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.