Friday, December 28, 2012

Groundhog Day: Greens Tone Down Policies (again)

I'm using the Groundhog Day reference, because ladies and gentleman, we have been here before.

The Australian Greens party on the even of an election year have announced that they are cutting some of their more controversial policy points, with the hypothesised hope of attracting environmentally-minded upper middle class voters, at least according to the pundits.

The Eastern and Northern Suburbs are awash with would-be Green voters, if only they would drop that silly death taxes policy, for instance.

Well, you're in luck, and so are your heir apparents.

Wealth redistribution for one is no longer a worry, as the Greens somewhat 'Ruddify' themselves once again - akin to what Kevin Rudd did with the Labor Party, and personally becoming known as 'Howard Lite'.

Wait, once again, I hear you ask? Let's skip back to 2007:

"Gone are calls for the regulated supply of "social drugs" such as ecstasy and the "controlled availability" of cannabis." ~ Herald Sun, Greens tone down policies, April 13 2007

What a punchy line! The Greens no longer pity druggos. Glory be.

I guess Paul Howes can no longer lob a handful of sod at them for that one; maybe someone should have told him that before he wrote that that was their policy just this year.

Still, they'll have to come out and say they love football and pies if they want to be really friends with Paul Howes.

But I don't see that happening. No one is friends with Paul Howes.

Fast forward to the present, and the tone is the same, albeit within different policy areas; they're no longer calling for the abolition of the 30% health insurance refund, a Commonwealth funding freeze on private schools, and the aforementioned death duties are all history as far as the Greens are concerned.

Hallelujah! They've come out of the political wilderness, no?

The main point that these have been areas that detractors of the Greens target on a fairly regular basis, and it would serve their popularity well to take away some of the cannon fodder from their detractors.

All the points of grief that you would expect from the two big political powers, as well as radio shock jocks; that some secret cloaked force is coming to steal your wares and threatening your way of life.

The Labor Party (who deadly ironically need the support of the Greens to govern) have labeled them as 'extremists' and some have even gone so far to say that they threaten democracy in Australia.

So apparently back in 2007, in must have been the generalised assumption that the Greens supported a free-for-all on illicit drugs that prompted a party policy backdown.

They're seemingly trivial changes, and have some have suggested that they are merely a coat of paint to dress the Greens up as more brown than Greens, despite the Greens having their policies costed by Treasury.

Even though their leader, Christine Milne, wants to keep that a juicy secret.

Although, things do go walking out from Treasury every-so-often without explanation.

It would be a cynical suggestion perhaps to say it's all about fishing for votes, and it's not at all unusual for political parties to change their shopfront to appeal to voters, or heaven forbid, to other political parties for the sake of gaining government - think carbon tax.

Besides backflipping on the carbon tax, Labor has also been forced to abandon its feel-good asylum seeker policy, and its patch up job of offshore processing was a spectacular failure which has now led to reanimating policy from the Howard era.

So changes from window dressing, to fundamental policy areas, is not at all unusual. Political parties shouldn't be rigid structures that cannot bend with changes - if they were, we'd be living inside a dictatorial-type state where no matter what party we voted for, nothing would change.

Hang on a minute... isn't that what we already have? No, of course not, how facetious of me.

But it does lead me to my next point.

Obviously the Greens have saw fit to once again turn the dial down on some big policy areas that were causing them some grief in the popularity race, and to broaden their appeal with more educated voters, or at least voters that listen to talkback radio.

Educated? Talkback radio? Ehh...

I wouldn't want to say the Greens are simply making changes for the sake of popularity; there's plenty of pundits that have said that already, and I would only be adding to the same chorus line.

It could be a minute factor in the grand scheme of things, but there is a nagging feeling that the Greens have grown large enough to now justify jettisoning some of their more unpopular and militant standpoints.

And it's actually somewhat refreshing to have an Australian political party talking about policy of all things.

How unusual these days. It really is rare for a party to talk about anything but themselves or how bad the other mob are and how we'd all be doomed to eternal hellfire for not voting for them.

A party saying something about policies? It could only be something worthy of the Twilight Zone.

But I digress.

On the political scale of left and right, Labor are now where the Liberals were 20-something years ago.

Now, the Greens are where Labor were 20-something years ago.

Perhaps a leopard can indeed change his spots.

No wonder everyone is so cynical.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Dawn of An Election Year

So 2012 is drawing to a close.

Obama was returned as expected to the White House, and the social democrats of the left worldwide mostly held to power.

Although, cracks are appearing. The US has its cartoonish-named 'fiscal cliff' and the Eurozone is still the hopeless basket case that it was at the dawn of the Global Financial Crisis.

Here in Australia, retail has slumped, and true unemployment is closer to 9% than the quoted 4.5-5% by the Australian Bureau of Statistics, according to Roy Morgan, which is a very well respected organisation.

Our interest rates are at GFC levels, and even mining investment has slowed.

There are those in the Labor ranks that think it might be best to abandon the idea of a Budget surplus next year, given the financial headwinds, and perhaps recession we were meant to have during the GFC, rise to meet us.

Of course, being a Federal Election year, that won't go down well. Labor will sell the kitchen sink and grandma's dentures to reach that magical surplus that they always promised, the prized pig of Australian politics.

The surplus number though is largely just a psychological gloating point for any political party, and has no real impact or standing on the true economy.

The Liberals may spout that government should be ran like a family budget, but nothing could be further from the truth - if it were ran like a family budget, the government would be neck-deep in mortgage repayments, electricity bills, and silly consumer debt.

Joe Hockey for one likes that line, and it might appeal to Howard's Battlers, but it has no real basis in the real world.

Additionally, this year saw a very grubby year inside Parliament, with smear campaigns coming thick and fast, from James Ashby who was paid $50,000 in government hush money, to a shifty ex-boyfriend of Julia Gillard's who may or may not have played a role in setting up a dirty union slush fund.

All in all, the year played out as if the media, government and opposition were in election mode. Everyone was waiting for the government to be toppled, and despite the Liberals' miserable attempts, that did not come to pass.

Well put on your hats lovelies, because next year is an election year - a circus act and a spectacle worthy of rolling over and hibernating until the sad sorry mess is finally over.

Although if you do that, you might wake up to Tony Abbott in the morning praying a few rosaries.

It's hard to get one's head wrangled around this maze of bastardised intrigue.

The average person on the street already knows politicians cannot be trusted, and so they hold little interest - if they could become privy to the full extent of the circus, they would surely stop watching Home & Away, and tune into Parliament instead.

They will have little choice next year, with election coverage set to be somewhat more fervent than in previous years.

Gillard vs. Abbott makes for a good rumble, and the two trade bloody blows; a good blood sport for the media, but not good news for the manners and decorum that politicians should adhere to.

Next year will also see a hoard of young people join the voting public ranks for the first time, which will be interesting, given that few, if any teenagers today have any idea about Australian politics.

They probably will think "hey, didn't we just vote Obama in?" - no, intrepid young person, despite what the Foxtel box and Kanye West tell you, you do not in fact live in America.

So as this year draws to a close, and the booze-filled office parties get into swing, the holiday road fatality statistics roll in, and you're stuffing the last possible gram of pudding into your bloated stomach, just keep in mind next year is an election year.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Earth to Doug Cameron - We Already Have an Underlcass

Every-so-often, a politician will make an utterance that defies belief and forces a second guess.

This week we had word that Labor's asylum seeker policy, namely offshore processing, is pretty much in tatters and woefully ineffective.

The island prisons they had thought would work are actually not up to housing the thousands of people that are now stampeding via boat into Australia.

This has forced the government to re-introduce a form of protection visa - where people can live in Australia while their claims are processed, yet are unable to work or study.

And when they are, they will be able to access a payment very similar to the Newstart payment.

As we know, the Newstart payment isn't actually much at all, and it doesn't really help you look for a job.

However, among the more left of our media commentators, an outrage began rolling across the country at this prospect for asylum seekers.

"What will they do all day!?"

"Why can't they work?!"

"It's just wrong!"

Of course, none of them care at all about the currently domestically unemployed.

No, what garners political capital among the left is pretending you care about an external minority.

But the big gotchya comment came from the Scottish-accented Dough Cameron, a Labor backbencher who is mostly an independent thinker, and isn't afraid to voice opinions that go against the big iron in the party.

He voiced his fear that the policy might create an 'underclass' in Australia.

Well, Earth to Dough Cameron - we already have an underclass in Australia.

We have well over 100,000 people homeless in this country, and we do indeed already have a deeply-entrenched welfare culture among an underclass that is swept under the carpet.

But this is the Australia that the left chatterati choose to ignore.

According to them, and perhaps Dough Cameron included, Australia is a utopian society where everyone has a fair go; where absolutely everyone is diligent and has a mortgage to pay, where everyone is working class, where everyone throws snags on the barbie, and where everyone has a job.

What country are they actually in?

Not only does everyone in Australia not have a job, there's a whole army of people who don't have enough work - and charities are already stretched well beyond their capacity to fill the gaps.

But no, according to the elite political class, and the left commentary establishment, Australia is the utopian paradise as described above - the thought of someone, somewhere in Australia not having job, is just simply unfathomable.

And yet, they ignore the plight of their own Australians that are here already.

Politicians from both the big parties routinely chastise the unemployed, and they routinely bash them with sticks that they hope will win them votes.

The only policy announcements in relation to unemployment is how tough they be, with no actual word at all on how they will create meaningful, long-term employment for everyone.

So Doug Cameron, cry me a river.

Australia already has an underclass, and surely your party is aware of it.

Friday, November 2, 2012

Politicians aren't that smart

You read it right, folks.

Politicians aren't that smart. Big politicians, small politicians, they're just not that essential to humanity.

Their trick is, of course, is in convincing you that you need them to live, and that your very existence is threatened if you do not vote for them - which is quite obviously false.

It actually couldn't be further from the truth.

You depend on survival more so on the person who packs your groceries in your trolley, or the person who you pay the price of a tank of petrol to.

Yet, by some magical feat, politicians have convinced us all that they are in fact necessary for our survival.

And while that may not be true, they are of course instrumental in determining public policy that the respective population depends upon.

If you take the Australian example however, with the recent drama of Martin Ferguson taking Rob Oakshott to task over comments he made over the mining tax to a newspaper, you come to realise how petty they really are.

Oh, we love to hate politicians. I for one don't envy their tasks - but it's an example of where an independent Australian MP is grilled and threatened with court action for defamation, for simply speaking his mind on policy, and you begin to realise what a farce it is.

Mr Oakshott was merely commenting on how ineffective the Australian mining tax is - after Ms Gillard seized power from Mr Rudd in a bloodless coup, she vowed to re-negotiate the mining tax, a tax on some of Australia's most wealthy mining companies and conglomerates. 

What we got was a heavily watered down excuse for a tax. So much so, that it was recently revealed that Australian miners pay next to no tax, and that what Ms Gillard negotiated was therefor next to useless.

So all in all, Mr Ferguson was threatening one of the very people that is keeping him in government; a highly preposterous situation. 

But it goes to show how ineffectual politicians really are, and how far removed from reality most of them have become.

I thought I would reassess the left, but it has to fruition that both the left and the right are completely ineffectual in governance.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Misogyny with a side of hypocrisy

About a year ago, you would have never had heard the word 'misogyny' garner so many utterances in the Australian media.

Just like Ms. Gillard's mispronunciation of 'hyperbole' in an interview sometime ago ('hyper-bowl'), this current fetishistic interest in the grammatical gleamings of 'misogyny' is an interesting one.

The media from time to time likes to indulge in wordy soups.

A dominant theme in the political discussion this year has been the sexist attitudes towards Ms. Gillard from certain elements of the media, with the two obvious perpetrators being broadcaster Alan Jones and cartoonist Larry Pickering.

I probably don't need to define the word given its context. It's a nice little technical word for sexism, but it makes it sound more naughty, and it puts an intellectual spin on the discussion.

So, from here on out, I will no longer use it.

Monday this week with Parliament returning to sitting, a big blue over former Speaker Peter Slipper was brewing.

The Opposition tried to vote him out after sexist (misogynist?!) text messages to his former staffer-cum-accuser James Ashby about the female genitalia. 

The Liberals had reached the logical conclusion that Mr. Slipper's position as Speaker was no longer tenable, especially given the fact that he stilled enjoyed the pay and perks of the position, despite that he wasn't actually doing the job.

This provoked Ms. Gillard into launching an attack on Mr. Abbott, who had outlined why Mr. Slipper wasn't fit for the position. That speech from Ms. Gillard made international headlines, and reinvigorated somewhat the feminist movement in political circles, and in general.

As outlined in my previous post however, that same Monday a group representing single mothers was protesting on the lawns of Parliament about the government's proposed plan to cut single parenting payments and move them over to the Newstart, our unemployment payment.

A Labor backbencher that same morning had made her view known that, yes, it maybe isn't such a good idea, and maybe it was also time to bring to light to the fact that the Newstart payment would plunge single mothers further into poverty.

The argument could also be made that employers aren't exactly looking for people that haven't worked in 8 years (the payment is to be stopped once their youngest child turns 8), and that it might be increasingly difficult for them to find suitable work.

And maybe it's not such a bad idea, right; being that the days of the house wife are over, that the feminist sisters have liberated each other from the chains of housework, and that to be at home with child is now burdensome on society.

The fruits of thine womb are secondary considerations, and just should think themselves lucky they're even here at all and weren't flushed down a toilet.

So one may ask the question - is that why Ms Gillard's impassioned speech on sexism in politics (I'm sorry, misogyny) gained a million times more the attention than the single mother issue? 

Is it more of a sexy, headline-grabbing issue than single mothers?

All signs of course point to yes. And if feminists in the media were truly concerned with women and not their own agenda, they would have given the single parent issue at least some air and print time, or at least an inkling of acknowledgement.

But as always in Canberra, theatrics overtook the issue of policy in the form of Peter Slipper's comparison of vaginas to shelled mussels - and I'm not kidding - that's what the text messages were about, you cannot make this preposterous nonsense up.

We even had the live cross to Parliament at 9PM on ABC News 24, just to show us the predictability of it all.

Given that Julia Gillard's government policy is to get tough on single mothers (and don't we all love a good welfare-bashing now and then), there was really no room to question her on it after her bluster in Parliament. 

I don't even think one member of Labor had to face the media directly in the form of live questioning on the issue, because the Slipper affair completely creamed the agenda. There may have been some superficial soundbites about single parents being in employment being a good thing, but nothing of substance in the form of questions, or alternative police positions.

And given that the Liberals will most likely back it in the Senate, there's no public two-and-fro debate possible as there was on the boat people legislation, which of course ended in Labor forgetting their principles and siding with the Liberals and re-starting offshore processing.

The Greens may oppose it, but they too were carried away on the anti-sexism express.

And so the end of the week has come to pass, and we are all mourning the Bali Bombings, with Gillard and Abbott both flying out on jet planes.

The agenda will conveniently be reset for Monday.

The issue of governing the country and giving attention to the lesser beings of society will be all too much tedium for the media and its audience, and so we'll again have some theatrics to distract us.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Parliament Slips Out of Reality

Today has seen a remarkable display in the Australian Parliament.

No good was done, no deed was debated, no policy was made, nothing tangible came out of it, except the appointment of a new Speaker.

Peter Slipper, the now former Speaker, has been battling a very public sexual harassment case against a former staffer, James Ashby, who has accused Mr Slipper of sexual misgivings and approaches.

He hasn't been fulfilling duties anyway, but still collecting a Speaker's payments and benefits.

Despite Ashby allegedly instigating the messages them himself, and being coached by members of the Coalition on how to execute the theatre we now see, this whole affair has escalated to claim the scalp of Slipper.

The government has subsequently paid Mr Ashby $50,000 in hush money to settle the case, and to make it go away, and presumably to silence the hoopla surrounding the case, and to give the government some fresh air.

Well that has sordidly collapsed.

Instead today we were treated with fantastical outbursts from Ms Gillard and Tony Abbott on sexual identity politics.

And it's all made for a great popular show among feminists.

Still, no one has paid any attention to the fact that Parliament today was supposedly debating on heavily cutting single parent payments - which are overwhelmingly afforded to single mothers.

Did the mainstream media pick up on that? No. Of course not, how could they resist a flamboyant display of 'political' theatrics to a real issue?

I would not expect them to.

And with all the recent biffo with Alan Jones and his remarks against he Prime Minister and the response in social media, no one could expect any less of our blessed political reporters and commentators.

Single mothers, what of them anyway, huh?

The pathetic Newstart allowance (which yours truly is a recipient of after graduating with a university degree as part of the 'Education Revolution') would have been the payment that single mothers would be shunted on to.

Assuming that it passes, and is has the support of the Coalition, which means it would pass as easily as a bran through grandma; so with some coaxing, but it would pass.

An uproar ensued, and protests were being held on the lawns of Parliament by representatives of various social equity groups.

And the issue did indeed get some air time, at least on ABC News, but I'm not sure if it did, if any, on commercial stations.

Obviously the ramifications affect far more people in the real world than the appointment of a new Speaker.

All in all, this shows how utterly out of touch the Australian Parliament as a whole has become completely disconnected from mainstream Australia. It really was a display to behold in Parliament, and it was almost as if it were the proceedings in another country, or even another planet, because I'm sure most other countries would not concern themselves with such a pilfering matter as text messages.

It really is truly pathetic.

And now it is being lauded that Mr Slipper's resignation is a 'surprise' - really? After a sexual harassment case has been dragged into a federal court, and lewd text messages revealed, that somehow comes as a surprise to you all?

Never mind even middle Australia being left behind by this Parliament, all of Australia is, and the poor will suffer most as the projected surplus by the government does not come to pass as iron ore prices fall.

That's what our whole future has been hedged against - the prices of finite natural resources.

But I digress. Perhaps I'm pontificating.

You may as well watch two seagulls fighting over a chip, because that is as relevant as the Australian Parliament now is to its citizens.

I'd urge anyone to pay it no attention.

Sunday, September 30, 2012

Of chaff bags and chum buckets

Another weekend, another nuclear-level fallout from a comment by a radio shock jock, namely Alan Jones.

In this case, it was at a private function at the invitation of the Young Liberals at Sydney University, and in a rambunctious fashion, he spouted that Julia Gillard's father died of shame because her daughter is a liar.

He then went on to state in similar rambunctious fashion that everyone in the Labor Party is a liar, and so on and so forth.

He also won the bid on a jacket made of chaff bags donated by a Woolworths executive; obviously a throwback to Jones' on air comment that Gillard and former Greens leader Bob Brown should be thrown out to sea in a chaff bag.

The comments inside the meeting were captured by News Ltd. journalist Jonathan Marshall, who simply paid the $100 per head fee to get into the event, and recorded proceedings, unbeknownst to Alan Jones and all who attended.

It's relieving to see that journalists do indeed still carry out some journalism.

Of course, Alan Jones is now seemingly remorseful and seemingly apologetic that it has come to light - however Ms Gillard has, rightly, refused his apology and refused to take his phone calls.

Once again, it's created a shit storm in the media. The fetish-like media coverage of Jill Meagher (the raped and murdered ABC employee from Melbourne) has cooled, and so has the media outrage about the Sydney Muslim riots.

Being a Monday, a new media cycle monster has begun - analysis of the Jones comments, which all in all, will probably temporarily boost his ratings, and no doubt his comments have appealed to a misogynistic element in his audience.

Of course, none of which was probably his intention.

Another unintended consequence will probably be a boost in the polls for Gillard.

The chum and mud that Gillard has weathered is indeed astounding, and I cannot recall any Australian public figure that has worn so much vitriol on the chin and carries on.

The Thomson affair of course is one other example.

It once again goes to the core of what Australian politics has degenerated into. Policy wise, one could argue the government is doing very well, and it does deserve credit where credit is due.

The public discussion however is wildly swung away from policy debates - besides boat people and gay marriage, the Australian public is given no niggle of an insight into any other policy area - they're our bread and butter issues that we can discuss, and nothing else.

It perhaps all seems beyond the grasp of the public, or perhaps bores them and doesn't garner good ratings - hence why we have a lot of biff thrown around, like a red cape dangled in front of a bull.

The rest of the slack is taken up by fierce character assassination attempts on public political figures, such as the Prime Minister herself, or expressions of rage in the media against ethnic groups, such as Muslims.

And it all runs like clockwork. Periodically, something such as the Jones incident comes along and everyone expresses outrage, such as on social media, and someone somewhere starts up a petition to get someone sacked.

It makes everyone feel all warm and gooey inside.

Alan Jones is one of those agitators that everyone loves to hate. I've listened to previous interviews his conducted with former NSW Premier Kristina Keneally, and he conducted those in a very courteous manner.

Of course, I don't agree with these latest comments, but I don't quite share the same level of outrage.

I guess you could say, I have outrage fatigue after angry Muslims, gay marriage not passing, Jill Meagher's alleged rapist and murderer, and now another Jones affair.

What will it be next week I wonder?

The TAB should add it to their list of things to bet on - what next will outrage the Australian public?

Friday, September 21, 2012

Gay marriage and angry Muslims


What a blustering time this past week was.

It kicked off last weekend in Sydney with some very rowdy scenes in Hyde Park and elsewhere in central Sydney, featuring placards such as:


Being held up by children, it sparked quite an understandably reactionary response from the media, state government, Gillard & Abbott, and various community leaders who expressed about a possible backlash.

Opinion articles were spat out of the big papers at lightening speed, all of which were overwhelmingly full of condemnation and were calling out for answers as to why Sydney's CBD could be gummed up with violence on an otherwise lazy and peaceful afternoon.

The prime reason we're told is because of a very lame movie that wasn't even fully released out of America, and had very low production values, and for all intents and purposes, probably made to get this type of response.

It's inflamed the Muslim world elsewhere, and the response has been somewhat silly, and I think somewhat embarrassing for Muslims, who have seemingly been doing nothing but protest and scream at the West and their old regimes in their own lands.

Obviously, any integrated and informed Australian citizen would not react so viciously to blasphemy.

The religious element of Islam always hinges on defending the prophet at all costs - which is either admirable, or imbecilic, depending on your point of view.

However, I do wonder - what if the gay marriage reform passed the Parliament this week.

Would we see rallies and demonstrations from the Christian community? Would we see an outpouring of disgust from the fundamentalists, who would viciously attack homosexuality?

It's my own personal opinion that I think we very well would.

After the reform failed in both the lower and upper houses, there was a collective sigh of relief expressed on forums and on social media from the conservatives about it's failure.

Some of them even saw it as an opportunity to lay the boot into gays and lesbians, and express their disgust that Australia could even consider such a thing as marriage equality.

Which I personally feel is dangerous, and it once again shows how much influence religion actually has on the Australian political apparatus - look at Hillsong for example.

Gay marriage is usually seen as a leftists issue, and it is true that many left-leaning politicians try to squeeze that precious political capital from it, but of course more often than not, they are genuinely for reform.

I found it interesting that Kevin Rudd voted against it - while Greg Combet voted in favour of it.

Rudd was considered for a longtime as Howard Lite, and I suppose he still is; even union heavies such as Combet see marriage equality as a positive thing.

I wonder what Paul Howes thinks? Sure he's not in Parliament (and we all pray to whatever deity we can) that he never will be, but his own opinion is probably a moving target, just as it was on the carbon tax.

Of course, Abbott didn't allow anyone in his party to vote how they felt - which is a failure of democracy in itself, as everyone was expected to tow the party line, no matter what.

The problem in summary is that gay marriage has been politicised, with the aid of the religious overtones that our conservative politicians like to brush everything with.

"We're a Christian nation," they will say, followed by the teary-eyed story that only a man and a woman can have a family - even though there are already a plethora of family models in existence in this country, and there's plenty of broken families that started out with a man and a woman.

They will then say the Marriage Act reflects our Christian values - even though according to that act, you're allowed to marry your aunt, uncle, first cousin, niece or nephew - so long as they're the opposite sex.

Divide and conquer, a crusade can be made out of anything.

Monday, September 3, 2012

Newstart - Dialing Up The Dole

The unemployed of Australia are probably the least likely candidates to garner any sympathy from the wider electorate.

They are even more unlikely to capture the attention of any politicians fishing for political capital, as there's other special interest groups better suited to whom they can court their wares with, either it be gay marriage or climate change.

Unemployment is somewhat a smelly dead rat that no one really wants to address. As long as it stays at around a manageable 5-5.5%, then everyone is happy, as most people can find work, carry on, and be good consumers and satisfied enough to not threaten the fabric of society.

And yet, there will always be unemployed; there can never be such a thing as 'full employment', and 4-5% unemployment in Australia is already considered 'full' employment.

In a capitalist economy, they actually serve to help drive down wages and control inflation - no one makes mention of it, but it is a factor in that regard.

However, with Australia's retail sector up the creek, and the chills of a possible end to the mining boom blowing in, that rate could find itself climbing rather quickly.

A few charity and business groups have recently been pressuring the federal government to bolster the rate of the Newstart Allowance (which I am graciously a recipient of myself) - Australia's unemployment benefit.

Bill Shorten, despite his previous gaffe of alluring to the fact that perhaps it was a struggle to live on his ministerial wage of $330, 000, has also recently stated that the government takes the rate of Newstart "very, very seriously," and that he was paying attention to the matter.

Over half a million Australians receive this payment, and with a working population of 11.5 million, it's a sizeable amount of people that the government needs to accommodate.

It probably sounds a bit Marxist, but it's an army of reserve labour.

The problem is, they're all living on $35 a day, granted not including other benefits such as medical care, but the case is being made by those interest groups to raise the rate.

For one thing, being on Newstart doesn't give you any confidence in yourself as a person. There's few if any social circles, and any from your former study of workplace can quickly dissipate; along with any support network associated with them.

There's no money to dress nicely, or to portray yourself as a confident and outgoing person that has pride in him or herself, which is what employers are supposedly looking for.

All in all, at least in my own experience, you begin to avoid everyone else and see yourself as 'the other' that society has deemed unfit to play any role within it, and that it would be better off without you.

But on the issue of how much Newstart pays, I personally do not want to see a rise in the payment.

On the contrary, the payment should be abolished and replaced with something radically different; there needs to be a swift departure to how unemployment is currently handled.

I for one do not want to be on Newstart, and I would much rather renumeration for being productive and doing something practical, hence why I undertook study in the first place.

Welfare, as it is has evolved from the left side of the political spectrum, has evolved into something quite harmful and damaging when it operates from within inside a market-driven economy.

One group of people are generating private wealth from private employment, while another group are surviving from the redistribution of alms collected by the government to the poor; welfare payments keep a person in a perpetual expectation that they will always be there, no matter want.

All the while, the gap between rich and poor widens all the more.

It has bred a whole class of single parents that have learnt it is possible to keep reproducing to keep receiving payments - thereby setting up their children inside the welfare cycle themselves.

It's brutal to acknowledge, but it's not difficult to find examples.

And it's not even a question of ambition. I myself do not want to be famous, or rich, or even wealthy. It just shouldn't be too much of an ask to want to live comfortably and to have a sense of belonging and acceptance, which after several years of job seeking, is becoming quite distant on the horizon.

Granted, the government itself has said it feels the current rate of payment of Newstart encourages people to go out and look for work; since it's already a pittance, surely it must motivate people to go out and find a job?

Not entirely.

While Newstart is a lowly payment, it can also represent a stable payment, perhaps even more stable than a low income job - this sets up an insidious welfare trap, where work seems either impossible obtain, or the net financial gain is minimal once one is earning a taxable income.

Also, you might just plumb give up after a run of unsuccessfully executed job interviews.

Charity groups have also noted it's not so much the unemployed facing being booted out of where they live, or not having enough to eat, it's the working poor, who are burning the candle at both ends.

Some of them might have a mortgage to pay, for instance, and face losing the bank's house.

They probably might even harbour feelings of jealousy towards Johnny Dole Payment who has their rent subsidised, along with healthcare, and all the other fabulous trimmings provided to by Her Majesty.

Of course, I jest.

Unemployment benefits are supposed to be a 'safety net', not a means of supporting oneself. But combined with parenting payments and baby bonuses, it quickly becomes an attractive option.

But I'm not going to go into welfare recipient bashing - that would be quite hypocritical, and unlike perhaps the approach of the far right, where we would send them all down Gina Rinehart's mines with a hammer and chisel, there must be a better way to approach the issue.

Also, make no bones about it, since the former Howard government privatised the job seeking industry, we've had all sorts of private interests actually profit from the unemployed, such as Max Employment, which is a wholly owned subsidiary of an American company.

So chin up, dole bludgers. Your unemployment might actually be keeping someone within either the job seeker space or within Centrelink itself employed - that's +1 for irony.

But I digress.

Any lifting of unemployment benefits would probably merely be a form of short term economic stimulus.

Poorer people are most likely to spend any extra spare cash immediately - hence why government stimulus payments, such as the carbon tax 'compensation' find their way to the low income demographic.

It would only be a guess, but if by some act of fate that our economy does begin to tank, and retail and mining jobs go, there would probably only then be a case to lift the rate of Newstart - there would be more unemployed, but they would also have slightly more spending power that would be beneficial to the retail sector.

Only if it were beneficial to the wider economy would it be lifted.

If either side of politics was serious about everyone having work and participating in society, then there would be no need for an unemployment payment - it would be null and void.

Government programs for the unemployed might help, but unless an employer is actually willing to give them a job, then they will remain on that payment indefinitely.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Australian universities - 'would you like bias with that?'

My only university experience was obtaining a (mostly) worthless print journalism degree locally. It seemed like a good idea at the time, and perhaps in the future, I could look back upon it as a positive move.

I didn't take much social enrichment away from it - I just wanted to to go to my lectures, do the work, and get it all over and done with, and I wasn't too obliging of myself to join a social circle, or even make friends or go to the uni bar.

I had acquaintances, but I never fully felt like 'one of the gang', having started off in second year with credits from a media course from TAFE.

Even mentioning 'TAFE' was to announce your banality, your crudeness, and your lack of intelligence, since TAFE was seen as strictly the domain of the unthinking, unwashed masses.

Of all the TAFE students that had the same crediting, both locally and from Sydney, I was, as far as I know, the only one to actually graduate with the degree - so kudos to me, I guess, even though it remains largely unprofitable.

But while I didn't take away any great social experiences from university, I did take away an overwhelming leftist bias, with a feminist flavour, and at times I had the unnerving feeling that as a male, I shouldn't be looking at journalism as a career.

Which sounds paranoid in itself; but journalism in Australia is overwhelmingly dominated by the ladies, which is great, but there was a level of poo-pooing a guy that wasn't interested in just doing sports journalism.

I even made the mistake of taking a public relations module, filled with rich and snooty ladies that bemoaned my presence - luckily I only took the one class and fled as fast as possible.

But all of that aside, and I'll put it down to just my perception at the time, there was a very large, roaring left undertone.

For instance, what kind of neutral journo wannabe would wear a Kevin 07' tee-shirt?

There was the odd guy that would debate climate change and make snide remarks about Tim Flannery, and for the most part, most of them were politically apathetic, but there was an elite taste of the left.

One example was during a lecture in Politics 110. The lecturer was a stout lady that always wore cardigans, and would often leave the subject matter and drift off into a diatribe about the 60s and 70s.

A particular story was to do with abortion. She gave an account of how one of her friends had had a backyard abortion performed with coat hangars to scoop out the fetus, because guilt-free abortion wasn't available at the time.

Everyone was aghast, and agreed with the premise that it was a woman's right to choose, and abortions should perhaps be freely available as sunscreen or diet coke.

Of course, abortion is one of those wedge issues. Personally I feel it's appropriate under certain circumstances, but if it's a clumsy drunken accident, then responsibility should have already been taken by both parties - especially given the plethora of contraception options available.

In America for instance, the highest rate of abortion is amongst the African American community - 10 million since 1973 - that's a lot of black babies that won't grow up and strengthen that particular group of citizens.

Overall, about 55 million abortions have taken place in America since then and now, with the African and Hispanic community being represented highly.

But under the auspice of militant, leftist feminism, that information was never taught at university.

As a matter of fact, in a module elegantly called 'Identity Politics' (which I proudly failed), we were taught by a female former ski instructor that because men didn't have wombs and could not have babies, that, ergo, the scientific knowledge on pregnancy and birth has been skewed by a male perspective over the centuries, and so it was wrong.

The men should stick with building bridges.

Obviously she wasn't teaching science, because it's difficult to argue established scientific facts. But it went to the absolute core of how removed from reality universities can be, especially when they preach only one view.

The irony being, the vast majority of the university student population is made up by the 'born-to-lead' types of children from wealthy upper-middle class families that hold traditional, strict, right-leaning views, which I am also averse to.

Maybe the left bias is supposed to be edgy, to engage the children more? I'm not sure, but I'm glad I can at least say I have the same little piece of paper that they do.

But as with both school and university, the most I've learned is what I have taught myself before it goes through a reality distortion filter.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Gillard's noise problem

Like a long marriage clearly destined for disaster, the primeministership of Julia Gillard has entered it's final year.

And perhaps I sound very presumptuous by stating it's her final year, and perhaps I'm wrong, but it's the glimmer of hope I have, and it's the only thing that let's me pay this woman any cerebral attention.

The prospect of Tony Abbott as Prime Minister, on the other hand, is truly daunting, and will probably wind back a lot of social progress in the country as we're hurled back to a plastic-fantastic conservative utopia. 

Unlike a lot of Australians and, quote 'misogynist nut jobs on the Internet', I actually don't mind Gillard as Prime Minister - Rudd, while being very steadfast and studious, had a problem connecting with the electorate.

The message was lost, and it was hoped at the time that Gillard would be more fairdinkum and able to communicate Labor's message across more clearly in a way the electorate could grasp.

Wishful thinking, and it was good only for a time.

It's hard to even fault Julia Gillard. Journalists and the Liberals cite over and over again that there would be no carbon tax under the government she leads, but the fact of the matter is, she doesn't 'lead' any government.

Especially a minority government, where you have to negotiate with all the other misogynist nut jobs that occupy your presence of person.

Tony Abbott himself probably would have been forced to do some sort of carbon pricing; the Howard government, the era he cites repeatedly, supported a carbon trading scheme, while Abbott's Liberal Party purges any progressive thought.

But all of that doesn't matter - because Gillard has a noise problem.

No matter the amount of good policy Labor helps to bring to light, such as the banning of branding on cigarette packets, the media inevitably turns its head straight back to the latest scandal plaguing Labor.

And if there's no scandal, the media will run the leadership question - which is a moot point, given that Labor has next to zero prospects of installing a new leader before the next election in about a year or so.

The cigarette packaging issue for instance garnered a few days of attention last week, but this week we've gone straight back to scandal, namely the accusation that Ms Gillard had a part in shady dealings at the law firm she worked at in the early 90s, Slater & Gordon.

The story doing the rounds is that there was embezzlement of union funds during an affair with former Victorian AWU boss, Bruce Wilson.

True or not isn't the question, and it's an issue I wouldn't pursue in a blog posting, it all comes back to a concerted character assassination upon Ms Gillard and her primeministership.

The likes of Larry Pickering, a conman cartoonist, add to a political climate with little or no manners or decorum left in a race to he bottom to somehow uproot Gillard from office.

What is the alternative they want? An Abbott government?

Listening to Joe Hockey talk economics for example is a lot like being at the circus - monkeys are swinging from the trapeze, elephants are reading Shakespeare, and there's no logic or fact, with things like the Global Financial Crisis being completely ignored.

The ideas of both major parties leaves little for the mind to differentiate any difference between them, except the fact that Labor doesn't have Ringmaster Hockey.

Being a blog that's supposed to be critical of the left, I suppose you would expect I would be more critical of Labor - that's hard to do, given that Labor actually now is basically Liberal Lite, having adopted a Howard-era Pacific Solution-like refugee policy.

In fact, a big factor at play in Labor winning the Kevin '07 election was that they moved themselves closer and closer to the right.

The differences between the big parties is few and far between - I surmise that this is why the personality of its leaders has become such a mud-slinging match, and the political debate in the media has become so personal.

For instance, gay marriage - it's a popular issue that the Greens use to grab youth political capital from Labor.

Despite Gillard being unmarried and an atheist, she still stands by the strict Catholic boys' school-type reasoning that marriage is between a man and a woman, and we don't have a hope of knowing her true opinion.

The only thing 'left' left about Gillard is union support, themselves a bunch of bonehead headbangers like Paul Howes, left wanting for relevancy.

And surprise surprise, the latest Gillard scandal involves the alleged embezzlement of union funds.

All that remains is personal attacks - Gillard is a woman open to be ridiculed by all and sundry in the media, and Abbott is the antithesis of that woman, who has little respect for women, and especially doesn't like being told by a female Speaker in the House on how to behave during Question Time.

Almost every soundbite on the telly news now is Gillard defending her leadership, or defending her position, or defending the government, or defending its policy, or defending the defence.

With all the noise, you couldn't be blamed for wearing earmuffs and paying it no attention.

I've written previously how Australians don't pay enough attention to politics, but you truly cannot blame them.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

The oblivious class

I don't really like to talk about people in terms of class.

Australia often likes to pride itself as being a 'classless' society - two minutes on either side of the fence, and you yourself will quickly discover that there is at least a disparity between the lower and upper classes.

The truth is, is that Australians love, and perhaps cannot even help themselves, to distance themselves from the classes beneath them. It's almost a carryover from our British heritage.

The television shows that frequent commercial television exploit this. They encourage the status-seeking Australian to aspire to bigger things; to be a singer, for example. But when did you last hear them mention what's her name that won the last big singing game show thing... The Voice, was it? That disappeared fairly quickly.

Oh, I don't know.

But yes folks, I'm here to talk about the oblivious classes. Who are the oblivious classes?

Well as the name suggests, they're the people that are completely tuned out from political discussion, or even the general news.

They're busy with their lives; busy with raising a family; busy with work, and busy with making sure enough food is on the table to feed their family.

So you may very well surmise correctly - they are everyday Australians.

They can afford little if anything attention to the general political discussion that our chattering classes can avail to concern themselves with.

And that's who I would like to contrast this class with - the chattering classes.

The chattering classes are those who are locked onto ABC Canberra all day; not 2Day FM, or any other of the myriad of commercial radio stations that the oblivious class is listening to as they hurry to work along our congested arterial roads, forever worrying if they will make it on time to keep their employment.

They are too full at the brim of the glass to worry about political discussion.

The commercial radio may well tell them that the carbon tax is bad, that Julia Gillard is bad, that anything is bad, but they don't have the luxury of time, or even the drive to look into the matter further.

Which is sort of a double edged sword.

Our politicians here in Australia absolutely thrive on the soundbite grab - a tiny 10 second snippet that might make the evening news, either on television or radio, that might have an inkling of a chance to reach the ears of the oblivious class.

They play to the audience, and the capacity for discussion is greatly reduced by this aim for the 10 second soundbite.

"Stop the boats," may be one, for instance.

You're there, in your overheating automobile, rushing home from work to make sure the kids aren't going all Cory Worthington on you, and holding a sexual orgy back home in your absence.

What time do you have to worry about issues? None. You have no time, but God damn it, if someone on a boat is going to get something you might miss out on while busting your hump, you might damn well want to hear about it, even if it is only 10 seconds worth.

And so that forms the basis of your opinion.

So perhaps the chattering classes need to look beyond themselves - the oblivious classes make up most of the popultion, and they're opinion deserves to be paid attention to, or at least be swayed.

The majority rules.

Monday, July 16, 2012

Back into the wilderness from whence you came

I would have been around 12 years old when the Howard government was elected to power in this country in 1996.

I didn't really have a grasp of politics then. While it was spoken of in my family, it was always from the view of the left, and the election win of John Howard was seen as something that would damn us for all eternity.

All I remember was that Howard provided some great fodder for parody on TV and radio comedy sketches - which I would dare say sparked my interest in politics in the first place.

I still think today that there isn't enough healthy parody and piss-taking of our politicians, and indeed, it's strictly against the law to use any recording of Question Time for any sort of light-hearted fun at their expense.

Perhaps if we had a healthy-enough democracy where we could employ parody in political commentary more widely, they wouldn't take themselves so seriously, and they wouldn't be so mysterious to the average Joe.

Television shows such as The Chaser are now virtually non-existent, and it seems a Liberal government was only right for parody.

When I was first able to vote at age 18, Mark Latham was leader of the Australian Labor Party, an era that most in Labor would like to forget, or even deny it ever occurred.

I was so ardently against John Howard and his government, that I was bursting to vote for Labor and Mark Latham, and I told everyone I knew who wasn't clued in to do so - and so from then on, I identified with Labor.

Of course Latham lost and was cast off into political exile and treated fairly poorly by Labor following that election, but the party then was still in better spirits and knew more of what it was about than now.

In hindsight, I'm not sure why I identified with Labor and unionism. I grew up in a single parent public housing household, with no income beyond what the government provided, so why should I have identified with sticking up for Working Families?

As the likes of Paul Howes, and other new faces of unionism note, they aren'y interested in any other sector of the community except what fits the blue collar backbone of the country.

That imparts itself onto Labor, especially since coming to power.

The unemployed for instance hold no political capital at all.

And fair enough, I suppose, if there's a large enough base deserving of political attention, the rest can go to hell, and probably don't even know how to vote, am I right?

Under the Howard government I was able to have access to a Catholic high school education (which in however you frame your view, may or may not have been a good thing), and I was also able to complete a journalism degree, which may or may not  have been the best choice.

Especially now given that print media is on life support, but each to their own.

I'm not looking back at the Howard years with any sort of fondness, and at times I thoroughly despised the close relationship between he and George W. Bush, the treatment of Mohamad Haneef, Children Overboard, and Work Choices.

Although, it probably would have been easier for a journalism graduate with little work experience to find a job under Work Choices - who is to know?

My point being, things such as the Education Revolution of Labor aren't exclusive policies or goals of one particular government, and I, from a non-working family, was able to obtain an education.

I don't know what the education policy currently is of the Coalition now under Tony Abbott is, but then again, no one really knows what, if any single piece of workable policy Abbott's Coalition does have.

This past month has seen asylum seeker policy dominate Parliament, and dominate the political discussion.

Labor has found itself at the beck and call of the Greens, who oppose offshore processing, and at the mercy of the Coalition, who can have the likes of Joe Hockey stand and cry crocodile tears about sending children to Malaysia.

All in all, it was a rather theatrical last week of sitting before this long winter break.

But what came out of it? Any other discussion of policy, such as education?

How was the revolution going?

It's completely off the radar. The agenda was dominated by the introduction of the carbon tax, and by what we are to do with the huddled masses risking their lives on leaky boats yearning to breathe free.

And better yet, what's Labor publicly talking about during the break?


Yes folks, there is no more of a pressing issue than the party that allowed them to form minority government in the first place; no talk of education, no talk of the threat of an Abbott-led government and the possible re-animation of Work Choices, no talk of housing shortages, no talk of big miners ripping off Australians at large, and no talk of the dire state of lack of political awareness in the country as a whole.

In fact, talk is also getting up again of who Labor will have as their leader at the next election if the faceless men choose to shaft Julia Gillard.

I didn't mean to single out Labor in this blog recently, but do they even realise they are supposed to be governing the country?

It's not good enough to use the fear of an Abbott government to vote Labor, just as it wasn't good enough to use the fear of a Howard government to vote for Labor and Mark Latham when I was 18.

We all become a little wiser with age.

Politics is always billed as the choice of two evils, but I would like to think that perhaps the machine could move on from that way of thinking; if it can't, then a single party system would be more efficient, without all the elaborate theatrics of democracy.

And although I bemoaned John Howard and the Liberals, I still held a constant and certain level of respect for the office of Prime Minister.

That respect has been trashed by Labor.

While some may not look forward to the prospect a government led by Tony Abbott, at least it will be interesting to observe Labor as they return to the wilderness.

Sunday, July 8, 2012

The Labor Party of Australia and its early onset of Irrelevancy Syndrome

The Labor Party of Australia often boasts itself as having a long and proud history in this country.

That's a claim it can rightly make, and comfortably so. No one would argue that.

The modern Labor Party however, is another story.

It's a micromanaged juggernaut of political spin and snobbery, with union heavy weights just always holding a mallet over the heads of those in the party whom are more progressively minded.

I cite Kevin Rudd as one example, who came from no factional base.

Following the saga of Labor MP Craig Thomson and the whole sorry sordid public affair that became, you would think Labor would just like to keep things peaceful for the time being and stay out of the press over this long winter break.

But, no, no, oh no - that's not good enough.

Yesterday, an article was published in the Daily Telegraph by Paul Howes backing calls by the well-connected Sam Dastyari of the NSW Right to preference the Greens last on Labor how-to-vote cards.

Here is the opening paragraph from that article:

There probably wouldn't even be a State of Origin - we'd just sit around with Queenslanders and play pass the parcel. After all, the Greens in NSW have a policy of promoting "non-competitive sports" such as yoga, dance, trampolining and tai chi over the traditional sports that Australian children enjoy playing.

As you can tell, Mr Howes is going for the balls-deep approach of lambasting the Greens, being all very manly indeed, and taking a swipe at the very party that has allowed his comrades to form a minority government following the too-close-to-call 2010 Federal Election.

He also goes on to suggest that there will be no football under the Greens. Is he implying that there is somehow some sort of veiled threat of the Greens taking full political power? Paul Howes may well be a great unionist leader, but he surely must know better by now not to shoot his loud bombastic mouth off left, right, and centre.

And this morning, Greg Combet, another former union heavy weight, backed Paul Howes:

"The Labor Party is a different political organisation with a long and proud history," he told the ABC.

"We've been enormously important in the history of this country. The Greens are some other show, I'm not interested in them.

"I'm Labor and Labor will be distinguishing itself from the Greens, there's no doubt about that.

"To be honest I don't spend too much time thinking about the Greens, I've got a lot of work to do implementing important reforms."

The question I have to ask is, just why? Why begin this attack yet again on the Greens.

Gillard herself has done this before in a vain attempt to distance her party from the Greens, who the public perceive Labor as being in coalition with, and perhaps even dictated by.

True, this blog is all about 'reassessing the left' but we have to keep in mind that this all about power plays between one centre-left party (Labor) and one left party (Greens).

The problem with the centre-left is that they like to try to please everyone - even the far left Greens themselves by introducing a carbon price (tax) after explicitly stating there will be no carbon tax under a Labor government.

Of course Labor had to change its tune - they needed to negotiate with the Greens on the carbon tax, and Greg Combet now loudly and proudly heralds the carbon tax as being great policy at every given opportunity, as does every other Labor minister.

Paul Howes of course doesn't know where he stands. On one hand, he bashed the carbon tax and threatened to start World War III if even just one union member worker lost one job, but on the other hand, he's also backflipped and subsequently defended the tax as being fantastic Labor policy.

Well, strike me down and tickle me pink.

Before the election, there was going to be no carbon tax, but once they needed to negotiate and form minority government with the Greens, it was suddenly a good idea.

However, I'm not commenting on whether or not the carbon tax is good policy; there's plenty of people better informed to do that.

My personal opinion though is that it's more about a slippery and limp-wristed attempt at economic reform than any type of environmental reform.

And heck, even the biggest selling point is that students and pensioners get a token lump-sum payment to 'compensate' for a tax. If the whole point of a carbon tax is to set up price signals, what's the point of the tax if there is 'compensation' - compensation usually means a wrong has been done.

They don't even know yet what the floor price will be for one ton of carbon, barely a week into the tax.

However now that the carbon tax has been implemented, Labor has let loose the attack dogs on the Greens in a desperate attempt to try and separate themselves from what they see as a liability, a gangrenous limb that needs to be loped off post-haste.

'We're different, we're a different act,' is the loud and proud catch-cry now, trying ever-so-desperately and snidely to make it known that they don't share the same 'values' of the Greens.

A very public lovers' tiff is not the way to do that, and it's extraordinary if not even pathetic to watch.

The problem is, according the Paul Howes, the only values that matter in this country are working class dinky-die slap-ya-mates-on-the-bum values, which he and others of the Labor ilk are not ready to admit is not universal law in Australia.

There's a range of values. From the poor, homeless, and unemployed, to big business interests.

It may also be damaging to Paul Howes' sense of sexuality that the Greens are lobbying for gay marriage in this country - which must be why he opened his article with boofhead speak of there being no football, and painting the Greens as soft pansies.

Is gay marriage one of the 'extremist' policies that scares he and Labor union heavies?

Well I'm not sure.

I have already written about gay marriage and how it is not perhaps the most pressing issue in Australia, even though the left, such as the Greens, enjoy harnessing great political capital from it.

But you could hardly call gay marriage an extremist leftist policy.

It's more of progressive policy, that truth be told, will most likely in the future be a normalised and accepted tradition in Australia.

Paul Howes also took a swing at the Greens for wanting to decriminalise 'hard' drugs while still being against cigarettes and alcohol.

If you look at the numbers, the damage and national health costs of booze and smokes quite simply dwarfs that of 'hard' drugs - and it's an obvious fact that the 'war on drugs' has been a policy failure.

So I can't exactly see anything 'extremist' there, but more or less a new way of looking at the problem of social decay that drugs can cause.

Of course, booze and smokes are for Paul Howes' downtrodden working classes, so there's nothing wrong with them.

The very crux of this is that Labor has lost its spot as Australia's progressive political party. They have no new ideas, they have no new bold overarching narrative, and they have no new big and gleaming light on the hill now to aim for.

They are, for all intents and purposes, disappearing into political irrelevancy.

A look at Queensland Labor demonstrates this.

Following the last recent state election, they now only command 7 seats - a piffling number, and they barely exist as a party in that state after previously commanding 51 seats.

Surely this must send warning signals to Labor at the federal level that they are in a deep crisis. Nation-wide, Labor has been losing state elections while flailing for a reason - of course they try to differentiate the cancer from federal Labor, but the message is clearly there that the ship is sinking.

Labor membership numbers have also been dropping like flies at a dinky-die Aussie barbie in bug zappers.

Labor have nothing to sell. They may all well be great salesmen, I mean look how they sold the carbon tax - but that was a Greens policy, and yet they somehow think they can claim relevancy again by trashing and destroying any rival minor political party.

It's yet another very sad and unhealthy sign of Australia's democracy where we now have a major, yet disease-ridden Labor Party publicly stating through its faceless union overlords that it wishes to abolish the Greens.

It may well backfire on them in spectacular fashion.

ABC news sucks

The Australian Broadcasting Corporation.

Lovingly referred to as 'Aunty', the cute moniker for Australia's tax payer-funded media outlet.

And to be honest with you, I don't really have a beef with the ABC as a whole - no, my beef is mostly with its news media efforts.

Don't get me wrong, there's lots of things to love about the ABC; Radio National can be very informative, and ABC News Radio is great for listening in to our political apparatus on-the-go.

But recently, I've have a growing queasy disdain for it.

It began with an ABC Four Corners investigation into people smuggling about a month ago, a hot topic here in Australia.

A rather abrasive Sarah Ferguson (the reporter, not the troubled Duchess) confronted the alleged kingpin of an operation working out of Canberra, the business end of a people smuggling racket.

It copied a style smilar to Today Tonight or A Current Affair, both gutter 'journalism' mainstays of Australian television - journalism for the already lesser informed citizen.

The report was even promoted by 2GB radio of Sydney - which was quite bizarre, especially with an ABC reporter plugging their report on a normally right-leaning station such as 2GB.

Sarah confronted the guy head-on, aggressively,  and he was lovingly referred to as 'Captain Emad' - I guess he was a some kind of captain...?

He soon fled the country after the bluster, and despite criticism of the Australian Federal Police in the media on their handling of Captain Emad, they later made a media statement making it clear that they were in fact already aware of and watching him.

It was the most ridiculous piece of journalism I had seen on Four Corners in recent times.

But back to the news arm as a whole.

ABC News 24, the high definition digital TV station, was supposed to furnish viewers with news 24 hours a day (hence the name) in a similar fashion to Sky News, Australia's pay TV news channel.

For a time, it was good. However, it has quickly become a droning and repetitive sleeping tablet.

This news station has two or three issues they will flog to death all day - unless the Second Coming of Christ is taking place, the same subjects are repeated over, and over, and over, until Question Time or the late afternoon politico blabberfest gets to air.

It's hardly 24 hour news - you can switch over to any other news bulletin on any other station and be instantly informed of a million different things that happened throughout the day, and it's almost pathetic in comparison to the ABC.

ABC News 24 does not set a news agenda. Understandably that can be difficult in a 24 hour news cycle environment, but instead of digging anything new, ABC News 24 is for all intents and purposes a big fat recycling truck that has sound recordists and cameramen dump feeds from press conferences into it.

And that's another thing. Whatever programming there is can be instantly broken into to cover a mind-numbing press conference, from say, the Prime Minister, from some dull location such as the Whitlam Institute where she will be harping on about Labor and Labor values.

With no journalism being done, it's just a megaphone for big politicians on both Gillard and Abbott's side.

That's why they're called press conferences - they're conferences for press to ask questions, not to have the unedited drivel of politicians blurted out.

Much the same thing is reflected on the online outlets for ABC news.

The ABC news Facebook page for instance might post a picture of a hose dripping ice in a cold area of the country and ask for an opinion, with a question such as:

"Blah blah, is it cold where you are?"

Oh wow, gee ABC, I don't know, I thought I was reading the posting of a news outlet, not amateur meteorologists.

And the same open-ended questions apply for any other story - there's no spontaneous opinion from the commenting public, ABC can ask them if they think a puppy is cute, and people will still all line up giving their opinion on a insignificant story.

In comparison to others, say the BBC or even NPR, the ABC News Facebook page is painting by numbers.

The ABC news website is a shadow of its former self, which is a shame given the recent upheavals in the print media, especially since the likes of the Sydney Morning Herald are earmarked to put up paywalls.

But maybe we shouldn't be so harsh on old Aunty and her news gathering efforts, especially given that Australian news media in general on the way down to the pits of hell as a whole.

Oh yes, the left bias is still there, as is the latte elite attitude in many of its opinion pieces; that I'm not even taking issue with, even though it's so blatantly obvious, especially on the adventure that is Q&A.

But for all the bashing that corporatised media takes in Australia from the left, I can undoubtedly attest that that very corporatised media finds new stories and sets agendas and angles a whole a whole lot faster than ABC news could ever dream of.

It's even far more in touch with its consuming public.

Which is actually not a good thing entirely - if ABC is supposed to be the brand of neutral and common sense news and reporting as a publicly funded entity, it's not doing its job by that account.

Everyone has that aunty they stop visiting.

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Australian democracy - death by a thousand cuts

Let me begin with quite a pertinent quote from Pericles:

“We do not say that a man who takes no interest in politics is a man who minds his own business; we say that he has no business here at all."

A survey recently conducted by the Lowy Institute on the health of Australian democracy provides some insight into the startling state of perception of democracy in the younger population.

A mere 39% of young Australians aged 18-29 believe that democracy is preferable to any other kind of government.

In the older age brackets, it ranges up to 60% - better, but still somewhat shocking considering how many young souls literally died and gave their lives to keep our democracy and way of life, allowing it to develop into the advanced and free structure it is today.

These are quite bizarre numbers and does show that, in particular in the younger population, people are completely tuned out to the political process, with little or no participation in discussions and debate, and perhaps not even aware of it taking place.

At all.

As discussed a some time ago in a previous post, the only political issue that garners any sort of attention amongst youth is gay marriage - and naturally, politicians that veer to the left use it as a means of extracting some political capital.

This also shows how the political discussion in this country is excruciatingly dumbed-down. We have one or two big issues that make a chosen day's news cycle, through press releases from a special interest group and so forth, and then it suddenly fades away to nothing in the intervening 24 hours.

Such is the ruthless news cycle.

Of course, given the level of manners and decorum shown in the current sitting Parliament, one could forgive angst-ridden youth for not paying it any attention.

Some might even very well think that because it's the way we've done things for one hundred years, it might be best to throw it out altogether and start anew.

Anew with what, a dictatorship? 

This is the problem of the current perception; that because something is old, that it must be unreliable and not long for this world.

To the contrary. America became an independent country way back in 1776, adopted a presidential system, and went on to become the most stable forms of government in existence in the modern age.

We of course have the carry on from Britain of Westminster parliamentary democracy, and still have the Queen as head of state, but still and all, our own flavour of democracy has proven itself to be extremely stable and resilient. 

Especially when you compare our form of democratic governments to single-party experiments such as the Third Reich, the Soviet Union, or the decrepit and ailing North Korea.

But in those intervening one hundred, membership in political parties across Australia has fallen dramatically, so much so that they usually don't let anyone know how few members they have.

Any alternative to the two major coalitions (I say coalitions, because Labor at the present time needs a coalition with the Greens to even govern) are mere experiments that eventually evaporate away, such as the Australian Democrats.

The Greens of course enjoy popularity among inner-city voters, particularly the youth vote, but that doesn't mean that young people are engaged with politics on any great level.

They might have a very vague understanding of issues, but more likely-than-not, they've heard from their friends that say "hey, this party supports gay marriage, let's vote for them!".

Truth be known, we could install a benevolent dictatorship in Canberra overnight , and people would still wake up hungover, weary eyed, and trudging to work the next day and not even bloody well notice.

The chatterati upper middle classes would raise a fuss, but really, how else would it effect you?

You'd still clock in, do your work, pay the mortgage, have a beer, and the economy would mostly carry on under the watchful eyes of Gina Rinehart - things would chug along with aplomb.

In fact, it may be beneficial.

No more hollow election campaigns, no more cut-throat political theatrics, no more ruthless 24 hour news cycles filled with fluff quotes from the two leaders; come to think of it, that sounds fantastic.

Half the population in a democratic country may as well be living under a dictatorship at any given time whenever their preferred party isn't in, anyway, and they still get along with life just fine.

And sadly enough, this all may as well just be the case given how little much of the population actually pays attention to politics and what's going on around them, or even watch the news, all too blissful in a stupor of bright city lights to nary give a glance at the headlines.

More attention is given to pop stars - and we know the agenda they mostly run when they get the chance.

So something has gone particularly awry indeed.

I think it's partly an issue of respect. We live in a culture that has become infatuated with youth and success - who would give old codgers in Parliament any attention and respect?

Perhaps they don't even deserve it, and given the level of guff and hubris in modern politics, one can easily see how it would not make for a great career choice when so many other avenues of fame and fortune are open.

Even Canberra itself is sort of out of the way. We have the bright lights and noise of all the other major capital cities, and we all trust that the country is being taken care of behind closed doors in sleepy cold Canberra where none -too-much excitement dare dwells - it's draconian to even think about.

So how can democracy possibly gain the spotlight from sexier things?

Well, once every three years is really the only time the population is required to pay it any attention at all.

For those other thousand or so days, you can carry on gleefully unaware of absolutely anything at all that is going on; it's your choice to be ignorant, and perhaps that's a good thing that ignorance is still a choice.

However, how can you make that one informed choice on that one day? Especially given how few young people voting for the first time would actually even know who they are voting for, how they are voting for them, and what the implications are for them personally if the government of their choosing is elected.

It is, I feel, quite a scary scenario. They might even very well just walk in, get their name signed off, draw a penis on the ballot paper, have a sausage, and that will be it for another 1000 days.

One gets the feeling that that is possibly the type of behaviour what major forces that dwell amongst us are exactly aiming for.

Corporate interests for one would welcome a docile and politically disengaged population - I mean look what happened in Russia in 1917 when the vast majority of workers bandied together - sure, it turned into a stinking failure of a mess, but it was instrumental in throwing out the old guard that held Russia back for so long and allowed it to rapidly industrialise. 

We could sit around all day and make conspiracy theories about who is dumbing down the population politically; corporate interests, political interests themselves, cultural interests, control interests, but I will not indulge in such speculation myself.

But you do get the feeling that on a citizenry level, the people nor the political apparatus are truly in control.

Democracy, our democracy, cannot work without the participation of the people, especially with the breeding of ignorance that has infested it like termites in a ship at sea that will eventually sink.

To close with an unsourced quote from Pericles:

"Just because you do not take an interest in politics does not mean politics will not take an interest in you."

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Social media

Here we are in a new year.

I trust all is well with your cookie-cutter left agenda.

But let's reflect on the year past, 2011. It was a year that saw much social upheaval globally.

Beginning with Tunisia, wide unrest spread to Egypt, downing Mubarak and his iron-fisted reign of 30 odd years. From there, it lept to other parts of the Middle East, such as Yemen, Syria, and parts of Saudi Arabia, but we don't talk about that in western media - any crackdowns the Saudis do is fine by us.

And let's not forget Libya - the 'freedom fighters' there were loaded to the hilt by NATO, and their dictator Gaddafi, who had at least spread some of the country's oil wealth around, was executed in a flash of mob violence after being sodomised with a weapon.

All clearly in accordance with international law.

The 'no-fly zone' cheer-leaded by own Kevin Rudd transformed into much more than a simply a no-no on planes, but more or less a western funded civil war.

All of this was praised unashamedly from the left, especially left media, who portrayed all of this bloodshed as a godsend for all of the country's people, and somewhat romanticised, just as the right romanticised the Iraq excursions.

Whether the cause was just or not, violent social unrest is not romantic.

I use the term romanticised, because soon enough the west had its own 'uprising' in the form of the #occupy movement, with the aim of occupying America's capitalistic powerhouse, Wall Street.

Protest suddenly became 'good' again, and it was quickly joined by a few celebrities to gain some airtime, uh, I mean, show their solidarity with the common folk.

What was the vehicle carrying all of this fuss?

Pissed off muslims... oh, and social media.

I'm aware it's ironic to deride social media by using a form of it, but let me explain...

Let's look at Twitter, all the trendy in-the-know journalists have it. They may have tens of thousands of followers, and no doubt it's become an extremely powerful and useful tool for gathering things on the grapevine that they may otherwise miss.

But their tweets aren't well-researched articles, but they are at least a type of journalism. In the 24 hour news cycle that has even been distilled down into the '24 second' news cycle, it's about who has the first credible nibble.

The 'twittersphere', as it's called, is mainly occupied by the upper middle classes as it is, which rings true for most forms of social media.

So what happens when ordinary people, still of much of the same breed and ilk, decide to have their own uprising against people of the ultra upper ilk? We get popular people to follow on twitter, popular middle class dinner table political talks, popular Facebook pages, and popular news stories on how they're staging an uprising against their masters.

And who could blame 'em? Bankers fleecing interest off your mortgage, bosses shafting you, no employment, retirement funds played with in the global casinos of stock markets... come to think of it, that all makes me pretty damn mad, too.

But all of this does not translate into a true popular uprising.

The whole western political establishment is not geared that way - people know that, sure things may not be the way they like it, but it's impossible to completely provoke western governments into all-out conflict with them over these matters.

Given that situation, we do however have crafty politicians that can naturally translate the rage into political profit. It's called 'campaigning' - you know, the things they'll talk about, like equal opportunity, a fair go, all the stuff that will never completely translate into anything truthful in real life as things stand.

Obama briefly tapped into this rage that was building years ago - the 'yes we can' mantra energised a whole group of people, and he did ride a wave of popularity on it.

Since then, it's fallen to the wayside.

But let's take a step back. Middle class outrage is still about the aforementioned middle class problems, concerns, and interests.

It makes for a strong audience base, which, in just one example, can translate into tens of thousands of twitter followers.

If you're in a western democratic country tonight, chances are you'll have access to a meal and somewhere warm and dry to sleep, and with a billion starving people in the world, that might not be an option.

Would those billion people be tweeting, what would they be saying?

"Found a rat... awesome."

And most likely, our own hundreds of thousands of homeless might be tweeting the same thing.

I suppose the beauty would be if the technology reaches them, then we can become more aware of their predicament, but it doesn't provide for a strong audience base. Frankly, who gives a crap, right?

Social media here is still inherently selfish, and I'd be wary of any popular agenda trying to be setup through it.

It will ultimately only lead to serve the political ambitions of either persuasion.