamblers and leading the way for the industry to do what was right. Politicians who insisted on pursuing stronger measures were called posturing bullies with relevance issues, and described on more than one occasion as “roadblocks” to the “real reform” that Clubs Australia was responsible for.

First the attack, then the revision. It’s well known that history is written by the victors.

Now consider the Craig Thomson situation. From the moment the allegations of financial impropriety against Thomson surfaced, he has been in the Coalition’s sights. As more details emerged and talk turned to prostitutes and forgery, the scrutiny intensified until it became an all-out attack on the personal character of the man. Nothing was sacred; and no matter what he did or said, everything became proof of his supposed guilt.

Tony Abbott, as the leader of the Coalition, has been the instigator of many of these attacks and has encouraged others in his party to follow suit. There can be no doubt that the prolonged assault on Thomson’s character in Parliament has been undertaken with Abbott’s blessing; ultimately he is responsible for the actions of his party.

The more salacious things got, the more focused the attack became. Thomson has yet to face a court of law with regards to any of the allegations that have been made against him, but that hasn’t stopped the deluge of outrage and accusation, the calls for him to stand down or be sacked, the progressive assassination of his reputation. The press gallery has hung on every word; more than that, they’ve adopted the hysteria as their own and found him guilty... not as charged, but as implied.

Thomson's banishment to the cross-benches did little to alleviate the onslaught. Even his hour-long address to Parliament earlier this week was turned into supposed proof of his guilt. This torrent of recrimination has been sustained for so long and so vehemently that now fears are being raised about Thomson’s state of mind; his recent public statement, including the question “Is this about trying to push someone to the brink?” strengthened those fears.

End of phase one; time for phase two.

Suddenly Abbott is deeply concerned for Thomson’s well-being. Suddenly he’s blaming Prime Minister Gillard for putting her interests ahead of those of her embattled MP. Suddenly he's calling on Thomson to resign not because because of what he's allegedly done, but to take the spotlight off him.

''The best thing for everyone, to take the pressure off him, to take the pressure off his family, would be for him to leave the Parliament,'' Abbott told the media, blithely ignoring the incontrovertible fact that he himself was the architect of the campaign against Thomson.

First the attack, then the revision.

The Coalition has seamlessly adopted the same tactics that Australia's lobby groups, the “vested interests” have employed to great effect. No tactic is too low, no target off limits, and small considerations like the law and the Constitution are merely guidelines to be ignored at will. What's terrifying is that this battle-plan of bullying and faux concern will more than likely see the Coalition voted into office late next year... again, it’s well known that history is written by the victors.

Australian politics was headed for the basement; somewhere along the way it got stuck in the lobby. Canberra will never be the same.

Friday, May 11, 2012

Shorter Budget Reply 2012

Last night, Tony Abbott made his Budget Reply speech in response to the Government's 2012 Budget. In the interests of brevity, here's the abridged version.

I'm an Australian; I've got a wife and kids (unlike the PM) so you can trust me even though I'm a politician.

And trust me, this is a class war budget; it's a billionaires versus battlers budget.

So let me assert some fundamental truths: something something wealth something taxes something something success. Something.

Remember Johnny Howard? Geez those were good days. But he's gone now, although I heard his mate Peter is hanging around somewhere. Without Howard, we're doomed.

The world's biggest carbon tax will squash us all like a pancake. Blame the Greens. They’re the devil.

Don’t worry about that Global Financial Crisis thingummy, or the mess that the rest of the world is in. Didn’t hit us too hard, did it? So we should be rolling in money, but we’re not. That’s Labor’s fault.

And the surplus is too small. Only $1.5 billion; that’s pocket change in my world. The treasurer has surplus envy. Like that? Thought of it myself. Not now, Joe.

You can’t trust the Prime Minister. She’s a politician. But you can trust me. I’m a politician too, but I’ve got a wife and kids... oh wait, I already said that. Did I mention my grandparents?

National Disability? Dental? Yeah, sure, but they’ve skimped on the costs. Cheapskates. What a load of rubbish.

And cuts to Defence take us right back to 1938. Remember the war! Which reminds me, Iron Sky opens tonight. Better keep this short.

Here’s what I would do. Abolish the carbon tax and abolish the mining tax. Because every Australian has the fundamental right to mine the fuck out of this great country, and global warming is something the rest of the world has to worry about. Not us, we’re ace mate.

Abolish the NBN. I know that has nothing to do with this budget but I hate that thing, it makes me look stupid. Stop giggling!

Did I mention John Howard? Yes? Ah, ok. We were mates, you know... even if he did have a thing about policies. Can’t see the point myself. But when Johnny was the boss, everything was peachy. And if you make me the boss they’ll be peachy again. Because Howard.

When I’m in charge, we’ll be careful yet decisive. A once-in-a-generation, strong-cop-on-the-beat, fair-dinkum government. You betcha!

Let’s talk Asia for a minute. There are way too many Chinese kids learning Chinese in our schools. Not that that has anything to do with the budget, but still. We need generational shift! Because Asia!

 We’ll launch a Green Army to provide more trees and more soil. And cranes. Lot of cranes. Australia needs cranes. And yes, we’ll stop the boats. Didn’t think I’d let that one slide did you?

If this were my budget, there’d be savings. Lots of savings. We’ll find them, don’t you worry. We’re awesome at finding things that aren’t there. Don’t you worry about that.

But this isn’t my budget. So it’s rubbish, because Rudd and Jenkins and Slipper and Thomson. I know this because I’m an Australian.

Trust me.

Friday, May 4, 2012

Gay Marriage Is Not A Thing

Gay marriage confuses the hell out of me. Admittedly, I'm not gay; but I am married. So you'd think I would have at least some sort of idea what's going on.

I suppose I should say I was married; I'm currently in that momentary still-water between filing divorce papers and having said divorce become a reality. For the most part it's been an amicable divorce so far, certainly more amicable than the marriage itself became. Which I suppose is the point.

I've also got kids. They're awesome. There's nothing in my life I'm more proud of than my kids; not one damn thing.

That, in a nutshell, is my experience of marriage. It's been good, it's been bad, and at the end of the day, life goes on. Marriage, for all the joy and pain it can cause, is a thing. It's a reality.

Gay marriage is not a thing.

How can it be? Marriage can't, by definition, be heterosexual or homosexual. It's a commitment, a union... an act undertaken by two people who are saying, “You know what? We really, really should be together.”

Sure, people can be gay... actually, let me rephrase that. People are gay. And straight. And lesbian. And a whole host of blends and shades in between. We're a diverse mob, people... it takes all sorts. It really does.

But marriage can't be gay. And this is what I just cannot understand, no matter how hard I try. If two people, regardless of their gender, want to make a lifelong legal commitment to each other with everything that entails... how is that not marriage? And how can it ever possibly be gay, straight or otherwise?

I hear all the sabre-rattling from the churches (well, mainly the churches) but it seems to me their arguments are irrelevant. They oppose gay marriage, by which I assume they want to prohibit marriage between gay people. I can understand their point of view, although I don't have to agree with it.

At this point, I should say I was raised and got married as a Catholic. Church, rings, vows, the whole deal. And afterwards we signed all the necessary bits of paper so that it was a legal marriage as well as a religious one.

I don't call myself a Catholic any more, haven't for quite a few years now. It wore off. But I know the arguments and I guess I'd have to admit that if any church wanted to prohibit religious marriage between two people of the same gender, then they're within their rights. Stupid, offensive and discriminatory... sure. But still within their rights.

But we're not talking about religion, are we? We're talking about the law. And I can't, for the life of me, understand why churches think they have some sort of say over the letter of the law.

So confusing.

I was hoping that writing all this down would help clarify my thinking, but no. It's still a mess. So here's what I propose.

Let churches oppose gay marriage. They can knock themselves out and I’m sure they’ll feel all righteous about it too. It can't hurt, because gay marriage is not a thing. And opposing something that doesn't exist should be easy for them.

In the meantime, the rest of us can go ahead and marry whoever we damn well like. Because marriage is and should be a thing, no matter who you are.

Any questions?

Monday, April 2, 2012

Coffee For One

I’d been living at my brother’s place for a couple of months before I noticed the coffee shop.

The end of something is never easy. Separation, divorce… even when it’s been a long time coming, when it comes as a relief rather than a shock, it still isn’t easy. Something ends, and everything changes. And change brings its own challenges.

Which is how I found myself living in a single room, all my worldly possessions in a pile in the garage. New suburb, new area, new routines. It was only supposed to be for a short time, while I started untangling the strands of my old life, but life doesn’t stop for new beginnings. Life goes on.

My daily commute took me to and from work by a new path now. Different surroundings, and I was still coming to terms with this change in direction; my train rides passed by as a blur. But one afternoon, I noticed the little coffee shop in the row of shops near the station as my train pulled in. Not a bad idea, I thought. I took to dropping in there on my way to the station in the morning, two or three times a week, buying my coffee for the ride in to work. Just another new routine.

One morning, there was a new girl behind the counter of the coffee shop. That morning, I didn’t just start my day with coffee; I started it with conversation. 

People are, by nature, social animals. We like to connect; you could say we need to connect. From the moment we’re born we interact with others, forming friendships, relationships… embedding ourselves in our social network. We’ve been doing it for thousands of years, long before MySpace and Facebook and Twitter; long before “social network” became a buzz phrase.

People need each other. It’s no accident that we have always congregated in numbers; from villages to towns to cities, we are drawn together by the need to be with others. To be a part of a community. We socialise, making new friends and keeping up with old ones, constantly redefining and affirming who we are in the context of our relationships with others.

For some, however, the social network is broken. The connections can be made but they rarely, if ever, connect deeply. There’s a sense of separation, of dislocation; a fundamental disconnect with everyone they know. You’d never know it, but it’s more common than many realise. Such is loneliness.

Many people choose to be alone. For one reason or another they see their place in the world as standing apart, and they embrace that position. But loneliness has little, if anything, to do with being alone. Many choose solitude; no one chooses to be lonely.

In the following weeks I became used to starting my day with coffee and a chat. Tattoos, comic books, music… a broad range of topics we were both interested in, my coffee girl and I. Five minute bursts of connection that I grew to look forward to more than my daily caffeine fix.

This is not a love story, nor is it a tale of obsession. But when your connections are few, you recognise the value of the ones you have, the ones you make. They leave their mark on you, as my coffee girl did on me. My days became better for knowing her. That’s what friendship is.

Loneliness is not about how many people you know, or how few. It’s not about hiding yourself away from the world, and you can’t defeat it by surrounding yourself with friends. It’s inside.

Yet while the human condition is naturally a social one, loneliness is spreading. Our world is moving further and further along a path of convenience and speed, at the expense of the same interactions that made us a community in the first place. We touch so many people these days, but oh so fleetingly.

Everything is bigger, brighter, and easier. We shop in supermarkets and department stores, finding what we want under a single roof, but not what we need. We have drive-through and self-serve checkouts; we have online shopping and home delivery. We commute in streams of unspeakingness, plugged into our iPods or reading the news on our smart phones. And our opportunities to meaningfully connect continue to diminish.

Society has become disconnected, and the impact is rippling through us all. Some embrace the new way of life, while others notice no difference… but the lonely are growing in number, as that disconnection takes hold.

There is no solution for this; I’m not proposing a cure. For while many people crave contact, we also crave convenience, and convenience is carrying the day. So long as we as a society keep choosing the easy path, the quality of our lives will continue to take second place.

Quality of life isn’t measured in download speeds. It isn’t defined by one-stop shopping. It’s not the hours in each day that we save that gives our lives quality; that comes from what we do with that time. And the world keeps shrinking, compressed by global communication that expands our social network and brings every country, every person within our reach… but it’s superficial. There is no depth.

Such is loneliness.

Time never stands still, and life must go on. That’s its way. I’ve finally moved again, from the coast to the mountains, to a place I can truly call home and a space where I can continue to rebuild my life. New suburb, new area, new routines. I have more room, and more importantly, I have the opportunity to stand on my own two feet again and move forward. You’d have to say that’s a good thing.

But I miss my coffee girl.

This article was originally published in The King's Tribune.
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Tuesday, March 20, 2012


I’ve been arguing with myself for the past couple of days whether or not to write this. In the end, I decided I couldn’t not write it. When something gnaws away at you like a broken tooth all you can do is get it out.

On Saturday morning, Margaret Whitlam passed away at the age of 92. She was an advocate and champion for women’s rights, a patron of the arts, an indomitable character and so much more.

She also happened to be the wife of Gough Whitlam. Rarely do two such dynamic and confident people strike up a partnership; it’s rarer still when it stands the test of time. Over almost 70 years they stood by each other, supported each other in everything they did.

The tributes flowing for Margaret Whitlam have been many and gracious. All sides of the political arena have been united in their remembrance of one of Australia’s most respected and remarkable women. Emotions have been strong, events fondly remembered, her place in Australian history not only written but deservedly so.

No one denies that Margaret Whitlam was fiery, opinionated and sometimes more forthright than she needed to be. Yet we remember those traits fondly, rather than with dismay. The strength and purpose of her life shines through. Our recollections focus on that.

Which is why it is so very, very disappointing that there has been one discordant voice in the chorus. I am, of course, speaking of Opposition leader Tony Abbott. Many have taken Abbott to task for describing Margaret as a “marvellous consort” to Gough, but I disagree with this position. I believe I know what he was trying to say; I believe the intentions behind these words were good.

No, it is Abbott’s reference to the Whitlam government that grates on me. Tell me: when the country is remembering the life of Margaret Whitlam, why does Tony Abbott feel the need to say this?

“There was a lot wrong with the Whitlam government but nevertheless, it was a very significant episode in our history and Margaret Whitlam was a very significant element in the political success of Gough Whitlam.”

My problem with this is not political. It’s not about which party I follow, or whether or not what Abbott said was true. The events of the Dismissal of the Whitlam government are embedded in our history.

No, my problem with Abbott’s statement is that it shouldn’t have been political. This was not the time nor the place for such gamesmanship; it was a time of remembrance for a woman who greatly influenced our country, and of condolence for her husband of so many years.

This is a question of grace. There was grace in the words and thoughts of so many who shared their sorrow at the passing of Margaret Whitlam, grace in the appreciation and respect for what she had accomplished. And there was grace in the consideration and respect shown to Gough, who at the age of 95 is left to travel onwards alone.

Sadly, there was a distinct lack of grace in the words of Tony Abbott. Thankfully there were many within his party who were far more gracious, who did not feel the need to cheapen the gravity of the moment with political pot-shots. Even Malcolm Fraser, Gough Whitlam’s successor as prime minister, was candid and affectionate in his recollections of his former opponent’s wife.

And it bothers me. Like most of us I’ve experienced the loss of people close to me; I can remember the words of consolation, the graciousness of those around me while I mourned. It’s a grace, a respect that comes naturally to most people. We expect it of ourselves, of our friends and family, even of those we are not close to.

We should also demand it of our leaders, when the occasion warrants it. We need leaders who will take us forward not only with strength and conviction, but with grace.

Friday, February 24, 2012

Defamatory Pre-Commitment

Just what transpired between Kevin Rudd and Clubs Australia?

As the looming showdown between Julia Gillard and Kevin Rudd approaches, the tactics on both sides are becoming ever more personal and accusatory. The vitriol, so long denied, is now flying thick and fast; not just from the opponents themselves, but from their colleagues, supporters, interested parties and most corners of the media.

As this war of words escalates and rages on, claims have been made by both sides that have been instantly denied and countered; such is the cut and thrust of politics. Yet it’s telling that there’s one allegation that was deemed serious enough to provoke the threat of legal action; that allegation came from Clubs Australia.

Anyone who knows me or has read my other blog knows I am no fan of Clubs Australia. They are known to be selective, indeed creative with the truth, and repeatedly ignore the facts in the pursuit of their agenda. But their claim that they held discussions with pro-Rudd individuals in November last year about dropping mandatory pre-commitment for poker machines is hard to ignore.

This claim was given airtime on Channel 7 news on Wednesday night (22/2), and Clubs Australia later released (to AAP) the following statement from spokesman Jeremy Bath:

"Clubs Australia did meet with an MP close to Kevin Rudd in late November which was specifically to discuss the issue of mandatory pre-commitment.

"It was made clear at that meeting that Kevin Rudd was sympathetic to the concerns of clubs and as Prime Minister he would kill mandatory pre-commitment.

"Clubs Australia was encouraged to continue the campaign and was advised that we should target a select number of MPs.

"Clubs Australia then sought confirmation of Kevin Rudd's support through a known Rudd ally, which we duly received several days later."

The response from the Rudd camp was lightning fast, and was made some hours before he tendered his resignation as Foreign Minister:

“The claims are entirely untrue. The Foreign Minister has never asked any MP to speak to Clubs Australia at any time on any matter relating to poker machines.

“The Minister would consider the publishing of such a claim as defamation, and would take action accordingly.”

And there it may lie. Claim and denial. But why was this claim so damning that Rudd felt the need to invoke the possibility of legal action?

It is important to remember that Rudd was one of the first federal MPs to make a stand against poker machines. In the lead-up to the 2007 federal election he famously said:

"I hate poker machines and I know something of their impact on families. I have spoken at length with (World Vision chief executive and welfare activist) Tim Costello on this."

Rudd was seen as someone who could finally tackle Australia’s growing reliance on poker machine revenue and do something to reduce the level of gambling addiction and harm in this country. But once elected, he distanced himself from that stance.

In March 2008, Rudd stated:

"I am no wowser (but) I don't think poker machines are good. But the gaming industry employs about 77,000 people around Australia and these are decent folk earning a living.

"Then you have got the fact that state governments have a very significant revenue dependency on them. And then beyond that again you have the fact of clubs. Sporting clubs use this as a significant source of revenue, depending on what part of the country you are looking at."

In November 2008, legislation put forward to impose restrictions on the poker machine industry by Family First, including banning ATMs in venues and note acceptors, was rejected by the government.

In 2009, the Rudd government tasked the Productivity Commission with running a second inquiry into problem gambling (the first was in 1999). Yet when the draft report was released in October of that year, he refused to commit to any of its recommendations... except the recommendation to liberalise online gambling.

And when the report was finally released by the government, in June 2010, their formal response was Let’s Wait And See. Of course, within hours of that report being released, Rudd was no longer prime minister.

It seems clear that Rudd, despite his reputation as someone who “hates poker machines”, has had little inclination to actually do anything about them for quite some time.

Perversely, it was Rudd’s demise in June 2010 that propelled poker machine reform well and truly into the political spotlight. The 2010 federal election was effectively decided with a handshake and an agreement between Gillard and Independent Andrew Wilkie, and the government was locked on a course of poker machine reform that put it at odds with the gambling industry from day one. Wilkie’s insistence on real poker machine reform, and Gillard’s reliance on his vote, made sure of that.

While those reforms grew progressively weaker, to the point where Wilkie formally withdrew his support for Gillard earlier this year, it cannot be denied that they became a part of the national conversation in a way that never happened in Rudd’s time.

Clubs Australia was without question the most vocal, organised and influential opponent of the proposed reforms. They attacked the government and its plans before the dust had settled on the election result, and their campaign included targeting Labor MPs in marginal seats across NSW and Queensland. It was this tactic that allegedly prompted many of these MPs to approach Gillard and tell her, in no uncertain terms, that the reforms would see them lose their seats at the next election.

And this may well be at the root of Rudd’s furious threat of defamation. To be linked with an industry that had actively campaigned against the sitting government, of which he was a part, would be political suicide. Throw into that mix the reports that he was canvassing Wilkie for support at the same time, and we get the picture of a man who was prepared to do and say anything to shore up his numbers. A man who has indeed been planning this for quite some time.

Of course, it’s no secret that Clubs Australia did in fact meet with “an MP close to Kevin Rudd;” that MP was Alan Griffin, who is the big numbers man in Rudd’s camp. Griffin admits to the meetings but denies telling Clubs Australia that he was dealing with them on Rudd’s behalf. However, the key to this meeting isn’t what was said; it’s what hasn’t been said.

Griffin is a known Rudd supporter. He would not have had to explain this to Clubs Australia. They may be factually creative, but they’re not stupid.

Rudd’s denial states that he “has never asked any MP to speak to Clubs Australia at any time on any matter relating to poker machines.” That does not mean the conversation did not take place, or that Rudd was unaware of it. Given the care with which Rudd crafts his comments and statements, his emphasis was undoubtably intentional.

Still, it may yet be a rare slip of the tongue that points to the truth of this matter. Arriving back in Brisbane this morning, Rudd gave a press conference to the assembled throng at the airport. He claimed that some Labor MPs had been threatened with the loss of their preselection if they supported him in 2010, and that the same may be happening again. His comment on this?

“That’s un-Australian.

Sounds like a Clubs Australia slogan to me.

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Spongebob Politics

Unless you have children (and young children at that) you may not be overly familiar with the work of Spongebob Squarepants. This is not a bad thing. But what you may not realise is that the bizarre antics of the little yellow sea sponge may be preparing our children for the new reality of Australian politics.

Spongebob is a contrary character. Sometimes brilliant, sometimes stupid, always obsessive and driven by an absolute commitment to his job at the Krusty Krab burger house, he regularly finds himself in the most bizarre situations... usually of his own making.

The closest analogy to Spongebob in Australian politics is Tony Abbott. Similarly obsessive and committed to his job, Abbott is a Rhodes scholar who nevertheless is prone to the most amazing acts of stupidity. We've all become used to Abbott's practice of shooting from the lip, and there's no doubt he's well aware of it too; this is, after all, the man who told us we couldn't believe what he said unless it was written down.

Abbott's unfortunate slips of the tongue are the sign of a man who wants to be liked, but isn't quite sure how to go about it. He doesn't seem to have realised that it's not our approval he needs, but our respect. The class clown rarely becomes school captain.

Still, with an indulgent media and a forgiving (or at least forgetful) public, Abbott's gaffes tend to quickly fade from memory. This is classic Spongebob politics; outrageous statements and unthinkable antics may cause mischief and mayhem, but it doesn't last long. One episode finishes, the next one starts and we all forget what has gone before.

Abbott's latest gaffe, regarding the Tent Embassy in Canberra and the suggestion that they “move on,” may have provoked the strongest reaction yet, what with the security guards and the pushing and the shoving and the dragging and the Prime Minister being bundled into a car and the worldwide news story... but the chances are good that by this time next week, we'll all have forgotten about it and “moved on.” Well, except for Tony Hodges.

From the NBN (for interactive gambling and movie downloads) to the Queensland floods (please donate to the Liberal party), from Afghanistan (shit happens) to homosexuality (feeling a bit threatened), from Julia Gillard (and her shit-eating grin) to Julia Gillard (no doesn't mean no)... our capacity to forgive Abbott's blunders seems limitless. Even the recent stop-the-boats gaffe over the Costa Concordia seems already consigned to history. This is pure Spongebobbery in action.

But the parallels don't stop there. Spongebob's best friend and companion is Patrick, a goofy, gormless pink starfish; for Abbott, it's Joe Hockey. Spongebob works with Squidward, a bitter soul often at odds with his yellow workmate; hello, Malcolm Turnbull. And Spongebob lives in Bikini Bottom, which is undoubtably a direct reference to Abbott's penchant for getting into his Speedos at every opportunity.

So if your children are glued to the TV, drinking in Spongebob's exploits without blinking, don't worry. There's every chance they'll be the political warriors of the next generation.

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