What Julia Gillard DOES stand for

Are you as tired as I am of the words: ‘What does Julia Gillard stand for?’ There seems an endless stream of journalists, bloggers, and of course members of the Opposition who repeat this question over and again, until it sounds like a mantra chanted mindlessly. What does it actually mean? Does it mean the same thing to all who utter the words?

Like so many other phrases, such as ‘moral compass’, ‘What does X stand for?’ means different things to different people. To some it means principles, to some it means moral positions, to some it means ‘vision’, to some 'narrative', to others specific policies. And when critics ask the question they usually mean that X doesn’t stand for something they value, or has changed his/her position. Of course there are some who assert that Julia Gillard does not stand for anything at all. That extreme view, apart from being implausible, portrays an intense dislike of her rather that stating a real proposition. Even crooks and rogues stand for something.

Yet we have experienced journalists such as Bernard Keane writing in Crikey about Julia Gillard: “She has given Australians too many conflicting signals about her vision and political persona; in the absence of a clear understanding of just who she is and what she stands for, all voters really know about her is that she knifed Kevin Rudd to get the top job and the government is run by spinmasters and focus groups.” Has Bernard not been listening to her, or are the things she is saying not what he wants to hear, or does he hear different things from what others hear, or is he aligning himself with most other journalists in virtually writing her off as a competent PM lest he be the odd man out? Maybe even he doesn’t know.

So here is what I understand Julia Gillard to stand for. Check how well my views coincide with your own.

Of all her utterances, the one that emerges over and again is that she stands for opportunity - opportunity for all to achieve.

She wants everyone to have the opportunity for the best education that is possible given the individual’s capacity. She has said this countless times, as many times as she has stated her ‘passion’ for education, a portfolio which she relished when Kevin Rudd was PM, and still does. How many times have we seen her delighting in being in a school setting; how many times have we heard her talking with school children urging them to get the best education they can?

She has initiated a raft of benefits for school children and their parents and for students living in regional areas. She has increased funding to schools, universities, and TAFEs, established Trade Training Centres in high schools, has initiated a national school curriculum and national standards via NAPLAN, and the MySchool website, which has been a great success. These are even more educational things she stands for.

She stands for an excellent education for all. No one should doubt that.

Next she stands for enabling everyone capable of work to have the opportunity to have a satisfying job that pays well enough to permit comfortable living. She has repeated this so many times that it has clearly annoyed some. Otherwise why would Keane write: “She elaborated this into an obligation to make the most of educational opportunities, by rising early and working hard, preferably via some form of manual labour — famously contrasting the brickie and the socialite in a speech that could have been condensed into the famous graffiti “Work. Consume. Be Silent”. She has often extolled the dignity of work, and her wish that all would enjoy that dignity, but I don’t recall her extolling manual work over other work. Keane sees it differently and gratuitously offers a slogan that has never escaped her lips.

Moreover, she has repeatedly stated her intent to move as many as she can from welfare dependency to meaningful work. That is something else she stands for. She is distressed by families in which no one has ever worked and wants them to experience the joy of working and achieving. Even with unemployment now below 5%, she wants even more in work. That is what she stands for.

She stands for equitable working conditions for all who are employed. Didn’t she fight tooth and nail for this as Minister for Employment and Workplace Relations in the Rudd Government? Wasn’t she the one most responsible for getting rid of WorkChoices and installing Fair Work Australia? Has she not been an advocate for fair working conditions since her time at Slater and Gordon? Is this not something for which she stands?

PM Gillard stands for a strong economy that provides jobs for all who can work. She stands for a prosperous nation. How could anyone doubt this after all the Rudd/Gillard Governments have done to secure our economy through the GFC and beyond? Australia has come through this crisis better than any other comparable country. Take a look at Peter Martin’s graph at his website

She was part of the core group that steered us through, with an immediate cash stimulus to support retail trade, a much maligned HIP which nevertheless insulated the ceilings of a million homes, a highly successful infrastructure initiative, the BER, which has given schools all over the nation buildings they needed to bring them up to date. That is what she stood for and still does.

Julia Gillard stands for bringing the budget back to surplus by 2012/13, an aim to which she has doggedly stuck despite some economists insisting that this was unnecessary.

She stands for efficiently managing the workforce for the future within the so-called ‘patchwork economy’. Along with others in the core group she has presided over the saving of over 200,000 jobs during the GFC, creating over 300,000 in the last term of government and has plans for a further half a million in the current term. The Rudd/Gillard Governments have created 235,000 new training places, and plans to increase that to 700,000 by 2012. That is what she stands for.

She stands for a skilled immigration program, with plans to enlist over 100,000 to fill gaps in employment, especially in the mining sector.

She also stands for improving social welfare for those who need it – increases to pension payments, a Paid Maternity Leave plan now in place, better superannuation and tax cuts for lower income earners.

She believes in the reality of anthropogenic global warming and stands for action on climate change. She has done so for years. She believes that a market-based trading system that places a price on carbon is the most cost-effective way of doing this, and most economists agree. In response to Tony Abbott’s attack on what he described as a carbon tax, she said before the election that there would be no tax on carbon by a government she led, and I believe she meant it. As it turned out she could not lead a government without the support of the Greens and Independents, and their support necessitated the introduction of a price on carbon as a preliminary to instituting an ETS. She must wish she had used some other form of words such as ‘my strong preference is an ETS, but that means putting a price on carbon pollution’. Her categorical statement, which she contends was not meant to mislead, left her open to being beaten around the head endlessly by Tony Abbott, the Coalition and the media, which repeats that unfortunate statement endlessly. Further it has allowed shock jocks like Alan Jones to coin ‘Ju-liar’, and for Tony Abbott to repeatedly call her a liar and insist that she cannot be trusted. It has allowed him to seriously erode public confidence in her. While she no doubt regrets that response to a reporter’s question, the reporter will have recorded that amongst his/her best gotchas.

But whatever the dynamics, she stands for strong action to counter global warming and always has. Despite poor polls that she agrees are related to the ‘carbon tax’ debate, she is determined to bring one in and the comments of those on the parliamentary group on climate change are sounding as if that will be achieved.

She stands for the introduction of a Minerals Recource Rent Tax to return to the Australian people a fair return for the minerals they own. It may not net as much as the Greens want and will be more that the miners wish to pay, but she stands for an outcome that will be equitable to the stakeholders, and is determined to bring it in.

She stands for infrastructure development, and to that end money has been allocated to ports, railways, highways and renewable energy. and the biggest infrastructure development af all – the NBN, which is progressing well. This is something else she stands for.

PM Gillard stands for reform of the health sector. The two Labor Governments have taken many steps in that direction, and are waiting for some NLP states to come on board. A greater federal contribution to health funding, case-mix funding, and local control of hospital expenditure are features of the new arrangement. Over 1000 new nurse training places have been created and 1300 new places for doctors. Hospital funding has been increased by 50%, and to put more emphasis on primary care, GP Super Clinics have been or are being built where communities want and need them to take pressure off hospital emergency departments. Cancer centres have been built, and money has been allocated to mental health and research. Plain packaging of cigarettes has been introduced and PM Gillard is determined that it will be legislated. These are the health initiatives she stands for.

In asylum seeker policy she stands for, is one of breaking the people smuggler business model by returning those arriving by boat to a regional processing centre and taking instead those who have already been assessed as refugees. The former has been her consistent aim since becoming PM. The concept of such a centre has the endorsement of the ‘Bali Conference’ of regional representatives. It is therefore not just Australia that embraces this idea. Initially East Timor was considered as a regional processing centre but that seemingly fell through because the East Timor Government was apprehensive about housing asylum seekers in conditions superior to that enjoyed by its own citizens. Manus Island was considered but that is in abeyance because of lack of enthusiasm in PNG. Now an arrangement is being negotiated with Malaysia whereby for every one person arriving by boat moved to Malaysia five authenticated refugees would be taken by Australia, with safeguards in place to protect new arrivals and ensure their dignity and safety.

Breaking the business model of people smugglers by way of a regional processing centre is what Julia Gillard stands for. Some disagree vigorously with the concept of sending people offshore for processing and label PM Gillard’s move to do this as inhumane and unprincipled, which of course it appears to be to those with an open-armed approach. On the other hand taking all comers would be just as vigorously criticized by those who do not want asylum seekers here at all. If there was bipartisan agreement to take all asylum seekers who arrive, as was the case during the Fraser years with the Vietnamese boat arrivals, acrimonious partisan debate would be absent and the asylum issue would not be a political one. Julia Gillard knows that such an open-armed approach now would be political suicide and lead to loss of government and a return to the Coalition’s Nauru Island and TPV solution, which resulted in long periods of detention, although most detainees ended up in Australia.

So no matter how strongly some may disagree with her approach, it is consistent with what she has stated for some time, with what she stands for. While initially she may have favoured the ‘softer’ approach of the Rudd Government, the regular boat arrivals which have occurred in recent years, which have been used by the Coalition to beat the Government around the head, she is forced by circumstance to change her approach or suffer the electoral consequences. Some therefore label her as inconsistent, wishy washy, poll driven, unprincipled, uncaring, opportunistic and giving conflicting messages on the asylum seeker issue. Such accusations are based on politicians never changing their minds, not adapting to changing circumstances, which is a silly notion. As the world changes, so must politicians adapt and change.

I have given sufficient examples of what Julia Gillard stands for; there are many, many others. The ALP website documents them. Look at the achievements to date

In my view the strident call for her to show what she stands for is simply claptrap perpetrated by those who dislike her for whatever reason and want to see her gone, or by those who simply don’t think about what they mean when the say “What does Julia Gillard stand for?” It is so easy for those words to flow thoughtlessly off the tongue as did “She has lost her moral compass”. Because she is standing for something others may disagree with does not mean that she is wrong, or unprincipled. What a shame it is that we allow our own personal preferences and feelings to be used as the standard against which others, including our PM ought to be judged. Why do we have to be so uncharitable, so intolerant of others’ views, preferences, principles and vision? Why are so many journalists so certain of the rightness of their position that they condemn out of hand and with pejorative language the things our PM stands for? The old saying ‘Judge not lest you be judged’ seems not to occur to our self-opinionated journalists.

Julia Gillard stands steadfastly for many fine things. She has a strong vision of what this nation can become, and the physical and emotional strength and determination to achieve it. She is not without fault, not without error, but what she presents, far from warranting all the nastiness and vitriol that is heaped upon her by the Coalition and the media every day, and now the public through poor polling, deserves our admiration and support. She stands for making Australian a still greater nation.

What do you think?

A tribute to Greg Jericho

Knowing how much visitors to The Political Sword have appreciated the writings of Greg Jericho on Grog’s Gamut, this short piece is to thank you Greg for giving us such delight for so long.

Your contribution to political discourse has been outstanding. We have enjoyed your forensic dissection of parliamentary procedures, particularly Question Time. You have the uncanny knack of finding and reproducing the astonishing ‘dialogue’ of QT. Over and again you have captured the ludicrous and the farcical, the nonsensical and the preposterous, the foolish and the stupid, the brilliant and the banal, the stunts and the bizarre humour. Those who enjoy QT marvel at your perspicacity and incisive analysis.

There have been times when you have used graphs and visuals to starkly illustrate your points, often about technical or financial matters. Your capacity to find these data and analyse them so quickly fills us with admiration.

No matter what your subject, you address it with accuracy and care, such that puts many professionals to shame. We prefer to read what you write to most of what appears in the MSM, beset as the media so often is with inaccuracies, misinformation, incomplete information, distorted analysis, groupthink, journalists talking to journalists, partisan agenda-driven rhetoric, and the latter day curse of journalism: ‘opinion as news’.

We know journalists read what you say and if one can judge from the reaction of journalists at The Australian, one of whom thought he had a scoop when he ‘outed’ you as a public servant working in Canberra, you seemingly get up their noses. They seem affronted that a part time blogger, especially a Canberra public servant, could more than match them at their own game. They must have fumed at you being anointed political blogger of the year. You are now widely regarded as one of the most astute political commentators in Canberra.

Those of us who write for the Fifth Estate know how time consuming it is. We have admired your willingness and capacity to write your blog night after night after work, and understand the stress and fatigue that induces.

We were interested to read that you are now preparing to write a book, and that to do that you are taking part-time work. We appreciate that you will not be able to keep up the frenetic schedule of blogging while you do this. We know your output will be reduced at Grog’s Gamut, but we shall look forward to reading what you have time to write there and of course your book when it arrives.

Thank you for all you have contributed to political discourse for so long. We wish you every success in your next adventure.

Extreme Makeover Takeover

Tony Abbott reckons questions about his leadership and (lack of) policies could come thick and fast any day now, so he has bummed the money off Lindsay Fox to take out a lease on the ramshackle Nauru asylum-seeker centre. Being in such a state of disrepair, it makes the house that jack built look like the Taj Mahal, and so he has got it for a song. In future, any time the heat is on, he plans to high-tail it up there for a bit of respite.

So, the other day he got word that he was going to be tackled on the issue of whether he was going to call for a plebiscite on cutting government services if he were to gain power and implement his Direct Action policy on reducing the emission of greenhouse gases. Understandably, Tones jumps in Lindsay’s jet and heads off for a bit of R&R on Nauru.

Since his last visit, however, the joint is in an even worse state. There are holes in the roof, windows are missing, and it looks worse than Rome did after the Barbarians left their calling card. Even still, Tones finds a relatively tidy spot in a corner of a dorm, rolls out his swag, and settles down for a siesta after the long flight.

However, he has no sooner drifted off into a light slumber when he is suddenly woken by some clown in the yard outside bellowing at him through what sounds like a megaphone.

Voice: Tony! Tony Abbott! Come on out! This is your lucky day!

[To say that Tones is peeved at being aroused from his slumber, would be an understatement. He grabs one of the many pieces of broken ceiling plaster that litter the floor, intending to hurl it at the idiot who dared to wake him. However, upon peering out the glassless window, in order to get sufficient bearings to accurately launch his missile, Tones recognises immediately who is on the megaphone. It is none other than those two superstars of the renovation business, Julia “The Joiner” Gillard, and Wayne “Sawdust” Swan!

[Tones can’t believe his luck. Those two world-famous put-it-righters, Jooles and Swannie, are outside and ready to give his place a makeover and, more importantly, he won’t have to fork out a cent! He runs outside and greets the two life-savers, jumping up and down on the spot for joy. Then, as is her trademark, Jooles talks to whoever she is addressing on her megaphone.]

Jooles (bellowing): Right, Tones...it looks like you have provided us with the biggest challenge in any of our previous series...

[Jooles’ opening remarks are cut off abruptly by Tones who, even with his hands over his ears, is nearly deafened by Jooles’ megaphonery.]

Tones: STOP THE MEGAPHONES!!!! Pheeeww! That’s better...now, Jooles, when can you and Swannie start the renovations? I’ll be PM soon and I want to invite other world leaders, like Sarah Palin, Rupert Murdoch, and Niccolo Machiavelli over here to spend some time at my hacienda.

[Jooles is just about to lift her megaphone to answer Tones. However, as he delivers one of his infamous head-nodding death stares, she has second thoughts.]

Jooles: Oh, no problems, Tones...In fact, why don’t you go for a little leisurely bike-ride a few times around the island and, by the time you’re finished, we’ll have everything ship-shape for you, ready for the place to receive all your high-flying guests...heh...heh...

[Tones doesn’t need any further invitations. He jumps on his bike and heads off down the track that circles the island. Meanwhile, Jooles and Swannie unload the chisels, planes, borers and saws from the back of Kev’s old ute, and crank up the jig saws and nailguns, and get to work. In a while, and true to their word, they welcome Tones back from his ride to a sight that brings tears of joy to his eyes. Jooles and Swannie lead him on a tour of what looks to him like a brand-new centre.]

Tones: Wow!!!! This looks great, guys...you have certainly done a terrific job...And I just love the brightness of the place – the paint is so clean and white – did you get it locally?

Swannie: Erm...Yes, my word, Tones! In fact, the raw material for the paint is actually very common on the island...hee...hee...

[Just at that moment, Tones, who is standing under a particularly wet section of the newly-painted ceiling, experiences, on the top of his head, a drop of ‘paint’. Swannie rushes over to wipe the offending deposit off Tones’ noggin with his handkerchief.]

Swannie: Oh my gosh, Tones...I’m ever so sorry...here, let me clean you up...

Tones (stoically): Nah, don’t worry about it, Swannie...

Swannie: Yeah, that’s the spirit, Tones – as you say, “birdshit happens”...heh...heh...

Tones: But yeah, Swannie, I’m really impressed by the job you’ve done...So, just tell me what other innovations you’ve included...I can’t wait to get on the boatphone and tell Julie and Scott and the rest of the gang...

Swannie: Righto...erm...well, as you can see, we’ve put a new TV in every room...

[Tones is delighted. Once the Indos come to their senses, he’ll be able to see himself on the ABC every night, with Chris Uhlmann indulgently intoning, “the Government says...” However, Tones is disturbed from his reverie by the sight of some device or other plonked on top of each TV.]

Tones: Erm...Swannie...what’s that contraption on top of the TV’s, mate?

Swannie: Oh, they’re just set-top boxes, Tones – they’re the latest in digital technology, y’know...

[Tones is starting not to like the sound of this. However, Swannie continues with his overview of the renovations.]

Swannie: And as I was saying, Tones, we’ve included computer connection points in each room...

Tones: Oh very swish, Swannie! Copper, I hope?

Swannie: No way, Tones! You’re obviously no tech-head when it comes to these matters...No, only the best – fibre optic cables, exactly according to NBN (“Nauruan Best-practices Network”) specifications...

[Tones is becoming increasingly uneasy and Swannie wants to milk this opportunity for all its worth – he’s not called Schadenfreude Swannie for nothing!]

Swannie: And all the roof cavities are chockers with pink batts to keep the heat out and cut down on the air-conditioning bills...And we’ve brought the Building the Education Revolution to these shores by including a brand new classroom for visiting school excursions...

[Jooles, tag-team style, carries on the litany.]

Jooles: And we’ve dug a well out the back, so that Joe Hockey will feel at home with a great new big black hole nearby...And, we’ve put lots of copies of the Productivity Commission’s reports in the dunnies for Barnaby to use as toilet paper...Oh, and we’ve put the local guano producers on GullChoices instead of WorkChoices, which has made them a lot chirpier...heh...heh...and...

[At this stage of Jooles’ and Swannie’s report, Tones is so ready to erupt, he would make the recent Chilean volcano look like a sparrow fart.]


[Angrily, Tones pulls out the boatphone, punches in a few numbers and lets it ring. However, it soon seems that his addressee is unavailable. He leaves a message on his voice-mail.]

Tones (very abruptly): Malcolm! This is Tony! I want you to get yourself and your private yacht up here to Nauru as quickly as your propellers can carry you...Oh, and put on your Demolition Man gear...and bring your sledgehammer...I’ve got a job for you to do...

[Tones hangs up, and turns to Jooles.]

Tones: And you two can bugger off n’ all...I’ll soon have this place back the way it was, and it’ll be all the better for it...

Jooles: Alright, suit yourself mate...But, be warned...Malcolm mightn’t show up...In fact, we’re heading down to the Indo’s territory, where they’ve experienced some terrible floods and they want us to help them fix up their devastated buildings...I heard that Malcolm might be more interested in helping them than coming up here...So, why don’t you and your Demolition Derby mates stay permanently up here and you can live in your very own plebs’ site...Hasta la vista, baby...heh...heh...

If you are not scared about the effects of global warming, you ought to be

As if there isn’t enough to be scared about on the physical plane, and we saw even more this week from New Anthropocene covering the ‘State of the Ocean’ report that shows that the seas are dying and time frames for actions are ‘shrinking’, now we have scary economic news and the threat of social disruption as global warming progresses.

This piece draws heavily on a revealing interview by Ali Moore of Paul Gilding and Thomas Friedman on Lateline on 17 June this year. It was one of the most frightening expositions of the predicted effects of global warming that I have heard. And it wasn’t about melting glaciers or rising seas levels; it was about the economic and social changes that are predicted to follow in its wake.  You may wish to read the transcript or view the interview.

I hereby gratefully acknowledge the ABC Lateline website as the source of most of the material in this piece. Direct quotes are indicated in italics in inverted commas. The bolding is mine and my comments are placed in bold to distinguish them from the rest. Some of the text has been abbreviated as indicated by the use of the ellipsis. Ali was well prepared and having done her homework, the interview was exemplary.

Paul Gilding is an Australian and a former Executive Director of Greenpeace International. He has had a 20-year involvement with social change organizations, which he assists with business forecasting. In 1992, the World Economic Forum appointed him a Global Leader for Tomorrow at its annual meeting; in1994 he was listed by Time International in its ‘Time's Global 100 Young Leaders for the New Millennium’; and in 1993 the Prime Minister presented him with an Australia Day Award for Outstanding Achievement for services to the environment. He has recently authored The Great Disruption.

Thomas Friedman is a highly regarded American and an internationally renowned author and reporter, a columnist for the New York Times, and recipient of three Pulitzer Prizes. He is the author of five bestselling books, among them From Beirut to Jerusalem and The World Is Flat. He was a visiting lecturer at Harvard University in 2000 and 2005. He has been awarded honorary degrees by more than a dozen American and international universities. He has collaborated with Paul Gilding and admires his writing.

The credentials of those two men are impeccable. We ought to pay attention to what they say.

Ali began by asking: “If climate change is like a car trip where the scientists have given us the ultimate destination, the question is are we there yet, Paul Gilding, are we? Are we at the tipping point?”

Gilding answered: “I think we are and I think there's only time to take kind of diversionary action. It's too late not to have an accident, we're going to have the crash, the only question is how severe is the crash and what will our response be in the process of slowing down. So is it fatal or not is our question to answer still, but certainly it's too late to avoid the accident.”

Now to me that sounds pretty alarming. You hear Tony Abbott and Nick Minchin and Eric Abetz all playing down if not denying the reality of global warming and here we have a world expert saying we’ve gone beyond the ‘tipping point’ and an ‘accident’ is unavoidable.

Then Ali asks him: “This is what you call the great disruption?” to which he replies: “That's right and I think it's going to be a great disruption. I don't think it's the end of civilization or of humanity but it's certainly the end of our economy as we know it and it's the end of this idea of endless consumerism, economic growth just going on and on endlessly to the point of absurdity in terms of our lifestyles but also to the point of absurdity in terms of our expectations that the planet can support that economy any further.”

“And I think we're now seeing the numbers stack up in terms of what the consequences of that are in terms of resource rising, oil pricing, arable land and so on. And so this will translate now into an economic impact rather than just an environmental impact.

So he’s saying our consumerism, that is the world’s consumerism, can’t be sustained by the world’s economy. That’s ought to bring us up with a jolt.

Ali then asks Thomas Friedman if he agrees with Gilding and “Is economic growth as we know it dead?”

His response is: “Well I think he's absolutely right. We obviously, we've been locked on a growth path of building more and more stores to sell more and more stuff to be made in more and more Chinese factories powered by more and more coal so China could buy more and more T-bills to be re-circulated back to America to build more and more stores to sell more and more stuff powered by more and more coal so China could earn more and dollars to be re-circulated back... We've been in that loop and basically that loop is what we're seeing slowly grind to a halt here. We just can't keep it going that way.

“My friend Rob Watson, who's the founder of Green Buildings likes to say...Mother Nature, she's just chemistry, biology and physics. That's all she is. You can't talk her up you can't talk her down, you can't sweet-talk her, you can't say, Mother Nature, we've having a bad recession. Could you take a couple of years off? She's going to do whatever chemistry, biology and physics dictate…So do not mess with Mother Nature and that's exactly what we're doing.”

Friedman insists the economic churn is there for all to see, and Mother Nature will do as she pleases whatever humans purpose to do.

Ali shows she is well prepared by asking: “You talk about this loop grinding to a halt and I remember vividly in 2008, and this was when you wrote that there had been this clash of Mother Earth and Father Greed, they hit the wall at once. But back in 2008 we talked a lot about this, about how we all bought too much stuff, we were way too materialistic, we depended too much on accumulating and everyone talked about how that would come to an end. But what happened? Markets recovered, people felt more confident, they started buying more stuff again. So was it really a moment when Mother Earth and Father Greed clashed or was it really just one of the many moments that we have in the cycle that is the great economy?”

Thomas Friedman responded: “…The way I put it at the time was that it was our warning heart attack. It was Mother Nature and Father Greed basically saying you are growing in an unsustainable way. You're growing based on situational values. Do whatever the situation allows rather than on sustainable values….we can continue to grow in a way, but do it on the basis of sustainable values, values that sustain us. So I think that's really how I look at what we call the great recession.”

Remember what John Quiggin said in his book Zombie Economics: that as the recession receded economists were only too happy to revert to the same flawed economic models that got them into trouble in the first place – they had learned nothing and the zombie models they cherished threatened to come to life and get them into trouble again. Friedman urges growth on sustainable values rather than the situational values zombie models embraced.

Ali then asks: “Paul Gilding, where do you see these signs that we're grinding to a halt? Talk us through what you're seeing?”

He responds comprehensively: “Well I think one of the most dramatic ones we're seeing lately and financial commentators are starting to discuss this now is that commodity prices, which have been going through a pretty steady fall since…the turn of the last century, so for 110 years or so we've seen a consistent decline averaging about 1.5 per cent per year, 70 per cent over that time frame. And they've only really gone up during period of extreme demands like WWI, WWII...otherwise they've gone down. Those commodity prices have now gone up again during a recession and so of course what that means is that the prices are going up because demand is out stripping supply and this is not just one or two items, this is like the entire range of commodities across food, minerals and so on. So of course that's in a recession.

“What that means…if we could get the global economy really growing again, then…those prices would spike and would stop growth again and I think that's probably the biggest example we've got. And those resources, those commodities are actually coming from Mother Nature and what we're now seeing…is that now we're running right now at about 150 per cent of the sustainable capacity of the planet and we're planning to grow the economy to three or four times this size by 2050. It's just not going to happen. Not because we don't want it to, not because it wouldn't be nice or because polar bears will die, but because of physics and chemistry and biology…it's just not physically possible for that to occur.

So here’s the warning – the incessant growth that many seek will not be possible or sustainable. How are we to moderate our needs and wants to match what Mother Earth is capable of delivering?

Ali continues: “But let's look at Australia right now…and certainly we have a two-track economy but what many people see is that commodity prices are high and indeed they're driving growth, they're driving employment so those people who are employed can buy more. That gives more people jobs. It seems to be a positive cycle for Australia. It's hard to come to this point where it's all necessarily unsustainable.”

Gilding responds: “Well it's positive for Australia in the short-term because of course commodity prices going up is good for Australia but the bottom-line is that is only going to get worse globally because of course the more commodity prices go up, the inputs to our very consumerist, very material economy are no longer affordable. And so as we've always seen when oil price goes to new highs we get a recession as a result and with peak oil now coming on board as well I think we are going to see absolute fundamental limits to economic growth.

“Now of course I don't mean 1 or 2 per cent this year, next year, but the basic model which assumes that we're going to grow the economy and keep on doing so until everyone in China and India and everywhere lives like we do is just not possible. You can't have an economy that big because there isn't enough room on the planet for it… we're looking at the total global growth model here and it just no longer adds up".

So there it is again: “You can't have an economy that big because there isn't enough room on the planet for it.” That is a harsh if not immovable constraint.

Ali asks Thomas Friedman: “To what extent though … is Paul's point relying on no change? Because you wrote back in 2009 that people were already using the economic slowdown to retool and reorient their economies and… Germany and Britain and China and the US were all putting in place stimulus packages that revolved around investments in clean power… do you believe the world can come back from the brink, that people can change?”

Freidman was optimistic: “I certainly do, provided that we face up to the problem. You know Ali, my last book on this was called 'Hot, Flat and Crowded' and whenever I talk to people about that I always…hold up the book and say, well maybe you don't believe in hot, maybe you don't believe in climate change and global warming, no problem. That's between you and your beach house. But please, please believe in flat and crowded. That is the world is getting more and more flat, that more and more people can see how we live, aspire to how we live and live like we live. In my country's case, in American-sized homes, driving American-sized cars, eating American-sized Big Macs, and there's going to be more and more people. We know that. So when flat meets crowded...and more and more people who can and aspire to live like us, that only goes one way towards the kind of explosive demand on resources that Paul just discussed.”

Again Friedman sees the demand on resources as ‘exploding’ and unsustainable as people in other countries, like China and India, aspire to our way of life with all its extravagant consumerism. This is occurring no matter what is happening to the climate.

Ali says: “… look at China for example and its most recent five-year plan and the commitment there to renewable energy, the massive solar farms that we see in Portugal. Do you dismiss all that sort of thing as being just not enough?”

Gilding responds: I dismiss it not as being not enough but not being fast enough and coming too late. So it is not that it's not possible to do this differently, the trouble is we have left it so late we can't do it now fast enough to prevent a major economic crisis. So absolutely...very excited about solar power, about the incredible transformation we're going to go through and I think we're going to do that with incredible speed once we start. And I refer to this as the kind of one-degree war that I think we are going to mobilize as we do in war to stop climate change and to turn this around. However, as we have…an economy built upon the old model it's simply going to take several decades to turn that around.

“So even with the war-like mobilization and the complete transformation of the transport energy, agriculture and so on, it is going to take several decades to get there. And in the end we have to face up to the fact that the very basic idea behind our model, which is that we can have infinite growth on a finite planet, is simply not possible. So we can argue the timing and the transition points and so on but the bottom line is we can't get there and keep on doubling the economy every 10, 15 years into the future. At some point it must stop.

“And so we will see dramatic change, don't get me wrong. I'm very excited about how fast that change is going to occur and how we are going to have to think differently about consumerism and the quality of our life being defined in difference ways. And we can do that but we have to face the fact that we're not going to change until the crisis hits and once the crisis hits there's a lag in the system which means it will take some time to transform. And during that period and I think for many decades thereafter we're not going to see economic growth of any significant scale and that's going to put a grenade into the glass house in terms of our politics, in terms of our society, in terms of our assumptions about how we live our lives and what works and what doesn't work in terms of our economic system.”

Ali then said: “Well when it comes to things that are unsustainable Thomas Friedman, I mean look at America and look at the public debt - $14.3 trillion, 100 per cent of GDP. And I spoke recently to someone in the US who said that yes, people are concerned about it but then very quickly they move onto wondering what's for dinner. It's almost like out of sight out of mind. How sustainable is that sort of position in the US today and how active are your politicians at being able to not just talk about it but do something?”

Freidman replied: Well we're actually going backwards Ali. You know in the last two years of Obama's presidency, climate change actually became a four-letter word.

"We have a two party system here. One where Democrats have the right convictions about climate change but have no courage of their convictions and the Republican Party has gone completely overboard on this issue. They've actually gone to war against physics. They're actually gone to war against biology and math as well. So that's our choice right now - people who have the right ideas but are cowardly and people who have completely the wrong ideas. I mean we have a leading Republican presidential candidate…whose position is that we're going to have 5 per cent growth for the next 10 years once we elect him as president. I mean they're in cloud cuckoo land. We haven't become serious about this at all and Obama has not used his bully pulpit.

“Climate change became a four letter word under Barack Obama because it is such a hot political topic here that everyone tells him you've got to stay away from it and he's presided over I think a real erosion in American understanding of this issue.”

ALI MOORE: “So Thomas Friedman, when do you think we will know that we've got to this crisis point that Paul Gilding talks about that will lead to this extraordinary action that Paul also talks about…when do you think we'll know that we're there?

THOMAS FRIEDMAN: "Well Ali, basically what's going on right now is we're all sitting around waiting for the perfect storm and the perfect storm is a storm that is big enough to finally end this debate but not so big to end the world…That's basically what we're sitting around waiting for. And so politicians aren't actually going to take the action we need. They're going to wait for the market and Mother Nature to act, okay and force us to do this.' 

Ali asks: "Paul Gilding, is that right?" 

He replies: “Yeah, totally right. And it won't be just environmental, it'll be economic as well and therefore it's social.

"So as oil prices go up therefore food prices go up; because food prices goes up instability goes up… And so you have this cycle that goes on and that's what's going to happen. Because it's a complex system. It's not just a major climate event. It's food prices going up, food shortages and famine creating political instability, which is bad for markets, makes markets nervous.

“…for example if we want to achieve a two degree temperature rise and no more than that and we're going to have an 80 per cent chance of achieving that, it means that between half and three quarters of all proven fossil fuel reserves, all coal, all oil and all gas can never be burnt. Now those companies are valued according to their assets and those assets can't be sold. So we're going to have a massive economic shock and I think the economic shock is what is going to drive us to change rather than the environmental impact. We've had the most extraordinary extreme weather in the past decade. I mean any right-minded person looks at that and says, what are you thinking? Of course there's climate change already happening.

Ali then says: “But Paul Gilding, my question to you is you talk about this war-like response, that that's the sort of emergency action that you see the world taking. Why so confident that the world will take that as a collective and it won't become a dog-eat-dog survival of the fittest?”

He replies: “Because there's no evidence in history of that. And for my book, The Great Disruption I looked at that in some detail.”

He goes on to give details from WWII where denial operated – people wanted to believe the threat of war was not too bad and so action was delayed.

He goes on: “Now what ended was not some new evidence, the evidence was always clear as it is now, what ended was denial. And what we do see in corporate crises, personal health crises, war and so on, is denial goes on for a long time and it gets worse as the evidence gets stronger, which is what we're seeing now.

The reason sceptical science is going on so strongly now is because the evidence is so strong you have to actually deny physics, to actually oppose what the climate scientists are saying. So that's why it gets so extreme and then it stops. And that's what history says that we do consistently - avoid, avoid and then oh my God! Then we act. And that's how it's going to be on this one as well.”

That is what has occurred in science over the centuries. As Thomas Kuhn tells us, old theories, old paradigms will continue to be embraced and alternatives rejected until the evidence overwhelms the denialists and a paradigm shift to a new way of thinking occurs.

Ali asks Freidman is that right?

He responds: “… our problems are getting deeper. We've had a terrible decade of excess…what’s totally missing right now…is American leadership…when we basically dither and delay and deny…well that gives an excuse for everybody in the world to do that. I think when we take the lead…by doing something hard ourselves, so it's not after you but follow me, I think you do get a different global response.”

“And you do have this loop going on now where higher food prices lead to greater instability, greater instability leads to higher oil prices, higher oil prices which are a huge component of food prices, lead to higher food prices. So we're in that loop and we've got to develop a counter loop now to that loop". 

Ali concludes on a hopeful note: “I guess the message from you both is that we can get over this, the world is not doomed. At least you are both confident that we have the ability to take the action should we choose to.”

So there it is. The issue of global warming is not just an environmental one. We have read much about the ecological effects of rising global temperatures – melting glaciers, release of methane from melting permafrost, rising sea levels, inundation, displacement of millions of people, loss of arable land, food and water shortages possibly leading to wars, increasing extreme weather events, loss of ecological assets and possibly in the extreme an uninhabitable planet, all of which demand action if our societies are to survive and prosper.

This piece addresses less-discussed effects of global warming – the economic and social effects, and the rampant consumerism that aggravates the environmental effects. They have been described in the interview with Paul Gilding and Thomas Friedman. They are alarming and deserve as much attention as the concomitant environmental effects. But they, like the other effects, are likely to be no more amenable to correction than the ones we talk about every day.  It is very alarming - action is urgent.

What do you think?

Looking down from the grandstand - where the experts are

We are in a vast grandstand looking down on a match between traditional rivals. There are rusted on supporters for both teams who could never barrack for anyone else, and who urge their teams on and loudly abuse the other, no matter how well the opponents play; they can do no good. The umpires – the independents – get their share of abuse from the rusted on when they give decisions against their team. Then there are those who support neither team but have come along to see a good contest. They can swing to support one side or the other. Each spectator has his own ideas about what is fair play and what is foul and what ought to be done to win the game. These ideas are based on experience, entrenched attitudes and the moral imperatives they have grown to embrace.

Latter day football games are complex. There is much team planning, specialized coaching, selection of the fittest and the most talented, and carefully selected strategies to counter the strengths and exploit the weaknesses of the opponents. The team going down is subject to much advice and abuse, with blame being heaped upon selectors, coaches, all who have prepared the team, the captain, the leadership group, and on individual players. The grandstand is full of experts who would have done better had they been on the coaching staff or in the team itself. They are quick to condemn, quick to dismiss, quick to insist that the team/coach/staff have lost their football compass.

Football is a simple sport compared with politics, yet most of the ‘experts’ in the grandstand do not understand even its most modest complexities. Why did they do this or not do that when it was so obvious that was the ‘right’ thing to do? Why hasn’t the team had more goal-kicking practice? Why hasn’t the team had more wet weather experience? Why did they play three ruckmen or too few tall forwards?  Whey did they play X because everyone can see he’s slowing up? Why did they play someone with a niggling injury – only a fool would risk that? And so on it goes. There is seldom any doubt expressed about the validity of their assertions, they feel no need to back them with facts; they just know they are right.

Since we are all familiar with grandstand experts, and because politics is portrayed as a sport, it is but a small conceptual step to perceive how spectators in the political grandstand believe they are experts who are entitled to voice opinions and make value judgements about the players. And the players believe they too are entitled to make judgements about their opponents, their own team and about those in between. They all have their own views formed out of their experience, background, a sense of what is right and wrong, and sadly in many instances out of expediency.

This piece builds on the last: Is your moral compass better than mine, and attempts to tease out why there is so much diversity of opinion, which leads to much of the rancour and conflict in politics. This piece addresses what I believe are two of the central elements of political endeavour that contribute to that conflict – complexity and morality.

The complexity of politics

Perhaps the most important element of politics is complexity. Virtually almost everything that politicians have to manage is complex, multifacetted and nuanced. There are many layers of complexity, many factors that interact with each other in a cybernetic tangle that is almost impossible to unravel. Push here, and there is a reaction over there. Ignore this aspect and it will jump up to bite. Forget to consult here and all hell will break loose. Offend a section of the population and the polls will dip. Overlook an aspect no matter how minor and some expert will take you to task in a condescending manner. Fail to notify someone who considers himself important, and the snub becomes angrily public. Fail to consult widely enough before finalizing a plan and be labeled dictatorial; consult widely before finalizing it and be labeled as going off half-cocked. Keep it under wraps until the details are finalized, as many experts recommend, and be accused of making ‘secret deals’. No matter what steps are taken or not taken, opponents in the parliament and in the media can turn any one of them into a negative.

In medicine the problem of complexity looms every day. Very little is straightforward. Even comparatively innocuous complaints have an overlay that derives from the patient’s personality, genetics, past history and experience of illness, family and work environment, mental state, relationship with carers, geography, employment, and so on it goes. No two illnesses are the same because they are manifest in unique individuals. Perhaps the greatest challenge for doctors, especially generalists, is managing this complexity. It is so much easier to focus on just one or two aspects, as those in specialist practice are often able to do. Attempting to embrace the whole picture and the myriad of interacting factors is complex, demanding, time consuming and fraught.

It is so in politics. Those who are elected to govern have to take into account the inherent complexity of what they are attempting to achieve if they are to reach a solution that is effective and has wide appeal. In contrast, those who are in opposition can, and usually do ignore the complexities and go for the simple, even if meaningless three-word slogans, no matter how disingenuous they might be. We have seen this played out endlessly by Tony Abbott and his Coalition. So it ought not come as a surprise to anyone that it is infinitely easier to ‘cut through’ with simple negative slogans oft repeated, than it is to explain to a largely disinterested electorate afflicted with a diminishing attention span, the complexities of, for example, placing a price on carbon.

Yet the critics expect the Government to ‘cut through’ in a few words that capture the enormous complexities of its reforms, and seem not to understand how the Government can’t match Tony Abbott's simple mantras. This seems to escape many experienced journalists who see Abbott as better at communicating and more in touch with middle Australia, and therefore ‘winning’ what they like to portray as some sort of game, without acknowledging that he is playing an entirely different game – one of destroying the Government, while the Government is playing the game of building Australia’s future via a complex set of legislative reforms. The Government is trying to build an edifice; the Opposition is swinging a wrecking ball trying to knock down every brick, every wall the Government is so painstakingly building. That’s not a fair contest; but then is there anything fair in politics. But we ought to be able to expect our political commentators to see what’s going on and explain that to the electorate. The fact that most don’t can be put down to incompetence or malfeasance, or both.

To illustrate the complexity of politics, let’s take the asylum seeker issue as a case in point. Consider these factors that condition politicians’ and people’s thinking:

- Refugee advocates, the Greens (on whom the Government relies for its survival) and many in the electorate believe in an open-armed approach and community-based processing of claims for refugee status instead of detention until processing is complete, and reject any form of offshore processing, which they consider cruel and inhumane.

- Many voters, particularly in Queensland, Western Australia and Western Sydney, do not want asylum seekers here at all, and polling suggests that were the Government to adopt an open, no detention, community-based processing approach, it would loose more seats in these places and lose Government.

- There is support in the region for a regional solution of what is a regional refugee problem, not just one for Australia. Malaysia, New Guinea and Thailand have expressed interest.

- A regional arrangement is being negotiated now with Malaysia, which seems ready to participate, but appear to be playing hardball, subject as it is to its own political imperatives.

- As keeping negotiations with Malaysia secret was not an option, the announcement of the commencement of them was necessary before the final details could be available, leading to accusations of going off half-baked.

- Eight hundred arrivals after the announcement date will be sent to Malaysia for processing, something strongly opposed by a majority in parliament and many in the electorate.

- Unaccompanied minors, and asylum seekers who already have family granted refugee status, are to be included in those sent to Malaysia (although some individual exceptions seem possible), something about which there is even wider disagreement.

- There is now a High Court challenge to removing two arrivals that have family in Australia, and there could be a legal challenge to the entire Malaysia arrangement.

- The return of arrivals is designed to stop or markedly reduce the people smuggler trade, which most Australians seem to want stopped, even those sympathetic to asylum seekers. Most want to stop people getting on small, poorly serviced boats, thereby risking their lives.

- Another aspect of the Malaysia arrangement (that gets little emphasis) is to take 4000 people already categorized as refugees by the UNHCR in Malaysia and re-settle them in Australia, thereby transforming their lives from detention to freedom.

- The Opposition has run a campaign of disparagement of every move the Government has made to manage the issue of asylum seekers arriving by small boats, and sees only one remedy – transfer to Nauru and TPVs.

- The MSM has been complicit in supporting the Opposition’s campaign of misinformation and deception.

This YouTube clip to advertise the program: Go back to where you come from that is programmed for feature on SBS 1 on Tuesday 21 June at 8.30 pm and the following two nights, gives a short glimpse into the diverse attitudes of those who participated.

No doubt readers could list other aspects, as Feral Skeleton did so pointedly in her last post on the previous piece, but the above list is long enough to demonstrate the extraordinary complexity of just this one issue, complexity with which Government has to grapple and reach a resolution that solves the people smuggler problem, gives genuine refugees the refuge they seek, and satisfies all sectors of the population, something that is likely not possible, and places itself in a position where it is likely to achieve what all governments want – re-election.

Governments must take all the factors into account. Special pleading minorities have no need to do that – they simply pursue their narrow agenda without bothering to take into account the views of others. How could, for example, the Greens persuade those who are totally opposed to taking asylum seekers to adopt an open-armed approach? And if these opponents were in the majority and threatened to vote the Greens out, would they adapt their approach? Likewise, how would those who insist no asylum seekers are wanted here placate the Greens? My point is simply that those in power have to grapple with all the factors, and the way they interact with each other, while those on the sidelines of power insist on promoting their own idiosyncratic views, and expect others to follow.

The secret of success is compromise, regarded by many as the art of politics. The Greens, not having been in Government, have still to learn this. As Patricia WA pointed out in a comment on a previous post, some Greens, despite their talent, lack this art. Without naming them, one exhibits “a 'holier than thou' attitude which permeates her whole demeanour, colours her language and lessens the impact of her message”...another “has a similar intransigence of attitude but with a colder and more judgemental style”, while still another seems unable to “get across the same message without preachiness or moral condemnation”.

While some look down their noses at compromise as the refuge of the morally bankrupt, without a degree of it, stalemate results and nothing happens. We saw this when the Greens refused to compromise on the initial CPRS. They still argue it was for them a bridge too far, but the result was nothing at all, and the present struggle to introduce a price on carbon one of the outcomes. It takes strong leadership to compromise. One definition Wikipedia gives for effective leadership “…is the ability to successfully integrate and maximize available resources within the internal and external environment for the attainment of organizational or societal goals."  Note: “successfully integrate and maximize available resources” and “within the internal and external environment”, in this instance the political, social and economic environment, and “for the attainment of organizational or societal goals." Doesn’t that fit the political scene accurately?

Commentators insist that what is needed is ‘leadership’ or more stridently ‘strong and courageous leadership’, assuming as they do that we all have the same understanding of the meaning of the word. ‘Leadership’ is a linguistic label a bit like ‘moral compass’, fine sounding but variously understood. To me an essential element of leadership is the capacity to engender collaboration, which so often requires compromise. Of course there’s more to it than that – having a vision of a finer future, creating a narrative for that vision and a plan to acomplish it, and working tirelessly, determinedly and courageously to achieve it. But compromise is nearly always an essential ingredient of the latter.

In summary, politics is beset with great complexity, which those in government have to unravel so they can address the numerous interacting factors. Opponents are able simply to focus on the one factor or two they choose to make their case, which is thereby distorted. As there is no one perfect solution to any issue, those in power have to compromise. Those who are in opposition generally choose not to. Compromise and engendering collaboration requires courageous and determined leadership.

The ‘experts’ in the media grandstand pontificate on matters political as if problems were simple, solutions easy to define, and the way forward obvious. We saw a classic example of this on Insiders this week, where Piers Akerman, Fran Kelly and Malcolm Farr pontificated on the past and current state of Federal Labor politics despite Barrie Cassidy’s best efforts to challenge their unsupported assertions. They were, like the football crowd in the grandstand, all knowing, all prescient, omnipotent in their opinions, and certain of their position. If you need convincing of that take a look Insiders: and particularly at One year in for Gillard and Government struggling in parliament and Gillard ‘running away’ from problems.  

Insiders is simply a vignette that reflects almost the entire media scene, with just a few notable exceptions. This is what is dished up day after day as expert opinion for a gullible public to swallow. It’s shameful, but with the Murdoch media at least, seemingly unstoppable.

Margaret Simons of Crikey is right: "What the media should do, is stop being 'Insiders'."

Next let’s consider the moral issues that beset politics.

Morality in politics

This is the issue of what is right and wrong, the moral imperative. This was canvassed in the last piece: Is your moral compass better than mine?

Morality can be ‘descriptive’“describing morality in this way is not making a claim about what is objectively right or wrong, but only referring to what is considered right or wrong by an individual or some group of people”. Or morality can be said to be ‘normative’ – describing “what is right and wrong, regardless of what specific individuals think.” (Wikipedia)  It seems as if we expect our politicians to operate in a ‘normative’ way where morality is absolute (according to our standards, whatever they are), and chastise them when they act in a ‘descriptive’ way where right and wrong is conditioned or moderated by an external group of people, namely the stakeholders or the electorate. It seems the latter often applies and politicians get caned for going that way.

On the last piece janice said: “When people use phrases such as 'lost his/her/their moral compass' they should be challenged as to their definition of such a phrase and to give examples of where the accused has ‘lost’ it… The word ‘morals’ has a wide-ranging meaning that changes according to the context in which it is used. Its synonyms are many, including: dutiful, ethical, excellent, faithful, good, honest, just and pious. Add ‘compass’ to the word, we then have a broad meaning of the direction in which society (or government, religious groups, people generally) should be, or are, moving.”

Because politicians come from different ideological, religious and philosophical positions, their moral compasses point in different directions. The True North of one may be in a place different from that of others. Talk Turkey asserts that it is the Pole, (the True North), rather than the compass that has been lost. It’s the direction of the Pole that is in dispute. So to accuse a politician of having ‘lost his or her moral compass’ is to imply that he or she knows where True North is but has abandoned moving towards it, or that the politician’s True North is not True at all because it is in a place different from that of the accuser’s. Talk Turkey suggests we could do worse than adopt the universal maxim: “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”

Individuals assume that their moral compass is calibrated toward Truth, towards what is right and proper, and that those who disagree with them have lost their way, their moral compass. NormanK says: “Any attempt to say that Australia and Australians have a universally agreed set of morals is as silly as trying to say that Australia has a culture that can be defined. Any attempt to define what Australia's mainstream moral compass is comprised of, would be firstly subjective and ultimately inaccurate because it is so mercurial.” D Mick Weir says: “Can a country have a moral compass? I would hope so, and it would be enshrined in its constitution. I haven't dusted off my copy but I suggest that Australia's Constitution is a bit lacking in moral guidance.” 2353 says: “Isn't ‘losing your moral compass’ really shorthand for ‘I think you have taken the wrong action on this particular occasion - not for any practical reason but rather the action offends MY morals’?”

The uncertainty about what is and is not moral is a major source of disagreement and misunderstanding among politicians, and between them and the public. National leaders, who must take decisions for the good of the nation rather than for sectional interests, understand this moral dilemma only too well.

Let’s use the climate change issue to illustrate just some of the numerous ‘moralities’ that the players embrace.

- There are those who believe that global warming is a myth and that weather patterns are no different to what they have always been. These deniers, some high profile, travel the world advocating their position. Some even believe that those who insist the planet is warming and that radical action must be taken to reduce carbon pollution are part of an international conspiracy to de-industrialize the world, and thereby bring ruin and distress to the world’s people. To these people the advocates of action on global warming are immoral.

- There are those who believe that the reality of global warming has been so well established by thousands of climate scientists that to not take action is immoral; to leave a seriously damaged planet for future generations is even more immoral.

Whose morality is right? Whose compass is pointing to True North? Each group points to itself.

- The Government, backed by economists and scientists, insists that a price on carbon followed by a market-based trading scheme is quite the best way to go and is pursuing this. It believes to not do so would be immoral.

- The Opposition disagrees and predicts that a ‘carbon tax’ will bring ruin to many industries, throw countless thousands out of work and create ghost towns. It believes to do this would be immoral.

Whose morality is right? Whose compass is pointing to True North? Each group points to itself.

- Although almost no scientists or economists support it, the Coalition believes its Direct Action Plan will achieve the emission targets, and that any more radical action is unnecessary and damaging. It does not tell the people that the plan requires the use of taxpayers’ money to persuade the polluters to reduce pollution.

- The Government believes that the DAP is grossly inadequate, will not be effective, and will cost much more than the Government plan.

So whose moral compass is pointing to True North? Each believes the other’s compass does not.

- The Government believes that while it is morally wrong to overcompensate the polluters it is equally so to allow industries to perish with inadequate compensation.

- The Greens are opposed to compensation on principle, but concede some is necessary.

- The Opposition considers any carbon tax is immoral and ruinous.

- The miners and manufacturers insist on liberal compensation, predicting doom if they are not assuaged.

Whose moral compass is accurate?

I could further illustrate the great diversity of moral opinion in our community by referring to the angry weekend rallies of animal rights supporters insisting that the live cattle export trade must cease completely and permanently on the grounds of animal cruelty, while cattlemen and their supporters protest that such action would cause unemployment, especially among indigenous people, financial loss, bankruptcy and bring ruin to the cattle industry in the north.

Whose morality is ‘right’?

This piece is already long enough, but I hope sufficient to convince you that making decisions on vexed issues is highly problematic, beset as it is with extreme complexity, the need for compromise, courageous and determined leadership and most of all a sense of direction towards True North and a sound compass to guide to that destination.

Those who sit in the grandstand and purport to be experts who know what ought to be done, whether in the Fourth Estate, the Fifth Estate, in political parties, or among the throng of voters out there, should pause, contemplate the complexity and the morality of each issue, and think before pontificating. Like spectators at the football, it might be, just might be that they are not the experts they think they are.

What do you think?

Getting sucked in by a séance

It’s Friday arvo, close to tea-time, and the Minister for Climate Change, Greg Combet, is walking down St Mary’s road in Sydney. Suddenly, he notices, on the other side and walking in the same direction, Tony Abbott.

For his part, as he reaches the Catholic Cathedral, Tones veers off and enters its hallowed halls. Greg finds this very intriguing. “Hmmm”, he says to himself, “I wonder if Tones has an appointment with Cardinal Pell? I think I’ll just mosey in and see if I can eavesdrop on their conversation...”

As Greg pushes the front door open and pokes his head around for a squiz, he notices there is no-one inside except for Tones, who is way up at the front, kneeling down in prayerful supplication. Greg tip-toes along the side, where the confession boxes are, and notices the largest one has a big sign above it, identifying it as belonging to the good Cardinal. It also confirms the times for confession – Friday, 4-6 pm. However, he also notices a post-it stuck to the door: “Back in an hour – gone to fold some flyers for Lord Moncton’s visit – George”.

Then, to Greg’s discomfort, he notices Tones beginning to clamber up off his knees. He peels off the post-it, opens the Cardinal’s door and hides inside its dark cavernous interior, before Tones can spot him.

However, to Greg’s alarm, Tones walks straight over to the confessional, opens the penitent’s door and enters, kneeling down in the semi-darkness, waiting for “George” to push back the grill and give him the benefit of his fortnightly shot of divine inspiration.

On the other side of the grill, Greg decides he is going to have some fun. He slides open the grill, signifying the confession may begin.

Tones: Bless me, George, for I have sinned...it is two weeks since my last confession...

[Tones doesn’t even get to begin his litany of transgressions when he is rudely interrupted by “George”, who appears to have an Irish accent.]

“George”: Now listen here, you blackguard – don’t you dare come in here addressing me by my first name – have you no respect for the holy cloth?

Tones: Hey, hang on a minute – you aren’t George! Who are you anyway?

“George”: I am who I am...or, is it, “I am, I said” – I always get my Old Testament verses mixed up with my favourite Neil Diamond song titles...Well, anyway, I’m Fr O’Leary and I’m on a priests’ working visa from Ireland and I’m standing in for His Eminence who’s off for an hour or two doing God’s work in regard to the upcoming incarnation of the Messiah Moncton...

[Tones has never heard so much drivel since he had to listen to Barnaby Joyce trying to explain that it was the devil who made him drive a perfectly good four-wheel drive vehicle into a flooded Queensland creek.]

Tones: Well, if you’re not His Eminence, I’m off – I haven’t time to be kneeling here listening to some half-pissed Irish cleric who would make Fr Jack Hackett sound even more articulate than Barack Obama in full rhetorical flight...

“Fr O’Leary”: But...but...but...hold on to your horses, young fella...I’ve got a few “people” here whom you might find more than a tad interesting...

Tones: What? You’ve got people in the confessional with you? What have you got going in there – a meeting of Alcoholics Anonymous or something...heh...heh...

“Fr O’Leary”: No, my son...you misunderstand me – the people I refer to are beyond the grave...

Tones: Erm...I think you might have downed one case too many of your Bushmills whiskey, Father...

“Fr O’Leary”: No, my son...let me explain...You see, we get all sorts of reprobates and degenerates in here, confessing to their heinous crimes...

Tones: Huh...Malcolm Turnbull must be a regular customer of yours then Father...hee...hee...

“Fr O’Leary”: Well, as I was saying, a recent penitent confessed to me that he had been participating in séances...

Tones: Huh...I know all about them, mate – have you ever tried to chair a meeting of the Shadow Cabinet...sheesh!

“Fr O’Leary”: But, you might find this interesting, my son...during his confession, this particular individual explained to me how to make contact with those beyond the grave...He said these spirits keep their eye on present-day happenings and can provide us with some very useful information...

Tones: Errr...hang on a minute...you mean you could contact some dead ALP malcontents and get them to spill the beans on Gillard and her mates?

“Fr O’Leary”: Yes, my son...so, let us start...let us quieten ourselves...so that the spirits can approach us in confidence...

[Tones can’t believe his luck. Hopefully, some deceased ALP pollies will speak from beyond the grave and drop heaps of dirt on the lefties. Then, after a few seconds of quiet, “Fr O’Leary” begins to stir.]

“Fr O’Leary”: I can feel a spirit coming amongst us...Yes...he says he is Mal Colston, who resigned from the ALP in 1996. He confesses that he took the thirty pieces of silver from the Liberals and agreed to become their patsy as Deputy-President of the Senate...

Tones (impatiently): Never mind all that crap...what dirt has he got after listening into ALP Caucus and Cabinet meetings all this time?

“Fr O’Leary”: Yes, he is making contact with me...He is saying that the Prime Minister is just about to adopt the Nauru Solution...she will announce that every Muslim from here to Mecca and back will be put up, at Australian taxpayers’ expense, at the five-star Nauru Resort, and afterwards shipped in the luxurious comfort of the QE 2 to Oz, where they will turf all the Australians out of their homes and jobs, and make everyone wear a burqa...

[Tones, at this news, can hardly contain his rapture. He jots down a few details, ready to quote them in his upcoming press conference.]

Tones (gagging): Anything else...anything else?

“Fr O’Leary”: Erm...I think we are losing him...But, wait...I can feel the presence of another spirit...He says he is Bill Bryson – a MHR who was expelled from the ALP in 1955, at the time of the DLP split...

Tones: Right...but has he got any dirt on Brown’s bitch?

“Fr O’Leary”: Yes...he is speaking quite candidly to me now...he says he was spiritually present at a recent Cabinet Meeting and he says they plan to include breathing in the soon-to-be-imposed carbon tax...

Tones: Huh...sounds like a load of hot air to me, mate...heh...heh...

“Fr O’Leary”: Yes, he is saying that the lefties are planning to tax everyone a dollar for every time they breathe out, cos they’re contributing to greenhouse gases...

[Again, Tones can’t believe his luck – if Jooles tries to pull this stunt, they’ll be carting her off in a strait-jacket, thinking she’s escaped from the set of “One flew over the cuckoo’s nest”.]

“Fr O’Leary”: Alas, Bill has departed back to the other place...But...I feel yet another spirit in our midst...Yes...he says he is John Lynch...an MHR who resigned from the ALP in 1916 after his leader, Billy Hughes, failed in his attempt to bring in conscription...

Tones: And, what does he say?

“Fr O’Leary”: Yes...it’s getting clearer...he’s still banging on about conscription...He says the government is not satisfied with the progress of the war in Afghanistan and is planning to commence a Children’s Crusade and conscript all primary-aged children – only from private schools, mind you – to go over there and act as minefield clearers...

[Tones still can’t believe his luck. He jots down all the details on the back of one of the envelopes John Howard bequeathed to him, and pushes open the confessional door. And, just by coincidence, Chris Uhlmann, Miranda Divine and Dennis Shanahan are there on their knees in the pews ready to get their confession heard by Cardinal Pell, having told so many porkies to their readers and listeners. Tones blurts out that he needs to call a press conference immediately, so that he can stick it up the government.]

Miranda: No worries, Tones...there are a few camera crews in a watering-hole up the street...I’ll go and fetch them and we can make a start...

[A few minutes later, Tones confidently begins a press conference in the nave of the Cathedral.]

Tones: Ladies and gentlemen...thank you for attending so promptly...So, before I take your questions, I have recently been in contact with at least three ALP backbenchers...And, believe me...they are not very happy chappies...

[Greg Combet, aka Fr O’Leary, sits back in his confessional throne and has a quiet chuckle to himself.]

Greg: Heh...heh...some ALP backbenchers may have been complaining to him...But, after this presser, it’ll be the Coalition frontbenchers who’ll be doing the complaining...  

Is your moral compass better than mine?

Isn’t ‘moral compass’ a catchy phrase? And isn’t losing it a pretty serious indictment? It suggests that anyone who has lost his or her ‘moral compass’ is to be looked down upon as an unworthy reprobate. Andrew Wilkie introduced the term to label PM Gillard and her Government over their approach to live cattle exports to Indonesia and asylum seekers. And how easy is it to nod wisely in agreement, without giving much thought to what the term really means, and what implications flow from it.

Dictionary.com defines ‘moral compass’ as “anything which serves to guide a person's decisions based on morals or virtues.”

Once the term ‘moral’ is used we find ourselves in deep water as the issue of ‘morality’ arises. It gets complicated; we are into philosophy. What is morality? According to Wikipedia “Morality is a sense of behavioral conduct that differentiates intentions, decisions, and actions between those that are good (or right) and bad (or wrong). A moral code is a system of morality (for example, according to a particular philosophy, religion, culture, etc.) and a moral is any one practice or teaching within a moral code. Immorality is the active opposition to morality, while amorality is variously defined as an unawareness of, indifference toward, or disbelief in any set of moral standards or principles.”

I’m afraid it gets more complicated, but we need to go a little deeper to get down to what this business of losing one’s moral compass is all about.

Wikipedia goes on to say: “Morality has two principal meanings: In its "descriptive" sense, morality refers to personal or cultural values, codes of conduct or social mores that distinguish between right and wrong in the human society. Describing morality in this way is not making a claim about what is objectively right or wrong, but only referring to what is considered right or wrong by an individual or some group of people (such as a religion). This sense of the term is addressed by descriptive ethics.

“In its "normative" sense, morality refers directly to what is right and wrong, regardless of what specific individuals think. It could be defined as the conduct of the ideal "moral" person in a certain situation. This usage of the term is characterized by "definitive" statements such as "That act is immoral" rather than descriptive ones such as "Many believe that act is immoral." It is often challenged by moral nihilism, which rejects the existence of any moral truths, and supported by moral realism, which supports the existence of moral truths. The normative usage of the term "morality" is addressed by normative ethics.”

So to get a handle on what losing one’s moral compass means, we must get into what is moral and what is not.

Let’s start with the live cattle issue. From public reaction to the Four Corners program, it appears the most people regard the way in which cattle are processed in some abattoirs in Indonesia as appalling; many would label it immoral. Even those supplying the cattle have expressed their abhorrence. Yet Meat and Livestock Australia has been slow and reluctant to express its abhorrence, and its Jakarta representative reports that MLA has been aware of animal cruelty in some abattoirs for years. So it looks as if different people and different groups apply different standards of morality to the same situation as displayed on Four Corners. Some, such as Andrew Wilkie, the RSPCA, and like-minded folk, consider the situation is so immoral that they want all live cattle exports banned permanently, and regard those who resist this by imposing only a temporary ban, to wit the Gillard Government, as having ‘lost their moral compass’.

Looking at it from the cattlemen’s point of view, despite their concern for their animals, they might consider it immoral for the Government to suddenly halt their trade and impose heavy financial burdens and possibly bankruptcy upon them. The MLA at present sees no reason to compensate them from MLA funds, something the cattlemen might view as immoral since they collect $4.20 for every beast sold and have many millions of dollars in reserve. They may consider that the MLA has lost its moral compass by declining compensation.

So in accusing any person or group of ‘losing its moral compass’, the accusers are imposing their moral standards on the accused. That’s where it gets tricky and dangerous. They are applying moral standards in a normative sense in that they are defining what is “right and wrong, regardless of what specific individuals think.” It seems that is what those who insist on a complete ban are doing.

Now before we get into an argument about what is acceptable in the live cattle trade, where there will be a variety of views, be aware that this is not the purpose of this piece. The purpose is simply to point out that as soon as people talk about others losing their moral compass, they are making a value judgement about the morality of the situation under scrutiny and the morals of those on either side of the debate, and indeed are representing their moral values as the superior ones.

In the live cattle debate there would likely be a very large majority of the population deeply distressed by what is happening, and sympathetic to the call for a permanent ban on live exports. But does that entitle them to label those who don’t want to go that far as having ‘lost their moral compass’?

The asylum seeker issue has divided the community more evenly. There are those who consider it immoral to place people in detention for processing their asylum claims.  They would release them into the community for processing there. But many would consider it immoral to release them unprocessed and perhaps endanger the community. Some resent it and no doubt think it immoral to provide benefits to those arrivals beyond those afforded our own citizens. So whose morality is ‘right’?  What morality should prevail? Which of these different groups should be labeled as having ‘lost their moral compass’?

Many see the Malaysian arrangement as immoral, threatening as is suggested harsh conditions for those sent there and inhuman conditions for children. Even more are against removing to Malaysia unaccompanied children arriving on boats. But on the other side of the argument, there are those who support the deportation of these ‘queue-jumping’ arrivals, and applaud this attempt to disrupt the people smuggling trade. They see it as humane to discourage people from risking their lives on leaky boats; we have heard politicians argue this case over and again.

So whose morality is ‘right’? What entitles anyone to label those who hold one view or the other as having ‘lost their moral compass’? Yet that is how Andrew Wilkie and refugee advocates are labeling PM Gillard and her Government over their attempts to negotiate an arrangement with Malaysia. They seem to discount that part of the proposal that will admit to our country 4000 already processed legitimate refugees. The negative of sending 800 asylum seekers to Malaysia, designed as it is to stop boat arrivals, outweighs in their mind the positive of resettling 4000 legitimate refugees from Malaysia in our country. That is a value judgement to which they’re entitled, but does that entitle them to label those who support the Malaysian arrangement as having lost their moral compass?

In conclusion, left me emphasize again that the purpose of this short piece is not to debate the whys and wherefores of these two curly issues, but to question the right of Andrew Wilkie, or anyone else for that matter, to impose his morality on those who do not accept his viewpoint and characterize them as having lost their moral compass? To me that is a bridge too far because such pejorative labels, like slogans, stick and unfairly diminish those so labeled.

Is his moral compass better than mine, or Julia Gillard’s, or that of anyone else?

What do you think?

Fair and balanced discourse – is that what we want?

The skirmish that erupted here on The Political Sword last week with one blogsite labelling this one as exhibiting "unremitting one-eyed left wing bias", and another accusing the site of ignoring or demeaning opinions that conflict with those held by the majority of those who comment here, warrants a re-examination of what constitutes bias, what constitutes balance, and how we should address these conflicting positions on this blogsite.

We have often complained about bias and lack of balance in other blogsites, news outlets and political programmes. We have deplored the grotesque anti-Government bias exhibited by sites such as Andrew Bolt’s in the Melbourne Herald Sun newspaper and in his new TV show The Bolt Report. Last week The Political Sword was being labelled as the left wing equivalent of Bolt, but "not as entertaining".

To reflect on what balance is about, let’s get back to its original meaning. A balance used for weighing has a horizontal beam pivoted in the middle from which weighing pans are suspended from both ends. That to be weighed is placed in one pan and standard weights in the other until the beam is horizontal, or ‘balanced’. In other words that of unknown weight is balanced against known weights. In political discourse much the same happens. The weight of a proposition or an opinion is estimated by setting it against established norms or standards, or against other propositions or opinions. We then seek to ascertain if there is a balance. Sometimes a proposition or an opinion does not carry the weight it was hoped it had, and the balance tips against it. The more evidence that can be assembled in support, the better it weighs in. This is what we attempt to do here. We present facts and figures and reason from them a position that seems sustainable, that counterbalances contrary positions or perhaps outweighs them. Different people give different weight to propositions and opinions, sometimes so much so that no agreement can be reached, no balanced position can be established.

This analogy might be seen by some as somewhat too philosophical, but when it’s all boiled down, the weighting we individually give to elements of an issue determines whether agreement is possible. Let’s illustrate this with a contemporary example – the asylum seeker problem.

If everyone agreed that asylum seekers deserve our concern and that they should be warmly received from their war-torn lands into our land of bounty, the only issues would be how they could arrive safely, and how many we could reasonably take. We all know that is not the case. Refugee advocates have a largely open-armed approach, while many of our citizens don’t want refugees here at all because they believe they will take our jobs, or because they come from a different culture they dislike they believe they will not assimilate into our society. There are many in between who can be persuaded one way or the other by public opinion, the media or politicians. But the media and politicians have different views. Some place heavy weight on controlled arrival and are antagonistic to those who arrive by boats, people they regard as ‘queue jumpers’. Others feel that demonizing boat people is wrong, pointing out that more by far arrive by air. Some are strongly opposed to people smugglers and want that trade stamped out. Others insist that these are simply ‘travel agents’ facilitating travel to this country of needy people. One could go on reciting the many other factors about which different people or groups have quite different views, often so strongly held that compromise is impossible, balance cannot be achieved, nor can it be argued for logically because of the different weights people assign to the various factors that apply. The dilemma for politicians elected to govern is how to strike a balance between the conflicting forces, some of them party political, that pull them this way and that, often with overblown rhetoric. We should not envy them their task.

So how should we here regard the quest for balance, and with it fairness?

When it comes to external sites or media programs we have often called for balance. We know that commercial blogsites such as those conducted by Andrew Bolt or Piers Akerman, or radio programs orchestrated by shock jocks like Alan Jones or Ray Hadley, will never be balanced. That is not their object. But we do wish our national broadcaster to be so. It has seemed to us that sometimes the ABC’s idea of balance was to put together people who hold extreme opposite views and let them battle it out, which has resulted in the matching of a heavily right-leaning commentator, not with one heavily leaning the other way (because there are very few of them), but with moderates. The heavyweight generally managed to outpunch and outweigh the others. Our idea of achieving balance on shows such as Insiders was to engage balanced panellists, those who could embrace positions that sometimes favoured one side of politics, sometimes the other. When that has happened with journalists such as, for example, Laura Tingle, Lenore Taylor and George Megalogenis, the quality of discussion has been so much better than when those with extreme and inflexible views have been used.

This brings us then to how we here on The Political Sword should seek to achieve balance. It is apparent, at least among the 180 who leave comments, that a substantial majority favour the Labor Government, embrace its philosophy, and want it to succeed in implementing its program of reform. Those same bloggers resent what they see as the Opposition’s tactics of negativity and obstructionism that impede the Government’s legislative program, and its unremitting attempts to demean and diminish the PM and the Government in the eyes of the electorate. But TPS bloggers can also see flaws in the Government and how it goes about its business. An oft-repeated complaint has been about the Government’s poor record of explaining its policies and plans to the electorate. Recently we here at The Political Sword have suggested the concept of the PM giving ‘fireside chats’ and have furnished examples of how they might be framed. We do not see ourselves as ‘one-eyed’ lefties as characterized by another blogsite. One only has to read the pieces posted and the comments to realize that.

There are some however who visit here from the opposite camp and express views antagonistic to Labor, but strangely not overtly supportive of the Coalition. Sometimes the way they have expressed their views, especially when embellished with personal remarks about other bloggers here, has raised hackles and evoked a similar reaction. This has led to much to-ing and fro-ing with insults rather than well-reasoned counterarguments. Generally no one gives way and no resolution is achieved.

While everyone who blogs here is bound to have a leaning one way or the other, it should be possible for each of us to accept each other’s views provided they are backed with facts and logically reasoned, and not accompanied by insulting remarks about other bloggers. Can we achieve that? Recent exchanges suggest that it is possible.

What I am saying is that while we wish that commentators on political programs would be balanced and be able to express arguments for and against any proposition or opinion, achieving that same balance on blogsites is problematic, principally because individual blogsites will attract mainly like-minded individuals, whether they are right or left leaning, with a sprinkling of those from the other side to take up the cudgels.

Given that constraint, how can we on The Political Sword achieve more balanced and fair discourse?

First, we reserve the right to be critical of the actions of political parties, sometimes heavily critical as in the piece last week: What have we done to deserve an Opposition leader like Tony Abbott? But let us try to be critical of all sides of the political spectrum, difficult though that may be because of our leanings. Equally we reserve the right to defend those whom we believe are trying to do the ‘right thing’. We ask that those who comment here from a different viewpoint do so courteously and with compelling arguments and that they be responded to respectfully. If we all can achieve that degree of balance and fairness, The Political Sword can go up a notch in everyone’s estimation, perhaps even in the eyes of those who like to criticise us now. As NormanK points out, those who post material here should be aware that a new visitor might gain a wrong impression if our language is immoderate; we should temper our words accordingly.

Which brings us to a more vexed question. Is a blogsite entitled to have overt leanings one way or the other? Certainly the conservative blogsites believe they have this right. Those operated by Andrew Bolt and Piers Akerman are extreme examples of heavily anti-Government sites.

Is The Political Sword to be a ‘balanced’ site by giving equal prominence to extreme views from both sides of the political spectrum, something the conservative blogs never do? Or should it be ‘balanced’ by respectfully accepting a range of views in comments, provided of course that they are courteously put and not accompanied by personal abuse? It is the latter that seems appropriate to me; certainly not the former.

When I began blogging my main target was the media, and still is. The way the media has portrayed PM Gillard and her Government, and the way Tony Abbott and his Coalition members have played the compliant media to get their disingenuous messages across and accentuate the media’s condemnation of her and her Government, has propelled me toward even greater support for her and what her Government is trying to do, and against what the media and the Coalition is doing to frustrate that.

I am a Labor supporter, a supporter of PM Gillard and her Government, and antagonistic to Tony Abbott and his Coalition’s belligerent obstructive behaviour. Therefore in what I write here I will continue to express viewpoints consistent with that position. I see no reason to soft pedal while the Bolts, Akermans, Joneses and Hadleys and other extreme right-leaning outlets pour out their anti-Government rhetoric unabated. I hope that The Political Sword might, even in a small way, counterbalance what these people emit day after day to large audiences.

What do you think? What do you want The Political Sword to become?

Strutting the catwalk in Carbon Alley

Life used to be simple in Carbon Alley.

The Fat Cats, Gina ‘Ginger Mog’ Rinehart, and Clive ‘Cheshire Cat’ Palmer, have been running the place, aided and abetted by their cronies, Officers Dibble (Tony Abbott) and Dribble (David Bushby).

However, many of the alley cats, led by TC (Julia ‘Top Cat’ Gillard) and her intrepid band, consisting of Spook (Peter Garrett), Benny (Wayne Swan) and Chooch (Penny Wong), are arching their backs and beginning to assert themselves.

Up to now, the Fat Cats have been running Carbon Alley as they see fit. They have been digging up the alley and sending the stuff off to the Chinese Dragon Li cats who live in an alley way up north of the metropolis. The Fat Cats have also had the monopoly on installing coal-burning braziers in the alley, to warm the joint up, at a price, during the cold weather.

However, between the unsightly and dangerous holes all over the place, and the choking smog from the coal-fired braziers, the alley has become a not-very-nice place in which to live.

So, TC and her friends have decided to try to do something about it. But the Fat Cats’ henchmen, Officers Dibble and Dribble, are doing their best to thwart any progress. They cycle into Carbon Alley and dismount.

Dibble: Right TC...you can hold it right there...what’s that you’re installing on the lids of the alley cats’ bins?

TC: Why, Officer Dibble! What a tremendous honour, sir, to have you grace our humble alley with your presence this morning...

Dibble: I asked you a question Top Cat!

TC: Well, Officer Dibble...these objects you see on the tops of our bins are the latest in modern communications technology – they are known as “set-top boxes”, and they will enable all the alley cats to tune into my new series of fire-side chats...that is if they can see their screens with all the smoke from those expensive and polluting smoke-burning braziers owned by the Fat Cats...

Dibble: Huh...do they come with a complimentary fire-extinguisher, TC – after all, we all know what happened when you installed the pink batts in the cats’ bin-lids last year...heh...heh...Isn’t that right, Dribble?

Dribble: Miaow...

[Everyone looks at Officer Dribble, expecting him to add something coherent and useful to the discussion. But, alas, nothing else emits from his cake-hole. Meanwhile, ‘Chooch’ Wong has to be restrained by Benny and Spook, as she has had enough of Dribble’s rudeness.]

Dibble: Well, anyway...And so, Top Cat, I hope you haven’t got any plans this year to build any more of your school halls in the alley...If you ask me, education is wasted on you alley cats...After all, you lot are always going to be il-litter-ate anyway...hee...hee...

TC: Oh, very droll, Officer Dibble...But, you’ll have to admit that without our stimulation measures, Carbon Alley would have been a catastrophic basket-case, similar to some of those other alleys in the neighbourhood...

Dibble (whispering): Erm, TC...talking about your stimulation measures...any chance of a few more of those $900 cheques you handed out – the old mortgage payments are getting to be a bit of a burden these days...

TC: Officer Dibble!!! What an outlandish and corrupt request!!! I expected much higher ethical standards of an upstanding public servant such as your good self...And there was I, trying to make an honest man out of you...sheesh...

Dibble: Pffffffttttt!! It’ll not stand up in court, TC, and you know it – I didn’t write it down, so it doesn’t count...Ain’t that right, Dribble?

Dribble: Miaow...

[Again, everyone pauses to see if Dribble is going to add anything coherent. However, it is as well no-one held their breath. Meanwhile, Chooch is still being restrained by Benny and Spook.]

Dibble: Oh, and TC – what’s this about you introducing a CAT (“Carbon Amelioration Tax”) on the Fat Cats’ coal braziers in the alley? I’ll have you know the science isn’t settled here and the braziers aren’t quite the environmental villains some of you alley cats make them out to be...And your great new big tax is going to wipe everywhere from Carbon Alley to Whyalla off the map...And destroy the Catillac car industry...and inflict endless re-runs of Cat Blanchett and Michael Cat-on movies on your dopey set-top boxes...And reduce you to eating Weetbix every meal instead of Kit-e-kat...And getting herpes just like Terry McCat...

TC: Woah, Officer Dibble!! Just hang on there for a second...I see you’ve got your weathervane in full swing here...If you’re so opposed to my Carbon Amelioration Tax, how come you said this...


Dibble: But...but...but...how did you get your hands on that tape, TC – that is my spiel after I get promotion to Police Commissioner...In the meantime, whatever you say, I just parrot the polar opposite – you know how it works...Isn’t that right, Dribble?

[No-one evens looks at Dribble, as the expectation is that he will only utilise another opportunity to tease Chooch. However, to everyone’s amazement, Dribble actually starts to say something more than, “miaow”.]

Dribble: Erm...I don’t know about that, Dibble...maybe we should face reality here and just give the middle finger to the Fat Cats...I’m happy to put my hand out for the compo that goes along with the CAT, and be a pussy-cat just like the others around here...What do you think, Dibble – and just remember that great big mortgage of yours...

[Officer Dibble pauses for a few seconds, but, his response is unequivocal.]

Dibble: Miaowwwwwwwwwwww...

What have we done to deserve an Opposition Leader like Tony Abbott?

I’m fed up with Tony Abbott and most of his Coalition team. I’m fed up with his unremitting negativity. I’m fed up with his destructiveness. I’m fed up with his nastiness. I’m fed up with his attitude towards women. I’m fed up with his rabble-rousing tactics. I’m fed up with his time wasting. I’m fed up with his deception, his disingenuousness, his misrepresentation, his downright lies, and his campaign of fear, uncertainty and doubt that they feed. Most of all I’m fed up with his ceaseless obstructionism, standing in the way of the party elected to govern this country, my country, your country.

Last year, the people of Australia elected 150 members to the House of Representatives, 72 were Labor, 72 were Coalition, one was from The Greens; the other five were independents. Three of the latter joined with the Green to enable Labor to form government, giving a majority of 76 to 74. So whatever Coalition people say, a majority of those elected by the people have formed a legitimate government, whose task is to govern this nation. Yet Tony Abbott is doing everything he can to obstruct the legitimate government from governing. Although Abbott has many, many faults, none is as reprehensible as obstructing the governance of the nation.

As a taxpayer contributing to the salary and functioning of the Federal House of Representatives, I resent the unrelenting Abbott-led attack on everything the elected Government is trying to do. I resent his continual attempts to pull things down, to block every move the Government makes to legislate on our behalf. I resent the irresponsible scare campaign he carries out day after day based on misrepresentation and blatant lies. I resent the way he uses the word ‘toxic’ to describe Labor, the carbon tax, the minerals tax, and anything else he wants to deride, smear, demolish, destroy. Assuming an average annual salary of $160,000 for members of the House, the 150 members cost the nation over $24 million a year for wages alone. I am not getting value for money from Abbott or his Coalition members.

I resent the way he and his Coalition members waste time day after day in Question Time asking disingenuous questions that are deliberately intended to mislead. I resent the maliciousness of his questioning style. I resent the viciousness of this pugilist’s words, the meanness of spirit he brings into the chamber day after day. I resent the personal remarks he makes about PM Gillard, calling her a liar in a dozen different ways. I resent his demeaning sexism directed to her.

Now before some Coalition supporter jumps in to comment that the job of oppositions is to oppose, let me disabuse you of this commonly held myth. Oppositions are NOT supposed to oppose EVERYTHING, as Abbott does. We all know, because it’s in his book Battlelines, that he believes in, and follows Randolph Churchill’s dictum: “The job of an opposition is to oppose everything, suggest nothing, and turf the government out.” Churchill was WRONG. So you ask, what is the role of an opposition?

In my view as a voter and taxpayer I expect an opposition to do these things:
To hold the government to account for its actions and behaviour.
To question government ministers and public servants about their activities, statements, intentions, policies and plans.
To contribute to the governance of the nation by supporting good policy.
To seek to improve legislation through amendments.
To oppose legislation only if it believes it is seriously detrimental to the nation.
To introduce bills via the private member bill mechanism.
To engage in the committee system in a collaborative way.

While it is appropriate to oppose legislation which it believes may be dangerously damaging for the country, and all oppositions justifiably do this, this ought to be the case only if it is not possible to amend it suitably. I know Coalition supporters will try to argue that what Abbott is opposing is bad for the nation. But he has chosen to oppose virtually everything, and even with the plain packaging legislation for cigarettes this previous health minister, this fitness fanatic, had to be dragged kicking and screaming to support it, as I understand because of threats from his backbench they would cross the floor on the issue if he opposed it. He even opposes good policy from the Howard era for which Nick Minchin has sought his support, declaring that when it comes to choosing between policy purity and pragmatism, with him pragmatism wins every time. Hillbilly Skeleton gave us a penetrating insight into this in her piece Post-Truth Politics. His opportunistic, pragmatic weathervane attributes were nicely illustrated in the graphic accompanying that piece.

How can a government govern if everything it tries to do has to be drawn through the long, tedious and time wasting process that opposing everything necessitates? Even savings measures designed to get the budget back into surplus are opposed. Why? Because Abbott’s Coalition does not want the Government to ever produce a surplus. That would put paid to Joe Hockey’s mantra: “This government will never produce a surplus budget.”

If any visitor to The Political Sword can name any legislation, other than machinery bills, that Abbott has supported, please inform us.

The macabre skeleton of Abbott’s objectionable attributes outlined above requires flesh to be placed on the bones.

First Abbott’s negativity: He describes the Government as the most incompetent in Australian political history. He sees no good in anything at all the Government does, except condolence motions for fallen soldiers and support for an Australian presence in Afghanistan. Everything else is awful, hopeless, bungling, flawed, useless, appalling, entirely without merit. Does he really expect any sensible person to believe that this Government can do NOTHING right? He must, because he goes on with this day after day, week after week, month after month.

Next his destructiveness: Every day he is out there trying to destroy Julia Gillard. He regularly calls her a liar, someone never to be trusted, unable to make decisions and keep her word. He labels her and her Government incompetent, unable to manage money, or anything else for that matter. Pink batts and the accompanying ceiling fires and deaths are still regularly thrown back at her, and the BER, despite its 97% success rate, is persistently lampooned as an example of Labor’s ‘waste and mismanagement’. He berates the asylum seeker policy as an abject failure, and no matter what she does to stem the flow of boats he finds something destructive to say about it, the latest being his cynical pseudo concern for the welfare of boat people, while when in Government he never showed concern – remember Tampa and ‘kids overboard’. And if you need any further evidence of his destructiveness think not only about his trenchant opposition to pricing carbon and the MRRT, but about his intention to ‘repeal these taxes in government’, in other words to destroy them. We got an inkling of his destructiveness early on when he instructed Malcolm Turnbull to ‘demolish’, or in other words destroy the NBN, and of course he hoped that in the process his rival Turnbull too would be destroyed.

But his destructiveness goes even further. Day after day he is intentionally trying to build in the mind of the electorate a way of thinking about Julia Gillard that conjures up images of untrustworthiness and ineptitude that the moment her name is mentioned, voters will automatically reject everything she says as spin, lies and promises she not only cannot keep, but will not keep. History has many examples of how vilifying a person or a group over and again eventually convinces the people. Joseph Goebbels said: “If you tell a lie big enough and keep repeating it, people will eventually come to believe it.” We know where that led. Abbott too knows this. That is why he viciously repeats lies about PM Gillard and her Government day after day.

Next his nastiness: Some will ask why he needs to be nice. No he doesn’t, but being civil and courteous are not incompatible with being in opposition. Kim Beasley and Kevin Rudd were able to be so; Abbott has chosen deliberately not to be so. As he asks questions in QT he exudes nastiness. He spits out his vitriolic questions with spite contorting his face. There is nothing attractive about his demeanour. The only time the venom, the nastiness, the cynical sarcasm evaporates is when he is seconding a condolence motion. Why should this nation’s PM have to suffer the indignity of this man’s unremitting viciousness and meanness day after day, in parliament and out; why should we the public have to witness this endlessly uncharitable and offensive behaviour?

Now his attitude to women: We have seen the disparagement that he heaps on women again and again. His ‘doing the ironing’ comment which enraged many women: "What the housewives of Australia need to understand as they do the ironing is that if they get it done commercially it's going to go up in price, and their own power bills when they switch the iron on are going to go up"; his refusal only last week to reprimand Senator David Bushby for his ‘meow’ retort directed at Penny Wong, instead calling Julia Gillard a ‘hypocrite’; his statement in the House that he looked forward to her becoming ‘an honest woman’, a clear reference to her marital status; his description of a woman's virginity as ‘the greatest gift’ she could give someone, and even his remark that his daughters looked ‘hot’ in Lycra on a bike ride; and perhaps most blatantly his standing in front of a placard labeling the PM as ‘Brown’s bitch’. He is sexist, but either doesn’t see that, or else he doesn’t care.

Next his rabble-rousing: The Canberra ‘revolting people’ rally was one of the more grotesque examples of rabble rousing, but there are examples every day of his inciting antagonism when he visits markets, greengrocers, butchers, drycleaners, newsagents, steel factories, car manufacturers, mines, in fact any venue he can lay his hands on so long as the media is there to give him his visual for the 6 o’clock TV news. The message is always the same. The carbon tax is toxic, will raise the price of everything, will destroy thousands of jobs, will ruin business and industry, will close down mines and plants, will create ghost towns, and will generally devastate our society and those thousands of good folk struggling to pay escalating household bills. But HE will save them from this ‘fate worse than death’! It’s boring, nauseatingly repetitive, but, if one can judge from the improvement of the Coalition’s position in the opinion polls, it is working for him as he systematically poisons the electorate against PM Gillard and her Government.

Next his time wasting: This is manifest grotesquely in QT, where he and his Coalition members ask questions, mainly on the same theme, to get a spot on the TV news and of course to embarrass the Government. They seldom do embarrass, and the responses of Julia Gillard, Wayne Swan, Stephen Smith, Jenny Macklin, Anthony Albanese, Nicola Roxon, Tanya Plibersek, Simon Crean and other ministers usually expose the disingenuousness of the question, the misinformation it contains, and demolish the questioner to boot. But Abbott does not mind. It’s the nasty question asked with such accusatory venom that he wants on the TV news. As that is what comes first in the news, he punts that the viewers will hear his vicious question that calls Government actions into serious question, but that they won’t listen long enough for the rebuttal. It’s cynical politics, but that’s the way our Opposition Leader does it. He doesn’t care how much of the parliament’s time he wastes achieving his sinister objectives. And this year particularly, in almost every QT, at around ten minutes before three o’clock, Abbott has moved a censure motion or raised a matter of public importance that he hopes will get on the 6 o’clock news. The matters raised are puerile, but that matters nothing to him, nor does the time he is wasting; all he cares about is gaining political advantage. If he were an employee, he would be sacked for profligate waste of time.

What about his deception, disingenuousness, misrepresentation and downright lies that feeds his campaign of fear, uncertainty and doubt? This is gross and occurs with almost every utterance. For example in QT last week he misrepresented a suggestion in Ross Garnaut’s final report: “I ask the Prime Minister: will she repudiate Professor Garnaut's proposal for an unelected, unaccountable body to set emissions reductions targets?” Garnaut never said that. The committee he suggested was to advise Government, which would then make the decision. Abbott knew he was misrepresenting Garnaut, but he didn’t care. What he wanted to do was get publicity by whatever medium for the notion that the Government was intending to abrogate its responsibility for setting emission targets. I could quote scores of similar misrepresentations, deception, and bald-faced lies perpetrated in the House. You know them too.

His deceptiveness is not in doubt. In that infamous interview with Kerry O’Brien on the 7.30 Report, he himself conceded that he does not always tell the ‘gospel truth’ and that only what is scripted and written down should be believed. You heard him in Whyalla telling workers that their steel industry will be destroyed by the tax on carbon and their city will become a ‘ghost town’. That is arrant nonsense and he knows it, but to him truth is irrelevant, so long as he can continue the poisoning of the public’s mind against the tax and perpetrate a corrosive atmosphere of fear, uncertainty and doubt, his stock in trade. Yet how often has his deception been exposed by the media? Seldom, even by sound journalists. And the likes of Andrew Bolt, Piers Akerman, Terry McCrann, and shock jocks Alan Jones and Ray Hadley not only fail to challenge his lies, but laud his approach and give him an armchair ride in their outlets. Yet if they see the possibility of labeling Julia Gillard a liar, it’s JULIAR.

Finally the ceaseless obstructionism: This is what I resent most of all. It does not matter what PM Gillard proposes to do, or does, Abbott will criticize, find no merit in it at all, and do everything in his power to obstruct her and her Government. He obstructs every attempt to reach a budget surplus by opposing its attempt at savings, and there are many. He opposes any attempt the Government makes to tackle climate change with his ‘toxic tax’ mantra. He opposes every attempt to get miners to pay a fair amount for the minerals they take from the ground and sell at high prices overseas and urges miners to join him in his fight with the Government. He sends his Shadow Minister for Communications and Broadband out to ‘demolish’, to destroy the NBN, to do everything he can to obstruct this most major of all infrastructure projects, even to the extent of his calling into question the integrity of the CEO of the NBN Co, Mike Quigley. Obstruct, obstruct, obstruct with the intent of making this country ungovernable is his aim. That over 100 bills have been passed since Julia Gillard became PM shows how ineffectual he has been to date in actually blocking bills, but only a fool would underestimate his capacity to delay, obstruct and eventually destroy anything in his path.

So do what have we done to deserve an Opposition Leader like Tony Abbott? The answer is nothing at all.

We have him as a result of the roll of the dice in a crap game played behind the closed doors of the Coalition party room on 1 December 2009 – yes it’s that long ago! The game was set up by Nick Minchin and a phalanx of climate deniers/skeptics in the party’s ranks who were determined to remove Malcolm Turnbull because of his support for Kevin Rudd’s ETS. But the dice rolled differently to what Minchin had planned after Joe Hockey, his preference for leader, equivocated over opposition to the ETS. So to everyone’s surprise Hockey was eliminated in the first ballot and Abbott then defeated Turnbull by a single vote. So sheer chance has given us this man – and we have suffered ever since. What an awful legacy.

Ten days after Abbott’s election to Opposition Leader, on 10 December 2009, I wrote a piece on The Political Sword titled The pugilistic politician. You may care to glance through it again. The last paragraph reads: “Until the election [that was the 2010 election], which Rudd seems likely to postpone until at least August, we can expect Abbott, the pugilistic politician, to attack Government policies and actions incessantly and relentlessly, to keep Coalition policies under wraps as much as possible to avoid having to defend them, and to exhibit venom, vitriol and vituperativeness the like of which we have not seen in politics in Australia for a long while. It will be unremittingly ugly. What a prospect for 2010!”

You can see that the only change in the intervening eighteen months is that Abbott has become even more extreme, more strident, more venomous, more noxious than predicted.

Fred made the first comment on that piece. It began: "The use of aggressive machismo language by Abbott worries the hell out of me." He concluded: "I really do strongly, very, very strongly, question the suitability of this person to have a major public role in this country." How right Fred was.

Given Abbott’s extreme behaviour, which balanced columnists acknowledge, it might reasonably be expected that there would be an outcry from those journalists who respect the democratic process, who give some weight to the need for truth and decency in political discourse, but sadly few voices have been raised in condemnation of Abbott’s demeanour, behaviour and utterances. Even mature and respected journalists like Paul Kelly decline to do so, instead, as Lindsay Tanner states so clearly in his book Sideshow: Dumbing Down Democracy, they see the contest between Abbott and Gillard as a sporting event, and gleefully report the scores, lauding Abbott for pulling the Coalition ahead in the TPP stakes and excitingly edging towards the PM in the PPM stakes. Not surprisingly, the likes of Dennis Shanahan delight in this; the Paul Kelly’s ought to know better.

Coalition supporters will ask: Is there nothing good about Tony Abbott. Well there is. It is reliably reported that he is a pleasant person to chat with over a beer. Journalists generally seem to like him. He is a family man devoted to his wife and daughters. He seems to have sincere affection for indigenous people. He is one of the few Liberal politicians who have put his values and beliefs into writing in his book Battlelines. He is a hard worker for his party, has abundant energy and keeps himself very fit. He has persistence. Some see him as a good leader, but the recent fracturing of Coalition unity calls that into question. He is a master of three word slogans and has learned to keep on message so long as he’s not probed too deeply. He has elevated his party in the opinion polls, although he has not done so well personally. Now I’m running out of admirable traits. Perhaps Abbott supporters can help me out.

It seems that Tony Abbott’s prime objective is to be PM, and judging from what the Independents say, will do anything to grasp that shining prize. Everything I have written here reinforces that argument; his ruthlessness in pursuing the prize is on display for all to see.

Yet what has he got to offer? His does not look prime ministerial (as does Malcolm Turnbull), he does not act prime ministerially, he lacks the skills and attributes needed in a prime minister, particularly an understanding of global economics, and instead offers all the objectionable and obnoxious attributes detailed in this piece. He is a hollow man, unworthy of this high office.

I’m sick and tired of the relentless attacks that this pugilistic Leader of the Opposition makes on the elected PM of this country and her Government day after day, his fists flailing wildly in every direction hoping he can land a punch and be seen doing so. In my own small way I’m punching back. If only more would do so, if only our MSM journalists would join us.

So I ask again: What have we done to deserve an Opposition Leader like Tony Abbott?

I can’t think of a plausible answer. Can you?

The Waltons get the willies

As one of the foremost Forgotten Families, the Coalition Waltons have nothing better to do than to retire early for the night.

However, still active behind the scenes, John-Boy (Howard) Walton can’t sleep.

John-Boy: Psssst...Tones! You awake, son?

Tones: Yeah, pa – can’t sleep with all that racket next door...

[Since losing government, the Waltons have had to downsize. They now live in a tenement, with the next door house occupied by cousin Malcolm, who had moved out in a hissy-fit after losing the bed beside John-Boy to Tones. And, on the other side of cousin Malcolm’s house is the adjoining one occupied by the NBN family (“Nasty Bolshevik Nepotists”), a brood of leftie pork-barrellers who are the sworn enemies of the Waltons.]

John-Boy: Yeah, it is noisy, isn’t it...But don’t worry, it’ll soon be over...It’s only our very own Demolition Man, the shining light of the Walton Family, cousin Malcolm...He’s just about to break through into the NBN place and drive them out of the neighbourhood...heh...heh...

Tones: Huh...are you sure he’s demolishing the wall between his place and the NBN crowd? The racket sounds so close, it’s like he’s taking an axe to our wall instead...

[Tones starts to cry, calling for his mummy.]

John-Boy: Oh quit your snivelling, boy...Bronny will be up in a minute – she’s just taking a kerosene bath, to get her make-up off...

[Nick (Minchin) Walton, who also couldn’t sleep, pipes in.]

Nick: Huh...a kero bath would only get the first layer off – sounds like she’s next door with cousin Malcolm, using an angle grinder to remove the other layers...hee...hee...Oh, and by the way, where’s brother Joe – he’s not in his bed...

Tones: Crikey! I forgot about Joe! He was carrying on like a pork chop earlier about putting a great new big tax on our Walton Family Trust, so I had to hose him down and peg him on the clothes-line to dry – the silly bugger’s been swinging in the wind ever since...heh...heh...

[Meanwhile, Dobber Nick notices that Peter (Dutton) Walton’s bed is also vacant.]

Nick: And what about Pete? He’s not in bed either...

John-Boy: Maybe he’s showing solidarity with the tobacco lobby and is outside having a smoke...

Tones: Huh...well, if he is, I hope he’s not smoking a fag from one of those packs that has Gillard’s mug on it...

John-Boy: Yeah, the ones inside the plain-jane packaging...hee...hee...

[Suddenly, the racket from next-door has got so loud, all the Waltons are starting to fear the worst – Tones’ theory, that cousin Malcolm is actually trying to break through their wall, and not the NBN’s, is in fact true. In utter fear and trepidation, they pull the blankets up and peer in abject terror over the top. As each thunderous blow from whatever fearsome weapon he is wielding loosens the brickwork, a hole gradually appears in the adjoining wall. From his bed, Tones can see straight through to the wall between cousin Malcolm’s and the NBN’s – it is unscathed – cousin Malcolm has dudded them! Then, a familiar voice booms out from the aperture.]

Malcolm: Little Walton pigs!! Little Walton pigs!! Let me come in!! Not by the hair on your chinny-chin-chin...Then I’ll huff...and I’ll puff...and I’ll blow your house in...

[After a few more mighty blows from his axe, cousin Malcolm’s sweat-laden, maniacal face appears in the gap. Mockingly, he announces his eschatological arrival.]

Malcolm: Here’s...Malcy!!!!

Tones: Aaaaaarrrrggggghhhhhhh!!! Daddy!!! Help!!!!! I thought you said cousin Malcolm was a shining light of the Walton family...

John-Boy: Well, he used to be – now it looks like he’s turned into The bloody Shining itself!! Good-night Tones...

Tones: Yes, good-night John-Boy...whaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa....