Federal Treasurer, Joe ‘Show-bag’ Hockey, a man of few graces, no distinction and fewer achievements, has finally done something noteworthy. He has broken his own party’s gift to politics, the charter of budget honesty Act 1998, to give himself time to fiddle his intergenerational report. This has involved running it by a $300,000 focus group and ‘fine-tuning’ to deliver the maximum shock to punters. The IGR will make you fall off your chair, he boasts. It’s a real shocker, a masterpiece of sensational scare-mongering. It is also another step into the dark abyss of LNP ignorance.
Expect more finger-wagging about intergenerational theft but zilch about climate change or the scuttling of renewable energy industries. Pricing our children out of an education has also been sensibly soft-pedalled. Expect fiddled figures: including Treasury population estimates requested to be as low as possible to magnify crisis. If we all work until we are 150 we will be able to make up for taxes that multinationals mustn’t be asked to pay. For they provide jobs. Amen.
Fittingly, the Charter of Budget Honesty, trumpeted as the Liberals’ answer to mendacity, duplicity and broken promises in politics carries no penalty but Hockey’s breach is compromising. He who would command must first obey, Joseph.
Thursday is set for IGR lift-off. The stage is set for alchemy, wizardry and other dark, political arts. Witness before your very eyes the transmutation into party propaganda of the IGR which started life as mere statistical prediction, a sampling of data to predict trends and in the very act of doing so, of course, alter them. Now dire prognostication, ruin and our mutual doom will be foretold. Unless, of course we see the neoliberal light and slash all spending savagely.
Expect sensational drama, a packed house and lashings of frenzied fear mongering. Expect to be hectored, lectured and shouted at. Like his leader, Hockey raises his voice when he can’t lift his argument. Flags go up, too. Expect the full Nuremburg of flags, flanking Joe Treasurer as he looks into the darkness of the worst of all possible futures glassily. Expect anti-Labor raving; how Labor drinks the blood of the young; sups with the devil and is out to wreck and destroy everything from here to Armageddon. Every revivalist loves his anti-Christ.
Thanks must go to Joe and co. for leading us to this dark place where facts don’t matter, experts are pilloried for knowing too much or being too learned; information is abused and rhetoric usurps reasoned argument. Ignorance is presented as a right in our egalitarian parody; let’s build a future where Jack is as good as his master. Not that his master is much chop.
Our retreat from reason is encouraged by our elected representatives. Minister for Ignorance, Christopher Pyne is eager to dumb the nation down by denying Australians their birthright to education with his push to privatise higher learning. Pyne is poster-boy for a party obsessed with the cost of everything; a party, yet, which knows the value of nothing.
Pyne, however, is a pussy-cat compared with the senate’s anti-poster boys, boofhead bovver-boys who bring to politics their own unique blend of mongrel bastardy, pig-ignorance and gratuitous aggression. Senator Ian Macdonald flaunts his contempt for the nation, academia and justice by crowing that he has not read the Gillian Triggs’ report. Yet he will chair the committee entrusted with looking into it. Amazingly, tellingly, he has not been censured by his peers.
Australia holds 800 children in mandatory detention but unless you read Triggs’ report, you probably wouldn’t know. Most are mainland detainees and the rest could easily be accommodated here. 200 is the press and parliament’s preferred figure. A false figure is repeated until it is accepted as part of the myth-making and muck-raking that upstages our national conversation. We are losing our reason and with it our capacity to order our affairs.
186 children are detained on Nauru. Children have been held with their families on the mainland and on Christmas Island for, on average, one year and two months. Over 167 babies have been born in detention within the last 24 months. Trapped in an existential hell, they have no pathway to protection or settlement.
Tony Abbott denounces Triggs’ report as partisan and political because of its timing yet cannot advance a jot of evidence. Senator Ian Macdonald, at least, admits he did not read it. He heard it was biased, he says so he did not waste his time although he did read the addendum with Morrison’s objections. There is no addendum but in appendix 8 the Immigration and Border Protection Department objects to the methodology.
The report addresses the issue of our nation’s policy of keeping asylum-seeker children in detention, its causes and consequences. It applies a rigorous methodology and its findings are conveyed with scholarly objectivity. It gives voice to those whom we must keep out of sight and out of mind lest our consciences trouble us. It includes an appendix of captious objections from Immigration including challenging the amount of anonymous testimony. Only a monster would argue children who fear persecution or recrimination should not be protected by anonymity.
The voices to be heard are not partisan or political, they are the voices of forgotten children; not out to score points or to serve any political agenda. The Abbott government’s attack on Triggs and on her report, on the other hand, has been entirely political yet there is no evidence to indicate that the release of The Forgotten Children was politically motivated. This weak claim does a government with low credibility little credit. Nor do personal attacks which appeared in News Limited papers. Triggs did not begin her inquiry in 2013 because of the imminent election. She reasonably deferred starting her research until after the election to take into account any change of policy from the new Abbott government.
These two very different reports reveal a great deal about us. The IGR propaganda and spin will not be subject to the same derision and contempt we have seen in government and media attacks on The Forgotten Children and its author. What have we come to as a nation when the partisan, politically doctored humbug of the scaremongering IGR is given legitimacy over the honest, objective and humane scholarship of Professor Triggs? Time to have a long, hard look at ourselves before we forfeit also that self-respect that enables effective, honest introspection and reflection.
The juxtaposition of these two contemporary reports presents an opportunity and a vantage point for us to undertake a national critical self-evaluation. Are we to allow fear to force us into submission and unreason, as the IGR will insist or do we assert our humanity, rationality and our right to know the truth? Both are noteworthy but confronting as it may be, Triggs’ report, along with its circumstances, is more worthy of our full and sustained attention.