Monday, February 21, 2011

The Political Love Child

In the 1990s, Tony Abbott once jokingly described himself as the political love child of John Howard and Bronwyn Bishop. And Like a lot of good jokes, we laugh because it's funny and we laugh because it's true.

The relevance of Bronwyn Bishop to that equation has faded over time, as Bishop's career has faded, but Tony Abbott remains very much John Howard's progeny. It's written all over his political career, in letters too big to miss.

Abbott got his start in politics working as Press Secretary for, then Opposition leader, John Hewson. Hewson would subsequently claim that he hired Abbott based on a recommendation from John Howard, then in the wilderness on the back bench, and that Abbott had repaid him for this by acting 'pretty much as a spy for Howard.' After Hewson's demise following the 1993 election, Abbott would then head up 'Australians for Constitutional Monarchy,' - The only institution in Australia that has the courage to tell the truth: that everything is just fine! - an organisation dedicated to preventing Australia from becoming a republic. A cause always close to John Howard's political heart. Or, at least, close to the dead black thing that sits in the chest cavity where Howard's heart ought to have been.

Abbott would then move into parliament after a by election in 1994, into the ultra safe Liberal seat of Warringah. After the 1996 election, won by Howard in a monumental landslide, Abbott would be rewarded by his father figure with promotion to a cabinet secretary position, from where he made a relatively rapid rise up the ranks into the senior ministry.

Abbott would remain a loyal acolyte of Howard's throughout his time as Prime Minister, one of the very few not to tell him to resign immediately prior to the 2007 election when all indicators pointed to Howard being beaten badly. And, in the aftermath of that surprise outcome, probably the staunchest defender of Howard's legacy from Opposition.

The careers of the two, political father and son, are deeply entwined then, rooted in far in the past and consecrated over time. It is impossible to consider Abbott's political persona without considering Howard's, and Howard's influence over his 'son.'

Which leads us to last weeks debate over asylum seekers. And whether it was appropriate for the government to pay for a handful of them to attend a funeral for family members in Sydney. The dead were victims of an awful tragedy, when a flimsy boat carrying refugees disintegrated on rocks at Christmas Island:

Abbott, and his suddenly rabid immigration spokesman Scott Morrison, held that flying these people cross country and back was a waste of public money. Morrison lead the attack, stating that having tax payers foot the bill for this expense was 'unreasonable.' This on a day when the news was filled with images of utterly distraught people, weeping and hysterical as their relatives were buried, after a shocking tragedy:

How anyone could look at this footage, or read about it, or hear about it on the radio, and not feel anything other than sorry for the people involved is almost beyond comprehension. But Morrison saw it strictly in terms of dollars and cents. Our dollars and cents, wasted on some ratbag darkies from some faraway place he'd rather not know about.

The Government would later reveal the cost of flying these people to and from the funerals as $300 000, or approximately what the Parliamentary canteen in Canberra spends on sticky buns in a year. In other words, not that much money in an economy valued at about $300 billion.

Abbott looked on approvingly at Morrison's performance, and added some slightly toned down criticism of the Government of his own. When Morrison subsequently made a half hearted, heavily qualified 'apology' for what he had said - apologising for the timing of his remarks but not the content - Abbott heaped praise on his head, labeling the shadow minister 'courageous.'

All of which could have come straight from any period in Howard's time as Prime Minister. The whole business was straight out of the JWH 'Dog Whistle' playbook. Absurdly exaggerated demonisation of a handful refugees, tough talk to the press about what to do with them, having one of his ministers put the really tough line out (with Morrison standing in for Phillip Ruddock) while he appeared to offer a more nuanced position and then finally the palms up 'It's not like we hate refugees or are racist or anything' semi sofetning of what had been said done with a straight face to the press.

In style and substance, Abbott really followed in his father's footsteps this time.

And it could well be that he will get the same kind of political benefit from his hard line, cold hearted, blatantly racist stance that Howard used to get. A couple of days after the comments of Morrison and Abbott had been batted back and forth in the media, and in the face of the now usual limp, gutless response from the Government, 'Crikey' offered evidence that indicated public opinion was strongly behind the two Coalition cunts... sorry, leaders, on the issue.

An online poll in 'The Australian' reportedly showed 98% of respondents opposed to taxpayer funds being used to fly the asylum seekers across country. While a similar poll in 'The Herald Sun' had %70 opposed. 'Crikey' also offered a sample of talkback callers who had phoned in on the topic. Some highlights:

* Caller Carole says she’s angry over the taxpayers having to foot the bill for asylum seeker funerals yesterday. She says the Muslim community should have been able to do it. She asks where they get money for mosques and schools.

* Caller Chris says a lot of money has been spent bringing asylum-seekers to Sydney, and asks whether the Federal Government paid for the Australian flood victims or the VIC fire victims to go to funerals.

* Caller Debra says she wishes to air her disgust and disappointment at the decision to use tax payers money to pay for the asylum seekers funeral. She says she doesn’t believe these people are paying taxes when they get here. She asks if they are going to pay for her bridge climb.

* Caller Michael says most people in the community are sick of paying for things such as this.

* Caller Lenti says Asylum seekers should be sent to North Korea.

Compassionate bunch, aren't we?

'Oh people died? Fuck them! Send 'em all to North Korea! Where's my Government handout?' In fact, I'm surprised that Abbott didn't say this himself, although perhaps he's saving it for another time.

It's also important to bear in mind, in relation to the bleating commentary about how the Government never does anything to help decent white folks with the costs of a funeral or tragedy, that there are any number of Government benefits that do exactly that. Among the more prominent:

BEREAVEMENT ALLOWANCE: Fortnightly payments after the death of a partner.

BEREAVEMENT PAYMENT: Lump sum payment after the death of partner.

FUNERAL/MEMORIAL ASSISTANCE: Up to $10 000 to help with funeral costs associated with a natural disaster.

FUNERAL BENEFIT: Up to $2000 to help with funeral costs for a member, or former member, of Australia's armed forces.

And this is literally the tip of the iceberg. A comprehensive list of assistance after someone passes on would go on longer than this blog entry, which is already long enough.

So we are a compassionate bunch, or can be, when our better instincts are roused. Which is not going to happen while Abbott continues to emulate his political father. Hopefully he realises that it is every childs duty to break away from their parents at some point and forge their own identity, and realises it soon.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Bad Week... Good Week...

Tony Abbott has known bad days in politics.

There was that time, on the campaign trail in 2007, where he abused a dying mesothelioma victim, rocked up late to a televised debate with his shadow ministry opposite and then swore at and abused said opposite for criticising him. Or there was the time, immediately after the Liberals 2007 election defeat, that he wanted to put his hand up to be leader, only to sound out his parliamentary colleagues and find out that none of them would support him. And, of course, there was the 2007 election defeat itself, which left Abbott staggering, Heathcliff like, across the cliff tops of Eastern Sydney, after his mentor John Howard was pitched out of office.

But all of these bad days had been in Abbott's past.

Since his unlikely and unexpected rise to the Liberal Party leadership in late 2009, he has had nothing but sunshine, lollipops and rainbows:

And a bit of good luck. Firstly, his seemingly entrenched and popular opponent, the robotic bloke from Queensland, conspired against himself and self destructed in a flash of bad polls and 'ratfucking' jokes. Secondly, the robotic blokes replacement, Julia from the Suburbs, almost immediately started acting just like the bloke she'd just replaced - flimsy, no policies, weasel word language - and so nullified any appeal she may have had. And finally, the ALP ran one of the worst and most inept election campaigns in the country's history and nearly threw away a comfortable electoral buffer.

Even the fact that Abbott ultimately led the conservatives to defeat at the 2010 election, normally the very bottom of the heap for a political leader, didn't seem to have quite the same effect on him. Somehow, he managed to convey the impression that he had actually won in some way, or that the new government was illegitimate or, at least, that being Opposition leader was better than leading a rag tag coalition of misfits, rebels and weirdos.

So perhaps his good luck was due to run out...

For last week contained a number of bad days for Tony Abbott.

Firstly, a recap.

Tony's week of misery started with the release of his proposed cuts to the Federal budget. The ones that will generate $2 billion worth of savings and so negate the need for a flood levy/tax to pay for disaster relief. As is the case with these types of things, even people who might be in favour of spending cuts in general, can become opposed once they see what, exactly, will be cut.

Which is what seemed to happen to Abbott's, previously loyal, deputy, shadow foreign affairs minister Julie Bishop. Bishop had strongly opposed Abbott's initial plan to cut hundreds of millions of dollars in aid to Africa and had succeeded in getting him to drop the idea... only to have him replace it with a plan to cut hundreds of millions of dollars to an AusAid scheme that funds secular schools in Indonesia. Bishop was angry enough to confront Abbott in his office about it, a meeting which leaked out into the press and fuelled already existing rumours that the pair don't get along and can't work together.

Although the proposed cuts are simply that, proposals, which are not going to be enacted in reality, Abbott's trenchant opposition to the Government's tax/levy had made them the focus of media attention and his ideas significant. A major public spat with his deputy over them was not a good look for the Opposition leader. As they say in politics, 'Disunity is death.'

Of course, later in the week, Abbott would look back on an argument about hypothetical budget cuts as a happy sort of time. A tea and scones in the garden with the newspaper and the family kind of Sunday morning. For later in the week, Abbott would find himself overtaken by 'Shithappensgate.'

This issue had been percolating for a few months, from late last year, when Abbott went to Afghanistan to visit Australian troops, in the wake of the killing of one of them, Jared Mackinney . The Australian Defence force took some video footage of Abbott while he was with them; joking with the troops, wearing a helmet, firing some weapons, the usual sort of macho idiot stuff that politicians can't resist around the army.

This footage was not released to the public and would not have been, if veteran Channel 7 reporter Mark Riley hadn't played a hunch and obtained it - after a three month legal stoush with Abbott's staff, who didn't want it out in public - via the 'Freedom of Information' act. The acquired tape contained footage of Abbott discussing the death of Mackinney with local commanders and then clearly stating the words, 'Well, it's obvious that... shit happens sometimes doesn't it?'

Now Abbott was quick to point out that his remarks needed to be taken in context (and it seems the whole political system would fall apart without the existence of that phrase). He had been on the public record as critical of the level of logistical support our troops received in Afghanistan and had implied this may have contributed to the death in question. The local commanders had told him that he felt the troops were well supported and so Abbott was trying to say, in a way, that he'd been wrong. But his remarks were pretty careless and would, undoubtedly, make some people seeing them think of him as a cold, heartless cunt.

Which may have been a better look than initially thought, after Abbott was confronted by the footage by Riley outside Parliament House. After watching it on Riley's laptop and answering a few questions in a hostile yet perfunctory way, Abbott suddenly lapsed into an angry silence, glaring at Riley as if he was about to explode. Or, at least, turn the clock back to his university days and flatten him with a few punches:

Later, Abbott's supporters would claim that their boy was maintaining a 'dignified silence' and choosing not to respond to 'gutter journalism' and a 'media ambush.' If this is true, then it's only true in the sense that the Black Knight from 'The Holy Grail' chose to surrender quietly:

The truth is that Abbott's 'dignified' response did much more damage than the 'Shit happens' video, which ultimately, no one seemed to give a shit about anyway. But by going on national TV and acting like a nutjob, Abbott confirmed all the worst suspicions that people (including some inside the Parliamentary Liberal party) have about him; that he's rash, unstable, prone to let his emotions get the better of him and incapable of thinking on his feet.

A tough week for Abbott, then, with one damaging issue after another and all of it covered with maximum hostility by the national press. So it must have come to some surprise to him, and us, to start the following week (this week) with polling showing the Liberal Party in a triumphant position in the polls. I mean, the conservatives are so far ahead that if the numbers from yesterday's poll were repeated in an election, Labor's representatives in Canberra would be reduced to the blokes that run the parliamentary canteen. And even their position might be shaky.

And it's difficult to know what to make of this. Either Abbott is better liked - and so more resilient in the polls - than we'd thought, or Julia Gillard is so on the nose that nothing Abbott could do could really affect the Liberals numbers much. Either way, this spells dire news for the ALP... and anyone who thought about moving to Canada if Abbott won the election last year.

Monday, February 7, 2011


'The Age' editorial yesterday made the point that Victoria's new-ish Premier, 'Big' Ted Baillieu, was a bit of a slack arse.

Well, not in so many words, of course. Even as it sacks people and moves as much of it's content online as possible, the Melbourne broadsheet is still pretty conservative.

But it did make the point, more delicately, thet Big Ted has been Premier for a few months now and that there aren't many signs of life emanating from the Premier's office. In fact, the only tangible thing that Baillieu seems to have acheived since being elected is that he managed to make the Premier's Christmas Party an alcohol free event, so ruining the day for everyone attending (Baillieu is a tee-totaller and so marks himself out as unique in Australian political history).

In terms of what he's managed to do in relation to the big issues facing the state; public transport, health, education, crime, the economy and so on to infinity, you'd struggle to find any Governmental movement on any front. Which may surprise people. Especially the people that voted for him.

I may be wrong, but I seem to remember Big Ted going on at some length about all the problems facing Victoria during last years election campaign. I mean, he had a pretty extensive list - which, well, I've already written out in the previous paragragph, so I won't redo it here - which he talked about at mind boggling length and which his party put all over every availabe media outlet in negative campaign ads:

And this worked well for him.

People took notice, or were just sick of being told that waiting 4 hours for a train was 'Part of the Plan,' and turfed Labor out on the back of a 6% statewide swing to the conservatives. The era of Big Ted had arrived!

Aaargh! What is that thing with him? Kill it!

Anyway, at least we thought his era had begun.

Some of his supporters are now starting to look like people waiting for an overdue plane; it was meant to be here two hours ago and they've moved from mild disinterest, to annoyance, to concern, to a growing certainty in their hearts that terrorists have blown it up over the Pacific.

Did Big Ted's supporters take the wrong message from the election campaign? Was all that talk about late trains and hospital waiting lists and crazed gangs of homeowner hating youth criminals meant to be... I dunno, reportage? Just to let us know that things were bad? In case we hadn't noticed that the train we were waiting for never showed up or that our aunty was hobbling around while waiting for corrective surgery?

If it was, well, nice of them to point it out. But maybe a little disappointing.

Although anyone that did actually pay attention to the last election campaign would not have been surprised that solutions to Victoria's problems are not materialising. For none were proposed. From either side.

John Brumby stuck doggedly to the same unpopular, universally derided policies that he'd been pushing for several years, and so committed political suicide. And Baillieu and the Liberal Party mainly just nodded and smiled and made sure everyone knew that Jeff Kennett was no longer a candidate.

In terms of specifics, Baillieu offered us two new train lines, a handful of new trains, about a gazillion more police and that was about it. And even this minimal 'agenda' has been pretty much glossed over, forgotten about and obfuscated since Big Ted was elected and Liquorland had their state parliament contract terminated.

The counter agrument to all this, of course, is that the Liberals were only elected a few months ago and that time will be required for them to enact their policies. Or, for starters, for them to figure out what their policies are. And additionally, Labor ran the state for a long time and the public service is intrinsically slow in responding to change, so even when the Liberals are ready to move in key policy areas, we will need to be patient in order to see results.

But this is no reason for inertia.

Baillieu was given a clear mandate by the electorate and he enjoys a majority in both houses of Parliament. He has far fewer obstacles in his path than, say, Steve Bracks had when he took over a Premier. So there is no excuse not to get on with it. Especially since the same people that were unhappy with transport and health and so ended Brumby's career, will quickly turn on the new bunch if they sense that they're sitting on their hands.

'Well after 12 years of Labor neglect...'

Will only work for so long. Baillieu and co need only look at the Rudd/Gillard government to see how popular a timid, do nothing style of governance is with the punters. Baillieu needs to outline his agenda, properly, and nominate his policy priorities as soon as he can. And then actually move forward with some boldness to legislate for them.

The fact that the same issue of 'The Age' that featured the critical editorial contained not one story of what the Baillieu government was doing is not a good sign.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Best Photos of the Fortnight - 13 February 2011

Ok, well, I had best photos of the week ready for last week, and I forgot to post them ok? I have a life you know. Ahhhhhhhh, forget it...


Photo: Emillio Moranatti
A protester against the Mubarak Government in Tahrir Sqaure, Cario on February 6 demonstrates how everyone has lightened up a bit since the last 'Tank Guy,' that guy in Tiananmen Sqaure,' came and went. Then, Tank Guys had to sacrifice themselves, now they can bet a of a kip in while protesting. The 21st century is a much better place for the Tank Guys (also illustrated by the fact that the Chinese government is unchanged while Mubarak was gone from power a few days after this photo was taken).


Photo: Mike Stone
Green Bay head coach Mike McCarthy hugs one of his players after the Packers successfully won Super Bowl XLV, defeating the Pittsburgh Stealers 31 - 26 in Arlington, Texas. The game was watched by a record TV audience of 200 billion, more than 30 times the population of the planet at this time, so proving that aliens and time travelers are avid NFL fans as well.


Photo: Tom Dorsey
The continuing cold weather in America produces a never ending stream 'Awww, perdy' photos, as this one of a Sawtooth Oak in Kansas demonstrates.


Photo: NASA - Godard Space Agency
Sweeping down on the Queensland coast like the spirograph from hell, tropical cyclone Yasi reached Category 5 in terms of both wind speed and media coverage. Incredibly, it was all over in a few hours, as the cyclone made landfall around 1am on Wednesday and was far inland and much diminished about 12 hours later. Even more incredibly, the word 'spirograph' is not in my computers dictionary.


Photo: Unknown
As is so often the case with natural disasters in Australia, bananas were among the worst affected by the cyclone, as this image of a flattened plantation in Queensland shows. Expect Banana Split prices to go through the roof, once again.


Photo: Paul Pichugin
And after the rain... and the flooding... and the cyclone... came the fires, sweeping through the bush on the outskirts of Perth, West Australia. If the global warming experts are right and changing temperatures will produce more of these disasters, then people in Australia are seriously fucked.


Photo: Glenn Milne
Five foreign farm workers miraculously escaped injury after their car was crushed by a Mildura bound freight train. Police stated that how the car ended up in front of the train was still a mystery...


Photo: Tim Jean
... but not as much as a mystery as how this car ended up on it's... well, end, after a car crash in heavy snow outside of Salem, New Hampshire.


Photo: Tyrone Siu
This is either; a) Westerners celebrating the start of the Year of the Rabbit on Chinese New Year in Hong Kong or, b)A meeting of the 'Donnie Darko AQppreciation Society.'

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Cyclone 'Terrorise'

Federal Member of Parliament Bob 'The Mad' Katter is someone who knows a bit about cyclones.

I mean, he's survived at least 30 of them by now, and maybe more than that. He's pretty much lost count, since they used to whistle through his part of far north Queensland every five minutes back in the seventies. And he was nearly killed by one when he was six, when 'Cyclone No Name' swept through Townsville - or somewhere - and upset the ferry he was riding back from Magnetic Island on. Not that this bothered Bob much. By age six he'd already survived 14 cyclones, 10 hurricanes, 87 flash floods and the election of the Bjelke-Peterson government, so nothing much phased him:

'I thought it was fun, but my mother was certain we were going to drown.'

So this is clearly a man we can rely on to give us some insight into the Level 5 Cyclone, Cylone 'Yasi,' that crossed Queensland's coast last night.

And Bob was happy to oblige, taking to ABC24 last night to provide some insights.

It was clear from the start that Bob was concerned. A lot of his mates, tough sort of blokes you'd imagine, were looking a bit 'glassy-eyed.' Everyone was worried, even people who had survived Cyclone Larry in 2006. Bob was worried for them too, but less concerned about himself. Having survived cyclones, hurricanes, monsoons, tornadoes, floods, fires, famine, plague, yo-yo's, low GI diets, happy pants, 'talk to the hand,' text speak and the Howard government's refusal to subsidise Queensland's sugar industry, he'd built himself a steel reinforced house and felt he could survive anything.

'We're not going anywhere,' he said.

But he was much less sanguine about what the media had been doing to his constituents. The glassy-eyed ones. Playing up to their fears. 'Terrorising' them, in his words, with this constant talk of a large storm bearing down on Queensland. He seemed to feel that the media were beating up the storm and the dangers it posed, to whip everyone into some kind of storm frenzy and so help their ratings (or something).

'The message that has gone through to people has been one of terror.'

Hmmm, looks pretty terrifying to me.

But Bob would have none of it. Didn't the people in the media understand that in Queensland people were built tough, and that they, and he, had survived earthquakes, tsunamis, the fall of the heavens, the explosion of the sun, the end of the... well, you get the idea. The earnest interviewer on ABC24 seemed puzzled by this argument. Did the member for Kennedy not want the media to highlight the plight of his constituents? And what about the people who had stayed in those areas and who might be relying on organisations like the ABC to keep them up to date with what was happening?

'You're missing my point,' said Katter, who then proceeded to pretty much go, 'Terrorise, terrorise, terrorise, terrorise, terrorise, terrorise, terrorise.'

Clearly he felt pretty strongly about it, whatever it was he was talking about.