Don’t Barney with Batwoman

You probably heard that, recently, Julia Gillard was awarded a prestigious “Brave Thinker” award.

But, this is nothing new, as, for a long while in Gotham City, she has been famous for her courageous role in fighting organised crime. There, she is called, “Brave And Thinking Woman”, or BATwoman for short.

So, all the skulduggery in Gotham City has been cleaned up by BATwoman. However, a crew of ne’er-do-wells from the neighbouring Canberra City (which is so unruly, it would make Chicago during the 1920’s look like Shangri-La) has decided to fill the vacuum in Gotham City by taking on the persona of the now-vanquished arch-villains.

These Canberra City desperado exports to Gotham City are, Tony Abbott, Scott Morrison, Barnaby Joyce, Julie Bishop and, with her arms perennially around John Howard, Sophie Mirabella.

Now, the Canberra City dodgy imports are in their new Gotham City hide-out, planning how they can fill the shoes of the arch-crims defeated earlier by BATwoman.

Tones: Right, you lot...Listen up, cos we gotta get a few nice earners going here, so that I can start paying off my great big fat mortgage...And Sophie, get off Johnno’s knee – you’ll squish the poor old bastard...

Sophie: Huh! Stuff your big mortgage, mate! What about my great big fat court costs!

Scott: Yeah, and what about my spending money for my next holiday up in Nauru!

Tones: Alright, alright! I get the picture! But, there’s no need to fret, as it will be like taking candy off a baby – the only thing that’s standing between us and a heap of dosh is that pathetic BATwoman – and she’s only a girl!

[Then, at that moment, the gang hear the noise of an old, clapped-out vehicle coming to a halt outside their hidey-hole. After a few seconds, there’s a knock at the door. Tones opens it.]

Tones (sarcastically): Well...well....well...if it isn’t one of Gotham City’s finest – BATwoman herself! I’m glad you aren’t the Avon Lady, cos we wouldn’t understand a word of your sales pitch, as no-one here speaks Welsh-Gaelic...heh...heh...

Scott: And it sounds like they need to increase the rates here in Gotham City to pay for a new Batmobile for you – that thing outside sounds worse than Kev’s old jalopy ute...heh...heh...

[BATwoman is standing in the doorway with an expression on her face that is even more stern and disapproving than the one she wore when Bill the terrier pooped on her new Persian rug. She is carrying her handbag and has her hands on her hips, indicating she means business.]

Johnny (sarcastically): Hey, we better look out, guys – she’ll be pulling out her pack of Weet-Bix soon and we all know what Popeye’s tin of spinach did for him...haw...haw...

Julie: What I want to know is, why the back alley bitch hasn’t curtseyed to us yet...tee...hee...

[Barnaby also tries to get his two-bob’s worth in, but BATwoman can only stare blankly at him, as what comes out of his gob is pure unintelligible gobbledygook.]

Sophie: Huh, I don’t think it’s BATwoman at all! I think we’re in the Upper Room and bloody Col Gadaffi has been resurrected...bwahahahaha...

[By this stage, steam is literally coming out of BATwoman’s ears.]

Tones: Look guys – Peter Dutton was right all along – she’s nothing but an old boiler...hee...hee...

[BATwoman has had enough. She dismissively brushes past Tones, strides imperiously into the centre of the gang’s den and eyeballs the whole sorry lot of them as only a Brave And Thinking woman could.]

BATwoman (schoolmarmishly): And who do you clowns think you are, bringing your bad Canberra City habits up here with you! I’ll have you know, such a sorry lot I’ve never clapped eyes on before! If you think you can fill the shoes of genuine opponents, like the ones I’ve already finished off, then you have another think coming!

[BATwoman eyes Tones up and down, as if this was a Tea Party and he had asked for a cappuccino.]

BATwoman: Soooooo...let’s start with you, mate. By the look of you, you must think you’re The Joker...

[Tones nods profusely.]

BATwoman: Okay, can stop that idiotic nodding now – I’m not bloody Mark Riley...And, yeah, your big red lips are a dead give-away – you’ll have to stop skolling the red cordial, mate, pretending you’ve just taken some sort of crazy blood pledge...heh...heh...

[BATwoman then turns to Scott Morrison.]

BATwoman: And you, mate, think you’re The Penguin – am I right?

Scott: Yay! Got it in one! How were you able to pick me so easily?

BATwoman: Huh, it was a cinch, mate...The Penguin was a great lover of birds, so the sea-gull droppings on your coat spoke volumes – you haven’t been to Nauru on your holidays lately, have you...heh...heh...

[Next, it’s Sophie Mirabella’s turn to be placed under the microscope.]

BATwoman: And I reckon you imagine yourself to be the new Poison Ivy...Am I right?

Sophie: Yeah, how’d you guess?

BATwoman: Well, it was pretty obvious, luvvy...the way you are pawing old Johnno here, it looks like you are trying to get your scheming mitts on his Gold Card...hee...hee...

[BATwoman then turns her beady eye on old Johnno himself.]

BATwoman: And you, mate, are trying to impersonate Two Face, aren’t you?

Johnno: Got it in one, lady! How’d you guess?

BATwoman: Huh, I can pick a duplicitous, two-faced bastard a mile off, mate! Your core and non-core promises malarkey is a case in point...

Barnaby: Hey, Brave And Thinking woman...if you are such a great Thinker, work this one out for us – if you were going to build a tennis court, when there are also untreated white ants in your house, should you borrow money to do so, or download movies instead of coals?

[Everyone, including BATwoman, stares incredulously at Barnaby, thinking they are in the company of a cross between Confucius, Stephen Fry, Molly Meldrum and Sir Ian Crisp.]

BATwoman (perfunctorily): Erm...The Riddler, I presume?

[Then, lastly, BATwoman turns her attention to Julie Bishop who, defensively, is brandishing those rapier-like fingernails of hers.]

BATwoman: Aha!!! And you, most definitely, must be Catwoman?

[Tones reckons this farce has gone on long enough, deciding the best form of defence is attack.]

Tones: Okay, guys, let’s get her! When she’s out of the way, all the booty in Gotham City will be ours! Charge!!

[However, BATwoman didn’t clean up the whole of Gotham City without having heaps of gravitas and martial-arts prowess in her personal armoury. Before any of the pretenders can raise a finger to tackle her, she opens up her ubiquitous and trusty handbag and starts to unleash her deadly and powerful array of Superhero logistics.

Firstly, out comes her Aboriginal Reconciliation Batarang – that bat-shaped weapon which resembles a boomerang – and flings it at Scott the Penguin. Upon accurately impacting his scone, he falls unconscious to the floor, even quicker than that time on Nauru, when a seagull, who had been constipated for six months, finally was able to do a dump, which landed smack bang on his crown!

Next, BATwoman brings her attention to Julie “Catwoman” Bishop. She pulls her compact out of her handbag and, with the mirror, reflects the sun’s rays shining through the sky-light into Catwoman’s eyes. “Heh...heh...” laughs BATwoman to herself, “this’ll show ‘em the usefulness of alternative sources of energy...Take that, lady!”

Moreover, this so badly and permanently affected her vision that, henceforth, Julie is always referred to as “Stares”.

Then, Johnny “Two Face” Howard cops it. BATwoman, from her handbag supply, pulls out her NBN weighted hairnet. She flings it across the room, expertly ensnaring Two Face within. “We will decide”, she cackles, “who comes to Gotham City and the circumstances in which they get clobbered...heh...heh...”

The next wannabe to incur BATwoman’s wrath is Sophie “Poison Ivy” Mirabella. BATwoman retrieves her MRRT grappling-hook from her handbag, flings and secures it to a ceiling light-fitting, swings on it across the room towards Sophie and judo chops her with her feet! “Huh”, says BATwoman to herself, “after getting my MRRT treatment, her days of gold-digging are well and truly over...heh...heh...”

Then, BATwoman turns her box of tricks on the hapless Barnaby “The Riddler” Joyce. She pulls out her perfume spray-bottle, filled with weightless, but deadly, CO2, and squirts it into Barnaby’s eyes. “Tee...hee...”, BATwoman giggles, “after that, Barnaby will be so cock-eyed, he’ll be driving into every swollen creek in Queensland...”

So, one by one, the pretenders have been taken out, except Tony “The Joker” Abbott. However, having weighed up the hopelessness of his situation, with none of his cronies left on their feet to protect him, he does a runner. He streaks out the door, press-conference-style, and is over the horizon back towards Canberra City so quick, he makes the Roadrunner on steroids look like Methuselah on his zimmer frame.]

Tones’ erstwhile mates (pleadingly): Please...please, oh great Brave And Thinking One...have mercy on our pitiful souls...we beg of you...

[BATwoman, in no mood to give this scurvy mob any respite, pulls out her lippy from her handbag, indulgently applies copious amounts, removes her charm bracelets, which double up as handcuffs, and secures the losers well and good.]

BATwoman (gleefully): Heh! Holy misnomers! That Abbott guy thinks he’s up to replacing The Joker? Well, with the speed at which he skedaddled away from a fight, I reckon he’s more like The Choker...heh...heh...

The enigma of the ‘overarching narrative’

Here we are again – looking for the elusive overarching narrative, or as Paul Keating describes it in his latest book After Words: ‘an overarching and compelling story’. What is it about this concept that for so many defies description? Is it simply blindness among commentators who seem unable or unwilling to see what is obvious to others? Is it colour blindness that insists the Government must have an overarching narrative, but seldom asks what it is for the alternative government, which we are regularly told is just a heartbeat away from election? Is it media short sightedness with its focus on the here and now, the immediate dramatic story, the entertaining twist, the contemporary conflict, which blurs the distant scene and dims its vision of a changing and different future?

Is the overarching narrative a rainbow? There in its vivid colour after a spring shower, one foot so close to the water’s edge that one could almost touch it, with its exquisitely symmetric arch stretching across the water to the distant shore. It is at first vibrantly visible, yet in an instant it is gone, no longer visible, a transient image. It seems to me that while so many ask the ‘narrative’ question, few look for an answer. Commentators continue to ask: “What does Labor (or he/she) stand for”, which is code for “What is the narrative?” Yet for those who look, it is there, and has been ever since Labor took office.

It is not an evanescent rainbow. It is real and permanent. Kevin Rudd spelt it out and Julia Gillard has done so over and again. Some may not like the narrative, or find it confusing or incomplete, but it is there. Richo, who has sold his Labor soul for ten pieces of silver, once more asked ‘the question’ on Monday’s Q&A, but he is so blind to the answer that his question has become a mantra rather than a serious quest. Paul Kelly too enjoys the ‘where’s the narrative’ entreaty, and returns to it again and again.

When someone as erudite and articulate as Paul Keating asks the question though, we need to sit up and take notice. I have not yet acquired a copy of his book, but look forward to reading it from cover to cover. Keating is man of broad vision. He sees the whole picture, the distant view. His quest for ‘an overarching and compelling story’ seems to be a search for creativity. The 22-23 October issue of The Weekend Australian published the introduction to his book. Here is some of it – enough to give a taste of his ideas.

“Friedrich Schiller, the German philosopher, said: "If man is ever to solve the problems of politics in practice he will have to approach it through the problem of the aesthetic, because it is only through beauty that man makes his way to freedom."

“Romantic and idealistic as that view may seem to some, the thought is revelatory of the fact that the greater part of human aspiration has been informed by individual intuition and privately generated passions, more than it has through logic or scientific revelation. The moral basis of our public life, our social organisation, has come from within us - by aspiration and by light, not by some process of logical deduction.

“Immanuel Kant referred to our inner impulses as "the higher self", an unconscious search for truth, going deeply into ourselves to establish who we are and what we should be.

“Beauty is about the quest for perfection or an ideal, and that quest has to begin with aesthetic imagination - something informed by conscience, carved by duty. Kant called it "the inner command", the ethical construct one creates to guide one from within.

“But we need tools to mine good intentions: inspirations, ones which await the creative spark, the source of all enlargement. Creativity is central to our progress and to all human endeavour.”

Keating then reveals his source of inspiration:

“Music provides the clue: unlike other forms of art, music is not representational. Unlike the outcome of the sciences, it was never discoverable or awaiting discovery. A Mahler symphony did not exist before Mahler created it.”

But Keating does not eschew reason:

“This is not to turn our back on reason. Or to argue that modernism, with all its secular progress through education, industrialisation, communications, transport and the centralised state, has not spectacularly endowed the world as no other movement before it. But a void exists between the drum-roll of mechanisation with its cumulative power of science and the haphazard, explosive power of creativity and passion. Science is forever trying to undress nature while the artistic impulse is to be wrapped in it.

“While these approaches are different - perhaps often diametrically opposite - they inform related strands of thinking in ways that promote energy and vision. This is what I have found when these forces are contemplated in tandem. When passion and reason vie with each other, the emerging inspiration is invariably deeper and of an altogether higher form. One is able to knit between them, bringing into existence an overarching unity - a coherence - which fidelity to the individual strands cannot provide.

“In the world I have lived in, the world of politics, political economy and internationalism, the literature exists in abundance. But what is far from abundant are the frameworks for the intuitive resolution of complex problems that require multi-dimensional solutions.

“But from where do we glean this extra dimensionality?

“For me, it has always been from two sources: policy ambition in its own right and from imagination - the dreaming. Policy ambition arising from Kant's higher self, and imagination promoted by those reliable wellsprings - music, poetry, art and architecture - blending the whole into a creative flux.”

With Keating’s words resonating through our consciousness, let’s look back a little before searching again for that elusive narrative. A recurrent theme on The Political Sword has been the search for ‘the narrative’ that delineates the Government, that describes its intent, and that sets down the criteria by which it wishes to be judged. The first article on this subject was posted on September 14, 2008, the day after The Political Sword began: In search of the political Holy Grail – the Rudd Government narrative.  See, even way back then ‘the narrative’ was obsessing commentators, even if the general public didn’t give a tinker’s curse. That piece attempted to define ‘narrative’. I enjoyed re-reading it. It reminded me that nothing has changed during these last three years – ‘narrative’ is still the journalist’s hobbyhorse. Here is one quote from that piece: “The vogue word in journalism for groupthink is ‘narrative’. A bunch of reporters and editors read one another's dispatches, talk at events and on planes, and come to a rough consensus about where things stand and what's important…” That becomes ‘the narrative’ or the lack of it.

The piece quotes an article by Nick Dyrenfurth, a political historian at Monash University, in The Weekend Australian back in 2008 on September 6-7: Telling it like we’d prefer it. Dyrenfurth gives as good an account of the concept of political narrative as I have read. He says: “The narrative is a political buzzword. In the past month, former Prime Minister Paul Keating and commentator Paul Kelly have each taken Kevin Rudd’s Government to task for its lack of ‘an overarching narrative’, a coherent story of its policy direction that explains its imperatives. During the 2007 election, John Howard was routinely accused of possessing no narrative or agenda for his government’s fifth term. The politically youthful Rudd by contrast, was machine-like in conveying his dual campaign narrative of working families under threat from rising costs of living and Work Choices and a more optimistic vision by which he came to symbolize the nation’s future.” Has anything changed since then? We seem to be on a merry-go-round. An attempt was made in that piece to describe the Rudd Government narrative – it warrants re-reading.

Subsequently, at regular intervals there have been TPS pieces on ‘the narrative’ or its alter ego, ‘what does he/she stand for’. In August 2010 there was The enigma of leadership; then in November What does Julia Gillard stand for?; and in June 2011 What Julia Gillard DOES stand for.  Again, In August there was What is political leadership? Do you know? that addressed the issue of vision, an important attribute for a leader, and of course the old chestnut – ‘narrative’. Then as recently as this September there was: Is Julia Gillard entitled to a fair go? that again addressed vision and narrative. 

Why this recurrent theme? Is there really no narrative at all, or no coherent ’overarching’ narrative? Or are journalists simply dismally failing to see, or refusing to see, the actual narrative that drives the Gillard Government? Perhaps it is too complex for them to understand and analyse; maybe its elements are so scattered across a multiplicity of announcements and speeches that journalists find them too arduous to dissect and synthesize into a coherent whole. So why don’t they go to the ALP website and read Making a Difference.  It’s all there. There is a well-constructed attachment anyone can download that spells out in detail the Government’s vision, its plans, its actions and its achievements. Even a high school student could understand it. Why can’t or won’t journalists? Do glance through it and ask yourself why journalists don’t or won’t.  

In my opinion, many, maybe most MSM journalists, prefer their own ‘narrative’ or should I say their much-repeated mantras: ‘What is the Government’s narrative’? or ‘The Government needs an overarching narrative’ or ‘What does the Government stand for?’ That is easier than informing the public about what the narrative actually is. They have ample explanatory resources at their disposal. It leads me to conclude that these journalists, many of whom work for News Limited, are either lazy, incompetent or malevolent – determined not to describe this Government’s vision, and all it has planned, or has in train, or has already completed. That would paint it as a reforming government, already with many accomplishments. The picture they prefer to portray is a bumbling, error-prone, incompetent, directionless outfit, devoid of vision, with no narrative, and unfit to govern.

So expect to hear more of ‘What is the Government’s overarching narrative?’ But don’t ever expect journalists to spell out what narrative they are seeking, or one that might be acceptable to them. After all, that’s not their job, and we know they are incapable of doing it anyway.

Let’s continue by returning to Paul Keating’s words. At least they make sense and point to another dimension to the ’overarching narrative’. As we have only a snippet of his book, this appraisal must of necessity be somewhat superficial, but even a glimpse of what he’s driving at gives worthwhile insight. When I have my hands on his book, a more detailed account of his ideas will be prepared for you.

Harking back to the halcyon days of the Hawke/Keating reforms, there was a sense of transition. This quote from Wikipedia portrays those transitions: “Keating was one of the driving forces behind the various microeconomic reforms of the Hawke government. The Hawke/Keating governments of 1983–1996 pursued economic policies and restructuring such as floating the Australian dollar in 1983, reducing tariffs on imports, taxation reforms, moving from centralised wage-fixing to enterprise bargaining, privatisation of publicly-owned companies such as Qantas and the Commonwealth Bank, and deregulation of the banking system. Keating was instrumental in the introduction of the Prices and Incomes Accord, an agreement between the ACTU and the government to negotiate wages.”

Keating wants to see more of the vision of transition in the Labor Government’s ‘compelling overarching story’. Here is what he said to Paul Kelly: "I'm happy that Labor took us through this dreadful financial crisis so competently. But they are not in the business of teaching. And governments, to succeed with change, must be in the business of educating the community.

"Our Labor governments have failed to conceptualise the changes. We need a framework.

"What is the framework? It is 'Australia in Transition' strategically and economically. That's the story we have to present.

"I think the Australian people are very conscientious. During the 1980s and 1990s we proved they will respond conscientiously to necessary reforms. They mightn't like them but they'll accept them. But reforms have to be presented in a digestible format.

"I know that in the age of the Internet, opinion and perpetual static it is difficult to get the message over. I accept that. But the big messages have their own momentum. If we get the story of transition right then other things will find their place.

"Our problem is what I call shooting-star policies. We have a policy on carbon pricing, on minerals, on boatpeople, but they are not connected up to the big picture about Australia's direction and its transition."…

"Labor must recognise what it has created," he says, invoking the Hawke-Keating era. "It has a created a new society and it has to be the party of the new society.

"It can't be the party of part of the old society. Labor must be the party of those people who gained from the pro-market growth economy that we created. Labor must be open to the influences of this middle class, to people on higher incomes. And I don't think it is."

What Keating says makes sense, but has he overlooked some of the transitory statements that Labor has already made?

Has Julia Gillard not repeatedly talked about the transition of this nation from a fossil fuel dependent economy to a green energy one that uses solar, wind, wave and geothermal resources? Have you not heard her speak of the transition from dependence on coal to the use of natural gas, now being explored in massive projects in WA? Have you heard her talk about the transition from traditional manufacturing dependent on coal-based cheap energy to the manufacturing of energy-saving green products to feed the renewables industry? She has regularly warned industry that it must transition to meet contemporary conditions and future needs and that Government will assist in the transition from the patchwork economy to a more sustainable one of high productivity where all have jobs. The ALP website says: “Our economy in 2011 is in transition and we want to make sure the opportunities of the mining boom are shared by all Australians.”

How many have not heard her talk of the urgent need for transition from a society indifferent to increasing carbon pollution, its consequence global warming and its dire affects on our planet, to one where emissions are capped and penalised, and thereby driven down by a price on carbon and an ETS?

Have you heard her speaking about the transition of our trading pattern from one traditionally with Europe and the US to one more focused on our region and particularly with China and India? I have.

Has anyone missed the transition that PM Gillard has in mind for a regional solution for managing irregular arrivals to replace the existing arrangement where each nation does its own thing in isolation?

Have you heard her talk of the transition from a health system bedeviled by buck passing to a more collaborative arrangement with the Federal Government assuming more fiscal responsibility, the transition from centralized control of hospitals to control by local bodies, and the transition from a hospital centered system to one built upon primary care, prevention and better mental health services? I have.

Have we not heard her talk about the need for transition in the school system from the relatively closed system dominated by teacher unions to one of greater transparency where parents can gain information about the schools their children attend through the MySchool website, and about their children’s performance in the National Curriculum via NAPLAN, and about the additional funding for disadvantaged schools and teacher training?

Who has missed her promise to transform telecommunication infrastructure, which needs to transition from the slow speeds currently endured to efficiency-transforming high speed broadband?

Who has not heard about the Government’s plan for transition in the regions from the threat of slow decay to a prosperous future via the NBN, better water management, $10 billion of additional resources, and more regional infrastructure and health services?

Who has not heard her talk of the transition in the mining industry from one where inadequate rent is charged for minerals to one where a proper rent via the MRRT can extend superannuation, lower company tax and simplify taxation?

Who has missed the reforms proposed to transform the tax and transfer system?

How could anyone have been unaware of the transition from the restrictive IR arrangements of the Howard Government to the more liberal worker-friendly Fair Work Australia? 

One could go on and on but instead I invite you again to read the whole of the attachment to Making a Difference.  It beats me how anyone with any degree of fairness could label the Gillard Government as ‘do nothing’ when it is doing so much, and how Paul Keating can complain about the lack of an overarching narrative that bespeaks the transition that is taking place in so many parts of our national endeavour. The actual word ‘transition’ does not appear much in Making a Difference, but the whole document portrays transition, transition, transition.

I hope that in his book Keating spells out just how he believes the Gillard Government should ‘teach’ the electorate how it is preparing this nation for, and managing the transition in which it is immersed right now. I want to read more about how creativity and the arts, how beauty can be brought to bear on the process of transition, how ‘policy ambition arising from Kant's higher self, and imagination promoted by those reliable wellsprings - music, poetry, art and architecture – can blend the whole into a creative flux.’

The Gillard Government does have a clearly articulated ‘overarching and compelling story’. Many of us can see its narrative, but according to Keating many can’t, and of course many won’t because they don’t want to.

So it’s up to us to tell the world. ‘The Finnigans’ do this regularly on Poll Bludger. Take a look. I defy the skeptics to say this Government is doing nothing.  

What can we do on The Political Sword? Why don’t we keep a similar running tab on this Government’s progress and accomplishments, and publicize loudly every good move it makes? In this way we may quieten the recurrent call for the elusive ‘overarching narrative’, which to so many seems like a rainbow – here one moment, gone the next.

What do you think?

Junk-yard Japes

When he was cutting his teeth in student politics all those years ago, Tony Abbott used to refer to himself as “the junk-yard dog”.

And, even today, he is still playing that same role, guarding the junk-yard, in Oil-drum Alley, of that old Liberal codger, John “Albert Steptoe” Howard, with his back-sliding son, Malcolm “Harold Steptoe” Turnbull and their gang of live-in relatives, including Cousins Barnaby, Sophie, Angry, Peter D, Godwin, Julie, Joe, John A, Peter R and Chris.

Now, just recently, Albert has just got over the shock of a visit by the Carbon Taxman, who was responding to complaints from the neighbouring hippies in Windpower Alley, that his junk-yard was full of noxious substances that were polluting the local atmosphere with CO2, methane, and god knows what else.

So, just before the Carbon Taxman made his pre-arranged visit, Albert and Harold hide all their misfit rellies in their “Sophie” (the name they have given to their shed).

However, after his visit, the Carbon Taxman reckoned it is more of an issue for the Council Sanitation Department, saying, “Jeeze...this place is so bad, it would make the Augean Stables, before Hercules rolled up his sleeves, look like Hyacinth Bouquet’s front parlour”.

But what was so bad about the yard? Albert, Harold and the rest of the Steptoe Clan couldn’t see a problem with any of the following:

- Heaps of Tony the Junk-yard Dog’s doodoo’s lying all over the place
- A big pile of guano in a corner, deposited by seasonally-migrating seagulls from Nauru
- Heaps of rusting steel that Harold got dirt-cheap from Whyalla, after it was wiped off the map
- A pile of old boatphones, leaking acid all over the yard
- The rotting corpse of WorkChoices, left swinging in the wind on the clothesline (waiting to be resurrected by Cousins John Alexander and Peter Reith)
- Piles of rotting fish (Tony the guard-dog won’t eat them – he prefers to just give them a kiss)
- Heaps of Cousin Joe’s discarded KFC cartons
- A fleet of rusty Commodores (but no Bentleys)
- Sheets of Productivity Commission Reports that Cousin Barnaby used as toilet paper
- Chaff bags full of decaying left-overs from a recent series of Revolting Peoples’ Tea Parties
- And, not unsurprisingly, an infestation of “Julies” all over the place (as you can imagine, Cousin Julie took great umbrage at being compared to a cockroach.)

A few weeks later the Steptoe Clan’s junk-yard is the scene of an ever-increasing miasma. But still there is no sign of a visit from the Council Sanitation department, as threatened by the Carbon Taxman.

Then, just as everyone is getting complacent and, as usual, picking on Harold, who, they reckon, is not really one of them, Tony the Junk-yard Dog starts to create a racket outside.

Albert: Good old reliable Tones! He’s a great guard-dog, he is...That can only mean there are unwelcome visitors at the gate...Let’s go outside and see the bastards off, good and proper...heh...heh...

[The Clan hesitates at the front door and they all stare at Harold. Instinctively, he lies down over the threshold, and they all troop out, using him as a door-mat.

Outside in the junk-yard, the Clan notices that Tones has exited his kennel – “Kirribilli” – and is standing at the three-metre-high gates, challenging, in his own idiosyncratic fashion, some person on the other side.

However, one would expect a guard-dog to be barking ferociously at any unwelcome presence threatening the vicinity of its designated territory. But not Tones. All he can muscle up is his trademark wussy, “”, bark that he learned from Hillbilly Skeleton’s cat.]

Albert: Oh, for Christ’s sake, Tones, give over! You stand as much chance of scaring away unwelcome callers as I do of putting on my trakky-daks and representing Australia at the London Olympics...Right, you on the other side...identify yourself! And don’t forget, we decide who comes into this yard and the circumstances in which they come...

Voice: It’s me, Julia Gillard, the local Council Sanitation Inspector...and I’ve been advised by the Carbon Taxman that this place is a health hazard and could do with a good clean-up...

Cousin Sophie: We don’t care who you are...and, as a matter of fact, I’ve got a petition here signed by all of us, telling you and your fellow shiny-bummed bureaucrats to get stuffed...

Jooles: Huh – a petition from you? I bet Peter Slipper hasn’t signed it...heh...heh...

Sophie: Cheeky bitch! Why don’t you go back to Libya – haven’t you got a few hundred thousand towel-heads to massacre!

Cousin Peter D: Yeah, ya old boiler!

Cousin Godwin: Yeah, and don’t forget to send us an email postcard...hee...hee...

Cousin Chris: And why don’t you go away and have a kiss ‘n’ kanoodle threesome with Kev and Bob...

Cousin Joe: Yeah...and dry your eyes with your Carbon Credit tissues – they’ll be as useful as Monopoly money after we get on the Treasury Benches...

Jooles: Huh, if anyone’s got a monopoly around here on great big black holes, it’s you mate...hee...hee...

[Suddenly, everyone’s attention in the junk-yard is grabbed by the dull, repetitive sounds of something being whacked against what appears to be a hollow object. They look around and can’t believe what they are witnessing. Cousin Angry has found an old clapped-out speaker in a corner of the junk-yard and is, alternatively, spraying it with furniture polish and then head-butting it

The blood from Cousin Angry’s lacerated forehead is mixing with the furniture polish and is pouring profusely onto the grimy cobblestone yard.

Then, to everyone’s disgust, Tones lopes over and starts to lap it up!]

Harold: Huh, Tones...I didn’t realise you were into blood Pledges...hee...hee...

[So the insults hurled at Jooles across the locked gate continue unabated. Finally, after Cousin Chris tells her to, “rack off, you back alley bitch”, she has had enough, and calls it a day. However, the words of the last term of abuse give her an idea.

Meanwhile, Harold lies down over the threshold, allowing himself to be used again as a doormat.

Later that night, after the Steptoe Clan has gone to bed, Jooles returns. But this time, she has got company – not least, her new poodle, “Peaches”, that Tim gave her for her fiftieth.

Immediately, Tones sniffs the bitch (the poodle, not Jooles) outside the gate and starts to get all randy.]

Jooles: Tones! There’s a good boy...look what I’ve got for the gates, and she’s all yours, mate...You’ll get so much action, you’ll make Larry Flint on Viagra look like Simeon Stylites...yum...yum...

[Tones doesn’t need a second invitation. With his teeth, he grabs hold of the “Andrew” (Bolt ) on the gate, slides it across and the gates swing open to reveal not only Jooles and her now-cowering poodle, but a SWAT Team of Council Sanitation operatives, ready to disinfect, and even burn, all the crap in the Steptoe junk-yard.

As Tones looks longingly and lustfully at the poor poodle, who has positioned herself defensively behind Jooles’ protective legs, Jooles lifts her up and gives her a few re-assuring pets.]

Jooles: Now, I was saying...why don’t I take you away from all of this, away from your dilapidated kennel, and set you up for life at the real Kirribilli? Why, you could be the resident guard-dog and live happily-ever-after there with Peaches...

[At the very mention of such a horrendous prospect, Peaches tries to burrow even further into Jooles’ ample bosom for comfort. However, Jooles, still holding Peaches, walks over to her car, Tim at the wheel, with Tones tagging along, tongue hanging out in anticipation. They all jump in and Tim takes off like a bat out of hell.

During the journey, Tones hears something about a meeting Jooles has to attend firstly in Woop Woop, so he snuggles down in the back seat, ogling lasciviously his prospective bride, Peaches, who is ensconced on Jooles’ lap in the passenger seat.

Then, after what seems to be hours, Tim suddenly pulls over.]

Jooles: Righto,’ve been cooped up for a while now...why don’t you jump out and have a pee before we go any further...

[Tones reckons Jooles has been reading his mind, and gratefully jumps out after she reaches around to open the car-door. However, he is no sooner Pointing Percy, when the car takes off quicker than Cousin Barnaby driving a taxpayer-provided car into a swollen Queensland creek. After a few moments, the twin rear-lights disappear over the horizon.]

Jooles:’ll be a long walk back to Kirribilli from here for Tones...

Tim: Yeah, but he’ll do okay out here – after all, he’s been feral for a while now...hee...hee...

[But, the happiest and most relieved in the car was Peaches. The prospect of a dismal future of a life-time of ironing a junk-yard tyke’s budgie smugglers was not something she had been looking forward to.]

Australia’s King Canute: Tony Abbott


Has there ever been a more destructive politician in Australian political history than Tony Abbott, Leader of Her Majesty’s Loyal Opposition? His ‘give me what I want or I’ll wreck the place’ approach has been documented from the day he missed out on becoming PM after the Independents decided to go with Julia Gillard. This behaviour was predicted. His past behaviour, as described in The pugilistic politician written ten days after he was elected leader, foretold the aggression and destructiveness that we have seen ever since.

He has opposed virtually everything the Government has proposed, even when opposing seemed to be to his disadvantage. For example, by blocking the proposed changes to the law governing asylum seeker processing that would have made good the defect uncovered by the High Court, amendments that would have given any government, including one Abbott might lead, the right to choose its preferred country for offshore processing, which is Coalition policy, he refused to cooperate. It had to be his way or no way at all. Like the pugilist he is, winning the battle with the PM now, or at least not losing it, was all that mattered. Whether the loss would cripple him later seemed to be of no consequence.

Julia Gillard was not asking him to adopt the Malaysia arrangement, only to give any government, present and future, the right to choose its preferred option. But his obsession with obstructing left him no alternative but to block, thus cutting off the Coalition’s nose to spite its face. Perhaps he believed Nauru, the option he wanted PM Gillard to adopt, would meet the High Court’s rulings, but this was something he could test only after his election and his resumption of the ‘Pacific Solution’. I suppose he saw that as a long way off, something he could deal with at the time, an approach consistent with his short-term agenda of obstruction at every turn, and let the future take care of itself.

In an article highly critical of the Government’s asylum policy in the October 15-16 edition of The Weekend Australian titled Asylum policy a failure on all fronts, Foreign Editor Greg Sheridan still found space to say this about Abbott: “In frustrating the government’s attempt to legislate to overcome the High Court’s ruling that the Malaysia Solution was illegal, Tony Abbott has disabled not just the government but the nation.” Sheridan’s contention is that "losing control of boat arrivals puts us on the road to European-style dysfunction” and threatens our sovereignty. Sheridan went on to say: “It is the single most irresponsible and destructive thing Abbott has done in his political career. It reeks of hypocrisy. For the opposition to be arguing that a country has to be a signatory to the UN Refugee Convention before boatpeople could be sent there is hypocritical on every level. Nauru was not a signatory when the Howard government sent people there…”

Despite the PM having been advised by experienced officials that Nauru would be ineffective as a deterrent to people smugglers, which after all is the whole point of offshore processing, Abbott was unprepared to listen, preferring to accept as gospel his mantra: ‘It worked before, so it will work again’, although the circumstances are quite different now from when Nauru was last used.

Challenged to confirm that the Coalition would continue its ‘turn back the boats’ policy despite the life-threatening hazards to the boatpeople and Navy personnel, and Indonesia’s insistence that they don’t want the boats back, Abbott confirmed that the policy is extant and will not be changed regardless of advice from the Navy that this practice is dangerous.

Stubborn opposition for its own sake, despite the damage it might do to his own policies, and persistence with policies that are unworkable and outdated constitutes one level of obstruction, but now Abbott’s obstruction has progressed to a deeper and more sinister level, one that is best described as the King Canute approach, one where he believes he can beat back the tide of events, the tide of history, simply by saying he will.

Readers will remember the story of King Canute, which may be apocryphal, but it serves to make the point of this piece. King Canute of Denmark, sometimes know as 'Cnut the Great', set his throne by the sea shore and commanded the tide to halt and not wet his feet and robes. (Wikipedia)

This is what Abbott is doing politically. He thinks he can command the tide. He believes he can beat back the tide of any event, any proposal which he derides. Let’s look at some examples.

Most brazen is his threat to repeal the Clean Energy Future legislation. Designed to reduce carbon pollution by Australian industry and thereby contribute to slowing the accumulation of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere and the global temperature rises they are inducing, and in the long run saving the planet and its occupants from the dire consequences of global warming, Abbott has sworn a blood oath that he will repeal any legislation this Government has passed to this end. To hell with the planet seems to be Abbott’s attitude, perhaps reflecting his previously stated belief that ‘climate change is crap’, one he has now opportunistically modified for public consumption.

Not only is he vowing to repeal the legislation, but also all the associated mechanisms for its implementation. He has warned business not to acquire carbon credits, which are said to be legally enforceable property rights, threatening that a future Coalition Government might not compensate firms for their carbon credit outlays. This might be a moot legal point, but Abbott cares nothing about the legalities; what he is attempting to do is once again create fear, uncertainty and doubt, so as to intimidate businessmen to hold back. It is almost certainly nothing but bluff, but Abbott is a past master at bluff and intimidation. No doubt he fears that left to their own devices, businesses will buy credits on the futures market where prices would likely be more favourable, and leave him with a massive compensation bill.

It gets worse. While Abbott was hammering nails in the NT, Andrew Robb was out warning business not to seek funding from the soon-to-be-staffed $10 billion Clean Energy Finance Corporation.  Joe Hockey echoed his message, warning investors in renewable energy not to count on money from the corporation, which he vowed the Coalition would abolish.

So King Canute Abbott and his henchmen are already out there telling everyone that they can halt the carbon tax tide. That is as futile as King Canute’s command to the tide to halt so that his feet and robes would not get wet. They know they can’t, but they are trying on the intimidation anyway.

Business is disconcerted and unsettled by this threat. In the 19 October issue of Climate Spectator, Giles Parkinson, in an article Pricing in Abbott's carbon extremism, says: “With each day that passes, the conservative Coalition in Australia more and more resembles the Tea Party reactionaries in the US, promoting policies that defy the science, are economically illiterate, are based on a distant technological past, and might as well have been orchestrated by Alan Jones, the NSW radio shock jock and Coalition puppeteer – or Rush Limbaugh, his US equivalent. Scarily though, the prospect that this strategy might actually succeed threatens to add billions of dollars to the cost of energy in the country, and to the cost of carbon abatement. Sovereign risk has never been a greater threat.

“The Coalition climate change policy, as it stands, makes as much sense as someone who declares that the world is flat but they intend to sail around the globe anyway. The difficulty for corporates and their strategic planners, is that they have to somehow make sense of all this and price this incoherence into their business models.”

In his Crikey piece, The Coalition game of deterring renewables investment Bernard Keane says: “The two significant problems for the strategy are the issue of compensation for carbon permits and one of the direct action components of the package, the Clean Energy Finance Corporation. The latter is problematic because, even if Abbott’s warnings about repeal deter private investment in renewables, there’ll still be billions available via the corporation…”

Read what Angela MacDonald Smith and Perry Williams had to say in The Australian Financial Review on 18 October in Abbott’s stand sparks power price anger and you will see the uncertainty and fury that Abbott’s stand has created – it is destructiveness writ large.

On October 20, writing in The Age, in an article Carbon tax praised by investors, David Wroe and Katherine Murphy had this to say: “The world's four major green investment groups representing $20 trillion in funds have hailed Australia's carbon tax as a boon for investors, strongly backing the government's claim that the scheme will deliver economic benefits. The report, commissioned by groups representing 285 pension funds and other institutional investors around the globe, found that Labor's carbon price and financial assistance for green technology ''should provide investors with real confidence'' in investing in renewable energy in Australia.

“It backs recent accusations by some in the energy industry that Opposition Leader Tony Abbott's vows to repeal the carbon tax and the uncertainty this was creating could damage investment. Mr Abbott has faced questions about whether his decision to axe the scheme - including the permits electricity generators say they need for ''hedging'' - will expose a future Coalition government to compensation claims and trigger a jump in power prices. Yesterday he said: ''We are very confident that we can remove the carbon tax without becoming liable for compensation.''

King Canute Abbott continues to believe he can hold back the tide.

On the personal domestic front, Abbott’s bland assurance that if there is no tax there is no need for compensation belies the extreme political difficulty of clawing back tax benefits and pension increases already in people’s pockets. It’s another Canute strategy that he knows won’t work, but he persists.

His insistence that a win for him at the next election would give him a mandate to repeal all aspects of the carbon legislation, and that Labor and the Greens would be morally obliged to support him in the repealing, is another of his flights of fancy. Does he really believe that this Government and its supporters in the parliament, having gone through the tortured process of getting the legislation passed because they believe the future of the planet depends on it, would turn around and throw it out? Such a notion reflects his disordered Canute-like thinking.

But that’s not all. Abbott has threatened also to repeal the MRRT, the minerals tax, one that the three largest miners have already agreed to, thereby foregoing around $10 billion over the forward estimates that is to be applied to the reduction of company tax, enhanced superannuation from 9% to 12% of salary, and simplified taxation for millions of citizens. Why would a potential PM and government deliberately pass up such revenue, entirely on the spurious grounds that such a tax would jeopardize the minerals industry and the jobs that it provides, a proposition made ludicrous by recent massive investments in mining.

Despite his knowing that he would have to make savage cuts to government expenditure, amounting to around $70 billion, to compensate and do all the other things he has promised, he presses on, living in his King Canute fantasy world.

This Canute behaviour is a stark example of Abbott’s obsession with winning at all costs, his political extremism, and his destructiveness, even if it destroys him in the process. His blood oath, his fight to the death approach, is dangerously bordering on the pathological.

If you are not yet convinced that Abbott is a latter day Canute, reflect on the NBN. Remember how he commissioned Malcolm Turnbull to ‘demolish’ the NBN, yes demolish it, destroy it – a mark of Abbott’s inherent destructiveness. He wanted Turnbull to beat back the tide of this telecommunications revolution.

Turnbull started with his ‘colossal white elephant’ and ‘gross waste of taxpayer’s money’ mantras, demanding a cost-benefit analysis before proceeding. As the Government pressed on, he reverted to techno-talk, insisting that he could deliver all the services Australians need at a fraction of the cost. Next we had his fibre-to-the-node proposal as an alternative to the NBN’s fibre-to-the-premises, and then he resorted to techno-babble that was quickly discounted by the experts.

He has now retreated from Abbott’s original idea of demolishment, assuring us that no cable will be dug up, but Abbott’s intent is still to halt the partly finished infrastructure despite the fact that this would mean very costly recompense to Telstra and for broken contracts, would give us a mongrel mess, and would deny access to those not yet connected to this brilliant new technology and all the benefits it will bring. Abbott seems stuck in ‘what we already have is OK for my emails and for my daughters to download movies’ mode, and appears unable or unwilling to contemplate the massive benefits to health, education, business and agriculture the NBN will bring, and the enormous cost savings it will enable, which in health alone would pay for the scheme according to telecommunications economists.

The extent of the disappointment that would result from Abbott halting the NBN, beating back the telecommunications tide, can be judged from the reaction to the PM’s recent visit to Wollongong, as recorded in Illawarra Mercury in an editorial PM delivers on promises to Illawarra.

“Ms Gillard’s attendance at Regional Development Australia’s Transforming Illawarra conference marked a good day for her. More importantly, it was a good day for Wollongong. The excitement at the conference over the NBN was palpable. The opportunities that could arise from our connection to the technology permeated through various sessions and was all the talk in between. RDA Illawarra could not be more chuffed.

“NBN is far more than just faster internet, a point made by former Tasmanian premier David Bartlett, who now works for ‘digital futures’ enterprise Explor. He says the NBN will offer communities, businesses and individuals new opportunities to create wealth, to communicate and to find solutions to old problems. The Federal Opposition would like to pull the plug on the NBN, which reflects the view of many people who say it is too expensive for what it will achieve. However, we believe the generations ahead will look back and see the roll-out as an example of enlightened thinking. And, in the Illawarra, we are finally seeing in some tangible ways how our ‘old economy’’ can be transformed to the benefit of everyone.”

Abbott’s persistence with his intent to halt the NBN is yet another example of where his egotistical Canute-like behaviour is taking him, and should he succeed, the prosperity of this nation with him. He is dangerous.

These examples suffice to illustrate how Abbott has become Australia’s King Canute. Does he really believe that he possesses the powers Canute declared he possessed? It certainly seems like it, but maybe it is just more Abbott bully-boy bluff.

The story of King Canute has more to it: “Continuing to rise as usual, the tide dashed over his feet and legs without respect to his royal person. Then the king leapt backwards, saying: ‘Let all men know how empty and worthless is the power of kings, for there is none worthy of the name, but He whom heaven, earth, and sea obey by eternal laws.’ He then hung his gold crown on a crucifix, and never wore it again ‘to the honour of God the almighty King’. (Wikipedia). The House of Commons Information Office records that Canute set up a Royal palace during his reign on Thorney Island (later to become known as Westminster) as the area was sufficiently far away from the busy settlement to the east known as London. It is believed that, on this site, Canute tried to command the tide of the river to prove to his courtiers that they were fools to think that he could command the waves.”

There is a salutary lesson here for the Leader of Her Majesty’s Loyal Opposition, but is the zealot Abbott open to Canute's insight? Or will he and his courtiers continue to be foolish enough to believe that they really can command the waves and turn back the tide?

What do you think?