An incomplete revolution: Liberal edition

Tuesday, 15 September 2015    

David Rowe: AFR

David Rowe: AFR

A “humble” Malcolm Turnbull promised to be a team player, pledged no radical shifts in policy, and assured there would be no recriminations.

“I listen to everybody,” he said. “I am a great believer in networking. I am a great believer in communication and consultation.”

Malcolm Turnbull assuming the leadership in, er, 2008

For the last five years, Australia has had to endure the tedious process of both major parties regaining control from what Barrie Cassidy called the “party thieves”, Rudd and Turnbull, only to see the major parties make such a hash of it that both “thieves” ended up taking the party back again. Sort of.

With Labor, the party reasserted itself through its institutions, and Rudd’s recapture of it happened without the total capitulation of those power brokers and union leadership that probably would have been necessary to make it a success.

With the Liberals, it was ideological, especially on climate change, and again it appears that Turnbull has recaptured the party but without having totally overwhelmed the opposition. This was shown not only in the modest size of the victory but more importantly in the motivation he gave for the challenge a few hours before.

In announcing the challenge, Turnbull really only gave one area, besides presentation, where he would be different from Abbott, on the economy – the thin space on which he would seem to be in tune with the right. However, there are two problems with this.

First, the economy is not exactly an area that plays to the main strength of Turnbull that allowed him to return, namely his public popularity. In fact, it would be fair to say that the “merchant banker” image was one area where he ran into problems against Rudd as out of tune with the widespread acceptance during the GFC that pumping money into the economy was necessary (a stance, it’s been forgotten, that was widely accepted in the Liberals as well, so much so that it was Turnbull that had to over-turn the frontbench’s support for the second hand-out).

The economy is not exactly going great guns now, and the public already made clear from the first Budget that it has no time for ideological games on this. It will not be immediately obvious how Turnbull will manage both to please the right and the voters at a time when the economy is running out of steam.

Related to to this is the second problem that even if he wasn’t having to please the right, this economic space is very thin indeed given that there is not really much any government can do. In the past it was either pressure unions to increase wage “flexibility”, or throw money at the problem. With the anti-union attacks being little more than the half-arsed show trials of the TURC, it really is only about throwing money around.

It was something that the Abbott government had already come to terms with in a second Budget that abandoned any pretence at clearing up the deficit, but rather at least not blowing it up as badly a Labor – resulting in low level grumbling from the party and business commentators about its lack of “reform zeal” and especially dumped onto the hapless Treasurer.

Beyond the economy, there looks at the moment to be not much else that Turnbull can talk about. On issues such as climate change or gay marriage, where Turnbull differs from the majority of the party, it was clear yesterday that Turnbull was in no mood to tackle the party on that. In fact, in the spirit of inclusiveness, Turnbull looks ready to accommodate all positions except his own.

In short, Turnbull faces a similar problem to Abbott – trying to balance the needs of a party right obsessed about its “brand” and the public rejection of it. This blog had thought that instead, the Liberals might plump for the one who appears best at balancing both, but certainly Turnbull’s record has not been that great. In contrast to Abbott’s attempt to manage this tension, unsuccessfully, by the occasional culture war wink to the right that bemused everyone else, Turnbull looks more inclined to resume the consultant-ese waffle of his first stint and that we had a taste of again last night.

Turnbull’s acceptance speech was almost a carbon copy of last time, and, like last time, this approach still has the potential to satisfy no one. The interview with Steve Ciobo suggested that not only Morrison be there to keep an eye on Turnbull, but that the right are in no hurry to forgive Turnbull’s recapture of the party.

The message was even clearer from Joyce, saying the Coalition agreement would have to be renegotiated and that the threat of walking away from it was real. The Nationals, of course, are dying, and Joyce himself may be in trouble in his own seat at the next election. The Liberals need the Nationals’ numbers and, while the Nats have nowhere else to go, they can still cause trouble. They did last time.


The confusions of anti-politics: UK edition

Tuesday, 8 September 2015    



Can I just finish?

The Unstoppable Jeremy Corbyn

If the struggle between Rudd and Gillard over the dead soul of the Labor party, and the hollow leadership election that followed, occasionally descended into farce, it is nothing compared to what is now going on in UK Labour. Read more …



Monday, 24 August 2015    


To paraphrase a great rugby phrase ‘go you Goodes thing’ and to quote Warren Mundine ‘stop the boos’

Tweet from the very clever Scott Morrison

I just find it incomprehensible that the state of Australia is so racist that we have widespread tolerance and support for the most vicious kind of racism that I haven’t seen since the dark days of the end of apartheid

Some perspective from Marcia Langton

Probably for some the jeers are mindless, just revelling in something taboo. But increasingly, that dull drone is sounding like an assertion of power: crowds of non-Indigenous people declaring, “We will keep doing this and you can’t stop us”.

One sports writer expressing the darkest fears

Like most developed countries, Australia has a race problem. It might not take the form it does in the enlightened country this writer comes from, of cops regularly shooting black people in the streets (curiously omitted in the piece), but it exists and mostly is focussed on indigenous people.

Here are a few examples highlighted by this blog.

In June 2007, a report published by the NT Labor government Little Children Are Sacred claimed there was widespread sexual abuse of children being committed by NT indigenous communities. No proof was offered and none was ever found. Yet they were widely believed and led to Coalition/Labor support for the intervention and restrictions to welfare on racial grounds. While there was some criticism of the intervention, there was no questioning of the assumptions in the report behind it. Yet it’s hard to imagine a similar claim without proof against non-indigenous communities would be published, let alone acted on. Clearly different standards applied.

A few months later there was an actual proven case of indigenous child sexual abuse, a rape of a 10 year old girl in Aurukun Queensland. This time authorities took the opposite approach: letting the nine guilty males escape jail by citing cultural standards because they were indigenous. Clearly, to the Brisbane magistrate judging the case, different standards applied.

This year we had the West Australian government threatening the closure of indigenous communities in the state’s north. Here there was more opposition. But even those opposing did so by claiming different cultural standards should apply, when all that was needed was to argue for the same standards for indigenous communities as for heavily subsidised non-indigenous communities nearby. Even in opposing discriminatory closures, different standards still had to apply.

And then finally we have the row over the bit in the constitution that allows such different standards to apply in law: the so-called “race powers” that allow federal laws based on the colour of the person’s skin. Most of the public want them gone. Yet while those making the decision may disagree on how the Constitution should change, they all agree that race-based powers must stay – because to get rid of them would mean dismantling the entire land rights, native title edifice of the last 40 years and no one has the stomach for that. So whatever happens on the Preamble and the Constitution, as far as the law is concerned, different standards will continue to apply.

It would be tempting to add the booing of Goodes to this list. But there’s an important difference. All of those above were initiatives from the authorities, which makes sense because they have the power to close communities, restrict welfare etc. Whereas the problem of the booing of Goodes came from the public.

This distinction is important. First it was why some of those complicit in the decisions above could so smoothly take a position on Goodes. Labor MPs, fresh from comfortably voting to push asylum seekers back out to sea to, er, save lives had no trouble regaining the high ground by condemning on Twitter the crowds booing Goodes. It was has even allowed the one responsible for that very policy, Scott Morrison, to cheekily refer to it in his tweet supporting Goodes – suggesting the contender has a danger of being too clever by half.

The distinction is also what made the reaction out of all proportion to what actually happened. After all, what we were talking about was the booing of one footballer. Hardly comparable to the closure of communities or the welfare restrictions which have affected thousands. Yet the “apartheid” hyperbole from those like Langton (who supported the intervention and welfare restrictions) or the over-the-top comparisons of Goodes to Rosa Parks (!) were less motivated by the victim but the source: the Australian public in the football stands.

Indeed, because this is about the public, it goes smack in the face of the anti-racism campaign against the public, which in Australia today, is pretty well the only anti-racism campaign there is. On the racial standards being applied by the authorities as described above there is nowadays very little criticism in the public sphere. In the debate around the Constitution, for example, there is almost no criticism of keeping the race powers, save from those like Bolt who have trouble understanding they are already there.

Yet it was the targeting of the public in the controversy around Goodes that also exposed the hollowness of that anti-racism. To see how, it is necessary to start where some like the American writer above didn’t want to, Goodes’s reporting of a 13 year old girl to security for calling him an ‘ape’ two years ago.

Having a grown man report a 13 year old to security was not a good look but in the middle of a game, tensions were running high and no doubt, as he later said, there was a lot of history behind the epithet that made an over-reaction understandable.

So that was Goodes’s excuse. But what was security’s excuse? On what basis did they think it right to take a 13 year old girl and confine her in a police room for two hours after dark without her parents and with her grandmother ordered to stay where she was in the stand? Goodes has been praised by many for not taking up the offer to press charges the next day. Press charges? Some have claimed the security response was an over-reaction, but the law is considered. So on what basis could the law possibly think it reasonable for a grown man to press charges against a 13 year old girl for calling him a horrible name?

In reality the response by security and the offer to press charges is less an over-reaction than a culmination of several years of an on-going campaign by AFL authorities to police the behaviour of the public in the AFL stands and is the pointy end of the anti-racism campaign against the public. But what subsequently happened was to expose how meaningless that campaign was.

After that, Goodes became a target of booing by fans of opposing teams until he responded with the war dance against Carlton fans in May. While shopping a girl to security was not Goodes’s finest hour, his war dance was in the noble tradition of AFL players sticking it to the crowd as good as they get. For players of Goodes’s quality this is usually an adjunct to the more common response to booing fans: ruining their weekend by destroying their precious little team in front of their horrified eyes.

But Goodes’s war dance was seen as provocative (which of course it was) and then condemned as such by those like Bolt who making a living out of being precisely that. The act itself was no big deal, but once the right weighed in, the anti-racism campaign kicked in and we were off.

Cultural warriors on left and right like sweeping generalisations as much as they as they like bogus polarisations, and so in opposing the right we had the position that the booing of Goodes was nothing but racism.

Claiming the Goodes booing was nothing but racism was just silly. If that was the case, why weren’t Sydney Swans fans joining in the same way? Surely the red blooded racist supporting the Sydney team would have been just as outraged by the war dance, furious after reading the transcripts of Goodes’s Australia Day speech, incensed at the “invasion day” references etc. etc. Yet somehow Sydney Swans fans seem to have a racial sensitivity clearly missing from fans for every other side in the AFL, for reasons that will just have to remain a mystery.

In joining the faux polarisation of the right, the anti-racism campaign against the public had not only ended up having to argue something daft but exposed the hollowness of what passes as anti-racism today.

Because here’s the thing: where were the arrests? If it was acceptable for the authorities to offer pressing charges against a 13 year old girl, why weren’t there charges being pressed against the hundreds (thousands?) of men and women doing the same thing for the last few months? Why weren’t there queues of West Coast Eagles fans being lined up by security to be held in the same police room they kept the girl?

In reality after years of a campaign targeting the public, and having sweepingly claimed that the AFL crowds were racist en masse, we now find that they couldn’t do anything about it. If anything, there was a growing fear in the media that the public were openly defying what this anti-racist campaign and threatened to expose as a sham by saying “you can’t stop us”. Hence the hysteria and hyperbole in the days before Goodes dropped out.

The phoniness of this anti-racist campaign is exposed by the laws that back it up. The federal Racial Discrimination Act does not allow for criminal convictions for racial vilification, having been instead passed on to the states. Yet despite all states having brought in such laws over the last 20 to 30 years there has, incredibly, only been one successful prosecution.

In NSW, where section 20-D of the Racial Discrimination Act has been in place for a quarter of a century, there not only haven’t been any convictions, there hasn’t even been a single case referred. Similarly in the home state of AFL, the bar is so high in the Racial Vilification act of 1995 that the Human Rights Authorities argue making a vilification claim is almost impossible. In the only state where there was a prosecution (for anti-Semitism), Western Australia, it followed a tweaking of the law in 2004 that, ironically, resulted in the first prosecution being a 16 year-old Aboriginal girl who called someone a ‘white slut’.

This very odd legal position suggests one of three things: either 1) the crime that is being legislated against doesn’t exist, 2) by an extraordinary intra-state coincidence, all of the State Attorney-Generals have stuffed up the drafting of their respective bills, or 3) that this is about political posturing in legislation that was never intended to have any practical effect.

And of course, the phoniness of this anti-racism was shown by what happened next over Goodes. On the weekend of the 1-2 August when Goodes took time out, the anti-racism campaign reached fever pitch with front pages in the press and spontaneously organised events around the country showing support, which was not tested, of course, because Goodes wasn’t there.

And then? Who knows? There were reports that at the next match against Geelong, Goodes was still booed but no more than anyone else. But to find such reports you had to read into the match commentaries because suddenly the media seemed no longer interested and the whole issue passed over quicker than a Twitter storm.

This lack of interest seems curious. Either there was still racist booing and therefore the outrage should continue, or there wasn’t and Australia had found a solution for a problem that plagues the developed world. Or perhaps the Geelong team making a display of solidarity took the team partisanship out of the booing that had been there all along (and so explaining the mystery of the racial sensitivity of Sydney Swans fans), we shall never know.

Or it may be possible that having got itself into a ludicrous position through culture war over-reach, which it could do nothing about even on its own terms, the anti-racist campaign against the public quietly tip-toed away from situation before it could get out of control. Instead of AFL crowds, maybe it should just stick to bullying 13 year old girls and their grandmothers. Much safer.


Leadership watch: Morrison on 730

Friday, 14 August 2015    



They’re my personal views, Leigh, and I’m not going to impose those on the rest of the country.

Scott Morrison formulates the platform for the Australian right

Scott Morrison’s had a very good week and it’s written all over his face. Read more …



Wednesday, 12 August 2015    

I thought we were supposed to be talking about climate change today.

Julie Bishop not getting the memo

Well thank goodness that’s been cleared up.

As things stand now Australian voters have the clear choice on same sex marriage between one party that will have a binding vote that may be a conscience vote after the next election, and another party that has a conscience vote that will be binding the election after that. Of course the side that has a binding vote is being attacked for doing so from the other side by those who are, at the same time, arguing for a binding vote on their own side. Meanwhile the side that has the binding vote keeps reminding everyone that the party doesn’t really have binding votes on anything anyway and some are likely to cross the floor if it came to a vote, which they hope it won’t.

Finally, the side that’s not that keen on same sex marriage will likely be proposing a plebiscite, which given the polls, they will probably lose, while the other side that does want same sex marriage (sort of) is less keen on a plebiscite they will probably win.

Is anyone following this? Good. Read more …


Unity is death

Monday, 27 July 2015    

In 2002, the up and coming shadow Immigration Minister launched a tough new line for Labor’s policy on asylum seekers. It wasn’t popular at Conference, but the hardheads felt it was necessary. Labor had lost an election on immigration, the current leader was unpopular and seen as weak, and Labor felt the Coalition was making hay with the perception Labor was too soft on asylum seekers. Labor went on to lose the next election with what was then the lowest primary vote in the post-war period.

In 2010, that former shadow Minister, now leader, Julia Gillard (for it was she), went into an election with a new tough line on asylum seekers. It wasn’t popular in the party, but the hardheads felt it was necessary. They and Gillard were worried that the Coalition was making hay with the perception Labor was too soft on asylum seekers. She went on to achieve what was then Labor’s second lowest primary vote in the post-war period. Read more …


The hole in the middle of national security

Monday, 20 July 2015    

ZAKY MALLAH: Yeah. Yeah, sure. The Liberals now have just justified to many Australian Muslims in the community tonight to leave and go to Syria and join ISIL because of Ministers like him.

TONY JONES: Okay. I think that’s a comment we are just going to rule totally out of order.

The anniversary of the shooting down of MH17 was an unfortunate reminder of how hollow the political and media outrage was that followed it. Read more …


The New Regionalism – another update

Thursday, 30 April 2015    

I feel desperately sorry for the parents of these people. I do. All of us as parents will feel that way, but the warnings have been there for decades.

John Howard reacting to the handing down of the death sentence to Andrew Chan April 2005

I have nothing critical to say about collaboration between the Federal Police and the Indonesian police, and I back up the Federal Police.

Kim Beazley April 2005

Australia’s foreign policy should have a Jakarta rather than a Geneva focus.

Tony Abbott gets his wish October 2013

In just over the last twenty years, there have been four Australians executed in South East Asia. Michael McAulife hanged in Malaysia in 1993, Van Tuong Nguyen in Singapore in 2005, and Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran on Wednesday. And, of course, there is Pham Trung Dung, sentenced to death in Vietnam last year.

Yet while there was little outcry for the other executions, and of Pham Trung Dung (still on death row?), not a peep, it’s been the two of the Bali 9 that has caused the biggest political and diplomatic reaction from the Australian government.

There are a couple of reasons why this should be surprising. Read more …



Monday, 23 March 2015    

Greeting the false dawn of Australian conservatism.

Greeting the false dawn of Australian conservatism.

It’s been said that history shouldn’t be read backwards, but that’s the only way it can be done, and the furious re-writing of Fraser’s government, not least by the man himself, naturally says more about the preoccupations and defensiveness of the political scene today than what happened then. Read more …



Monday, 16 March 2015    

Happier days.   Photograph: Alan Porritt/AAP

Happier days. Photograph: Alan Porritt/AAP

What we can’t do is endlessly subsidise lifestyle choices if those lifestyle choices are not conducive to the kind of full participation in Australian society that everyone should have.

Tony Abbott being insensitive 10 March 2015

Maybe the word ‘closure’, which I did use, wasn’t the right word, but the reality is there are 282 remote communities in WA, a number of them have less than 10 people, they are not viable communities. People can still go and visit their traditional lands, there is no barrier to people going out there and living if they wish to.

Colin Barnett being sensitive 5 March 2015

The services will cease. I would say therefore the communities will close.

Colin Barnett being less sensitive five minutes later

When people say a remark is insensitive, they usually mean it’s true, but shouldn’t have been said. In the case of Abbott’s lifestyle comments it alludes to a real shift in policy on remote communities, and Abbott has not only spelt it out, but put a blunt finger on the weakness of those opposing it.

The idea of shutting down remote communities because they are economically unviable is, of course, rubbish. Read more …


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