Gough – The Great Ones Always Polarise Us

When I was growing up, I received the understanding from my parents the Gough Whitlam was the worst Prime Minister of our nation’s history and the dismissal was something that saved us from total social calamity. So, of course, I believed he must have been terrible.

This afternoon, when I heard of Christopher Pyne’s response – that his mother celebrated his dismissal, he reminded me of a fact I don’t often wish to recall – that I was very similar to Chris Pyne in my late teen / early 20s, in most ways. The main difference was that my parents weren’t wealthy enough to send me to a snooty private school. They were both from working class backgrounds – one Ulster / Scots, the other Irish – but were no fans of “rough” unionists and genuinely believed that the Liberals were “nice” people that supported the arts and small business. Add to that my father’s belief that Gough was really a Liberal in Labor shoes (which was, in retrospect, interesting).

This is why when I was at Sydney Uni in the early 90s, I thought it ridiculous that there was a group on campus called the Dewy Eyed Whitlamites. Why celebrate the actions of such a terrible PM?

And then I grew up.

As I studied history, then went to work as a teacher in the outer suburbs of Sydney, I could see exactly why people like Gough were crucial for our maturity as a nation. I could see the benefits of multiculturalism, the increase of working class university graduates wanting to improve the lot of their fellow community members. I could see the excellence of having grand infrastructure visions (each time I drive down the grandiose Raby Rd in what was Gough’s electorate, I am reminded of his government’s vision for such areas, which led to that road, amongst other things).

There will be, of course, so many other things that will be said about Gough’s legacy by people more intimately connected to his work as PM. There will also be articles on how his government wasn’t prudent, was incompetent and the rest. But they won’t understand the legacy Gough left.

His was a government that believed that people should be at the centre of what Governments do and that ideology is important for the improvement of the lives of more than a few. It’s also a Government that polarises us as a society because they stood for things, took on opponents, took on the negative, reactionary forces. As anything Great that has change as their core business, polarisation will always be the result.

That’s not what we see from our politics today. We don’t see the braveness of ideas and thinking into the future. All of the parties have people in them fighting old battles that have nothing to do with the future and plenty about lost battles in the past. And that’s a toxic, mean spirited and reactionary way to do politics. That wasn’t Gough’s way and that’s the chief thing we can take away from those times.

I would also add that maybe when compared to the current Government, Gough’s government wasn’t really that shambolic after all. At least things got done for the increasing levels of debt we had to pay off.

Wake Me Up in 2016 – Why Bother Analysing the Federal Government?

Of course the Federal Government are becoming self parodies. Of course they are now sounding like Mad As Hell characters.

Of course Abbott will make stupid macho comments about things, like “I’m gunna shirtfront him” – it makes him popular with macho blokes.  “He tells it like he sees it”, they will say.

They don’t care what Twitterers say about it.

Of course the Federal Government’s absurd, pointless Australian Curriculum review employed Barry Spurr as a bloke to help “review” the English part of the curriculum.  Spurr is well known as being a long time critic of anything remotely accessible and relevant to the world of contemporary students in high school English.  Hence his attack on the “desire for novelty and gimmicky new technology” in the NSW HSC syllabus back in 2003.  His view of English is that it needs to be about “very good traditional texts” – which is a well known code for English teachers in NSW – novels, poetry and plays by dead white people are pretty much the only good things to study. (That didn’t stop Professor Spurr from writing 50 HSC study guide titles for Pascal Press, however).  That’s why it came as no surprise that the Government would be asking for his input into its bashing of the National Curriculum.  As we know from this week’s New Matilda articles both here and here, he would have relished the chance to bash (in a coded way, of course) the inclusion of Indigenous texts and texts from Asia.  It was an act as unsurprising as the appointment of Kevin Donnelly, also a long term critic of anything that could be considered relevant, successful and student centred in education.

Of course I woke up to watch Insiders to see Tony Abbott responding to the Spurr story by saying that “he hadn’t read” about it.  That’s the way he attempts to avoid having to comment on issues where one of his Government’s “people” might get damaged. We will see Abbott do the same thing for the next two years. He will “not read” a lot of things.

Of course Sharri Markson will lead a story about this issue with a misleading red herring – the old “I was hacked” excuse when it was clear that the emails were public property.  The whole article is a structured in the same way as any attempt to infer that the information was illegally obtained – that is, start with comments quoted from the “wronged party” then make general comments about the source of the emails.

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Of course the more experienced claque of Oz twitterers like Chris Kenny remained quiet about such a story – we know when a story is toxic for their Government when they stay silent about it.  Maybe Sharri Markson will learn from that approach, because going on the offensive on behalf of the Government against new media like the Guardian and New Matilda won’t get her very far, especially on social media. But really, she needn’t have bothered doing the defending. The main purpose of Donnelly using Spurr – to justify the winding back of the teaching of English to the “dead white people” model of the 1950s – has already been achieved in the curriculum review. Spurr’s fate will be immaterial to that goal.

Of course Joe Hockey will answer any who poses him a difficult question “I don’t accept the basis of your question”.  And of course most people asking the question, especially in Australia, will usually back off and get onto the next question.  It’s the way this Government’s people have worked out how to dodge questions and they will continue to do it for the next two years.

Of course this Government will confuse burqas for niqabs and will continue to play the racist card in “stopping the boats” from these “threats” to our national character or whatever waffle they will come out with.  There’s not all much of a step between Operations Sovereign Borders and stopping our students from reading things written by “Mussies”.

Of course Bill Shorten will attempt to be a small target and decide to oppose only some stuff, maybe, perhaps.  It’s been laughable to see the Government and their cheerleaders talk about Shorten being “too negative”.  It’s as if everyone’s goldfish.  The Federal Opposition, I mean Government, is STILL running on negativity, even after a year of “Government”.

Of course the old left wing barnacles clinging onto the Good Ship Labor cheer on Anthony Albanese for objecting to the change of anti-terror laws AFTER he and his party voted for their adoption.

Same old politics, same old act of faux concern.

Of course the Government talk about Coal as if it’s the Saviour of All Humanity – it’s one of the things powering the Liberal Nationals and the business that are Their People.  And they will continue to talk about it in the same way, even as China slows its orders, the rest of the world sees the long term economic benefits and money saving possibilities of renewables and eventually leaves our small coal centred economy withering and dying.   When even right wing governments like that of India see the benefits of solar, then we really are shown to have a government that is out of step with world trends and shifts. We see a government that has only two goals in terms of energy – to continue our reliance on coal and to expand CSG mining. In the latter, we will continue to have people from various backgrounds to spruik for it, no matter what their actual knowledge base is on the issue.  Of course we can expect more of the same.

So, over the next two years, of course we can expect more of the same, more daily shocks on Twitter, more petty arguments, more trivial nonsense. There will be many worthy, thought provoking pieces written about this ridiculous, incompetent Government and its inept opposition.

The question we need to ask though is, why bother?

Yes, it’s worthwhile opposing the actions of this Government. Yes, the fight needs to be fought on so many fronts because so many of the traditions that have made our society are getting dismantled and attacked by reactionary forces on a level that is unprecedented – even the Howard years were not as driven by an energy of old hatreds and modern ineptitude.  Not even Howard went after the ABC with the force and vigour as this Government has shown.

Yes, it’s worthwhile fighting for a future that is free of the barriers that are being built by this Government. It’s worth it for people to fight the attempt by the government to make it impossible for the working and lower middle class to attend university; it’s worth it for people to fight for renewable energy and the long term economic and environmental benefits it provides; it’s worth it to help those who want to make our nation better an opportunity to do so; it’s worthwhile fighting for industries that will operate in the future.

But is it worth it to write and read complex articles about the day to day and week to week issues that occupy both the old and new media?  The stuff that Twitter generates and spins into daily twitnados?

I don’t think it is anymore. The Government will continue as it has, and will appoint whoever to whatever it likes.  Meanwhile, people in civic society outside the news spin cycle will hopefully fight against the reactionaries and fight for the future wellbeing of society.  Maybe they will realise that it’s better to do the small things that makes lives better in that world than it is to read and / or write yet another analysis of Federal Politics.

That’s why I say, in terms of the day to day in Federal Politics – Wake Me Up in 2016 because right now, it’s all just repetitive froth and bubble. I’ll be out there, doing my bit, piece of piece, to help fix the damage that will be caused.



Six Places – Learning to Walk Away from Proselytising

This week I have had six different experiences, sat in six different places and I have felt as though they sum up where I am in life but also have taught me about the exhaustion of being a proselytiser.

When I started writing this blog and was developing my political twitter direction, I had the zeal of the proselytiser.  That person very keen to encourage others to consider another point of view in so many directions.   Part of me was even hoping to convert people to a different way of thinking.  Right now, however, I am exhausted by that effort.  Right now, I am wondering whether the work of the proselytiser is pointless because it’s very hard to change the paradigms of other people – and really, who am I to tell people that there’s a “better” way to do things?  Those six places told me all.

Place One – The City Recital Hall – Stephen Hough Piano Recital

I was listening to the first half of the piano recital being entirely bored – not because of the performance, it was beautiful.  It was about me – what kind of life experiences I had been having, the politics in which I had been involved, work.  And here I was, listening to Chopin Ballades that were really making me itch in my seat, wanting to be OUT.  I even rang my wife at half time, ranting about Chopin. I didn’t leave, however – it was Stephen Hough, who is my favourite pianist.

Then, after interval, a transformation occurred. The music had changed, but it was me that had changed the most.  I enjoyed the other Chopin Ballades, the Children’s Corner suite was beguiling (though I did reflect on what people on Twitter would think of the “Golliwog’s Cake Walk” that ends the suite), The Joyous Isle was glittering with the inner voices that Hough was bringing out of the music.  Suddenly, I remembered what it was that I loved about classical music recitals.  And then Hough did something remarkable (in my eyes, at least) – the last encore was a Grieg Nocturne that I used to play A LOT as a teenager.  I thought it was a great piece to both express teenage romantic yearnings and impress people (i.e. women)

It was a night that sang to me beneath all the layers I had built around me.  All the blogs, the tweeting, the engagement on social media platforms, all rendered irrelevant and without access to that part of me that will always love things that not all that many my age and younger are “into”.  It also occurred to me that I have spent a chunk of my time trying to proselytise classical music to people around me and through Twitter. It’s time for me to stop that. I love the world of “classical” music and it means something special to me. But it doesn’t serve any useful purpose to push that view towards others.  There’s worlds of music that mean all sorts of things to other people.

The twain doesn’t have to meet and we can go into our different music silos – or mix them up – whatever makes people happy.  It’s taken too long for me to realise that, and a lot of wasted emotional energy.

Place Two – Education Forum, Penrith

I attended a forum run by the AEU, NTEU and NSW Teachers’ Federation about the education cuts being made by the Federal Government and the NSW State Government. It covered the potential future of education, with deregulation in the university education potentially giving students a lifetime of debt. It also covered state governments wanting to make money that used to go to TAFE colleges into being “contestable” funding that could go to private companies running colleges.  It was a stark, worrying future laid out by the presenters, showing how conservative governments seem to want to make high education something for children of wealthy parents, rather than for all.

It struck me, however, that the room was filled with public sector teachers and politicians – after all, the aim of the evening was to empower fighters for the cause. To help those who wish to proselytise to the people in the middle in Australian politics just what will happen to education.  That’s a worthy cause but I can also sense the exhaustion that could occur with people trying to make their case yet again in the same ways of the past.  It occurred to me also that the room was missing a group – teachers in independent schools, many of whom (me included) are also wary of university deregulation and the degrading of TAFE colleges.   However, the false dichotomy built between public and “private” school teachers continues to exist in the realm of education.  I hope that the campaign to create awareness will work – but I have my doubts.

Place Three – Year 12 Farewell Celebrations

Away from Twitter and blogging, away from being accused of being “broken”, “butthurt” and the rest of the macho braggadocio shown by people pretending to be something they really aren’t, I am a teacher who tries my best at teaching students at being the best students they can be – as well as help them realise their potential as people.  One of the best guides for a teacher as to their impact is the Year 12 Farewell week.  Hearing from students as to where their lives are heading.  For teachers who have had a Year 12 class, it is usually an emotional week. Some of the nicest things a teacher can ever hear are said in this week. It’s also a fun week, with the formal coming around and getting a chance for a dance and a laugh or two.  Weeks like this make me realise that there’s life, the real stuff, the things one does in their every day has the real impact.

It made me reflect on my life away from this, taking on the role of proselytising for the western suburbs of Sydney.  This may have been presumptuous and I’m sure people are sick of me highlighting examples of poor pigeonholing and stereotyping of people from the west. I get sick me doing it, mostly because the coverage and representations hasn’t changed.  Journalists still rely on lazy stereotypes, stories in the metropolitan dailies focus their attention on Sydney.  So, really, the exhaustion factor has reached its zenith. Trying to change the way western Sydney is perceived is a waste of energy and time.  The attitudes towards the “racist housos of the west” remain and as does the reality, which varies from those attitudes and representations in so many ways.  I and others know what the area consists of and that should be enough for us. To try to change those attitudes is to make a useless effort.  In the process, though, I have made great friends.   But  Twitter and blogging is, for the most part, a curious hobby and an endless Beckett play that you need to walk out on from time to time.

Place Four – Colleague’s Place over a cup of tea

Sometimes one’s involvement with politics needs to be discussed with a deeply respected colleague who is outside that world but understands it completely. One should always get such opportunities.

Place Five – The AFL Preliminary Final at ANZ Stadium

I have been trying to proselytise the cause of AFL football in the western suburbs for some years now, encouraging people to just watch it, give the code a go.  I have heard these phrases often:

“I just don’t understand the game”, “I don’t understand the rules”, “I’m not interested – I just like rugby league”, “It doesn’t look good on TV”, “It’s not tough”, “I don’t know anyone else who watches it” – etc, etc.

I tried to proselytise in the beginning because I wanted people to go with me to games back in the days when the Swans were the only team in town and it was a slog to go to Moore Park.  That changed with the creation of the Giants, so the proselytising goal changed. I had become a fully charged proselytising machine in my workplace and out and about in the community.

What has happened, however, is that I have made great friends who are Swans supporters (despite me coming up with a few sledges about their team as a part of the emerging banter between the clubs).  I sat with them for the first time at the preliminary final and it was wonderful to see their passion for their club and their excitement in regards going to the Grand Final next week.   I will always have a big soft spot for the Swans – they were my club, even if I couldn’t get to too many games.  But I have also made good friends in the Giants’ cheer squad and around the club – it’s a group of hardy souls from other states who want the Giants to work, to connect with the community.  They are far from the description I have heard of cheer squads that they are filled with “broken people”.  No, they are people who enjoy being part of something bigger than themselves.   There was also a mysterious, overwhelming feeling of pride and being at home when I first pulled on my first Giants guernsey.  As much as I still like the Swans, that feeling will never leave.

It is past the time, however, for me to proselytise the AFL, to try to convert people to liking it, going to it.  As far as I can see, people will like it if it’s good, if there’s something in it for them.  And it’s all good if people want to stick to what they know.  As I see the pride emerging in Penrith in the rise of the underestimated Panthers, league is the game of choice in the western suburbs for many and they get a sense of something being bigger than themselves in that code.  The atmosphere at Penrith Park during a home game is intense and positive and that will remain for the years to come.  Over the next decade, however, there will be a shift in the balance of the codes, especially with the work being done by the AFL and Giants to show the kids of the west how AFL works – though that will never “kill” league and that should never be the goal.   What the AFL is doing in the west is the real proselytising, not me with a keyboard, a blog and a Twitter account.  Knowing that, I can sit back and enjoy the football.

Place Six – 1st Wedding Anniversary Lunch

Today is the 1st anniversary of the best day of my life – our wedding.  The marriage of minds and hearts, the wedding to the only person I know who truly understand me. I don’t need to proselytise anything to her (which I did feel I have to in my first marriage – never a good idea).  So, my priority today is not proselytising, trying to convert people.  Mine is to be happy, to be in a happy marriage – really, just be. And with that, off I go.

(Our wedding waltz song – but it wasn’t this Barry and Pav version)

Put Down the Graphs, Wonks and Pick up the Megaphones – WonkyTips in the Guardian

There was a time when the focus of posts on the Preston Institute was craziness and nonsense from the press gallery. Indeed, the absurdity of Mark Kenny praising Tony Abbott’s foreign relations skills could receive such analysis – but it’s a piece that’s so beyond reason that it could almost be a satirical version of Abbott press gallery love. However, there was a Comment is Free piece in the Guardian by Jason Wilson that I found quite strange in what it was advocating – for experts to put their graph making equipment and pick up their megaphones. As ever, the original in italics.

Graphs are no longer enough: it’s time wonks and experts joined the fight

Thomas Piketty. Neil Degrasse Tyson. Ezra Klein. Celebrity wonks are everywhere. Their popularity coincides with increasing attacks on scientists and experts – here’s why

“Celebrity wonks”. Ok.  Sounds like a bit of a joke being attempted there. But here’s Wilson’s words

Political deference to experts is disappearing. Economists are popularly derided for their role in the 2007-2008 financial crisis, that resulted in huge wealth transfers to the rich. Scientists who warn about climate change are accused by denialists of outright political conspiracy. The claims of public health experts on the effects of cigarette smoking are contested by lobbyists and PR shills, and by columnists in the pages of respectable newspapers .

IS disappearing.  Not appears. May the virtually unsupported assertions begin (and quoting from the Australian is not exactly proof of very much).  Hence the central tenet of the article begins – that dispassionate, academic experts in various fields are being ignored by politics and decision makers – that a respect for their papers and views that used to be there is disappearing and not coming back.   The rest of the article then deals with a phenomenon that, for some on Twitter and in the media, perhaps these academics are being listened to. Such as…

The rise of celebrity experts might seem to run counter to this. In economics, Krugmania has given way to Piketty-mania. Fact-checks and explainers are everywhere. “Quants” and “wonks”, like Nate Silver andEzra Klein, are new media rock stars. Pop science communicators likeNeil Degrasse Tyson have become pin-ups.

Celebrities! Pin Ups! Media rock stars!  Maybe they are to people who are frequent Twitter users or frequent media consumers.  That certainly seems to be the audience for this piece.  As a twitter user who doesn’t generally exist in the same circle as the author, most of these “rock stars” are a bit of a mystery to me – as they would probably be to most people in the community.  Again, they aren’t the audience of this piece, who are probably Twitter insiders.  I know of Silver because of his prediction of the US election result and various sport results.  The rest, not really.  I am still yet to see someone actually provide an explanation of Piketty, for example, that didn’t involve some kind of agenda proving didacticism being held by the writer. But perhaps the twitter circles in which the author exists considers that Pikettymania is actually a “thing”.  Even this piece in the Guardian, which calls Piketty a “rock star” doing “sell out gigs” in theatres that contain 1000 people doesn’t do an explanation of what he’s talking about. (1000! Economics wonks! Wow!)  What I do sense, however, amongst people who mention Piketty is a strong whiff of jealousy that perhaps they aren’t a “wonk rock star” either.  To call Piketty a “celebrity” due to the best selling nature of his books is to attempt to belittle that success and liken him to figures in our community who are generally considered celebrities, like the members of One Direction.  Being best selling doesn’t make one a celebrity – it makes one with ideas people want to read.  But back to Wilson, who think that this whole “rock star thing” really isn’t a sustained trend towards people being interested in those who analyse economics and culture.

Far from representing the triumph of disinterested expertise, the success of the wonk-industrial complex is a sign that their affluent audience is resisting the messy return of politics. The veneration of the graph-makers is no more than a spasm of nostalgia.

“Resisting the messy return of politics”. “Nostalgia”.  These assertions raise a number of questions. The Return of politics?  Did it ever go away?  Is nostalgia people wanting to hear new ideas?  That’s a curious concept.  It reminds me of the American music professor who said young American servicemen who enjoyed listening to Rachmaninov for the first time were being “nostalgic”.  It said more about the modern music biases of the music professor than it did about the music. The idea of people actually liking things because they are interesting and well supported by graphs is not exactly new or “nostalgic”. It’s people who like new ideas supported by evidence. But let’s go on with a truncated political history lesson.

Credentialled experts started taking on a central role in politics from the late nineteenth century. In America, a new kind of urban, middle class activist began marching under the banners of expertise and efficiency. The progressive movement were appalled by the inequalities, unrestrained capitalism, and corrupt politics of the guilded age of the 1870s. Equally, they were terrified by radical working class politics.

Progressives sought to tame politics by subordinating it to professional, scientific expertise— the kind that the urban middle classes were themselves best placed to offer. Like their contemporaries in Britain, the Fabians, they carried their reformist program forward in a political alliance with other social movements, including moderate elements of organised labour.

Their ideas were new and not at all natural when they were introduced. They depended on a fundamental separation between the domains of factual, objective, scientific social knowledge and the kind that was seen to be tainted by subjective or political values.

This separation of expertise from mere politics by the progressives became common sense throughout the developed world after it was institutionalised. Management, public administration and universities became professional, and the social sciences more quantitative. They were entrenched more deeply when journalism — once a disreputable condition — itself became a profession.

The reign of expertise also ushered in an unprecedented era of ideological convergence throughout the west. Governments around the world adopted similar programmes throughout the 20th century, seeking to constrain the power of capital, mount campaigns for public health reform, respond to calls for women’s suffrage and racial equality, and implement plans for food and territorial security. The interventionist state and newly-credentialised knowledge professions legitimated one another. The language of the social sciences — in particular economics — merged with the language of policy.

This part was interesting as a history lesson.  It makes a number of assertions that would have support in one of Wilson’s academic pieces but we don’t see here. In this context, it’s being used to support his assertions about the relationship between experts and government.  It is difficult to see, however, where these ideas apply specifically to various nations that have wide variations in the relationships they have developed between experts from universities and the pragmatism of politics.  There are some in the community, for example, who would like to think that Australia has developed a kind of unity between ideas and politics that the West Wing so enthusiastically spins about the US.  Though, there would be many who would suspect that the West Wing is as accurate about the core realities of US politics as House of Cards.  But let’s go on.

This form of political life, pervasive in the west for much of the 20th century, is now coming apart. Growing inequality is one factor that has led to questions about who benefits from expert economic consensus. It has also fed into a growing polarisation of political views. (Comment threads and social media give us plenty more evidence of that.) Political parties are also cutting experts adrift, crafting policies not for rational median voters, but for micro-targeted constituencies – or bypassing rational processes altogether with neuromarketing. Amid these changes, expertise has been re-politicised.

Growing polarisation? Repoliticised? This assumes that polarisation of political visions is new, which would news to the political historians of the Australia of the 1940s, 50s and 60s, for example.  The same goes for expertise being politicised by warriors of a bipolar political framework. None of this is new. Nothing that Abbott is doing at the moment, is new. It’s going back to the practices of reactionaries of eras past because it serves their purposes. The idea of governments having pet house academics and ignoring the rebel ones outside the gate is older than any of us.  For a more recent example, does anyone remember Keith Windschuttle?

On the centre-left, many are bewildered that expert policy prescriptions are no longer accepted as authoritative. The political campaign against an overwhelming consensus on climate change has frustrated scientific experts and their supporters alike. On the other hand, experts still have trouble getting their hands dirty. Thomas Piketty offers a more rigorous, wonkish version of the criticisms made by the Occupy movement but stops short of explicitly recommending radical solutions. The mystery of how democracy can reassert itself against capital is left unsolved, and his book will never persuade those who think inequality is a feature (or even a benefit) of capitalism, rather than a bug.

If people are bewildered, it’s because they have spent most of their lives duped into believing that expertise that spoke against the status quo or whatever agenda held by a political group was being observed and respected by all political parties and governments.  People bewildered by our current climate change denialist government, for example, should have a look at the views of the man who ensured Abbott was made the leader of the Liberal Party – Nick Minchin and realise how much Abbott and his government are in step with Minchin’s philosophy.  The actions hence should therefore not surprise anyone.  As for whether Thomas Piketty should “get his hands dirty” and suggest changes in society – that’s not the job of a dispassionate expert in any field. Their job is to gather material, analyse and present conclusions as a result of the analysis.  To suggest otherwise is to have academics just becoming the same kind of partisan warriors that Wilson is criticising for not listening to experts.  It is the job for those listening to Piketty, reading his work, to apply that work to various contexts and explain his work in a way that is easily consumed by a wider audience.   Maybe by people like Wilson. But let’s go on…

The graphs, data visualisations and statistical modelling that now proliferate across new media outlets can enrich the arguments we can bring to public debates, but they can no longer resolve them. Whether we like it or not, the raiments of disinterested expertise have been spattered with the mud of politics. More and more frequently, expert knowledge is read as being situated and framed by particular assumptions or interests. It would be senseless to say that expertise is empty, or without value. But it may be that the social and natural sciences need to be more open about their political entanglements, and more comfortable with signalling them.

“Spattered with the mud of politics” – if that is happening to the work of experts, it’s not the fault of the experts, it’s an inevitable part of being in the world where politics tends to seep into everything.  Again, it’s not the job of experts creating analyses to resolve political situations – that’s the job of people in the community, political groups, whoever it is that in our polity.  We don’t need dispassionate experts to become yet another compromised partisan, just speaking to one side to attack the other.

Tom Bentley argued recently in The Guardian Australia that the work of wonks at the “independent centre” of our political life needs to be supplemented by new voices, and a renaissance of civil society. The moment for this may have passed. In Australia, and other polarising liberal democracies, there is not much centre ground left to stand on. Experts might instead need to pick a side, join the fight, and accept that their claims to knowledge and authority will always and everywhere be contested.

May have passed? This is one of the more extraordinary claims in this piece, that there’s not much centre left ground to stand on – for whom? Where?  This seems to be an assertion based on the observations of Wilson of Twitter, news blogs, whatever it is he watches, whoever it is he engages with. We don’t know – we are left to guess at this point.  This leads Wilson to suggest that those in the centre of political life should leave behind their dispassion and “join the fight”, “pick a side”, like anyone on the playground or the sporting field.  He may have well said “get on the megaphones and shout”. It’s a strange suggestion for experts to stop patiently analysing and remaining removed from the minutiae of daily partisan battle and just becoming one of the crowd.  We need experts to continue to be removed, so they can provide conclusions that challenge the status quo that someone, somewhere, may pick up on and use at some stage.  We need people in universities and other places to be removed, also, from the daily chatter of people on social media getting caught up in the daily spin cycle.  Otherwise society just becomes an endless sporting contest, both inside and outside of wonkish circles.


The Budget – WhatsinitforWesternSydney? Not as much as people might think.

There’s probably a fair few people who are aggrieved with the western suburbs of Sydney this week. Not only are we credited with a desire to continue the inhumane offshore detention system – now the region is one of the few to be provided with new government money from Tuesday’s budget, in the form of funds to build two road projects – the WestConnex and the widened roads to Badgery’s Creek Airport.

It looks at this stage that there’s a belief underpinning it that building a couple of roads through a semi rural area to an airport that will be finished in 10 years or so and widening a road into the city that will attract a toll of up to $7.35 will stimulate the economy and have people continuing to vote Liberal. That won’t necessarily be the case, however, in the face of the other measures in the budget.

Families losing various payments such as the FTB Part B for children over the age of 6, having to pay $7 for a GP co-payment as well as paying increased fuel costs in a region with sparse public transport options is just the start of the grievances that will be aired and heard outside the cheerleading pages of the Daily Telegraph.

Parents with children finishing high school – a significant number in the west –will be facing some significant fears in regards their children.  Not every person between the ages of 18 and 30 can build roads and airports. For those with children going to university – and there are many – the removal of caps on tuition fees will force parents into difficult decisions. They will have to consider how they can help their children both through university and afterwards, as the spiraling costs of the fees will have to paid by their children starting their independent life on top of other costs. This is assuming that a university degree will guarantee the graduates long term employment, which is a considerable assumption to make.

For those parents with children who are not going to university, the “earn or learn” mantra would not bring much comfort. Youth unemployment is high in the outer suburbs, as is the number of casual, contract and temporary jobs. The possibility of having their children go half a year without the Newstart allowance until the age of 30 will have some parents realising that they will either have to start a contingency fund in order to help their children, or have them live at home while they have a stop start beginning to their working lives.

This is assuming, of course, that parents will be wealthy enough to be able to continue helping their children. Or that the relationship between parents and their children won’t be strained if the children have to stay home until they are 30. Or that there are considerable problems between parents and their children and it would be good for everyone if the children move out of home at age 18. These 18 year olds who want to start a new life away from home face a much more difficult future, especially if these promised magic jobs from projects such as Badgery’s Creek don’t materialise.

Another problem area for the Government is the withdrawal of support for growth in solar energy generation, with the Million Solar Roofs rebate system removed. Many in the region have been busy installing solar panels – as this piece mentions – because they know that the energy cost savings long term will be greater than any repeal of the carbon price.  The main barrier for some has been the issue of generating power during the day and feeding it into the grid and not getting proper compensation for power drawn from the grid at night. With that being addressed by improved battery storage technology, the possibility of the growth of solar in the west is considerable.   As people look at the cost savings experienced by those around them who took advantages of past incentive schemes, there will be frustration for many who will note that the Government seems to be against people wanting to save energy costs in this way.  They may start thinking that the cutting back of renewable energy support is a sop to the miners who donate considerable amounts to the Liberal Party.

I can understand why people suffering under the yoke of what is a punitive, mean spirited budget would dislike Western Sydney for the money being spent on it. Hospitals, schools, unemployed people, disabled people and so many more deserve government support than a toll road and some roads to an airport that is more than 10 years away.


“It was a Meaningless By-Election” – The Spinning of the Green Result in WA

The week before the Senate election in WA, out came the anti-Greens, especially from the journalist Mark Kenny, who seems to be turning more into a blatant anti-Green warrior, which we can see in this Punch article and article in the Age.  He even went past the level of anti – Green usually invoked by Paula Matthewson (such as in this Guardian piece from June and another piece predicting the demise of the Greens, after the Tasmanian election).  With the result in WA for the Greens, I am boldly predicting what will be written about it, with the help of Eric Abetz and Julie Bishop on the ABC’s coverage.

Spin 1.  It’s a By – Election. This was a Protest Vote.

In by-elections, voters often vote either for the main opposition or for a protest party. The Greens were the protest party of choice. (Even though Palmer United got a bigger swing towards them.) This doesn’t explain, however, the drop in the Labor vote as well.  The question in that regard is – What has Bull Snooten done to deserve that?

Spin 2. The Greens Bought This One

The Greens spent significant money and resources on a Senate only campaign and that’s how they managed to buy online ads that swamped the spends that would have been done by the Liberals and Labor (Oh really?)  For example, I can see much comment about things like this:

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I would have thought the Liberal and Labor parties’ spends would have been far more significant than the Green one, as it is in every election.  In addition, I am not holding my breath to wait for the spinners to discuss the idea of targeted spends and employment of resources in an innovative way.

Spin 3. The Greens had More People on the Ground and On the Phones

It would be interesting to see if this spin – which will emerge soon enough – is actually supported by any empirical evidence. I would have thought Labor, for example, had a lot of phone calls and “ground game” happening for a while, even if Joe Bullock is a hard sell.

Spin 4. It Was a Low Turnout. That always favours smaller parties. 

This is Bolta’s spin (along with the protest vote). Not entirely sure that there is much evidence from past elections to support this contention.

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Spin 5. Scott Ludlam’s Hair

I think this will be a Twitter explanation – that the cult of personality that gathered around Scott Ludlam was a significant factor.  The Speech, they will say, Went Viral.  This was despite many saying at the time that Ludlam’s speech was vacuous and pure self serving politics – and would have little impact.  That will be turned around now and probably spun as “an example of how social media was harnessed in a one off election of a personality, not a party”.  The “People Voted for a Personality, Not the Party” line will be, I suspect, one of the most popular.

Spin 6. This Was a One Off. The Greens Are Still in Decline

This will be the theme of many of the pieces we will see this week from those in Canberra and elsewhere that have a thinly veiled loathing of the Greens and the type of new politics they represent.  They will cite Tasmania, September as examples of the Greens In Decline and then turn around and say this was a one-off due to Personality, Protest, Low Turnout, and so on, so on.

What you won’t hear from media outlets will be these ideas of why the Greens went well in WA -

1. Intelligent, targeted campaigning

To do online advertising and some phone banking might be evidence of intelligent, targeted campaigning aimed at the core swinging voter, which is evidence of good election tactics from a campaign that still would have been outspent by the majors and certainly by Palmer.

2. Selection of a good Senate candidate.

Our media outlets almost never feature them in general election coverage – they are too fond of staying with the pre-ordained election caravan that follows the Leaders and a few other. If they did cover the Senate election properly, we’d never have candidates like Joe Bullock trotted out. And we wouldn’t have Mr. Motoring Enthusiast in the Senate.

3. The Greens Have a Positive Message

As much as you’ll hear about Ludlam’s speech slamming Abbott, the main thrust of the Greens’ philosophy is about building positives – renewable energy, Green jobs, sustainable, balanced development.  Ludlam is a representative of that positive approach to politics – he’s not a cynical representative of the political machine like Joe Bullock, David Johnston and the Assistant Minister for Immigration, Michaelia Cash.

And there’s many more actual reasons. Let’s see how many we see. Probably something or nothing to do with this…



Or this… BkfXFBECMAEbcRC.jpg-largeOr this…


Or this…

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Dinner Party Warriors – A Poem for Friday

Dinner Party Warriors

Amongst the inner city burrows there’s a stir

The moderately wealthy are texting and tweeting

There’s a dinner party to be had

The food and the wine will be flowing and organic

Better still, the political discussion focused and manic.


The dinner party warriors know their history

Their Marx, Engels and E. P. Thompson understood, ticked

Australian History? No, it’s all beards, hicks and sheep

The world outside their quinoa

Is under a European microscope while they drink the noir.


“Who is to blame?” is the question they ask

“It’s the Right, of course”, they’ll start

“Who would be attracted to a promise of individual liberty?”

They know what would be best for all

And it’s not shopping in an appalling suburban mall


“Who is to blame?” the question hovers in the air

“It’s the media, of course” comes the swift reply.

“It’s all about celebrities, sportsball and preening.”

Rocketing around the room comes “Did you read the post on my blog?

It was a sparkling riposte against the Media Watch Dog.”


“Who is to blame?” the question asked again

“It’s the Left, of course”, they’ll continue

“They have become captured to the evils of pragmatism.”

They used to be the power of the “left”

Until the neoliberals indulged in wholesale theft


“Who is to blame?” the question comes with a story

“It’s the corporate world of course” they will thunder

“They do terrible things in other countries, sometimes our own.”

Get out the boycotting signs

Take the iPhone photos of the angry ex-customer lines.


“Who is to blame?” the question continues

“It’s the political class, of course”, the answer almost complete

“They have no connection with the people outside their office.”

One of them remembered meeting people Out There

It was brief, “they” didn’t listen, even said he was a patronising lair.


“Who is to blame?” comes the dessert question

“The working class, of course”, the answer comes with final blow

“They vote that way because they are all easily duped.”

One of them recalls his own background of being working class

Not him, his grandfather, who used to grumble about management sitting on their arse.