Seriously underachieving

The current Government seems to be, almost universally, staffed by a large group of impostors. Are they visitors from another planet, passing themselves off as movers and shakers, decision makers? Have they infiltrated the bodies of the incumbents, but are insufficiently programmed to carry off the deception? Are they all zombies, not alive, but not dead. Whatever the explanation, there is an eerie emptiness about them, as if their batteries are running down.

I watched Question Time recently. Perhaps I am suffering from that, but I did not see anyone who resembled a real member of a real Government. I saw absolute non-entities stand up to ask questions, so phrased as to invite disbelief, using terms, from Government member to fellow Government Minister, like “please explain how and why you are doing such a peerless job for the people of Australia, or your electorate”, and please take your time while you do it, so that the taxpayers of this country can be enraged, disgusted, disenchanted, and generally short-changed by their representatives.

The Ministers duly replied to these gently lobbed love-notes. And what a motley crew they are. And who would have thought that Scott Morrison, who constantly reminds us of the irrelevance of “the Canberra bubble” would sit, firmly front and centre of that self-same bubble, smiling his smug smile, as question after question was wasted, so shamelessly?

The Opposition was fixated on asking all their questions about Angus Taylor, that curiously lucky individual. With such a do-nothing Government, perhaps he is the only action in town. Their questions were all directed at the Prime Minister, who deflected them all, in between taking potshots at the Opposition Leader.

Morrison was ducking and weaving, answering unasked questions, using the inside language of his bubble, with “Mr Speaker” thrown in at every second moment, as if it lends a parliamentary gravitas to his essentially juvenile sneering.

Visit the chamber a day later, and the show has become even more bogged down in mediocrity, like a slow motion train crash. While the planet teeters on the brink of climatic ‘tipping points’ we have a Government found to have been terrorising welfare recipients.

The accusation is that these people might have been overpaid, once upon a long time ago, because the Government was using a possibly illegal, and inaccurate, income assessment tool. Their outrage appears to be real, even as they spend more on pursuing the matter than they will ever recoup.

More than sixty Australian citizens, women and children, victims of their husbands and/or fathers, are stranded in Syria. That is because Peter Dutton, that champion of children everywhere, thinks it is not worth retrieving them, because it would be too dangerous.

These are women and children dragged away, often against their will, to accompany fighters in a war most of them are too young to understand.

Australia’s international reputation is trashed, and our citizens shamed by the inhumanity shown to the refugees, both onshore, and offshore.

But first things first. Ignore real problems confronting Australian citizens to defend to the death the right of Angus Taylor to be Angus Taylor, an entitled twit. Angus is currently being slowly roasted for a totally unnecessary own goal, where he tried to embarrass Clover Moore with a juvenile prank. So he has embarrassed himself and the New South Wales and Federal Police, and most Australians, and probably Oxford University, because he is one of their own.

Which brings us to that well-known political genius, Scott Morrison, who thinks God helped him win the unwinnable election. We are seriously in the hands of idiots! It wasn’t God. It was a combination of your dishonest campaigning, and Bill Shorten.

Let us consider for a moment the fact that the fate of two almost meaningless, certainly small-minded, nasty pieces of legislation, which are before the Senate, are to be decided by Jacquie Lambie, and Pauline Hanson, respectively.

This must be what a mandate looks like, when an elected Government relies on the deciding votes of two such giants of parliamentary excellence. One is left wondering how we got to this terrible situation. I must fall back on my original thesis: Someone has kidnapped the Government, and replaced it with badly programmed robots.

Why Labor Lost

As this year’s election result became clear, Bill Shorten stated, “We were up against corporate leviathans, a financial behemoth, spending unprecedented hundreds of millions of dollars advertising, telling lies, spreading fear – they got what they wanted.” That is the voice of a hapless victim, complaining about forces beyond his control, and not the alternative leader of the country.

Politics can be a dirty and brutal business, but the outcomes are real, and they have a real effect on the quality of people’s lives, so it is absolutely necessary to approach the contest prepared, and to deliver your best efforts. That includes fighting for your beliefs, especially if you are the party of reform, because you represent the needy and the disadvantaged, and the parties of the right will, by nature, and choice, represent vested interests.

The report into why Labor lost, by Craig Emerson and Jay Weatherill, really states the bleeding obvious, in that the party did not respond to the change of leader, from the failed toff to the shameless marketer; that it had too many, detailed, costly policies, which merely played to the Coalition’s perceived strength re. economic management; and it had an unpopular leader. What is not stated is that the party let down its constituency, by being unprepared, superficial, and self-satisfied.

Malcolm Turnbull is an inveterate waffler. He can’t help himself, but Shorten’s verbal awkwardness is equally excruciating, so they sort of cancelled each other out. As a contrasting attraction, Morrison is good on his feet, he is pithy in his communications, and he relates to the common man. Shorten could never match him in punchy messaging, so Labor needed to simplify, dare I say to shorten, and sell, the message. They also needed to modify their response to Morrison. He was not ostensibly from the ‘big end of town’, but his ambition and his duplicity were legitimate areas of concern, as was his penchant for rashness, and a reputation for callous disregard to those less better off than himself. Even Turnbull had the grace to display a modicum of ‘noblesse oblige’.

Oppositions are not Governments. They don’t have to prove anything, because they have been out of power, in this case for six years, so anything which looks or feels wrong, is by definition, the Government’s fault.

The drover’s dog could have won this election if Labor had merely turned up on the day, not scared anyone off with badly explained and overly complex policies, and bothered to relate to their base. Fighting the Greens in the inner cities was a waste of resources, and merely reinforced the impression that they had lost touch with their natural constituency, the Working Class.

And let us not forget the absolute rabble that the Government had become before going into the election. They knew it, and they were busily selling off the silverware, resigned to the fact that they were almost universally despised, and whoever had managed to accrue a decent pension, or a reasonable sinecure, was jumping ship. Remember the election launch, where the ‘joke de jour’ was that most of the cabinet ministers were in witness protection. Labor should have capitalised on that community disdain; Barnaby, Dutts, Shameless Angus and Melissa the Missing (Environment Minister), to name but a handful.

The Coalition’s lack of policies was a strength for them. It allowed the relentless sloganeering and the personal targeting of Shorten to proceed unhindered, and unchallenged. Labor looked like the nerd in the playground, who felt superior and smug, but would not bother to explain why, or respond.

Climate change was the elephant in the room, and was both Labor’s greatest strength, and its greatest vulnerability. Win Victoria and lose Queensland, or vice versa. Did no-one realise that the climate-denying rump of the Coalition was, and still is, calling the policy shots in the Coalition? Why not attack the Coalition’s disunity on the matter, exploit their confusion, dazzle them with economic arguments as to why renewables are so attractive, a real win-win solution.

It is hard to believe the lengths to which seemingly grown men and women will go to display confected outrage and disgust at something as innocuous as a paddock of solar panels, or wind turbines. Have they never seen a photo of a power station, let alone one in real life?

Why was no policy formulated, and sold, which explained the economic benefits of de-carbonising the economy, so that coal was, rather than being the saviour of mankind, explained as being too dangerous to use, and able to be economically phased out.

The argument about Shorten is correct. No matter the quality of the offering, you must sell it. And with Labor’s mix of impenetrably complex economic measures, a scare campaign was inevitable. What was needed was someone credible to discredit it. Imagine the “death tax” in the hands of Hawke or Keating; what we got was Shorten bleating that it was misleading.

Strangely both major Australian parties have moved to make it nearly impossible to remove a party leader, at the expense of good sense, or changing circumstances, or even voter preference. Look at the example in Britain. Jeremy Corben is firmly in control of his party in the Commons, yet almost universally loathed throughout the electorate. Ditto Bill Shorten. Hard to vote for a person who has stabbed not one, but two of his leaders in the back, and then to add insult to injury, he is irremovable.

The final mistake was to leave Morrison’s hucksterism unchallenged. His footy following, beer chugging, curry cooking persona was so obviously at odds with his Holy-Roller, bible bashing personality, he was almost as laughable as Peter Dutton trying to smile for his tilt at the Prime Ministership. But as the experts in Behavioural Economics tell us, in moments of doubt or uncertainty, we naturally return to the ‘default’ position. In this case better the devil you know, than the one you don’t. And see where that has got us all!

A Tour of a Pentecostal Church service.

Each time Scott Morrison scandalises or shocks Australians with a new low in parliamentary, or Prime Ministerial standards, he is likely to completely blank any questions asked, or to make some sort of ‘take it or leave it’ rejoinder to the questioner, especially if the questioner is from the press. He seems not to understand that the press asks those questions on our behalf, and are not attending simply to be independently insolent.

Having gratuitously brought us into his confidence regarding his religion, he has consistently annoyed thinking Australians with his seeming disregard for accountability. Perhaps he answers only to his God.

Morrison is a member of the Australian Pentecostal Church. Last week I visited a church which falls under the umbrella of Morrison’s church, in order to better understand his beliefs, and also to perhaps explain his apparently unassailable, and unaccountable behaviour. He reeks of arrogance, which appears to be at odds with his professed Christianity.

The church in which I find myself, is known as a Central Christian Church, which is an affiliate of Assemblies of God in Australia, or so the pastor’s business card states.

I was in regional Australia, so the church was on the outskirts of a small regional city. It has a large parking area, and paddocks opposite, and to either side of the block. It shares the space with the Baptists, whose service is conducted at the same time, every Sunday morning. They are located in separate spaces, at opposite ends of a largish bush-style building.

The congregations share a tea room/kitchen, and after their respective services, they co-exist, without really mingling. Women from each congregation share the washing up duties, and the men form small groups, within their own, informally segregated areas.

The service in the Pentecostal ‘church’ was broken up into three separate segments. The first is rock and roll themed, with the congregation seated in family groups, watching the band, who are up on a stage. The music is ‘on’ the minute the service begins.

The band is made up of three backing musicians, with a girl and a boy singer out front. The boy singer has an electric guitar. The band is incredibly young, with all the members looking to be in their late teens, at most. They are well presented, dressed very much in ‘everyday’ clothes, but young, modern and wholesome.

The music they sing has a mild rock and roll sound, with two guitars, a drummer and the vocals provided by the boy and girl up-front. The words to the songs are projected onto the wall, and are easily read. They sing of worship, God as saviour, and there is a fair amount of allusion to “the Enemy”, who is the Devil. The songs are repetitious, and the depiction of the words on screen has the owner of the copyright indicated at the bottom of the screen. Most of the songs played that morning are attributable to Hillsong, the church founded and led by Morrison’s friend, Brian Houston. Presumably they are paying a royalty to Hillsong, for every song they play? There are several favourite songs, wherein God is described as the “keeper of promises”, the “light of the world” and generally regarded as reliable for those in need.

During the musical segment, various members of the congregation are inspired by the music, or the words, and engage in waving of the hands, apparent swooning from emotion, and gasps of “yes” and other fervent affirmations. The music is gentle, but it still has a regular beat, and is quite stirring, even to the stoical, or non-believing.

The second part of the programme is a type of personal reflection time. The pastor’s wife rises, and quietly bears witness to moments during her day when God and she speak, quietly chatting. She is not claiming anything otherworldly, but more a relaxed world wherein God is a real presence in her everyday life. The pastor takes over for moments of reflection, and then a man, very old and stooped, and wearing a woollen beanie, speaks clearly, with an old, but strong voice, about once being an angry man, who accepted God, and has now found peace. He is earnest, and believable, and he disappears back to his pew as quietly as he approached the microphone. There is no sense of staging, but a confidence that, whatever their message, they will be heard.

During this middle period there has been an informal coming and going of the very young, maybe five or six of them, of kindergarten age, and that number again of early teens, often in sibling groups, very cleanly presented, and loving towards each other. The group appears to have a low impact, peaceful dynamic, and I am constantly welcomed by older members, hands outstretched, enquiring as to whether I am an old devotee visiting from elsewhere, or maybe someone interested, perhaps searching? It is friendly, without being pressurised.

The third and final act is one where the pastor formally presents a sermon, with biblical citations, but an everyman’s interpretation of the language. There was a presumption that his congregation knew him, and his family members, and could relate to his search for tangible safety, amid the real dangers presented by evil, or temptation, in the body of the Devil. The subject matter was reasonably interesting, and dealt with the fact that God hears the voice of the faithful, and delivers, against the constant threat of evil. Moses, and Aaron, in their search for water in the desert, was the quest, and trust in God’s word was the solution, against a very real threat of failure.

He explained the nature of the universe, divided into three; the realm of the real world, the Kingdom of the Devil, and the Kingdom of God. The surprise, in such an everyday setting, is the weight that is afforded the Devil, and his ability to change outcomes. He is seen as very real, very vindictive, and very active. Mankind is shown to be in constant peril, and pretty helpless, without throwing his hat into God’s Kingdom. But once one has accepted God’s word, and God’s help, one is safe.

The overall impression I got from the ninety minutes was the dualistic nature of the beliefs expressed. Life was an eternal battle between the forces of Good, and Evil. Good would triumph, but only on the acceptance of God’s protection. Without it, one is exposed to the wiles and the evil power of the Devil, and it seems to be that man cannot hold out against that sort of power.

I wonder if this is a universal belief amongst all the Pentecostal believers, or was I merely exposed to the idiosyncratic beliefs of a regional pastor?

Having seen the workings of the church, and presuming that the beliefs on show were not too far from those which drive the current Prime Minister, what are we to make of his world-view?

Although the congregation was made up of well-meaning, kindly people with no obvious signs of elitism, or even judginess, there is the dualism, the division of the world into those for Good, versus those for Evil, the very belief in such figures as the Devil, the separation of those who are saved, against those who are not, the helplessness in a sea of turmoil … The list of uncomfortable, unsophisticated beliefs goes on.

I actually don’t care what gets Scott Morrison out of bed in the morning, other than to serve the Australian people. I care about his commitment to deliver honest, decent, humane government, and to ensure that the prime in Prime Minister means he asserts control over his ministers, and polices standards. His religion might even make this task easier, although I have yet to meet a ‘believer’ who actually lives by Christ’s code.

There is a troubling lack of humility in the man, as well. From his refusal to engage with the media, and his penchant for making one-off captain’s calls, without referral to us, the people. And his lack of human compassion is noteworthy. Back in 2011, when he was in opposition, he questioned the cost to the taxpayer of funerals for families mourning the loss of loved ones, lost in the Christmas Island shipwreck tragedy. His apology extended to the timing of his comments, and not to the substance. That is something of his style – part apologies, part truths.

His treatment of asylum seekers in the last six years, whether in the portfolio, or not, has set standards so low that many of us feel shame about our international reputation. And never forget that the behaviour you walk past is the behaviour you accept. He has failed to remove Peter Dutton, who makes what should be career-ending mistakes almost every single day, and yet he continues to enjoy the PM’s confidence. And his treatment of those on Newstart is scandalously smug, ideologically driven, and wantonly cruel.

What does that say about the accidental Prime Minister? Are his beliefs blinding him to common humanity?