Happy Christmas and New Year to all our Visitors

This is the time to wish all our readers a Happy and Relaxing Festive Season with your Family, and to thank all who have sustained The Political Sword throughout 2016.

First, thanks go to our writers. Ken Wolff and 2353NM, who have joined me to author countless articles on TPS and TPS Extra during 2016. Their pieces are of universally excellent standard on subjects of relevance to the political scene here and overseas. The insights that these pieces have brought to readers have been deeply appreciated, so much so that the The Australian Independent Media Network (AIMN) has reproduced many of these pieces on its site, courtesy of Michael Taylor who oversees the Network.

Backing them up is our coding expert Bacchus, who, working behind the scenes, ensures that the pieces appear in perfect shape with graphics in place. This is a time consuming and exacting process, for which we all thank him. He, with the other authors and my dear spouse, proof read the pieces to ensure that they appear error-free. We are thankful for their attention to this demanding task.

Even further behind the scenes is Web Monkey who maintains the backend of The Political Sword, ensuring that it opens consistently and performs as expected. The thousands of lines of code on blogENGINE are housed on a server in Singapore, which Web Monkey monitors and backs up regularly. We thank him for his support, now in its ninth year.

Lyn’s Links were an important part of The Political Sword in its formative years. They attracted many readers. When Lyn retired from this activity, Casablanca filled the void. We are indebted to them both for their contribution to the success of TPS over the years.

The TPS Ambassadors have given great support to TPS throughout 2016 by publicising on Facebook and Twitter every new piece posted on the site. We thank them for their continuing contribution to the site.

Finally, we thank those who visit TPS and TPS Extra, and those of you who leave comments that add so much to the vibrancy of the site.

Elsewhere you have been advised of the schedule for 2017, the ninth year of TPS.

We hope you have a refreshing break over the end-of-year period and join us again in 2017. There will continue to be much to write about in these turbulent political times, here and around the world.

With warmest Christmas Greetings and every Good Wish for 2017.

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The barbie bigot looks back on the year

[Editor’s note: the use of ‘septic’ in this article is from the rhyming slang — ‘septic tank’ rhymes with ‘Yank’, so ‘septic’ equals ‘Yank’.]

G’day ev’ryone. Welcome back to the barbie. The big news of the year has been elections, both here in Oz an’ in septic-land.

I’ve been a bit quiet since the election ‘cause, after all, the result was a bit hard to take (an’ it was a bit cool an’ wet for a barbie for a while). Mal scraped in by a seat an’ really spat the dummy in his election night victory speech. It wasn’t really a victory at the time, ’though he claimed it was. Victory speeches are meant to be mag ... magnamus … gracious, but not Mal. He couldn’t understand how he almost lost. All the gloss an’ glitter, an’ the smile, were gone an’ he didn’t seem to know why.

He blamed Labor lies about Medicare. I hate to tell ya Mal but they weren’t lies. You didn’t even call ’em lies until half-way through the campaign — an’ it was a long campaign that bored us sh*tless. You fin’lly had to say you wouldn’t privatise Medicare but ya took a bloody long time to say it! An’ you couldn’t deny you’d frozen the Medicare rebate — right through till 2020. You reckoned you were lookin’ after Medicare but if freezin’ the rebate isn’t a threat to Medicare, I’m not sure what is.

But let’s go back a bit. Early in the year poor Mal an’ his mob were lookin’ pretty perplexed. His mob couldn’t understand how their great white hope had become an albatross ’round their necks. Then Mal had a brilliant idea. He’d recall parliament to vote on that thing about the construction industry watchdog. What a joke that is! If he really thinks there’s corruption in the buildin’ industry, why doesn’t he go after the buildin’ companies? No, it’s the CFMEU his mob is after. Can’t have a strong union tryin’ to save workers’ lives! More than a hundred poor buggers die on construction sites ev’ry year. Imagine if a hundred pollies were dyin’ at work ev’ry year — they’d soon do somethin’ about that, wouldn’ they! Yeh, all right, like some of me laughin’ mates here, you prob’ly think a hundred pollies dyin’ ev’ry year ’ud be a good thing — no-one ’ud miss ’em, right? — but I won’t get side-tracked about that.

Anyway, then he does the double dissolution thing. He thought he’d get rid of people like the Motorists Party and Palmer’s mob. He got rid of them all right but even the blokes an’ sheilas ’round me barbie could’ve told him a full Senate election ’ud lead to more dingbats in the Senate, not less. Too smart by half, poor Mal!

Look what he got instead. The Ranga Redneck made a comeback and got three of her mates with her. What a rabble! One of ‘em thinks climate change is crap, all a plot by scientists — the only thing I’ll say in ’is favour is he’s bonkers enough to put his silly ideas out there. Then there’s the one who nicked the car keys an’ writes funny — as in strange — letters to magistrates. The Ranga Redneck had to remind him that it’s not jus’ the One Nation Party but Pauline Hanson’s One Nation Party — she’s the boss! They make Ricky-the-car-nut an’ Glenn-the-brick-bookend look like Einstein.

An’ for the election, Mal had his great slogan — jobs an’ growth. What about jobs an’ growth? — nothin’. Jus’ jobs an’ growth. No plan. No ideas. Did he think jobs an’ growth ’ud magic’ly spring outa the ground jus’ ’cause he kept sayin’ it? It certainly seemed like it. After all, he was the god who’d saved the Liberal mob an’ things should happen just at ‘His Word’: an’ Mal said, ‘let there be jobs’ an’ there was … sweet fanny adams.

He might’ve won the election but you wouldn’t think so. His mob ’ave done bugger all since. They couldn’t organise a chook raffle in a pub. (I did think of another comparison involvin’ a brothel but I can’t use that at a family barbie.) They managed to lose a coupla votes ’cause some of ’em ’ad gone home. They even managed to support a vote that they were useless — which was fair enough when ya think about it but not a good look. An’ at the end of the year, look at the shemozzle they got into with the backpacker tax. 32.5%, 19%, 15%, 10.5%, 13%. Anyone else wanna make a bid? The hammer goes down on 15%! — only ’cause ol’ Ricky-of-christmas did a deal for the Greens, p’rhaps ’cause christmas was comin’. He wanted to play Santa to the farmers who norm’ly aren’t too keen on the Greens.

Mal an’ his mob had a bit of a setback when the PNG court blokes ruled we couldn’t keep the poor buggers on Manus Island any more. They fin’lly announced that they think they’ve done a deal with the septics to take ’em but we’ll hafta wait an’ see. An’ after doin’ that, they’ve sent Oz’s biggest peace time flotilla up north to stop more boats comin’. The blokes sellin’ boat places to Oz will obviously be tellin’ the customers that now you can get sent to septic-land — what a bonanza that is for ’em! An’ the government knows it. Why else send all the extra patrol boats.

An’ then there was the union stuff at the end o’ the year — the double dissolution stuff. First, Mal got the union regulation law through the Senate but have a look at how he did it. He had to get the Xylophone an’ the Beard-with-a-mouth on-side, an’ to do that he gave ’em more protection for whistleblowers. Wha’do ya reckon? — are there more whistleblowers or more unionists who need protectin’? I think you know the answer. One good thing may come of it though when it comes back to bite ‘em on the bum — ’cause one day someone’ll blow the whistle on one of their big corporate mates or even, with a bit o’ luck, on the Libs ’emselves. That’ll be worth waitin’ for.

Then they got the construction watchdog up as well at the las’ minute. Even more giveaways than a teevee show to do that one an’ whether it’ll still be able to bark is anyone’s guess. I’ll admit a coupla things the Xylophone got for his vote aren’t too bad. There’s s’posed to be more gov’ment work for Oz companies an’ they won’t get the work if they don’t pay their subbies on time. A few of me mates like that idea but wish it applied to all buildin’ companies. Was it worth it jus’ to get the watchdog in place? Mal obviously thought so. I think he even managed a smile again an’ reckoned it showed how well he was governin’ — ya reckon? In December we got the news that our economy has gone backwards — that’s good gov’ment for ya! So much for Mal’s great economic plan — you know the one — Mal’s imagin’ry friend.

But you hafta wonder who’s really runnin’ the show? The big St Bernardi barks an’ Mal jumps to attention: eyes Right; by the Right flank turn; yes, sir! Not the Mal people thought they were gettin’ an’ so his popularity has gone down the plug hole.

Of course ol’ pommy Tones is still hangin’ about, snipin’ from the sidelines, tellin’ all an’ sundry he’s still ready for the top job. If you think that could never happen, look at what happened in septic-land. If Trump can get elected there, don’t rule out Tones becomin’ PM again. If we get Tones back, would we also get Credlin back? That’s somethin’ to think about!

That gets me to the septic election. (Nice how I did that, ay?) How did Trump win? The views ’round me barbie are mixed but gen’rally we think the poor ol’ septics had Hobson’s choice — a ranting idiot or a sheila with so much baggage she was lucky she was still standin’ up under the weight. An’ Trump’s as silly as the Ranga Redneck’s mate. He reckons climate change is a Chinese plot. I’d like to see the two of ’em together on Q&A to argue that out — whose plot is sillier, yours or mine?

Me an’ me mates don’t agree with most of what Trump said but he obviously pushed some buttons for the septics — ’specially the white workers, the ones who lived in places where jobs were becomin’ as hard to find as rockin’-horse sh*t. He reckoned he can help ’em but whether he can’ill be another story.

After all the rantin’ an’ bulldust he went on with during their election, I was a bit shocked to hear his victory speech. (You know what I mean by ‘bulldust’ but after the rockin’-horse one me missus jus’ told me I can’t say that again while the nippers are still runnin’ about.) Mal could’ve taken a lesson from ’im. Think about it. Trump rants an’ carries on all through the election then gives a gracious victory speech. Mal is gracious an’ calm for most o’ the election then rants an’ raves in his victory speech. A nice pair o’ polar opposites there. Which approach would you prefer? Prob’ly neither of ’em. Why can’t politicians jus’ be honest? We know most of ’em couldn’t lie straight in bed.

That was one of Hill’ry’s problems apparently. Too many people jus’ didn’t believe her. But they thought the Donald was tellin’ it like it is. I think that jus’ means the septics are gullible but leavin’ that aside, since he was elected he’s been backtrackin’ a bit on some o’ the things he promised. Does that make him jus’ like all the other pollies? — say an’ do anything to get elected an’ then forget most of what they said — an’ yet he was the one sayin’ he wasn’t like other pollies.

Even the deal Mal thinks he’s done on the poor buggers we’ve got on Manus and Nauru could come unstuck with the Donald as president. Him an’ his supporters aren’t too keen on migrants, ’specially Muslim ones.

The Donald promised so much bigoted stuff he’ll put half of septic-land off-side if he carries through. He was so bigoted in his statements that Brandis would’ve been proud. I thought I was bigoted but I’m an amate’r compared to him.

I think the septics are between a rock an’ a hard place. If the Donald delivers what he promised, they’re in for a rough ride. An’ if he doesn’t, it’ll also be a rough ride ‘cause some of his supporters won’t take a lack of action lyin’ down. An’ when ya think about how many crazy septics have got guns an’ how many of the crazies supported the Donald … no, that doesn’t bear thinkin’ about …

The problem is some o’ the problems won’t jus’ stay in septic-land. Many of the Donald’s promises will affect the rest of us ’round the world — it won’t jus’ be the septics gettin’ the rough end o’ the pineapple. If he upsets the Chinese the way he’s promisin’ to do, Oz will get dragged under in the backwash. Here at me barbie, we’re hopin’ he doesn’t carry out ev’ry promise. Not somethin’ you usu’lly think about a polly. Most o’ the time, we wish they’d keep their promises — but not this time!

I s’pose we could say that, at least here in Oz, Mal didn’t make many promises to keep so we can’t be disappointed. An’ even some he did make are gettin’ changed a lot by the Senate — which is mostly a good thing. You might say we almost got the election right. Mal might’ve scraped in by the skin of his teeth but we gave him a parliament that really ties up what he can do.

The septics gave the Donald’s mob control of both their houses of parliament — whatever they call ’em. We know what happens when that happens. We saw it here in Oz when Little Johnny controlled both houses in our parliament. Not a pretty sight for workin’ people. So, if the Donald really wants to change things in septic-land, he prob’ly can. The septics don’t seem to think about that balance like we do. I dunno why. I don’t pretend to understand septics. Some of ’em are nice people but … Well, I’ll say it. In my bigoted view they can be a bit stupid at times.

An’ there was one big difference ’tween the two elections that I’ll say somethin’ about. The passion! Look at the septics an’ the bloody rallies they have. Thousands of ’em screamin’ out for their candidate. An’ then they had those big demonstrations about ‘not my president’. They can be passionate about their elections. On the other hand they don’t hafta vote unless they feel like it. Only half of ’em bothered to. P’rhaps with the Hobson’s choice they had, that’s understandable. So you’ve got half not botherin’, an’ half so passionate. Not a good thing!

Look at Oz. No big rallies — unless ya count those stage-managed election launch things for the party insiders an’ they’re really jus’ done for the telly. People standin’ on street corners handin’ out flyers for the local candidate, includin’ the local candidate. The image of Tones handin’ out flyers on Manly wharf on a rainy day I thought was a classic. People only votin’ ’cause they have to — but mostly ’ud rather be doin’ somethin’ else. An’ when we do get to the polling booth we have a sausage sanger. Very calm and lay-back. Which would you prefer? Me an’ me mates are quite happy with the way we do our elections. We don’t want people rantin’ ev’ry five minutes, stirrin’ up passions ya can’t put back in the bottle. A few years ago at one of me barbies, me an’ me mates decided we could solve the world’s problems — as ya do after a few beers. The answer? Export Oz beer an’ meat pies to the world so that ev’ryone becomes as apathetic as us. Passion is the killer. Passion for a cause or a political party leads to wars an’ riots. Sit back. Have a beer an’ a pie an’ chill out. That’s the Oz way. Pity the rest of the world hasn’t caught on.

Well, that’s me for the year. The best to all of you an’ your families from me an’ mine for the festive season. An’ hope you have a great festive barbie.

What do you think?
Has the barbie bigot captured the essence of the political year?

Let us know in a comment below.

This is the last scheduled article for TPS in 2016; however never say never — so check back with us occasionally. The people behind The Political Sword wish you and all whom you care about a wonderful festive season and a great 2017. Our next scheduled articles will be published on 1 January 2017, then mid January with a return to regular publication from 29 January. Keep well, stay safe and take care.

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A Brisbane 13 year old committed suicide last week because, according to his mother, he was being bullied. He identified as being gay and apparently was being bullied at school. Rather than join the chorus of those who instantly know what was going on and speculate for a week or so until something else comes along, how …
The buck stops where?
Ken Wolff, 11 December 2016
The old adage says ‘the buck stops here’ and it applies to managers, CEOs, government ministers and similar people when they take responsibility for what happens in their organisations, including mistakes. When applied in full it leads to people …

The buck stops where?

The old adage says ‘the buck stops here’ and it applies to managers, CEOs, government ministers and similar people when they take responsibility for what happens in their organisations, including mistakes. When applied in full it leads to people resigning if more serious mistakes are made even though the mistake was not personally made by them. But nowadays modern managers are more likely to point the finger down the ladder and say the blame lies there. What has happened to the old concept of responsibility?

In my recent piece about the rise of political staffers I used the example of Barnaby Joyce blaming a ‘rogue’ staffer for changes that were made to Hansard that should not have been made. Not a hanging offence but even for a mistake of that nature Joyce did not want to take responsibility nor even to blame his Chief of Staff (who should be responsible for the operation of his office) and instead it was an unnamed staffer lower down the pecking order. No doubt it probably was a junior staffer who made the ‘mistake’ — if mistake it was and not a direction to that person from someone higher up — but it still occurred on the watch of Joyce and his Chief of Staff. They are the ones who should have procedures in place to ensure such mistakes do not occur and it is for that reason that the old adage applies.

In my early years in the public service I had one departmental secretary who I would describe as being akin to a regimental Colonel: he was somewhat aloof from the staff, worked through the department’s hierarchy and everything had to be done ‘by the book’. He did, however, defend the department strongly to outsiders, including when appearing before parliamentary committees. It was like the old attitude that the regiment (read department) can do no wrong but woe betide the junior officer (read line manager) if a mistake was made. The next manager in the hierarchy would be summoned to the secretary’s office and given a dressing down. That manager, in turn, would pass the ‘dressing down’ along the line until it reached the individual who had made the mistake. In the case of more serious mistakes the threat was that it would be noted on an individual’s personnel file, including the line managers who had overseen the mistake.

The problem with that approach was that it could, in the case of serious mistakes, appear to be a cover-up. The secretary would accept responsibility and defend the department to the outside world but ‘kick bums’ internally — out of public view.

Then came the new secretaries, schooled in modern management theory. They were taught that people are important, not just cogs in the hierarchy, and would call people by their first names. Some of them were also happy to be called by their first name. They would sometimes call upon the person actually doing the work to brief them, not just the line managers. So far, so good. Most of us would agree that some old-style managers did not treat people well when operating with a hierarchical approach.

But these new managers were less likely to bear the brunt of mistakes. Perhaps because they did involve themselves with people down the line and did not always follow the hierarchy, they were quicker to point the finger to where a mistake was actually made. You were supposed to feel that you had let them down but, to my mind, that was a little hypocritical. While the new style was meant to make you feel part of the team, the captain of the team was as likely as not to abandon you when the proverbial hit the fan and push you into the firing line, no longer accepting responsibility.

In modern corporations we see CEOs, already on huge salaries, continue to receive bonuses in the hundreds of thousands of dollars, if not a million or two, even when company turnover and profit has dropped and the share price has fallen. Are they held accountable or accepting responsibility for the success of their corporation when that happens? Why do their boards allow it to happen? It seems just another step in the diminution of responsibility in the modern corporate world. It takes something on the scale of the Volkswagen deception on emission testing to force acceptance of responsibility at the highest levels but, even then, only after the deception is discovered. Why was it allowed in the first place?

Since President Truman a number of US presidents, including Obama, have had the sign ‘the buck stops here’ on their desk, but consider Nixon and Watergate. Nixon denied all knowledge of the break-in. Even when it became clear that members of his staff were involved in organising it, he still denied any involvement. It was the leaking of the Oval Office tapes Nixon kept that made clear it was not just a case in which he should accept responsibility for the actions of his staff but that he had been personally involved. He operated on the principle that if it was difficult to find the truth, he had scope to deny responsibility and that seems to have become common for modern CEOs and politicians — hence we now have the term ‘plausible deniability’.

We saw it in Australia with the ‘children overboard’ affair (also referred to in my previous article). Political staff have learned from the Nixon experience and now work to keep their minister at arm’s length from awkward situations, so there can be ‘plausible deniability’. Staff kept the corrected advice about the children overboard from Howard so that he did not need to lie when he maintained the story. When it eventually came out the blame was shifted to the public service, rather than staff in Howard’s office because, in the hierarchy between ministers’ offices and the public service, ministers’ offices do not make mistakes (at least not publicly). And I can point to the hierarchy that operates between government departments where the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet (PM&C) also does not make mistakes. In an example when I was still in the public service a mistake (of a minor nature) was made, based on advice from PM&C, but it was the head of the agency in which I worked who accepted ‘responsibility’ for the mistake — he was subsequently ‘looked after’.

When he was first elected Howard introduced a strict code of conduct for his ministers whereby they were held responsible for their behaviour, their pecuniary interests, gifts, travel entitlements and so on. But he lost seven ministers upholding that standard and soon retreated from it. So when it was revealed that Peter Reith and his son had run up $50,000 dollars in six years, from 900 locations around the world, on a ministerial phone card, the government ‘toughed it out’ — Reith did repay the money and retired at the next election. It was Nick Minchin who promoted the idea (now known as the Minchin protocol) that ministers, and other parliamentarians, should be allowed to repay any misuse of tax-payer funded entitlements and, if that was done, no further action should be taken. Both sides of politics initially accepted that idea to reduce ‘losses’.

By the time of ‘choppergate’, when Bronwyn Bishop used a helicopter for a short trip to a Liberal Party fund raiser and charged it to her tax-payer funded travel, then Prime Minister Abbott stood by her until that became untenable — both the media and members of his own party continued questioning it. In that circumstance, simply repaying the money was no longer enough and Bishop had to resign her position as Speaker.

Turnbull lost three ministers in the first six months of his tenure as PM: Jamie Briggs, Mal Brough and Stuart Robert; the first for inappropriate behaviour towards a female public servant; Brough stood aside pending police investigations into the Ashby-Slipper affair; and Robert for having an indirect financial stake in a company he assisted in Beijing.

But the question remains, why did they misuse their entitlements or their position in the first place? Like Nixon, do they not accept any responsibility for their behaviour unless caught? Do they not have principles that would tell them it shouldn’t be done, that as public representatives they do have a higher standard of responsibility? — or even some level of personal responsibility to operate within the guidelines? And why do those above them defend their actions or remain silent, waiting until the furore dies down?

Compare that to Andrew Peacock in 1970 offering his resignation after his then wife appeared in a television advertisement for Sheridan Sheets. Perhaps it could be construed as gaining an indirect benefit from his position as a minister in the Gorton government. His resignation was not accepted but it shows that responsibility was taken more seriously then even for trivial matters.

Similar examples of relatively minor offences occurred in relation to customs declarations during the 1980s. In 1982 Michael MacKellar and John Moore lost their places in the Fraser ministry over a colour television. MacKellar had returned from overseas with a colour television but declared it as black and white; Moore was Minister for Customs at the time. In 1984 Mick Young stood aside from the Hawke ministry pending an investigation into his failure to declare a Paddington Bear, which gave the incident its name; the investigation found he should have been more careful but had no intention of evading the duty and he returned to the ministry.

Then there is ‘misleading the parliament’, one of the worst crimes a government minister can commit. In the Westminster system, in both the UK and Australia, that was supposed to lead, in the old days, to a minister’s resignation or sacking, even if the ‘misleading’ was unintentional. That was because ministers were considered to have a responsibility to ensure everything they told the parliament was truthful — after all, they had large government departments to advise them. Even if the advice they received was shown to be wrong, they accepted responsibility because they should have checked further, had processes in place to verify the information or been more circumspect in their statement. That is often part of the political game, to prove that a minister’s statement has been based on incorrect advice. We have seen that, after the event, in the Chilcot report in the UK which examined the advice on which Blair made the decision to join the US invasion of Iraq.

In the Whitlam government both Jim Cairns and Rex Connor were sacked for misleading the parliament over different aspects of ‘the loans affair’. In the Hawke government John Brown lost his ministerial position in December 1987 for misleading the parliament regarding tenders for a theatre in the Australian pavilion at Expo 88. But no-one has stood down or been sacked for that offence since — that is 29 years in which no-one apparently has misled the parliament (not even Brandis)!

Nowadays, the word ‘intentional’ seems to have crept into that crime, so to be a sackable offence the minister must intentionally mislead the parliament.

Look again at the ‘children overboard’ in that light. Did Howard mislead the parliament? — yes. Unintentionally? — probably, but only because correct advice was withheld from him. So where does responsibility now lie if ministers are denied the information that would prevent them misleading the parliament? Should the buck still stop with them? — if a culture of protecting the minister at all costs has grown in their office and they have done nothing to discourage that, then perhaps it does.

Yes, there are varying degrees of mistakes, from minor errors to serious infractions. Would the colour television or Paddington Bear incidents merit being stood down in the modern climate? Even minor mistakes, however, are less often these days accepted by CEOs and ministers — as in Barnaby Joyce’s case. MacKellar would now likely have pointed to the staffer who filled out his customs declaration for him. Mick Young could have blamed his wife (if he dared) as the Paddington Bear was in her suitcase.

Some offences are not ‘hanging offences’ but they are now blamed on someone down the line. Resignation may not be required for minor offences but the people in charge should at least accept responsibility and explain how they will ensure such mistakes do not happen again.

So in this modern world if CEOs, prime ministers and ministers are no longer responsible, who is? It seems the buck stops with you and me, as voters and as shareholders. With the lack of principle shown by our leaders, both political and corporate, and their seeming inability to say ‘I am responsible’, it is you and I who need to place pressure back on them to do their job as it should be done. It is time we told them you are responsible for what occurs in your office, in your department, in your corporation; you are responsible for the actions of those under you; it may not always be a sackable offence but the buck stops with you regardless and you had best remember that!

What do you think?
Why do you think modern CEOs and ministers have abandoned the idea of being responsible for their organisations, let alone their own actions?

What can we do to make them accept that responsibility?

Let us know in comments below.

Recent Posts
Trump’s Uncertainty Principle
Ad astra, 23 November 2016
Way back in 1927 German physicist Werner Heisenberg described the Uncertainty Principle that applies to quantum mechanics. It states that the more precisely the position of a particle is determined, the less precisely its momentum can be known, and vice versa. With apologies to …
The rise of political staffers: how people disappeared from policy advice
Ken Wolff, 27 November 2016
In October Attorney-General Senator George Brandis got into a stoush with Solicitor-General Justin Gleeson which ultimately led to Gleeson’s resignation. At one point Brandis attempted to turn the issue into an argument …
The real bullies
2353NM, 4 December 2016
A Brisbane 13 year old committed suicide last week because, according to his mother, he was being bullied. He identified as being gay and apparently was being bullied at school. Rather than join the chorus of those who instantly know what was going on and speculate for a week or so until something else comes along, how …

The real bullies

A Brisbane 13 year old committed suicide last week because, according to his mother, he was being bullied. He identified as being gay and apparently was being bullied at school. Rather than join the chorus of those who instantly know what was going on and speculate for a week or so until something else comes along, how about we look at the culture that seems to be genuinely regretful when a tragedy such as the death of a Brisbane school boy occurs but votes for and allows much greater crimes against our society to be celebrated.

Prime Minister Turnbull appeared on the ABC’s 7.30 a few weeks ago and left no one in doubt that in his opinion the ‘elite media’ at the ABC was keeping the issue of Section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act in the public view. Now Section 18C is the bit of the legislation that doesn’t allow you to ‘offend, insult, humiliate or intimidate’ someone based on their race or ethnicity . The Institute of Public Affairs (IPA) has been a leading light in the calls for this section to be repealed since radio announcer and newspaper columnist Andrew Bolt was found guilty of an offence under the section in 2013 in regard to two articles he wrote in 2009. The IPA claims that Section 18C restricts ‘freedom of speech’. According to the IPA:
First, it has become a major touchstone for a growing debate about freedom of speech in Australia. Since the Bolt case in 2011 there has been a sustained campaign in favour of repealing 18C. This campaign was partly born out of the deep concern about the provision being used to silence a prominent and well-respected columnist in a mature liberal democracy such as Australia.

But it also brought to the fore the idea that governments have passed laws which restrict this most fundamental human right, and that something must be done to turn back that tide.

Second, political activists and their lawyers have come to realise that section 18C can be used to aggressively pursue political goals.

The case against Bolt was not merely a group of offended individuals making a legal complaint in an effort to remedy personal loss. It is possible that the complainants could have made out a defamation suit against Bolt. But the case was pursued using 18C as a battering ram because of the negative perception that would be created by a breach of the Racial Discrimination Act.
The problem with the IPA’s (and by association Turnbull and his conservative LNP colleagues) argument is the existence of Section 18D of the Racial Discrimination Act. According to the Human Rights Commission website:
Section 18D of the Racial Discrimination Act contains exemptions which protect freedom of speech. These ensure that artistic works, scientific debate and fair comment on matters of public interest are exempt from section 18C, providing they are said or done reasonably and in good faith.
In the same week as the schoolboy died in Brisbane, Australia’s Immigration Minister claimed that his predecessors (ironically from the same side of politics) in the 1970’s did the wrong thing by allowing refugees from Lebanon to enter the country because some of their grandchildren were now radicalised Muslims. According to news.com.au, Dutton made the argument:
Australians were “sick” of over the top political correctness, the Minister told media after a Greens Senator said his comments might be factual but they weren’t “productive”.

Mr Dutton rejected suggestions his comments were whipping up racism.

Instead, he blamed the “tricky elite”, Opposition leader Bill Shorten and Greens MPs for making the remarks a big deal to win political points.

“I want to have an honest discussion,” he said.
Dutton may have evidence to back up his original claim:
The advice I have is that out of the last 33 people who have been charged with terrorist-related offences in this country, 22 of those people are from second and third generation Lebanese-Muslim background …
But he conveniently overlooks the fact that every person charged with a crime in Australia since 1788 is either an immigrant or descended from immigrants. As news.com.au reported:
Opposition Leader Bill Shorten issued a statement calling on Mr Dutton to apologise for his remarks.

“Enough is enough,” Mr Shorten said.

“Our hardworking migrant communities shouldn’t have to tolerate this kind of ignorant stupidity and he needs to immediately apologise.

“It’s time for Malcolm Turnbull to show some leadership and pull his Immigration Minister into line.”
Shorten is right to a point: enough is enough and Turnbull should pull his Immigration Minister into line; however, Shorten’s political party still supports the indefinite detention of refugees in sub-human conditions, or their refoulment to their original country, contrary to the 1951 Refugee Convention (to which Australia is a signatory). Shorten is sitting on both sides of the ‘barbed wire’ fence here.

What is really interesting, however, is Turnbull and Dutton using the term ‘elites’ as an insult. According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, elite has two definitions, although it is doubtful if Turnbull and Dutton are referring to the one involving typewriters. So we are left with one definition — broadly, the best part or the socially superior. Others have already done the Turnbull is ‘more elite’ than you or I thing seriously or in fun than it’s possible to do here, so it’s not worth repeating the blindingly obvious.

While Dutton may not as be as well off as Turnbull, he’s not going to be ‘short of a bob’ as he gets older — unlike a lot of those in Dickson he claims to represent. Dutton will be sitting on a parliamentary pension when he leaves parliament as well as his superannuation as a police officer (for which of course he has to wait until his late 50s or 60 to access, along with the rest of us) rather than eking the increasingly hard to get pension out until the next payment.

Paul Bongiorno, writing in The Saturday Paper suggested:
Whatever way you cut it, Australian politics in the past week travelled further down the low road of ignorance, prejudice and bigotry. It’s the new fashion propelled by the extraordinary success in Britain and the United States of politicians who push these buttons.

Immigration Minister Peter Dutton, already a practitioner in the dark arts, quickly took his cue in an interview with Andrew Bolt on Sky News. Bolt suggested that former prime minister Malcolm Fraser got the Lebanese refugee program wrong in the late 1970s. Dutton agreed “mistakes were made”. When parliament resumed, Labor wanted to know what these mistakes were. The answer was profoundly jarring.
Of course Dutton’s response was that a number of the people most recently charged with terrorist related offences were Lebanese Muslims, a failure of the Fraser Government. Bongiorno went on to suggest:
What should be remembered is that Dutton, who is fast becoming the leading conservative voice in the Liberal party, is a Queenslander. A clue to his approach could be the alarm at the spike in support for One Nation of which his fellow Queenslander, Attorney-General George Brandis, speaks. A hot microphone picked up his frank conversation with Victorian Liberal party powerbroker Michael Kroger this week. In what he thought were private remarks, Brandis revealed support for One Nation is already running at 16 per cent in the Sunshine State. He is convinced it will win seats at the next state poll.

In 1998, One Nation peaked at 22 per cent to capture 11 seats in the state parliament and deny the Nationals and Liberals government. Adding to the alarm is the Palaszczuk Labor government’s reinstatement of compulsory preferential voting. According to the sotto voce Brandis, this could lead to a split between the merged Liberal and National parties that form the LNP. The ABC’s election analyst Antony Green believes that had preferential voting existed at the last state election, Labor would have won a majority on Greens preferences.
Politicians playing politics is to be expected and both Turnbull and Dutton have been around long enough to be ‘good at their game’. However, as the leaders of the country surely they should be the moral elite as well as the financial elite. As Shorten suggested, Turnbull should have pulled his immigration minister into line. As Bongiorno wrote:
Fraser’s immigration minister, Ian Macphee, was scathing in his reaction to Dutton. In a statement released through the Refugee Council, he said the attack was “outrageous”. He said: “We have had a succession of inadequate immigration ministers in recent years but Dutton is setting the standards even lower. Yet Turnbull recently declared him to be ‘an outstanding immigration minister’. The Liberal Party has long ceased to be liberal.
From Turnbull, all we heard was crickets (nothing).

Not that the politicians are the only ones who seem to be practicing the ‘game’ of kicking groups of people while they are down. Fairfax reported in the last week of November that a number of Caltex franchisees seem to be paying their staff considerably under the award rate of pay for working all hours of the day or night in an environment that has a number of hazards to the physical and mental well being of the employees. Caltex isn’t the only organisation that has been accused of underpaying staff with, according to Fairfax:
One in four Australian workers who checked their pay through a union-run online wage calculator found out they were being ripped off, with staff in the restaurant business the worst affected.

Based on nearly 20,000 workers' pay details entered into the Fair Pay Campaign Calculator over three weeks, more than half of all restaurant industry submissions (60 per cent) showed staff were being denied minimum rates of pay.
And it gets worse:
"It's horrifying," said Maurice Blackburn employment principal Giri Sivaraman.

"It's horrifying to think that so many people across a wide variety of industries are getting underpaid.

"This isn't a case of a few bad apples — you can't isolate it to one type of job, one industry, or one employer — this is systemic wage theft, and it's just so widespread."

Another troubling result from the data related to employment in Australia's pubs and clubs, where nearly 92 per cent of casual staff who used the calculator to check their wages found out they were being underpaid.
Sivaraman is already assisting a number of people who were underpaid by 7-Eleven franchisees in the related scandal earlier this year.

It’s probably unfortunate for Caltex that they are a public company and under Australian listing laws, they operate in an environment of continuous disclosure. So we know their profit for 2014 was $493 million and the 2015 ‘record’ profit was estimated to be between $615 and $635 million at the time the Sydney Morning Herald reported in December 2015. Their franchisees and other smaller businesses (along with the corporate structure of 7-Eleven) have considerably fewer requirements for publicly reported financial results.

While Caltex is probably not responsible legally for the actions of its franchisees, it is responsible for the contracts it has with the franchisees and, as they have been in the industry for a long time, they should by all rights know the costs involved in the 24 hour a day operation of a petrol shop. In a similar way, 7-Eleven corporate should know the costs of running a corner shop or petrol shop. It seems on the face of it that either Caltex and 7-Eleven both charge the franchisees too much or the franchisees are greedy. Regardless, if you were a small shareholder in a large firm that was involved in underpayment of wages, you would have to be concerned at the senior management of the company who stood by and watched the business’s name be trashed due to taking advantage of those who could least respond to bullying and intimidation.

So how does all this relate to a Brisbane schoolboy who committed suicide?

According to the boy’s mother, he was bullied because he believed he was different to the ‘ordinary’. Regardless of the matter of the school knowing about the claims or acting on them, some of the students at the school seemed to think that it was acceptable practice to tease or bully someone who was ‘different’. Do you wonder where they got the idea that their actions were acceptable behaviour? Could it be they were following the behaviour of Turnbull or Dutton (or Abbott)? Surely the actions of big business of imposing conditions on contractors that conspire to ensure they cannot comply with Australian laws for the payment of staff while making a profit is also bullying.

It is a sad indictment on Australia, if at the same time as we rightfully decry bullying at schools and similar institutions, we allow our political and business elite (in the true sense of the word) to get away with bullying consumers of a certain media channel, grandchildren of migrants from the 1970’s or those who have to work in lower paying and (let’s face it) rather insecure employment.

Teenage boys who suicide should be mourned – and those that victimise or bully anyone should be called out. Pity our national elite seem not to think so.

If you or someone you know is suffering distress, please call Lifeline on 13 11 14.

What do you think?
Let us know in comments below.

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