Tag Archives: Australian government

The government as sea lions

5 Sep

 

 

Pier 39 Sea Lions

 

I don’t know if you’ve ever watched the sea lions at Pier 39 in San Francisco. I’m reminded of that querulous and stinking marine rabble whenever I encounter the Turnbull government in my media. The sea lions are a nasty bunch, and they fight a lot.

I now can’t picture Malcolm Turnbull as anything other than a self-congratulatory pinniped in a top hat, barking and clapping his flippers at his own cleverness as Lucy throws him a fish.

While the PM hastened to reassure the country that he had “excoriated” his rogue MPs (including ministers) who left parliament early on Thursday afternoon, the real issue is not that the LNP have taken this event as  “wake-up” call for their one-seat majority government, but that such a call was needed in the first place.

Surely someone (a staffer, one of Dutton’s ninety, yes that’s ninety spin doctors) could have reminded the government that with a one-seat majority, everyone really needs to stay till the end.

That seasoned politicians holding powerful positions (and, apparently, their entire staff) need such a fundamental “wake-up” call is worrying indeed. What it confirms is what I’ve long suspected: the LNP perceive governing as a game weighted in their favour that they are entitled to win, without any particular merit, or even by actually playing it. Any challenges to these perceptions are dismissed as little more than the grumblings of opinionated upstarts.

Turnbull’s first sitting week after the election was woeful. First thirteen of his backbenchers defied him on the matter of Section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act. Next, for the first time in some fifty years, the government lost three votes in the House of Representatives because of the Thursday bunk-off. Thankfully, they’ve now gone home for a few days.

On the matter of Section 18C, it’s interesting that the cohort advocating a “watering down” of the section are those who are the least likely to ever need the protections it offers. Read this piece by Jeff Sparrow on the co-option of speech laws for their own benefit by those who have no skin in the game.

Similarly, those most vehemently opposed to marriage equality are those who can in no way claim to be, in reality, affected by it.

(If such people are seriously concerned about a perceived debasing of the institution of marriage, they urgently need to make infidelity illegal. Imagine that).

I think it’s safe to say that politics has ceased to be much to do with good and fair governance, and is now almost entirely to do with the furtherance of the interests and ideologies of largely (and sometimes large) white men. In this they differ little from the sea lion colony in which the dominant males rule in their own interests, biting great chunks of flesh out of dissenters and shoving them, bleeding, back into the sea. It’s every pinniped for himself.

They even savage the young, and the ones with the loudest bark win.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Are you rational or self-interested, PM?

3 May

Self Interest

 

“We mustn’t let empathy cloud our judgement.”

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull urged the Australian people not to get all “misty-eyed” about the fate of refugees held in off-shore detention. He followed this urging with the above statement, after learning that the late Nauru refugee, Omid, had died as a consequence of setting himself on fire.

Turnbull urged us to stay “rational” when considering these matters.

However, if you think he’s only talking about the plight of refugees we continue to torture, think again.

Turnbull isn’t the first to expound the false dichotomy of empathy and judgement: determination not to allow empathy for raped and molested children to cloud their rational judgement is one of the factors that enables the Catholic church hierarchy to shelter perpetrators of these crimes.

Note how in these examples from church and state “rational” in both cases reflects the institution’s best interests.

It’s remarkable how the “rational” so frequently coincides with self-interest.

There’s nothing wrong with being rational. It’s a human attribute and a useful one. Like so many other useful and admirable human attributes, the rational has been co-opted by the self-serving to justify (rationalise) cruelty, and contempt for anyone considered “other.”

Empathy, on the other hand, rarely equates to self-interest. For a start, empathy asks that we imaginatively walk a mile in another’s shoes, an act entirely at odds with interest only in the self.

There is no either/or in the matter of empathy and judgement. No legitimate judgement can be made without empathy. Empathy is what tempers decisions that are otherwise entirely self-serving.

Turnbull’s attitude is a core belief of today’s LNP.  If you think it applies only to refugees you’re dreaming. It is the default position of the present-day Liberal towards anyone considered in some way less worthy. It’s why they won’t tackle negative gearing. It’s why they fund private schools and want to strip public schools of all assistance. It’s why they don’t care if you can’t afford private medical insurance and suffer horribly as a consequence. The LNP will not let empathy cloud their judgement not only of refugees, but of every citizen in this country who suffers as a consequence of their self-interested (rational) policies.

Rational or self-interested? You decide.

 

 

 

 

Bronnie’s shoes: a fractured fairytale

19 Jul

Bronwyn Bishop

 

Back in the day, second-wave feminists warned us to ditch our high heels because they hampered us if we needed to move fast or even at a reasonable pace, and if you ever wear high heels, you know that to be true. I just dug out an ancient pair, red satin with a high gold heel and long pointed toes and if the heels don’t cripple you the toes will become trapped in pavement cracks and you’ll go either arse backwards or head forward and either way, your progress will be impeded and physical injury may result.

My heels aren’t anywhere near as high as those worn by the Speaker of the House of the Representatives, Bronwyn Helicopter Bishop. So I absolutely understand why, on a recent European jaunt, she ran up a bill of around $1000 per day on a specially equipped black BMW limo to transport her from her luxury accommodations to wherever she needed to be. Only a spiteful, ill-wishing fairy would think she should walk, or take a cab or even an everyday embassy car, none of which would be safe enough to accommodate both her and her stilettos.

Women’s feet, and the type of shoe in which we encase them, have been the stuff of fairy tales in many cultures. There’s the ancient Chinese custom of foot binding. There’s the Grimm’s fairytale of the pubescent mermaid, who so desperately wanted to love a landlocked prince she exchanged her glorious asexual mermaid’s tail for legs, feet, and a clitoris, and forever after suffered as if she was walking on daggers, unless she was flat on her back. Yes. We’ve all been there, haven’t we.

Then there’s the grotesque Hans Christian Anderson saga of the red shoes, which involves a little girl the author describes as vain, who, after complaining of her ungainly footwear is given a pair of red shoes that won’t stop dancing all by themselves, leading to a desperate amputation of her legs at the ankle, and crutches for life. The ill-natured shoes, with her mutilated and bloodied feet inside them, hubristically continue to boogie in front of her everywhere she goes, reminding her of the wages of vanity and self-indulgence. It is this latter story that is perhaps most pertinent to Ms Bishop, as us punters struggle to establish which is the larger insult: the helicopter hired to serve the country (club) or the limo cos shoes.

As accounts of Bronnie’s indulgences at the serfs’ expense continue to unfold, I am reminded of nothing as much as a syphilis maddened British monarch demanding the gratification of every whim, which surprises me, as I had previously held this image as belonging solely to the Prime Minister, Tony Abbott. But hey nonny, the two are apparently cut from the same cloth, and Bronnie, rumoured to be one of the Captain’s earliest picks (after his nose) continues to enjoy the unqualified support of her leader, against the advice of  at least one of his party elders.

Bronnie is out of step with the times, so to speak. She would be far more at home in the Georgian era, getting about in a sedan chair with a couple of bearers she could flog if they didn’t keep up the pace or jerked her about. A couple of hair extensions fashioned into ringlets and she’s all set to go.

sedan-chair

 

I don’t know that we should advocate severing Bronnie’s legs at the ankle. However, there is something to be said for casting her feet (in stilettos of choice) and ankles in bronze, and placing them in a glass case in the entrance hall of Parliament House. These shoes, the placard might read, caused taxpayers to fork out $1000 per day for over two weeks, as they rendered the wearer incapable of using her god-given ability to walk. Only women of calibre should contemplate wearing such shoes, and then only when some other patsy foots the bill for the limo.

 

 

 

A new low in corporate paranoia: Transfield, Manus & Nauru

7 Apr

Zip It

 

There’s a report in the Guardian this morning that Transfield, the company responsible for the administration of detention centres on Manus and Nauru,is taking extraordinary measures to curtail the civil liberties of its employees.

New policy issued in February 2015 restricts religious and political freedoms of Transfield staff working at the detention centres by forbidding membership in or support for any “incompatible organisation,” such as political parties and churches opposed to off-shore detention. Support for the United Nations, Amnesty International and the Australian Human Rights Commission could also lead to staff losing their jobs.

At first blush, this looks like denying the human rights of workers to religious and political freedom.

A job for our Freedom Commissioner, Tim Wilson?

A staff member can also be sacked if a detainee or former detainee follows them on Facebook or Twitter, even if the employee is not aware of the following.

For previous Sheep posts on Transfield, and the association with the St James Centre for Ethics and the Black Dog Institute of one of its directors, Douglas Snedden, see here.

Then there was the brou ha ha I wrote about here, surrounding Transfield’s support for the 2014 Sydney Biennale which caused several artists to withdraw their work and led to Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull describing those artists as “viciously ungrateful.”

You may not think highly of people who undertake employment in detention centres. I’ve heard this perspective and spoken to employees, and it’s complicated. There has been, ever since the days of Woomera and Baxter, a culture of secrecy surrounding detention centres, asylum seekers, and those who are employed in the industry, a culture that serves no one well and from which very few emerge unscarred. Governments are entirely responsible for this culture, for imposing it and maintaining it, to the detriment of everyone involved at the coal face.

These recent actions by Transfield are alarming, and have widespread implications. They are designed to suppress dissent of even the most innocuous kind: being sacked for who follows you on Twitter must be a new low in corporate paranoia.

This morning on ABC Radio National Breakfast, Immigration Minister Peter Dutton insisted that he would not make decisions about refugee status “under duress.” The “duress” he is referring to is the hunger strike by Iranian Saeed Hassanloo that has brought the asylum seeker close to death. Iran will not accept deported asylums seekers: they must return of their own free will. If they do not wish to return, they are kept in indefinite detention by the Australian government.

The message from the DIBP is clear. If you flee duress in a manner we consider inappropriate you will be subjected to more duress, and if you respond to that duress with actions that cause us to experience duress, we will subject you to indefinite duress. We win.

The message from Transfield to its employees is of a similar nature. If you want your job you will relinquish the right to everything we say you must relinquish the right to, otherwise you will not have your job. We win.

The Abbot government to all citizens: If you’re thinking about blowing the whistle on anything think again, because we have captured your metadata and we don’t need a warrant to trawl it and we can make any use of it we like and we win.

All you have to do is what you’re told, and everything will be all right and we win.

Freedom Boy! Where are you?!

Freedom Boy

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

What is Conservatism and What is Wrong With It?

2 Apr

australian-conservative

 

Former Associate Professor of Information Studies at the University of California, Los Angeles, Phil Agre, defined  conservatism thus:

Q: What is conservatism?
A: Conservatism is the domination of society by an aristocracy.
Q: What is wrong with conservatism?
A: Conservatism is incompatible with democracy, prosperity, and civilization in general. It is a destructive system of inequality and prejudice that is founded on deception and has no place in the modern world.

It’s worth reading Agre’s essay, to which I’ve linked above.

The core assumption of conservatives is that they are an aristocracy, that is, they are “the best type” of human being, and being the best type of human being are therefore entitled to govern. Here Prime Minister Tony Abbott’s phrase “women of calibre” springs to mind. Women and men of calibre, as determined by the conservative measure of calibre, are entitled to thrive and are entitled to rule.

This is what is at the heart of Joe Hockey’s protection of the wealthy: because they are wealthy they are by definition the best of human beings, of the highest calibre, and the most worthy of support and tax exemption.

With this assumption at the heart of political and social convictions, a sense of entitlement will inevitably be the driving force. In Australia this sense of entitlement does not generally originate in bloodlines: we are egalitarian to the degree that those of humble origins can and do form the conservative political aristocracy that considers itself the “natural” ruler, the “best” group to govern. The essential requirement is not breeding or wealth, but that one subscribe to the  ideology of entitlement, fuelled by the fervent belief that nobody else can do it as well.The conservative assumes, for no apparent reason other than the assumption itself, that he or she is born to rule.

Conservatives have become even more delusional than they were when they largely sprang from the ranks of the wealthy and the “well-bred.” At least in those instances wealth and breeding provided some perceived external justification for the born to rule ideology. Currently, the ideology requires no external justification: it has come to be justified simply because it exists.

If this is your starting point you will be unable to regard anyone outside of your privileged ruling class as anything other than a lesser being. This thinking is not conducive to democratic government.

As Agre observes, conservatism is founded on deception, largely self-deception. It requires only a belief in one’s superiority but no external proof of any particular accomplishment other than the ability to convince others of that inherent superiority and its naturally ensuing entitlement.

On the whole, the current crop of conservative front benchers are quite unfathomably stupid, blinded and halted and lamed by the conviction of entitlement that is their raison d’être.

Where do babbies of calibre come from? They just are.

Where do babies come from

Women are not responsible for the crap things men do. End of.

17 Mar

This piece by Paula Matthewson totally nails it on the “Credlin, Horsewoman of the Apocalypse” narrative aggrieved men in LNP circles are telling themselves and everybody else to explain away their shameful, dishonourable gutlessness, and I include Prime Minister Tony Abbott in this sweeping gender generalisation.

If Credlin is indeed the only person Abbott trusts and takes advice from, that demonstrates an appalling weakness in the character of the leader of this country. Not because she is a woman, but because Abbott is apparently fool enough to listen to primarily one advisor.

If Abbott allows his chief of staff to tyrannise all comers, that is evidence of Abbott’s inability to handle responsibility and decision-making.  Nature abhors a vacuum and Abbott is a vacuum and fate has given him Credlin to fill the vacuum that he is. It is the vacuum running the country we need to be concerned with, not the filler who can be replaced by another filler, and another, but always leaving us with the vacuum at the top.

 

empty head

 

The weakness is not Credlin’s but Abbott’s, and it will still be Abbott’s weakness if Credlin is despatched.

Even more alarmingly, Credlin’s advice seems to be driving Abbott on a hiding to nowhere and still he takes it, which only goes to prove my point. The man is stupid beyond redemption.

It is customary in this patriarchal sewer in which we dwell, fighting off the bloody rats, to blame women for the crap pathetic things men do. I’ve had a gut full, to be honest, having experienced this on a very personal level for the last few months. Women are not responsible for the crap things men do, whether it’s in politics or the personal, women are not responsible for the crap things grown men do, end of.

I do not say this to offer support for Ms Credlin, because I don’t feel any. I cannot abide people who wag their finger at other people, and Ms Credlin seems to do this rather a lot. It’s a gesture that reveals a multitude of other characteristics, none of which I find in the least appealing. Be that as it may, whatever Ms Credlin’s undesirable traits may be, they have absolutely nothing to do with Tony Abbott’s. They just happen, at this moment in time, to be a spine-chilling fit.

This is why Abbott got it so wrong when he attempted to use charges of sexism against Credlin’s many critics, and where the critics got it wrong as well. The problem is the Prime Minister handing over so much of his power to his chief of staff, regardless of gender, and what it says about the PM that he is willing to relinquish so much power to an unelected employee.

Abbott is a dangerously inadequate leader.  It’s got nothing to do with Credlin. He was before her and he will be after her. This is what we should be worrying about, not the bloody horsewoman of the apocalypse, which is about as big a piece of hyperbole I’ve heard in many a day.

Let me say it one more time. Women are not responsible for the crap things men do. If this is a government of grown ups, they need to acknowledge that first, and urgently.

 

Censured: The problem is Brandis not Triggs.

3 Mar

George Brandis

 

Yesterday’s Senate censure of Attorney-General George Brandis for his treatment of Human Rights Commission President Gillian Triggs, has no direct constitutional or legal consequences. It is important, however, that the censure motion is on record as an example of attempts to bully into silence the head of a statutory authority the Attorney-General is obliged, in his job description, to defend against malicious attack.

If the government of the day is dissatisfied with the performance of the head of a statutory body there are presumably procedures in place to deal with that situation. I doubt very much that one of them is instigating personal public attacks. At the very least, the Attorney-General should be aware of the proper way to go about addressing perceived performance failures, and follow those guidelines.

Professor Triggs was entitled to natural justice. Instead she was subjected to an appalling attack by the very person who is obliged to ensure her right to natural justice is honoured.  This alone is just cause for censuring the Attorney-General, who could not have more blatantly failed to carry out his duties.

An Attorney-General who behaves in such a manner has gone rogue. He is not upholding the principles and duties of his office. He is making up the rules as he goes along. He is supported absolutely in his feral abrogation by his Prime Minister, Tony Abbott.

This is our problem. It isn’t Gillian Triggs. It’s a government that has scant regard for any statutory body, any procedure, any law that doesn’t suit their ideological ambitions. The HRC is an anathema to the Abbott government, not least because one of the Commission’s responsibilities is to monitor and report on the actions of that government. What better way to demoralise and disempower the HRC than to publicly and ferociously go after its head?

 

 

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