Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Seize The Defeat

So, an offensive menu was printed up for a Mal Brough fundraiser. And we are, naturally, in quite a flap about it.

And yes, fair enough. It was gross. It was sexist. It was nasty. It was a shitty joke, and it wasn't even original.

And look, I have no problem with anyone asserting that Mal Brough is a sleazebag. There's the whole James Ashby affair, and oh yeah, that little thing called the NT Intervention. Believe me, I need no convincing that Mal Brough is a first-class dickferret of the very highest purity.

But here's the thing about menugate, or quailgate, or big red boxgate or whatever bullshit it's being called:

Tony Abbott will still win.

It has been blindingly obvious for some time now that the Labor Party is going to go down in flames in September. And yet somehow, the True Believers keep seizing on moments like Brough's menu, claiming that this time,. THIS time, the Coalition's goose is truly cooked. The voters simply won't stand for such appalling misogyny, the True Believers squawk. Women won't be treated like this anymore, they scream. Now that the Liberals have shown their TRUE colours, Julia Gillard's dignity and toughness and determination will win the day and all will be well.

I am sorry, True Believers: all will not be well. And every time you say that THIS will be the straw that breaks the camel's back, a new batch of polls come out and show that the camel is doing a buck-and-wing all over Labor's expiring corpse.

The reason we keep going through this is that the True Believers, justifiably appalled as they are by Tony Abbott's appalling character, cannot conceive of any other explanation for Labor's subterranean popularity than that the electorate simply doesn't UNDERSTAND how bad the Opposition is. Once they do, the story goes, everything will turn around.

Once again, I am sorry to be the one to break it to you: they know. Everyone knows. They've all seen him, they've all heard him, they've all read about him. And they either don't care, or see what you think are character flaws as virtues.

When someone you hate does something you disapprove of, it's seductively easy to assume that this will cause everyone else to hate them too, because you've been hating them all along. It's seductively easy to assume that everyone else thinks the way you do, and the only reason they disagree with you is they don't have all the facts.

Sadly, sometimes people have all the facts and still think you're wrong.

Sadly, sometimes people are bastards, and they like it when other bastards are in charge.

Sadly, Tony Abbott is going to be prime minister, and whatever miracle it might take to prevent that is going to have to be a hell of a lot more volcanic than a shitty sexist joke on a menu of murky antecedents.

And given that fact, why should we keep on making excuses for Julia Gillard's hapless Washington Generals of a government?

The fact is, Gillard ain't all that. Her asylum seeker policy is brutality embraced in the name of expediency. She made a mess of the mining tax in her haste to cave to big business and get the issue off her desk. She is continuing our pal Brough's racist intervention. She gave a nice big smack to single parents the same day she electrified the world by bawling out Abbott in parliament. Her stance on marriage equality enrages pretty much all her staunchest supporters. And her government has done many good and admirable things, she is singularly bad at turning them to her advantage, which, whether it be the media's fault, or Kevin Rudd's, or Abbott's, is nonetheless a fact.

So why should we on the nominally "left" side of politics be as eager as we have been to gloss over all that?

Well obviously it's because, for all her faults, Gillard is better than Abbott. No doubt about that. Though Labor has done some stuff badly, the Coalition will be ten times worse, and we have to fall in behind Gillard to stop Abbott getting in at any cost. Wise words.

But the fact is, Abbott IS going to get in. So what's the point of being "better than Abbott" when you're not going to win anyway?

While Labor had a chance, it made sense to bend our energies to supporting them, to keep the Liberals at bay. But that's failed. The Liberals have stormed the parapet. The shields are down. Labor is dead in the water.

So trying to keep Abbott out is now a lost cause. And any attempt to downplay the failings of Labor in the interests of realpolitik is no longer a brave stab at bringing about the lesser of two evils, but rather an exercise in futility that simply continues the relentless lowering of standards in political discourse.

Consider: if you are backing "crappy" because it's better than "crappier", when "crappy" has no chance of winning, you're not staving off "crappier", you're just ensuring that "crappy" becomes the best we can ever hope for.

So why not stop standing up for "crappy"? Why not starting calling out bad behaviour, bad policy, bad government, no matter which party is engaging in it? The partisan battle is over, let's redirect our energies into demanding better from ALL sides of politics. Let's make it clear that we want to raise standards.

Most of all, let's rediscover our integrity and commit to standing up, in all circumstances, for what we really believe, for what we think is RIGHT, rather than desperately trying to rationalise support for better-than-Abbott.

And hey, we've got preferential voting. We'll be putting better-than-Abbott ahead of Abbott anyway. Don't worry, as long as better-than-Abbott has a lower number next to it on your ballot paper, you've discharged your responsibilities to the temple of low expectations.

But when we're out in the world, fighting and arguing and debating and lobbying and tweeting and blogging and emailing ministers, let's stop shouting our disapproval of "them" while we whisper our disapproval of "us". Let's make clear that right is right, and wrong is wrong, and while political realities obviously have always to be recognised, we're not going to support any politician who flat-out reverses the two.

Right now, my fellow travellers on the Lost Bus Of The Left, we are down. We're outnumbered and outgunned. But even at this moment we can be heard, and we can make clear what we want. Even with our worst enemy in the Lodge, we can articulate how we want this country to be better.

And when the worm turns and we find ourselves up and about again, we can make sure that those who would represent us know that we want them to fight for what's right, not just for what's slightly less wrong.

We're about to get beaten. But if we can stand up, we don't have to be broken as well.

Saturday, June 8, 2013

The last seven days

This is just a quick update for you all on what I've been doing in the last week, so you can really sink your teeth into a whole bunch of me at once.

For example, if you want to read me in The Age on the subject of television, you can.

And if you want to read me in The Guardian on the subject of the Labor Party, you can. 

Or perhaps you'd like to check out my exclusive interview with Australia's Federal Racism Commissioner in the King's Tribune?  (and while you're there, subscribe FFS)

But maybe you'd rather read me on rugby union?

Or rugby league?

Probably you'll get the most satisfaction out of my piece on asbestos and how the government is using it to kill us, on New Matilda. (subscribe there too. Jesus)

Or you could just kick back and relax with my recap of the first episode of the new series of Masterchef.

Not that you need to, because my friend Dan Hall and I have covered all bases re: Masterchef's return in episode one of a brand new web series by GAMers Cam Smith and myself, MASTERCHAT. Check it out below, and stay tuned for next week's ep.

OK that's all for this week. There'll be some more stuff next week. Don't say that I never do anything for you people.

Tuesday, June 4, 2013


Kids today, am I right? You know what I’m talking about. If they’re not getting obese because of advertising, they’re becoming murderers because of video games. Youth is everywhere in crisis, but perhaps nowhere is this truer than in the realm of political activism.

Was there a time – perhaps back in the 1970s when hope for humanity still existed and people were actually engaged with the political realities that ruled their lives – when children knew how to protest properly? When they actually got organised with their strategy, rather than simply “winging it” whenever the prime minister hove into view?

I guess what I’m saying is that when the primary form of political engagement evident in our children is throwing sandwiches at Julia Gillard, it is an indictment on us all and our failure to educate them properly. Not least about the pressing issue of food waste: I mean, who throws away a perfectly good salami sandwich? There are children in the third world who would be grateful for that salami sandwich. You won’t see kids in Somalia throwing sandwiches at their political leaders, for two very good reasons: a) they know the value of a good piece of salami; and b) they know the value of a good rock.

There’s the key, kids: rocks. What’s wrong with throwing a rock? That’s how we used to do it in the old days. When I was a lad my friends and I thought nothing of heading down to Macquarie Street to sling a few hefty pebbles at Nick Greiner, and it was the best fun you could imagine having. And Nick took it in a good spirit too: he understood we were passionate young citizens expressing our democratic right to hurl projectiles at others, and he respected that.

How will Julia Gillard ever respect a kid who throws a sandwich at her? Let’s face it, she now knows that salami kid is no threat. She probably went home and laughed her head off with Tim about it. “Fools!” she cried. “Is this all they send against me? Sandwiches? Our victory is assured!” To a very real extent, that salami-tosser has entrenched even further the oppression of the Gillard junta. Thanks a lot, kid.

I mean, look, I get it. I get why maybe rocks seem a bit “old school”, a bit “square”, a bit “up your nose with a rubber hose”. I understand how the youthful mind ticks. And I also understand that schoolchildren can’t always get access to the sort of weapons that adults might substitute for rocks.

But surely there are ways, within the field of food-throwing, to make a bit more of a statement than just flipping a sandwich. Aren’t we supposed to be living in a multicultural society? Aren’t kids these days supposed to love watching Masterchef and My Kitchen Rules and Man Vs Food and all those exciting culinary programs? Then why would a young lad with a thirst for throwing go with something as dull and mundane as a sandwich, even if it was one made with salami, the prince of meats?

Think how much more impressive the stunt would have been if he had thrown a vegetarian casserole at Gillard: not to mention the potential for burns. Or consider how a well-constructed croquembouche would not only have done serious damage to the prime minister’s self esteem, but would have made the point about the limits of parliamentary democracy in a much subtler and more ultimately effective way. Or imagine someone throwing a suckling pig at Gillard. Just imagine it. Wouldn’t it be hilarious?

Perhaps blame needs to be directed at the parents. What sort of mother or father, upon learning that their child will be in the presence of the prime minister, sends them off with a mere sandwich in the lunch box, instead of some kind of terrine or self-saucing pudding? Parental dereliction, is what it is. No wonder when the prime minister herself is…you know.

Maybe I’m being harsh here: after all the kids have been throwing stuff, and that’s a definite positive. Whether we think a sandwich is the ideal missile or not, we can at least all agree that a prime minister having things thrown at her is better than a prime minister smugly going about her business with no fear whatsoever of catching a splat in the chops. So yeah, let’s applaud these kids for having a go in the old Aussie way, and encourage them to pursue their dreams, while steering them in the right direction. Suggest they head to a Q&A taping and throw a shoe. Go to a football game and throw a frozen chicken. Go to the movies and pelt the screen with Fantales. Then as they grow older, our children will learn to branch out into more innovative and dangerous ways to assault public figures.

It’s so true, as the ancient Athenians knew only too well, that a functioning democracy requires a robust opposition, an independent public service, and a large number of children throwing stuff. If we lose that, we lose a most important check on the unfettered growth of executive power. So it’s time for all of us to do our bit to safeguard our institutions. Next time you see your son or daughter heading out the door with a sandwich, stop them, smile and say, “Wouldn’t you rather take this?”

Whether, in that moment, you choose to offer them a ripe tomato, or a live grenade, or an ill-tempered puppy, is up to you. The important thing is they’ll be on their way to the development of all-new ways to attack prime ministers, and when you do that, you’ll have helped maintain our democratic traditions as much as anyone.

Just remember, throwing a thing at Julia Gillard doesn’t start with the arm: it starts with the mind. Now get out there and chuck, kids!