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?