Unfunded Empathy

We have become accustomed, in Australia, through long adherence to a shared system of values, to governments which would always put ‘the people’ first. We Australians, it was understood, would always adhere to international norms and standards, and we would conduct our day to day political affairs according to equality and fairness. That was until Tony Abbott ascended to the Prime Ministership, and he let the likes of Joe Hockey, Scott Morrison and Mathias Cormann ‘off the lead’.

No matter how mean and tricky governments have been, they have, until 2013, generally governed for the whole of the country, with an unofficial motto of ‘no-one left behind’.

Perhaps the rot set in when Joe Hockey described Australia as a nation of ‘lifters and leaners’. Which mis-reads the nation’s egalitarian aspirations, and history. It applies a Victorian era division to society, between those who give, and those who take. It is unloving charity, judgemental and harsh. Not to mention realistically nonsensical.

The social security system is designed to act as a safety net. “The gap between social security and welfare is precisely the gap between entitlement and stigma.” It is designed to act as a safety net, which props up citizens, rich and poor, when something goes horribly wrong, or when they reach retirement age, or when they get sick, or lose their jobs. So they tend to give and take over a lifetime; I can’t imagine anyone choosing welfare as a lifelong income source.

This thinking is a regression, a riff on the British Chancellor of the Exchequer’s phrase “strivers and skivers”. It is being used by a man who really fell into his parliamentary career, when the sitting independent unexpectedly resigned, leaving the seat virtually ripe for the plucking. At the first sign of stormy weather, when he was about to lose the Treasurer’s job, he resigned from the Government. If he is a ‘lifter’ he has very little heft in his lift. Mention his name to the Australian public and all they see is Joe Hockey, sitting in the Parliamentary garden, smoking a fat cigar, with his mate, Mathias Cormann.

The next step in his seemingly lucky life was as the Ambassador to the U.S., a job for which he was untrained and unsuitable, but a ‘mate’, so of course he got the job. Not surprising, because he replaced another ‘mate’, Kim Beasley, a friend to the previous Labor Government.

Let us just agree that this particular position now seems to reside in the pocket of the sitting Prime Minister, to be given to the latest ‘mate’ to resign. In breaking news, but hardly a surprise, Arthur Sinodinus has just been appointed to the role. Luck appears to follow hard on their heels for these ex-politicians. Out of one high paying job, and into another. Not even an interview, and I bet no-one asked him about Australian Water Holdings.

If we continue down this murky path we encounter Scott Morrison. He recognised middle Australia’s fear of the ‘outsider’ and turned it into something we thought we had left behind, along with the White Australia Policy.

In our anxiety about floods of not-quite-white refugees we were able to be manipulated by a self-satisfied marketing man who turned our Immigration officials into quasi-military types, decked out in their military uniforms and boots, and the minister refusing to confirm or deny ‘on-water matters’, as if they were anything other than tales of a professional Navy catching wretches in fishing boats, doing their best to better themselves and their families. I suppose they were classic ‘leaners’, to his frantic mind.

Fast forward to Scott Morrison again, now our current Prime Minister. He only dresses up in military gear when he visits American warships, but he is suffering compassion fatigue, it seems. Before the election he spoke of “a fair go for those who have a go” which says it all. We will assist you if you have a go, or if you are not suffering from a mental or physical illness which handicaps your efforts at living a productive life, or if you are old, or suffering from a disability, or you struggle to make ends meet. Help is conditional, and we set the conditions.

But that is not the worst of what this person will stoop to: He has now introduced the notion of Funded, and Unfunded, Empathy into our political lexicon. This was in response to calls being made, from across the political spectrum, for a rise in the Newstart Allowance.

This is not the Australia I know. This attitude to those who are not going so well is despicable, and in the worst sense, bullying. It is taking advantage of those who cannot stand up for themselves. It drives our opinion of this Government even lower, and it brings into sharp relief the hypocrisy of the Ministry.

Recently one of them suggested that if you can’t get a job in your home town, then re-locate. This from someone who is paid $290 for every single night that he stays in Canberra, which is where he works. This figure is tax free, and is more than the weekly rate for a single on Newstart.

Yes, that is correct. Their job is in Canberra, and they are paid to go and stay in a luxury hotel, or in their own home, and we compensate them more than an unemployed person is paid for an entire week, to go to work.

So if you are a retired Minister, you are in a good position to be able to be appointed to a plum Ambassadorial role, on top of your parliamentary pension. You will have no training, and you will leapfrog over suitably qualified persons who have worked as diplomats for their entire lives.

This Government is led by a person who feels empathy if it is paid for. He only wants to help people who help themselves. He unashamedly passes out gifts of highly desirable jobs to people who are not qualified, and he leads the worst, do-nothing Government in Australian history. He is not fit to serve the people of Australia.

Is Scomo Fair Dinkum?

In Australia it is entirely appropriate for a politician to display religiosity in his public, and or private, life. That being said, it is also appropriate, if said religiosity is on public display, for the politician to fully divulge the length and breadth of those beliefs. In that way the electorate has the opportunity to judge whether the individual’s beliefs are acceptable to them, and whether full knowledge would, or could, change voting behaviour.

It also allows the voters to decide whether the politician is ‘fair dinkum’, or merely using his religion for political purposes. No secrets, no surprises, no dissembling.

With that in mind we can now begin to evaluate the Prime Minister’s religious beliefs, because he has taken us into his confidence. He has allowed cameras to film him preaching, and he has described his faith as being an integral part of his persona. He has gradually, since the election win, come out to us, in a curiously suggestive, but coy, way, as if to say “I was always this way, but you chose to ignore it, and now no-one can say he or she wasn’t warned.” He has begun to use biblical imagery, as in the use of “miracle” to describe his election win, and even he “will burn for us”, to describe whatever that meant.

He is strangely ignorant about the Constitution, and has mis-read it in the past. He does not understand s.116, because he reads it as meaning that government in Australia is “not free of religion”, but free. Someone should explain the difference between atheistic and secular, but I cannot imagine anyone in the coalition, or Labor for that matter, who actually understands the difference.

He was described by Laurie Oakes in 2013 as “breathtakingly arrogant” http://Arrogance and obfuscation a bad mix for Scott Morrison in his dealings with the press, and by extension, the Australian people. Recent times have seen a hardening in his apparent resolve to wield power in an unapologetic manner, and without consultation with the people. Perhaps he, and we, can learn from his ‘captain’s call’ to move our embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. Widespread outrage apparently changed his mind for him, but will public outrage work into the future?

His complete, and seemingly autocratic dismissal of New Zealand’s renewed offer of asylum to 150 of the shattered souls on Manus Island and Nauru, appears to be impulsive (characterized by undue haste and lack of thought or deliberation) as defined in vocabulary.com. His explanation for the rejection of the offer appears to be minimalist, at best: “It will weaken border security”.

The offer was first made by former New Zealand Prime Minister John Key in February 2013, and accepted by Julia Gillard, before Tony Abbott rescinded the agreement. The offer continues to be made, and has been repeated under his successors, Bill English and Ms Ardern. Many voters consider the treatment of asylum seekers on Pacific islands to be shamefully inhumane and even illegal, but Mr Morrison chose again not to accept the decent solution on offer.

The fact that he ‘hid’ most of his front bench during the last election campaign suggested a degree of introspection, maybe a softening of his belligerence, and an understanding that the coalition, since its move into power under Abbott, had become too right-wing, too prepared to ‘play the man’ in Bill Shorten, too uncaring of those left behind in Australian society. He even called for a new era of cooperation. Could this be the ‘christianisation’ of politics in Australia?

Not likely. His imperial rejection of an increase in the Newstart Allowance is proof that The Prosperity Gospel is the preferred policy document of this government. Remember his “A Fair Go for Those Who Have a Go“.

However, I predict that his resolve will crumble on this point, because an unintended consequence of the rules governing Centrelink allowances in this country is that many older women, too young to qualify for the Aged Pension, are forced onto Newstart, because if they live in a regional town, or they are widowed, or they are unemployed, then they are often homeless, or poor, or forced into slums, because of the fact that the allowance is so low that even that famous egalitarian Barnaby Joyce has twigged that it is not possible to live on $40 a day, and also either obtain a non-existent job, or pay rent, or eat adequately.

This morning on ABC radio, Sabra Lane asked Mathias Cormann if he could live on $40 a day, and after about three excruciating minutes Ms Lane let him off the hook. We have no answer to that question.

The Prime Minister appears to be an autocratic, arrogant person, of immense ambition, and very little discernible compassion for his fellow citizens. He ran a masterful campaign, but he remained what he always was, smug and self-satisfied, a believer in a god who rewards faith with prosperity, and who punishes the weak.

Time will tell whether this government has a heart. I fear not, but you never know. His choice of ministers sends a bleak message however. And prepare for lots of security talk, Peter Dutton protecting us from paedophiles, and photo opportunities for Scomo, with the likes of Donald Trump, and Boris Johnson.

“Beware of false prophets, which come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravening wolves. Ye shall know them by their fruit. Matthew 7:15–20

Words Have Meaning

When a politician speaks we should be able to decipher what he or she is saying. Most of them, at least these days, have an education of sorts, and presumably when they use words they use them in a way that their listeners understand. So “no” should not have a special meaning; and neither should “yes”. They should mean what most people think they mean.

This extends to questions asked of them. And it includes other words. It includes all the words most people understand. The journalist asking the question is expected to use words his or her audience understands, and the journalist and the politician should both be aware that the question, and the answer, is being provided for the public’s benefit. Not because we are busy-bodies, but because we are the governed, and they govern with our consent.

After the noise and confusion of an election things should settle down. There should be an opposition keeping the government to account, and there will be a Government, subtly changed now, and governing for all, not just for their supporters.

This sounds relatively straightforward. Governing for all. No need to be mean and tricky; governing for everyone, even political opponents, because they are, usually, close to half the population, and they live in seats all over the country, and they have only the one government. They do not have an alternative government to petition if they are unhappy. They remain citizens. Their rights are not diminished by an election. Their lives go on.

In Australia it was once understood that, whoever won an election, the entire population would be the government’s first concern. Members from both sides would ensure that no group prospered at another’s expense, and always that the delegates, our parliamentarians, worked for their fellow citizens’ benefit, with honest disregard for their own interests. Remember when incoming Prime Ministers assured the losing side, on election night, that they would govern for all, and not just for those “having a go”and that now was the time for unity.

So what happened? This government has continued as the last one finished. It is mean and tricky. Consider the tax cuts recently passed. They are claiming victory for three sets of tax cuts, the last of which is set in the ‘never-never’, and for which there is no mandate, because they will happen, perhaps, in 2024/25. As our spineless Labor leader so rightly stated, mandates do not outlast the current Government. It is a disgrace that he rolled over anyway.

Two of their members, Ministers of the Crown, have appeared to conspire to subvert a re-classification of native grasses from endangered to extremely endangered. The fact that the change was not made is because the re-classification was too brazen even for this government. And yet they persist in the story that they met with no intention to divert public policy.

The Treasurer continues to describe the removal of a tax concession as a tax. It does not meet the definition of a tax, and the Treasurer, if anyone is, is meant to know what a tax is. It is as insulting to our intelligence as Tony Abbott’s description of a carbon price mechanism as a “Great Big New Tax”.

I particularly like the title of the Minister for Reducing Emissions. Presumably he couldn’t bear the idea of being the Minister for Climate Change, because he maintains that climate change is made up, and if he held that title then people in his party might think he was a conservationist, or something. So change the name, and the stationery, and the punters will not notice. It will cost plenty getting those changes made, don’t you worry about that.

There was another delicious irony recently, which I must mention. The government recently announced that it wanted to re-introduce an Ensuring Integrity Bill, and the first person to endorse it was Barnaby Joyce. That is ironic on so many levels. Barnaby should consider a career in stand-up, but I hear the roars of laughter – too late, he already is. But Ensuring Integrity, and Barnaby, in one sentence? Please. Stop.

The Minister for Finance, a man who ‘forgot’ to pay for his family’s holiday last year, is tasked with investigating whether Julie Bishop and Christopher Pyne have broken the Government’s Code of Conduct re. using, and being paid for, information gleaned while working for the electors of Australia. Their seeking re-employment so soon appears unseemly, considering they were fatigued from so much government work in the past, and they seemed to be headed for a deserved (?), very comfortable retirement. Upward of $220,000 per annum, for life, whether they are employed, or not. I just hope that there are no accounting issues for the Finance Minister in his investigation, as he has proved himself not so good at adding up. What will his ‘investigation‘ turn up?

All of these examples serve to illustrate the very low regard this government has for our understanding of what they say, and how they say it. The ‘pub test’ is often touted as a sure way to evaluate someone’s probity. In the absence of a better yardstick, it is necessarily a blunt instrument, but what else is there? We’re certainly not getting an Integrity Commission, because neither side wants one.