Sewerage and Traffic – Veiled Racism Continuing against Muslims in Penrith

Sewerage, traffic, roads.  These are the constant reasons residents use in any dispute regarding the building of any kind of infrastructure related to the Islamic community. Whether it’s Camden in 2008 or Penrith in 2014, that’s what is used.  This is why the story of the veiled racism of sewerage and traffic concerns needs to be told wherever it occurs.

So it came to pass that last night, Monday, November 24, a meeting was conducted by Penrith Council to decide whether to pass a Development Application (DA) for a community centre for the Muhammedi Association. (Disclosure here – I was present at the meeting as a member of the Greens as well as a supporter of the association’s desire to have the community centre built).  It was a fairly revealing meeting, which has been catalogued in my Storify of the tweets I made at the meeting.

The DA was placed ostensibly for a Community Centre for social gatherings, birthdays, that kind of thing.  It is also proposed to be somewhere that could be used for prayer when the situation requires it. It is for this reason that the DA needed to deem “place of worship”. This is a key phrase.  As was pointed out continuously by the association at the council meeting, it is proposed to be a community centre where food is served – which means it cannot be a Mosque.   The other point to make at this point is that the Muhammadi Association is registered in Granville, but its members live across greater western Sydney, in places like Campbelltown, Blacktown and Penrith.

On the other side of the argument was Penrith Councillor and Blue Mountains resident, Marcus Cornish.  Cornish ran, like all other Penrith Liberals, in the 2012 Council election as an “Independent”, though in Cornish’s case, he ran as a “Conservative” and featured “No Mosques for Penrith” as a core part of his campaign. He’s been a fairly controversial character in and around Penrith politics (for one, he’s close to former Liberal member and now independent Jackie Kelly). For this meeting, Cornish had whipped up community outrage about the building of what he continually called a Mosque.

Before the meeting even started, there was a fair amount of tension and anger outside the council, with a group of locals standing with a variety of signs opposing Mosques, including my personal favourite – “Bikini’s or Burqas – You Choose”.

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One of these people was making comments such as “I don’t hate Muslims, I hate Islam”. There was also a man walking around with a flagcape continually declaring that he wasn’t a racist.  There was also a group of local anarchists who didn’t mind a shout either, and between these groups, there were a couple of minor scuffles that were easily quelled by the considerable number of police present.

[It was good that there was a decent police presence this time around. In a previous extraordinary council meeting two weeks earlier, supporters of the DA had to be escorted to their cars by the smaller number of police present, dodging kicks being thrown by the opponents.]

The police were helpful later, as it was decided that each side’s leader would make sure 5 members of each “side” were let in at a time. This didn’t stop some of the opponents of the DA trying to sneak in as supporters of the DA – though it was fairly obvious who the opponents were, based on cultural background and age – most opponents were over the age of 60.

Then it came time for the meeting. The supporters of the DA represented three different views, so we first heard about how the hall was to be used from Dr. Atiya Zaidi.  Blue Mountains resident Cornish’s first question to her was where she lived.  When she answered Campbelltown, this was replied with anger and hollering from the opponents.   It seemed that, according to Cornish’s logic, that no-one from outside Penrith should be allowed to go to things built in Penrith.

The second speaker, Ian Rufus, town planner spoke of how the building passed all of council’s checks and regulations in regards traffic, sewerage and the like. This didn’t stop the likes of Cornish ask Rufus how many from the Penrith LGA would be using the facility. It also didn’t stop independent Councillor Kevin Crameri ask about sewerage. He used the knowledge of his own sewerage arrangements on his property as a way to question the ability of the sewerage system to cope with the demands of the community centre.   Rufus answered that the sewerage system had been taken into account, as council officers repeated later in the meeting.

Indeed, Councillor Crameri continually asked about sewerage throughout the night and stated that was why he would vote against the proposal, leading to this tweet of mine:

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The last supporter to speak was Abbas Alvi, who has been one of the chief proponents of the centre. He spoke of being made to feel welcome in the community and how the association just wanted to build somewhere for people to come.  He spoke of emotion and passion for the country into which he migrated from India in 1989. When this emotion was clear in his voice, the hollering and hoots from the opponents of the centre were loud and particularly offensive.

Alvi ended his speech with an open invitation for anyone in the community to visit the new centre when it opened – it wasn’t going to be just for Muslims.  This last comment seemed to confuse Cnr. Crameri, who later asked just how many people would be driving to this place, now that “Hindus and whatever could go”.  I was left wondering whether the fact that Alvi was an Indian Muslim confused Crameri.

Cornish’s question was how many people who would go to this centre would be from Granville and “how many of your supporters here tonight are from Granville”.  Variations on a theme. What wasn’t a variation was the threatening finger pointed by Cornish at Alvi as he went back to the audience.

The opponents of the DA were varied – May Spencer, of Malaysian Chinese heritage, spoke of how this centre was the foundation of a “super Mosque” to be built in the area. She also talked of rapes, murders in relation to Lakemba and Bankstown and the coming of Sharia Law to Penrith.  She related her own experience of Malaysia to talk of Islamic suppression.  Rick Putra, former One Nation candidate for the seat of Mulgoa opposed any building of “mosques” (even though this wasn’t a Mosque) and questioned traffic, sewerage and the like.  Local resident Peter Maltese opposed the fact that more cars would be driving past his property. He also cited that the weren’t many Muslims in the community and how they shouldn’t be allowed to have another community centre in his town. As he said at the end:

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The meeting then went to the motion at hand. It was at this point Cornish went into full righteous outrage, claiming that the Mayor, fellow Liberal (but moderate) Ross Fowler, was impinging his right to speak and democracy whenever Fowler called a point of order or held particular votes. Each time Cornish would accuse Fowler of whatever, the crowd was whipped into loud cries and threats thrown Fowler’s way, such “you’re finished” and the like.

The highlight of this exchange was when Cornish stood, hands on hips, staring at Fowler, daring him to act in a way that would make the crowd go into hysterics. Fowler, a mild mannered man generally, stood up and mirrored the gesture in one of the strangest Dirty Harry moments seen in a Penrith Council meeting.

Cornish, when “allowed to speak”, went onto discussions of Mosques and Muslims not assimilating – to this end, he spoke of the Muslim girlfriend of his son, who, aside from hopefully marrying into the family one day, “lives like us” and said that such people should live “the way we want”. His other point was that such a centre would be the start of a massive influx of residents from Lakemba and Granville, which was “what not the local people want”. This was cheered loudly. It was at this point I was heard to shout “you live in the Blue Mountains, Cornish!”

The other opponents on council to speak against the DA was the former Mayor, Liberal Mark Davies (and also husband of the Member for Mulgoa, Tanya Davies), who stated that the community concerns needed to be considered, “whether this is a mosque, community hall, prayer hall, whatever”. Davies appeared to not have listened to every single person who stated clearly that it wasn’t a mosque. Another opponent was the councillor voted as an Australia First member, Maurice Girotto, who left the party some time ago. (As an aside, before the meeting, the leader of Australia First, Jim Saleam, could be seen outside, barking weird accusations about the Greens through a tiny green megaphone). Girotto opposed the DA on the basis of “community concern” and “lack of community consultation” as well, even though the residents near the proposed DA were sent 4 letters about the application. Crameri opposed it because of sewerage.

Another tactic attempted by the opponents was the delay the DA again until they got “the right information” as stated by Crameri (about sewerage in his case).  This was loudly acclaimed and supported by opponents in the crowd, especially when it was suggested that the whole Penrith LGA be consulted about the DA.  Cornish was suggesting a several month delay well past Christmas “while we still have Christmas” (a comment which got his supporters laughing). This delaying tactic was squashed by people like Labor’s John Thain, who said that the entire community has never been consulted about a DA and Labor’s Greg Davies, who cited the possibility that council could spend another $300,000 commissioning reports and the centre would still pass, because as council’s officers repeatedly stated, there was nothing wrong with the DA on planning grounds.

In the end, it was supported by the majority of council.  Of the supporters, most of them were fairly quiet throughout.  Councillor Michelle Tormey of the Greens was the most active supporter, asking questions of each of the speakers  – even gaining an admission from Putra that, if there was another review, he would support the DA “depending on compromises”.  When Tormey stated why she would be supporting the motion, she stated that bigotry wasn’t welcome in Penrith.  As can be expected, she wasn’t popular amongst the opponents, who interjected loudly throughout, including for the 30 year old councillor to “go back to school”.

The vote went as follows:

Support

Tormey (Greens)

Davies, Car, Thain, McKeon, Greg Davies (ALP)

Hitchen, Bratusa, Fowler (Liberal)

Oppose

Cornish, Mark Davies (Liberal)

Crameri, Girotto (Independent)

Absent

Greenow, Aitken

And with that, the supporters of the DA cheered. I shook a lot of hands of the members of the community who were there, probably to the disgust of the assembled Anglo Celtic opposition.  Some probably see me as some kind of traitor.  But that’s a label I can wear quite happily when applied by such people.

Most of all, however, the main lesson learnt – again – was that if such DAs are watertight in terms of the physical structure and amenity, councils such as Penrith will support them. What was also clear is that there’s a wide schism between the two main factions of the Penrith Liberals – the so called “Group” and “Taliban” (ironic that Cornish is seen as a member of this faction).

Into this pea soup of rancour and scorn will step the new Independent candidate for the seat of Penrith, Jackie Kelly, who is no fan of the Mayor and his faction. So that will be interesting.  Meanwhile, the Muhammadi Association can now build their community centre. And I, along with the rational members of the Nepean region, will be happily attending the grand opening.

 

Applying the Whip – The Oz Giving Tips to their Horse

It seems that at least one media outlet is interested in Newspoll results 2 years out from an election – the poor, largely unread Australian.  It’s a curious organ of record, the Oz – there’s fine journalists working for them like Peter Lalor, Patricia Karvelas and Rick Morton and their sport section generally is good. Yet they also employ as their columnists a gaggle of former Liberal government staffers, muttering extremists and spear carriers for causes that either serve specific corporate interests (such as miners) or lost their relevance some time ago. The continuing anti – ABC and anti “Leftist” campaigning from Chris Kenny and Gerard Henderson’s strange gnomic utterances are the stuff of Twitter guffaws but hold little interest for punters in the community at large.

But there is another purpose of the Oz – to help ride the Abbott Government horse to the finish line of the next Federal election.  The paper’s editorial team have seen it as their job to help boost the Abbott Government in an intellectual way, as opposed to the News Corp metropolitan dailies, which is to support the Government with colourful visuals and colourful language.  Today, however, the Oz has shown in its editorial that it is more than capable of getting out the whip.   And this is some whip.

The Abbott government is doomed without narrative

THE AUSTRALIAN NOVEMBER 22, 2014 12:00AM

THE past fortnight should have been a personal triumph for Tony Abbott and a high-water mark for his government. The Prime Minister hosted a terrific G20 event in Brisbane, with the world’s economic powerhouses committing to boost output growth by an extra 2.1 per cent over the next four years. This historic gathering brought to our shores the globe’s supreme economic and political players, some of whom came bearing gifts. The signing of a free-trade agreement with China on Monday was a watershed moment, for both nations. Amid all the glitz and clamour, one thing is clear: Australia is seen by the major powers as a country that counts. Yet, instead of using this fresh success to spruik a winning reform agenda, or to educate the public, Mr Abbott and Joe Hockey have skulked off the stage.

Doomed!  And it apparently needs a narrative. Everything needs a narrative these days. Even if it’s filled with lies, half truths and spin I imagine.  The Oz is trying to tell the story that Australia Matters because it hosted the G20 and has signed free trade agreements and is urging the Government to do the same. Maybe the Oz doesn’t understand that talk of trade isn’t all that exciting for a lot of people, until such time as they see tangible outcomes of such a deal.

Or maybe they need to realise that the Government has, for a long time now, have had a narrative, but have crafted the wrong narrative – that Labor and “The Left” ran down this country for too long and that Abbott is fixing it.  It’s a negative, short term narrative that wears out quickly and isn’t compatible with the truth, that Australia has been a booming, successful economy for a long time now, no matter who is in Government.  Thing is – it’s the same narrative that the Oz has run for the entirely of the Abbott Government, so it’s a touch hypocritical for them to say that the Government has been running without narrative.

Also inferred in this is that the Australian public is too stupid to understand the G20 without being “educated” by the Government.  The job of informing people about events – not educate – is the media’s, usually. But when you have circulation numbers as low as the Oz, then they can’t get the opportunity to educate many.  But it gives that education thing a go.

The nation has not witnessed such a prestigious cavalcade since the Asia-Pacific Economic Co-operation forum in Sydney in 2007. Its potent mix of star power, symbolism and relevance is political gold. Although foreign policy, with its attendant grandiosity and bewildering acronyms, is not a vote winner in the Australian context, the Abbott government is inexplicably missing a precious opportunity to shine. China’s President Xi Jinping, India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi and British Prime Minister David Cameron addressed parliament; they brought more than bonhomie. As well, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Francois Hollande made state visits after the G20 extravaganza.

“Not a vote winner in the Australian context”. That line pretty much negates the point attempting to be made by the rest of it. Politicians from overseas visiting us and holding koalas does not reflect the success or failure of a Government to deliver on policy and services. It’s tourists holding koalas and appearing in selfies.  It reflects that Australia has stuff to sell and buy and that other nations are grateful for the resources we are able to sell. It’s a touch churlish to suggest that the Government has failed because it can’t make maximum political mileage from the post G20 glow.  But then the Oz focuses on one aspect of the G20 that did get out into the community.

Plus, I never thought I’d see the phrase “precious moment to shine” in the Australian.

Barack Obama stayed long enough to insult his host on climate change — against the advice of US diplomats, as Greg Sheridan reports today — and to show off his unmatched oratorical flair; the “chosen one’s” strength, however, is a gateway to his signature weakness. Deeds rarely match the US President’s words. But there is a serious point to this mastery of imagery and gesture politics. No successful modern leader can be aloof from the requirements of communications and storytelling. It’s a simple lesson that Mr Abbott has failed to grasp: talking points and three-word slogans can never suffice. “Australia is open for business” does not constitute a narrative or provide inspiration. “Team Australia” has hokey appeal, but it, too, does not work as an explanation for complex national security issues.

Using the phrase “Insult the host” is essentially telling the POTUS that he has no right to tell anyone that their policy is out of step with world opinion and action.  It shouldn’t matter what diplomats told Obama – it does matter that Obama believes that it is the responsibility for world leaders to tell the Abbott Government that their ideological – as opposed to evidence based – approach to climate change action is dangerous and reckless.  The was also more than a good chance that Obama used his speech to address the climate change sceptics in his own Congress and Senate.  Obama was showing political courage and honesty of the type that the Oz is advocating in this editorial, yet they criticise it because they share the extremist climate change denialism being shown by the Government.  That the editorial also gives a backhander to Obama’s legacy as President is hardly a surprise in the light of the activities of the Oz’s cousins over there in Fox Newsland.

What is revealing, however, is the suggestion that the Three Word Slogan may be dead.  That the slogans that worked for Abbott as an opposition leader aren’t that of a Government. 15 months in and they finally realise this.  Of course things like “Team Australia” are ridiculous and provides nothing in terms of a positive future direction for Australia.  It’s also debatable whether the phrase has any appeal – we don’t still live in the 50s as a nation, when such a phrase may have been successful. Then again, it’s not a phrase that one could imagine Bob Menzies using, probably because he would have thought of it as something from a group of yahoos and not an adult Government.

He would have a point there.

Back to the Oz, though and they get to their core concern.

Limply, the Prime Minister is losing the battle to define core issues and to explain to voters what he is doing and why. At stake is his political credibility, no less. Mr Abbott risks becoming a “oncer” if he allows his opponents to constantly control the agenda. Witness how the Coalition mishandled ABC funding cuts; Labor and its friends have defined it as a “broken promise”, rather than a fiscal imperative. The 24-hour news cycle is as much a trap as it is an opportunity. Mr Abbott’s approach to messaging is a shambles of conception, strategy and execution. This deficiency can no longer be masked or ignored.

The Oz are concerned about Abbott running a one term government and this is why they are applying the whip so vigorously with words like “shambles”. They are concerned that the agenda and the “24 hour news cycle” is undermining the Government – because they realise that even they can’t help the Government control that message.   The most glaring absurdity in this paragraph is the one that attempts to recast the Abbott “no cuts to the ABC” broken promise as a “fiscal imperative”. This from a media outlet that continuously wrote about Gillard’s carbon tax “broken promise”.  I don’t remember the Oz trying to spin that as an “environmental imperative”.   It’s quite a thing to see the Oz and the Government trying to squirm out of the trap made for it by a hasty, pre election promise considering the mileage they both made from Gillard’s hasty phrase.  But, talking of media management…

Too often the Abbott government maddeningly vacates the media space. Bill Shorten, broadcaster Alan Jones and populist stunt man Clive Palmer too often set the national agenda. As a former journalist, a fine writer and a cutthroat oppositionist, Mr Abbott should be aware of the power of words and images. Yet his linguistic prowess has been diminished. Other than in some formal set pieces, he has lost his authoritative voice. Of course, it is no use blaming ill-equipped, tyro advisers. The Prime Minister’s Office is too dominated by Peta Credlin, his chief of staff, including on media strategy.

There’s plenty of curious elements in this paragraph, not the least of which is the expression “maddeningly”. I can picture people at the Oz screaming with frustration at the way Their Man is not grasping the media spotlight. Bill Shorten too often sets the national agenda? To say that (which is woefully inaccurate, he’s not) is to conveniently forget Abbott’s success as opposition leader to get on camera to parrot his three word phrases.   We know of the Oz’s obsession with loathing Palmer and his hokey, anti-politics schtick, but what is interesting is the criticism of Alan Jones.  That wasn’t something we saw in previous campaigns to bring the Liberals back into power.  Jones was a fellow traveller, a helper. Now, however, he isn’t being cast that way. That could be because Jones is, in what could be these fading days of his career, focusing on CSG mining – something the Oz has publicly supported for some time, whilst Jones is an active critic.  It could also be because an old school reactionary like Jones is harder to harness to the cause, unlike self crafted new style reactionary banner holders like Andrew Bolt and Paul Murray.

Another interesting part of this paragraph is the criticism of Peta Credlin.  She has been the subject a lot of words and a sustained personal attack from some Labor supporting megaphones who are often fond of attacks based on looks and gender. However, now it’s a criticism of her power coming from the Oz, looking for a scapegoat rather than focusing on Abbott’s deficiencies.   The core contention of this paragraph, the loss of  Abbott’s “authoritative voice” is a comment that shows a tone deaf understanding of Abbott and his political persona. He may have been able to craft ideas in things like Battlelines, but authoritative voice was never Abbott’s skill.  It hasn’t “diminished”.  He was the hectorer from the fence, the Yabba Gascoigne of Australian politics.  The mistake was to keep him as the leader because he’s not capable of an authoritative voice. Across Australia right now, there’s any number of people who can now easily crack open an Abbott impersonation because he’s the easiest target since Bob Hawke and Joh Bjelke Petersen.  Unlike Bob, however, it’s not done with the affection that accompanied such imitations. It’s more like the Joh impersonations, which underlined what a clueless buffoon is at the top. If you ever want to chill people, just dash off an Abbott laugh.

But to continue with the spray…

To be sure, a hostile, distracted, Twitter-obsessed media is a hindrance; superior language, aimed directly at voters, could overcome this. That Mr Abbott charmed his international guests in private with his knowledge and steadfastness is no consolation. As various leaders admonished Russian President Vladimir Putin for his belligerence in the Ukraine and his indifference to the outrage over the MH17 slaughter, Mr Abbott seemed to have inspired their words. But as seasoned observers have noted, the Prime Minister shrinks in public, his natural exuberance is contained, his confidence hidden from view. Is this the man who destroyed Kevin Rudd and Julia Gillard? Where is the intelligent Rhodes scholar who has an easy rapport with Australians in any setting?

It’s a well worn phrase, “Twitter obsessed” to explain why The Media Is To Blame for why Abbott isn’t popular.  I wonder at this point if the editorial writer is familiar with the work of Sharri Markson, who uses Twitter in an interesting way, stirring up comment and responses. Or maybe the work of the journalists I mentioned in the introduction, who use Twitter in an informed, intelligent way. Maybe not. The Oz’s editorials are happy to cast Twitter in whatever way fits their attempt to appeal to baby boomer loathing of the younger generations (which other generation actually buys the Oz?)

The other part of this paragraph, suggesting that Abbott is “shrinking” in public is again to misunderstand his persona. Abbott never had an easy rapport with Australians – he was the leader of cranky people, people who believed that there was a Problem that needed to be Fixed.  Now he’s PM, however, it turns out that there was no actual problem – the economy was fine the way it was. The problem, however, is now Abbott and his Government, which lurches from one calamity to another.  Such calamities, however, seem to not be at fault in this editorial. It’s the Media. And Abbott.  And so it continues…

This communications malady is endemic. The Coalition’s failing media strategy is damaging its electoral standing and making it difficult to bed down policy responses to problems it was elected to address. The economy is where this ineptitude is most marked; the selling of the Abbott government’s fiscal repair job has been a debacle. Voters are left with the impression that Mr Hockey’s May budget was a litany of broken promises, designed to inflict severe pain on low-income workers and the poor, and that the deficit crisis was not as acute as the Coalition presented it. This unmitigated disaster will retard our progress and ability to effect fiscal consolidation over the medium term.

The Oz has inadvertently made it clear what exactly is the problem with the May budget. It was all those things.  That is the truth of it.  However, that isn’t the point that is being made here, that it’s the media strategy that is to blame.

No, Oz.  The budget was always a pile of straw.  There’s no Rumplestiltskin around to spin it into gold.

In an act of immense self-harm, the Abbott government brought on the faux fairness debate over reform measures in the May budget via its ill-judged levy on top-bracket taxpayers. A false narrative developed that pitted tax rises on high-income earners against the loss of welfare benefits by others. Never mind that one group pays most of the nation’s tax or that governments have built an edifice of unsustainable handouts for all, fashioned out of temporary boom time revenues. Mr Hockey did not prepare the ground for what, truth be told, was a modest exercise in spending restraint. In opposition, the Coalition had over-egged the crisis alarmism. In truth, the debt overhang is a medium-term issue, yet one that every credible economist argues must be addressed if the nation is to successfully manage a future economic shock and not saddle future taxpayers with interest payments. The Coalition is now heading into its midyear economic and fiscal outlook statement with the huge challenge of not only bedding down its budget, but trying to close the fiscal gap amid tumbling revenue. Mr Abbott and Mr Hockey appear tongue-tied. They have no choice but to reboot their sales job.

We see here the way the Oz would like to spin the budget, “modest exercise” and “one group pay most of the nation’s tax”, repeating the bizarre contention that rich people pay the most tax and shouldn’t be sharing the burden of punitive fiscal requirements.  The lack of self awareness in this paragraph is acute, as it demonstrates exactly why it’s difficult for any government to sell budgets where there’s cuts applied in the wrong areas.  It depends on the agenda you wish to use as the defining note of your Government. Abbott is the wrecking ball of Labor’s legacy, not the leading force for neoliberal economic reform that is desired by likes of the editorial team at the Oz.  But hey, that isn’t the problem. It’s the MEDIA. The sales job needs “rebooting”. The time for rebooting went some time ago.  They need to replace the entire operating system.

Talking of operating systems, the editorial then went into comparing various Government operating systems, like comparing the Abbott OS with Paul 83, 86, 89 and 93, Howard 56 and iHawkie.

Mr Abbott is unable to capitalise on the past fortnight of global prestige and successful trade diplomacy. Readers can only imagine how Paul Keating would have conceptualised the Brisbane gathering and the economic might that accompanied it. The former prime minister would have been clever, shameless and over-the-top. He would never have succumbed to the low-rent fearmongering of radio barker Jones on the FTA or Chinese investment. Mr Keating would have had the wit to link the recent trade deals with China, Japan and South Korea — and the possibility of closer ties to emerging India — to a grand narrative about our future in the region, investment, rising living standards, jobs, aspiration and the need to keep opening our eyes, hearts and reform ambitions in the face of Asia’s economic transformation.

We know that the Oz’s modus operandi is to be always critical of the policy settings of Labor Governments, and therefore delivers the backhander of “shameless and over the top” to Keating. But their policy does allow praise of media strategy of Keating and his use of wit and big picture thinking. (It also gives another smack to Jones, which indicates once and for all what is thought of Jones at Reactionary Central)  What this suggestion does with such disingenuous style is ignore that Keating actually believed what he said and did build genuine connections with Asia – it wasn’t just a “narrative”, it was his reality.

The next paragraph continues the same theme of comparing Abbott to the past.

It is true that the conservative side of politics does not trumpet its successes in the manner of the Left. Certainly, Mr Abbott was right to recognise that the electorate had lost patience with the extravagant verbiage of the Rudd-Gillard era. But there is a sweet spot between overblown rhetoric and the dot-point banalities pumped out by the PMO and the Coalition’s advisers. John Howard proved that he not only had convictions and a framework for action, he also knew how to speak directly to voters; he used the tools and media outlets that suited his purpose. Mr Howard was not universally loved, but he built a solid relationship with the Australian people because he argued his case from first principles. His words and his political persona were one and the same; no one thought he was taking his cues from a focus group or party official. The same thing was true for Bob Hawke, another authentic voice in our politics who was able to speak past his enemies and directly to voters.

The first line of this is staggering in its mendacity. Not true at all that Conservatives don’t trumpet their successes like “The Left”.  Abbott’s Government, with assistance from media outlets like the Daily Tele, have trumpeted their small successes with aggression and repetition. I can’t recall just how many times we have heard about the plans for Westconnex and Badgery’s Creek airport, for example.  The point, however, is not that line, it’s that the Abbott dot point media strategy is at odds with what we saw during the Howard era.  And they are spot on with this analysis. The message is flat, lacking in finesse and principles when compared to Howard and Hawke.

This point, however, is made presuming that there are principles and a framework for action at the heart of the Abbott Government.  There hasn’t been a great amount of evidence, however, is that the Government have either. They seem to be borrowing half understood principles from the Howard era or from vested business interests and the framework for action is half baked as a result.  Hence we saw the ABC cuts and then Christopher Pyne setting up a petition to save Adelaide from those cuts (though we now see Chris Kenny attempting to spin this as a “regionalising” of the ABC); we saw Pyne doing various double backflips on schools funding and so on.   If the substance is missing, the message is a bit harder to make.

And then there’s the conclusion.

While Mr Abbott is just as intelligent as his predecessors, he is languishing and looks flaky. He lacks the appeal of “comfortable and relaxed” Mr Howard or the everyman charisma of “Hawkie”, whose narrative of consensus united the nation. The Prime Minister can prevail, but he needs to show courage and leadership. One suggestion for capitalising on the G20 goodwill comes from former treasurer Peter Costello. He argued that going for growth, in line with the Brisbane Action Plan, does not depend on Mr Obama, Mr Putin or faceless officials; it’s up to the leaders of countries, such as our own, to repair their budgets and deregulate industries. “A government serious about reform might use such statements to educate and persuade its own constituency,” Mr Costello argued. “But the business of economic reform is hard, specific and local.” Is Mr Abbott hard enough? Without a clear narrative, the task will be beyond him; his communications strategy is in disarray. The Coalition needs skilful media personnel and new roles for its best ministerial performers; it must communicate like a team that knows what it is doing. Short-term tactical wins may offer a mood hit in the executive wing, but they are not the key to sustained governing. Mr Abbott must regroup, trust himself and speak with purpose. Right now, his insipid default setting is losing the people.

This is where the whip is being applied at the end to get the Government home in time for 2016. He needs to grasp a “narrative”. Tell a “yarn”.  It needs a cleanout of a bunch of scapegoats from the Prime Ministers’ Office and media spinners. Not a change in Abbott, his Government, their policy settings, their plan of action. Just in the way it delivers the message.  It doesn’t allow the possibility that the horse may be dead or in the process of dying.

The interesting nature of this editorial is not held in the way the Oz does not understand the failures at the heart of the Abbott Government – we know that they would never admit to that.  It is in the intent of the editorial, to direct the Government in terms of the way it employs people and delivers messages to the Australian people.  It’s political interventionism on a forceful and aggressive scale.  It further supports the contention of many that the Oz isn’t a viable newspaper, more a way for business interests to deliver its messages to Government and attempt to influence media cycles.  This whipping of the horse is the clearest evidence yet.

It’s also an indication that Alan Jones is no longer a member of the Reactionary Cool Kids club.

*Thank Dr. Peter Phelps, the NSW Liberal MLC, for suggesting the horse whipping metaphor.

Blowhards, Bellyaching and Mug Lairs – A Reflection on My Father, Ideas and Social Media

It’s been 17 years today since my father passed on and it’s during such times I pull out the Irish whiskey and start reflecting on his life and his impact on me and the way I think and live my life.  It’s been a particularly reflective week because my professional life has taken a fairly dramatic and interesting upswing recently – my interpersonal skills have been called upon a great deal these past few weeks in ways I barely felt possible.  Why I barely felt possible was because interpersonal skills was Dad’s thing.  This was a man who walked up and down the streets of our suburb talking to anyone and everyone – always talking at their level, genuinely interested in what they did, no matter what it was that they did.

I, however, have always wondered if I was shy, withdrawn, timid or just a snob not wanting to talk to different ranges of people. Perhaps why I spend far too much time on Twitter, not facing the awkwardness of meeting random people face to face.  Then again, I also wonder if I’m being too harsh on myself. Dad grew up in a softer, gentler age when people did go from door to door and chat with people. This is not such a friendly, open age in which we live.  I do like meeting all sorts of people when given the right circumstances and context.

That desire to meet a range of people could also relate to Twitter though, as it does give a chance to meet with a whole range of people and chat with them about whatever they get up to, whatever they think, feel, dream and the like.  So perhaps I am more like my father than I once believed. That I have taken my desire to know more about people to the net rather than to my suburb and community.

Perhaps.

It is with that eye that I think of what Dad would have thought of Twitter.  That thought doesn’t take very much time. He would have hated it. It features a range of people he never liked or had much time for.  He certainly would have thought I was wasting my time with it. And, problem is, I have done all of the things he wouldn’t have liked – such as:

Blowhards – People who talk a lot about what great things they are going to do, what they could do, what little things they have done but in reality achieve little with their lives and waste their time talking themselves up.  There’s a lot of them on Twitter.

Bellyaching – I remember vividly the last sentiment Dad ever gave to me. I was going through a really tough time at work – I was being picked on by a colleague – and I said it all while he was lying there, in a hospital, suffering through the last vestiges of pancreatic cancer.  He couldn’t say very much, but he did say this – “Stop bellyaching about it. Just get on with it”.   I still bellyache far too much – rant away. But then when the dark clouds clear, I have a look at Twitter and see a whole lot of bellyaching about the smallest, most ridiculous stuff that really doesn’t matter to the way the world works for most people.  So much bellyaching, so much time wasted.

Mug Lairs – People who give themselves many, many tickets and carry on conversations over Twitter that reveals to all and sundry their pretentiousness and lack of substance.  Lairs because they shine a light from their base to their apex and mugs because the reality is, that’s all they are, mugs.  We can see them, all conducting meaningless conversations on Twitter during the day about nonsense in their own smug, exclusionary language while most people are getting on with their day and work.

There’s other people on Twitter and in the wider media that would have come under Dad’s blank stare.

The category of mug lair can be continued to those people with little life experience or training commenting on things of which they know little.  The people who believe that because they have the power to write about things, do – even if what they write adds little to nothing to our collective understanding of things.  I remember Dad refusing to enter into loud, arrogant, half baked conversations being during Christmas about things of which he had detailed knowledge – his attitude was “they believe they know everything, it’s better to keep them that way”. If he was bothered, he would be appalled at the kind of things in newspapers that people get paid to write as well as the kinds of people who write for them.  Truth is, he wouldn’t read them.

I can see his point.

But for me, I have had the added bonus of seeing the growth of relationships built over endless pointless Twitter conversations develop into the paid presence of these “m8s” on the comment pages of news websites.  The development of these clubs of undertrained, inexperienced opinion piece churners trying to build their personal profiles on the back of their Twitter personas rather than on the back of deep, profound life experience or training in the fields about which they are writing.  These same people only speaking on Twitter to their own small cliques of the chosen and being rude to those considered unworthy.  I’m guessing that right now, there’s a few readers of this post that could think of a few who would fit this description.

I’m not going to go into names, however, because really, that wouldn’t have been Dad’s way and it doesn’t need to be mine.  My reflection on such things, however, has made me realise that I do need to catch myself from being a blowhard, from bellyaching and from being a mug lair.

And stop bloody wasting my time on rubbish that just annoys or upsets me.

Thanks, Dad. Again.

J. Alfred Prufrock Dares to Disturb the Universe – Loewenstein Defining Feminism

And time yet for a hundred indecisions,
And for a hundred visions and revisions,
Before the taking of a toast and tea.
In the room the women come and go
Talking of Michelangelo.
And indeed there will be time
To wonder, “Do I dare?” and, “Do I dare?”
Time to turn back and descend the stair,
With a bald spot in the middle of my hair —
(They will say: “How his hair is growing thin!”)
My morning coat, my collar mounting firmly to the chin,
My necktie rich and modest, but asserted by a simple pin —
(They will say: “But how his arms and legs are thin!”)
Do I dare
Disturb the universe?
T. S. Eliot – The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock

The Guardian Australia is providing a great service in terms of political reporting as well as comments about our public and private spheres. Every so often, however, we can see examples of clickbaiting and generating buzzrage. Yesterday’s piece on feminism by Antony Loewenstein is one such piece.  It certainly belongs in the Museum of Mansplaining Art.  Its constant references to the author’s reluctance to write about feminism because of a female consensus that had locked men out of feminist discussion reminded me a lot of the central figure of Eliot’s J. Alfred Prufrock – not daring to disturb the universe, where women talk of fashionable art. Here goes the daring version of J. Alfred.

‘Feminism lite’ is letting down the women who need it the most

“Feminism lite” – a curious phrase, as if the full fat version would be better than a diet one.  Plus, here is the author, ready to tell us who needs feminism the most.  So let’s listen to him.

Men are? When? In what way afraid? And there’s a definition of “strong”?  In any case, it’s clearly important to the author that feminism be explained and analysed by men.  Because women aren’t good at critiques? That seems to be underlying that point.

This is not acceptable. Men have a stake in gender equality, from promoting fair pay and no-fault divorce laws, all the way to stopping honour killings and sexual violence. We are boyfriends, husbands, fathers or friends, and yet too many of us shy away from these sensitive matters, fearing opprobrium. Too often, men worry they’ll be attacked by women for questioning a consensus position on feminist issues.

The first part of this paragraph – that men have a stake in those issues is true. The second half is a blanket statement about these vicious women “attacking” these poor victim men who dare to challenge women on a seeming consensus position on feminist issues.  In what way attack?  It’s probably a good time to contemplate the idea of a person acting out of a privileged position – a middle class male writing an opinion in a respected form of media in which he appears often – and contrast that with the idea of being “attacked”.  In addition, I find myself puzzling over the idea of a “consensus position” on feminist issues. It would be difficult to find any such consensus on a range of issues. The use of the term “consensus” also positions the author as being outside and not allowed into this walled off female bastion of consensus. The martyrdom complex is quite strong at this point.

But then Loewenstein returns to a well used fountain for his critiques.

When Australian prime minister Julia Gillard was in power, a common refrain on the left was that she faced appalling attacks on her appearance and marital status. Her famous misogyny speech prompted headlines around the world after she accused her opponent, Tony Abbott, of sexism.

There is no doubt that Gillard faced obstacles that men rarely have to contemplate, and that many of her ugliest critics have never accepted her legitimacy. Writer Anne Summers uncovered a litany of “vilification and denigration” against Gillard that went well beyond opposing the Labor leader’s policies. Many women applauded Gillard because they knew the daily realities of men ignoring, shaming or humiliating them at home, or at work.

And yet, during this entire period I found the debate depressingly staid. The forums available to discuss these issues were limited, leaving (mostly female) feminists to defend Gillard from the trolls who mocked her ideas, clothes and hair. My argument here isn’t that men should have been central in the debate – our role as privileged players in society has lasted far too long – but that mainstream feminism seemed only to feel aggrieved, and little else.

But here’s the catch: Gillard ran a government that routinely enacted policies that harmed women, including placing asylum seekers in privatised immigration detention, backing warlords in Afghanistan’s Oruzgan province, supporting the Israeli occupation of Palestine, cutting benefits for single mothers and opposing gay marriage.

Through opposing issues with which Loewenstein personally does not support, Gillard can’t have been a real feminist -indeed a “feminist lite”.  In addition, he is convinced by his own undefined yardstick that the mostly female feminists writing in that era were “staid” and not angry enough. They need to get ANGRY – at levels with which Antony agrees.

PATRIARCHYSMASH-8505-1173

This is not to say that many of the policies that the Gillard Government enacted weren’t harmful to women. The fact, however, that Gillard enacted policies that were deemed by her and her government to be for the good of society, doesn’t make Gillard any less of an important figure for feminism or for women in politics.  To somehow insist that Gillard should have been a different kind of leader – a leader with a woman’s touch – is fairly patronising itself.  But let’s go on with some sniping against these staid feminists.

There are countless other examples, yet they remained mostly dismissed by the same women (and men) who lavished support on Gillard for her “feminist ideals”. The love-fest continued in September last year when Summers interviewed Gillard in an Oprah-style format, with sell-out crowds lapping it up. This was, unquestioningly, a moment of public catharsis. Of course, there is nothing wrong with praising Australia’s first female prime minister for her achievements – but at least be honest, and admit that a few principled speeches on her part don’t compensate for years of abandoning the very gender you claimed to be helping.

Loewenstein here continues to define feminism and the achievements of Gillard on his terms – she didn’t do enough for women as PM, so therefore she is a feminist-lite. Worse still are the people involved in the snarkily named “love fest” of people happy to see Gillard’s speeches. In this part, it’s a pretty good attempt at capturing buzzrage – a heap of readers angry at being referring to in such a dismissive manner. But let’s go on.

In many of my books, female voices challenge a corrupt and militarised capitalist system, and it’s these characters that inspire me. We rarely hear from those women in the west, and if we do they are buried under the din of articles about face-lifts and marrying George Clooney (a great recipe for click-baiting). I believe that’s part of the reason why female anti-feminism is growing, especially as issues many women see as tangential gain disproportionate online prominence.

Ironic that click baiting is referred to, as are many of the author’s books – the same author who stated he was “afraid” of these consensus wielding feminists – most of them not published authors with regular gigs on TV and at the Guardian.

In Unspeakable Things, British writer Laurie Penny argues:

The feminism that sells is the sort of feminism that can appeal to almost everybody while challenging nobody, feminism that soothes, that speaks for and to the middle class, aspirational feminism that speaks of shoes and shopping and sugar-free snacks and does not talk about poor women, queer women, ugly women, transsexual women, sex workers, single parents, or anybody else who fails to fit the mould.

A fair point is made here by Penny – especially as it makes feminism meet the frequent Marxist critique that feminist should eschew capitalism – that real feminism is also seeking social change on all levels, not just rights for women. It is however, a drastic over simplification of the feminist discourse currently in the media to claim that modern feminist discussion all fits into the “shoes and shopping” trope oft used by Marxist writers wanting change on every level.  Then Loewenstein does this to the Penny quote -

This perfectly describes many western women who have become media spokespeople for their gender, appearing on TV with predictable lines. These are the same self-described feminists now salivating over the possible US presidency of Hillary Clinton, despite her record as a pro-war Democrat who believes in endless war. Yes, some feminist hero.

So, feminists can’t have “predictable lines” or support war, according to Loewenstein. I imagine in his world view, all women must be anti-war.  That’s not feminism, that’s pacifism.  Sure, it might be nice to have a pacifist and a feminist and a socialist as a leader.  These things, however, don’t have to be constantly linked to one another. It could also be argued that Clinton would never make it as the President if she didn’t support war as a way of ending problems. But to Loewenstein, due to his own pacifism, she would be a lesser feminist icon if she didn’t do what he thought she should do.

In hindsight, there’s no solid reason why I couldn’t have written this article years ago, but I’ve hesitated to do so. I’ve worried that I would be slammed for my white, male position and dismissed as ignorant of the real problems faced by women today. It’s an odd concern, because I don’t worry about extreme Zionists challenging me when I call them out on their racism (and I do receive plenty of vicious attacks whenever I write about it).

No, no-one in reality was there to stop this piece being written. It’s good that it was – so we can see what it’s like to be a person who wants to play themselves in the victim chair in order to weather the criticism that this piece would generate. And it’s not for “ignorance of the real problems” for which the author should be criticised necessarily – it’s also the way feminism is being defined and positioned that needs the critique.

The bottom line is that writing about feminism when male is like gatecrashing a party – and I’m concerned I’ll be slammed for daring to arrive without an invitation. But the responsibility to advocate for half the population falls of everyone’s shoulders, not just women. To do it meaningfully, however, we need to focus on the issues that truly need our help the most urgently: benefits taken away from single mums; sexual violence which affects all women, but especially already vulnerable ones; endemic racism which leads to parents of colour scared to have their child shot by police forces; lack of unionising or legislation which leaves women without working rights worldwide; the right not subject to rape threats and abuse, online and offline; equal pay for equal work.

Outsider, victim, “we are half the population, so we should get a say”. It’s all there.  And completely unnecessary. This is the third unnecessary time for Loewenstein to take his victimhood crouch, to play the role of J. Alfred – why not just do the critique of feminism and take out the practiced, mannered martyrdom that dominates the piece? It’s an intellectually shabby position to take, arming one’s self against reasonable criticism by attempting to pre-empt it.

Ultimately, I realise I’ve been been too cautious for too long, not daring to add my voice to the debate. I agree with The Atlantic’s Noah Berlatsky who states that although misogyny predominantly affects women, “it’s important for men to acknowledge that as long as women aren’t free, men won’t be either.” But to win this battle, we have to remember that the debates about celebrity red carpet dresses and celeb-feminism are designed to distract us. This is feminism lite, and is little more than white noise. Gender equality will only be achieved by hard work and uncomfortable questions.

And so it continues, J. Alfred Prufrock now daring to disturb the universe.   And he’s telling all those staid female feminists out there that he doesn’t like what you’re doing – you need to be smashing the state – because if you’re not, not only are you a bad Marxist, you are practicing the low in fat Feminism Lite.

Maybe the author should read on towards the end of the Eliot poem – to this part.

No! I am not Prince Hamlet, nor was meant to be;
Am an attendant lord, one that will do
To swell a progress, start a scene or two,
Advise the prince; no doubt, an easy tool,
Deferential, glad to be of use,
Politic, cautious, and meticulous;
Full of high sentence, but a bit obtuse;
At times, indeed, almost ridiculous—
Almost, at times, the Fool.
It’s pretty easy to be full of high sentence and be obtuse.  It’s also easy to enough to be considered ridiculous and be almost, at times, a fool.