The ALP has come to its own fork in the road

And so it has come to pass...that the NSW State Labor Party was beaten about the head metaphorically with baseball bats by the electorate, and they lost the Unwinnable Election.

So, now that I am through my period of mourning, and with the 24/7 world, you can only take 24 big ones, and that's hours not days, to get over your grief about these things and then get on with it. I thus hereby declare that today, the Post-Election funk ends, and the period of Rebuilding, Renewal, Rebirth and Rebadging for the ALP begins.

Ergo, I, Professor Feral Skeleton, have come up with a Baker's Dozen of helpful tips and advice to get this party started again. A Baker's Dozen because I am a generous soul, and to have a generous soul should be a Core Principle of any Labor Party in Australia. We are the good guys who have EVERYONE'S backs and no one should be allowed to forget that fact. Most especially Labor MPs.

So to begin:

1. Tricky Dicky Nixon Political Tactics Should Be Binned
Copying and pasting political tactics from your Political Science 101 textbook and then believing they will work for you, will, well, no longer work for you. The electorate is too well-informed and sophisticated now for them ever to be successful any more. Main Street Media Management, PR and Ad Companies left behind such techniques for selling political parties, their brand, as in, 'What do they stand for?', and their policies, a long time ago. Time to realise that in the Post-Modern age of politics, now that the old Left/Right divide is dissolving, it is necessary to sell the concept of your political convictions to the electorate. Determine them yourself, and ditch the Focus Groups, except as they may add a bit of sugar on top of the political product you are trying to sell.

How about this for an idea? Try being straight up with the electorate about what you want to do for them and why, after listening to their valid concerns, not behind the closed doors and two-way mirrors of the Focus Groups, after which you trickily tailor your talking points and your policy according to the shifting sands of opinion they represent, but by regularly going out into the electorate and genuinely listening to anyone and everyone on the ground, and in the shopping centres, and their opinions and concerns. Then, take it back to the Party Room, and brainstorm solutions after assimilating it into clearly defined problems that require solutions by the electorate. You'll generally find most causes and concerns are pretty universal across the electorate, and if you come up with a solution people will appreciate that. Simple.

For example, the line that the NSW State ALP used in their campaign, 'Don't give Barry a Blank Cheque', was lame. As if the electors couldn't figure that out for themselves. Anyway, such a shallow point was hardly going to affect elector's votes when it finally, after 4 years, came time to put pencil to paper.

Which leads me to Point 1a.

1a. Sack Sam Dastyari, NSW ALP General Secretary
He couldn't run a piss-up in a brewery, let alone an effective election campaign. He is also a potent symbol of the 'NSW Disease', and he, and it, should be excised from the ALP body politic like the cancer it is. What the NSW Right and 'Sussex Street' stands for is a microcosm of all that is wrong with the party and which needs to be fixed if the ALP is to have any decent future at all. And Pronto!

2. Candidate Selection
The ALP's base for candidate selection is narrower than the Liberal Party's. How can that throw up a wealth of talent from which to choose election winners? I have been banging on about this to anyone who would listen in the ALP since I joined over 10 years ago. Which I must say, is starting to feel like banging my head against a brick wall as I shout in an empty room, as they in the Upper Echelons of the party, who have expended all their energies in getting there and putting their own interests first, as opposed to the party's interests, think they know best - which they obviously don't, if the NSW Election result is anything to go by. However, again, I reiterate, stop choosing your factional colleague, Electorate Officer, or Chief of Staff, to succeed you in your seat, based upon the numbers which you and your cronies, both in the Unions and out, strictly control in your Electorate Council.

Expand your horizons and look into the electorate itself and the community it serves, and start identifying influential and inspiring community leaders and advocates in local special interest groups who espouse sentiments similar to those which the ALP broadly supports philosophically.

For example, Labor is the party that champions the causes of Carers, the Disabled and Pensioners. Can you name one ALP MP who has come out of this sector into parliament? I can't. In fact, just today Bob Brown of The Greens was giving the keynote speech at the ACOSS Conference. Yet it seems like such a natural fit for the ALP, a party of government as the Prime Minister said, who can actually make a difference to this constituency's lives. So why doesn't the ALP at least broaden its base to this sector? I don't know. One thing I do know is that John Howard saw fruit here ripe for the plucking. When he was in government he had the head of Carers Australia in his fold. He knew he had to broaden his base, not collapse it.

The Liberals have certainly broadened their base in a number of areas. And, in general, the Coalition make a point of currying favour with all groups in their communities, macro and micro, such as those Special Interest Groups such as I mentioned above, all the way to the local Rotary, Lions, the local Sporting Associations, Chamber of Commerce, and everything in between, all the way down to the local Bowling Club.

In other words, they have gone out into the community and co-opted all the good burghers to THEIR cause. It provides a wellspring of talent with a wealth of local name recognition in their electorates.

This is opposed to the ALP that just seems to keep going back to the Unis and trawling through the ranks of Political Science students and Labor Club members who have cut their teeth in student politics. Yes, they can provide valuable fodder for the parliamentary ranks, but the ALP needs real people who have led real lives, that the community can identify with, to represent. And for those who think that John Robertson, ETU and Unions NSW apparatchik since the age of 16 when he left school to start his Electrician's Apprenticeship, is as far afield into the real world as the ALP has to go to explore for new talent, then think again. At between 10 and 20% of the working population, Union members are no longer truly representative of our communities. They should thus no longer overwhelmingly represent the ALP in parliament, or as candidates for the party. Anyway, even Unions and unionists are defecting from the ALP and affiliating with other political parties. And not just The Greens. A Teacher was just elected into the NSW State Parliament for the Liberal Party!

The Liberal Party have become adept at targeting these 'Real People'. The new NSW State government has Dentists, Veterinarians, Teachers, as I said, and they almost got an ex-ABC journalist in. The ALP sort of gets it, as I spied one Public Hospital Doctor among the ranks of new MPs who had survived the bloodbath, but that seemed to be it. And he probably had to fight the factional warlords in the ALP tooth and nail in order to get over the top of one of their own people. My own local electorates had a couple of lawyers standing for the ALP, hardly inspiring choices but the only group within the community that still seem willing to stick their hand up for pre-selection.

Which brings me to:

3. Stop the internecine factional warfare
If there's one thing the electorate finds distasteful, it is the sight of the Right of the ALP fighting with the Left for the spoils of office, and for positions on tickets, etc.

I can guarantee you that the ALP lost, and loses, countless Upper House votes in elections because the ruthless political operators within the party, such as Eric Roozendaal and Eddie Obeid, and others like them in the Senate and Upper Houses of other State parliaments, arm-twist and intimidate until they are given the winnable spots on the ALP ticket at elections, even though it is obvious even to Blind Freddy, let alone the electorate, that they are the problem and the cause of the 'NSW Disease', not its cure.

People like that have to be sidelined in the party, as the NSW Liberals have successfully done with their equivalent numbers, by equally hard-headed individuals within the party who have the party's best interests at heart, whether Kristina Kenneally, or her like, threatens to walk, or not. The party in NSW was always going to lose this election anyway, ferchrissakes, and that whole scenario playing itself out in public, as some sort of watershed moment, may have even GAINED a few votes and some much-needed credibility for the ALP because it would have shown the electorate that the party still had some integrity left. And integrity certainly appears to be the coin of the realm in politics at this time.

Oh, and as I alluded to before, could the ALP get over its aversion to choosing journalists as candidates? The Liberals have pretty successfully spooked them on that front, Maxine McKew notwithstanding. Especially when the Coalition does it all the time these days. Just look at Dai Le, former ABC (yeah Their ABC) journalist and former Vietnamese Boat Person and candidate last weekend for the Liberal Party. They are nothing if not successful hypocrites, the Libs. Criticising Boat People up hill and down dale as 'Queue Jumpers' one day, saying they really only care about their safety on the 'Leaky Boats' the next, then selecting them as candidates for ethnically diverse electorates in the next breath.

Hence, the ALP has to stop being afraid of being identified too closely with specific demographics like this, and I acknowledge they have chosen well among the Middle Eastern and Muslim community, but where are our Asian candidates, or our Indian candidates, or South American Hispanic candidates? I know there are large communities of all these peoples in Australia. I know there are members of those communities in the ALP. The Liberals have thrown caution to the wind and adopted certain ethnic communities and are unashamedly tailoring their political product to their electoral market as they congregate in certain areas.

Which leads to the obverse:

4. The ALP can no longer count on any particular group in the community to automatically vote for them any more
Last weekend's NSW State election put paid to that idea and I saw it with my very own eyes. I saw a couple of washed-up former TV Soap actors sucking up to the Liberal Party booth workers at the polling place where I was working. That is, there's no more, 'the Arts Community always supports Labor' any more. Or Teachers. As I said, they've gone to The Greens and the Liberals too. Ditto Union members.

5. No more sinecures should be guaranteed
This is along the lines of the previous suggestion with respect to Factional Warlords, but it really is a waste of a good seat in parliament if the ALP guarantee a place for every former ACTU President and/or Secretary. A greater waste of space I have never seen than former ACTU President, Jenny George. She may have been a nice person with the ALP in her heart and soul, but as an effective politician she is useless. Unlike Greg Combet, who we have seen is the complete antithesis of Ms George. He's an extremely capable and effective Member of Parliament for the ALP.

I could almost guarantee there's someone in the rank and file of the ALP in Ms George's electorate, or in her community who self-identifies with ALP values, who would be a better candidate for the party and MP than she has been. Yes, the ALP must be respectful of their Union roots, but unionists should not be put into politics if they are not good politicians, or merely representing their patch of the Union turf in parliament. And, even though I am repeating myself again and may seem to be labouring the point, with only 20% of the workforce Unionised, the ALP by concentrating candidate selection in this area, are ceding the very large demographic of Contractors, the Self-Employed and the Non-Unionised workforce to the Liberal Party as candidate pools for them to fish in.

6. Ditch the Top End of Town
They'll come crawling to the ALP if they're in power and also drop it like a hot potato for the Liberal Party if they're not. They'll donate to the ALP anyway if they look like they're going to win an election. Trying to curry favour with them, therefore, is a zero sum game, especially when the electorate is repulsed by the sight of obsequious toadies from the so-called Party of the Workers, the ALP, licking the boots of, and hob-nobbing with the Bosses. Or using the parliament to enrich themselves and their friends and family.

Of course, hypocritically, it's OK for the Liberals to act similarly because they are perceived as coming from that millieu and thus are merely putting their 'talents' to work when they privatise and outsource government services and projects to their mates in private industry. As:

7. We're All 'Aspirational' Now
It's like the 'American Dream' that the Republicans in America have co-opted and like to wave as bait in front of the electorate in order to allow them to enact policies inimical to employees and favourable to the bosses, millionaires and billionaires who really get the most out of Republican policies. So it goes here also, and it was conclusively demonstrated in the NSW Election last weekend. People now vote Liberal because they identify with the ‘Aspirational' iconography which has been cultivated as being what the hopes and aspirations of us all should be, and thus, when we reach those goals we tick off 'Voting Liberal' to acknowledge we have 'Made It' - from the smallest Bakery Franchise Owner to the most successful Barrister.

In NSW we must even have had the Welfare-dependant and unemployed voting Liberal the other day. How Labor breaks the back of this conundrum and gets these people back into its voting fold I haven't quite figured out yet. The 'Aspirational Voter' has now become a generic brand for the Liberal Party and Labor needs their own new brand identification awareness campaign that everyone can identify with and support.

8. Campaign Non Stop
Get a truck. Dream up an outrageous claim with plausible deniability that resonates with a core theme you constantly advance, and then plaster it on billboards on both sides of the truck. Find a generous benefactor to fund the truck to drive around all day, every day, from Peak Hour traffic jam to Peak Hour traffic jam, and all points in between, and get out in the faces of people stuck in those interminable traffic jams. I mean, no way are families going to be $500/year worse off as a result of a Carbon Tax. Didn't stop Barry O'Farrell and the Libs mocking up a truck with a billboard on either side disingenuously claiming just that and driving it around during the NSW State election campaign. Politics is all about perception remember?

9. When attacked: 'Repudiate! Repudiate! Repudiate!...Obfuscate!'
One thing I have noticed when the Liberal Party are correctly attacked for something, they quick sticks brainstorm a repudiation of the attack and send the troops immediately back into the fray and the media to run the new line and muddy the waters around the issue. Then they keep it up, and follow it up with their own attack along a similar thematic line, against the ALP! Thus have they have turned the issue away from being about them and back onto the ALP.

For example, in the past week, Tony Abbott made a massive miscalculation addressing the, allegedly, 'No Carbon Tax Rally', organised by Political Wingnuts, Chauvinists and Bigots Inc., and standing four square in front of offensive, slimy and abusive signs. Yet you wouldn't know it from the way the Opposition reacted to their mistake. They quickly devised a plan to turn this negative into a positive for them and into a negative for the Prime Minister and the government. Hence the line: 'Julia Gillard is just being precious'. I don't know how well it went down with the electorate; the next poll may reflect that. However, as a general tactic Labor could do worse than adopt it for its own ends. It works.

10. Learn how to slip the political shiv into an opponent with a smile and a reasonable-sounding line of patter wrapped around it to disguise it effectively from the casual and untrained listener who might take offence at anything more strident, whilst at one and the same time effectively conveying your meta message. If you say it matter-of-factly, it must be a matter of fact, surely?
I was amazed at how Barry O'Farrell's, 'Campaign Communications Chief', Gladys Berejiklian, performed this task for BOFfa with consummate adroitness, both during the campaign and during the ABC's election telecast. No opportunity was too small or insignificant for her to take advantage of. She exploited every opportunity to either slip in a laudatory plug for her team, or a snide put-down of Labor. Labor could learn a lot from studying her style of attack.

Which leads me to:

11. Relentlessly negatively characterise your political opponent
If the Opposition can twist a scenario, push it through the Looking Glass and make it come out the other side as something that it is not but which casts their political opponents in the Labor Party (or The Greens), in a negative light, they will do it.

I admit, they have the weight of the Murdoch Press, Fairfax Radio and the John Singleton-owned Radio Stations such as 2GB, plus various old political pros from the Howard years, and Republican Party Message Masters such as Frank Luntz, helping them out and backing them up, but it behoves Labor to just keep trying to match them at it.

The prime question must always be:
What emotionally-charged language can be used to sensationally comment on this situation, so that it sticks in people's minds?

12. Smile until your face aches
It's been my observation that voters seem to respond positively to a negative message about your political opponents if you smile while you are delivering it. In fact, people respond positively to any message delivered with a smile.

12. There is no #13, because that would be bad luck and I just want to wish the ALP all the luck in the world. They'll need it if they are to survive and continue to prosper. Of course I hope so.

What do you think? Do you have any helpful suggestions?

Yes and No

Tony Abbott’s ‘STOP THE WASTE’ campaign against the Public Service is unrelenting. From the bureaucrats in Queensland to the fat cats in Canberra, its open season as far as Tones is concerned. However, one of the top public servants in Australia, Nic ‘Macca’ Machiavelli, is not taking the sniping lying down. Macca has invited Tones to spend a day in his office, to see how hard working the Public Service really is.

On the day in question, Tones, as usual, dons the Lycra and peddles in. By the time he reaches Macca’s establishment, he is very hot and sweaty. With a cordial welcome, Macca invites Tones into the office that he will be occupying during the day. All it has is a desk, two chairs and a computer. Also, a door leads to an adjoining office in which Macca resides. Macca says he will leave the door ajar, in case Tones requires anything.

Tones: Yeah, mate...thanks for inviting me along today...Oh, and by the way, are you Canberra’s version of Chief Sitting Bull?

Macca: Erm...whaddya mean, Tones...I’m not with you on this one...

Tones: Why, its easy, the States they’ve got Chief Sitting in Canberra I’m presuming you’ve got you own version – Chief Shiny Bum...haw...haw...

[Macca laughs along at Tones’ lame joke and smiles to himself, as it is he who plans to have the last laugh at the end of the day. Macca asks Tones does he want a nice cup of tea.]

Tones: Huh, thought as much…you blokes are certainly living up to your reputation…But, I’ll tell you what – just as I’m parched after my big ride in, I’ll take you up on your offer…white with no sugar thanks…

[Macca excuses himself and sticks the kettle on in his room next door. He puts a tea-bag in a mug, and while he waits for the kettle to boil, he adds a few drops of liquid Mogadon. He pours the boiling water and a dash of milk, gives it a good stir, and brings it into Tones, who slurps it down thirstily. Macca returns to his office.]

Macca (to himself): The Mogadon will take effect pretty quickly…this looks like the beginning of a very interesting day…heh…heh…

[After a few minutes, Macca looks in, expecting to see Tones in a near-comatose state, a piece of ripe fruit ready for picking. However, he is shocked by what he sees – Tones is still his hyperactive self, lying underneath the desk, doing push-ups whilst lifting the desk with his back as he does so. “Whew”, says Macca to himself, “It looks like he needs a lot more Mogadon”. Macca boils the kettle again, and this time pours the rest of the bottle into the mug. He brings it into Tones, who again consumes its contents immediately. This time, the Mogadon overdose has its desired effect and Tones slumps down into the chair, staring blankly at the computer screen. “Great”, says Macca to himself. “Now for part two of the plan”. This entails Macca re-jigging Tones computer so that he can type on his computer in the adjoining room and make the text appear on Tones’ computer. The scene has now been set for turning this tiny part of the Canberra Public Service into LITTLE BRITAIN with Carol Beer]

[In order to show he could multi-task, Tones/Carol had, the day before, arranged for three people to come along to Macca’s joint, so that he could individually discuss some issues with them. The trio are: a marketing guy from a swimwear company; one of the managers from the bank where Tones got his mortgage; and Tony Windsor.]

[So, Macca shows in the first appointment, a Mr W.E.L. Hung from the Big Balls Budgie Smugglers Co. Macca retires to his office next door, but keeps the adjoining door ajar.]

W.E.L.: Good morning, Mr is my great pleasure to put a proposition to you – one that you cannot refuse...

[W.E.L. waits for a reply from Tones, but he continues to stare vacantly at the computer screen. W.E.L. is a tad disconcerted but, nevertheless, proceeds with his marketing pitch.]

W.E.L.: So, Mr Abbott...we would be delighted if you would be the public face of our new line in male swimwear...It would definitely give you a lot of positive publicity, raising your profile, and maybe even increasing your atrociously-low Preferred Prime Minister ratings on Newspoll...So what’s your decision, Mr Abbott? [At this, Macca types on his keyboard and the text appears on Tones’ screen. As usual, Tones stares at it blankly.]

Tones: The computer says No...

W.E.L.: Whaddya mean, “No”!!! You won’t ever get an offer like this to increase your support with females and gays, Mr Abbott!! So, there’s nothing else for it but for me to make the offer instead to Ban Morrison...he would look well posing in his budgies with a Nauru guano pit as background...[cough]

[W.E.L. gets up and exits. On his way out the door, W.E.L. nearly knocks over Macca, who is bringing in a person from Tones’ bank to discuss his mortgage. Fortunately for Tones, it is not the formidable District manager, Mr Stop-the-Debt, but a junior manager, Cuthbert Postletwaite, who is sent along to get a bit of on-the-job experience. Just by chance, Cuthbert is also a member of the Young Liberals. Macca introduces them to each other and retreats to his adjoining room, again leaving the door open.]

Cuthbert (gushingly): Oh, Mr Abbott...I am such a big admirer of yours...I think you are a great Leader of the Opposition...

[At such faint praise, but still mightily under the influence of the Mogadon, Tones can do no more than glare at this half-wit.]

Cuthbert: Well anyway, Mr Abbott...I believe you want us to waive your payments until such times as you become Prime Minister and get a whacking great new big pay rise...Well, I can do a lot better than that, Mr Abbott...Because you are a great friend of Big Business, our bank is prepared to write off completely your entire debt...Just sign here, Mr Abbott...

[Again, Macca doesn’t miss his cue, and types on his keyboard. As before, the text then appears on Tones’ screen.]

Tones: The computer says No...

Cuthbert: Whaddya mean, “No”? We’re prepared to waive your $700,000 mortgage and you say, “No”!! How ungrateful you are, Mr Abbott...And now you can jolly-well pay up like all the other losers on our books...Good-day sir!! [cough]

[Alone again, Tones can’t believe what is happening to him. “What sort of living nightmare is this anyway?” he laments to himself. “There I was, ready to get free publicity as swimwear model, and the total redeeming of my enormous mortgage and I said, “No” to both. What’s wrong with me?” At this, Macca reappears, this time with Tony Windsor, who wants to see Tones urgently. Again, Macca absents himself into his adjoining office.]

Tony W: Now look here, Tones...this malarkey of yours is just going to have to stop...With your present carry-on, there’s absolutely no way the Indos are going to back you and give you a free pass into the Lodge...We need to get down to brass tacks here...Are you going to continue repeating all those idiotic three-word slogans...and keep up this denialist global warming mumbo-jumbo...and continue to hint you might un-cremate WorkChoices...and keep saying, “bullshit” all the time...and talk endlessly on that silly boatphone...and condone the labelling of Julia Gillard as a “back alley bitch”, “a Gaddafi look-alike”, and a “Ju-Liar”...and walk out of press conferences...and say that New Zealanders aren’t foreigners, for flip’s sake!!!

[Tones can’t believe his luck. “If this dopey computer is going to be consistent, it will say, “No” to all of these and Tony Windsor will be placated enough to get his mates to join my team. Bingo!!!” Macca, however, has heard everything, and types on his computer. Tones looks at his screen and a loud despairing scream emits from the very bowels of his being.]

Tones: The f**king computer says Yes!!!!!!!

Tony W: Well, that’s it, looks like the Lodge is a lost cause for you mate – it’s been nice knowing ya...[cough]

[Tones holds his head in his hands, wondering what the hell he is going to do now. After a while, he lifts his gaze to his computer screen.]

Screen: And you thought Julia Gillard was full of Machiavellian bastardry? Mate, she’s not in the same league as me...Shit happens, eh? [ cough]...

Hartcherism – a new descriptor for political gymnastics

It was unusual to see a generally sensible journalist write such an astonishing article. But there it was, Peter Hartcher writing in the March 19 issue of the Sydney Morning Herald: Labor's end - that's all, folks. You may care to read it before reading this commentary.

A recent article by Annabelle Crabbe, Kevin, um, it seems, ah, we (shuffle) sort of, ah, owe you an apology in the 18 March issue of The Drum set hares running. It energized Andrew Elder, on Politically Homeless, to forensically dissect and destroy her article. You might be interested to read Elder's March 19 analytic piece: Sorry for what?  

Hartcher’s article deserves similar analysis.

At first I thought that the title, Labor's end - that's all, folks, was that of some sub-editor seeking to attract attention, but the first paragraph left no doubt that this was exactly what Hartcher was saying: “The party's looming death as a stand-alone political entity is the biggest story in contemporary Australian politics.” Later he says: “The Prime Minister is like someone under a death sentence, carrying on breezily as if everything is normal. Let's be realistic. As things stand, Labor cannot hope to govern in its own right any more.” He ends by saying: “…even if she can win passage of a carbon tax through the Parliament, it will not be enough to save her, and Labor, from oblivion.” No ifs or buts, Labor and Gillard are finished – ‘that’s all folks’. In fact it’s worse than ‘finished’, it’s ‘oblivion’ – ‘the state of being forgotten; destruction or extinction’. Kaput!

This is Hartcher’s opinion, derived from the facts, but opinion nevertheless. Journalists are adept at slipping in opinion so that it appears almost as a fact.

Why would a usually balanced journalist writing for the moderate Fairfax press declare Labor and Gillard headed for oblivion years out from the next election? What on earth got his dander up? It looks as if it might have been Julia Gillard’s brief farewell comment, which Hartcher labeled ‘glowing’, about Karl Bitar: “The Prime Minister thanked Karl Bitar for his efforts that ‘helped us be re-elected in 2010 allowing us to deliver our plans to make Australia a stronger and fairer society’.” Hartcher goes on: “In just 20 words, Gillard said so much, and so much wrong.” What was wrong? Why is Hartcher pinning his story so strongly on a Gillard statement that most would deem innocuous?

Well Hartcher disputes the word ‘re-elected’: “The first glaring problem with this statement is Gillard's assertion that Labor had been ‘re-elected’. It was not.” He insists: “Labor did not win the election. It failed to win a majority of the seats in the House of Representatives. It was unable to form government in its own right.” So Julia better get her words right or Hartcher will jump on her with both feet. It could be argued that Hartcher is technically correct, but why such angst over a word? All members of the House were elected, but no party could form government without support from the independents, which Gillard managed eventually to achieve, so one could argue that since her supporters too were elected, her Government was ‘re-elected’. But why anyone would want to get into such an angry semantic argument begs the question: ‘What is it meant to achieve?’ Maybe Hartcher felt better getting this off his indignant chest.

But that was not all he had to criticize in Gillard’s twenty words: “The second problem with Gillard's statement is her claim that Labor is delivering ‘our plans’. The biggest item on the government's agenda is a carbon tax. This was not ‘our plan’. It was the plan of the Greens and the independents.” So what are you saying Peter? That Labor has become a puppet of them? Yes that is it: “…the Gillard government is a vessel for delivering the ambitions of others.” One can reasonably assume that he disapproves of such an arrangement, despite it being the only one available, other than doing nothing. Again opinion has been subtly slipped in among the facts.

Hartcher then goes on to describe Labor’s ‘state of denial’, and insists that “As things stand, Labor cannot hope to govern in its own right any more.” He ‘backs’ this up with an account of the election stats, and goes on to assert that: “Under her slogan of ‘moving forward’, Gillard is taking Labor backwards at a dizzying clip.” Again we have a Hartcher opinion, but no evidence is advanced. I suppose we are expected simply to swallow this, despite many of us believing just the opposite.

Then repeating his ‘Labor is finished’ opinion he adds a curious caveat: “Unless, of course, it can engineer an extraordinary resurgence”, only to talk in the very next sentence of Labor’s 'looming death’. So what is it Peter? Is Labor’s death, oblivion, as dead a cert as you have said all through your article, or are you hedging your bets, so that you can write later about Labor’s ‘extraordinary resurgence’. This political gymnastics is dizzying for we consumers.

Hartcher then rehashes the ‘greatest moral and economic challenge of our time’ story, talks about a ‘quick and dirty deal with the multinationals on the mining tax’ (more Hartcher opinion), berates the ‘Timor solution’ and castigates PM Gillard on “…a total abandonment of serious action on climate change with her ’citizens' assembly’.” – a curious statement in the light of the feverish action now extant on climate change, a carbon tax and an ETS. Where have you been Peter?

He talks of the two pillars on which Labor’s vote depends: the working class vote and the progressive vote, and goes on to insist: “Labor self-destructed as the party of the progressive vote”, backing this assertion with the increase in the vote for the Greens. He sees this flight to the Greens as being established and that Labor’s task is to regain the progressive vote, but dismisses that possibility because the ‘Right’ in Labor is not interested and the recent polls show this is not working. Maybe so, but isn’t it a little early to be casting the destiny of Labor on the result of polls in the first six months of its second term. Has he forgotten Coalition polls in the early years of the Howard Government? I wonder what he thinks of the latest Newspoll? Why is he so quick to judgement? Is he seeking the status of a prophet? That’s pretty dangerous for one’s reputation so early in the piece. Still that’s his right.

He summarizes his position with: “Gillard Labor seems to have got no political credit whatsoever for embracing the tough task of championing a carbon tax. Rather, the party seems stuck in the worst of all possible worlds. It's under ferocious attack from Abbott and the ‘people's revolt’ on the right. Yet it's winning no new support from the green left.” Note the words: “no political credit whatsoever”; no ifs or buts, and still more Hartcher opinion. Elsewhere in his piece he talks about Labor’s "total abandonment of serious action on climate change". How does this line up with his words: "...embracing the tough task of championing a carbon tax." And what of Abbott’s 'people’s revolt' – has he not seen the numbers ‘revolting’, or should it be ‘revolting numbers’?

He goes on to PM Gillard’s Don Dunstan speech and says that Gillard took: “…the extraordinary step of denouncing the Greens”. Curious, because I didn’t hear her ‘denouncing’ the Greens; it was the Coalition she denounced. Hartcher actually quotes what she said: “The Greens are not a party of government and have no tradition of striking the balance required to deliver major reform." Hardly a denouncement, even if one throws in Gillard’s word: ‘extreme’.

Then he re-asserts: “…Labor has yet to squarely confront the fact that it is on track to bring the two-party system to an end as Australia witnesses the rise of a three-party system.” Well that’s consistent with his earlier statements, even if contestable.

Then towards the end we see more gymnastics: “…if Gillard is carrying on in a blithe state of denial, as if she were not under a political death sentence, then Abbott is becoming the cartoon villain of Australian politics.” That’s the first mention of an alternative to the ‘doomed’ Labor party, the one headed for ‘oblivion’. As one read the piece it would not have been surprising if Hartcher had pointed to the Coalition as the alternative. But instead he gets into Tony Abbott: “Abbott is a bit like Yosemite Sam. Noisy, angry, quick to reach for his six-shooter, full of bluster and threats, he is terrific with the threatening theatrics. But he never actually manages to get his hands on his prey. Remember the flood levy, the end of modern Australia as we know it? Remember Abbott's angry fulminations? The levy was ‘the opposite of mateship’. It would impose an unconscionable burden on the hard-scrabble families of Australia. The moment the flood levy passed through the House of Representatives, Abbott fell silent on it. Now he's busy ranting and fuming about the next great danger. The theatrical bluster conceals the hard fact that 72 bills have been voted through the House of Representatives since the election. How many has Abbott successfully opposed? Zero. If Yosemite Tony can't stop the carbon tax, his one-trick oppositionism will be terminally exposed as a failure.”

Goodness me, so Abbott is no good either! Where does that leave us? Labor doomed and Abbott an ineffective ‘Yosemite Sam’. It seems Australia is doomed.

But in case you somehow missed his central point, he concludes: “But for Gillard, the task is harder. Because even if she can win passage of a carbon tax through the Parliament, it will not be enough to save her, and Labor, from oblivion.” So gloom compounds gloom – no matter what Labor does, no matter what PM Gillard does, she and Labor are doomed, headed for ultimate oblivion.

So what do you make of Hartcher’s gymnastics? He insists over and again Labor is finished, but gives himself an out: unless of course she ‘can engineer an extraordinary resurgence’. He then looks at Tony Abbott and gives him the flick, and he doesn’t seem overly enamored with the Greens. So how are we to be governed? By a doomed party, lead by a PM under a ‘death sentence’, or by Yosemite Sam? It’s an exercise in nihilism the like of which I have not seen.

So I ask: ‘Why does Hartcher seem to be so angry? Why did he write the piece at all? What was it expected to achieve except perhaps giving him the Nostradamus touch? Why did his editors think it worth publishing? Was it the ‘shock value’ of the piece? Why does Hartcher cavort like a gymnast, from the Roman rings to the pommel horse to a floor display to horse vaulting?

After reading ‘Labor's end - that's all, folks’ several times, I still came away dizzy with Hartcher’s gymnastic moves, but none the wiser about what the future holds for Australian politics – perhaps he’ll tell us in his next piece.

But I did feel that a new term for political gymnastics might be coined – Hartcherism.

What do you think?

Is the Liberal Party guilty of ‘race baiting’?

On the last day of the most recent session of federal parliament, Julia Gillard accused the Opposition of 'Race Baiting'.

Now, the immediate response from the media, predictably, was, 'How could she say that?' Tony Abbott, just as predictably, sidled up the next day to whatever sympathetic media outlet would have him on, and condemned, with a straight face to camera, the PM for her 'baseless slur'. As well as the previous day in parliament launching one of his entirely predictable ‘Motions to Suspend Standing Orders to Censure the Prime Minister’, going to the outrage he felt about her accusation.

So, I thought, rather than just take his word for it, I'd go in search of the proof for the Prime Minister's assertion and its validity, one way or the other.

First, let's start with a definition:
Race Baiting: Strictly speaking, Race Baiting ‘is the act of using racially derisive language, actions, or other forms of communication in order to anger or intimidate or coerce a person or group of people.’

As this definition refers to defiling a particular group of people in a society based upon their race, e.g. Chinese, Black or White, then coming to a conclusion about whether the Coalition has been 'Race Baiting' with respect to the Muslims in our society, or those attempting to seek Asylum here, or Muslims in the world in general as part of some concerted Conservative attack on them, then, I guess you have to say that Tony Abbott was right and Julia Gillard was wrong. The Coalition is not guilty of 'Race Baiting'. The Muslims are not ‘a race of people’.

However, and this is where I think the PM was right, and probably where she was coming from, the term 'race' in this context can be construed very broadly to include the social constructs which define race or racial difference as ethnic, religious, gender and economic differences. This broader definition covers the vilification of a religious diaspora such as the Muslims. It's not strictly correct, as you can deduce for yourselves, but it's understandable how vilification and the term 'Race Baiting' have become co-mingled.

Which brings me to the point then of what exactly is it that the Coalition ARE guilty of, if not 'Race Baiting', as it's obvious to Blind Freddy and his dog that they are guilty of some sort of generalised and organised slur against those 'invaders' of our shores via the haphazard mode of the leaky Slow Asylum Seeker Boat to Australia. Who have in common with the 'Terrorists' (just don't mention the White Supremacist ones), the fact that, in the main, they are Muslim.

I think where a lot of people are getting confused with what is going on here and elsewhere with respect to Muslim 'infiltration' and 'Race Baiting' is that it bears a great many eerie similarities to past eras of Australian and World history: the 'White Australia Policy' here, and the 'Jim Crow' era of race hate and vilification of African Americans in the USA. Unlike, in the John Lennon song, where 'Woman is the Nigger of the World', the tide has turned against Muslims such that, 'Muslims are the Nigger of the World' now. Any sort of mealy-mouthed equivalency from the likes of Cory Bernardi wherein he trys to paper over his overt anti-Muslim remarks, by saying he just meant anti-radical Islam, is just playing a semantic game. He, and many others in the Coalition mean to encourage an attitudinal bias against Muslim members of our community, and those seeking to become part of it as Asylum Seekers. In general, they are doing it knowingly and deliberately.

To get an idea about how far down the Islamophobia rabbit hole we have gone, because I think in the final analysis, without having to be specific about it, that was what Julia Gillard was implying that the Coalition were guilty of, I thought I'd therefore take a trip into this netherworld in Australia that the Coalition are playing to with their dog whistles and pick off the scab that covers what is festering underneath.

Surprisingly, or unsurprisingly, I haven't quite decided which of this religious bigotry is being nurtured and nourished by...the Christian faithful. That is, the religious!

First, let's start with a Christian crew called the 'SaltShakers'. 'Christian ethics in action', so they say. Go to their website.  

What you get instead from these self-aggrandising 'Christian ethicists', is flat-out homophobia, Islamophobia, Climate Change Scepticism, sanctimony about the Labor Party's 'Lies' and 'Broken Promises' (funny how they never highlight the Coalition and self-proclaimed sinner, Tony Abbott's form in this area though), and, humbug when it comes to their 'pro-active' discrimination as regards their 'right' to choose who works for them in any of their organisations, schools or business enterprises. Of course it goes without saying that these intolerant bigots dressed up as happy families and ethical individuals are rabidly anti same sex marriage, anti-pharmaceutical contraception and anti-abortion. In short, people who wish to impose their 'values' on you and me just as much as the groups whom they vilify. Also, if you have a look at the website, check out the left-hand side of the home page. Want to know where all the organised e-mail campaigns to our Members of Parliament are coming from? Wonder no longer.

That's the 'Shiny Happy People' side of the seamy underbelly of our society that Julia Gillard says the Coalition are dog-whistling to with their mischaracterization of the effect Muslims are having on Australia.

Further down the rabbit hole we have 'The Q Society', whose motto, in the good old style of the Culture Warrior demographic of unbending Coalition support is, 'Upholding Australian Values' 

These people have realised that a reasonable-looking spokesperson is the key to disarming the sceptical and winning over a lot of people who otherwise may have been antagonistic to your message than if you instead put out as your media talent someone who looks like Adolf in a skirt or a suit. And here she is, the entirely anodyne and harmless looking Ms Vickie Janson, a migrant herself (!) from New Zealand. Now, if you read through this candidate's statement from the recent Victorian State Election, where the perennial candidate for the Christian Democrat Party laid out her platform you can see that she has deliberately sought to go down the road of equating even moderate Muslims with terrorist groups such as Hizb Ut Tahrir:  

Also, you can see how she has honed in on Australia's most eloquent and reasonable spokesman for Muslims in Australia, Waleed Aly, as her target for attack. Smart because, if she can delegitimize this most rational Muslim's credibility in the eyes of the public, then it will be that much easier therefore to negatively characterise all others in the Muslim diaspora in Australia, save those who meekly agree to subsume themselves and their religious beliefs and conform to a broadly Judeo-Christian set of 'values'. Which Ms Janson and her Christian Democratic godfathers, such as Fred Nile, have deemed to be appropriate for modern-day Australia. And I use the term 'modern' advisedly because the world that the Vickie Janson's, the Fred Nile's, the Cory Bernardi's et. al. want to plunge us back into is that of a strictly patriarchal, conformist, Christian conservative paradigm, where women know their place is behind the ironing board wrangling the creases out of Tony Abbott's crisp, whiter than white shirts, baking Pumpkin Scones to Flo BJP's recipe for Fred, and pumping out Stepford babies for Cory. Of course, now that the 'Feminism' genie is out of the bottle, and in line with the acknowledgement, post-Thatcher, that some women should be allowed out of the kitchen to lead (as long as they go home to cook tea and perform their 'conjugal duties', I suppose), we have started to see Conservative women take from feminism what they want and bin the rest. Thus we have Vickie Janson, Sarah Palin, and an increasing number of others, proudly wearing their Conservative Christian credentials on their sleeve, but in an 'empowered' way, a la Feminism, however seeking again to impose, along with their Conservative Christian brothers, the same old straitjacket and mindsets, with minor modifications merely for decorative and distraction purposes.

Still further down the rabbit hole, and beyond the bright and breezy spokes-models for the anti-Moslem push, when you start to get down among the weeds of their intolerance and belief in a Judeo-Christian Supremacy (which appears to have replaced that nasty 'White' sort of Supremacy as they have co-opted a wider demographic of different skin colour but essential belief in those J-C 'values'), you then begin to see the seamy side of it all.

Larry Stillman, in a very cogent piece for New Matilda, called 'The Rise of Organised Intolerance', points out that the coalescing of this new grouping of people who are organising the ramping up of Muslim Intolerance runs through conservative sections of the Jewish community, the Q Society, the Salt Shakers, and through a myriad of other groups, some of them nominally 'Left'( though as I have always said, the Far Left and the Far Right have a lot in common and are closer bedfellows than they would like to admit), such as those who support the rights of Indigenous West Papuans to independence from Indonesia, a Muslim State, of course.

A lot of the Anti-Muslim emotions are stoked at this website.

And guess what? There's a 'Say No to Burqas!' letter you can sign there. I'm sure Senator Bernardi is well chuffed about that.

Which only goes to prove my point, really. No, the Coalition are not guilty of 'Race Baiting', specifically, as accused by the PM, or, only 'yes' in the broad sense, as I outlined earlier. However, yes, the Coalition are as guilty as sin of stoking religious intolerance and feeding the beast whose maw is growing bigger by the day on the internet.

Are they knowingly complicit in this? Only they know that.

All I know is that President Obama put up the correct signpost in this area when he said the other day, “Despite all our differences, culture, religion, language; ultimately Humankind is one.”

What do you think? Do you think we should be rearing up against the Muslims? Learning to live with them, and they with us? How?

One thing there is no question about, the Coalition stand condemned. They ARE guilty, looking at the 'Field Evidence', as Tony Abbott has taken to parroting in the style of John Howard, of stoking the fires of Religious Intolerance. And I didn't even get around to mentioning Scott Morrison!