Why can we not like the Libs?


A friend of mine asked me the other day why I seem to only criticise the conservative side of politics. My answer was that they have been in power for six years now, so if anything is conspicuously wrong with the country, it is probably their fault. And also they appear to be generally a callous and clueless lot. I remember when Liberals with a social conscience were dubbed ‘wets’. That was probably the end of their credibility, when the so-called ‘dries’ gained the ascendancy.

Our government, like western civilisation, is deemed to generally be on an upward trajectory, as conditions improve for most of us, across the board. These days we forget, but state governments used to have slum clearance departments, and the idea of workers’ compensation for workplace injuries was once relatively new. Pensions for single mothers as well, although the current crop of small minded penny – pinchers appear hell-bent on punishing single mothers.

Years ago we had an eminent history professor who was almost run out of town, because he argued that increased Asian migration was possibly ahead of public opinion. Consider Peter Dutton’s recent comments on third generation Lebanese Australians, where he suggested that they were more inclined to criminal behaviour than others in the population. Twenty years ago he would have been driven from office, by an outraged citizenry as well as by his own party hierarchy. Now he actually believes he is Prime Ministerial material.

Australia is still a relatively benign place to be born, but something has been lost. There is a hard edge to many governmental decisions taken now, and an expectation that the voters have become de-sensitised to acts of governmental bastardry, and the perpetrators, the Ministers in charge of such decisions, will be judged not as cruel or vicious, but as practical, or pragmatic, getting the job done.

When we look overseas we see many exemplars of woeful behaviour, and sadly Australian politicians are largely lacking in imagination, and slavish in their imitation of dodgy role models. So the Trumps and Johnsons of this world have their acolytes here. However the prime takeaway from the ‘drying out’ of politicians is their total lack of shame.

When the matter of robo-debt is raised, with its tales of widespread and often unintended misery, not to mention plain inefficiency, the minister in question does not hang his head in shame. No, he states, in complete denial of the facts, that the system is working.

We cannot defeat shameless, because a part of any society’s regulating behaviours is the ability to reflect on one’s own behaviour, and if it falls short, we must be able to recognise where we fell short, and reform ourselves.

I sometimes wonder when the rot really set in. Was it when Peter Reith allowed the use of ex – military men with guard dogs to break a union on the waterfront, in 1998? Was it when John Howard lied about the refugees from the Tampa, accusing them of throwing their children overboard? It might have been when Australians began approving of the offshore gulags in Manus and Nauru. None of these horrible examples, of either lying for personal gain, or using tactics from the 1920s, made anyone resign, let alone hang their heads in shame.

Whatever the moment, we have certainly got the government we deserve. Last week the acting Prime Minister stated that Pacific Island nations facing the loss of their actual homelands would survive, because they could always come here to pick fruit. That statement is so ‘off’, on so many levels, and yet Scott Morrison remained silent. That was his “Pacific Family” that Michael McCormack was speaking of. Never forget that the standard you walk past is the standard you accept.

Until this Government develops a conscience my friend will continue to be disappointed when he reads this blog. Or maybe enlightened.

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.