Truth to power. Part One.

29 Sep



The other evening I was musing on the mainstream media reporting and pursuit of Labor Senator Sam Dastyari over  the Senator asking a Chinese benefactor to cover his travel costs, and then making a supportive statement, contrary to both government and opposition positions, on China’s activities in the South China Sea.

I was comparing this to the relative lack of interest in pursuing Steve Irons, the WA Turnbull government MP who stole taxpayer money to pay travel expenses for himself and his new wife to their wedding in Melbourne and back to Perth. I tweeted this:

The first response was from a Fairfax journalist taking me to task for using the blanket term “MSM.” After hooting a little at the notion of a journalist complaining about the use of “blanket terms” I acknowledge that the term, like all blanket terms, is less than perfect, although most of us use it to signify traditional media as opposed to new media.

There are some very good journalists working in mainstream media, without whom we’d be even more in the dark than we already are. Fairfax, the ABC and the Guardian are home to most of them. Yes, the ABC. There are still some exceptional people there and one can only imagine how they survive.

However, I wasn’t about to list in my tweet every media outlet not pursuing Irons to the same extent it pursued Dastyari, and I stand by my initial impression that the two incidents were handled very differently.

I then received this tweet from Mark Di Stefano of Buzzfeed. I’ve never considered Buzzfeed to be mainstream media so I wasn’t referring to them, however…


It is true that Irons didn’t reward the taxpayer for footing his wedding travel bill, as Dastyari rewarded the Chinese. It’s also true that both major parties are significant beneficiaries of Chinese money, for which they are presumably expected to provide favours in return. So why single out and hunt down Dastyari when the Turnbull government Foreign Minister, for example, received an iPad, airfares and accommodation, and a bunch of government MPs scored Rolex watches? All of these people are far better placed to further their benefactor’s interests than was Dastyari (who after all said something nobody much bothered to listen to) and to do it far more covertly.

It’s also true that politicians thieving from taxpayers has become normalised, and without the added spice of potentially treasonous remarks, Irons’ theft was of comparatively little consequence.

This, for mine, is the heart of the problem. “Ordinary” thieving from taxpayers is par for the course in politics, meaning politicians are held to a much lower standard of honesty and punishment than the rest of us. I’d like to know why.

For example, if you are caught thieving items from a supermarket you are very likely to be charged by police, even if you put the items back on the shelf and say you’re sorry. Not so much when politicians rip-off taxpayers. If they are caught, they pay it back and that is the only consequence they face.  They’re still thieves, but they are protected thieves.

No answer to any questions from Buzzfeed, and I’d terminated my conversation with the Fairfax journalist who’d lost his head and started telling me I was “wrong and you can’t face facts because of your bias.”

Interesting, I thought. I’m perceived as biased because I’m questioning the difference in how two matters are handled, and he’s obviously assuming I’m a Labor fanatic because why would anybody who wasn’t politically aligned bother to ask such a question? This is what I mean about the normalisation of crime in politics. You can’t even ask about it without journalists assuming you are only doing so to create trouble for a party other than your own.

At this point several of my Twitter pals joined in to assure the traditional media representatives that I’m equally disagreeable to all politicians.

On Di Stefano’s subsequent points, 1) It’s cheering to see the MSM doing its job by breaking stories, but actually I was querying the subsequent pursuit, and 2) what???

Do you mean MSM don’t pursue unless a political party pursues first? I asked Buzzfeed.

I didn’t say that, came the reply. So what do you mean, I asked. Just trying to clarify because your tweet read as if you were saying that.


The notion that matters are not pursued by the media unless first pursued by a political party is unnerving. This is not what one expects from the fourth estate. This is not speaking truth to power, it is waiting until one power gives you the signal to speak a bit of truth to another power, and obediently refraining from pursuit when no permission in the form of guidance is forthcoming. Is this how traditional media decide what issues and personalities to pursue? Taking their lead from politicians?

Well, as you’d expect the conversation by now involved more people than just me and Mark Di Stefano. Many references were made to the “MSM” and I don’t think any of them were particularly favourable, demonstrating the frustration and disillusionment felt by some consumers. Di Stefano maintained his silence until this:


As you can imagine, there is a great deal to unpack in Di Stefano’s communication. And so I’m dedicating an entire post to its deconstruction, which I hope to publish tomorrow.

Taskforce Integrity. Let’s start with politicians, shall we?

27 Sep


You may or may not be aware that in November 2015, the Turnbull government announced the formation of “Taskforce Integrity,” a unit set up specifically to address welfare fraud in the form of undeclared income and non-compliance.

WA Turnbull government MP Steve Irons tweeted his support of the innovation.

Yesterday we learned that Mr Irons charged taxpayers for flights from Perth to Melbourne for his wedding, and he also charged us for flights from Melbourne back to Perth for himself and his new wife, Cheryle.

Treasurer Scott Morrison also charged taxpayers for the cost of his flight to the Irons’ wedding. Both men have since repaid those monies.

Returning money you’ve stolen doesn’t mean you didn’t steal it in the first place. I am reasonably confident that neither thief would have repaid the money had their thieving activities not been exposed, or in danger of exposure.

Irons also charged the taxpayer for a trip he made to the Gold Coast to attend a golf tournament.

I have no problem with addressing welfare fraud. I do have a very big problem with politicians stealing taxpayer money to fund their personal lives, and can’t quite see why they are any different from those who seek to illegally and immorally benefit from the welfare system.

Even with my new glasses, I’m unable to see why those who defraud the welfare system should be charged and perhaps incarcerated, whilst those who defraud the taxpayer are given the opportunity to return the money, face no charges, and no jail time.

Integrity, much?

Yesterday I watched in weary disbelief as Attorney-General George Brandis claimed that his government is holding a plebiscite on marriage equality because the Australian people want a plebiscite, and we made this clear when we re-elected the Turnbull government, thus giving it a mandate.

The Turnbull government has a majority of one seat in the House of Representatives. This is hardly a mandate in anyone’s language.

Let’s quickly revisit the origins of this plebiscite. The notion was introduced by failed prime minister Tony Abbott to placate the rabid right-wing of his party who are incapable of rational thought on the topic of same-sex marriage, and appear to view it as a catastrophic threat to their own heterosexual identities and unions.

Abbott was also inspired by the Irish referendum. He disregarded the fact that Ireland was obliged to alter its constitution to accommodate marriage equality, while we are not. In Australia, it is a matter of a simple amendment to the Marriage Act, changed to discriminate against same-sex marriage in 2004 by the LNP prime minister who lost his seat after taking us into the Iraq invasion on entirely spurious grounds, and without any plebiscite, John Howard. But that’s another sickening story of lies, manipulation, immorality, death, despair and destruction.

Brandis concluded his litany of folded lies with the assertion that unless the opposition agree to a plebiscite, marriage equality will be delayed until the mid 2020’s, assuming the LNP wins the next election.

The Turnbull government is using the LGBTQI community for its own political purposes: delaying marriage equality as long as possible to placate the right-wing homophobes who permit Turnbull to play at being Prime Minister, and to wedge the ALP.

All that is required is an amendment to the Marriage Act, and Brandis made it clear yesterday that will never happen as long as the LNP are in power. This is not because we the people demand a plebiscite, and it is not because of any reasonable argument against marriage equality. It is because the likes of Cory Bernardi and George Christensen are terrified of the gays and lesbians and bisexuals and queers and transgender and intersex peoples. We are going through all this expense and all this angst because some seriously unhinged men, obsessed with the sexuality of others, cannot cope with the idea of difference.

Personally, I think the Marriage Act ought to be abolished. There’s no place for the state in intimate relationships. However, as long as it exists, and as long as it remains the powerful cultural marker that it is, nobody should be forbidden access to its legal and societal privileges.

And on the grounds that some ignorant, terrified, dysfunctional men don’t like what other people do in bed?

Integrity, much?



Turnbull welcomes nice refugees who wait to be invited.

26 Sep



Just when you thought the Australian government’s treatment of refugees held on Manus Island and Nauru could not descend any deeper into the slough of moral repugnancy, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull announces that he will accept for resettlement refugees from camps in Costa Rica.

At the same time, the PM gave fleeting mention to the 12,000 hand-picked Syrian refugees we were supposed to welcome months ago, but who seem to have become terminally enmeshed in security procedures more stringent than those of any other western democracy because, well, we’re precious like that.

The refugees we are accepting are the nice refugees, while those held captive in life-extinguishing misery are not nice refugees. That’s why they’re held in life-extinguishing misery: no punishment is too great for people who are not nice refugees, even death.

All those not nice people who wouldn’t queue.

Or people who are in general not nice, really. One should never underestimate the grip the white tribe’s middle-class value of niceness has on our juridico-political system.

We are now in the morally sickening position of torturing one set of displaced, stateless persons whilst offering sanctuary to another set of displaced, stateless persons, based entirely on the falsehood that we invited the latter and we did not invite the former. In fact, as signatories to the Refugee Convention we did invite the former, but that Convention is so last century I don’t know why I’m even mentioning it.

Australia, Turnbull assures us, is very generous in our acceptance of the world’s nice needy. This is undoubtedly true, however, it’s a bit like arguing that Hitler loved his dogs, or a serial killer was friendly to his neighbours. It’s the kind of cognitive dissonance seen in people who work hard to compensate for their dark side by convincing themselves and others that they’re really very caring. Turnbull strives on the world stage to talk up our humanitarian inclinations, even as human lives fester on his watch in steaming, fetid tropical dystopias.

This must be yet another blow for those on Manus and Nauru. If they needed further demonstration of their lack of worth in the eyes of their tormenters, which I’m certain they didn’t, they’ve got one, compliments of a prime minister with the principles of a bush pig.

The Turnbulls do not seem entirely at their ease, either hanging from straps on the New York subway or self-consciously posing for pics with the Obamas, Lucy clad in what appeared to be the shining black skin of a slain shark converted to a clinging sheath, more fitting in the wardrobe of the elegant Clare Underwood in the HBO production, House of Cards. Or perhaps she was wearing a wet suit. What do I know.

I realise I’m not being nice, but fuck it. It’s time to get the nasty on.


Shriver, Abdel-Magied, and writing fiction.

19 Sep




I’ve spent the last few days thinking about cultural appropriation and the writing of fiction, as a consequence of the controversial keynote speech given by author Lionel Shriver at the Brisbane Writers Festival, and the distress expressed by Yassmin Abdel-Magied that caused her to walk out of Shriver’s presentation.

Briefly, Shriver stated her hope that the concept of cultural appropriation will be a passing fad, whilst Abdel-Magied argued that the appropriation by white fiction writers of experiences they can only imagine and have not lived is a racist and silencing act of cultural theft, in a world in which the voices of oppressed people are far less likely to be published than are those of their oppressors.

As an example of cultural appropriation, British male author Chris Cleave’s novel Little Bee, in which his protagonist is a female Nigerian asylum seeker, written in the first person, is cited.

It’s the job of fiction writers to imagine and convincingly convey to the reader experiences the writer has not necessarily lived, just as it’s the job of actors to portray characters with lives very different from their own. The “authenticity” of the creative work of both writer and actor lies in her or his ability to first fully imagine, and then fully realise their characters.

I can’t interpret this creative work as an act of theft. I can imagine how it might be experienced as an act of theft, but I cannot conclude from my imagining that it is an act of theft. This seems to me a crucial distinction in an argument that has as one of its requirements that a fiction writer (or actor) seek permission from a particular group to construct and perform a story around events he or she has not directly experienced, in order to avoid committing identity theft and cultural appropriation.

From a writer’s perspective, the core of this debate is the freedom to exercise the imagination, and to realise on the page the stories and characters it produces. The writer’s imagination is nourished from all manner of sources, personal experience being but one.

That both the film and publishing industry are dominated by privilege and largely white, is beyond dispute, yet this is perhaps a separate argument, and a situation for which the imaginations and performances of writers and actors cannot be held responsible.

At the same time, a writer or actor has the option of refusing to portray the experiences of a minority to which she or he does not belong, and instead urge their industry to seek out the voice of experience rather than settle for the voice of imaginative empathy, or at worst, exploitation.

I think both Shriver and Abdel-Magied have crucial points to make, but I can’t agree that the solution is the regulation of the imagination, or perhaps more accurately, the regulation of the imagination’s output. If a fiction writer is forbidden through shaming and accusations of theft from writing stories that contain experiences not their own, we’ll have nothing left but memoir.

As I haven’t read Cleave’s novel, I don’t know how successfully or otherwise he created the character of a female Nigerian asylum seeker, but I do know that the silencing of any writing voice is the privilege of publishers, not writers.

As Roland Barthes observed, any text is a tissue of all texts that preceded it: writers are also readers and nothing we produce stands in isolation. The text exists in a political culture of material relations that continue to produce ideologies, actions and beliefs.  As he also observed, the text is incomplete without the reader, and the reader brings to any text personal experiences and previous readings that necessarily influence interpretation.

Shriver’s acerbic reaction to charges of cultural appropriation are unfortunate and defensive, yet she is right to aggressively fight for a fiction writer’s freedom to imagine and narrate experiences that are not her own. If we cease to imagine the experiences of other, we become indescribably diminished. The oppression suffered by those for whom Abdel-Magied speaks can only become less penetrable, while the possibility of redress retreats even further.

Story is one of the most powerful weapons with which to crack the frozen seas of apathy and hatred. Without the imagination, we are as nothing.







The Year that Made Me

15 Sep



As I listened to Attorney-General George Brandis today unconvincingly bellow (shout loud: argument weak, as the father of my children used to say) that Malcolm Turnbull will be remembered by history as one of our great prime ministers, I reflected that while it’s sadly apparent Brandis is a fool, what is most unsettling is that he apparently believes the rest of us to be even bigger fools.

Malcolm Turnbull will be remembered by history as one of the weakest men ever to hold the nation’s highest office: I’m damned if I can think of many who’ve been more ineffective, more blustering, more incompetent and more so obviously at a total loss as to what to do next. No amount of Brandis’s maniacal talking up is going to change that situation, as we saw with failed and sacked prime minister Tony Abbott, also marketed as great and in the process of leaving a powerful legacy, as his popularity hurtled off a cliff like Sidney Nolan’s upside down horse, his death cult followers clinging to the saddle, three-word slogan at the ready: Nothing to see! Nothing to see!

There’s a pattern here. Talked up one day, compost the next.

No one can make a silk purse out of a pig’s ear, least of all the meta data-challenged Attorney-General who will himself be remembered largely for his technological ignorance, his ludicrously expensive bookshelves, and his elitist notion of what constitutes art.

Turnbull’s deplorable decision to carry on with predecessor Tony Abbott’s (the one who will be remembered for giving Prince Philip a knighthood, just one of a vast array of incomprehensible acts of wilfully destructive stupidity) ill-willed and non-binding plebiscite on marriage equality demonstrates yet again that the Prime Minister is haemorrhaging principles from every orifice, in a kind of spiritual Ebola that has afflicted him since he took office.

I am unable to think of one reason why the Australian public has a “right” to vote on the right of citizens to marry or not. This is not a question of protecting the Australian public’s rights: no member of the Australian public will suffer during the enactment of same-sex marriage. Marriage equality is a human rights issue, and it is an outstanding example of heterosexual arrogance to reframe it as an issue on which “the people” are entitled to have their say. Why are they entitled to have their say? Give me one good reason.

If “the people” are “entitled” to “have their say” in plebiscites on all matters regarded by politicians as “too important” for them to simply do their jobs, why bother having a parliament at all? We’ll use their salaries and perks to fund opinion polls instead, then all they’ll need to do is pass the legislation.

The High Court ruled that parliament already has the authority it needs to simply amend the Marriage Act to include same-sex marriage, without consulting anybody. Why are we paying the idle swine to hand the job back to us?

Trust me, said George Brandis when asked if his party would honour a *yes* vote, and that’s where I fell off my chair and rolled on the floor laughing my arse off.

It used to be that when Abbott said anything good about someone we knew they’d be in the dumpster fairly soon. It’s very hard to believe that Brandis is serious about Turnbull’s strength as a leader. I don’t think he is. He’s shouting loud because his argument is, like its subject, weak. His exaggerated praise of Turnbull is turning the corner into mockery. Brandis knows what’s coming.

Some of you may be familiar with the segment on ABC broadcaster Jonathan Green’s Sunday Extra, The Year that Made Me. A guest who has achieved chooses a year from her or his life which to them was highly formative. Malcolm Turnbull could do this gig.  He could call it The Year that Made Me lose every principle I’d ever held, and left me a dusty, creaking husk of a man, and taught mean the true meaning of the phrase, laughing-stock.

Excoriate! Excoriate!









Pot, Kettle

9 Sep




The Coalition’s current explosion of self-righteous outrage is something to behold.

Compared to the excesses of, say, Bronwyn Bishop, or the personal gifts bestowed on Foreign Minister Julie Bishop by Chinese companies, not to mention the hundreds of thousands donated to her branch of the WA Liberal party by Chinese who have business interests in that state, Labor Senator Sam Dastyari’s few thousand dollars seem fairly insignificant.

The argument that Dastyari’s gift was “personal” does not hold water: so are Julie Bishop’s iPad, airfares and accommodation, and so were the $250,000 of Rolexes given to former Prime Minister Tony Abbott and others by a Chinese business man. You don’t gift a Rolex to a party, you gift it to an individual. It’s personal.

Then there’s the South China Sea. This is what Dastyari actually said about the situation in the South China Sea, as quoted by Sydney-based Chinese media: “The South China Sea is China’s own affair. On this issue, Australia should remain neutral and respect China’s decision.”

This is not the position of either the government or the opposition, and left the Senator open to charges of “cash for comment.”

There’s no doubt Dastyari should have kept his trap shut on the South China Sea: nobody was likely to take notice of his views on this matter anyway. The chap can be a tad too ebullient, though I dare say he’s been cured of that characteristic for the foreseeable future.

Whatever benefits the Foreign Minister may bestow on those who’ve showered her with personal gifts and her party with money may not, at first blush, be as apparent as Dastyari’s allegedly paid support for China. That she will bestow benefits of some kind is certain: this is the way things work, interested parties donate and expect favours in return.

There’s no missing the government’s glaring hypocrisy. It’s now up to the media to hound the government as they have hounded Dastyari. Why is the Foreign Minister accepting personal gifts from the Chinese, or anyone else for that matter? In so doing, she is not meeting her PrimeMinister’s expectations, or at least the expectations he has of Sam Dastyari, and why should they be different?

Or is it one rule for the Coalition, and another, much harsher rule for everyone else? Because, you know, entitlement?


Sam I am. Aiding & Abetzing. Barnaby.

7 Sep



Beleagured and pasty-faced, Labor Senator Sam Dastyari yesterday flung himself at the feet of  herds of rabid news hounds, and proceeded to deliver an almost incoherent mea culpa for his inexplicable acceptance of some $1670 plus change from the Chinese.

Yes, all right, he’s sorry, we get that, even though he’s probably only sorry he’s been caught. However, we don’t want his plate of green eggs and ham, we do not like them Sam I am. We want to know why Sam asked the Top Education organisation to pay his $1670 excess travel expenses, and Sam will not tell us.

He will not tell us in a boat, he will not tell us with a goat. He will not tell us here or there, he will not tell us anywhere.

While we wait until Sam’s motives are uncovered, as they most certainly will be eventually, acting Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce appeared on the ABC’s 7.30 Report last night looking as if he’d been mauled by a polar bear, or might have been if there were any left. Host Leigh Sales hastened to explain that he’s using cream to rid him of sun cancers, and then we got on with the process of distinguishing between I am Sam’s request for a personal handout from the Chinese, and the Chinese making large donations to political parties.

There is a huge difference, Barnaby argued. I don’t agree with his position. The Chinese aren’t giving money to Australian politicians, either singly or collectively, from a place of love and friendship. They, like any other gift giver and donor, hand money to politicians because they want and expect something in return. This is the case whether it’s a personal donation to Dastyari’s travel expenses, or a couple of million to a major party.

On the same theme, this bizarre tweet from Tasmanian Liberal Senator Eric Abetz appeared in my  time line yesterday:

Eric AbetzVerified account
I have long agreed with banning foreign donations but does @billshortenmp support similar foreign money ban for marriage plebiscite?

Abetz has not “long agreed” with banning foreign donations. Abetz has voted “moderately against” restricting political donations, frequently absenting himself when votes were counted.

As for the rest of the tweet, I can make no sense of it. Perhaps he’s suffering from irrelevance syndrome since Turnbull took away his portfolios.

Or perhaps, as Ben Pobjie suggested to me on Twitter, Chinese billionaires are surreptitiously supporting marriage equality in Australia.

If the alleged support was for the noes, I’m absolutely certain Abetz wouldn’t be complaining.

In conclusion they’re all, one way or another, trying to persuade us to eat green eggs and ham.

We will not eat it in a box, We will not eat it with a fox….We do not like it, Sam I am, we do not like green eggs and ham.


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