Month: January 2015

On the nose, sidelined, Abbott’s fate hangs on result of Queensland election.

11 townsville salutes


Australia’s Prime Minister for the time being, the feckless and friendless, ‘Toxic’ Tony Abbott who almost single-handedly has achieved the rare distinction of making himself both universally loathed and totally dispensable with astonishing and record-breaking rapidity, is in for a nervous twenty-four hours as voters in Queensland vent their anger by punishing Campbell Newman for being Campbell Newman; threatening to sell off state assets and for having something to do with the detested Federal LNP government and its hateful PM.

If Newman loses, or if the spin doctors are stumped by the size of his government’s losses, it will be curtains for maverick monarchist and general-purpose sycophant Abbott, as much as it will be Queensland’s own one-fingered salute at austerity politics with its formulaic sacking of public servants and its fervid urge to privatise ports, power plants, power lines and other ancillary public utilities, a move its hard right ideologues claim will reduce the state deficit. Normal, ordinary Queenslanders are not so struck on the plan because it will guarantee steep rises in the cost of luxury items such as household electricity. Not to mention a drop in the quality of regional power services in the far-flung state.

Damaged-brand Newman, of course, is tipped by pollsters to lose his own seat because his electorate still has voters who work for a living; voters for whom the prospect of higher utility bills is a real turn-off rather than a smart move that will boost the state’s financial bottom line whilst lining the pockets of Campbell’s pals in commerce and construction. The loss will rival Abbott’s rout-seeking self-destruction given that only three years ago his party swept to power winning 67 out of 89 seats. Newman has also made history for the number of public kisses he can bestow at any one gathering and for carrying his sports jacket on his finger to all public appearances.

Boffins are baffled by the sudden outbreak of osculation in the Queensland premier’s repertoire of stunts but, with a nod and perhaps a pucker up to Newman’s military background have dubbed such gatherings the Kiss Army. Local pharmacists are said to have stockpiled anti-viral ointment to cope with any contingent eruptions of herpes simplex amongst party faithful, although these professionals prefer the term The Smackeroos when describing Newman’s fan club. A puckering of smackeroos is said to enter the vernacular as a collective description of any meet’ n greeting of LNP party members.

Similarly, Newman’s coat-carrying is held to be an inspiring demonstration of flexibility: that the Premier has other uses for his versatile forefinger beyond pointing into the middle distance whenever a photo-opportunity presents itself.  Or perhaps he deludes himself it makes him look taller. But that’s not all. ‘Fingers’ Newman has certainly been giving his middle digit a workout in dealing with the mob in Canberra.

The banana bender’s otherwise mind-numbingly dull election campaign has been fascinating for the message sent to the PM from the Premier of the Deep North, whose state motto must now be beautiful one day, rejected the next. Keep out or we call the bikies in. Show your face and we break it. Invoking their own unique form of border protectionism and in a one fingered salute to federalism, the Queensland government, an oxymoron heading for annihilation at the hands of outraged punters, has hoped to contain some of the damage by refusing to have a bar of Abbott or any of his mob. In this they have showed a rare common-sense but it is likely to prove too little too late. The electorate is not stupid nor does it forget that Abbott was all over his best-buddy Newman like a rash not so long ago. Besides, the damage has been done or, perhaps over-done: and the last thing Newman needs is an extra hand at the barbie to cook his own goose.

Border protectionism has only barely acted to contain the southern menace, however and today a mouth from the south has opened today spruiking the Liberal brand as the only party to make you rich. Joe Hockey, Australia’s worst treasurer, who can’t handle rejection of any kind typically pointed up the Liberals’ affiliation with materialism, greed and self-interest lest it be said after the rout, that he hadn’t done anything. His embarrassing barracking for the rich and the wannabe rich from the sidelines is unlikely to do either politician any good although Hockey is so unpopular that any further decline in his ratings is meaningless.

Apart from Joe’s blowing his bags, other harm was inflicted on Newman from the southern end of the Liberal grandstand. Opposition leader Annastacia Palaszczuk whose evocative name which evokes ballet rather than any rougher body-contact sport, will appear on spelling tests in all Queensland schools henceforth, has appeared naked in caricature astride a wrecking ball on a federal politician’s Facebook page. Apologies to Miley Cyrus is written in the corner.

The image has “nothing to do with me” according to Campbell Newman in a disclaimer which evokes Christopher Pyne’s denial that he had promised Ashby a job if he helped the Libs in opposition sink the slipper into power-balance holder and former Speaker Peter Slipper. The Facebook contribution was made by Dawson Coalition MP George Christensen, whose special talent lies in the new economy growth area of creating social media outrage, made his own helpful contribution to the Queensland election campaign on Tuesday, but inexplicably the cartoon was quickly taken down.

‘All my own work’ Christensen posted a cartoon of Ms Palaszczuk naked on a wrecking ball, crashing into a wall representing jobs at the controversial Abbot Point Coal Terminal, with Greens leader Christine Milne cheering in the background. Anxious Queenslanders and spelling bee buffs are at pains to point out the one t in the name of the coal terminal.

As for Ms Palaszczuk, herself, she appears to be a thoroughly decent person with a concern for others who has showed no tendency whatsoever to suck up to Rupert Murdoch nor flirt with anyone and everything with money in its pockets in a refreshing contrast to the current incumbent and in marked contrast to the nation’s PM whose obsequious fawning and sheer determination to play the royal toad had him dub Queen Elizabeth’s consort, Abbott’s soul-mate and kindred spirit, the unreconstructed autocrat, the Duke of Edinburgh, ‘Philip- who brought him?’, the man with a gaffe for all occasions with an Australian knighthood.

‘I say to the people of Queensland don’t abandon good government tomorrow’ was the abandoned Tony Abbott’s Captain’s call today in yet another puzzling phrase, a lexicographer’s study in gratuitous fatuity, a conundrum which is nevertheless likely to enter the national lexicon for its unintentional irony, ambivalence and its capacity to make history under the heading fatal last words.

Rupert Murdoch pulls the strings but this time Tony Abbott can’t dance.

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Il y a une femme dans toutes les affaires ; aussitôt qu’on me fait un rapport, je dis : « Cherchez la femme ! Dumas

(There is a woman in every case; as soon as they bring me a report, I say, “Look for the woman!”)

His knighting of the Duke in the Australia Day honours list provided final proof to an astonished world that Australia’s beleaguered Prime Minister Anthony John Abbott, had finally gone barking mad. Now the signs all added up: his erratic, flip-flop, decision-making, his disordered habit of speaking only in moronic slogans and superficial sound bites, his mangled syntax, his bizarre parochialism in the G20, his utterly inappropriate shirt-front taunt to Putin, the G20 playground psychopath, the oddly uncoordinated way he walked like a man holding a pig under each arm all suddenly made sense. The man was crazy. How could voters have missed this? He was stark raving mad. Completely bonkers. Mad as a cut snake. You bet you are, you bet I am.

Some say that now Abbott has completely lost his marbles he must be rolled before he causes further grief; others unkindly venture that he had very few marbles in the first place; whilst those who see no change argue that he’s not about to be deposed because his party harbours no credible heir-apparent.  They point to Malcolm Turnbull, a republican moderate who is widely hated by the conservatives and Julie Bishop, who gets some points by just not being Malcolm. Some others fancy tough guy Morrison with that special love conservatives harbour for closet fascism.

Bishop is an ambitious, self-promoter but she is a less than convincing Prime Ministerial candidate who will never live down her fluffy performance as shadow treasurer in 2008. She will also forever be dogged by her Princess Mesothelioma former legal career advocacy for those who opposed the claims of asbestosis victims and rest their cases. Morrison is such a mongrel that he is always appealing to those who hanker after the chimera of ‘strong leadership’ but is monstrously unpopular precisely because of his abrasive bed-side manner and his complete and utter egomania. Yet others point to Abbott’s outstanding lack of credentials in the leadership contest he won unconvincingly by one vote in 2009. How much lower could the bar be set?

All agree, however, the Prime Minister’s behaviour has been exceeding strange of late. Even for Tony Abbott. The focus in the national press has shifted from valiantly attempting to boost his government’s meagre achievements to: ‘Now look what he’s gone and done.’ Even Miranda Devine has turned against her erstwhile champion. Now her News Corp boss, ex-Australian Rupert Murdoch, the king maker of Australian politics, has invited Julie to his bachelor pad in New York for a candlelit supper, after which he has hopped on to his Blackberry.

Rupert has come out thumbs blazing. Peta Credlin is the root of all evil, it would seem to him. Fuelled, no doubt by Bishop’s bitch session, punctuated by mutual toasts of a vintage Piper-Heidsieck, nearly as ancient as Rupert and topped up with his own abundant and free-flowing misogyny, Murdoch has clearly formulated a plan to get rid of Credlin. It can’t be all Tony’s fault. After all, he boasted, I created him. And Julie has told me herself what a cow Credlin is. Cherchez la femme!

Those cheese eating surrender monkeys, the French, have a phrase for it: ‘Cherchez la femme.’ Look for the woman whenever a bloke appears to be off his game. ‘Le Bloke’ may be trying to impress a mistress or simply cover up an affair with one. Murdoch knows all about this. Doubtless still humbled for the rest of his life by the News of the World phone-tapping scandal, he is happy enough with himself, his relationship with Rebekah Brooks that he can now muster enough chutzpah to sink the slipper into Peta Credlin. It can’t be Tony, his own show pony. It can’t be a man. Cherchez la femme! Peta Credlin is to blame, the old twat tweeted.

Amazingly, Rupe Le Pew’s tweets were identical with a column published by his very own Miranda Devine, one of countless hordes of News Corp hacks who fall over themselves to put the boot in when the boss goes off someone. In a pair of tweets yesterday, Murdoch channelled News Corp columnist Miranda Devine, who yesterday said it was time to get rid of Ms Credlin. Or vice versa.

“Tough to write, but if he won’t replace top aide Peta Credlin she must do her patriotic duty and resign,” Mr Murdoch tweeted, thumbing down Abbott’s Chief of Staff in cold blood. Many commentators will argue, of course, that the buck stops with Abbott and that the entire scapegoating of Credlin is a nasty, messy gendered business. Rupert has missed his mark. But this view underestimates the crafty old buzzard’s capacity for strategy. Whilst it pleases him to have Credlin in his sights, he knows, surely, that Abbott will never agree to stand her down and that he will not accept a Credlin resignation under such duress. Instead he must fall on his sword. Murdoch is effectively calling for Abbott’s resignation.

Thumb still smouldering, Rupe Le Pew tweeted, apparently after reflection and a single malt whisky. “Forget fairness. This change only way to recover team work and achieve so much possible for Australia. Leading involves cruel choices”.

Murdoch could be hoping cynically that Abbott, a former Rhodes Scholar would forsake his Rhodesian principles for an act of cruelty. Cecil Rhodes’ criteria, however, cover a fair bit of territory: literary and scholastic attainments; energy to use one’s talents to the fullest, as exemplified by fondness for and success in sports; truth, courage, devotion to duty, sympathy for and protection of the weak, kindliness, unselfishness and fellowship; moral force of character and instincts to lead and to take an interest in one’s fellow beings.

Some of these principles governing behavior will take observers by surprise because they have been well-concealed so far by the PM but doubtless they have been internalized. Doubtless, also they point up by contrast what commended Abbott to Murdoch; what prompted him to back the then aspiring PM in the first place. Beneath the cachet of the Rhodes Scholar, Murdoch saw an unbridled pragmatism and a ruthless, if not fanatical determination and self-belief. Above all, he saw another radical conservative and a politician who would cheerfully do his bidding.

Rupert’s tweets have done all Australians an immense favour. They have shown where the power lies when it comes to Liberal governments. Such public tweaking of the strings of his puppet politician Abbott is really an enormous act of public service. Abbott must take the heat; do what Rupert wants or get out of the kitchen. Similarly the use of identical phrases in his tweets to the words used by Miranda Devine, the doyenne of his Australian tabloid press helps clarify the power relationship. Rupert rules the Liberal Party by force and very little if any finesse and is completely unafraid to put his instructions on Twitter for all to see.

We can forget all the rabid chattering about freedom and liberty in Abbott’s treatise Battlelines. We can ignore the waffle that accompanies the LNP’s latest draconian cut to social services, well-being or employment in the public service or in manufacturing. Liberal party philosophy never amounted to a hill of beans anyway. Now we can focus even more clearly on Abbott’s veneration of the power elite and the way he is programmed to do its bidding; his unalloyed loyalty to tycoonery above almost anything else.

That almost anything else includes Peta Credlin, however, and it is impossible at this stage to see Abbott, ‘letting her go’. To do so would invite another bucketing for his treatment of women. Moreover, it would further expose his own vulnerability as an antipodean Chauncey Gardiner. Besides Abbott would be lost without Peta Credlin by his side; someone to do his makeup, write his script, answer his questions in cabinet and even tell him what to wear, such as that flash bomber jacket he wore on his lightning visit to Iraq. And in the end he must accept full responsibility for making the Duke a knight. To do otherwise would reveal a damaging insight into who is really Prime Minister.

David Hicks’ Guantanomo Bay imprisonment found wrongful but Brandis in no hurry to apologise or stop beating the terror drum.

11 david hicks and his father


“Hey, my name is David Hicks,” he shouted, as Senator Brandis wrapped up his address at a Human Rights Awards function.

“I was tortured for five-and-a-half years in Guantanamo Bay in the full knowledge of your party. What do you have to say?”


Attorney-General George Brandis plumped himself expectantly before an ABC News 24 camera in Canberra late last week.  Brandis, a former trade practices lawyer, as pallid as an undead vampire, appeared like some portly nocturnal creature who had strayed somehow uncomfortably into daylight.

Brandis frowned, blinked myopically and peered about. The afternoon sun fell mercilessly on his pale bald pate. Was he expecting someone or just looking for the camera?  Was David Hicks’ challenge ringing in his small but perfectly formed ears? Or was it tinnitus? Off camera someone was giving instructions which Brandis was having trouble following.  Where to stand, perhaps.

The United States had just agreed David Hicks’ innocence after years of wrongful imprisonment in Guantanomo Bay. Viewers naturally expected Brandis had called the conference to apologise to Hicks. His conscience, we just assumed, had got the better of him. Obama had surely had a word. Now Brandis would step up to the plate and deliver a public apology. Others had been calling for one.

Hicks’ lawyer Stephen Kenny said his client David Hicks was looking forward to having his name cleared and deserved an apology from the Australian government.

“He understands that we’re really on the last straight to having his conviction cleared. So of course he is very excited about it and he would be very pleased to have his name cleared.”

Mr Kenny hoped the Australian Government would apologise for its part in Mr Hicks’s treatment.

“I think their support of holding David in Guantanamo Bay in those conditions for so long is a severe embarrassment and he at least deserves an apology from those who were involved,” he said.

“The current Government could issue an apology to David on behalf of the Howard Government and recognise that the Australian Government and in particular the Howard Government’s support of Guantanamo Bay was a serious error.”

Anticipation was mounting. Brandis would announce that he was sorry and then, we guessed, announce that his government had set up a compensation package for Hicks to make up for the suffering it had caused an innocent man. Surely, given its liability, the government would make a belated attempt at restitution and reparation for the damage and suffering caused to Hicks and his family.

A package must surely be in the offing. This would include a substantial consideration for damage caused to their reputations as a result of the Australian government’s support of his five and a half years of wrongful imprisonment and torture in Guantanomo Bay by the United States of America. There could even be specific reference to an out of court settlement for damage and loss caused by the George Brandis’ own libellous comments. Gerard Henderson would then surely follow.

But, no, our hopes and expectations were dashed. Brandis opened his mouth only to waste everyone’s time with another dull diatribe against home-grown Jihadists who went to fight for ISIS.  Perhaps we expected too much. Perhaps it was unreasonable to expect accountability or moral propriety from this man in pin stripes blinking in the Canberra sun or his government on their maltreatment and abandonment of Hicks. Perhaps it was a bridge too far, on a par with expecting Brandis to renounce his membership of the elitist, Bohemian, male-only Melbourne Savage Club with its guttural noises, chest-beating and other male bonding rituals.

Logically, this is not too much to expect. The Savage Club’s pledge to free-love, frugality and voluntary poverty, required of all members is a poor fit for Brandis, a fine dining voluptuary keenly working his way through a hefty smorgasbord of entitlement, assisted by Australian taxpayers who have invested heavily extra thousands in the senator’s hospitality, wine bill, custom-made bookshelves, his library and his many other perks of office. Why, a modest dining out, a meal with a special guest or two could cost over a thousand dollars. Then was the drinks bill after.

Brandis bumbled through a script about how the whole Australian nation must quake in its beds over the real risks of foreign fighters and how many there were and a lot of other scare-mongering of a similar nature, all without any evidence whatsoever.  The Attorney-General aired yet again the absurd Abbott government argument that legions of Australian foreign fighters are in fact a real and present danger to anyone at home. You can hear the same scenario from David Cameron and other self-styled defenders of freedom who sing from the same song book.

Brandis, who resembles Mr Magoo more than any lynx eyed legal beagle or even any Attorney General, appeared discombobulated, asking which way he should be facing whilst making odd shuffling and turning movements like a male emperor penguin who has been given an egg to incubate. It didn’t put him off his autocue, however. He was getting the message out. He even waved to someone off camera in that disconcertingly matey way favoured by so many deluded self-alienating others of his political persuasion. No-one was observed waving back.

Attorney-General Brandis claimed grandly ‘the total number of Australians thought to be involved in the conflict was now around 90, up from roughly 75 late last year,’ No evidence was given. Nor would evidence ever be forthcoming. National security legislation made such matters off limits to mere citizens.

‘Let us be fearful,’ was Brandis’ message, ‘for we harbour enemies in our midst.’ Or enemies who go and fight with ISIS and return all primed and battle-hardened to wreak terror at home. Such official warnings, such secrecy of operations and denunciations of public enemies have been favoured historically by totalitarian governments and by the United States in its war on terror. Show trials of apprehended enemies are part of totalitarian states repertoire of repression techniques. Captured public enemies such as David Hicks fits the bill perfectly. In leading Melbourne barrister Robert Richter QC’s words:

The charade that took place at Guantanamo Bay would have done Stalin’s show trials’ proud. First there was indefinite detention without charge. Then there was the torture; however the Bush lawyers, including his Attorney-General, might choose to describe it. Then there was the extorted confession of guilt.

Whatever Hicks may have done, the theatre of a voluntary plea of guilty when the choice is “rot in hell or say it’s true so you can go home” is worthy of The Grand Inquisitor. In Stalin’s as well as the German show trials of the 1930s, the essence of the display was the public confession, followed by the sentence. Details of the offence, of course, were crafted carefully by authorities to fit the current climate of fear-mongering and witch-hunting. And last week, Brandis was cranking the propaganda handle of the state’s fear machine.

Warming to his theme, Senator Brandis claimed intelligence agencies had noticed the “disturbing” demographic shift in the last six months. No-one present appeared remotely disturbed but our intelligence agencies are well-placed and well-paid to be disturbed on the nation’s behalf and we can expect George Brandis and the entire Abbott cabinet to bring this disturbance to our notice.

“More and more very young people are … being enticed and ensnared here in Australia with the false glamour of participating in the civil war on behalf of ISIL, or DAESH,” Brandis said hoping no-one would notice the parallel with members of the Australian armed forces whose numbers were soon to be increased by a Prime Minister seeking false glamour to boost his standing in the polls, a Prime Minister who is happy to pretend to the nation that we are supporting an Iraqi government at its request instead of following the US and in the process causing further grief and mischief by propping up a corrupt dictatorship with its own terror squads which inflict barbaric and brutal summary executions on innocent Iraqi civilians who happen to belong to be Sunni rather than Shia.

Fondly savouring his use of DAESH, because ISIS finds the term derogatory, Brandis’ acronym invokes ad-Dawlah al-Islāmīyah fil ‘Irāq wa ash-Shām a phrase which means The Islamic State in Iraq and Greater Syria.

Brandis was merely following his leader, Tony Abbott, who prefers a similar disdain for any nuanced appreciation of the conflict in Iraq.  Neither man appears to give a fig for the consequences despite both being keen to impress upon us the dangers we face from ISIS followers and would-be followers in our midst.

“DAESH hates being referred to by this term, and what they don’t like has an instinctive ­appeal to me,” Abbott said with relish in name-calling and a typical eagerness to give offence despite a situation urging caution.

ISIS supporters take offence because DAESH crucially omits the Islamic portion of the name. According to The Guardian’s Ian Black, DAESH “entered the ever-adaptive Arabic language big time: in the plural form — ‘daw’aish’ — it means bigots who impose their views on others.” ISIS leaders have threatened “to cut out the tongues” of anyone caught using the term DAESH.

Our own champion of 18C bigotry, Brandis’ appearance was also a classic in its own right, a highlight of the ABC News 24 chook-feeding news release. This ‘news’ looks increasingly like a propaganda session. Typically a government politician appears before a gathering of cameras to read his spiel and then pretends to answer inaudible questions. Sometimes we can faintly hear ‘reporters’ asking their questions. This gives the whole media release circus an additional absurdist twist as if the politician is talking to himself or herself in public (again). It also adds an extra level of incoherence to Brandis’ natural, halting delivery.

What is not absurd is how suppressing any comment or question or any real context favours propaganda and deviates from any responsibility to inform objectively. Of course, the trend towards a lack of audible questions in press releases and media briefings could simply be due to technical bungling or even ABC cutbacks but it needs to stop. The public has a right to know the truth.

Brandis blinking in the sun, an Attorney General briefing Australians on matters thought to be rather than known to be; assertions without evidence or explanation represents a government intent on feeding our fears whilst side-stepping its duty to inform; evading questions, shrugging aside responsibility, rationality and moral accountability. Denying David Hicks an apology or putting an apology on hold helps maintain the myth of the enemy of the state, a convenient construct to permit new laws, increased security and secrecy which effectively take all of us prisoner.

We must close our Pacific gulag on Manus Island.

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manus island

hunger strikers on Manus Islandhunger striker on manus in wheel chair

Hunger strike continues and expands on Manus: the Minister’s intemperate statements that asylum seekers are making “exaggerated and unfounded claims” are driving more people to join the protest. Ninety-five percent of Mike Compound – over 300 people – is now on hunger strike.


‘Manus Island is an experiment in the ultimate logic of deterrence, designed to frustrate the hell out of people and terrify them so that they go home. Your two options are indefinite detention or to return to the country where you fear persecution.’ Liz Thompson, refugee advocate on SBS Dateline.


No words could ever describe life in Manus Island Detention Centre, but imagine a makeshift, overcrowded, run-down camp of peeling weatherboard cabins, tents and shipping containers sweltering and festering in the jungle on a hot, humid, far-flung island amidst some of the poorest and most disadvantaged people in the world.

Your only company is that of other wretched unfortunates like yourself. Should you be ‘processed’ and found to be a genuine refugee, you may be freed but only to be settled locally. The local people, however, resent your presence. Your sense of entrapment is suffocating. Blend in the isolation, disease, and heat and you have Manus Island’s mission to deter.

The only hope of getting out of Manus is to return home to certain persecution or, if ‘processing’ establishes your bona fide refugee status, you will be set down amongst hostile locals to wait for re-settlement in another part of PNG that a reluctant, corrupt and inefficient government has not yet set up.  You could be there for years, if you survive. You fear for your life. Not that you are safe inside Manus, especially should you protest (and almost everyone must).

Four days ago, asylum seekers reported that guards threatened to rape and beat those of them who did not stop their protest. Fatal force was used a year ago when a mob of guards, staff, police and residents stormed the detention centre. They beat Iranian Reza Barati to death. Dozens of other asylum seekers were injured. The trauma of that beating and the violence of the mob are nightmares which still haunt the asylum seekers, many of whom are also suffering the trauma of war.

Fifty men have been told that on 22 January they will be forcibly resettled, a prospect which has precipitated the asylum seekers’ latest desperate bid to be listened to, a protest in which 700 people are still on hunger strike. Men have stitched together their lips in hunger strikes whilst one has attempted to commit suicide by swallowing razor blades and two have been stopped from hanging themselves.

Force is integral to Manus’ brutal regime. Whilst Immigration Minister Peter Dutton may deplore the demonstrations, he appears as wilfully oblivious as his predecessor, Morrison, to the institutionalised violence of the prison camp itself, to say nothing of the coercion involved in the parent policy of offshore detention itself.  When pressed on the issue, Dutton also follows Morrison’s lead in taking refuge in denial and hair-splitting semantics.

A “degree of force” Dutton concedes, was used on protestors but claims that the situation hasn’t turned violent. Asylum seekers beg to differ. They claim that detainees were “beaten like dogs” by guards. Dutton will, no doubt, claim they are making this up, just as he dismissed the claims that protestors had been refused drinking water, despite video evidence to the contrary. Sadly, such discrepancies have become a major theme in the reporting of Immigration and Border protection matters and make a mockery of promises of ‘transparency,’ a buzz-word on every government minister’s lips. The denial of reality is another powerful tool, moreover, in Manus’ campaign of psychological warfare against refugees and is helped by a context of privation.

Cruel privations include a lack of drinking water, low personal safety, poor hygiene and no first aid or adequate emergency medication. Reza Barati was beaten to death. Hamid Khazaei died of an infected cut caused by chromobacterium violaceum, a bacteria which can aggressively attack internal organs after entering the bloodstream.  In both cases, the authorities’ slow responses may well have contributed to their tragic deaths.

The worst cruelty, however, is the attack on the human spirit. Beyond words is the unrelenting, daily dashing of hope, the relentless, inexorable sense of abandonment, loss, failure, worthlessness and being forever cut off from family and friends and hope.

‘Life’ on Manus is not life as anyone of us outside would know it but more a type of death-in-life, a living nightmare. Only those who are locked up in here can truly know what it is to set out on a desperate quest for safety; a dangerous all or nothing bid for freedom only to end up in a stifling over-crowded badly-run prison that should never have been a prison in the first place.

Manus is not a place you would wish on your worst enemy. Yet for the thousand and thirty men who must suffer incarceration in its badly equipped, overcrowded and poorly designed facilities it is hell on earth. And that is its purpose: Manus is a prison designed to cripple the human spirit. Forget the euphemisms, ‘detention centre’ and ‘processing centre’ for these are part of the nightmare; part of the equivocating language of state cruelty in which terms are formulated to hide unpleasant truths; part of an impossible burden of uncertainty, a web of unknowing, a prison which crushes a man’s spirit or sends him mad with despair. ‘Abandon hope all ye who enter here for we have abandoned you, is Manus real motto.’ That abandonment is evident at every waking moment to all prisoners. It is reinforced by the facilities themselves.

Manus is a crowded, hot and dirty existential hell where men are consigned indefinitely for the crime of being forced to flee from persecution. It is hidden away, off the map, because it is a shameful abuse of our human obligations to others in need; an unconscionable abuse of their human rights. And it is blanketed in secrecy by a government which has no other solution than to resort to coercion, secrecy and lies.

In one darkened sleeping centre in Foxtrot compound, 122 men must share a room. It has no air-conditioning. In Delta compound, AAP media, visiting in March saw filthy toilets with no running water. There were broken showers in another compound. In the largest compound, Oscar, Amnesty reports, 500 men receive only a dozen bottles of water per day to share between themselves, a ration of less than 500ml of water per person per day which is extremely insufficient, especially given the heat and humidity.

Tightly packed shipping containers arrayed in rows, in another compound, each sleep four or five men. Deprivation and hardship are found at every turn, although the supervision is not without foresight. The guards in Manus Island’s prison are instructed to carry hooked knives to cut the ropes asylum seekers use to try to hang themselves.

Manus is meant as a deterrent, a place, to use former Immigration Minister Morrison’s phrase where the sugar is off the table.’ But as the latest protests attest, deterrence is not working, nor is the system that bequeathed it working. Manus is set to implode in violence.

The prison at Manus Island, keystone of our deeply flawed immigration policy’s ironically entitled PNG solution, is no solution at all. It is a squalid, unworkable compromise between the politically confected ‘asylum seeker problem’ with its rhetoric of stop the boats and the bare necessities of custodial care.

While our government pats itself on the back for a job well done, the evidence attests otherwise. Their asylum-seeker problem is far from solved. Nothing has been well done.  Costing $632 million or half a million dollars per detainee last year alone to administer, Manus attests to our failure to develop any other policy beyond containment, an expensive holding pen where asylum seekers are at risk of death or injury and serious psychological damage.

Manus is less an answer than a series of serious questions about how we see ourselves and how we treat others in need, questions that go to the heart of what it is to be human; questions which puncture the machismo of our national identity; questions which prompt a growing source of acute national shame and self-reproach to all decent Australian citizens in whose name endless, incalculable cruelties are inflicted daily. Why and how can we allow it to go on? It is time we stepped up to the plate and owned our own part in what is done on our behalf; done in our name; time we stood up and were counted.

For it is in the name of the Australian people that 1030 men have been locked up against their will; consigned to oblivion in an existential hell for daring to seek our help; locked down in a gulag in the midst of one of the most disadvantaged communities in the world. We have put them in a gulag.

Powes Parkop, a human rights lawyer and governor of Port Moresby and the National Capital District, who grew up on Manus Island, coins the term Pacific gulag to describe the hell into which we have confined asylum seekers. ‘The Manus detention centre offends both PNG law and local culture,’ he says. The PNG mobile squad police do not help the situation.

Squads of PNG’s notorious mobile squad police have been brought in as hired muscle. Ostensibly there to guard the ‘detention centre’ enterprise, the mobile squad has made a violent impact on the local community causing the deaths to date of two locals, one beaten to death in full view for a critical remark, another a promising schoolboy knocked down by a drunk driver, a mobile squad policeman who veered on to the wrong side of the road. The policeman had been observed drinking heavily during that day.

The mobile squad enforces compliance with the enterprise, menacing villagers who may object to any detention centre activities. It was supporting the prison staff when Reza Berati was beaten to death.

Australians are not by nature cruel, vindictive or lacking in compassion. How can we live with ourselves while Manus continues to exist? How can we remain unmoved when those we have locked up protest or are forced to resort to self-harm because it is their only remaining avenue of redress? It is a dangerous place. One person per day is put in isolation for their own safety. According to leaked medical records there have been at least forty-eight medical evacuations to date.

Manus exists to inflict barbaric treatment and utterly undeserved punishment on the dispossessed; to maltreat those vulnerable, innocent, long suffering peoples whose only mistake has been to seek our help, our compassion and our understanding in their desperate need to take refuge from persecution at home, a refuge which they have every right to seek.

It is not illegal to seek refuge. The 1951 United Nations convention offers protection to those fleeing their country as a result of “a well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group, or political opinion”. What is illegal and immoral is our denial of our obligations and responsibilities to our fellow human beings who through no fault of their own, people who have done no wrong except to be in the wrong place at the wrong time just happen to be refugees. Manus is our disgrace, our national shame: its existence does not reflect creditably on any of us.

Along with the other hell-holes such as Nauru, Christmas Island, and the yet to be commissioned Cambodian detention centre, our political newspeak blunts the truth of, preferring terms such as detention centres or processing centres, the legal framework under which asylum seekers are transferred to and held at Manus Island has been heavily criticised by leading international human rights organisations such as the United Nations High Commission on Refugees (UNHCR) and Amnesty International and by the Australian Joint Parliamentary Committee on Human Rights and the Australian Human Rights Commission. The UN speaks out against the flagrant violations of human rights such as indefinite detention and the incarceration of children. Surely Manus is an abomination. How did it come about?

Manus has been an ‘out of sight out of mind’ instrument of Australian immigration policy since 2001 when John Howard conceived his Pacific Solution in response to what it called the ‘Tampa crisis,’ a manufactured crisis with lies about babies overboard and other forms of deceit all cynically calculated to win political advantage and obscure the reality of the cruel and violent interception of an asylum seeker boat. Howard’s Pacific Solution set in train the process of offshore detention, a type of forcible deportation which has cost all of us dearly both in our international reputation and in our sense of ourselves, to say nothing of the utter ruination of the lives of the asylum-seekers. The damage is incalculable. The Pacific Solution, a phrase uncomfortably close to the NAZI Final Solution, was neither ‘pacific’ nor was it any ‘solution.’

Off shore detention has stripped all decent Australians of their natural capacity, their instinct to practice tolerance, compassion and humanity. It has violated that sense of ourselves we call mateship, our spontaneous instinct to support, help and deal fairly with others and it has vitiated our natural impulse towards acceptance, understanding and compassion. It is time we called a stop to the practice. It is time we tended the needs of the all those who desperately turn to us for help. Far more than a blot on the body politic, Manus is an atrocity in the name of us all, an inhumanity which diminishes us all.

Far from the public eye, its isolation originally commended Manus Island, which lies about 800km north of Port Moresby, to Howard’s government because it provided an extra dimension of deprivation and suffering to asylum seekers, whom it was resolved to deal with as harshly as possible to ‘send a message to people smugglers.’ Yet what is that message?

No better, surely, than terrorists who attack a few targets to send a message to a whole society, argues Nick Reimer, of the Refugee Action Collective, Sydney.

How best to deal with the monster of Manus? We should begin by rejecting the cloak of secrecy that was invoked by Morrison with his quasi-military regime and his refusal to speak of ‘on-water’ matters. It is inappropriate and it is undemocratic. We are not at war. Elected governments have a clear and abiding responsibility to inform all citizens of their operations. We need to demand up to date, objective information as our right. The right to visit Manus which was denied our Human Rights Commissioner, Gillian Triggs and denied to our media should be re-instated immediately.

We must reject entirely the language of manipulation. Manus is a prison; its prisoners are being dealt with in a way calculated to cause hardship and suffering beyond the privations of incarceration. Let us use plain words to tell plain truths. We are punishing the innocent because it suits us to blame others rather than confront ourselves and our own failings at the heart of the problem. We have allowed ourselves to believe absurd lies and myths about asylum seekers when we should be listening to each asylum seeker and opening our hearts.

Above all we must call a stop to blaming the victim. Riots occur when people have no other means of being noticed, being heard. End the foolish nonsense of pretending that the demonstrations at Manus are somehow not genuine. Challenge official explanations.

Rookie Immigration Minister Dutton, whose first act in his new job was to arm customs officers, has so far has shown all the feelings of a crash test dummy and something of the same demeanour. He should not be allowed to get away with allegations which he refuses to substantiate.

On ABC recently Dutton refused to give detail to support his allegation that prisoners were armed. He did, however, tender the ludicrously implausible explanation that Manus Island asylum seekers had been coached in self-harm by refugee advocates for political motives.

Imagine this bizarre claim in reality. The ‘advocate’ sews up his or her own lips or swallows razor blades outside the wire and the asylum seeker copies his or her coach.

Even more ludicrous is Dutton’s implication that everyone is happy but a few trouble-makers have stirred the others up. Only a few? Informal reports suggest we are talking about 700 out of 1030 men who are demonstrating. Dutton’s paranoid logic, moreover, boggles the imagination.  Who would travel to Manus just to foment a demonstration for political purposes? He needs to be required to supply evidence.

The only suspect political motives to be deplored in Manus Island are entirely this government’s own. Instead of blaming advocates who seek to ease suffering, the government should admit it has failed, close the prison, close down the offshore detention system and relocate the asylum seekers to the mainland where they can be released into the community until such time as their claims are proved.

We need to press all our politicians to act responsibly in Immigration especially, sharing all information essential to accountability. Reject their spin and their jargon and ask clear questions which probe the heart of the matter. Assert our right to see for ourselves. The offshore detention centre system is a prison set up to punish those hapless souls we have caught fleeing from persecution. They have thrown themselves on our mercy. Let us not throw them in prison on Manus Island or any other island but rather take them in and minister to them for in this we affirm our humanity. There is no other possible course of action.

Abbott rolled by Brough in back bench revolt over Health flip-flop flapdoodle.

1 an aghast sussan ley


Caught like a bunny in a spotlight, Australia’s own Darwin Award contender, Prime Minister Tony Abbott froze in the cold unblinking stares of a posse of hostile men and three women who told him they’d had enough and were not taking any more. Abbott was shirt-fronted by rebels in his own backbench, a backbench fit to kill or hang the PM out to dry.

In politics backbenchers can be like canaries in a mine. They know how much a government is on the nose and often well before.  To be fair, Tony Abbott was not exactly in top form, not that he ever was what you might call on top of his game. Opinion polls were still in free fall and had been, basically, since he took office. The budget was buggered. Morrison was about to drop a grenade into welfare, Andrews could barely keep awake when anything military came up and Dutton was a dud he’d had to shift sideways. He wished he had never allowed Peta to talk him into a reshuffle even if it meant Sussan Ley could carry the can for him.

In truth there was a lot more to regret in the lame duck PM’s self-inflicted crisis than mere feet of clay. Autocratic by nature, his Chief of Staff Peta Credlin, took her quasi-military title very seriously and was causing him all kinds of grief. It wasn’t just the way she bossed everyone around mercilessly, or merely her narcissistic personality disorder, it was her hard-line approach and the feeling people had that she could cheerfully kill them because of their insufferable congenital idiocy or just because she could. That and the fact that she rivalled Kevin Rudd in achieving a complete stranglehold on decision-making in her total control of government. And in her leaking to the media. Oh, and that the whole of Australia could see she had him by the balls.

Peta Credlin, loosened Abbott’s tie, placed calls for him and then massaged his temples, propping the PM’s head on a handy copy of Battlelines while he lay flat on his back, arms outstretched, cruciform at her feet and thought of England, cursing himself soundly for not having got around to renouncing his citizenship.

Peta read a few passages from BA Santamaria and dusted her boss’s signed photograph of George Pell in her own little revival ritual before checking her online salary deposit details. That usually did the trick. Comforted, she put her Blackberry on speaker phone.

The air was blue; some of the language would have made a bullocky blush. Never put a disgruntled punter on hold or on speaker phone. An ear-bashing from a furious, toey back bench later confirmed the worst: rebellion was raging. He’d have to backflip. Their backs were up well and truly. Their noses were out of joint. Blue ties were awry all over the shop. Even Abbott knew he had to back down.

Abbott was thus forced to rescind his hard-fought in cabinet decision to reduce the Medicare rebate for a short consultation to $20 leaving new Health minister and licensed pilot Sussan Ley to fly solo. Looks like you had to sell your arse after all, Credlin taunted. They both knew she was the author of the proposed changes which had been developed by the Prime Minister’s Office and then costed by the Department of Finance and Health. And they both knew she’d been leaking to News Corp about how Turnbull would make a better Treasurer than Hockey, another reason he had become more than a little unreasonable lately, such as the last cabinet meeting.

They both knew the bruising fight that had erupted between Hockey who had cut up ugly about keeping the $7 co-payment and the PM who had gone into bat for Peta’s rebate reduction and had stuck to his crease although it had cost him dearly. It was toe to toe.

Now Abbott was shirt-fronted by Mal Brough and Campbell Newman who had ganged up against the PM. Brough read the riot act. He began by quoting from the Fairfax Press, one of the ‘against us’ newspapers Abbott cannot bear to read reminding the PM.

The Coalition is “not a happy family” and there is a “shitload of room for improvement.” You leave us in the dark over everything your GP co-payment, your cabinet re-shuffle. Why? Because it’s all up to you and Credlin. Everything is centralised in your office. We don’t get a look in.

“We are not all a happy family … You have to ask people outside the backbench what’s happening with the policy decisions, because we are left right out.”

What are you gunna do? Brough bellowed. Now we all know Newman’s been on the blower so you can take it from the both us.  Your health policy is gunna destroy us all. And only you can’t see it.

The two blue-tied boys from the deep North demanded that the PM back down there and then or Broughie would go public. He would tell all of Australia exactly what he thought of Abbott and his flip-flop, flapdoodle Health policy.

(A staffer suggested ‘flapdoodle.’ It fits a lot of things from foreign policy to our home grown jihadist alerts, our metadata gathering war on terror, and his government’s notoriously abortive failure to negotiate its ‘user pays more’ model health policy.) It may even enter the vernacular lexicon as in: is that government policy or just an Abbott flapdoodle? It is on a par with: ‘is that the truth or did you read in the Daily Telegraph?’

Brough said that he might even get a staffer to go on TV and fake news of a palace revolution as he did with his paedophile accusations when he was Minister for allegations of rorting, misappropriating and Aboriginal Affairs under Howard.

Maaate, there is all sorts of stuff I could go public on and you know it, he said. All sorts of stuff.

Abbott shivered and cursed the name of Peter Slipper. He wished he’d never been best man at Peter Slipper’s wedding.

Brough had been a bit out of the public eye for two years ever since he conspired with James Ashby former speaker Peter Slipper’s staffer, to bring down the most senior elected official in the Parliament but he always was a loose cannon. And when the going gets Brough, the Brough gets going.

Brough dug up further chutzpah from his own limitless resources. He knew he had nothing to lose and that Abbott was a dead man walking. He squared off against the PM as old mates so often do.  Don’t expect this to be fair, he bellowed. He would spill his guts about Christopher Pyne’s real role in Ashbygate. There was no end of such handy trump cards. Of course Brough had made a few calls to the backbench. All his mates were behind him one hundred per cent, at least, for as long as it all went their way.

Newman who will possibly lose his seat anyway, did not want another albatross around his neck, getting in the way of all the kissing as in his Hillside revivalist meeting cum campaign launch in his snap election. The quickie election was a desperate move by a conservative politician whose vision is so limited he is politically legally blind, Newman is still a politician, nevertheless, and even he can see the clock ticking down on his political career.

It was a tough call for Abbott. The sight of his former mate Mal’s ugly mug twisting defiantly and threatening to do his career grievous bodily harm sent him further into shock.

Brough’s rebellion was a crisis for the conflicted PM who has good reason not to alienate Brough but better reasons to show leadership. Capitulation would be costly. There may even still be some of his supporters still waiting for Abbott to make sound policy and stick to it. His career was on the line.

‘Bagging Labor doesn’t cut it anymore. We’ve all had more than a gutsful of that. Pretending to have a plan when you chop and change all the time only draws attention to the fact that you can’t make your mind up or else you lie about it when you do. You need to lead from the front. Piss or get off the pot.’

Strapped for time, courage, support, advice or any other form of ready wherewithal, smarting from his hiding at the hands of those he thought he could safely Abbott could take no public part in announcing his latest humiliating backdown. Demure debutante Health Minister, Sussan Ley, a lass with a lovely smile and the political instincts of who could have counted on a few points just for not being Dutton, was forced to make her maiden policy statement all on her own. And it wasn’t a policy, it was a reversal, a humiliating and damaging backdown.

Sussan Ley’s words sounded as false as a Royal Commission into Trade Unions and convinced no-one of anything except she was now the bunny.

“I’ve heard, I’ve listened and I’m deciding to take this action now. It’s off the table and I stand ready to engage, to consult, and to talk to the sector,” she said ignoring the fact that the change by regulation was hardly ‘on the table’ if we allow the phrase its normal meaning of ‘up for negotiation.’

Of course, she could be referring to another table, a more arcane reference to a mythic table that Scott Morrison referred to so often when he told us he would take the sugar off the table when he was our Minister of Immigration.  The poor, the sick, the elderly and the infirm would not find a place at such a table. They would instead by hounded down like some low borer or form of woodworm whose needs just cannot be met without bringing the whole table down.

This table is our low table of shame: all the sugar in the world on all the tables in creation could ever sweeten his regime of indefinite detention, death by bashing, death by neglect, rape and forcible relocation into the hands of your tormentors.

Abbott’s unsweetened, bitter political reality is that he no longer has any kind of table reservation, especially in Health, a ministry which every day looks less like a government department helping sick people get well than a money changer’s table in the temple of public health. No-one is game to set a place for him at any other table either because of all his baggage; all his minders and toxic hangers-on be they IPA, Commission of Audit, or CIA, a dead set worry the lot of them.

‘Nor do you have any strategy,’ Brough reminded the mortally wounded PM. You whinge and cringe and then blame Labor. You’re full of it. It’s futile, wrong-headed and hypocritical to suggest that if Labor continues to block these measures in the Senate, it should propose an alternative. I am here to tell you, Prime Minister, once and for all: the Labor Party is the alternative. Besides, when you tell Labor to put up or shut up; when you call for their alternative, you make us sound like we don’t have ideas of our own.

Big Mal, a former Howard rising star member of his inner cabinet, put forward by some wilfully deluded Liberals as a leadership contender, is like so many Liberal Party aspirants and incumbents, a man with a past so chequered you could play drafts on it. Brough, for example, made much of the running in the Liberals’ sleazy plot to get Peter Slipper, a scheme which to this day reverberates with unanswered questions if not potential legal issues. He was judged to have conspired against the Speaker of the House, resulting in an abuse of The Federal Court.

It has been alleged, moreover, that Slipper’s young staffer Ashby was put up to make a charge of sexual harassment against Peter Slipper, the former speaker and bon viveur, whom it was true had the odd issue including an infatuation with regalia and according to the emails to Ashby, an Oliver Sacks-like cognitive impairment, apparently mistaking his wife for a fish shop.

Brough issued an ultimatum; either Abbott back-flipped or Brough went public. Abbott complied with such alacrity that he is a stand out candidate for a coaching job at the Fruit Fly Circus should all his après politics leads for jobs on boards of directors in commerce and industry go bad on him.

It was a sudden decision, catching Bruce Billson like a stranded guppy, eyes bulging and gills flapping maintaining that there was no change to policy. Billson, doubtless, had an out of date set of talking points. He should hang on to these because whatever goes around comes around and who knows his government may have changed its mind again tomorrow. Or its leader.

Jargon devours our body politic, degrades our national identity and destroys our duty of care.

aaa child and doctor

Australians are a plain-speaking people who prefer simple, direct speech in their everyday dealings. We also, however, have a fondness for the vernacular, our unique, colourful, colloquial language.  Our national conversation is enriched by vivid images and vital figures of speech and it is often underscored by a capacity for ironic understatement which keeps us from having tickets on ourselves and which can also act as a reality check on others’ pretensions.

The Australian tradition is under attack today, however, from all sides, from spinners who could sell their own grandmothers to experts who wilfully pepper their conversation with jargon, happily losing whole audiences in the quest to bolster their own status and to have the last word. No wonder disillusionment with politics appears rampant. We have forsaken substance for smoke and mirrors. We are hungry for information but we are served up regurgitated often ill-digested remnants of someone else’s haute cuisine. We are talked at endlessly; jawboned by asses with diplomas in communications and public relations and wannabe economists who know the price of everything and the value of nothing. The worst of these merchants may convince themselves of their own importance but they end up talking to themselves in public. Best we not dwell any further on the failures; far better we turn to our successes.

Our finest political discourse is typically vigorous, succinct and to the point. When Paul Keating sought the leadership from a resistant Bob Hawke, his words were. ‘I was after his job. He didn’t want to give it to me.’ Keating was a master of memorable speech, he could effortlessly change register to mine rich colloquial idioms or even invent some:

Well, the thing about poor old Costello, he’s all tip and no iceberg, you know. You know, he can throw a punch across the parliament, but the bloke he should be throwing the punch to is Howard. Of course, he doesn’t have the ticker for it.

Neither man nor politician was ever lost for words and their best left no-one in any doubt as to where he or she might stand. At the same time there is a robust, sentient vitality: as Sydney Baker, who published several works on slang: the Australian’s ‘greatest talent is for idiomatic invention. It is a manifestation of our vitality and restless imagination’.

Keating’s masterful debating style was acerbic and theatrical but informed by living Australian language and culture; drawing strength and power from the vital oral traditions of the nation at work and at play, at home and in the street. His entertaining but deadly debating style has gifted a number of acidulous one-liners to our lexicon. These can still be relished today:

The Leader of the Opposition is more to be pitied than despised, the poor old thing. The Liberal Party of Australia ought to put him down like a faithful old dog because he is of no use to it and of no use to the nation.

The image is engaging, outwardly familiar and couched kindly, almost sympathetically, but there is a stiletto twist within the bouquet and the deadly main message is spelt out with unhurried, unmistakeable, declarative clarity. Keating was inventive in the best Australian tradition, with a surrealistic twist as and when required: Decrying John Hewson’s debating he said:

‘It was the limpest performance I have ever seen … it was like being flogged with a warm lettuce. It was like being mauled by a dead sheep.’

Our public speech, however, has been increasingly undermined as exotic linguistic forces have done their colonising. Flash as a rat with a gold tooth, the expert undermines the field if not the high ground of our national conversation.

Experts, of course, come in many guises from the hired pun, the lone ‘communication consultant’ to entire agencies dedicated to helping you get your message out. The PM spends millions on his stable of spin doctors and speech writers and cannot leave the office without his talking points, a list of empty phrases every parliamentary party member parrots but never owns. Could he do without them? We have his words for it. ‘You bet I am! You bet I will.’

The government pays experts with our money to exclude us from dialogue in the aim of ‘selling its message’ or ‘touching base with the electorate.’ The professional explainer pops up amongst us at every turn. He or she may take many forms, from the tax expert with his ‘bracket creep’ to the weather person with her ‘rain event.’ Jargon has colonised our discourse, laying waste plain speech, promoting indirection, evasion and enhancing mightily the prospects of those who would baffle in order to pull rank, exert power or dodge responsibility.

Like a rat up a drain-pipe, jargon has raced onto the stage of our national consciousness. It has infested mass media and it hovers over popular discussion ready to strike. It squats, today, upon our nation’s public discourse like a cane toad, an ugly and noxious foreign invader, dulling our senses, poisoning our hearts often crushing our spirits with its bulk. Nowhere is the poison better exemplified in than in Health. Our new minister, Sussan Ley, has wasted no time in announcing that the principle of the co-payment is to send a price signal. She wants to raise doctors’ fees but dare not put it plainly. She may be new to the job but she is already confounding us with jargon creep, Wronski’s new term for the invasion of technical language and the exodus of real communication.

Jargon creep, gets its name from bracket creep, a term first heard from the lips of Peter Costello a former Federal LNP Treasurer who frittered away the profits from the mining boom on tax breaks to sweeten his party’s electoral appeal and thus keep John Howard’s government in power well beyond its use by date. Jargon creep is all pervasive. Everywhere around us, in our newspapers, social media, advertising copywriting, on our radio and TV, even in online newspapers our senses are assaulted from breakfast to bed time by the steady, insidious infiltration of jargon into our everyday lives, especially, but by no means exclusively, the misuse of economic jargon to explain, regulate or justify human activity.

No longer do we expect to ‘see results’; ask ‘what happens,’ we must instead, increasingly be prepared to see how this plays out. Within this gem is the idea that we are spectators at some game. We are not responsible agents ourselves but instead we are bemused onlookers who must hang around to see some random result. See how this plays out is heard everywhere and unless we can resist the implicit sidelining or abdication of our own agency, it will be all over red rover.

Jargon makes us passive onlookers. It excludes us and it transfers our right to be in charge to other agents. Just in case you thought you are just reading this, for example, let me put you straight: you are in fact an electronic text consumer, consuming a product. I am not writing to you, I am engaged in content delivery. Meaning is of course, in the best postmodern fashion relegated to a secondary and optional extra. The black cat is white if that’s your take on it. What do I mean? It is whatever you care to take from this, a ludicrous overstatement of subjectivity in understanding. Next thing you know we will that have one man moved to tears by looking at our asylum seekers’ deaths in custody whilst another may applaud our toughness, a brave stand to protect of our borders.

One of the lowest, most disgraceful points ever reached in our national history occurred last year when the Federal Immigration Minister, Scott Morrison, typically anguished in his expressions of regret to parliament at having to keep asylum seekers in detention centres when they could have otherwise been working for a pittance in Australian fields and factories. ‘I don’t have a product!’ was his protest. Of course his ‘lack of product’ was all the fault of the senate and the Labor Party but then jargon is handy that way. It helps shift the blame for our own reprehensible actions on to others. And it obscures the truth, which in this case was that the minister could have issued temporary visas if he had really wanted to. There are still, it grieves me to note children in detention men and women languish in indefinite detention while the government unaccountably pats itself on the back for honouring an empty slogan: stopping the boats.

Jargon is the language of experts in a particular field of endeavour, which has jumped the fence. For example, a challenged Federal Treasurer may explain his government’s decision to increase doctor’s fees by claiming that we need to send a price signal.

What he means is that he wants to put the fees up. He just wants it to sound less arbitrary and somehow fairer and more reasonable. He is deluded enough to believe that the jargon will sweeten the bitter pill of deception. The jargon is always a lie and an obfuscation. Only in our present political regimes it will be parroted by the entire mob of galahs with their talking points and their people in the background doing meaningful nodding; as if repetition and mindless endorsement somehow strengthened rather than undermined meaning. Politicians talk of the team being ‘on message’ but what they mean is they are happy to have everyone ‘singing from the same song sheet’ or endlessly duplicating slogans that never bore inspection in the first place. Take Mr Abbott’s government’s real solutions pledge:

The Coalition’s Real Solutions Plan will build a diverse 5-pillar economy to build on our strengths, including in manufacturing. I will spare you the detail because there is none. The package is a set of glib slogans that nonetheless have been endless recycled by the sections of the tame media as if they were ever a meaningful commitment to anything. And so it is with price signal an asinine compound noun which has been dragged from the neo-con economics textbooks out into the wider world of Health where it sticks out like a shag on a rock. Not only does it not belong in public health it should be expunged from all political discourse instantly.

Price signal has become a familiar term recently because of our government’s plans to increase GP charges by decreasing the Medicare rebate.  Economists invented ‘ price signal’ to explain their theory that higher prices send a signal to buyers to reduce their consumption. Now without wading into economic theory and competing notions of price setting, the analogy is outrageous. It’s not only nonsense, it’s the worst kind of nonsense and completely injurious to your health. Moreover, it’s dangerous nonsense. How can a visit to a doctor be compared with buying a loaf of bread or any other commodity? How can health be compared to the supply and demand of commodities of any kind?

“Health and health care,” Greek Physician Dr Benos said in 2012, “are not commodities that exist to drive the economy. They are among the social goals which we have an economy to achieve.” Yet we are being driven mad with meaningless jargon about the Market, about the need to pinch our pennies, to tighten our belts; the ‘virtue of austerity, when what we need to ask is “Why?’ Why is there an economy? What is the goal of production? Surely it is to provide a society equipped to care for every one of its members. Let’s reject the price signal jargon and everything it stands for including the cruel myth propagated in the United States of America that when we support the core needs of the most vulnerable, we weaken the economy. Let’s not be hoodwinked by experts and jargon into getting it arse about face. Taking care of people comes first. It’s not the economy, stupid.

Wronski’s rule of thumb states that: Very little in human affairs can be explained in market terms; the best things are inexplicable, especially in market terms; the more we resist market jargon, the more things will make sense and the happier we will be. Above all health is our society’s lifeblood and an inalienable right for each member not a commodity that needs its price signalled.

Je ne suis pas Charlie Hebdo. Tragedy and Truth in Paris.

Paris-Demonstration


Freedom of speech has burst back into the national arena following the shocking, cold-blooded murder of twelve workers at Charlie Hebdo, a Parisian satirical magazine which rose to notoriety for its provocative cartoons, caricatures and its gleeful parody of powerful institutions. Fearlessly, if not recklessly, venturing beyond reason and decorum to attack religious extremism of all persuasions, Charlie Hedbo won a certain ill-repute and, until recently, a loyal, if declining, following whilst simultaneously attracting many sworn enemies.

No stranger to controversy including death threats, the magazine’s offices were fire-bombed in 2011 over a special issue featuring a cartoon impression of the Islamic Prophet Mohammed as its editor-in-chief, Charlie Hebdo. To outsiders bereft of key critical French cultural contexts and constructs, much of the humour is lost in translation but its irrepressible iconoclasm and confronting irreverence are unmistakeable and doubtless not unattractive to readers who might already struggle with authority, convention and political correctness.  It set out to shock and shock it did, often crudely. Yet a publication must do more than be confronting to earn its audience.

A recent issue depicts clearly pregnant kidnapped Nigerian schoolgirls screaming in unison. Their plea? Don’t touch our ‘allocs’ (allowances.)  It’s funny only to those who can desensitise feelings of repulsion towards Boko Haram and to the abduction and rape of 300 young women. And even then it runs the risk of simply cementing the prejudices of readers seeking confirmation of their animus towards migrant welfare bludgers and women.

Unfettered by good taste or common decency, the magazine did not hold itself back. Doubtless, even our own George Brandis would have felt a warm inner glow at Charlie Hebdo’s liberal propagation of blasphemous images, racial stereotypes and insults bordering on hate speech, (a crime which is rigorously prosecuted in France, despite much recent misreporting), as a vision of what he could achieve in Australia with the repeal of section 18c.  Even Brandis, however, could not pretend that such views were in demand: Charlie Hebdo was a basket case financially despite its government subsidy, (subsidies help explain why there are 1500 newspapers in Paris.) Now, ironically, sales are booming worldwide with the latest edition offered for auction on eBay and attracting thousand pound bids. Yet none of it persuades me that Je suis Charlie.

Rude good health of sorts has been restored to the mortally wounded Charlie Hebdo after the tragic loss of life of its creative midwives, rekindling gallows humourists and satirists’ interest in the phrases ‘over my dead body’ and the Gallic protestation to love something or someone Je t’aime à la folie, jusqu’à la mort. (I love you madly until death.) Whilst an issue has been published in a quixotic gesture of defiance, it remains to be seen, however, what direction the revitalised paper will take from now on.

Equally unknowable is the future of the Charlie Hebdo movement although its longevity looks already in doubt. Although many would like to assume that there is a cause at stake, it is difficult to state precisely what that cause may be unless we imagine a society that is better for having a freedom to be crudely, cruelly insensitive and calculatedly offensive, a freedom to hold all things up to merciless ridicule. Yet the Charlie Hedbo phenomenon is nothing without its quixotic followers.

The brutal unforgivable summary execution, of a dozen Charlie Hedbo workers led to a collective outburst of anger and grief in a massive popular demonstration in Parisian streets of a nature not seen since VE Day. More than a rally, however, the terrorists’ attack prompted a type of raptus, exciting and inflaming passions whilst capturing the public imagination.

Now the whole world, it seems, has become if not French, at least keenly interested in paying homage to Charlie. Golden Globes Award, commentators elevated it to The Je suis Charlie movement whilst photographers thoughtfully provided stars with signs, buttons and placards, prêt à porter, as it were. And whilst alert entrepreneurs around the world flock to this latest cause celebre, there is no knowing where it will end. It is reported that the phrase Je suis Charlie has been the subject of patent applications by several enterprising international citizens. But what is Je suis Charlie? What does it mean? Is it anything more than a fleeting folie a foule, an ephemeral group madness?

What is happening in Paris and in the spiritual, imaginary or completely fictive Paris of the hearts and minds of the international community and what it means is a complex, multilayered phenomenon best interpreted cautiously, yet this has not deterred mass media and other commercial interests from providing ready to wear labels, in the quest for making meaning or a host of other related quests such as to foster, adopt or take it over.

In the process, as is to be expected, a blurring of focus and some wilful distortion have taken place. Widespread, for example, is an urge to characterise, explain and identify, a dynamic that is not confined to the professional myth-makers in the international scrimmage over the chance to say what Je suis Charlie represents.

‘It’s about self-expression,’ a protestor volunteered yesterday whilst George Clooney expressed his own take from the Golden Globes stage with:

‘There were millions people that marched . . . in support of the idea that we will not walk in fear. We won’t do it. So, je suis Charlie.’

Support for progressive causes is not unfashionable in modern Hollywood but some in the audience would have recalled Ronald Reagan and his shopping of fellow actors and competitors to the House Committee for Un-American activities which began its witch hunt in 1945 and faded only in the early 1950s or the double lives led by actors afraid to declare their sexuality and who walked in fear lest the truth would ruin their careers. In this context, however, Clooney’s support for the ‘Charlie thing…’ however vaguely defined is refreshing.

Support should never be overanalysed. Much current interest in Je suis Charlie initially seems to have been a simple, instinctive and undifferentiated sympathy; a public identification, manifested in the rally; at best a spontaneous and uncomplicated expression of compassion for the victims and their families. Immediately, however, commentators have packaged and promoted this feeling into a statement of solidarity by supporters of free speech, freedom of expression and even self-expression. In the circumstances it is useful to carefully establish our own perspective.

People took to the streets to defend their right to say what they like and to protest at the brutal, barbaric outrage that cost the lives of twelve staff at Charlie Hebdo and the wounding of many others. What motivated them is a more complex and profound matter but at heart the rally was a massive and unprecedented public display of camaraderie not seen for decades in Parisian streets. Naturally this first reading of events only touches the surface of what is ultimately a complex, multi-layered phenomenon in its own right but it is important it not to lose sight of what it was before we draw long bows as to why and how.

On the surface, the Je suis Charlie demonstration remains a remarkable phenomenon which drew record crowds in an arresting, collective outpouring of outrage, anger and sorrow. Few could be unmoved by such a spontaneous popular demonstration of feeling. This is not to forget, of course, that many complex cross currents were at work beneath the surface but rather to observe the significance of an instinctive, naive accord, a simple, collective call to action in a complex and conflicted modern world.

At best, the march seemed a rallying cry for Europe’s leaders, even if solidarity was more elusive: the German Chancellor, Angela Merkel was later airbrushed out of the report published in an ultra-Orthodox Jewish newspaper which edited her out of a picture of world leaders at the Paris march against terror. Similarly, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu who shoved others out of the way to get there, tweeted an edited image of himself in the front row of world leaders while cropping the shot to exclude Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas. Liberty, equality and fraternity, it seems, cannot be taken too far but for a moment it looked as if all were well.

According to New York-based newspaper The Jewish Daily Forward cameras for a local media outlet caught Netanyahu elbowing aside a woman French minister as he tried to jump the queue for the bus that would transport the group to the starting point of the (Je suis Charlie) march. Finding himself relegated to the second row at the march, he shoved aside the president of Mali and inserted himself in the front row.

Other statements, however, particularly our Prime Minister’s exhortation to Australia’s cartoonists to ‘keep on drawing’ and the recent resurgence of calls for our defamation laws to be relaxed are more problematic suggesting that we are conflicted as a nation and as individuals in what we see as reasonable limits on our freedom of speech.

Whilst we rise as one to protest our outrage at the hideous atrocity carried out in the name of Islam in Paris by two French citizens with an Algerian background who chose murder with AK47s as their own barbaric form of remonstration and redress we are less united when it comes to our defence of basic freedoms at home. And just how far are we prepared to take our vicarious indulgence?

Let us consider one hypothetical parallel. Imagine the fuss if a cartoon were published which depicted our Prime Minister and George Pell in a French kiss, perhaps with the caption, Je suis Georgie’s boy. Or the former Immigration Minister Scott Morrison’s image is drawn above one of his previous portfolio’s slogans: where the bloody hell are you? Cambodia, Nauru, Manus, as long it’s not Australia, we don’t care.

Such speculation has already led to a local war of words. Tim Wilson who must be the most fortunate government appointee ever, a man who was given the Federal government’s Human Rights Commissioner’s job via a phone call from George Brandis without so much as a job interview and who has obediently spruiked government lines on matters ranging from challenging the science of global warming to arguing for changes to the racial discrimination act to promote ‘real’ freedom of speech on TV and radio has come out with the claim that Charlie Hebdo would not be published in Australia. Expect a rush as other LNP supporters ride in his coat-tails. We will be told we need to ‘revisit’ a law which at present protects those who might otherwise be cruelly attacked for their origins. Worthies such as Andrew Bolt may well weigh into the debate. Expect more nonsense in the name of freedom of speech. Just don’t expect enlightenment.

As 2015 begins, Australians are curiously positioned between the PM’s incongruous and gratuitous piece of advice to cartoonists not to self-censor and his government, a government which has made much of the need to forgo certain freedoms in the interest of national security, a government which has already enacted legislation restricting its citizens’ freedom of speech in the name of anti-terrorism, a government which has our metadata and the right to use it against us without challenge. Charlie Hebdo, it is true, has become an international cause celebre with followers and advocates in the most unlikely places but let’s just keep things in perspective. It is less about freedom and freedom of expression or any other warm and fuzzy vibe than about realpolitik and a means to an end for governments who would put the freedom genie firmly back in the bottle as they seek to mobilise us against the evils of death cults and terror, prosecuting the politics of division while constraining individual liberty and strengthening state control.