The ABC is the latest target


New book with old ideas published

In 2018 two researchers from the Institute of Public Affairs (IPA) wrote a book, entitled Why We Should Privatise the ABC and How to Do It. The main thesis of the book, and the “How to Do It” part, is that the Turnbull Government should privatise the ABC, by giving it away for free, either to the ABC’s employees, or if that was not acceptable, to random Australian citizens. They could write off the purchase in tax credits.

One has to wonder, firstly, where they got the idea that ‘giving something away’ equates to privatising it. On reflection, during the neo-liberal boom in the 1970s, many state owned enterprises were sold, at knockdown prices, all around the world. Many of those transactions would not stand up to scrutiny nowadays, as so many of them discounted taxpayer value, and essentially gifted valuable utilities to party donors. Russia, the United Kingdom and Australia, amongst other countries, created whole suburbs of ‘kleptocrats’ from transactions like that, and we are still paying the price.

Professor Sinclair Davidson and Dr Chris Berg are the two researchers who came up with this idea. They are both experts in Blockchain Innovation, and they work at RMIT. They also work for the IPA, in an honorary capacity, so Dr Berg states.

Blockchain has been described as a system for validating transactions, between people who do not trust each other. The innovation part is perhaps just a fancy tag for something about as interesting as devising train timetables.

And yet here they are, experts in an obscure technology that is really just another accounting tool, deciding that one of the most treasured assets still left in the national purse, is only fit to be given away.

They acknowledge that the ABC is popular, but in remaining true to their neo-liberal beliefs, they argue that there is no value in something merely because it is popular. It is a drain on the public purse, and must be divested. The reasons they use to justify their position are contradictory.

Firstly, they argue that the ABC is now an anachronism, past its use by date. How they came to this position is peculiar. They state that when the ABC was founded, in 1932, there was a shortage of media available, and so the ABC was designed as a stop-gap measure, until the ‘media’ on offer became sufficient to serve the Australian public. At that point in time, where media maturity was achieved, the ABC would pack up its tent, and slip away.

Secondly, they argue that the ABC is cannibalising media opportunities, by competing too well with the media professionals, and shrinking their market. Global monopolies like the Murdoch empire cannot compete, and feel that the government funding gives the ABC an unfair advantage. This is the actual position put forward by the free marketeers, with access to seemingly unlimited funds, being unable to compete with ‘the luvvies’ of the ABC.

So on one hand the ABC has become redundant, as their charter is now being performed adequately by the corporate media; on the other hand they are too good at their job.

What does the ABC do?

In Australia, the Australian Broadcasting Corporation is legally required to ‘encourage and promote the musical, dramatic and other performing arts in Australia’ and ‘broadcasting programs that contribute to a sense of national identity’ with specific emphasis on regional and rural Australia’. Wikipedia

The ABC Charter, set down by Parliament, requires the Corporation to provide informative, entertaining and educational services that reflect the breadth of our nation. That summary is taken from the ABC’s own website. https://about.abc.net.au/abc-history/

This year they have covered the bush-fires, peerlessly. Their staff were spectacularly committed, professional and pushed to their limits. Of course there were some who accused the ABC of committing too many resources to the coverage. That is easy to say, after the fire-storm, but I live in regional Victoria, and there is no other place I would trust to provide me with accurate, up-to-date information.

Take a look at their corona virus coverage. During the darkest days of April they provided us all with straight, professional, uninterrupted coverage of a once-in-a-century pandemic situation.

When researching this article I went back in time. They were there in the 1930s, broadcasting by wireless about the death of Prime Minister Joseph Lyons, and the declaration of war, by Robert Menzies, in 1939. Cricket broadcasts began.

During the 1940s the ABC provided war reports from various overseas offices. It attempted to provide an independent news service, however, in a precursor to today’s problems, it encountered some early government interference and censorship, by way of the newly formed Department of Information, run in 1940 by newspaper proprietor Sir Keith Murdoch. He was Rupert Murdoch’s father. So it seems that the Murdochs have always had a thing about public broadcasting.

The list of disasters, triumphs, royal weddings, funerals, bush-fires and floods is too long to recount, but there is not a time when Australians did not know where to look, if they wanted fearless honest reporting. We remember that the ABC is always there, and it is not swayed by the views of their advertisers, because there are none.

And if the ABC continues to outshine the so-called ‘professionals’, then the professionals need to lift their game. Stop asking the umpire for favours, and get on with it. The ABC does.

Who wants to get rid of the ABC?

It is part of IPA dogma to de-fund the ABC. The idea is not new, nor is it home-grown. It is directly taken from the Atlas Network, https://www.atlasnetwork.org/partners/global-directory/australia-and-new-zealand The Atlas Network is an American neo-liberal organisation, dedicated to packing legislatures world-wide with believers. Check out the link above, to confirm that the IPA are among their partners.

Roughly they all believe in small government, less regulation, less taxation, less welfare, and something of the ‘survival of the fittest’ mind-set. Except when they have to compete against quality competition. They do not believe in climate change, and they are supported by Big Tobacco, somewhere in the mix.

There is a very simple test which can be applied to our parliamentarians, to see whether they are fit for office. It works for the general population as well, but it is in the political context where the test is crucial, and necessary. The test shows whether they respect the wishes, and the needs, of the people. The test asks whether they want the ABC privatised, or do they want it preserved in its current form. See this page for a list of who, and how, they voted https://theyvoteforyou.org.au/policies/186

Australia is on the right track


Sweden chose the wrong strategy

Considering how almost universally admired the Nordic countries are, Sweden has broken ranks with its neighbours, in the manner in which it has responded to the pandemic. The country has dealt with the Covid-19 virus very badly, and the proof that this is so, is its current death rate. It is close to the world’s worst.

According to the World Health Organisation, “a well-functioning healthcare system requires a steady financing mechanism, a properly-trained and adequately-paid workforce, well-maintained facilities, and access to reliable information to base decisions on.” Based on those criteria, Sweden has a modern, well-equipped, and funded, health system. It is at least the equal of Australia’s.

How does Sweden’s approach differ from ours?

It is very simple. Sweden did not lock-down. It relied on the opinion of one health bureaucrat, state epidemiologist Anders Tegnell, of the National Institute of Public Health, to formulate its response. It also relied on the innate good sense of its citizens, to voluntarily apply social distancing. Initially Mr Tegnall believed that it would not spread from China. Later on, he believed that contact tracing of individual cases coming from abroad, would be an effective method of stopping the contagion.

The Government, led by Prime Minister Stefan Löfven, continued to follow his advice; it was more comfortable in those early days, and chose not to legislate for social distancing. Later, at the end of March, as the pandemic claimed more lives, it limited gatherings, from 500 down to 50, and then legislated penalties for non-compliance. It also shut down visits to aged care facilities, because there were infections at close to half of them.

It looks very like Boris Johnson’s early mis-steps in the U.K., except that they corrected their direction even more belatedly than the British. One crucial difference is that they do not seem shy about mentioning ‘herd immunity’. The Swedish Government is now claiming that it is approaching that point. At what cost? Well, that would be 1540 deaths, and counting. The death rate per million citizens is 151. Australia’s is 3.

Those bearing the burden for that herd immunity are the elderly. Swedes are at last awake to this fact, and they are not happy. The Swedish Government has listened, and is desperately playing catch-up.

Why discuss Sweden?

I mention Sweden because there is a rising impatience with the lock-down, here. We are all tired of isolation, and grumpy that we are not seeing our families and friends, or football matches even. Many business leaders are calling for selective re-opening of sectors of the economy. Many believe that we have over-reacted to the Covid-19 pandemic, and I fear that their voices will become louder. I fear that our politicians will listen to those voices, and lose their resolve.

It is hard to trust politicians in this country. They have failed us so spectacularly over the last decade or so, that it is difficult to believe that they have our best interests in mind. Already the Murdoch press is railing at the shut-down, and the spectre of government debt is looming. Business leaders are warning of financial Armageddon, the IPA is warning that we have lost our basic freedoms, and the forces of the right are gathering steam.

I want the Government to stay the course, because this virus is so effective, and so infectious, and we are so close to victory. The Swedish example is proof that social distancing is the best way to defeat the virus, and that allowing life to go on as if nothing is happening is totally disastrous. Not to mention cavalier, in treating the lives of ANY citizens as expendable.

Scott Morrison has been something of a revelation lately. But there are elements within his own party, and within the loud right, who would undo the good work done so far. We need to continue our locked down lives, at least until we have evidence that we have neutralised the virus. Black humour in times of crisis is fine, but the U.S. is losing 3000 lives a day; on Sweden’s worst day they lost 170 out of a small population. These are not just numbers, but real people, lost forever to their families, and their communities.

This is too serious to leave to the cynics and the profit takers. The fear of a second wave is no laughing matter, as Singapore can attest; and we have barely felt the first wave. I believe in our own scientists, and our medical people, and I am prepared to back our current strategy. Our lives depend on it.

UPDATED April 22, 2020

Nearly 1800 people have now died in Sweden, making it the 14th worst affected country globally.

The death rate is 156.45 per million compared to 62.84 in Denmark, 28.41 in Norway and 17.69 in Finland, all of which have much more severe lockdowns. Its death toll is roughly three times the combined total of its Scandinavian neighbours. Australia’s death rate remains at about 3.

We have to stay the course!

Morrison handles the crisis


Scott Morrison has had a good month

Australia has also had a good month. There have been mis-steps, and mixed messages, and the occasional catastrophic blunder (the Ruby Princess springs to mind), but in a global pandemic we have, along with our cousins across the Tasman, apparently slowed the progress of the virus. It is not empty patriotism to be proud of our achievement.

Against many predictions, Scott Morrison not only turned up, but as the weeks unfolded, he began to seem empathetic. His confidence grew, and he stopped enumerating all the steps he had already taken, and he concentrated on the present. His press conferences began to resemble real information sessions, and to look less like infomercials for the Liberals.

Of course he began by taking on the workload single handed, but he then gradually introduced us to Greg Hunt, the Health Minister. He was formerly known as The Minister for Announcing New Drugs on the PBS, but he has, similarly to Morrison, grown in this time.

The real change has been in his attitude to us

The Prime Minister, during his time in parliament, and presumably for his entire adult life, has shown a strange lack of compassion towards “the poor, the crippled, the blind, and the lame”, as the Bible might describe those who struggle (Luke 14:21). I put this down to his religious faith, which is constrained by its pre-Enlightenment beliefs. This means that the very notion of any form of welfare goes against the grain. A loyal and grateful God will look after the Faithful should catastrophe happen, and supposedly charities will pick up the slack.

He seems to have been able to put aside his disdain for those who do not always ‘have a red-hot go’. Perhaps he has seen that occasionally life throws stuff at you which you can’t deal with, or even that some people are not so well equipped for a hyper-competitive world.

He doubled the unemployment benefit for those who were already unemployed, and included them in his stimulatory package. I still wonder that he did not make more political capital from his doubling of the Jobseeker Allowance, but perhaps he did not want to directly confront the IPA types.

He also, for once, listened to the Labor Party, and the ACTU, and broadly adopted their suggested wages subsidy, which is revolutionary for a neo-liberal Government. Boris Johnson had also done it, in the U.K. so there was a precedent. But he continued to elevate the good of the individual citizen above the needs of the budget.

In another break with ‘dry’ orthodoxy, he convened a ‘national cabinet’, made up of the leaders of the states and territories. This from a man not seen as naturally amenable to the idea of sharing power, but the Premiers have all been impressed with his growing spirit of co-operation.

It seems that he is governing with compassion, for most of us, and that he has shrugged off the strait-jacket of ideology. Or maybe he just decided that there was no benefit in ignoring the obvious. People need to eat, whether they are in work, or not.

What did it cost?

Early estimates were around $300 billion, and counting. But it has saved many lives. As of today’s figures, there have been 102 deaths, which means a lot of grieving families, but it is many less than we might have expected. It is worth whatever it costs. And it is money from the communal pot. We can afford it, because we want to.

The shutdown of the economy will be difficult to recover from. But Australia has weathered many storms, and I have faith that the measures he has facilitated, from an immediate survival perspective, will at least soften the blow for those least fortunate. Many have slipped through the safety net, but he appears to be discovering the fact that it is part of his ‘job description’; to alleviate suffering wherever he sees his fellow citizens doing it hard. Compare that statement with our expectations of him after the bush-fires!

Where to from here?

He will most probably face internal revolt from the hard right within his party, sooner rather than later. His current spending is heavily reliant on Keynesian economics right now. Keynes’ ideas may be the only credible theory for times like this, and it has been instructive to see so many of the world’s governments recently reverted to the old orthodoxy.

This economic theory postulates that “the government should increase demand to boost growth,” amongst other similarly expansionary fiscal measures. It was seen to work through Roosevelt’s ‘New Deal’ package in the 1930s. This sort of stimulus is very unpopular with neo-liberals, who tend to be driven by their own ideology, concerning keeping government small, and spending minimal. Already we are hearing from libertarians and right wing think tanks such as the IPA that we need to re-open businesses, and to end the lock-down.

Interesting research from the period 1914 – 1919 shows that cities in the U.S. which maintained their social distancing and lock-downs during the Spanish Flu (1918-20) longer, bounced back more quickly, and more resoundingly. Read about this effect here https://arstechnica.com/science/2020/04/lockdowns-flatten-the-economic-curve-too/

Will he survive the challenge?

Scott Morrison has steered this country safely through the early stages of a profound crisis. He will see clamour for a return to the busy days, in an attempt to re-start the economy. He needs to hold his nerve, because the Spanish Flu pandemic taught us something else – if you take your foot off the brake, the second wave can be more devastating than the first. That happened in 1919, and there is no rule that says it will not happen again.

We have yet to see the worst of this particular crisis. India, Russia, Indonesia, Brazil and the United States are all entering unknown terrain, and we are very, very lucky to live where we do. The last thing we need is to listen to populists and ideologues, whose concern for society is zero. Remember their leader, Maggie Thatcher, who in 1987 uttered these words: “They are casting their problems at society. And, you know, there’s no such thing as society. There are individual men and women and there are families. And no government can do anything except through people, and people must look after themselves first. Not much of a belief system, if you ask me.

This article has been recently updated, to reflect some changes in relevant facts. The tally of deaths in Australia from COVID19 was revised from 62 to 102.

We can do this


The ‘Spanish Flu’ pandemic of 1918-1920 bears a strong resemblance to the current pandemic. Although the actual virus causing the disease is different, the result of the infection is similar. It causes pneumonia, and people die, in large numbers. There is no vaccine, so it needs to be managed. We can starve the virus, by limiting its hosts, and it will disappear. Or we can allow it to run through our community, until it decimates the population.

There are a range of self-help measures we can use. People need to physically distance themselves from others. They need to wash their hands regularly, using soap and water, or alcohol based sanitiser. They need to clean up their coughing, and even their breathing protocols, so that they ensure that they do not pass the virus on.

People coming in from overseas need to be quarantined. Not because they came from overseas, but because the virus, to this moment, has spread mostly from those who have recently returned. They need to be policed in this quarantine, because many have been found to be untrustworthy. And these rogues are not only annoying – they are potentially killing people.

We know these things because we have had time to study what has worked, and what has not worked, overseas. We also have the historical record. The Spanish Flu was another pandemic, and we know what worked then, and we know that the same measures will work for us, now.

We have watched China, South Korea, Singapore, Italy, Spain and the U.S. As the pandemic unrolls we know where the mistakes were made, and what worked. We know that physical distancing works, and yet last week we had the fiasco of the ‘hairdressing edict’, where hairdressing was treated as an essential service, and we even extended the time allowed.

We had the saga of the Ruby Princess, where Border Force had responsibility for allowing 2700 passengers to disembark, and to then disperse throughout the country, from Sydney, which was already carrying the burden of the largest number of confirmed cases in the nation. That might turn out to be the defining moment of our battle with the virus, when we realised this was serious, and we needed to wake up.

We have had the argument about whether this is a health or an economic emergency. It is a HEALTH EMERGENCY. If we don’t survive this there won’t be anyone around to enjoy the bounce-back.

Eventually, and very haltingly, the Federal Government has responded with emergency measures, although the division of resources, or the balancing act between health and economy has meant that we have seen more of a financial response from the Feds, and more of a public health response from the States. This repeats the mistakes of the Spanish Flu response.

In late 1918 Victoria withheld its statistics on Spanish Flu cases, leading New South Wales to allow travel from Melbourne, when it was actually unsafe to do so. This proved to be extremely dangerous, and it led New South Wales to close its border with Victoria. Co-operation between the states collapsed. This time around, the Commonwealth seems powerless to act, and instead the states are acting alone, closing borders, closing schools, closing hairdressers even.

Scott Morrison is a man divided. He looks like he wants to lead, but his caution and political cunning holds him back. Every press conference concedes some ground, but it lacks what is needed now. We need the leader of the country to catch up with his premiers, to decide on positive action to stop the virus, to throw away the political handbook, and to worry about Australians’ health, and never mind the cost!

He should immediately sack Dutton and Robert, for gross incompetence, and he should include members of the Opposition in a type of ‘wartime cabinet’. This is not the time for politics, but for national mobilisation, using the best minds we have, so that we do not lose lives meaninglessly.

This virus seems to be most dangerous to the elderly. We cannot afford to lose them, as we could not afford to lose our young men, which we did, during the Spanish Flu. Australians who, by stupidity, or inability to act for the common good, should not be allowed to endanger the rest of us.

We need, to put it bluntly, to pull our finger out.

The Three Amigos (updated)


It was like getting the band back together again, when all the rich white men with blonde-ish hair came to power, sort of at the same time, voted for by real people, and now all claiming a MANDATE to rule us, their way. No buyers’ remorse will be permitted.

They all speak a form of English, although it is understood that the meanings that they attribute to many words in common usage are skewed, or at odds with community expectations. These are indeed deflating, and confusing times.

The leader of the free world

On any reasonably intelligent reading Donald Trump is exactly what we all expected. He is narcissistic, shallow, uninterested, ignorant and dangerous. In times of crisis he was always going to struggle, because he is not equipped, intellectually or emotionally, to deliver leadership.

He has drifted from overconfident bluster that COVID-19 was just like the flu, to trying to downplay it because it rained on his ‘economic boom’ on Wall Street, to preposterous posturing, such as when he stated that he knew it was a pandemic before the rest of the world knew, although he was also telling us it was not only just like the flu, but a Democrat hoax, all at the same time. https://www.nytimes.com/2020/03/15/opinion/trump-coronavirus.html

The U.S. is now weeks behind where it should be, in containment terms. This will most probably lead to many more deaths than would have otherwise been the case. In an incredible turnaround in fortunes, Mike Pence, his abject Vice President, has performed at least creditably. Maybe the times suit the man, although his term as Governor of Indiana was inglorious. He delayed the fight against HIV/Aids by stalling a program of needle exchange, amongst other things.

But back to Trump: He has been calling COVID-19 ‘the Chinese virus’ for weeks, causing racist attacks on Chinese Americans, presumably by his base. This was seen as a fully conscious signal to his support base. Today he did a full 180 degree turn, and leapt to their defence, describing them as “good people”. He did not call ‘the silent enemy’, the virus, Chinese. How long will Americans tolerate this man? There are very few groups he has NOT disrespected in his three years in power. One benefit of this virus is that it may cruel his chances of re-election.

It is difficult to know if Donald Trump’s ‘handling’ of the COVID-19 crisis was wilfully negligent, or just plainly too uncomfortable for him. He is the successor to Lincoln, Roosevelt and Kennedy, and the country deserves more. He has caused world-wide depression and anxiety, and he has delayed America’s response to the virus. This has added to the impression that America has vacated its position as the world’s leading nation state. The country’s reputation may not recover.

The leader of the United Kingdom

Boris Johnson has been with the British in some form for many years. “He is thought of as a joke, but he makes people laugh” is advanced as a reason, amongst others (?) for his current electoral success. He went early on the ‘herd immunity’ strategy for the United Kingdom, until people panicked, and clamoured for change. It was described as “callous and dangerous”, and led to an abrupt about face. (There are two preferred responses to the COVID-19 virus: They are containment, or herd immunity.) Valuable time was lost, and the U.K. can now, probably expect a much more serious rate of infections, and deaths, due to Johnson’s original, flawed choice.

He is in effective control of the United Kingdom’s response to the most challenging health crisis in over a century. He has recently attempted to appear ‘Churchillian’, by adopting a stern, serious demeanour. This is difficult, when one has built a reputation on using stupid language, such as describing Muslim women, wearing burquas, “looking like letter boxes”. That is hard to reconcile with a person who knows, or cares for, his citizens. And certainly not Churchillian.

The leader of “The lucky country”

The third amigo is Scott Morrison. He is a marketing careerist, a fundamentalist Christian, and a shameless prevaricator who has, until now, had no known goal beyond dodging questions from the Press, and remaining in power. He is the successor of Chifley, Curtin, Hawke and Menzies. During the 2019 election campaign he was forced to hide his entire cabinet from scrutiny, because of their lack of intellectual capacity, and or human qualities.

He is using most of that cabinet, now out of hiding, as his front-line defence of the Commonwealth. They still lack basic qualities, but Morrison likes to do most of the heavy lifting. Like most of the leadership, however, they are being held hostage by a right wing rump in the Parliament, and we are not sure of their response, to his response, to COVID-19. So far, so good.

After a disastrous summer of catastrophic bushfires, in which Morrison lost most of the public’s trust, and goodwill, and a simmering argument about mishandled taxpayer funds, used for political purposes, the virus has very quickly assumed centre stage in our consciousness. It has become a battle for survival, with the community finally catching on to the seriousness of the situation.

On most measures, Morrison has stepped up. He has lost his supercilious smirk, and he seems to have jettisoned most of his neo-liberal baggage. He recognises the dire situation, and his obsession with fiscal rectitude has been lost. He is playing catch-up, but he is seemingly sincere. He is using medical experts, and he is increasing our medical response. He is moving his focus from financial, to basic health concerns.

There are still glimpses of the partisan warrior, and a curious reluctance to fully embrace the Keynesian orthodoxy. Sometimes his simulatory measures have an in-built delay, which defeats the purpose of action, now! Why delay the increase in the Jobseeker Allowance, static for 24 years, until April 27? It just seems ideological, and we need better, now.

On balance, the greatest problem is one of implementation. A million people lose their jobs, and the Centrelink organisation is overwhelmed. The relief money from the bush-fires has not reached the intended beneficiaries yet, two months later. Can we trust this Government to deliver now, when the virus outweighs even the bush-fires, in terms of damage to people’s lives? Can we expect the Government to govern, and to not be tied up in internal squabbles? Can they put aside their partisan positions, and utilise every person with necessary skills? Maybe even include the Opposition? Can they manage a novel set of disastrous circumstances, with competence?

They had better, because we have not, in our lifetimes, faced such a terrible situation. And Morrison says his mission is to keep Australians safe. So I wish him luck.

Meet John Roskam, our real Prime Minister


I confess that I feel like a complete fool. I had heard bits and pieces about the Institute of Public Affairs (IPA) for years, but I had always associated them with tired old culture warriors, like Gerard Henderson, maybe Bob Santamaria.

What were the 75 ideas about?

But then I came across a couple of quotes, “Be like Gough”, and “75 ideas”, which seemed associated with both the IPA, and Tony Abbott. After a little research, I discovered that three members of the IPA had written a ‘manifesto’ or wish list, which they had addressed to Tony Abbott, a year out from his elevation to Prime Minister. It was ‘delivered’ online, in 2012. Read it here https://ipa.org.au/ipa-review-articles/be-like-gough-75-radical-ideas-to-transform-australia

It invoked Whitlam as the most transformative leader the country had seen, but not in any admiring sense. Its message was that, for Abbott to be remembered well, he needed to be the antidote to the ‘poison’ that Whitlam had put into Australia’s political system. He needed to emulate Whitlam, by acting with speed, and they had a program, one which they had prepared earlier.

What was Abbott’s response?

One would expect that the leader of one of Australia’s major political parties, the Liberal Party, would have thanked them politely for their advice, and then proceeded to do exactly as his party wanted. That presumably included governing for all Australians, and sticking to his, and the party’s, policies and the expectations which they had aroused. Australians have always voted  for the ‘sensible centre’, and they were certainly not voting for any sort of ‘radical’ party.

Abbott’s response was both shocking, and surprisingly open. He responded during a speech, delivered at the IPA’s 70th Anniversary Dinner at the National Gallery of Victoria, which included the immortal line, “So, ladies and gentlemen, that is a big fat yes to many of the 75 specific policies you urged upon me.” Of course, he became Australia’s Prime Minister the next year.

But thank God for the IPA – here they were with a shopping list of neo-liberal ideas, and, being unelected, their ideas were in many cases, if not sociopathic, at least lacking in care for ‘the people’. Abbott appears to have taken their ‘manifesto’ more seriously than the writers had. They had presented it as a wish list, and the tone suggests their expectations were not high. They even outlined the ‘softer’ option, which consisted of a ‘steady as she goes, probably win another term,’. That was included in the paper, should he find their suggestions too radical.

Why did he accept their plan?

Many commentators, and most of the public, were dubious about Abbott’s abilities in the area of formulating policy. He was more of an attack dog, very able in the area of creating slogans, and engendering fear in the community, but policy – not so much.

It is difficult to explain why Abbott was so accepting of such a radical makeover of Australia’s political paradigm. I have always thought of Tony Abbott as something of a time-server, a careerist, and being on the right side was enough for him. He was never a reformist, or really a zealot, except when his religion clashed with his political duties.

I have tried many theories: Did they have a series of compromising photos? Did he receive money from them? Had they knowledge of something criminal in his background? No, all too improbable. So why did he acquiesce so whole-heartedly?

The best guess I can come up with is that he woke up one day, and discovered that he was the Leader of the Opposition. Remember the ridicule and the outrage when he won that particular vote? It was typically shambolic, like most of what Abbott has done – he ascended to the leadership by tricking Joe Hockey into believing that he would not run, and then he did. [Something of a playbook for a later run by Scott Morrison.]

Part of the outrage was that he had defeated Malcolm Turnbull, who was seen as a gentleman, an urbane and distinguished lawyer, who had decided to provide, pro bono, some adult supervision for the country. So Abbott had climbed the greasy pole, almost by accident, and then we saw him at his instinctive best – a wrecker, by three word slogan.

So, watching the Labor Party self-destruct, Abbott, over time, firmed as favourite to succeed to the top job. Notwithstanding his quiver full of degrees from Sydney, and even Oxford, he was given very little respect, or credibility, for his abilities, other than as a political brawler. The only work qualification he had was as an unremarkable journalist, and then a long term [19 years & counting, in 2012] as a parliamentarian.  

My answer to the question is that he may be really lazy. He had a stellar education, but all he had really achieved was to be, at the time, known as the world’s worst health minister, called out by Julia Gillard for his misogyny, a series of really embarrassing public gaffes, and a penchant for punishing physical exercise. He had a reputation as a Catholic warrior, and he was a climate science denier. Why not go along with a ready-made basket of policies, something put together by boffins, from a respectable conservative outfit. He could claim them as his own, and proceed into power.

How did that go?

It was disastrous. The list, translated into an actual budget, caused chaos. It was never anything but a ‘boys’ own fantasy’, put together by three young men whose work histories consisted  mainly of working for think tanks, or for politicians.

James Paterson was 24 years old in 2012, which suggests that he was a little inexperienced to be writing a grown-up country’s political plan. Chris Berg is an academic, I think, of unknown age, who is an ‘expert’ in Block Chain Innovation. He is also a think tank veteran. John Roskam was 44 years of age when the plan was written, and he has worked for several politicians, and two think tanks. He also did PR for a mining company.

He has tried for Liberal Party pre-selection, but he has failed to win. One wonders why he would bother, considering he has an entire Government at his disposal. One thing he does well: He is very good at getting on the radio and television, and considering his seeming fear and loathing for the ABC, he has managed to obtain lots of exposure on the national broadcaster. Is that known as biting the hand that feeds you?

What are some of the things they succeeded in?

It is eerie to work one’s way through this simple, simplistic shopping list, because so many of the items can be ticked off, as having been completed, or at least attempted. I would describe most, if not all of them, as reactionary, elitist and nasty. I can’t say if that nastiness is intentional, or just not thought through.

Repeal the carbon tax, and don’t replace it

Abolish the Dept of Climate Change

Cease subsidising the car industry

Repeal the mining tax

Devolve environmental approvals for major projects to the states

Cease funding the Australia Network

Privatise Medibank.

It seems like the sort of list that very young, privileged brats would produce, before they actually encountered some real life. Let us just say it is a work of stupendous lightness, and the Liberal Party has been captured by it for nearly eight years now. I have sometimes idly wondered where Abbott got such a witches’ brew of pettiness for his 2014 Budget.

I do not see one thing that would materially improve the life of a single citizen. All I see is self-aggrandisement writ large, with not a thought for the weak or the helpless. We have been blaming Abbott, Hockey, Cormann, Morrison and Dutton for a long time, but they are just dupes of three would-be intellectuals, who wouldn’t know what the words mutual obligation meant.

So the IPA gave Abbott a plan for Australia. And he bought it!

Over-run by Bible Bashers


This country is constitutionally secular. Not atheist, but secular. S116 of the Constitution reads thus: “The Commonwealth shall not make any law for establishing any religion, or for imposing any religious observance, or for prohibiting the free exercise of any religion, and no religious test shall be required as a qualification for any office or public trust under the Commonwealth.”

Parliament is more religious than we are

So that settles that question. Or does it? As the country becomes less religious, the Parliament becomes more so. Why is this? One would expect that the Parliament would reflect us more closely than it does, and by definition it would reflect our declining interest in religion.

There have always been outliers in the Parliament, those who consciously and publicy brought their religious beliefs to the table. But they always seemed to be a little extreme for most of us, slightly unbalanced when it came to matters such as abortion, or de-criminalising homosexuality. Vince Gair and Brian Harradine spring to mind; men of principle, but quaint and embarrassing. They were essentially lone wolves, not a part of a dangerous pack.

Are overly religious politicians dangerous?

Fast forward to today. Where did all these right wing warriors come from? Why are people voting them into power, and why are there so many members of Parliament who profess such strong religious convictions? On face value Eric Abetz and Kevin Andrews are relics of a bygone age, Conservative Catholics, social traditionalists, old fashioned, lacking media skills, but successful, in election after election.

Even the high flyers who reached the top of the pile are strangely uncomfortable with modern mores, but somehow they have succeeded. Their beliefs are surprisingly uncommon. What is it about Kevin Rudd, and Scott Morrison, and Tony Abbott? All out and proud, professing a belief in the Christian god. Absolutely a private matter, most of us would think.

One of the great mysteries of life is how religious and political leaders are able to contort and twist the messages of their faiths, so that they become self-serving, self centred and frankly inhumane, especially when considering those of other faiths. Think of the major religious communities around the world, and their interaction with other faiths in their areas. There you will find examples of man’s inhumanity towards man. All of them do it. Muslims, Christians, Jews, Hindus and any other faith you can think of, guilty of persecution, of someone, somewhere, and happening right now.

A local act of social vandalism.

In 1997, Kevin Andrews, a resident of Victoria, succeeded in pushing a private member’s bill through federal parliament, overturning the first legislation to permit assisted suicide in Australia, which had been enacted in the Northern Territory. To reiterate, Kevin Andrews wilfully caused a Dying with Dignity Act to be repealed, after it had become law, in another state of Australia. His private members bill still disallows assisted euthanasia, in the Commonwealth Territories ie. the Northern Territory, Canberra and Norfolk Island.

How many dying Australians have that religious warrior to thank for their unnecessary suffering? How many Australians have cursed his interference, as their relatives wasted away in pain? Did it occur to Kevin Andrews that his act was inhumane, and incredibly selfish, and did he reflect that the overwhelming majority of Australians support at least some version of dying with dignity. The latest poll taken in 2017 showed 87% support throughout our nation. So on whose behalf did he act when he pushed that private member’s bill?

Our leaders have been found wanting.

Scott Morrison took the treatment of refugees to previously unexplored depths, which, to many Australians with a conscience, is and continues to be, inhumane, cruel and definitely goes against anything the nuns would have taught me. His continued insensitivity towards the unemployed, (aka the poor) forever memorialised by the “You’ll get a go if you have a go” absurdity, is compounded by his active refusal to increase NewStart. He also said, in 2015, that he would never support voluntary euthanasia. He didn’t support same-sex marriage, either.

Morrison is still friends with, and fully supportive of, Brian Houston, who is being investigated after the Royal Commission censured him, for his failure to report the sexual abuse allegations against his father. He also failed to avoid a clear conflict of interest, by investigating his own father, while serving as National President of the Assemblies of God in Australia.

Kevin Rudd retreated from “the great moral challenge of our generation”, and Tony Abbott and John Howard, provided George Pell, a convicted paedophile, with a character reference, after his conviction. I can’t imagine what they were thinking. How could they do such a thing?

In 2006, Barnaby Joyce, who was the catalyst for the ‘bonking ban’, argued against the introduction of Gardasil, a vaccine which would prevent the spread of human papilloma virus (HPV). To be truly effective, girls must be vaccinated before they become sexually active. Joyce felt that making it available to girls would encourage promiscuity. Read Jenna Price’s article here https://www.smh.com.au/lifestyle/barnaby-joyces-other-betrayal-20180209-h0vurf.html As the catalyst for that ban I mentioned, he seems to have a very judgemental attitude to women’s and girls’ sexuality. He had no problem with boys receiving the vaccination.

It is perhaps not their fault. I have always thought that those who profess strong religious beliefs seem to be searching for something, for some quality that they do not possess, a patch of still water in storm tossed seas. Notwithstanding that most of those named have risen to positions of great power and eminence, they are like lost children. Perhaps they need to study Matthew 16.26 again,
“For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul?”

Barnaby Joyce is still popular


Barnaby Joyce has had a reasonably long career in Parliament, now heading towards 15 years. His career is one which has had a number of very public setbacks, and he is generally dismissed by what he would call the ‘inner city elites’. He remains popular, however, and always newsworthy. he appears to have the ability to ‘bounce back’.

Many outstanding politicians are remembered for doing something special for their country, or perhaps for a lifetime of sustained effort for the country’s benefit. Barnaby Joyce was named “Australia’s best retail politician” by Tony Abbott. Now that endorsement does muddy the waters somewhat, but a reference from a former Prime Minister is still a reference.

He has also ‘served’ as Deputy Prime Minister of the country, which in itself is an achievement. It also illustrates the point that our system elevates the leaders of political parties to positions that are sometimes beyond their capabilities. It is arguable as to whether Tony Abbott and Barnaby Joyce are two such examples, but it also points to the problem of having a junior coalition partner. The leader of the National Party automatically becomes Deputy PM if the coalition is in power. This is problematic if the person in the role is, for any number of reasons, not a good fit.

These reasons might range from ongoing scandals to a lack of suitable ‘gravitas’ The expectation of a Deputy PM would be that he is an acceptable stand-in for the Prime Minister, should the Prime Minister be overseas, or ill, or even deceased.

Resignation and return to the back bench

In February 2018 Malcolm Turnbull was scheduled to go to the U.S. and he flagged that Mr Joyce would be acting Prime Minister in his absence. Unfortunately Mr Joyce was at that time embroiled in a personal crisis, which included the very public end of his marriage. Mr Turnbull, in what amounted to an expression of no-confidence in his deputy, appointed someone else to stand in for him. Barnaby Joyce was sent on a week’s leave. 

Obviously that was an uncomfortable set of circumstances, and within a week Mr Joyce resigned from the leadership of the National Party, and consequently lost his position as Deputy Prime Minister.

A look at his ‘annus horribilis’

It would not be unreasonable to expect that Mr Joyce might have called time on his career at that time, as his personal and political reputations were at an all-time low. But no, he had several more struggles to contend with.

There was that television interview, for which he was paid $150,000. There was talk that it was against the rules for Parliamentarians to take remuneration for appearing in the media, but that appeared to be incorrect. It is a convention, which is not binding, and so moot.

Joyce and Ms Campion arranged that lawyers were to establish a trust fund for their son, Sebastian, to set aside the $150,000 to pay for future expenses like school fees. Apparently the payment was to be made into a family trust, which is also a way to avoid a significant tax bill.

His next mis-step was when he made the extraordinary claim that he might not be the expected baby’s father. He framed it as a ‘grey area’ which surely failed on every measure of chivalry, if such a thing still exists.

The next bombshell in the ‘annus horribilis’ for Mr Joyce was that he was found to be a dual New Zealand and Australian citizen. Under S44 of the Constitution, he was obliged to resign from Parliament, and to re-contest his seat. He won the by-election, against low profile candidates, but nevertheless he improved his margin.

As if that was not enough he was next found to be living, at no expense, in a friend’s apartment in Armidale. He declared the ‘gift’ of free rental, but again he was pilloried by many in the Press. He even made the comment that he needed the assistance, because he was living on a reduced wage, of over $211,000 per annum. But he was supporting six children, and two households.

Why is he so popular, when his every act seems to be career damaging at the least, career-ending at worst? When looking at his career, and notwithstanding his rise to near the top, one struggles to find the signature ‘big’ achievement. He does have a singular talent for making outlandish statements, which immediately gathers media attention, and he has made something of a reputation for speaking the ‘unvarnished truth’.

This has been gradually whittled away, mainly due to his own efforts, where onlookers or listeners are often left questioning whether he is affected by drink, or perhaps having a psychotic break of sorts. Perhaps it is just bad luck.

Some of his disasters

Mr Joyce continues to have many faithful followers, despite some stumbles along the way. Some of them are shown below:

The radio interview with Patricia Karvelas springs to mind, listen here https://www.theguardian.com/global/video/2019/apr/23/labor-labor-labor-labor-barnaby-joyces-bizarre-interview-on-rn-drive-video

You could also watch his Facebook post late last year, here: https://www.theguardian.com/australia-news/2019/dec/25/barnaby-joyce-sick-government-being-in-my-life-taxes-climate-change

It could be argued that he has been forever oafish, but not particularly harmful. Jenna Price, writing in the Sydney Morning Herald, thinks otherwise https://www.smh.com.au/lifestyle/barnaby-joyces-other-betrayal-20180209-h0vurf.html 

Weighing it all up

He has been called the world’s worst ever Agricultural Minister. He has overseen the Watergate purchase, of seemingly illusory floodwaters, for close to double the asking price. He did say that his department made the decisions; he was presumably absent, because it shows a level of mismanagement not commensurate with a Minister, or on a humbler level, an accountant.

He has been condemned for moving the pesticides regulator from Canberra to his own electorate, at huge expense, and with no discernable upside. He has apparently saved Australia from an environmental hazard, by threatening to euthanase Johnny Depp’s small dogs. Partly for this reason, he was presented with the 2015 Froggatt Award. I cannot tell if the award was ironic, or not.

More recently he completed his term as Special Drought Envoy, where he managed to spend $675,000 and ‘produced’ a report, sent by text messages, which the Prime Minister, Scott Morrison, was too busy to read.

These are just some examples of how genuinely he has been found wanting in his role as a Parliamentarian, and Cabinet Minister. Think of an issue, and he will have likely taken the renegade position, and as likely as not, reversed his stance at some point. It is plain that he sees himself as a born leader, and his recent tilt at the leadership of the National Party, after the ignominy of the past year, has not dampened his ardour for a life at the top.

He continues to be reasonably popular, which is totally unbelievable, but true. He is a phenomenon.

Booing is for Babies.


Some perspective on our beautiful game

In VFL/AFL football there is a time honoured tradition of the crowd being vocal during matches. Most of the watchers know the game, many have played the game, or aspired to do so. Many who watch, or listen, know the intricacies of the game, and how demanding and merciless it can be. Many consider it a game which requires extreme courage to play it, and it is seen as being a test of the character of the players.

Many consider the game to be peerless amongst football codes, because as it has evolved it has retained its high level of physicality, it has if anything become inescapable in the scrutiny of its players, and it is relentless in the level of competitiveness between the clubs. This is replicated throughout the AFL states.

Elite football does not exist without the non-elite, players of all levels of ability, striving for excellence, and tales of the gifted country footballer still resonate, because those young men, and women, do occasionally turn up, often from country towns, but also from the city, or wherever the game is played, and display heroic capabilities. State that someone played one game and most of us are still in awe of such an achievement. And the game has been played for so long now that it has its own history, with its own legends and myths.

Every country town last century boasted a footy team, and its companion, a netball team. These days many of the women who would have played netball now embrace women’s football. Many towns have the footy ground, with its four posts at either end, and somewhere close by, a netball court. It’s Australia, mate.

Football demands, above all else, commitment. The kids who are seen with a football constantly in their hands, grown men wearing their team’s colours in public, the answer to the question “Who do you barrack for?”

Those who have played at the highest level often note the level of noise at a game, the oohs and aahs of the watching crowds, the sheer numbers who attend games. This vocal quality often had a tinge of humour attached, as when Val Perovic, a Carlton player, kicked the ball. He could kick it a ‘country mile’, the crowd would erupt, shouting “woof” whenever he sent a long left footer out of defence. Shouting “woof” was a joy on a Saturday afternoon, back in the 80s, along with 30,000 other lunatics.

There have been others, of course, but always within the spirit of the game. Roy Cazaly was cheered every time he went for a mark, where the crowd roared “Up there, Cazaly”. Passionate commitment, from all, until the siren sounded. And then the most appealing part of our game; families and friends, or even strangers, supporting opposing teams, walking away without conflict, immediately after games, because the game is over. No barbed wire, no armed police, no segregation of opposing fans.

Adam Goodes is a true champion

In recent times, however, there has arisen a really ugly addition to our beautiful game. Adam Goodes, a true giant of the game, was driven from the field of battle by opposition fans, grown ups and not so much, actually booing him. People not fit to lace his boots actually disgraced our game with this behaviour. His record is huge. Two Brownlow Medals, two premierships, All Australian four times, he played 372 games. Not one. Three hundred and seventy two!

There was a sinister reason for the booing, however. It was simple racism, tinged with jealousy and envy. Goodes had called out racist language in a couple of games, and in an act of defiance one night, he performed a short version of an Aboriginal ‘war dance’ at a section of the crowd which had been booing him mercilessly. Some of them actually called his gesture “intimidating”, although he was a lone black man, being publicly vilified by thousands. He had just scored another inspiring goal, by the way.

Boo. It is a stupid word, which describes a stupid act. “Booing is an act of showing displeasure for someone or something, generally in response to an entertainer, by loudly yelling boo! (and holding the “oo” sound) or making other noises of disparagement, such as hissing.” Wikipedia.

Wow. I took a straw poll last weekend, and I could not find one person who admitted to booing, ever. Some expressed the free speech argument, though that is a false equivalence. Booing caused a modern master of our game to retire, prematurely, because the weight of the crowd was too much.

Booing is for babies. You boo when you are watching Punch and Judy shows. That is the only acceptable use of the act of booing, and it should be discontinued when you attain school age. If you continue to exhibit this behaviour, you are suffering from arrested development, and you need help.

Adam Goodes left the game, and he has never attended any function related to the game, since his retirement. Now that is a crying shame.

Christmas Island – A Huge Waste of Money

Christmas Island Team

Who is to blame?

When one is looking at the current Government, and its ministers, and rating their general demeanour, competence, and ability to deliver decent, law-abiding administration, choosing the worst performers is tricky. How to choose between Scott Morrison, Peter Dutton and Angus Taylor? They would all qualify for the final, but let’s go with Morrison and Dutton, for their conspicuous heroics in re-opening Christmas Island.

Who is to blame for this debacle? Scott Morrison probably, because he is in charge, and he was the one who was so enraged by the passage of the Medevac Bill – The Home Affairs Legislation Amendment (Miscellaneous Measures) 2018 . He also had Dutton to deflect blame onto, because Peter Dutton does not care what we think of him. We are just ‘looney lefties’ to him, anyway.

Why was it re-opened?

Christmas Island was specifically re-opened to by-pass the intention of the Parliament, which merely wanted seriously ill asylum seekers, who normally reside on Manus Island or Nauru, to receive medical treatment in Australia. They would then, after their treatment, be returned to their places of detention.

These asylum seekers are, after all, in our care, but Morrison / Dutton were having none of that, from the soft medical profession, or those bleeding hearts who thought we owed a duty of care to them.

So, they decided that they would re-open Christmas Island, and that would ensure that those pesky asylum seekers need never set foot on Australian soil. They would even send doctors and nurses to the island to treat them. It would be kept very Spartan in tone, because they suspected that the sick asylum seekers would just lounge around, at taxpayers’ expense, enjoying a holiday on Christmas Island. (I told you it was a neurotic plan.)

Perhaps it was just another Home Affairs grab for power. It looks like a classic Dutton point-scoring ploy, but again Scotty from Marketing does like to call the shots. It is difficult to call.

Of course it turned into a massive waste of money, while at the exact same time they and their henchmen in the Government were pursuing the poor for money. This program, dubbed robodebt, in itself was found to be illegal https://www.abc.net.au/news/2020-02-06/robodebt-illegal-scheme-suspended/11939810. There is speculation that robodebt has been the cause of multiple suicides https://www.reddit.com/r/australia/comments/5upxiv/centrelink_robodebt_linked_suicide/.

What did it cost?

So far it has cost us over $180 million, just to re-open it. To this day there have been NO refugees basking in the sun there, and after three months of operation, with NO customers, in July 2019, the facility was re-closed.

It was dutifully placed in mothballs, and then a Tamil family, from Sri Lanka, whose two children were born in Australia, were re-housed there, awaiting deportation. That small act of cruelty cost another $30 million. There were / are over 100 staff working there, to provide security etc. to two parents, and their two toddlers. They are still there, awaiting determination of their case. https://www.smh.com.au/politics/federal/tamil-family-fighting-deportation-to-stay-on-christmas-island-two-more-months-20191217-p53knq.html

Although Mr Dutton was able to arrange for a couple of au pairs to stay in the country https://www.abc.net.au/news/2018-09-19/emails-show-role-peter-dutton-played-in-au-pair-visas/10282822, he is unable to bend in this case, presumably because if he lets two children stay, those floodgates will flop open.

Their community, from Biloela, a town in Queensland, has fought to keep this particular family in the country, but Mr Dutton has pretended it is a matter of principle (his) although the community have even taken the Government to court to fight the decision.

Fate continues to play a part in the decision to re-open the facility. The arrival of the coronavirus has re-purposed Christmas Island as a quarantine centre. Perhaps the two geniuses from the Government think its new, temporary use means we will forget the wasted $210 million, and still counting.

This is stunning maladministration. It came to our attention through the Budget, and it appears no-one was embarrassed, or sorry, or regretful, that we had refurbished an unsuitable site for medical evacuations, at huge cost to taxpayers’ funds, and it will never be used for its intended purpose. Morrison and Dutton are so anxious about asylum seekers’ setting foot on Australian soil that they were willing to waste our money to prove a point.

Was anything useful achieved?

Morrison did obtain a single use for the facility – he held a press conference there. https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2019/apr/03/we-paid-180m-for-scott-morrison-to-have-a-press-conference-on-christmas-island It took less than 30 minutes, and it has been calculated as the most expensive press conference ever held in Australian history. What will Mr Morrison do to make it up to us?

Politicians need to be held accountable. And they need to be treated with the same severity as we are, should they mis-step. If you fiddle your expenses, you should be charged, rather than being allowed to pay it back. Raise the defence in a court that you didn’t intend to steal it, and could you please just pay it back, and see how the courts treat that.

I thought that, after a disastrous summer, and the newly revealed ‘sports rortz affair’, now might be a good time to remind us of this, another shameless episode of wasting public money, by this Government. One of them, or both, made the decision to re-open Christmas Island. It was a highly neurotic, vengeful and pointless exercise, meant to say “I told you so” to the well-meaning parliamentarians who passed the Medevac Law.

This is the party with a plan.