Team Australia

Tony Abbott is no fast talker. To fix this, he is slowing his speech down. Craftily, he’s turned his natural lack of fluency into a deliberate strategy.  He temporises. He repeats himself. He drags things out. Part of this is a running repair job. Abbott has developed a much slower speaking rate because its repetitions and its slower pace gives himself time to think up the next thing to say. It also puts the brakes on the meandering sentences that come naturally. A larger and more worrying part of it, however, is his determination to slow down debate.  On the one hand this could be seen as admirable almost heroic if it were not futile. Abbott is trying to slow the flow of information. Canute-like, hand upraised he steps into the path of the information age juggernaut. On the other hand he seems to enjoy the wilful obstruction of the public’s right to know what the government is up to.


Abbott is not gifted at persuasion. Instead, in his set pieces, he sounds like a tabloid headline. With perverse delight, it seems, in annoying the listener, he repeats the same slogans. He’ll wear you out rather than win you over. At base is a crafty evasiveness. Abbottspeak is not about sharing information. It’ s about power and control. It’s about withholding information and obstruction. And it defines his government’s style. Other senior members have quickly picked it up. The long-running surrealist soap opera of Border Security, starring Scott Morrison is a bravura performance of the Abbott government’s house style. Worried about the apparent cruelty, inhumanity or irresponsibility of stopping the boats? We have nothing we can tell you. The message is move along: nothing to see here. We will tell you only what we want you to know. On immigration that’s next to nothing. It’s a tactic that Goebbels would have been proud of. But for a contemporary Australian prime minister and his government it can only ultimately erode both authority and credibility.


Abbott clearly views communication as transmitting a signal. For him, communication is primarily about getting the message out. It’s not an attempt at dialogue. Dialogue entails listening. And mutual respect. And it leads to compromise, the quicksand of the weak-willed. Of course you may ask questions. But voice your question and we will make you sorry you ever asked. The hapless listener feels as if she’s been harangued by uncle at a family gathering .  Ear bashed, patronised and held prisoner.


Ultimately, Abbottspeak is less about changing minds than massaging the prejudices of those already converted. Abbott’s glib phrases, simplistic logic and his judgemental approach have more in common with the shock jocks of talkback radio than any more enlightened or elevated discourse. And more than any other prime minister, Abbott is side coaching our transformation from democracy to shock-jock-racy. The nation’s infatuation with echoes of its own popular prejudices and its affection for simplistic, reductive thinking is nurtured, fostered by those who know it yields them power. 


Enter Team Australia. A new phrase is not a bad thing in itself. With Abbott, there’s plenty of room for expansion. And a new idea would be welcome. But there’s nothing new about Team Australia. Don’t frighten the horses. Abbott does not in any way a resemble a deep or even an original thinker. Nor is this his intention. Like Howard he understands the need to keep us comfortable if not relaxed. In place of ideas we are given recycled, threadbare hobby horses and clapped out rhetorical clichés of talkback radio. The kindest thing you could say is that in some way the man is representative of the comfortable middle class, and he trots out familiar prejudices as he signals for allies amidst the great unthinking complacent public of his fan club. The most worrying thing is his dog-whistling to conformity and group think, the signal to his audience to exercise their prejudices, let them off the leash.


Is Team Australia a new nag in the race to the bottom? It doesn’t look or sound that new. It’s a cryptic phrase and you won’t find any definition offered by its creator. Nor is one needed. What does Team Australia mean? What does it stand for? The context is instructive. It lies in the demise of Brandis’ proposals for ‘reform’ of the Racial Discrimination Act. For a while, it looked as if bigots would be protected. In Brandis’ notorious phrase, a bigot has a right to be a bigot. Yet, the Abbott Government ultimately and one senses reluctantly backed down. No doubt at some cost of support from Abbott’s right wing power base, proposed changes to Section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act were shelved. Ironically, it came at the cost of support from the Muslim community.


With typically jerky timing and co-ordination, Abbott wheeled out a new horse, Team Australia. urging us all to jump aboard. Abbott said changes to 18C had become ‘complicated’. At the same time, however, he unveiled a new anti-terrorism package. Abbott said it was a “leadership call” that aimed to help in “preserving national unity on the essentials”. It was … ‘time for all of us to come together to be part of ‘Team Australia’ in order to combat the threat of terrorism.


The team sounds less like a call to unity than a shrewd attempt to further division and promote intolerance. It boosts fear and anxiety. When he followed up by saying that extremists could be carrying out beheadings here in Australia in future, Abbott clearly signalled that he intends to continue to frighten the electorate into giving increasing power and information to the state whilst at the same time reducing or constricting its citizens’ right to know what their government is up to. Their right to a government that is answerable for its actions and responsible in its conduct. Worthy of their trust.

Steak knives for the caravan

Got these for ten dollars, says Peter, proprietor of our local post office. I have called when he is busy elsewhere. He has seen me arrive from where he is outside staking young nut trees. He quickly chases after me into the shop.
Plenty of time. No need to rush back to your post, Peter.

A pun to ease his embarrassment and my awkwardness. Wind’s getting up again, he says.

Last night there were gusts to 120 km shaking our little cabin in the woods. It’s a compact house which we like to call our cabin. A transportable, it was built in a factory and placed on site twelve years ago. When the wind blows like this at night it stirs as if it has further voyaging in mind.

Bits of broken tree are strewn across the Post Office drive. The winds have tossed a sprig of grey gum leaves, a trophy of chaos theory down like a gauntlet on the ferrous door mat. Peter need say no more. We are already united manfully in the battle against the elements. And a certain bending of the rules of duty are, it is tacitly agreed, are to be expected in the circumstances. It’s every man for himself in the fight against nature.

I have dropped in to pick up our shoes. I show him the red printed card, retrieved from our post box at the end of the road that cuts across our road. It feels good to be doing this. We are lucky to get a delivery in the bush. The card lets you know you have an item to collect. You have ordered it, you have paid for it but it seems like a gift.

Peter bobs down under the counter and surfaces with a large parcel to his chest. Too large, I fear. We are moved to put our heads down over the mystery item yet it is an uneasy moment. It is too big and too wrong not to be a type of rebuke. Neither of us can manage a word of banter.

We peer at each other over the barrier. The size of it on the counter our own brown paper Berlin wall. I read aloud the name on the parcel. He reads it aloud too. It is not my name. But it is similar. I point out that the addressee is lucky enough to have my surname as his first name. Apart from that I don’t know him from a bar of soap. It is the wrong parcel. Peter gets the picture. Not your name is it, he says after an owlish moment. I can see that he, too prefers, bargain bin reading glasses. His would do Woody Allen proud.

Peter then finds the correct parcel. It is much smaller and is the right shape to be containing two pairs of comfortable planet shoes. I can tell without needing to read the label that this one is our parcel and not someone else’s. Other people’s mail always looks and feels a bit strange. It is safely put out of the picture. Peter brightens. Yet there is some other redemptive business to be done in the nether regions.

Peter looks down, puts one knee forward and points to a brown trouser leg, as if preparing a stage bow. Got them from Vinnies. Cost me ten dollars.

Love Vinnies, I return. In fact, I love op shops full stop, I reply. Nothing wrong with recycling. We have bonded over the storm threat. Now we are recruited into admiring the trousers. King Gee khaki, still stiff with the dress in the cotton and shiny with the sanforising. I am aware that Peter is not a big man. There is something elfin about him at this point. Yet this is a serious trouser. I admire his industry and practicality. This needs no words. Besides, we are headed for agreement over bargaining and the battle to save the planet.

Work trousers, he says. Second hand but never been worn. Didn’t go looking for trousers. Went in to get a set of steak knives for the caravan.

He makes a little step forward on to his toes as if to dance.

Nothing worse, I say than a steak in a caravan without a steak knife. Takes the edge right off it.

Drives me crazy, he confesses. Of course, I found the knives I wanted.
Got a set for $2.50.

I point to the flouro top I am wearing. Two dollars in the same shop I tell him. Now we are brothers in the battle to stretch the dollar, save the planet and donate to charity.

It feels good to have the right parcel under my arm. Peter skips off, happily, his new trousers cracking, to return to his saving of the nut trees. I leave feeling happy to be in a right priced world where a man gets the right knife to eat steak in his trailer. And the right priced pants to tend his garden. Happy to be in on the bargain. Happy to live in the bush where the local post office is a place where such marvellous exchanges are possible.

Ease up on Joe Hockey

joe swts

Ease up on Joe Hockey.

Ease up on Joe Hockey. Give him a break. He’s not travelling well, lately. Under constant attack for things he’s said and done. Just look at him. Wounded? He’s bleeding all over the place. And it just gets worse. Just look at his recent fulsome apology on his mate’s radio show in Sydney. Someone needs to rescue him from himself. Someone needs at least to tell him: Joe, the way you show you are a life-long defender of the poor and needy lies in the things you do, not in the word you choose when you think you have to say sorry. Words don’t cut it, mate. If you don’t even get that, Joe Hockey, you are really in serious trouble.

Now it is true, many of Hockey’s wounds are self-inflicted. Dancing in your office on Budget night, however, nimbly, creates an image unhelpful to your long-term career prospects. Similarly, acting like a fat cat, kicking back with a cigar doesn’t help you sell budget austerity measures. Nor is it helpful to seem thin-skinned or to cry foul too often. And getting a book out is unhelpful – a distracting and disturbing form of stroking your own ego in public.

Hockey’s self-pitying attempts to defend himself only dig him deeper into a hole. Claiming you’ve been taken out of context only add insult to injury. In brief, it is clear so far, Hockey’s manifest talents amount to a gift for self-sabotage.  But don’t put the boot in.   Hockey is not entirely to blame for his predicament.

Some have already dismissed Hockey as incompetent. They say he’s gaffe-prone, innumerate and not across the detail. That’s harsh. And unfair. These things haven’t stopped his boss’s career. But it’s wrong to kick a man when he’s down and it confuses the man with his office. True, there are many ways in which Hockey hasn’t helped his cause. He is not selling the budget. He shows he has limited understanding of key terms such as progressive taxes. He asserts that poor people don’t own cars. It’s a long list. Yet all it goes to show is that Hockey is struggling to get his act together. He clearly still has a fair bit to learn both about his job and how to go about it. Special knowledge is required and that’s not all. The job comes with clear expectations about appropriate and effective behaviour.

Hockey is taking a while to get a handle on his portfolio. But let’s be fair. Let’s look at the bigger picture. It hasn’t been easy. He’s had no real apprenticeship. No real mentor. And you can’t really count his performances as shadow treasurer as work experience. The truth is that Hockey has come to greatness a little unprepared. And greatness was thrust upon him in difficult times and circumstances. He can’t even count on the cupboard love of the business world. The cupboard is bare. If he can hardly seem to take a trick these days it is because of the hand he was dealt in the first place. And the rest of the players in the game. 

Making Hockey Treasurer was one of Abbot’s wild cards. The appointment surprised many, Hockey included.  Nothing he’s ever done then or now has given the impression that he’s good with numbers. This includes his failure to calculate his numbers in the party room when his healthy ego had him tilt at the leadership. But as a way of containing Hockey’s rivalry and taking care of his greater popularity, making him Treasurer was a shrewd career move on Abbott’s behalf. Shrewd but as with many Abbott moves it was neither thought through nor in anyone else’s interests. And ultimately it has come at a high cost to all. Even to Abbott.

Even if it were not a setup, being made Treasurer was a huge step up. The job seemed bigger than the man, from the outset. And there was no real job description. No detailed performance plan. Nor time to make one. And Abbott’s leadership has never been nurturing. Nor could it ever be said that ideas were its long suit. The long time in opposition was squandered on sloganeering, negativity and hollow promises. In place of careful strategy and preparedness for government appeared an arresting complacency and arrogance bred of a misplaced sense of entitlement. Hockey was left to fall back on the only trick up his sleeve. Just a Commission of Audit scaring everyone with its dire prognostications. He was left like Chicken Little telling the village that the sky was falling. But Chicken Little did not have a bad press. Just a credibility problem.

While it may have been a shrewd time saver in place of a plan of his own, and while it may have been a cunning scare tactic to make the following Budget cuts appear not too deep, the commission of audit did more to alarm than advise. Alarm is not always easy to control. Blend in a layer of self-generated hysteria about the mess Labor left us in and no wonder it’s been hard to sell himself or his budget. Hockey is left with no breathing space. No room to move. Add the many ways his Budget appeared to cut deeply and unfairly. Add the lack of logical consistency. Little wonder since, it’s been a series of stumbles for poor Hockey. Now he’s waffling on radio, pointing the finger at debt-deniers.

Hockey’s mentors have taken to telling us to ease off. This is unhelpful. Recent efforts by Julie Bishop, for example, and Amanda Vanstone have been misguided. Indeed, their ‘ease up on Joe’ line may prove fatal. Such efforts mark Hockey as a failure, a man whose colleagues have to bail out when he is trouble. Worse, their tone makes Hockey appear to need special protection, like some pet favourite who deserves to be cossetted at home, not kicked by the big boys in the playground. The enfant terrible, only mothers could love. Disturbing is the implication that we should make allowances for Hockey. Not only does this further disempower him, It contrasts alarmingly with the way Hockey appears to treat everyone else.

Defending Hockey is counterproductive on several levels. Others are wasting their breath telling critics they are being unfair to Joe. Hockey is pretty good at doing that himself. Attempting to protect him now, moreover, merely serves to extend the sense of privilege and entitlement which have dogged so many of his attempts to communicate his capability for the job. And blinkered his apprehension of the facts of life.

What Hockey needed was good advice from the start and some decent role modelling. Instead he had Tony Abbott’s empty rhetoric, sloganeering and contempt for evidence, be it scientific, moral or economic. No. Abbott was not a good role model. Not even for himself. Instead he gave Hockey the poisoned chalice of a job he was ill-suited to and poorly prepared for. Beyond this he conferred the tactical handicap of Abbott’s attraction to underestimating the electorate and skimping on detail. Ever economical with the truth, Abbott may well have seduced Hockey into acting as if the facts don’t really matter. The subtext appears to have been too well-heeded by his acolyte.

“Don’t overestimate their intelligence or their attention span Joe. Keep it simple. Keep repeating it. Frighten them, Joe. Look at the run I got with the carbon tax. Look how we stopped the boats.”  Yet following his leader could well prove lethal to our would-be Treasurer. As many have noted Hockey has an image problem. But it’s deeper than that. His substance is also deeply problematic. Yet could anyone reasonably have expected otherwise? Raised in the hothouse atmosphere of an opposition which never had to account for anything, trained by a party leader who was never a positive role model yet buoyed beyond all reasonable expectation by his own unfettered ambition, Hockey is the enfant terrible of modern Liberal politics. He is the Treasurer we had to have. But not the treasurer he or his party or the country needs. 

Ministry of Ignorance

In a surprise announcement in Canberra today, PM, Tony Abbott convened a press conference to announce a Cabinet reshuffle. Also present were party faithful, an unmistakable ASIO detail and the odd stray independent senator who went into the wrong car park.

“It’s terrific to be back in Canberra. The great thing about Australia is that when people are in trouble, we do what we can to help – and there are a lot of people in diabolical trouble in the world. In our own country, Australia. In Canberra, as we speak.”

We are pleased to announce … pleased to announce …  the creation of a whole new ministry, the PM continued. A great, big, new ministry. MIMIC. The Ministry for Ignorance, Misogyny, Impulsivity and Chaos. Along with getting the Budget under control, scrapping bad taxes and cutting red tape this big new reform will .

As you know. As everybody knows. We are a government that listens. Well, we have listened. And we have delivered. Why? We have a mandate to deliver. A mandate. To make sure Australia is open for business again. To create jobs. Getting Australia back to work. 

We are a government that listens. We hear your concern that we have no Ministry of Science. We have listened to your concern about the Minister for Women. Naturally I am the standout choice for this role but there are times when leadership job demands take me out of the country.

Accordingly, I am making some big changes to cabinet. Having taken advice widely, I am announcing today the promotion of Joe Hockey to the newly created Ministry of Ignorance, Misogyny, Impulsivity and Chaos. It’s a big step but know that Joe is the right man for the job. So far he has shown the right credentials. He has modelled the very qualities that the new portfolio embraces. And it helps reward Joe for the remarkable work he has done so far up and down the land to help get us all out of Labor’s mess.

Now Joe is a man of some standing. Unparalleled standing both in the party room, the electorate and the business community. Someone who enjoys doing the hard yards. Someone who is a natural communicator. When Joe says something, it stays said. And he is an independent thinker … someone who can go it alone. Someone who like myself, understands women because he is married to one and because he has female children. Someone in touch with ordinary Australians.  Like me, Joe loves to go a football club pie night with wet t shirt competition for the ladies.

Joe is sensitive, too. We have seen this side of him even more recently. When challenged, Joe can become emotional. Like the best of us he works so hard, he may at times seem to take criticism personally. And he is not afraid to tear up in public. These are not only rare qualities in themselves, they help fit him out for his new role. Women already love him. Now they will treasure him.

Oftentimes in this great big new portfolio there will be questions without notice. We wanted someone who could take the initiative. Make decisions on the run. Someone with a record in making statements of his own bat. Impromptu. Off the cuff. And Joe has certainly given us that in spades – perhaps excelling even himself in recent times.

The move makes sense on a number of levels. It meets our promise for greater transparency. There can be no doubt in anyone’s mind that the newly designed ministry speaks for itself. It recognises a lot of the work we have done so far in a way that every Australia can understand and relate to. Breathtaking ignorance is not something which we have hidden.

Of course it was a difficult call. There were many highly qualified contenders. And a number of well-credentialed volunteers. But in the end Joe was a clear winner. A clear winner.

No it was not a party room matter, the PM explained. It was a captain’s pick, he said in response to questions from press. I was exercising my right as leader of the parliamentary party and as always, acting on the best advice. Of course this included prayer. As with all decisions, a good, strong faith works miracles. And I pray we’ve got it right this time.

Pressed for details of the new portfolio, the PM said that it would shore up the outstanding work Greg Hunt is doing as Minister for environment. It would provide the theoretical framework to support mining in environmentally sensitive areas, burning brown coal to make electricity while ceasing support for renewable energy and so much more. Even the chaplains in schools would guaranteed immunity by the wide ranging powers of the new Ministry. It would also help clear up the link between abortion and breast cancer, while paving the way for Kevin Andrews to introduce exciting new policies on criminalising homosexuality. Science would not be ignored, he cautioned, it would simply take its rightful place in the cut and thrust of the national debate along with ignorance, misinformation and lies. We have got the balance right this time, he continued.

Asked whether Mathias Hubert Paul Corman would be the new treasurer, the PM dropped a further bombshell when he replied that there no longer be a Treasurer in his ministry. We have thought this through, he added, explaining that with free markets and a free labor market just around the corner, that the economic side of things would just about take care of itself. We don’t need a treasurer to sell a budget, he continue. We will just legislate and let the market respond. And now that we have had a bit of chance for bit of vigorous pruning, our slimmed down staff at the treasury are boys who can be relied on to do their absolute best at all times. Of course, he added, the PM’s office will continue to keep an eye on things.

Asked whether given his record, the move was really an attempt to find something useful that Joe could actually do, Mr Abbott responded by asking the journalist where he got his got his facts from. All of us agree that Joe has been doing a top job. an outstanding job.

Pressed by another journalist on Mr Hockey’s suitability for any form of public duty, Mr Abbott sought to remind the gathering of the need for all members of Team Australia to pull together.

Mr Abbott ended the conference saying that there would be no time for further questions given that many of these matters were operational matters but that would be a full and frank disclosure of all details at a more appropriate time and in the Rupert Murdoch’s ‘gift to our nation’ The Australian and other News Limited newspapers that evening.

Besides, he added, our work will surprise no-one who followed our election campaign promises. It is a logical extension of so many of the things, so many things we stand for – and have always stood for.

Baby You Can Drive My Car

Baby you can drive my car… Baby I love you …

It’s an old car such as poor people drive in the country. Shocker to look at. Bit rough around the body and it needs a respray. It is a 91 Ford Raider which guzzles gas but it’s built like a brick shit house. Drives a bit like one, too. But you feel safe. You feel king of the road. And it’s a 4WD so there’s nowhere you can’t go. I am sure you would relate to it, Joe.

Abbott calls Putin

Abbott: Ahh… hello, ahh … is that you Vladimir?


Putin: President Putin here.


Abbott: It’s ahh… Tony Abbott, Mr Putin, ahh… Prime Minister of Australia.


Putin: Kak vas zavoot? (what is your name?) Anton? Where? Austria? OK Australia.


Abbott: It’s Tony Abbott. Australia. Tony – remember me? APEC, in Bali last October.


Putin: No. Remind me.


Abbott: I arrived late. Took my seat next to you. Then you completely ignored me. All meeting.


Then you stood me up later. Our bilateral meeting. Just you and me. You didn’t keep the appointment.

No apology. No show.


Putin:  Anton, you asshole! You bandy-legged, two-faced son of a street whore. You moral moron. You reject from Catholic seminary. You insult me on my birthday in front of world leaders. Then you call me criminal in press.  Of course I did not show up. You show contempt to me. Now you are pissed off that I did not speak to you. 


You lie to Australian people. You spy on Indonesia. You repeal carbon taxes that could help save world. You detain asylum seekers illegally on high seas.  You take Israel’s side over Palestine. You ride bicycle in speedos. You are Rupert Murdoch’s puppet-pet. You think you can take moral high ground? You make me puke! I say to you, Aton, look into your own glasshouse before you throw stones.


 You have permission to speak?


Abbott: Thank you, Vladimir, it is wonderful to hear your voice.


Putin: Permission from your chief of staff, I mean. All talks must be OK with your chief of staff Peta Credlin first. She make firm rule. We talk earlier. She ring me. Prepare press release.


I  tell her I forgive you for snub at APEC. She tells me you did not know what you were doing. Now is OK for you to forgive me for seeming rude.  Is just my personal style. Understand. This is why you ring me?


Abbott: Peta?


Putin: I have rule. Always deal with top dog – sorry I mean top apparatchik. Why waste time on organ grinder’s monkey … 


Abbott: No. Yes. Good to speak to you, too at last, Vladimir. Glad to hear we are still … ahh … on good terms. Vladimir, we need to talk man to man. About MH17 …


Putin:  MH17? How dare you! I spit in your face. I shit in your bike helmet. I piss in your drink bottle. 


Abbott: Your speech is typically colourful, Mr President. But let us put words to one side, Vladimir. Man to man. We have much in common.


Putin: We do?


Abbott: Much in common. We are both men of action. Macho, outdoorsy types. We are like brothers, you and me. Of course, from time to time we wrestle. Like Oliver Reed and Alan Bates in Women in Love. All part of the cut and thrust of a robust relationships. Such differences are manly and noble contests of wills.  


Putin: Alan Bates. Bare-chested wrestling Oliver Reed on the carpet in front of the fire? That homo-erotic filthy western perversion!


Abbot: So you enjoyed it too?


Putin: Please not to change subject. I talk now man to man. Later we have healthy exchange of views. You must accept our condolences.


Let me say first how much and how deeply we regret loss of lives. Please accept deepest condolence from me personally and from all of Russian people. Deepest regrets. Like you I am family man. All Russia people regret loss of life.


Abbott: You are sorry?


Putin: Not the word I am using, Anton. Have you forgotten the teachings of your master John Howard? But of course I regret. You think I meant for this to happen? You think I am happy man? You think I meant for those mad mongrel bastard sons of Donetsk crack whores to shoot down a civilian plane? You think I would supply vodka-sodden thugs with surface to air missile? That I would blame it on Ukraine? That I would broadcast lies on Russian media? You think I would let those rebel goons loot the crash site?


Abbott: Yes


Putin: Yes. So what if I did? So what if I am?


Abbott: I have to say that would be ahh … deeply, deeply unsatisfactory.


Putin: So? There is no evidence … 


Abbott: It was shot down. It did not crash. It was downed. And it was downed over territory controlled by Russian-backed rebels. It was downed by a missile launched by Russian-backed rebels.


Putin: Don’t waste my time with News Corp western propaganda! Russia knows truth. All Russia knows it was Ukranian military. And whole world knows you are puppet of Rupert Murdoch.


In Russia we know much about terrorists. And terrorist puppets. Terrorist puppets of other powers active in Ukraine. Proxies for west who want to tear from us a juicy piece of the pie.


So there is mistake. Just like when Americans shot down Iranians in ’88. Accidents happen. People die. Is war zone. Very sad accident. Of course everyone in my Russia is blaming Ukraine.  But is OK. Rebels will liberate. Then Ukraine can come back to Mother Russia. Just like Crimea.


Abbott: I have to say that your responses, are … ahh … deeply, deeply unsatisfactory.


Putin: Don’t waste my time, Anton. I grew up in Leningrad. We are starving but uniting to kill rats in apartment. Let me give you a little history lesson. In siege of Leningrad one million people starve to death or die of bombing.


I grew up in a rat-infested communal apartment in a rat-infested Leningrad slum. Three families huddled together in the flat with no heat, hot water, or a bathroom. We bathed over a makeshift toilet on the staircase, with water heated on the gas stove.


You think I need a lecture on what is satisfactory? You really think we have so much in common?


Abbott: You are forcing my hand, Vladimir.


Putin: Of course. What are you going to do about it?


Abbott: Look, we have many options available to us. We are exploring the full range of options. You may not be welcome here later in the year …


Putin: You mean the G20 meeting? That fart-fest? 


You mean sanctions? Sanctions make me even more popular? I piss myself laughing.


Abbott: The G20 is not our meeting but, yes, we could …


Putin: Give me a holiday!


Abbott: See that you were not welcome.


Putin: Is like time out for bad boy in class? Give me time for hunting and horseback riding at home. Get my shirt off in photographs.


You think I need G20? 20 states who agree on nothing. They are nothing. They know nothing. They mean nothing. The only thing that they have in common is that they have nothing in common. They have absolutely no power.


Now, I have power. Some wrongly say like Tsar. Unlike Tsar, I have power. I am also billionaire. I am oligarch.  And I have perfect autocratic temperament. Controlled, sarcastic, cold, crabby, and tight-lipped.


Abbott: The G20 is a very big organisation.


Putin: Big, yes. Organised no. Weak as piss. United only in common delusion to leave everything up to the market.  Look at your Hockey press release from last meeting. “We will do all we can to do as little as we can. We believe in economic growth.”


And there are fairies at the bottom of the garden.


Abbott: G20 did tell Spanish investors to take a haircut in the GFC.


Putin: You mean G20 was happy for banks to keep other people’s money? Russia signs free trade agreement. Days later we announce tariffs for car industry. 


G20 nothing without Russia. West needs Russian oil. Russian energy.


Even Australia big importer of Russian oil. And we buy you farm exports. You would like me to review these? Make your farmers unhappy. Make your coalition even more of a joke.


Abbott: Now, Vladimir, there is no need to take this personally. I need to have some guarantees from you.


Putin: Like guarantees you gave voters in Australia during the election campaign?


Abbott: Absolutely.


Putin: Now you are talking. Tell me what you want in press release. Putin put in for you.


Abbott: Access to the crash site.


Putin: Impossible. Is war zone.


Abbott: Safe passage to trains and planes connected with the clean-up.


Putin: Impossible. Is war zone.


Abbott: That all guilty be brought to justice.


Putin: Impossible. Is war zone.


Abbott: A ceasefire while we get the site cleared.


Putin: Impossible. Is war zone.


Abbott: A statement of regret.


Putin: You and Peta both know I am saying yes to regret.


Abbott: I think we have an understanding. Mr Putin, you little beauty.


Putin: The pleasure is all mine.


Abbott: Been a privilege dealing with you.


Putin: You would know all about privilege. Now excuse me I have call waiting from brave sons of Russian soil in Ukraine …







Joe Must Go

Some would say Joe must go because he can’t do his job. This is harsh and unfair. Granted Jovial Joe may bring a new edge to incompetence and heartless indifference. Sadly, however these characteristics alone do not disqualify him from public life. For his predecessors displayed many of the same characteristics. So, too with his contemporaries.

Seize The Day

Worried about those wretched unemployed trapped at home huddled over the one bar heater of Centrelink mercy and societal compassion, confidence ebbing, electricity bill rising, immured in a prison of no opportunities? Look no further. Worried about the moronic earn or learn mantra of the right? Read on.


Worried about the logical contradiction inherent in getting people off the dole and into a deformed and rapidly shrinking labour market? Now let’s not overthink the situation. But please read on. Worried about the racket which has cadres of skilled migrant workers swelling the workforce via corrupt employers fiddling visa requirements. Worry no more. Independent senator Day has come up with a winner. Trade away your rights.


On ABC Radio National, this morning, Day proposed that unemployed people should hop into their local workshops, business enterprises and other places of work and offer themselves to bosses at bargain rates. Yes, in Day’s holler for a collar scheme, workers on the dole could trade away such luxurious fripperies as sick pay and minimum rates in order to secure employment. Stoically enduring the vicissitudes of fate such as the hunger pangs occasioned by not having the funds to buy such luxuries as groceries, or lack of a local workplace, lack of skills, qualifications and experience, new recruits would flood the workforce. Casting aside crippling self-doubt, self-loathing and feelings of worthlessness, the unemployed could strike a bargain rate with bosses by making themselves cheaper than the going rate. It’s a capitalist’s wet dream. The ultimate profit incentive is a compliant work force keen to undercut itself.


Imagine the scene. It is a cold winter morning. You are at home under your doona dreading another day. Then you hear your ABC. A new day dawns for you. Opportunity is knocking. You throw off the doona of dread and self-doubt. You dress yourself in those work clothes you keep neatly pressed at the ready for such occasions.  You race out of the door and down the street on your bicycle. In a few minutes you are in job central, those havens of industry and commercial enterprise found without exception in every suburb and regional town across the nation.


You exude confidence. You are assertive. All the old habits of doubt have been extinguished. You stick your head around the door of your local metal foundry and offer your services. There’s a guillotine in there and the workshop has a foundry. Sparks are flying and it is noisy and dirty but you can temper your complete lack of experience with your willingness to cheapen yourself. No doubt in the process, you will be warmly applauded by those workers whose rates you are undercutting. No doubt also that the foreman will welcome the addition of another risky liability to his already barely adept health and safety regime. Dropping tools, downing pencils, dismissing clients with a wave, bosses and forepeople would rise up as one in their welcome, calling across the factory floor, shed or office. What’s that you hear?


Piss off you clown.


Already dubbed by some as “seize the day” and by others as “ups a daisy” the scheme appears a perfect fit in today’s politics so many ways. First it is designed to illustrate what we have always suspected. The answer is always simple. Plain as day. But politicians just won’t see it. Those clowns in Canberra, those bloody unionists and all the rest of them are buggering up the country with their stupid rules and regulations. If they just listened to ordinary people, (and more talkback radio) they would realise that the answer is simple common sense. And the answer is practical. Practical in this case being people doing things rather than, God forbid, thinking, or talking about them.


Arrestingly simple also is the logic. But dazzling as it may appear, the bargain-priced worker of today would quickly find herself under-priced and replaced by the undercutting applicant of tomorrow. Wages would spiral downwards to a new sub sub subsistence levels. Whilst captains of industry would no doubt be cheering, the next logical development would be even more attractive. Job applicants would pay the boss for a job. Of course, lacking funds would mean that schemes would be set up to allow job seekers to borrow the money to buy a job. Christopher Pyne, doubtless, would skip nimbly into the breach to design a HECS type scheme where loans were made available at market rates. Banks would rush to embrace the new opportunity to lend. Bank boffins would outdo each other in packaging and on-selling such debts on the open market. Expect this item on the next G20 agenda.     


 So well done Bob! Expect Santamaria’s ghost to genuflect in its grave. May captains of industry applaud you. Let the shock jocks fall over themselves to invite you on air. And let us all applaud the jobless as they lift themselves out of sinful self-inflicted idleness into virtuous productivity. Workers of the world divide, you have nothing to lose but your gains – everything you have ever gained. Let our nation seize the Day. 



From the moment we first saw her we knew we would have to take her home. Chained up all day, fed only scraps, she was thin even for a whippet. Farm dogs are seldom pampered but this creature was clearly an outcast. Accused of chasing sheep, she had been banished to a makeshift kennel several sizes too small in the corner of the yard. At the mercy of the elements and worse, she’d had several litters to the top dog, working Border Collie, Pal but her puppies had all been drowned. Her coat bore the ragged scars of high-speed encounters with barbed wire. She had been roughly stitched up with baling twine by a farmer, unwilling to waste money on a vet. Yet when she looked up into your face, you could see beauty. You sensed nobility. More than the injustice, the suffering, the indignity, something spoke to you, a voice too powerful to ignore.

We knew then and there we just had to act. Brigid was a creature from another time, another place. Refined, slender, aristocratic, in profile she resembled the hounds who hunted with the Pharaohs. Her deep brown eyes pleaded with you. Take me home with you, they said. I don’t belong here. Rescue me from all this. Right these wrongs at once!

My partner S, who has gathered up strays since childhood, knew exactly what we had to do. The farmer seemed keen to get rid of her. No matter that we already had two dogs. Brigid had to be found a home. Our home. We inherited a scarred, emaciated honey-coloured creature with Gina Lollobrigida eyes.

Brigid was beautiful, she was regal and she was unbelievably highly-strung. She was especially wary with men. It was to be a good two years of hard work before she showed signs of relaxing into domestication or returning affection. In due course, she adopted us. She became our dog.
A whippet knows only two speeds, flat out and full stop. Brigid quickly taught us that. She could spend all day settled comfortably in the lounge room provided her basket permitted her to see the mistress of the house working in the kitchen. Give her a fire and a comfortable bed in an expensive dog basket and she would happily snooze all day.

Don’t expect a whippet to act as a watch dog. True, they are sight hounds but they are disinclined to look out for any intruder. Be prepared instead for a dog that spends all day lounging about watching its master. Be prepared for a lot of sleeping. Just accept, it will soon let you know, that it is a glorious creature which is born to be doted upon; born to be adored.

Outside it was a different story. A whippet’s pace is legendary. Brigid could run like the wind. But only when it suited her. Get her into the paddock, let her off the leash and provided she was in the mood, off she would dash, crashing through the high grass at top speed in a series of joyous, swooping arcs. Ears back, chest out, legs drumming the turf like a runaway race horse. You could tell she was running for the love of it. The thrill of the chase was there even when there was nothing to chase but the joy of running itself. It was mad, it was manic. It was an ecstatic celebration of being and being free. It made you happy just to look at her.

Then one day Brigid surprised us with a gift. We had not long before bought twenty-five acres with a brown brick seventies house on it. The house was ugly but the acres, the freedom and the privacy were wonderful. At the front corner in a nook by the water tank where we would sit to drink champagne and soak up the winter sun, Brigid presented us with a freshly-killed rabbit. It was an unexpected gift. And it happened only once.

Doubtless, a whippet has an instinct to kill rabbits. You might even say it’s in their DNA. But in this case it seemed like gratitude. It was as if Brigid was thanking us for rescuing her from a life of hardship. Thanking us for setting her free. It made us give thanks, too. And not just for Brigid. Her gift made us stop and reflect on the ways of all creatures to be themselves and how they should be able to enjoy the right to simply be. How no-one ever owns any dog ever but how if you treat them right, they give you the gift of their devotion. And how they know a thing or two about living, about what it means to be alive in the moment and how such moments endure for ever. Forget the kings and queens of fabled antiquity with all their worldly wealth, you will be rich beyond all measure.