Monday, April 29, 2013

Abbott Family Values

As we get ever closer to the federal election and still no sign of any substantial policies from the LNP, Abbott's flailing supporters have opened a new front on the campaign: family values. Of course Catholic father Abbott is a more upstanding candidate for Prime Minister than that shameful childless man stealer Gillard! The Abbott family will restore family values to The Lodge and the nation after the godless communism of the Gillard era. Roll on September 14.

Family values are the last refuge of a desperate (to be Prime Minister) man. Abbott is playing this card with everything he's got, his family giving constant media appearances. Abbott hiding behind his daughters as they refute many of the accusations of misogyny and thuggery against him may represent a new low in Australian politics. Seeing the young Abbott women spin what a splendid guy their dad is, many of us say "wait a minute, I'm glad he treats his daughters well but his public record tells a different story about his attitude to women." The right wing howls back "why do lefties hate the Abbott girls? Why do they hate families?" Abbott uses his daughters to talk himself up, forbids scrutiny of the praise. I guess it makes a change for him from his normal method of dealing with tough questions - running away. 

What are the values that Abbott stands for anyway? Abandoning the woman he believed to be pregnant with his child? The indecent assault charges?  Violence?  Tony Abbott, well into his fifties, has never had a real job and comes from a background of privilege, yet is seen to be more in touch with average Australians than his opponent from the western suburbs of Melbourne, simply by virtue of being married and having daughters. Like Fred West, or Osama bin Laden, or any other man whose X chromosome got in first.

Now I'm not defending Gillard's moral character here - not saying she did or didn't start a relationship with  a married man, is  or isn't shacked up unmarried. What I'm saying is it doesn't matter. Of course, I want to know her record on shady deals and broken promises. But what she gets up to in her private life with other consenting adults? I don't care. It doesn't matter. This sudden obsession with family values is a bizarre backwards step for Australia. Even the United States has largely abandoned "family values" as a federal election issue in the last two decades, but here, we're not talking about infrastructure, education, the economy (apart from the ill-informed obsession with debt). Family values, whatever the hell that means, have been made an issue in a country that never much cared about such things before. In 2013, the LNP is trying to win an election by slut shaming the Prime Minister.

But maybe we want a Prime Minister who is a national version of a father in a 1950s sitcom. Gruff, demanding respect, often absent but ever present, knows what's good for us. He'll sit at the national breakfast table, reading his paper, dispensing favours. "Please, can we have the Gonski reforms? We've been real good, including private schools in funding." 
"Humph. I don't care about these silly things. Ask the treasury. But no NDIS until you get that budget back into surplus like you promised!"
"But Dad..."
"No! And that's my final word. I'm off on a taxpayer-funded charity bike ride. You be good or I'll hear about it when I get back."
And if he does come home from the pub on a Friday night in a bad mood,  and shouts and swears and punches the wall, we won't tell anyone. You keep such things within the family and anyway, Abbott tells us bad bosses are like bad fathers, doing more good than harm. We're about to find out if either is true.

Sunday, April 28, 2013

What Am I Doing Here?

I was recently saddened to read that one of my favourite lefty blogs, Turn Left, would no longer be regularly updating. And I was even more saddened when I read the reason why:

"There were times when I would spend 5 hours and write what I thought was the most brilliant couple of thousand words ever put in one place. Few people would visit. And no one clicked like. Next time.
Next time I would try harder, write better, polish more, research better, edit longer, do more rough draughts, less distractions, and I would write what I thought was my greatest piece ever. Few people would visit. And no one clicked like. Next time. I just have to try harder. Until I see how effortless it comes to everyone else, and I realise that no matter how much harder I try, my writing will never be well liked, my writing will never change anything."

My heart broke a little reading that, because I know the feeling exactly. I've been there. I've been blogging now for nearly ten years,  the first seven of which were at The Xander and Nico Pod. The first year or so of posts are a mental rubbish dump, a lot of brief nonsense best suited to a twitter which, at that time, did not exist. By sometime in 2005 though, I started to find my voice. I studied the events of the day, developed my own sardonic analysis of them, and thought some of my posts were pretty good. As I published, I would sometimes think "this will be the post...this is the one that will get people visiting, reading, talking. I'll finally develop a community of regular readers!"

They never came. Oh, occasionally I'd get a flurry of visitors for an individual post - I was thrilled, after years of hoping, to finally get a mention in Crikey's daily blog round up, and was linked to by the Wall Street Journal once - but they didn't comment, they didn't stay, they never came back. My dearest wish was for people to look around, think "this is good...she really can write" and pass on the link. It never happened. I wondered why. Was it the layout? The failure to stick to a consistent topic? Did I, even online, still reek of the stink of unpopularity that has followed me all my life?

I never knew. It made me sad, but I kept going and  going till I couldn't go anymore. I stopped writing the Pod and started doing other things, till eventually I missed blogging in and of itself and started this one here. And I'd still love a list of regular followers that runs into triple figures and lively debates in the comments, but I realise it's never going to happen. The knack of large-scale likeability I just don't have. But I keep blogging just for myself. If others drop by from time to time, well that's just a welcome bonus.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

An Anzac Story

If I'm honest, I've always felt rather unmoved by Anzac Day. As a pacifist, even as a child it just never sat too well with me. And I despair at what Anzac day has become for some in recent years - an opportunity for drunken displays of nationalism (and for some, the message has been lost entirely - witness the cries of "Happy Anzac Day!" that spring up around this time).

Part of my ambivalence may be put down to lack of personal connection. Being Irish, I thought the wars of the British Empire were nothing to do with us. I was rather astonished then to learn this week that one of my ancestors was an Anzac - my great uncle, Daniel Farrell.

How did a boy from Dublin end up fighting for New Zealand? It's a fairly simple story. He travelled from Ireland to New Zealand, part of the great diaspora of Irish people that has been a constant throughout our history. Then he wanted to go home. There was a war being fought in Europe; signing up seemed like a good way to get there. And so he ended up as a Lance Corporal in the New Zealand Rifle Brigade, departing Wellington on 5 February 1916.

He made it so close to Ireland, but not close enough. He was killed in action in the Somme, France on the first day of The Battle of Flers-Courcette. He was 27. He was buried where he fell, and has no known grave. He is remembered at the Caterpillar Valley (New Zealand) Memorial on the battlefield in France.



There's also a tribute to Daniel and those who fought alongside him in the form of a stained glass window at the Auckland War Memorial.




In Memory of 
Lance Serjeant DANIEL FRANCIS FARRELL
25/750, 3rd Bn. 3rd, New Zealand Rifle Brigade
who died age 27
on 15 September 1916
Son of Daniel and Emily Farrell, of 227, Merrion Rd., Dublin, Ireland. Eldest of three brothers who fought in the War, two of whom fell, and the third wounded three times.
Remembered with honour

We are glad to have these memorials. There are no photos. As the memorial says, Daniel was the eldest of three brothers. Another brother died, and a third brother was wounded. Great Uncle Clem was, as they said "never quite the same" after his war time experiences. He never married and had no children. The brothers also had a sister - my great grandmother, Eileen, for whom my mother is named.

We say "lest we forget". I'm not sure if the current lionization of the Anzacs isn't someway worse than forgetting - imbuing the pointless slaughter of these young men with a grandeur that leads future generations to emulate their tragic destiny. But nevertheless, I won't forget Daniel and his brothers, and I'll be telling BabyG their stories too. And when he's a little older, I'll take him to the Anzac Day march, not because it all means something, but in memorial to these young men who went before him, who died far too young.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

A Slightly Different Take On the News of the Day

Sydney Tony Abbott's scandal-plagued Coalition hit a fresh crisis Tuesday, just five months out from the election, as the most powerful of his Liberal State premiers, NSW State Premier Barry O'Farrell, defied Mr Abbott's stance on education reform by signing the state up to Prime Minister Julia Gillard's Gonski reforms, which Mr Abbott has been a vocal critic of. It capped off a disastrous week for the LNP, in which their lead in the polls continues to fall, Mr Abbott was forced into an embarrassing backflip after initially denying, then admitting, that his director of policy Dr Mark Roberts threatened to cut the throat of a Foundation director, and Mr Abbott's judgement was called into question following the widely derided billboard in which he falsely claimed asylum seeker boats were reaching Australia illegally.

Speaking today at a press conference with Prime Minister Gillard, Premier O'Farrell said he was pleased to sign NSW up to the Gonski reform. ''What we've done now is to prioritise education by ensuring the $1.7 billion required under this deal can and will be found", Mr O'Farrell stated as he faced the cameras with Ms Gillard.

Canberra insiders, however, say Ms Gillard's victory is a disaster for Mr Abbott. "This shows, yet again, the disunity within the Coalition. Abbott cannot hope to win in September without seeing big swings in NSW. When the Premier of the state, a party ally, public aligns with your opponent to support a major policy initiative which you have opposed, it points to a lack of control as a leader and a lack of stability within the party."

The public rebuke for Mr Abbott comes in the wake of a string of falling polls for the Coalition, as the scandals of Dr Robert's violent threats and the Coalition's defamatory and broadly dismissed asylum seeker billboard continue to sway people' s voting intentions.

"A two-term, incumbent government will always struggle somewhat in the polls in the lead up to an election, but there is a very real sense amongst voters that the more they see of Abbott, the less they want him as PM. The throat-cutting remarks bring to mind the worst accounts of Mr Abbott's thuggish behaviour in his student days at the University of Sydney, whilst the false asylum seeker billboard raised serious questions about Abbott's judgement - how could someone with a Law degree, a Rhodes scholar, be so wrong on a point of law? It forces people to one of two conclusions - Abbott is either stupid, or he's lying. Neither is a quality voters want in a Prime Minister.

"Then of course there is the Ashby affair. What did Abbott know, and when, about Mal Brough's plan to blackmail Peter Slipper in order to secure preselection? Abbott has done himself no favours by refusing to conduct any serious interviews with journalists to answer these questions."

Opposition Leader Tony Abbott did not respond to our requests for comment.

Wednesday, April 03, 2013

Talking To The Liberals: A Plan To Just Possibly Change The Election*

Five months out from the election, and I think a lot of us on the left have sunk into a mild despair. The tone I'm picking up on twitter and other media is there's no longer any hope the ALP can pull something out of the bag on this one and an Abbott government is a horrid inevitability, like diarrhoea or The Biggest Loser. We've still little idea what Abbott's plans for Australia actually are; both the Coalition and their supporters respond to questions or criticism by criticising the ALP or Greens, rather than disclosing any policies of their own. We're left to imagine what their eventual plan for the country will be, other than running it into the ground and blaming Labor for the whole thing. With a massive majority, and based on Abbott's former statements and attempts to appeal to his now-massive base, it's not hard to imagine an Abbott government enacting any or all of the following:

  • Ending Medicare funding for abortion
  • Selling off Australia Post
  • An end to no-fault divorce
  • Barring asylum seekers who arrive by boat from ever being granted permanent residency
  • Lowering/freezing the minimum wage
  • Reducing the tax free threshold by 70% (actually, that one is for sure, they've said so)
  • Scrapping Austudy
  • Scrapping Abstudy
  • Extending income management to all of the less-favoured welfare recipients (single parents and the unemployed)
  • Extending the NT intervention
  • Reducing university funding
  • Scrapping the HELP system in favour of full-fee paying university places
  • Scrapping up to 25,000 teachers
I don't know if this frightens you, but it certainly scares the hell out of me. Some of it may be a little implausible, but what is to stop an Abbott government with 85, 100, seats in parliament from making the most extreme of their vision for Australia a reality? Nothing, so we have to stop them. Maybe we can't win the election, but we can at least curb some of the worst excesses. We have to try, anyway. That's why I have a crazy idea of my own; that if each of us convince one person not to vote for the LNP at the upcoming federal election, maybe we can make a difference here. 

How do we do this? We have to pick our targets, that's for sure. There's no hope trying to convince the right-wingers who frequent #auspol on Twitter. I do enjoy baiting them myself on occasion when I'm bored - the rubbish they come out with is hilarious - but let's face it, they're never going to change. They are convinced that this election is between a decent Aussie bloke and a sluttish, communist, unmarried atheist who is part of a global conspiracy to delude economists and bribe scientists in an effort to destroy our way of life in order to implement her one-world government. These people don't respond to logic or facts. They will not be swayed. They're not the ones we should be focused on.

But if you leave out the tiny number of extremists who believe Andrew Bolt is the sole source of truth in a biased media, that leaves a huge number of ordinary decent people, hardworking and good, who are still planning to tick 1 next to their local Liberal or Nationals candidate. Why? Well, in the face of the overwhelming media onslaught, led by Rupert Murdoch's News Ltd, who owns 70% of the daily newspapers (and their associated websites) in this country. These people are too smart and decent to believe Gillard is part of some global communist conspiracy, but they still believe much of the relentless media tirade that we are in grave danger from hordes of asylum seekers, that the carbon tax is costing them a fortune, and that - above all - Labor has left us with a massive, crippling debt that our children will be paying off for decades to come. Who wants to penalise their children? No wonder these people are convinced that the LNP has the answers for Australia. These are the people we need to be talking to.

We have to do it the right way. Softly, softly. If you're at a barbecue or party and someone repeats a line from Hadley or Jones about how many budget surpluses are needed to repay Labor debt, don't incredulously exclaim that you can't believe they believe that rubbish. Explain instead the concept of responsible debt - their mortgage for example - manageable debt for a future good. Explain that Australia's debt is like someone with a $100,000 income having a $10,000 loan to start a new business. Explain also, that debt is used to fund programs like the National Disability Insurance Scheme. Their friend from work who struggles without respite and services for their six year old who has cerebral palsy? This will help. Oh, and you know how your internet is always dropping out, the phone gets crackly when it rains, and it's because of that Telstra pillar down the road with the wires hanging out? This will help with that, too. Explain that money stripped from education now cannot be recouped down the track. It's gone forever. Education is a continuous investment we that every child needs and deserves.

It wouldn't be easy. I mean, the softly softly approach isn't really me - I can be a little bit bombastic about the things I care about, as anyone who knows me is well aware. But we won't win people over by shouting at them. We have to convince them we're on their side, and a Labor govt would be good for them, and that the LNP would be a disaster.

It might not be much, but it's something. Good luck everyone, we're going to need it. 


* In writing this post I admit yes, I have read "How to Talk to Your Conservative Brother-in-Law" from Michael Moore's Dude, Where's My Country and acknowledge my debt to it.

Monday, April 01, 2013

Rape Proofing

Yet another case in the media proving just how far we as a society have to go in our attitudes to sexual assault. A judge here in NSW overturned the conviction of a man accused of raping his nine year old stepdaughter after a video was produced showing her being "affectionate" towards him at a wedding twenty years later. Good grief. How does one begin to unpack the extremely complicated feelings a person may have towards a parental figure who violated them? How can anyone assume that unless open hostility is displayed, no abuse could have taken place? Yet again, we've society setting rules on how victims of sexual assault should act, if they're legitimate; not too slutty, or butch, or friendly, or uptight, or drunk, or in this case patting the arm of a parental figure two decades on.

At least we're talking about rape lately, which is a good thing, if it brings truth to light. In the aftermath of the Stubenville verdict and the death of Jill Meagher, I've been thinking a lot about rape prevention. How does one avoid it? How can we prevent it?
How can I prevent my son from ever raping anyone?

I was outraged by the fawningly sympathetic coverage of the two young men convicted of sexually assaulting an unconscious young woman at a party in Ohio. Those poor boys, their promising futures ruined, ran the media line - maybe they should have thought of that, you know, before they raped her. But I did get to wondering about the boys' parents. How were they feeling? Were they devastated, soul-searching as to where it all went wrong? Or were they angry at the slutty drunk girl who'd ruined their boys' lives?

Is the there an answer in there to how we can teach our sons it is not okay to rape people?

For in blaming the victim - for all the "but she was..." and "what do you expect..." we're setting up circumstances where rape is okay. Things could get complicated. A teenage girl passes out drunk at a party. "What did she expect?" To be raped? If it's okay to rape a woman you know at party, what about a woman you don't know passed out drunk at a bus stop? Passed out in a coma? Just where do we draw the line?

If we're going to start with any victim blaming - at all - we need to ask these questions. If on the other hand we know victim blaming is not okay,  then we need to stop using terms that lead down the slippery slope to dividing women's behaviour into "safe" and "asking for  it". I'll try to always use appropriate language around BabyG (I have my opinions on booty shorts, but I'll keep them to myself; I still think they look ridiculous, but confer no judgement upon the wearer). I'll teach him that only he is responsible for his behaviour. That no girl is "good" or "bad". That if he sees a friend passed out at a party he should call her parents, or a taxi, as appropriate; that no amount of peer pressure on him can compare with ruining someone else's life. These are all the things I can do, and I still don't know if it will be enough. I don't know what culture he'll find himself in as a young man. Maybe in 15 year's time we'll have protective behaviour for young men taught at school. Maybe we'll have regressed in our views. I wait and worry. And I ask myself, what would I do if he was actually accused of sexual assault - withdraw in disgust, tell him we love him but hate what he did, or would parental instinct force us into denial and victim blaming of our own? I hope not. I really hope not.