29 June, 2014

Another day at the office

In a doorstop press conference outside the Liberal Federal Council meeting yesterday, the minister for obfuscation immigration Scott Morrison denied any asylum seeker boats had arrived this week adding that the department only comments on “significant” events.

He then fell back on a disgracefully glib line that he’s been trying out for a while now: “This is another day at the office for Operation Sovereign Borders.”

I don’t think “Another day at the office,” means what Mr Morrison thinks it means.

He is using the phrase to effectively say, “Move along, nothing to see here,” and saying in as many words that nothing significant has happened. So we’re expected to believe that another day at the office involves sitting back in quiet satisfaction of what a good job one is doing.

A day at the office when nothing significant happens is a wasted day. I would have thought the party of enterprise, productivity and “real action” would understand that.

Alternatively, as the party of savings and efficiency, if there’s nothing “significant” going on in the department from day to day, the department should be abolished, the minister redeployed to a position befitting his talents, and the savings put back into helping the most vulnerable in society.

18 June, 2014

An excellent idea

I saw this retweeted into my stream yesterday morning:

Most of the comments I saw were mocking the notion of having a specially designated area for the exercise of constitutional rights, but I think this is a brilliant idea. In fact, I think it should be extended.

It would make things so much easier for everyone if all public spaces had areas reserved for the expression of constitutional rights. Every shopping mall could have a not-being-tried-for-the-same-offence-twice corner. Each park can have a bench reserved for those who don’t quarter soldiers in any house without the consent of the owner, while neither encouraging, discouraging nor endorsing such behaviour.

Obviously the best use of such areas would be for the second amendment.  For example, Chipotle could have a special table reserved for those who wish to exercise rights protected by the second amendment without terrorising the rest of the diners. Target could have a special second amendment department so that shoppers could rest assured that everyone there is a good guy with a gun because their paperwork checked out after they submitted their applications. It’s perfect!

I don’t know why someone hadn’t thought of it before.

16 June, 2014

Relax; this is not a Christian government

Whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of Mine, you did for Me
 - Matthew 25:40

In the lead-up to the last election campaign – which is to say, ever since before the 2010 election campaign – a common criticism of Tony Abbott and much of his front bench centred around the fact that they are apparently devout Christians and many are specifically Catholic. In the rich seam of things to be critical of the Abbott cabinet for, it’s a fairly minor detail. It was, and is, cited most by the kinds of people who get an instant hate-boner at the mention of anything resembling faith. The fear was that they would not be able to separate their religion from how they manage government. I think we can safely say now that the government has absolutely no problem keeping their Christianity out of how they conduct the affairs of the nation.

Before going any further, it’s only fair to state where I’m coming from and my credentials for saying this. I’m a Catholic too. “Lapsed,” is probably too strong a word, but suffice to say our parish priest (who is a lovely person, you’d like him) might recognise my face from the funerals I’ve attended this year but wouldn’t remember my name. I was brought up Catholic and still identify as Catholic. This is why I say with confidence that the policies expressed by Tony Abbott in opposition bore no resemblance to anything I was ever taught, and in government, even less so.

Government policy should never be based on religious doctrine but I honestly wouldn’t mind if the government were a bit more Christian. By that, I mean Christian in deed, not in dogma. Some of the most Christian people I know are atheists, and that’s fine. I don’t have a problem with reciting The Lord’s Prayer at the beginning of parliamentary sittings. I have more of a problem with the way members, especially those who believe, ignore their vow to be humble, to advance the true welfare of the people of Australia, and to forgive those who trespass against us, immediately after they dutifully say Amen.

There are many examples of how this government doesn’t remotely reflect any genuine Christian principles but for reasons of space and time, I will limit this piece to three, which will eventually bring us up to last week.

Firstly, and most obviously, there is the way we treat asylum seekers.
The last time Tony Abbott appeared on Q and A, which was months before the 2010 election, he was asked in as many words, What would Jesus do when it came to asylum seekers? Mr Abbott’s now famous response was, “Jesus didn’t say yes to everyone. I mean, Jesus knew that there was a place for everything and it is not necessarily everyone’s place to come to Australia.”

To anyone with the slightest hint of Christian training, this response is clearly the rambling of an idiot clutching at straws. Matthew 25:40, and the preceding verses if you care to look them up, clearly tell us that whatever we do for our fellow people, however lowly they may be in any way, we do for Christ. Therefore, it makes no difference if they are “genuine” refugees or indeed “queue jumpers.” If you’re a Christian, then what you do to them, you do to Jesus – Himself, a refugee. Would Mr Abbott or his fellow Christian, immigration minister Scott Morrison lock Jesus up on Manus Island? They probably wouldn’t if they knew it was Him, but if you follow Christian teachings, then they already have.

My next example is the view of many in the government that penalty rates be abolished. The reasoning behind this suggestion is that we have a 24/7 economy now and paying people extra on weekends is a relic of a bygone age. It’s a fair argument to make if you want to look at it that way. But I distinctly remember being told that same-sex marriage would go against Australia’s Judeo-Christian (whatever that means) heritage.

The Bible has a lot more to say about the Sabbath than it does about who can and can’t marry. The fourth Commandment is: Remember the Sabbath Day to keep it holy. The only part of the Bible to make a slight reference to homosexuality also forbids the wearing of dissimilar fibres. That would count out anyone who has ever worn a silk tie with a cotton shirt and wool blend suit – in other words, probably everyone who has ever sat in parliament. Even non-religious MPs on both sides of politics have cited this vague notion of a Judeo-Christian heritage as an argument against marriage equality. I believe this is mostly a way of trying to intellectualise the fact that they don’t like poofters, or want to be liked by people who don’t like poofters.

Secular society has adopted the idea of an institutionalised day of rest, to spend with loved-ones, far more than it has adopted any specific form of marriage, “traditional” or otherwise. Yet, when it comes to additional compensation for giving up this day of rest, those who claim to have Christian values turn around and say, “Bugger the Sabbath, stop living in the past. A day’s work is a day’s work and you should be grateful to have it.” Am I the only one who finds these positions somewhat contradictory?

Of course, there’s always some cognitive dissonance in politics and this is already plenty for the government to be able to say it is developing policy for its constituents (whoever they may be) ahead of their own professed faith.

For me, the final straw came with Treasurer Joe Hockey’s address to The Sydney Institute last week. Firstly, responding to criticism that the budget is unfair to the poor with a speech to a right wing think tank funded by business interests probably says it all about who you’re really governing for.

On the issue of fairness, Mr Hockey said:
This year the Australian government will spend on average over $6,000 on welfare for every man, woman and child in the country. Given that only around 45 per cent of the population pays income tax, the average taxpayer must pay more than twice this amount in tax to fund welfare expenditure.

In other words the average working Australian, be they a cleaner, a plumber or a teacher, is working over one month full time each year just to pay for the welfare of another Australian.

Is this fair?
It’s clear from his tone that Mr Hockey thinks it isn’t. And that’s fair enough, in isolation.

Some Christian denominations, although not Catholicism specifically, encourage people to donate 10% of their income to charity. Others actually require it. This government, however, not only resents making a less than 8.5% contribution to those less fortunate, it thinks you should too.

It’s clear there was never any risk of this government embedding any kind of Christianity into its agenda. The only kind of theocracy they are moving towards is a kind of right-wing social Darwinism beloved of those who never got over their Ayn Rand phase.

Mr Hockey, if you and your cabinet colleagues begrudge less than ten percent of your work going to help those who need it, that’s your prerogative, and you are entitled to argue your case by any and all means available to you. 
But please stop calling yourselves Christians.

08 June, 2014

The Rules: Prime Ministerial ambitions

The shoe may be on the other foot and the foot may be kicking the shit out of anyone who owns less than a dozen newspapers and a couple of television networks, but after nearly a year, leadership rumours are flying around the prime minister again and isn't it all just bloody hilarious! Thanks be to the patron saint of short attention spans - whoever that might be. I try looking it up but I keep getting distracted by breaking news of who Shane Warne's new girlfriend might be and quizzes that will tell me which Kardashian I am.

So far, it's all going perfectly to script with all the right denials from all the right people. The problem with every denial is that when any MP (who may or may not be Malcolm Turnbull) denies there is a leadership challenge on right now, the follow-up question is whether that MP ever has the desire to take over the leadership. The only honest answer, regardless of who is being asked, is Yes.

Just for once, can we please cut through all the false modesty and admit that EVERYONE wants to be prime minister. Even you! The only people who don't want to be prime minister are those who would take neither the pay cut nor the responsibility that comes with public office, and instead enjoy influencing government while maintaining the charade that they're every bit at the mercy of Big Government as every other little guy. Who says satire is dead? I am not necessarily referring to the likes of Rupert Murdoch, Gina Rinehart, Andrew Bolt and Alan Jones. I could have meant absolutely anyone by that comment. I don't understand why you're all so suspicious.

The House of Representatives would have to be the only place in the country where you can gather 148 people who all claim they don't want to be prime minister. Take a survey of any train or food hall, and I'll bet you'll find at least 150 people who all think they would make a great prime minister, yet the closer someone gets to that goal, they more they would have you believe that they never wanted it in the first place.

I promise you that nobody goes into politics with the ultimate ambition of being minister for communications (to take a completely random example). And even if one is self aware enough to know that it was only dumb luck and schmoozing the right people that got them to the level of minister for education (to take another completely random example), the desire and the eye for the main chance will always be there.

This isn't a good or a bad thing, it's just the truth. Nobody dreams of being the world's greatest rhythm guitarist. Nobody plans to win Best Supporting Actor. They want to be the star, and if they're content with the way things turn out, that won't change what they always wanted.

Deny a challenge by all means because it probably is bullshit. But can we please stop insulting everyone's intelligence by claiming no ambition?

There are two types of politicians: Those who want to be prime minister, and liars.
Make that one type.

07 June, 2014

Connecting the dots again

Or… I’m not a journalist, but… Part 3

This week has been the stupidest week the government has had since coming to office last September, and that’s already a crowded field.

Another week of sideshows (which I’ll write about more later) was topped off by Attorney General George Brandis saying that the government would no longer refer to the Israeli occupied territories as… well, occupied territories.  The government’s reasoning is that such a term is judgemental and unhelpful.

It’s a fair point. It is a judgemental term and judgemental language is rarely helpful in international diplomacy unless you’re trying to lose friends rather than make them, in which case it’s very helpful.

But wait just an eenie meenie miney minute here…
Is this the same George Brandis whose highest priority so far has been the repeal of section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act on the grounds that it’s an intolerable affront to free speech? Is this the same George Brandis whose most notable quote of this parliament so far has been “People do have the right to be bigots,” while defending the repeal? Apparently, it is.

Reporters and commentators have been quick to point out that much closer allies of Israel than Australia, up to and including the United States, call East Jerusalem occupied without any damage to the relationship but that’s rather beside the point. What no-one has asked is why this government that claims to champion free speech, that wants to legislate to remove any impediment to Andrew Bolt setting himself up as the ultimate arbiter of who is black enough to call themselves aboriginal, is suddenly taking such a Milquetoast approach to an internationally accepted and historically accurate description.

And if that isn’t enough to keep the columns and interviews flowing for a day or so, here’s another nuance to hone in on: being judgemental.

I agree that judgemental language does not make for good relations but surely I am not the only one who has noticed that the language of this government on every other issue has been nothing but judgemental.

How else do you describe calling those who would risk their lives on the high seas to escape terror and find a better life in Australia “illegals,” despite the fact that seeking asylum is not illegal?
How else do you describe a budget speech that says “Australians under 30 years of age should be earning or learning,” as if that wasn’t the case already, and as if there’s something special about being under 30?
How else do you describe this government’s attitude to welfare, talking about a phoney “age of entitlement,” which is clearly meant to demonise all recipients of benefits, be they school leavers or war widows?

I fully agree that judgemental language is unhelpful. I would go further and say it’s damaging. But given that the new government has spent a lot of its time and energy using judgemental language and defending the freedom to do so, surely any journalist worth their iPhone would hear the government’s new policy towards Israel and ask, “What’s different about this?”

I’m offering no theories, I’m just asking the question. What I will say is that the coalition has been working hard since its time in opposition to change the language in order to redefine our values.
Mr Orwell would have something to say about that.