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?

It’s time to lock the gate on the Barbarians before the reasonable get trampled underfoot

It's time the men and women of Australia stopped treating our Prime Minister like she is beneath contempt. I should know, I can smell it a mile off. I have two teenage boys, and they tell me how their mates behave towards women who have done nothing more to deserve their contempt than be nice to them. Thus is it taken by them as a sign of weakness and they behave accordingly. Not that they should, but they do.

I just had cause to pause and think about this these past few days, as I have sat through some pretty disrespectful behaviour directed towards our first female Prime Minister, a self-admitted ‘Shy Girl’, who has overcome the odds that come with shyness, to get where she is today. Only to be treated with contempt and disdain by the likes of Alan Jones, who had the temerity to upbraid her for being 10 minutes late to his inconsequential in the larger scheme of things, little radio show. Not only that, but he brayed at her, like the simulacrum of a hee-hawing ass that he is, a humiliating epithet of ‘Ju-liar’. Funny, I don't remember him ever calling John Howard, ‘The Lying Rodent’. Though there was much more evidence for that than any supposed lies the PM has told.

There have been many instances, too numerous to mention, in between that and the contemptible interview, with it's condescending introduction, that Jon Faine conducted with the Prime Minister last Friday morning on ABC Melbourne radio:

Click here to hear it.  

So awful was the interview that arch-conservative bully, Ray Hadley, congratulated Jon Faine on it.

Which got me to thinking about what has gone AWOL in the political discourse of late. A quaint concept of bygone times - Chivalry. You could probably say, equally, that it has disappeared from politics in general, and society as a whole. I only have to think about the proliferation of chauvinistic bully-boy politicians like Silvio Berlusconi, Dominique Strauss-Kahn, and any number of other brutish thugs in powerful positions around the world, as further examples to support my theory.

Thus, I see it as important to say that if we do not hang on to some sense of propriety in politics, and demand some old-fashioned, chivalrous behaviour from our public figures, especially those who are misaddressing our female PM, then we will become complicit in allowing the sorts of sophisticated interpersonal behaviours that the human race has developed over the centuries, since men stopped hitting women over the head with their clubs and dragging them off to their caves, on through the Enlightenment and the Women's Liberation Movement, to today, to evaporate.

If we are not committed to maintaining some standards, demanding them, the legacy and the hard work will be lost, and a new barbarity will replace it.

Freedom, justice, civility, and honour have long been concepts bandied about for political gain by those who scarcely understand the words. These ideals are, or should be, the centre of who we are as a honourable people. They should not just be convenient clichés meant to rouse support whilst doing the opposite. These truly liberal ideals would/should never propagate ignorance or hate, or deny equal rights and respect for others. Incivility and rudeness represent the very opposite of what the civilisation of the mind and heart stand for. Those who partake in incivility and rudeness have truly lost their way and are leading society astray. Those who think with open minds must speak out against them.

So it is up to those of us who still care about integrity, both our own personal integrity and integrity in politics, to perpetuate the maturation process meant to develop all the finer aspects of the human species, such as virtue and intelligence and thus stop the Barbarians at the Gate.

This, therefore, does not allow for selling out one's own integrity, following self-proclaimed leaders, such as Tony Abbott, when they are obviously 'leaders' who lack integrity; or following the crowd. Or building roadblocks to discourse.

It means thinking for oneself. It means finding truth, even under the pressure of long-held conclusions exerting influence over our thoughts. It places reason over emotion, yet never allows one to eliminate the other. It means finding and implementing answers and exposing untruths. As opposed to engaging in a culture of infinite complaint.

These are the citizen qualities that democracy needs. Without them, what is democracy other than the ugliness of mob rule? Steered by libido and greed. Something we have seen much too much of recently.

This new barbarity is propagating the very worst of humanity.

During our lifetimes we have witnessed the steady decline of courtesy and honesty, and nowhere more so than in politics and the news media. This decline has reached the point where some of the most fundamental aspects of democracy are being trampled underfoot. Therefore we must remember this: democracy only works when citizens are well-informed, given to thoughtful consideration, are civil in discourse, and respectful of the process that lifted Western Civilization out of the Dark Ages.

If we are to develop a new civility, a new chivalry, in politics and in political discourse, then it is best to determine some ground rules. And we must start by respecting the fact that each of us must make his or her own considered decisions, and we must all develop our own considered opinions. Nevertheless, we can also develop some general precepts that should guide us all collectively in how we respond to issues, politics and politicians.

Firstly, a guiding principle which sets the foundation for all else that follows is: We are part of the world around us, and that makes us responsible for the greater good. Ask yourself: are your political standards and opinions based upon the greater good? Or based upon good outcomes for vested interests that represent just the opposite?

Next, place good character and concern for others above support for purely personal financial gain. How many politicians don't do this basic thing any more? Greed is the enemy of conscience, and the downfall of many. Don't let it lead to you falling into the hands of the barbarians. Ask yourself, are your political allegiances based on money rather than concern for others? They shouldn't be.

Nor should we boast, but cherish humility instead. I know that may sound rich coming from me, but humility is the product of an open mind, and if I have not been so humble in the past, I hope to be now and into the future.

We must not assume that our way is always the best way, or that others are automatically wrong or evil, or the enemy. Although I am sorely tempted to think this about the Liberal Party under Tony Abbott's 'leadership'. We must listen. We must try to understand. We must recognise that we are all human and therefore fallible. So, with humility, we must invite honest sharing of ideas, and allow the possibility of being wrong. The Moral High Ground is still the superior territory to hold.

We must speak the truth at all times. Especially as those around us refuse to do the same. Truth is not something that it is OK to bend for the sake of an ideology. Doing so betrays what has always been best about Western Civilisation. When you engage in lies, you define yourself as a liar, and mar the reputation of all your ideals and your own ideology.

Tony Abbott and the media have used just this concept, hypocritically, to devastating effect to sully the reputation of the Prime Minister. Blithely ignoring the mote in their own eyes.

This is not the Middle Ages before the Enlightenment, when equal weight was given to every claim and superstition. Although the Internet has had the perverse effect of placing all information on the same playing field.

However, reason and honesty should claim their own supremacy. Ask yourself, in the game of political one-upmanship, are you speaking what is true? Or, defending political slogans that divert people from a clear understanding of the issues?

Partisan politics cares more about party loyalty and the acquisition of power than the greater good. It invites alliances based upon expediency rather than virtue. Once that happens, everything becomes questionable, and often devious. Words end up masking more than they reveal. Fears are shamelessly exploited. Once that happens, democracy is doomed to fail. The lives of the innocent become expendable, as we saw in The War on Terror prosecuted by the Neo Cons. As we can also see from the positions taken by the Climate Change Sceptics and Deniers. Dangerously delusional, devious and deceptive, putting the lives of our children and theirs, and the future of life itself on Earth, in peril, for their own selfish, short-term, short-sighted ends.

So, ask yourself: Are you defending those who oppress? Are you defending an ideology that is no longer appropriate?

This brings me back to the disrespectful treatment of our lovely female Prime Minister, by men and women alike now, sadly. Also, to the ever-ongoing vilification of racial, religious and social minorities. As prejudice in all its guises, sexism being one, racism another, impedes clear thinking and leads to wrong decisions. It is the mind in moral atrophy, essentially.

Prejudice and bigotry walk hand-in-hand. Prejudice means pre-judged. You are not thus seeing things in the aliveness of real, interpersonal relationships. Just as a political ideology that allows, encourages or winks at prejudice is the enemy of freedom and the truth.

So how is it then that in politics, strategy, innuendo and unnecessary contention reign supreme? Winning every political day should not be everything. The enemies of truth should not be praised or admired for their victories. In the wake of their victories, lies the destruction of our ideals. We should not be supporters of such political gamesmanship. Listening to political spokespeople or media propagandists, the rhetoric of manipulation could not be plainer. As advocates for the truth and virtue, we must demand fairness in public discourse, not the spreading of convenient lies.

Finally, the animosity prevalent in today's politics presents itself as more of an ongoing feud than a discourse of opposing visions and ideas, even though that is what most people say they go into politics for, and it is what most in the electorate expects from politics and their politicians. Unwarranted partisan strategy has done well in dividing the nation against itself for Conservative political gain. Sadly. It appears that it is designed to please corporate benefactors. Such as Tony Abbott's 'Direct Action' Climate Change 'policy', which will do just that should he get the chance to implement it in government. His corporate benefactors will be the most pleased of all. And, yes, developer donors, and the Pubs and Clubs receive favourable treatment by both sides of politics. This is all happening when you would think that our politicians' job should be to care for the welfare of the average citizen.

Just look around. All this is going on under our noses, now. No matter which party you identify with, surely you can support and fight for the kind of civility and reason that should be the cornerstone of civilisation and politics after 21 centuries of development?

Without that civilised distinction, all our power and wealth and sophistication means nothing morally, and in the process, we betray our hopes, and our history.

It's time we took a stand against the increasingly barbaric behaviour which has infected politics, and political discourse, like a cancer.

We've got to stand up and say:

“Cut it out!”

What do you think?

Cross-breed Purposes

The Assistant-Treasurer in the Federal Government, Bill Shorten, is in his Melbourne office pouring over reports on the Tax Forum, when his mobile rings.

Bill: Hallo, Bill Shorten here...

Caller: Hi,’s Chris Uhlmann here...I hope I haven’t caught you at an inconvenient moment?

Bill: Nah, can I help?

Chris: Well, I was hoping you could do me a favour, mate, and come down to the studio for an interview?

Bill: could be difficult, mate, as I’m not actually in Canberra at the moment...I’m in my electorate office...

Chris: Nah, that’s not a problem, mate...In fact, and it’s a long story, but I’m in Melbourne too...How’s about if I send a taxi over and bring you down to the studio?

Bill: Not a problem, mate...I’ll be ready in half an hour...

[Bill hangs up and memories flood back of that famous encounter when he sarcastically apologised to Uhlmann for interrupting his questions with answers! (see about 6 minutes into the following):

Click here

“Huh”, says Bill to himself. “That smarmy bastard isn’t going to get away with it this time either. I’ll settle his hash one more time, see if I don’t...heh...heh...”

So, in preparation for the upcoming interview with Mr-know-it-all, Bill reads up on the major achievements and future plans of the government. And, to arm himself with pertinent information, he quickly scans through his scrap-book containing some great stuff from The Finnigans on Poll Bludger and Ad Astra on The Political Sword.

Then, after a while, the taxi arrives, picks Bill up and heads off to the studio. On the journey, Bill isn’t paying any attention, except to his scrap-book. By the time the taxi arrives at its destination, Bill is in a world of his own, not having a clue where he is and, typical of Melbourne, the weather has turned awful, with sheets of rain lashing down. Bill quickly thanks the driver and, holding his scrap-book over his head to keep off the rain, scuttles up the steps and flees into the warmth and dry security of the building. However, he is surprised to see Chris there in the foyer, ready to greet him]

Bill: Oh, hi Chris...didn’t expect to see you here as the welcoming party...the last time you interviewed me, one of your underlings escorted me to the studio door, made me take off my shoes outside, and insisted I bow down before you...Jeeze, mate, it was like getting an audience with the Shah of Persia, ffs!

Chris: Erm...nah, mate, it’s nothing like that now...But, yeah mate, I must admit I was a bit up myself then...but not now, I’m happy to say...

[Bill smells a rat. “The prick is trying to put me off my guard, I reckon”, Bill mutters to himself. “I’ll no sooner be in his studio, when he’ll start his usual carry-on, making the Marquis de Sade look like Forrest Gump!”

Chris leads Bill through a labyrinth of corridors, heading towards what seems like the very bowels of the building. And, all the time, Chris is being as nice as ninepence which, as it is so out of character, Bill finds totally disconcerting.]

Bill: Erm...the last time I was here, mate, you had the prime-real-estate studio right beside the foyer...Do they reckon you need to get some exercise now and lose some weight...haw...haw...

[However, before Chris can answer, they arrive at their studio destination. Chris opens the door, flicks on the light switch, and invites Bill inside. It is a lot smaller studio than Bill remembers from previous occasions, but he doesn’t pass any remarks.]

Chris: Okay, Bill, while we’re waiting for the producer to turn up, I’ll grab us a couple of coffees from the trestle table over there – only Instant, I’m afraid...

[“Hmmm”, says Bill to himself. “Things have really gone to the dogs around here – only Instant coffee, and no producer as yet...I remember when Chris used to say, “jump”, to the highest-ranking producer in the organisation and they would say, “how high?”

So, after what seemed to Bill an eternity of small-talk, a producer rocks up, shakes hands with Bill, but doesn’t even take Chris under her notice.

Anyway, the interview is ready to start. Bill is looking for the Jekyll and Hyde transformation, with Chris’ usual, conceited, self-satisfied, smug demeanour coming to the fore.]

Chris: Good evening, viewers and it’s my great pleasure to have a chat tonight with Bill about...

[Bill has decided that attack is the best form of defence. There’s no way he’s going to allow this turkey to talk over him the way he’s done in the past. “I’ll give this joker a taste of his own medicine...heh...heh...”

So, frantically trying to recall some of the stuff from his scrap-book, Bill begins his blurtethon.]

Bill (sarcastically): Oh, it’s clear Liberal Party shills like you Chris think you know it all...but, I’m going to let you into a little secret – the Federal Government has got more policy nous in its little finger than your lot has in its whole body – even a body as big as Joe Hockey’s...heh...heh...

Chris: But...but...but...

Bill: Oh, isn’t that typical! I’ve hardly started with my answer and you’re “but-ing” in already! Well, I’ll have you know that due to our magnificent governing abilities, we’ve kept unemployment down to a manageable 5.3%, inflation to 3.6%, and Public Net Debt to 7% of GDP...

Moreover, RBA interest rates are at 4.75% - no rises in 11 consecutive months – plus a 1.8% growth in the economy during the 2010-11 financial year...and a $22.4 billion trade surplus for the last financial year also...

Chris: Erm...Bill...

Bill (sarcastically): Oh, I’m sorry to interrupt your questions with answers, buddy...but, as I was saying...due to our fabulous government’s efficient financial leadership, there will be, next year, investment in mining and related infrastructure of something in the realm of $140 billion...whilst business investment in general is expected to grow by 15% this year, and by another 15% the following year...

Chris (exasperated): But...but...but...

Bill (slightly raising his voice): AND! Both the OECD and the IMF say Australia is in good shape to withstand another global debt crisis...

Chris (pleadingly): But, what about...

Bill (triumphantly): Yes, “but what about”, indeed! And while we’re on track for putting the budget into the black, the Opposition is merely offering a series of great big black holes! So, while we’re being financially responsible, the Leader of the Opposition is disgracefully offering his arse for sale to all and sundry!

Chris: Bill...please...erm...

Bill: And while the Opposition is a policy-free-zone, we’ve got so many terrific policies, we make Santa’s sack on Christmas Eve look as empty as Jonesie’s chaff bag...Let’s take the HIS, for provided employment at the time when there was a danger of the unemployment rate taking off...Moreover, it kept small businesses afloat and lowered energy costs for the house-holders involved...And, what about the BER – the Orgill Reports show a 97% satisfaction rate among schools, the provision of updated and new infrastructure, and, support for the building industry at a crucial time...

Chris: (even more desperately): But...but...but...

Bill (with faux-anger): Chris, I know your fatuous questions are going to be of the naysaying variety, so I’ll just treat them with the contempt they rightfully deserve...So, as I saying...

[Bill rants on and on, sticking to his pre-arranged strategy of not allowing Chris to get a question in edgeways. Other topics he bombards the hapless Chris with include, off-shore processing of asylum-seekers (on this point, Bill makes sure he emphasises that Tones’ recent Boatphone Backflip is an even greater surrender than the one after Singapore), the PPL, the NBN, the passing of 200-odd items of legislation, the Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme, the dumping of WorkChoices, the MRRT, etcetera.

Meanwhile, however, the producer has decided the interview had gone on long enough. Whilst Bill was manically offering his outpourings of verbal diarrhoea, with Chris pathetically and futilely attempting to get a word in, she turns off the cameras and mics and pisses off to the pub. Bill, however, imagining himself on somewhat of a roll, keeps on spouting and is only stopped in rhetorical mid- flight by the polite request of the cleaner to move his feet so that he can Hoover under the desk. Shortly afterwards, an eerie silence subsides on the studio, which is a very welcome relief to Chris’ poor beleaguered ear-drums.]

Bill: Well, thanks, Chris...that went a lot better than when you last interviewed me on the ABC’s 7:30 Show...heh...heh...

Chris: Erm, Bill...I should have appraised you of this earlier, but you wouldn’t allow me...So, now that the interview’s over, maybe you’ll listen...

[Upon picking up the serious tone of Chris’ voice, Bill is all ears]

Chris (melancholically): You see, I don’t work for the ABC 7:30 Show any longer...they told me I needed “a fresh challenge”...something about ratings getting smaller than Tony Abbott’s nuts after a mid-winter swim in Port Phillip Bay...

Bill: Soooooo...this isn’t the ABC! So where am I?

Chris: This is Channel 7 and I now work for Better Homes and Gardens – but, to be precise, for Dr Harry’s segment on quirky Pet stories...

[Bill barely constrains a loud guffaw.]

Bill (with faux-compassion): Jeeze, the mighty have fallen...But, you’ve got me puzzled now – why did you invite me here to talk about politics when you’re now a junior Pets’ reporter?

Chris (indignantly): Well, if you had let me get a question in, it would have been clear I didn’t want to ask you about politics...

Bill (slowly): Sooooooo...why then did you want to interview me about...pets!?

Chris: I wanted to ask you what it was like to play the part of Bill the Terrier in At Home With Julia...

Bill: Erm...mate...I hate to break this to you...but that was a real dog playing the part...

Chris (incredulously): Really!!! I just thought it was you dressed up...

[Bill slowly gets up and walks backwards towards the studio exit. He gropes nervously for the knob, turns it, opens the door, steps through, closes it quietly behind him, and sprints so quickly up the corridor, the cleaner thinks Usain Bolt’s interview has just ended.

Thereafter, Bill Shorten’s nickname was no longer “Bill the Terrier”, but “Bill the Greyhound”.]

Why are Australians angry and scared out of their minds? Ask Tony Abbott

Melbourne is rated as the 2011 ‘most livable city in the world’, Sydney is sixth, and Perth and Adelaide are equal eighth. We have almost half of the most livable cities in the top ten in the world. And we have the most awe-inspiring country in which to live, ‘the lucky country’. We have untold natural resources: mountains of iron ore, enormous reserves of uranium, and enough coal and natural gas to last us a century. Yet, if you believe the polls, as a nation we are angry, scared, and dissatisfied. Why?

Of all the developed nations, we have come through the global financial crisis with flying colours, better than any other. Unemployment never became as disastrous as it still is in the US, UK and Europe, and now sits at around 5% compared with 9% in the US where 14 million are out of a job. We have a so-called patchwork economy where finding labour is difficult in some places while unemployment, especially among youth, is too high in others. Finding workers is still more difficult than workers finding a job. But we still feel unhappy.

We were fortunate to have a proactive Government in power during the GFC, one that injected stimulus into the economy in three well-timed tranches – cash, short-term construction, and longer-term infrastructure projects, now almost phased out. It was well-planned Keynesian pump priming that saved our economic bacon, lauded internationally as ‘the best targeted in the world’.

The result was that retail sales were sustained, and then, via the HIP, a million ceilings were insulated, with savings to the occupants in energy costs, and reduced greenhouse emissions. Next, there was the $16.2 billion Building the Education Revolution comprising 10 475 projects in 7920 schools for new libraries, multipurpose halls, classrooms and the refurbishment of existing facilities; almost a billion dollars for 537 schools to refurbish or construct new science laboratories or language learning centres; and just over a billion dollars for 12 639 projects in 9462 schools for the refurbishment of buildings and construction or upgrade of fixed shade structures, covered outdoor learning areas, sporting grounds and facilities and green upgrades. And in the process countless jobs were saved, unemployment controlled, and thousands of businesses kept alive in the regions as well as in our cities. Yet, the people were still not satisfied.

We also had a Reserve Bank that collaborated with Government during the GFC by providing monetary support with lower interest rates, down to a cash rate of 3%. These rates are now nearer ‘normal’ levels, and have been static for almost a year at 4.75%, with the promise of even lower rates should the economy decline. Yet, there are still those who bemoan the modest interest rates we enjoy, which they say are imposing an intolerable mortgage burden upon them.

The Government is investing $36 billion in the National Broadband Network that will give most Australians the fastest and best broadband in the world. Yet there is not much exaltation, except among the experts. We seem not to realize how lucky we are to have a government with the foresight to plan for a facility that will bring untold benefits to health, education, business, and agriculture, benefits that will place our nation at the forefront of telecommunications around the world. The cost savings in health care alone are estimated to be greater than the cost of construction of the network. But what joy rises from the masses at this exciting infrastructure advance, the greatest in our nation’s history? Precious little.

There are many other important reforms in train. Since the Henry Tax Review, thirty-two separate tax reforms are underway. One is the introduction of a price on carbon to precede an emissions trading scheme that will place Australia in the forefront in the emerging carbon trading market which almost every economist, almost every informed expert in the economics of climate change, believes is not just necessary, but inevitable. At the same time the Government is fostering the development of a green economy that presages what is now termed the ‘green industrial revolution’ that will sweep away old polluting industries. But the fact that our Government is leading us down this path is not just unappreciated; it is seen as a negative. The public opposes it strongly.

Another vital tax reform is the MMRT, the so-called minerals tax, which will enable enhanced superannuation, simpler personal tax returns, and a reduction in company tax. But are companies rejoicing? No, many are actively fighting against having such a tax. The public is largely against it.

In the health field a major reform to funding has been initiated, local control of health services enabled, mental health funding boosted, and a national disability insurance scheme begun.

The Government is tackling head on addiction to tobacco and to pokies. Plain packaging of cigarettes is being legislated and legislation to bring in mandatory pre-commitment for high input poker machines is shortly to be introduced. Note that this is for pokie addiction, not gambling addiction, which is different.

Why, in the face of all this good news, in the face of a proactive Government that is preparing this nation for a productive and prosperous future, is the public so disenchanted? Ask Tony Abbott – ask the Coalition.

Overseas commentators look at this country with envy, and surprise. They see Australia almost as utopia, with a strong economy, very low debt – the lowest by far in the developed world – low inflation, low unemployment, ample superannuation for retirement, paid parental leave, burgeoning resources income, a solid tax and welfare system, a health system that other countries admire, and an environment and lifestyle that others covet. They are gobsmacked that with all this so many Australians complain and whinge about their situation. They wonder why we feel hardly done by, and why we are disillusioned and disappointed with government and what it is doing.

Many Australians have lost faith in our institutions of governance and in politicians. They look upon their elected representatives with disdain, and use pejorative language to describe them. They accuse them of self-interest and loss of contact with the community, and often regard them as incompetent. In surveys that assess trust, politicians rank near the bottom, along with journalists and car salesmen.

Why is this so? This piece argues that this state of affairs is largely due to the Coalition’s, and especially Tony Abbott’s relentless campaign of FUD+ML: fear, uncertainty, doubt, plus misinformation and lies, one he has waged unremittingly since his election as leader.

But at the outset let us acknowledge that the Government has brought upon itself some of the ignominy that has enveloped it. Its record, like every other government in history, is not perfect. It has made mistakes. It has changed tack, and indeed its leader. But any objective analysis of its performance would not, could not, rate this Government as the hopeless, incompetent, never-get-anything-right government that Tony Abbott paints it every day, insisting as he does that the Gillard Government is the most incompetent in Australian political history, ‘a bad government getting worse’, something he asserts repeatedly despite it having passed almost 200 pieces of legislation in its first year, with no failures.

Let me document the Coalition’s and Abbott’s FUD+ML campaign. They know, as do conservatives in other places that ‘doubt is their product’. An article on the blogsite The American Prospect revealed how science is being challenged by those who seek to pervert it for commercial or political gain. The catchphrases they espouse: ‘doubt is our product’, ‘manufacturing uncertainty’, ‘establishing a controversy’ are put into action by ‘buying’ scientific opinion that creates doubt, uncertainty and controversy from those willing to prostitute their professional standards for money. This is nowhere more overt than in the climate change debate.  
Using the same strategy, Abbott has deliberately and maliciously sown the seeds of fear, uncertainty and doubt through misinformation and lies with great success in pursuit of his campaign of denigration of PM Gillard and her Government.

Take the GFC. The Government was brilliantly successful in negotiating this country through the most severe financial downturn since the Great Depression over seventy years ago. The repercussions are still affecting the global economy. But what did we hear from the Coalition? Debt and deficit! Far from applauding the Government’s actions, Malcolm Turnbull, Joe Hockey and Barnaby Joyce insisted that the stimulus was too big and went on for too long. Remember Turnbull’s ‘debt truck’ with ‘Labor’s debt bombshell’ and ‘$315 billion’ painted on the side, which was launched in Perth and paraded around other cities. The nation was rescued from recession, but all the public heard about from the Opposition was debt and deficit and how many millions per day were being paid to service the debt. Success was reduced to failure, and the people believed the latter – debt and deficit remains embedded in the electorate’s mind as a legacy of having elected a Labor Government, which as everyone knows is ‘addicted to spending and running up massive public debt’. Ask the Coalition. Misinformation and downright lies won the day.

Consumer and business confidence waned in the wake of the GFC. No doubt many realized that they had overcommitted themselves financially, especially those who had bought their MacMansions while interest rates were low, foolishly believing they would stay low instead of returning to usual levels. People saved more and spent less, and retail sales suffered. Gerry Harvey bemoaned the fall in sales although he was one of those who had encouraged reckless spending through his irresistible ‘buy now, pay years later’ offers. The Government copped the blame, yet a myriad of other factors were the cause. Abbott, Hockey, Joyce and Andrew Robb were out there, and still are, talking down the economy time and again, eroding confidence, making people fearful and scared out of their minds. Misinformation is winning.

Even when Wayne Swan was awarded ‘Finance Minister of the Year’, or as the media portrayed it, ‘World’s Best Treasurer’, from Euromoney magazine for his work during the GFC, Joe Hockey demeaned it in a most unbecoming and xenophobic way, diminishing Swan’s efforts with spiteful rhetoric. What did the public think? Who knows? But Hockey was determined to negate Swan’s award.

Look at the HIP. How often do we hear about the benefits of insulating a million ceilings, and the employment and boost to business that engendered? Seldom ever! All we still hear about is ‘pink batts’, a phrase that still evokes cynical smiles from those who hear it, and the ceiling fires and the four tragic deaths of installers, which the Opposition tried at every opportunity to level at the Government and Minister Garrett. The government was guilty of maladministration of this massive program, but not the tragedies, yet that is what sticks in people’s minds, thanks to Opposition misinformation and lies. The MSM, and particularly The Australian, was culpable for collaborating with the Coalition in this deception.

Take the BER. The Australian took up the cudgels from the outset, running a continuous campaign of denigration, highlighting every complaint, no matter how valid it was, no matter how trivial, headlining every rort or fraud among contractors, always contending that the program was unnecessary and wasteful; indeed the slogan ‘waste and mismanagement’ was coined during the BER and used repeatedly by the Opposition and the MSM. The enormous positive benefits of this massive program of upgrading our schools was hardly mentioned until three Orgill Reports showed 97% satisfaction and documented the vast extent of the improvements. Yet even then The Australian played down the success of the scheme and trumpeted only the downside, which was never ever more than minimal. Negativity triumphed; the good works were hidden.

Interest rates have been the focus for the Opposition throughout the Labor Government’s existence. How many times have you heard Joe Hockey bellow, and I use that word advisedly, that the Government is ‘putting upward pressure on interest rates’, which he insists is the result of excess Government spending and the inflation he asserts it creates. He was unworried about the fact that there had been ten successive rises in interest rates in the latter years of the Howard Government, and that interest rates under this Labor Government have been consistently lower than under the Coalition, have been static at a modest level for eleven months, and may actually fall before the end of this year. So what is all this disparaging talk about interest rates putting intolerable pressure on homeowners that Hockey propagates over and again? Again, misinformation and lies! Expect him to still insist that ‘interest rates will always be lower under the Coalition’, despite all the recent evidence to the contrary.

Is it any wonder that the public still rates the Coalition as better managers of the economy in opinion polls when all the rhetoric from the Coalition and much of the MSM denies the splendid track record of the Government, disseminates only negativity and misinformation, and repeatedly makes the prediction that ‘this Government will never bring in a surplus budget’?

Reflect on the NBN. Remember Tony Abbott’s instruction to Malcolm Turnbull to ‘demolish the NBN’? Turnbull then represented it as a massive ‘white elephant’, and ‘a gross misuse of taxpayers’ money’. He insisted that the Coalition could give Australians all they need in telecommunications at a fraction of the cost. Since then, we have seen a parade of misinformation, mainly from Turnbull, because Abbott is not a ‘tech head’, which has become more comical and ridiculous month after month. Yet the fact that Turnbull’s ideas have been steadily demolished by the experts is not what has been embedded in people’s minds – it is the ‘wasteful white elephant’ that they remember. Perhaps we can be reassured that the Coalition’s negativity and misinformation has had less impact in the NBN debate, as many people can see, better than the Opposition does, its enormous benefits.

It is with the ‘carbon tax’ though that Tony Abbott has most effectively used his FUD+ML strategy. He has scared people out their minds with his talk that we’ll all be ‘rooned’ by this ‘toxic tax’ pushing up the cost of living precipitously and perpetually, massively increasing electricity prices, wiping out whole industries – steel manufacturing and coal mining – creating crippling unemployment and ghost towns, disadvantaging local industries and ‘sending jobs offshore’ and all ‘for no environmental gain’. He has so grossly misrepresented the situation that nearly three out of four are against the tax in opinion polls. Barnaby Joyce has given him loudmouthed support and the MSM has been complicit in allowing Abbott’s misinformation and lies and his campaign of creating fear, uncertainty and doubt to fester in the community.

Almost no emphasis has been given to the compensation to be given to households. The ‘carbon tax’ has been portrayed as the reason electricity prices are going up, although it won’t begin until July of next year, while the real reason, the long overdue upgrading of electrical infrastructure, has scarcely been mentioned. The reason the price of petrol is rising is that this is governed by the market price for Singapore’s benchmark – Tapis Crude. It is not due to the Government or its proposed tax on pollution. But one would not know that from reading the papers. As David Horton poignantly points out on his Watermelon Blog in a piece You may say I’m a dreamer, if the MSM were to have given honest and accurate publicity to the ‘carbon tax’ and many other Government initiatives, how different public perceptions might have been. Do read it.

Abbott the scaremonger has used fear, uncertainty and doubt to undermine the Government’s price on carbon and its ETS initiative, one so essential for Australia’s future economically, and the globe environmentally. His malignant approach not only counters the Government’s plans, it places in jeopardy our country’s future and particularly that of future generations of Australians, all to gain a self-serving yet temporary political advantage. And it is not as if he has a plausible alternative plan to counter climate change. The Coalition’s plan pays the polluters, does not compensate households, is impractical, and has virtually no support from climate scientists and economists. It is a ‘Clayton’s’ plan for those who really do not believe in the reality of global warming.

Abbott’s intimidation that he will rescind the tax in Government has popular appeal because the public is not aware of the incredible difficulty of turning off the plan after it has begun, one incidentally that business and industry wants finalized to give them the certainty they need.

The MMRT is in a similar category. While reasonable people, and even the three biggest miners, believe that a tax on minerals dug up by miners ought to benefit the Australian public that owns them, there is still heavy opposition to the tax among voters. This is entirely attributable to Abbott’s relentless campaign of denigration of the tax and his guarantee he will rescind it, aided and abetted by minerals industry bodies with their public campaigning and the MSM’s endorsement of it. It’s a crazy story more suitable for fictional literature, saturated as it is with fear, uncertainty, doubt, and intimidation, than a reflection of present day reality.

Look at the Government’s health initiatives. State Coalition governments resisted the reform of health funding until they were persuaded by its merit to comply. Remember the boost to mental health funding the Government announced in its last Budget? Remember Abbott’s response – ‘we shamed them into it’. Even a positive initiative with which the Coalition was in accord, brought forth a disparaging response, which no doubt many in the public swallowed unthinkingly.

Similarly, only last week when the Tax Forum and the Future Jobs Forum were is progress, initiatives welcomed by the business community and the unions, Abbott, who declined an invitation to participate, condemned such events as a ‘pointless talkfest’, and Hockey insisted that the several hundred participants, the brightest and the best in their fields, had been ‘conned’ by the Government into participation in a ‘gabfest’. What an insult, but I suppose Hockey would see that as a small price to pay for the further denigration of the Gillard Government, which after all was the intent of his and Abbott’s remarks.

I could go on and on, talking about Abbott’s unhelpful and often biting comments about plain packaging of cigarettes and mandatory pre-commitment pokies legislation, but what I have documented so far ought to suffice to make the case that Abbott has used a continuous malicious and at times venomous strategy of FUD+ML with grievous effects for the Government.

And he could not have achieved what he has without the complicity of the much of the media. Abbott has set about systematically poisoning the mind of the electorate, yet no matter how damaging to the public psyche this has been, much of the MSM, and particularly News Limited, has not passed judgment on his destructive and reprehensible behaviour, but instead has justified his actions, applauded his success, and lauded his climb in the polls. Even senior journalists such as Paul Kelly have joined in the ovation.

At a personal level, Abbott has denigrated Julia Gillard in a most despicable way. His labeling of her as a liar, reinforced by his acolyte shock jock Alan Jones with his ‘Ju-liar’ tag, has so permeated the psyche of the community that at a primary school PM Gillard visited recently, even a small schoolboy parroted the ‘Julia Gillard is a liar’ mantra, no doubt reflecting his parents’ views. Abbott repeatedly bawls her out for ‘breaking promises’, sarcastically uses ‘this Prime Minister’ to refer to her as if she was a leper, and attacks her personally in Question Time with a level of vehemence and anger that is unbecoming of a national leader. He regularly accuses her of backstabbing Kevin Rudd or ‘assassinating’ him.

We know that these very personal attacks have imprinted in the public’s mind an adverse opinion of Julia Gillard the politician, yet on a personal level she is seen as charming, personable, and courageous in the face of a mountain of opposition, adverse publicity and poor opinion polls. She is seen as getting on with the job of governing despite all the brickbats and rude questions directed at her every day. Sadly, it is the unfavorable view of her that predominates in opinion polls. Abbott and his sycophants have triumphed.

On last week’s Insight on SBS, a group of largely younger people expressed their disappointment and disillusionment with the Government, and indeed the Opposition too. Clearly, although they were obviously intelligent, many had swallowed hook, line and sinker the Coalition’s rhetoric faithfully echoed by much, if not all of the MSM.

So effective has been the negative rhetoric from Abbott and his Coalition colleagues, and from the media, that these young people seemed confused and uncertain what to think. Some even said they couldn’t see the difference between Government policies and those of the Opposition, prompting Bob Carr to point out that there could scarcely be more contrast between their policies about the carbon tax and the minerals tax, and to that could be added the NBN and financial management. I can’t for the life of me understand how bright young people could see the policies of the two parties as the same, when the contrasts are so stark.

I believe that this quandary can be attributed to the brainwashing that has arisen largely from the media, with commentary that diminishes the Government and politicians in general – ‘they’re all the same aren’t they?’ It’s what Lindsay Tanner calls the dumbing down of democracy in his book: Sideshow: Dumbing Down Democracy. The media has been instrumental in reducing politicians and political discourse to a heap of rubbish to be despised and thrown into the shoddy dustbin of indistinctness. And the ‘what does she stand for’ lament is part of the confusion that has been perpetuated over and again by the media.

These young people repeated what we have heard ad nauseam: that the Government can’t get its message across. While we all recognize that the Government has contributed to this situation, it is inescapable that the media must take major responsibility for it. It has seldom given proper prominence to Government good news stories – after all, it’s bad news stories that the people want. It’s bad news that sells. It’s mess-ups and scandal that their audiences crave.

What I am arguing here is that the state of mind of the electorate is largely a product of the relentless FUD+ML campaign that Tony Abbott has waged from the moment he became leader, as predicted in my first piece about him: The pugilistic politician, written ten days after his election as leader, and amplified by a compliant media, of which a major sector, News Limited, is actively campaigning for ‘regime change’ in the Federal Government.

Abbott has effectively eroded confidence in the state of the economy, the capacity of the Government to get anything right, the propriety of almost every Government measure to buttress our economy and prepare it for the next half-century, and the Prime Minister herself. Knowing the validity of the Goebbels dictum: ‘Tell a lie often enough and people will believe it’, Abbott has pursued a campaign of lies and misinformation, and has generated an exceptional degree of fear, uncertainty and doubt in the minds of the electorate, and anger in their hearts, as reflected in the opinion polls.

Disgraceful though it is, corrosive of confidence in Government and how it is managing the nation that it is, it has achieved Abbott’s purpose of creating fear to the extent that much of the electorate is scared out of its mind, angry, and ready to throw out a Government that has done and is doing so much to improve our nation. He has maliciously damaged the psyche of nation. That his actions are destructive to our country is of no consequence to him, so long as they advance his quest for ultimate power.

What do you think?

The Crass Collectors Come a Cropper

The Collectors program on the ABC has been a favourite of many for a number of years now.

However, the ABC has fallen on hard times and the show has got the axe. So, unfortunately, the three presenters, Claudia, Gordon and Adrian, have been put out to grass.

But, Sophie Mirabella has seen a business opportunity and, in an attempt to establish a Fighting Fund that hopefully will defray some of the costs she may incur due to her upcoming civil case, has convinced Mark Scott to loan her the use of an ABC Community Radio studio to present her own version of the show, now called “The New Collectors”. For the hire of the studio, she is being charged the peppercorn rent of $100 an evening.

Scott “Ban” Morrison is her co-presenter, and, to cut a long story short, Sophie and Ban are to get 50% of any monies that are earned in the show, on items auctioned, with the owner getting the other 50%.

Anyway, The New Collectors is just about to make its debut and Sophie and Ban are taking the final countdown from the producer.


Sophie: Good evening, listeners...Sophie Mirabella here...and a special welcome to you elderly types who have lots and lots of spare dosh just burning a great big black hole in your pockets...heh...heh...

Ban: Yes, and good evening, listeners, from me, Ban Morrison as’s great to be here...but, if the truth be known, I’d rather be up in Nauru – I just love the place!

Sophie: And speaking of Nauru, Ban, isn’t it just a coincidence that you have in your hands tonight our first item for auction which, if I’m not mistaken, was painted by your good self...

Ban: Yes,’s a painting I did when I was on my holidays up guessed it...hee...hee...Nauru – you know how much I like heading up there to get away from all the boats...

Sophie: Yes, Ban...I’ve just been looking at your portrait and, it seems to me...and I’m no tech-head when it comes to all this painting lark...but I’d hazard a guess and say it’s probably in the modern art category...In fact, it seems to comprise of a few off-white smears...skid-mark-like, actually...Would you like to describe it a bit more for all those listeners who are dying to put in a bid...

Ban: Erm...not really, Sophie...I think you’ve pretty much summed it up...except to say that the paint was provided by a seagull that perched itself on my head...

Sophie: Wow, Ban, that’s sooooooo interesting! So, while we are waiting for a whole host of listeners to phone in with their bids, and in due recognition of your very cooperative and diarrhoea-inflicted seagull, let’s just listen to Freebird by Lynyrd Skidmark.

[However, by the end of the song, Sophie and Ban are disappointed that her Fighting Fund and his holiday spending-money don’t look like they will be enhanced by any bids from listeners this time. The switchboard doesn’t even register one light. Sophie, therefore, moves on.]

Sophie: Well, listeners, welcome back to our inaugural transmission of The New Collectors...

[Suddenly, however, the beginning of Sophie’s next exhortation to listeners to financially contribute to the show is interrupted by a flashing light on the console. Simultaneously, there is a knock on the studio door, which Ban promptly attends to, whilst Sophie flicks the switch to allow the first caller to speak.]

Listener: Hi there...Sophie and’s Tony Abbott here...and congratulations on getting your great new big gig...hopefully it’ll be a nice big earner for you...And talking about earners, my big mortgage is really hurting, so I’m trying to sell a few things, courtesy of your show...So, by this stage, the courier should have already dropped them by...Oh, and by the way, Sophie, I’ve sent my ironing round for you to do as well...heh...heh – only joking, Sophie...

Ban: Yeah, mission accomplished, Tones...I’m opening the parcel just as we speak...So, why don’t you describe the items so that the listeners can decide how much they want to bid...

Tones: Righto, Ban...Well, of the items is actually a very valuable and historically-significant piece of communications technology...

Ban: mean the Mickey Mouse kiddies phone, Tones...the one with pieces of seaweed tied to it?

Tones:’s not actually a Mickey Mouse’ve got it all wrong’s really the Real McCoy boatphone off the Titanic...

[Noises of Sophie and Ban sniggering uncontrollably in the background.]

Sophie: Erm, Tones...any chance of you sending in an inventory describing the Titanic boatphone and the other interesting items you’ve sent in this evening?

Ban: Yeah, we need something written down, as everybody knows your track record on the Gospel Truth and carefully scripted remarks...hee...hee...

Sophie: So, what else have you sent in, Tones – tell the listeners about the complete gamut of goodies on offer...

Tones: you can see, Sophie, I’d like to auction a few of my academic my People Skills Diploma...

Ban: Yeah, that’s the one you got from Rupert Murdoch University, in recognition of your brilliant negotiation efforts with the Indos, isn’t it...hee...hee...

[A long silence ensues. Sophie and Ban cannot obviously see him, but Tones is nodding bizarrely and staring menacingly at the phone.]

Sophie: Erm...Tones? You still there, mate?

Tones (petulantly): Yes, and as I was saying...I’ve also sent in for auction another item from my academic portfolio...

Sophie: Yeah, that would be this rather thin publication, for which...errr...let’s got a Masters Pathological Studies, no less!

Tones: Yeah, that was for the thesis I wrote on how Bernie Banton wasn’t pure of heart...

[The switchboard still hasn’t lit up with any calls from prospective bidders, so Sophie moves things right along, in the hope that some offers will be made, and she will get her 50/50 cut.]

Sophie: Righto, Tones...anything else you’d like to offer the listeners tonight?

Tones: Yeah, there’s the fish I kissed the other week...have you found it in the parcel?

Ban: Erm...I think it’s found us, mate...pheew! It doesn’t half stink! Smells worse than your budgies, mate, after you’ve been wearing them for a month! Euuuwwww!

Tones: And then there’s an autographed copy of my Battlelines book...

[At this point, one of the switchboard lights kicks in and another knock is heard at the studio door. Whilst Ban gets up to see who’s there, Sophie answers the caller, who speaks with a distinctive, dusky, male, North African voice.]

Caller: Hallo, infidels...It is I, Col Gadaffi here...I would like to make an offer on your Battlelines book...You see, militarily, things aren’t going too well for me, so I want to read your magnificent book to get some ideas on how to drive these treacherous rebels and their foreign mercenary collaborators out of my country...

[“Col Gadaffi” is interrupted abruptly by Sophie.]

Sophie: Right, can stop it right there...I can spot your corny Col Gadaffi impersonation a mile off...

[Loud guffaws are heard from a raucous group on the other end of the line. And Sophie has got it in one. Julia Gillard, Wayne Swan and Kevin Rudd are still celebrating Swannie’s recent gong from Euromoney magazine. In fact, Kev hasn’t been as pissed since that outrageous night at the Scores Club.]

Kev: Good evening, Sophie...I hope our parcel of valuable items for auction has arrived – the gold teeth, diamonds, antique chamber-pot and Grecian urn, etcetera, etcetera...

[Ban has just opened the box and is laying all the items on the bench in front of their microphones. Sophie’s usual gut reaction to offers from lefties is to tell them to get stuffed, but the mention of diamonds, etcetera, and the ongoing realisation of her precarious pecuniary position causes her to have second thoughts.]

Kev: So, Sophie, your listeners might like, firstly, to put in bids for the gold teeth...

[Sophie takes hold of what looks like an ancient set of dentures, with gold fillings encased within. Upon closer inspection, however, a look of absolute revulsion comes over her visage and she drops them quicker than Tones drops the s***-word.]

Sophie: Euuuwwww! They’re disgusting! Why, they’re not gold teeth – they’re just covered in yucky yellow stains!

Kev: Oh, what a bummer! And there was I thinking they were real gold teeth...I guess my old grandad was too poor to afford Steradent tablets...hee...hee...

[The sounds of uproarious laughter resounds across the airwaves to the studio. Again, understandably, no listeners are interested in wasting their folded stuff with a bid on such rubbish.]

Swannie: Hi Sophie...the universe’s best Treasurer here...hee...hee...Have you come across the diamond in the box yet? I reckon it’ll fetch a big price from your listeners...

[At the mention of diamonds, Sophie’s ears prick up . After all, you know what they say about sparklers being a sheila’s best mate. With fingers trembling in anticipation, she opens the box. However, what she witnesses is far from being a diamond.]

Sophie (screeching): Why, it’s nothing but a dirty big lump of coal, you bastards!!! Who in their right mind would be dopey enough to bid for a freakin’ aggregate of anthracite, ffs!!!

Swannie: Yeah, that was a bit slack of us...hee...hee...But Sophie, why not just see it as a long-term investment – get Joe Hockey to sit on it for a while and eventually it’ll turn into a diamond...heh...heh...

[Again, much merriment is heard from the other end of the line.]

Jooles:’s Jooles again...have you come across the antique chamber-pot yet – I reckon it’ll fetch at least a couple of thousand tonight...

[The only object Sophie can see that resembles anything like a chamber-pot is a cheap plastic container with a lid. It is labelled: “Poodle Poo Catcher”. However, upon opening the lid, to her disgust, Sophie spots a turd inside. She immediately freaks out, screaming that she hasn’t been as affronted since that cow, Belinda Neal, proffered her best wishes on her forthcoming motherhood.]

Jooles: Oh, don’t be such a drama queen, Sophie...Tim bought it for the new poodle coming along, and the turd is only a plastic one he got from the joke shop...

[Again, no bidders phone in and the evening looks like being a total financial disaster for Sophie and Ban.

Then, Sophie notices a sauce bottle included with the useless leftie job lot. But, before Kev can tell her it’s an ancient urn containing the cremated ashes of WorkChoices, and she should give it a fair shake, Sophie gives their line the flick and chucks all their stuff in the bin where it belongs.

Still, no callers ring in. Then, after a while, another knock comes on the door, and the courier says he is delivering a chequered flag. “Hmmm” says Sophie to Ban. “I wonder what’s going on here?”

Presently, a bulb illuminates on the switchboard. Sophie eagerly flicks the switch to “on”.]

Caller: Hi’s Andrew Bolt here...I see you’ve got a court case of your own coming up...I hope you have a bit more luck than I did...

Sophie: Yes, Andrew...I was sorry to hear about that...So, what’s the story with the chequered flag? I hear you were racing in the Melbourne Grand Prix today...does this mean you won the race?

Andrew: Erm...not exactly, Sophie...In fact, my car stalled at the start and I was still stuck there when the winner, Pat Eatock, crossed the line... I was having such a cry, the guy with the chequered flag gave it to me so that I could dry my eyes...So, I’m putting it up for bids tonight, in the hope that I can pay off some of the court costs...

Sophie: Yeah, Andrew...I’m sorry to hear about your predicament ...but I’m sure you’ll agree with me when I say that Eatock and her mates should, in good conscience, ring up and put in a big bid for the chequered flag – after all, it’ll really suit them, as, like them, it’s not sure if it’s black or white...heh...heh...

[Predictably, no bids are offered for Andrew’s chequered flag. So, the Producer puts Sophie and Ban out of their misery by calling a halt to proceedings. As the Producer starts to switch off the studio lights, Sophie has a last wistful glance at the blank switchboard. “Huh” she says to herself, “Andrew’s flag might be neither black nor white, but, after this evening, I’m even more in the red...Sheesh!]

Producer: There’s no point in staring at the switchboard, love, hoping it’s gonna light up...There’s as much life about it as there is in Joe Hockey’s great big black hole...heh...heh...

[And, to add insult to injury, as the Producer shoved Sophie and Ban out the door, she could have sworn he muttered under his breath, “I wouldn’t waste diamonds on this lot; talk about throwing pearls before swine”.

“Cheeky bugger”, thought Sophie to herself. “He and his sort are definitely for the chop when we get back in”]

Is Robert Manne right about ‘The Australian’?

For a long while, many who write and comment here have expressed the view that The Australian newspaper has a strident anti-Gillard, anti-Government orientation, and is pursuing a campaign to persuade the electorate to remove the Government as soon as possible. The Australian, and indeed News Limited as a company, has categorically denied that this is their intent, and hint that those who hold this view are conspiracy theorists or paranoid. But we now have Robert Manne’s Quarterly Essay Bad News: Murdoch's Australian and the Shaping of the Nation that forensically analyses hundreds of articles published by The Australian over several years, the most thorough social research yet done on this paper, that informs us about how it operates and suggests the reasons for its doing so.

The words used by the publishers to describe the Essay read: “Since 2002, under the editorship of Chris Mitchell, the Australian has come to see itself as judge, jury and would-be executioner of leaders and policies. Is this a dangerous case of power without responsibility? In a series of devastating case studies, Manne examines the paper’s campaigns against the Rudd government and more recently the Greens, its climate change coverage and its ruthless pursuit of its enemies and critics. Manne also considers the standards of the paper and its influence more generally. This brilliant essay is part deep analysis and part vivid portrait of what happens when a newspaper goes rogue.
’The Australian sees itself not as a mere newspaper, but as a player in the game of national politics, calling upon the vast resources of the Murdoch empire and the millions of words it has available to it to try to make and unmake governments’.”

I have read the essay, which is available only in print, and can testify to the careful way in which it has been compiled. It would be hard for critics to dispute the authenticity of the documentation. The angry responses from The Australian seem not so much to dispute it, but seek to shoot the messenger.

Knowing how fraught was taking on Chris Mitchell and The Australian, Manne began his own blog: Left, Right, Left. on 12 September.  It is well worth reading his first piece, also titled Left, Right, Left. Then, after a discussion had been arranged to take place at the Wheeler Centre between Manne and one of his sternest critics, Paul Kelly, Kelly pulled out. This prompted Manne to write on his blog on 17 September: Deconstructing Paul Kelly, again well worth a read.  Do glance through the Postscript to read about how the matter of ‘extract rights’ was handled by Chris Mitchell. It gives further insight into Mitchell’s modus operandi.

In the absence of Paul Kelly, the Wheeler Centre dialogue went ahead in September with Max Gillies reading the Kelly critique and Manne responding, augmented with questions and comments by the editor of Crikey, Sophie Black. The dialogue was recorded by SlowTV and is well worth the hour it takes to watch.  

Another event that is worth viewing is an interview of Manne by Eric Beecher, publisher of Crikey, presented at the Melbourne Writers Festival titled: Power Without Responsibility: The Australian – Manne & Beecher, also recorded on SlowTV.  

The Essay was composed after an exhaustive analysis of hundreds of articles written by several of the paper’s journalists; opinion pieces and editorials, aided by the Factiva newspaper database formula. Manne decided to write the essay in September 2010 after he became “…convinced that this newspaper, which had played a part in the unraveling of the Rudd government, would not rest until it saw the end of the Gillard government and the destruction of the Labor-Greens alliance.”

In his introduction, Manne says: “The Australian is in my view the country’s most important newspaper. Under Chris Mitchell it has evolved into a kind of broadsheet perhaps never before seen here. It is an unusually ideological paper, committed to advancing the causes of neo-liberalism in economics and neo-conservatism in the sphere of foreign policy. Its style and tone are also unlike that of any other newspaper in the nation’s history. The Australian is ruthless in pursuit of those who oppose its worldview – market fundamentalism, minimal action on climate change, the federal intervention in indigenous affairs, uncritical support for the American alliance and for Israel, opposition to what it calls political correctness and moral relativism. It exhibits distaste, even hatred, for what it terms ‘the Left’, and in particular for the Greens. It is driven by contempt for its two natural rivals, the Fairfax press and the ABC, one of which it seems to wish to destroy altogether, the other of which it seeks to discredit for its supposed left-wing bias and to reshape. Both the Fairfax newspapers and the ABC are belittled by The Australian. Yet at least until the Murdoch empire was weakened in early July 2011, for the most part they turned the other cheek.”

He goes on to say: “The Australian is a remorselessly campaigning paper; in recent times against the Building the Education Revolution program and the National Broadband Network. In these campaigns its assigned journalists appear to begin with their editorially determined conclusion and then seek out evidence to support it. The paper is also unusually self-referential and boastful, heaping extravagant praise upon itself for its acumen and prescience, almost on a daily basis, never failing to inform its readers that it was the first to report something or the only paper to provide real scrutiny or intelligent interpretation. Related to its boastfulness is The Australian’s notorious sensitivity to criticism. It regularly explodes with indignation and rage when criticized. It also bears many grudges.” Manne goes onto describe its grudge against Simon Overland, then Victoria Police Chief Commissioner, who was pursued by the paper until his career was ruined, and even after that.

Manne’s account is in accord with what those contributing to this blogsite have been saying for a long while. So why bother about The Australian at all? It has a weekday distribution of only 100,000 to 130,000. Manne gives cogent reasons. It is said to have never made a profit, yet it is very well resourced by Rupert Murdoch who continues to support it, presumably because of its capacity to exercise significant power and influence over the political scene in pursuit of his commercial interests and political objectives. Moreover, as Manne points out: “Because of the dominant position it has assumed in its Canberra coverage, The Australian influences the way the much more widely read News Limited tabloids, like the Daily Telegraph and the Herald Sun, report national politics, and frequently sets the agenda of commercial radio and television and the ABC, even the up-market breakfast program on Radio National.”

Manne goes on: “…the Australian is…the only newspaper that is read by virtually all members of the group [he] calls the political class, a group that includes politicians, leading public servants, business people and the most politically engaged citizens. Even those who loathe the paper understand that they cannot afford to ignore it.”

Does anyone doubt the enormous influence The Australian has on political life and thought in this country? If we take that as a given, what are the consequences?

A quick review of the matters covered by Manne will give an idea of where he considers The Australian to have exercised its most profound influence; his analysis of the paper’s modus operandi in covering these issues gives insight into how it exercises that influence.

Manne deals with ‘The Making of Keith Windschuttle’, describing how his book The Fabrication of Aboriginal History, which runs contrary to established historical records, was given undue prominence by The Australian. He describes the unquestioning approach taken by the paper to the Iraq War in: ‘The Iraq Invasion: “An Open and Shut Case’, and how the paper attacked Media Watch in Media Watch: “They are certainly not good enough to judge us". Manne deals exhaustively with climate change in Climate Change: “Clear, Catastrophic Threats”, to which I shall return. He has a chapter: Kevin Rudd: “More Gough Whitlam Heavy than John Howard Lite”, where he describes the paper’s role in the saga surrounding Rudd.

There is then a chapter titled Tweet Tweet, which begins by describing the ‘outing’ of blogger Greg Jericho as a Canberra public servant, which then goes on to describe the paper’s action following a tweet by a young university lecturer Julie Posetti during a talk by Ana Wahlquist at the Journalism Education Association of Australia annual conference that described Chris Mitchell as going down the ‘eco-Fascist line’, a tweet that evoked a threat by Mitchell to sue. The chapter concludes with an account of the paper’s reaction to a tweet indigenous activist professor Larissa Behrendt made during a Q&A session. Remember she was the one Andrew Bolt accused of being German in origin rather than aboriginal in the recent court case against him.

The chapter on The Greens: “They are Hypocrites; They are Bad for the Nation; and they should be Destroyed at The Ballot Box” is a long one to which I shall return. The final chapter: Australia’s Murdoch Problems, describes the two that Manne sees: Murdoch’s 70% ownership of metropolitan newspapers, and The Australian.

The Essay is well written, carefully documented and referenced, as one would expect from an academic in political science, and in my view is essential reading for anyone interested in the influence of the media on politics in Australia.

To elaborate on the whole essay would take too many words, so I shall focus on just two chapters, the ones on climate change and on the Greens, as they give the most telling insight into how The Australian operates politically.

Beginning with a heartfelt plea for a return to the clear thinking we learned at school, Manne says: “It is consensual among climate scientists that greenhouse gas emissions are warming the planet and that warming will have many powerful, long term damaging effects.” He concedes: “There is, however, no agreement on the precise impact into the future of accelerating atmospheric greenhouse-gas levels”, pointing out that while “...some predictions are relatively moderate although still dire…” others “…express profound alarm about what will happen unless radical action is taken very soon.”

Manne continues: “In the discussion of climate change, the future of the earth and the human future are at stake. As we shall see, what The Australian has contributed on climate change under Chris Mitchell’s watch is a truly frightful hotchpotch of ideological prejudice and intellectual muddle.” He then documents in great detail the material that appeared in The Australian on the subject, and how he sorted it into categories, ending with 880 articles. Of these, about 180 were favourable to climate change action, and 700 unfavourable, a ratio of about four unfavourable to one favourable. Manne argued that no one who was objective could arrive at this ratio.

He then details the long list of denialist scientists, a group representing virtually no one published in peer-reviewed journals, which have been given voice in The Australian. Quantifying this, Manne says: “In the real world, scientists accepting the climate consensus view outnumber denialists by more than ninety-nine to one. In the Alice in Wonderland world of Chris Mitchell their [scientist] contributions were outnumbered by ten to one.”

Clearly, Manne’s research shows how unbalanced, how biased against the reality of climate change the material published in The Australian has been. I shall return to this later.

Turning now to the chapter on the Greens, referring to Chris Mitchell, Manne asserts: “He has long despised the Greens. So has Rupert Murdoch. When he visited Australia in late 2010, he spoke of this country as ‘a wonderful land of opportunity’ and warned”: ‘Whatever you do, don’t let the bloody Greens mess it up’.”

Later Manne says: “On 25 August [2010] The Australian published its first editorial on the significance of the Greens’ outstanding election performance. The editorial ridiculed the claim that the election had witnessed the ‘real birth of a new political movement.’ ‘Political observers who didn’t come down in the last shower’ had ‘heard it all before’. The success of the Greens was likely to prove ephemeral unless they abandoned their ‘tomato Left economics.’ For the one-thousandth time, the Labor Party was warned not to ‘lurch to the Left’.”

He then cited an article written shortly afterwards by Dennis Shanahan that “…described the party [Greens] in the kind of language B.A. Santamaria might have used about the Communist Party half a century ago… ‘Bandt [member for Melbourne] is a member of a party that has a worldwide movement, a national structure, funding from overseas, and a platform opposed to much of Labor’s election policy’."  Shanahan called for an election five days after the last.

If there was any doubt about the antipathy directed towards the Greens from The Australian, all doubt was removed in its editorial of 7 September. Manne records the thrust of it: “Greens leader Bob Brown has accused The Australian of trying to wreck the alliance between the Greens and Labor. We wear Senator Brown’s criticism with pride. We believe that he and his colleagues are hypocrites; that they are bad for the nation; and that they should be destroyed at the ballot box.” Manne concludes: “With this statement The Australian ceased even to pretend to be, in the words of its US Murdoch cousin, the execrable Fox News, ‘fair and balanced’. With this statement it made explicit what was already entirely obvious, namely that The Australian saw itself not as a mere newspaper, but as a player in the game of national politics, calling upon the vast resources of the Murdoch empire and the millions of words it had available at its disposal to it to try to influence the national political agenda and to make and break governments. The pretence of The Australian was that it scrutinized those in power. The reality was that it exercised extraordinary power without either responsibility or accountability. The Australian’s editorial of 7 September was a perhaps unique and most likely inadvertent moment of honesty.”

Need I add more evidence about The Australian’s political objectives both covert, and on this occasion, revealingly overt?

The stridently partisan stance of The Australian cannot be countered by complaining about issues of ownership or editorship. The paper is privately owned and has the right to take whatever political stance it wishes, and press its case within the bounds of defamation laws and the Racial Discrimination Act. What I find offensive and intellectually disreputable is that it so often does this dishonestly and deceptively. The way the issue of climate change was promulgated by The Australian, with a grossly disproportionate carriage of articles unfavourable to action on climate change, was misleading and mendacious. The ten to one ratio of articles by denaiists to climate scientists published by The Australian disingenuously represented to its readers the real evidence about global warming. It deceived the people. Is it any wonder there is so much skepticism abroad? And because its influence extends to the widely circulated Murdoch tabloids, radio and TV, the effect on the electorate has been profound, something we see reflected in poll after poll.

The Australian appears not to accept responsibility for promulgating complete and accurate information on important political matters so as to enlighten its readers – instead it cherry picks what suits its predetermined ideological, political or commercial agenda. This is what is dangerously dishonest.

It seems as if the political agenda, based on neoliberal and neoconservative notions, one violently opposed to ‘the Left’ and the Greens, is what sets the agenda; that this agenda is transmitted by the editor-in-chief of the paper to his journalists who take that as their starting point, from which they cherry pick data to support the editor’s predetermined position.

In my view, this is what is so dangerous about The Australian; ownership and editorship are relevant only to the extent that these players call all the shots.

What can be done about The Australian’s political influence?

Manne says: “…I can think of only one possible solution: courageous external and internal criticism. During the conduct of research for this essay, several people have discussed the strange passivity of the two mainstream rivals of The Australian, the Fairfax press and the ABC, even in the face of a constant barrage of criticism and lampooning. This is a not only a mistake with regard to the self-interest of both organizations; it has also left the victims of The Australian’s attacks vulnerable and friendless.”

He concludes by stating that there is considerable unease among former and present journalists at The Australian “…concerning the political extremism and frequent irrationalism of the paper for which they work and the bullying behaviour of the editor-in-chief. If such people acted together to make their opinion known, it is not impossible that change might come. The Australian employs many of the best journalists in the country. I will not name them for fear of doing them harm. It only requires a different editor-in-chief and owner for it to become a truly outstanding paper.”

That might be so, but can anyone envisage a change of owner in the foreseeable future, or the editor, who so faithfully carries out his master’s wishes?

Critiquing the Manne Essay in Overland on 20 September, Tad Tietze says: “It is here that we can more clearly see how Manne’s implicit liberal ideal cannot be obtained through either deftly crafted exposés like Bad News, nor through changes of editorial personnel or ownership. Murdoch’s media represents one wing of a wider network of institutional power, one that uses varying approaches to both sell its product and maintain those power relations.” And later Tietze refers to: “Murdoch’s long-term project to use certain key outlets to influence the political class in favour of his interests.”

Tietze concludes: “Murdoch and Mitchell’s strategy with The Australian has been to break from the niceties of liberalism and wage a hard Right campaign for what they want. In this they have both reflected and encouraged similar trends within the political class, perhaps most concentrated in the Coalition but hardly absent from Labor’s ranks. The veneer of ‘civility’ has been discarded as politicians and the media have gradually lost their institutional legitimacy. The great strength of Manne’s essay is how clearly he lays out the evidence of this process.”

So what can we in the Fifth Estate do? Manne believes that external criticism may have an effect although he seems to feel internal criticism may be more effective. We can continue our small voice of criticism of The Australian and its modus operandi by exposing disingenuousness whenever we see it. But like others who criticize this paper or its staff, we can expect the same vindictiveness that assails those who criticize or oppose. That is, if we are considered worth a comment at all.

What do you think?