Fear and loathing in North Balwyn
by Paddy 0′Cearmada 08 September 2013
OK that’s it I’ve done it now. I’ve voted.
I set out early walking the few blocks to the local primary school on a pleasant spring morning. I wear my t-shirt with the cover design of the first edition of George Orwell’s 1984 figuring that if the seemingly inevitable happens at least I have read the book and know how the story ends. I politely take the ‘How to Vote Cards’ from the Liberal, Labor, Greens, and Rise Up Australia Parties, and study with interest the scorecard provided by Get Up! Standing in the queue behind two fit young men I listen to them casually chatting about their sexual conquests till my nose is distracted by the sausage sizzle raising money for the school. The sausage stall Maitre’d catches my eye and takes an order for an egg and bacon sandwich (bar-b-que sauce thanks) which I gobble in my last few metres before facing the choice.
It’s a comfort that in a world where voting and uncorrupted elections are such rarities that we run these things in such a homely way. No security, cardboard booths and ballot boxes, suburban mums and their obedient children running the show with mum bearing a tag around her neck declaring her ‘Officer in Charge’, something I suspect that she doesn’t need at home. I arrive at the desk and give my name, confirm my address, state that I haven’t yet voted and then I am given the two pieces of paper on which the last five weeks of ranting and the future of the nation equally depend.
I am now in the booth, or more properly the little cardboard desk. I consult again the Get Up! Guide. Greens it seems are the choice of the concerned left. I look at the Greens How to Vote card. First preference is to an otherwise unknown independent. I vote Green one, Labor two. I want in this very safe Liberal seat to put Liberals last but that would have me preference Clive Palmer and Rise Up Australia. Feeling cheated by too much democracy I complete the ballot and turn to the Senate. The paper is huge. It extends well beyond the little cardboard desk. I look with amazement at the variety of expressions of democracy. Is there really a ‘Bullet Train Now’ Party and how on earth did I miss the launch and policy announcements of the ‘Pirate Party’? I want to vote below the line, I really do, but then I think that if my vote in this electorate counts at all it will be in the Senate, and if I want the Greens to win another seat then above the line it is. I slip the House of Representatives ballot into its box under the benign gaze of another Balwyn mum, and resist the urge to perform Origami on the half toilet roll of the Senate Ballot, and roll and fold it to get it through the slot.
Outside I return to the sausage sizzle. Another egg and bacon sandwich is in order. Magnanimously I tell the women taking my money to keep the change remarking that the kids deserve it and none of the people being voted for in the hall will give them much. This act of two-dollar philanthropy sparks an amazing response. Her eyes widen and threaten to well with tears ‘I know’ she says with emotion choking her voice ‘I don’t know who to vote for, for the first time in my life I don’t know who to vote for’. I respond by saying that there seem to be no politicians worthy of our trust but the sausage Maitre’d has no doubt. ‘I vote as an economist’ he says with the kind of authority that doubtless won him the job of running the sausage stall, ‘and our foreign debt is too high’. I want to take issue with him, I want to tell him a Nobel Prize Wining economist has been reported several times saying Australia’s foreign debt is not the problem, but I stay quiet, its all too late, and they don’t give out many Nobel Prizes in North Balwyn.
A little later I am on High Street East Kew outside the Bakery trying to calculate how many party pies and sausage rolls I need for guests who have vaguely accepted to come to my election party. I overcompensate for the cheap wine from Dan Murphy’s with expensive cheese from Leo’s Supermarket, figuring the more wine you drink the better it tastes and cheese doesn’t improve in the same way. I am distracted from my home economics by an older woman wearing a bright read sweatshirt with ‘What would Gough do?’ embroidered over her ample left breast. My first thought is at this very moment Gough is probably dribbling into his pillow at his nursing home and not up to doing much at all, and in any case hasn’t he done enough already? But then I think how very sad, we have to reach back to a Prime Minister who lost office nearly forty years ago to find a hero.
I hope some friends come to my party. I hope they don’t spit out the wine and do eat the cheese and have enough party pies and sausage rolls. Its pretty much all I can hope for really on this election-day.
by Paddy 0′Cearmada 06 September 2013
Its election eve and the news reports suggest a rout in the lower house for Labor and a mess in the Senate. Clive Palmer revived his campaign with an extraordinary attack on Rupert Murdoch and his former wife Wendi Deng, largely ignored in the mainstream media wary perhaps of repercussions. Sophie Mirabella, Member for Indi, has been flooding her electorate with a leaflet displaying a picture of a forlorn baby and making it clear that in her view children need a mother and a father so marriage reform is not on her agenda. Perhaps she missed the news that the Liberal policy for paid parental leave applies to same sex couples.
Consistency is not needed at this late stage, just steady nerves and an arrogant assumption that the lack of specifics as to policy and costs in any party is not important. One number that has been quoted is the cut to foreign aid of $4.5 billion should the coalition be elected. Transferred to infrastructure projects in the capital cities, like roads in Western Sydney or the tunnel to nowhere in Melbourne which will save 35 minutes for denizens of the Eastern Suburbs en route to the Airport, this is cynical politics at its worst. Apart from building infrastructure that encourages continuing and increased consumption of fossil fuels with consequent release of carbon, xenophobia is not so much dog whistled as trumpeted.
In 1974 I was a matriculation student in a Catholic high school. Politics was one of my chosen subjects and the curriculum was guided by the political events of the day. 1974 was the year of the only double dissolution election in Australian history and we were encouraged to attend rallies and meetings to see democracy at work. One of my friends came from a staunch DLP family and I attended a rally in that great centre of Catholic Pugilism, Festival Hall. The speaker was B. A. Santamaria, leader of the National Civic Council, and behind him ranged on the stage like plaster saints were the five DLP senators. Santamaria’s rhetoric was electric, and had I not already fallen under other influences I would have been swayed by his apocalyptic vision of a quasi-communist insurgency.
In the election that followed all five senators lost their seats and the DLP was rubbed out by many from the political map, but it festered away for the next thirty years emerging unexpectedly in the form of John Madigan, a Ballarat blacksmith elected to the Senate ultimately on Labor preferences in the 2010 elections. In fact it had been alive all the time. The Shop, Distributive and Allied Workers Union was readmitted to the Labor Party bringing income and deeply conservative politics. Increasing numbers of Catholic members of the Liberal Party assumed prominence and Tony Abbott is their undeniable leader. No less than eight members of the Coalition front bench are Catholic and many have strong links to Santamaria.
Tomorrow Australia will really elect the first DLP government, firm in conviction, narrow in view, and beholden to a social and international vision informed by the fear of the other. Witness to this is the statement by the opposition shadow minister for Immigration, Scott Morrison that a coalition government would consider Australia withdrawing from the United Nations Convention relating to the status of Refugees if it were in the national interest. Right up there with Kenya whose parliament has voted to withdraw from the International Criminal Court, because its President and Deputy President have been charged with crimes against humanity. Plaster saints indeed.
by Paddy 0′Cearmada 04 September 2013
The election draws near and as the advertising ban falls into place a kind of eerie calm descends on the living rooms of Australia. Now it seems is the time for the Coalition to reveal its costings, when a Murdoch controlled press is unlikely to give much space to any criticism and when whatever howls of outrage come from their opponents are likely to be barely reported. If polls are to be believed none of this will make much difference anyway.
Meanwhile science tells us the earth is getting hotter. In one of those bizarre conceits that can only come from an insular continent, the reporting of this phenomena seems to be located in our own country. ‘Australia’s hottest year on record’ makes it sound like a local issue, which one suspects is precisely how Mr Abbott sees it and wants us to see it. Meanwhile Mr Rudd fulminates against the promise to abolish the ‘carbon tax’ as intellectually dishonest for a solution to Australia’s hot air problem without a price on carbon won’t work.
Honesty it seems is in short supply all round. The Greens who like to preach virtue after all opposed the first Carbon Price as proposed by Mr Rudd in his first stint as Prime Minister, and Mr Rudd having declared climate change as the greatest moral issue of our day, and having effected a split in the Opposition on the issue, and having loaded the trigger for a double-dissolution, blinked. He abandoned the cause for a bruising battle with the States on health Policy followed by the mining tax, which lead to his first fall from grace and the rise of Julia Gillard (remember her?). Ms Gillard promised no Carbon Tax and then introduced one, which Mr Rudd on return as Prime Minister gleefully abolished, but not quite enough for Mr Abbott who would still have us see it as the cause of all blights on the cost of living.
None of this takes into account facts and reality, but neither of those have had much place in this election. In committing democracy this time round the Sex Party is looking better and better. At least its something worth believing in.
by Paddy 0′Cearmada 30 August 2013
The campaign, or should that be campaigns, are grinding down to a finish line now just one week away. The popular view is that all that the Coalition needs to do is say nothing (which they have been doing very well), perform before tame audiences, and reassure a voting public already willing to support them that it is OK to change the government. Hard as it is to believe, but Tony Abbott is daily appearing to be more charming, more affable, more normal. And the unscripted and voluntary character references offered by people he has helped along the way suggest that he is in fact a decent man. Australia, it would seem, is learning to love him.
Meanwhile four weeks of wall to wall Kevin Rudd is reminding us all why we fell out of love with him. The endless goofy selfies with a thinning crowd of admirers says it all, in an age of narcissism this narcissist goes too far. Not to mention the desperate revelation of dated advice on Opposition costings, so quickly rejected by the heads of Treasury, Finance and the Parliamentary Budget Office, not so much egg on the face as the whole chook pen, manure included.
It is questionable that voters really expect the numbers to add up anyway. Neither party has a shining reputation for honesty in such matters, and we are all inured to the shocked announcement of a new government that the fiscal circumstances on assuming office are so much worse than expected. We all now expect instead a retreat from non-core promises, the question probably at the back of the mind of senior members of the coalition is which ones these are.
For Labor the search is probably on for their Brendan Nelson, the fall guy (and it is likely to be a man) who will take on leadership, probably really thinking he will be Prime Minister one day, only to be rolled by the real candidate when the tide starts to turn again. The problem is no-one quite knows who will be left standing, and should Kevin Rudd win his seat he is likely to claim the job. Perhaps this is the reason for so few Ministers raising their heads above the parapet; no-one with a chance of survival wants to be associated with this blood-bath. And many are quietly hoping that Kevin will lose his seat and just go away.
Meanwhile in that schizophrenic way that Australians have learned to vote, the Senate appears to be swinging towards a raft of loony minor party winners. The Greens may have the largest block and they are so main-stream now they don’t count, but Katter, Rise up Australia, and Family First could all through the complex stream of preferences and proportions end the careers of Liberal Senators unlucky enough to be third on the list. Tiny first preference votes in the Senate can quickly accumulate to a quota, so we can expect several Senators further to the right than Tony Abbott which will have the effect of making him seem normal.
It’s all really very reassuring in its own way. A change of government is likely but without any real change in politics, and minimal change in policy. In the end no-one wins.
Blessed are the peacemakers
by Paddy 0′Cearmada 28 August 2013
In a rare moment of modesty Kevin Rudd mused aloud on radio as to whether Tony Abbott would have the temperament to deal with the Syrian situation. Now apart from saying yes to whatever action the United States deems necessary to preserve what is left of its world-policeman role, it is difficult to know just what the temper or the temperament of the Australian Prime Minister would have to do with it. Kevin posted on Twitter a photograph purporting to be of him on the phone to Barak Obama (he may have been ordering a pizza for all we know) and at least one make –up artist in Brisbane has already made it known which temper of the alternate Prime Ministers she prefers.
Peace, if you can call it that, has broken out in the AFL with Essendon surrendering on all fronts. James Hird has accepted the twelve month ban he so vehemently resisted, which seems to have dragged three others to sanctions that they could have avoided if he had taken the rap earlier. Sometimes sanctions delayed become much worse, and for one, Bruce Reid, Club doctor, it could result in deregistration as a medical practitioner. Saving face can be expensive and have wide collateral damage.
Like the cruise missile strikes that seem aimed at an ill-defined enemy, or the gas attacks that have triggered them, victims will go far beyond the guilty. At least the civil war of this election campaign will end, while the chilling diplomacy of Saudi Arabia offering Russia shared control over world oil in exchange for abandoning the Assad regime suggests that regardless of the temper tantrums of any Australian Prime Minister the cost of peace will be high.
by Paddy 0′Cearmada 26 August 2013
The growing crisis in Syria saw the caretaker Prime Minister suspend campaigning to return full of purpose to Canberra for briefings. In accordance with convention, Julie Bishop, Shadow Minister for Foreign Affairs was to receive the same briefing the following day. Tony Abbott, in a moment of statesmanlike calm wholly supported the suspension of hostilities, and why wouldn’t he? After all the growing gap in the polls, and air of inevitability probably meant a well-earned rest and time for an unplanned 200k bike ride with 400 push ups was in order. Oh that and the prediction that Kevin Rudd who under Julia Gillard was touted as the only Labor member in Queensland likely to keep his seat, now seems as likely to lose it, gave the opposition a winning glow.
Carping however continued. How dare K. Rudd appear on a celebrity cooking show while the Assad regime gassed its own? How dare, we may ask, male Liberal candidates wear the same pale blue tie over and over again? Against this background of non-debate the master stroke of the AFL in releasing the charge sheet against Essendon in all its horror and then corralling all other 17 clubs into a united front fully supporting their actions, seems to have had the desired effect of Essendon (though not yet its coach) raising the white flag. The AFL it seems knows what to do in matters of chemical warfare.
All of which leads to an intriguing possibility. Australia, in one of those triumphs of diplomacy that only money can buy, is now on the UN Security Council, and will assume the rotating Presidency next week. This puts our nation at the centre of impotence in trying to resolve a civil war in a country that apart from importing massive amounts of wheat when the price is right has no key interest for us. More alarmingly Julie Bishop, armed with a stare that must be a weapon of Mass Destruction may soon take over from Bob Carr (who presumably in retirement can dispense with his own chemical weapon – hair dye) and be our face to the world.
I have in my humble work cubicle a map of the world pinned to the divider. Published by William Collins of Glasgow and London around 1900 it has a comforting amount of pink denoting the British Empire. Much of Africa is unidentified, and Syria is but a province of the Ottoman Empire. The Mercator projection results in two New Zealands, which seems about right given how many of them are in Australia. I suspect this is the map used by Tony Abbott in referring to the Anglo-sphere as a kind of virtual Pax-Britannica-Americana. Of course, that, like Australia having any real influence, is a fading fantasy, and ephemeral as a once hoped for Rudd victory. Is it too late to have Andrew Demitriou and the AFL take charge?
Does this guy ever shut up?
by Paddy 0′Cearmada 24 August 2013
Noise it seems is a great screen to hide behind. The release by the AFL of the detailed charges against Essendon and key figures in that Club brought a positive and predictable banshee howl from the impressive team of Lawyers now surrounding the aggrieved accused. Indeed it is possible that fielding a team of lawyers has become a higher priority than fielding a team of players and on recent performance they may actually kick more goals.
Kicking goals or landing punches was the order of proceedings last night in Brisbane at the Broncos League Club. In the red corner was K. Rudd, welter tending to heavyweight and reigning champion; while in the blue corner and in a blue tie was T. Abbott, middle tending to lightweight and challenger. The contest was remarkably even, and the audience participation at least gave the verisimilitude of democracy which is perhaps all we can hope for these days. The question of the night came from a young man who declared his love for both contenders. Beaming his most charming smile T. Abbott said both he and K. Rudd loved him, but that moment of bliss faded quickly when the question from this new amour emerged as to the attitude to marriage reform. Love, it seems, has but one meaning in the blue corner.
K. Rudd became increasingly aggressive (or feisty if you want to follow the Orwellian description) and pummelling his opponent with the subjunctive, secondary clauses, and loquacity T. Abbott appealed to the referee ‘Does this guy ever shut up?’
The moment was electric. Finally, some passion, and a real human response. Its effect is debatable and the rhetorical nature of the question left hanging in the air has so many potential answers: Yes, when he loses the election; yes, when he wins; or no on both counts! It is an excruciating fact that there is no answer. Like the Essendon accused K. Rudd will go to his grave proclaiming his innocence reminding us of Ralph Waldo Emerson’s acute observation: The louder he spoke of his honour, the faster we counted our spoons.
‘He who is not busy being born is busy dying’ – Bob Dylan
by Paddy 0′Cearmada 21 August 2013
Tony Abbot chose the leafy surrounds of Malvern and a latte to announce to an adoring crowd of Eastern Suburbs mums with their plump already enrolled in Scotch and St Catherine’s babies his Paid Parental Leave Policy. This generous scheme will pay the full salary plus superannuation for 6months up to $75,000 for the parent who stays at home with a newborn. While it is available to all, it clearly pays more to the highly paid, and a more middle class setting for this latest piece of middle class welfare could not be imagined. In what is becoming a dreary trope in this campaign of marionettes Kevin Rudd chose the same day to announce that parents who did not fully immunise their children would be denied Family Benefit payments. In a master-stroke you have the election in nutshell. Vote Abbott and be paid by the State to employ a Nanny and continue to have the annual holiday in the South of France; or vote Rudd and have nasty socialist nurses stick needles in your babies in order to remain a client of Centrelink.
There is of course the small matter of how the Parental Leave scheme will be paid for. Tony Abbott against a growing chorus of complaint intends to impose a levy on the top 300 Australian companies partly off-set by a reduction for all in the Company tax rate. $4 billion is a lot of money to find and cornered on radio Joe Hockey fumbled his lines suggesting this was fully covered by the levy, however it seems the magic rise in employment participation and increased tax revenue and removal of the Labor parental leave scheme and the contribution of the States will make up the rest. Sadly one State, West Australia, is refusing to play, adding to the corporate complaint that this is expenditure without any observable productivity gain. Sometimes the kids just won’t do what mum and dad want.
Or that could be dad and dad. Yes the party that won’t come to the party on marriage reform, is happy to have the Parental Leave Scheme apply to same sex couples. This is undoubtedly due to the anti-discrimination laws but it does rather leave those members of the coalition who whenever same-sex marriage is suggested cry “but what about the children?” somewhat out of step. Maybe there is a magic productivity pudding in Adam and Steve maintaining the payments on the BMW and the second mortgage on the investment property while raising the surrogate baby on Mr Abbott’s scheme, while not being able to marry mysteriously protects the traditional family and the children.
As the rise of Abbott the champion of women continues in the polls, Rudd becomes increasingly petulant and snappy. We have seen this before, when his popularity slipped as Prime Minister the first time the pronouncements in the third person, and aggression became more apparent. To complement this attack advertisements against Abbott are now on air. There is an air of desperation.
Nowhere near as desperate as the four brave terminally ill candidates for the Euthanasia Party. Led by Phillip Nitshke their policy is to be allowed to die with dignity, to remove themselves as a burden on the taxpayer. The second noble aim, presumably helping with the cost of the Parental Leave Scheme, was immediately challenged by those who think that people should be kept alive at all cost and the State should pay for better care. The grim calculus continues and in all this those two old inevitables, death and taxes seem to have a coalition victory as their new friend.
Computer says no by Paddy 0′Cearmada 19 August 2013
If economics in Carlyle’s view is the dismal science then psephology, that peculiar science of the study of elections must occupy a still lower ring in the hell of intelligence. Once the preserve of awkward academics with file punch cards and steam driven calculators, now in this digital age, data can be collected with ease and interpreted it would seem with a breathtaking simplicity. Last evening on the ABC the assessment of voting intentions logged in to the ABC election site were revealed in all of 90 seconds to show that Labor is nowhere near the number of seats it needs to form government, and while it isn’t the rout that it might have been defeat leers with inevitability of yet another pale blue tie.
Yet still they persist. A foregone conclusion apparently will not stop the endless, mindless carping and contradictions. The independently funded Climate Institute in a detailed assessment of the Coalition climate policy revealed a $4 billion shortfall in its costing and determined that rather than reduce emissions it might in fact increase them. The response from the Shadow Minister was to take refuge in fiscal prudence and say that there was sufficient scope in the spending envelope to effect change. The full contents of this plain manilla container of used $50 bills remains a mystery and will not be revealed until one week from the poll, apparently following a Labor Party precedent and in an act of kindness from the Shadow Treasurer who was concerned that an endless debate about costings would ‘bore the electorate rigid’. Note to Mr Hockey: It’s too late.
It’s all about numbers it would seem and one number that remains to blight the major parties is Asylum seekers. Tony Abbott has managed a world record attempt at the ‘border protection’ limbo dance by wriggling under an even lower bar. Just when we all thought that a gulag of offshore permanent detention centres was as low as we could go, he is going lower still. The 32,000 asylum seekers currently in Australia and who have arrived by boat will never be given residency regardless of any determination of their refugee status, and they will be denied any appeal to the courts, and those found to be refugees will be placed in indefinite work for the dole schemes. This is despite, or more truthfully, because, over 90% of those who have appealed their determination have been found to be true refugees. Determinations will be made by a case worker in one interview. Vicki behind the screen, computer says No.
Jeremy Bentham is reborn. Utilitarianism, the philosophy based on the greatest good for the greatest number requires a minority who do not benefit. He who brought to the world the panopticon, where one person in the middle of a spoked structure could keep an eye on everyone, now the all-seeing CCTV cameras, he also invented the felicific calculus, that balance between pleasure and pain that determines behaviour. In England in the 1830’s this led to the Workhouse, where the indigent poor were given care so meagre with work so menial it would force them to mend their wicked impoverished ways. At least in that system there was a theoretical exit, for 32,000 asylum seekers no exit seems to exist, and they, and quite possibly their children and grandchildren will now form a permanent under caste.
To win an election in Australia it seems you have to triumph over losers.
A footnote to last post: In a stunning admission Essendon has said that a mystery substance left over from a muscular dystrophy patient allegedly injected into its players came from New Mexico, not Mexico. That, apparently, makes all the difference.
Performance enhancement by Paddy 0′Cearmada 14 August 2013
I was once asked if I was using Viagra. Now that’s an intimate kind of question and it came at an intimate moment. I considered withdrawing my services but decided to answer with a truthful ‘no’ and got on with the job.
Performance it seems needs enhancing. Yesterday the Department of Treasury and Finance in a once in the electoral cycle moment where they are allowed to provide frank and fearless advice, released the Pre-election Financial Outlook or PEFO. With a name suggesting a toy poodle this grim document from what Carlyle once called the ‘dismal science’ of economics managed to confirm that the Labor Party had been telling the truth about the deficit, and at the same time forced the age old question on the Coalition ‘and where is the money coming from?’
The release of PEFO was rather overshadowed by the announcement that the AFL – that other and arguably more powerful government in Australia – had decided to lay charges against practically everyone bar the players in the Essendon Football Club for ‘bringing the game into disrepute’. In this case a program designed to enhance performance may indeed have crossed the line. The players may yet be charged by the improbably named Australian Sports Anti-Doping Authority, but the catch all rule of ‘bringing the game into disrepute’ in the arsenal of the AFL catches the rest.
This made me ponder what might happen if such a rule existed for politicians? Would we have any left? The campaign lurched on with Tony Abbott describing one quite attractive candidate as having sex appeal, apparently not a good idea, excused later as evidence of exuberance. The Liberal candidate for Melbourne Ports launched an online advertisement which seemed to be as much about alcohol as politics. In his defence he is openly Gay and it did look like an average Sunday afternoon on Chapel Street, and the Corona did look inviting.
This brings me to crux of the matter – the perineum. No one can deny that Tony Abbott is fit but all that bike riding might explain the awkward crab like gait, after all there can be too much of a good thing, and over-enhanced performance may appear fake. We await the Coalition’s budget figures with interest.
Suppository of Wisdom by Paddy 0′Cearmada 13 August 2013
No-one, however smart, however well- educated, however experienced is the suppository of all wisdom – Tony Abbott
Sometimes despite our best intentions the truth escapes. Like the painfully suppressed fart at the funeral that blows like the Trumpets at the walls of Jericho the minute you leave the church.
Australians have long suspected that their elected leaders speak to them through their sphincters and yesterday was no exception. Most of the commentary about a non-debate was over the unforgivable use of notes by Kevin Rudd. Perhaps he had something to say that needed them, perhaps his opponent had less to say. A promise to hold another conscience vote on marriage law reform was a point of distinction and the grimace on Tony Abbott’s face made it clear his sphincter is reserved solely for dispensing wisdom.
The Ancient Greeks often, and unfairly blamed for imposing democracy on the world, knew only too well the fine balance between the end of time and the end of the colon. Eschatological discourse, that is talk about the end of time, so favoured by the doomsayers who predict how a property and child maintenance contract, authorised by the State, and available to all couples regardless of gender will destroy life as we know it, is after all close to the scatological.
Meanwhile we voters, fungus that we are to the political elite, remain in the dark fed on a diet of shit.
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