Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Tony Abbott's Lacklustre Legacy

I am always hesitant to discuss Australian politics in this blog because most readers within Australia care only the tiniest fraction more about Australian politics than readers outside Australia. But am I completely deluding myself in believing that on Monday night, when Tony Abbott was dumped as PM, there was a spontaneous sigh of relief across the nation? And did I not, perhaps, hear an echo of that sigh from some of our nearest neighbours?

While I should have been working I have been trawling the internet in search of anything positive that might have been written about Abbott’s legacy. I came up with nothing, zippo, nada. Admittedly, I have not tuned in to any Andrew Bolts or Alan Joneses, Abbott’s rightwing media worshippers. Are they still trying to argue, I wonder, that Tone was a good PM? One rightwing conservative commentator on the TV show Q&A (ABC Australia) on Monday night tried to do so, to an outbreak of derisive laughter. In contrast, when the news of Abbott’s demise was announced on that same show there was a spontaneous outbreak of applause that lasted quite some time. Thirty-nine percent of the audience were supporters of the conservative coalition government led by Abbott.

Those desperate to demonstrate what a good PM he was will no doubt continue to trumpet his three negative achievements: preventing boatloads of asylum seekers from reaching Australian shores, abolishing a tax on carbon and abolishing a tax on large mining corporations. That’s it, the litany we heard on Abbott’s lips from the first few months of his prime ministership to its last days. Only about a week ago Abbott was asked on another ABC current affairs show what he had done for the economy. ‘Well, Lee,’ he replied, ‘we stopped the boats ...’

Abbott’s legacy is laughable. It’s difficult to see how history can ever be re-written on this one.

I do not know how the new PM, Malcolm Turnbull, will turn out in the long run. There is a slight euphoria in the air at the moment. Perhaps it’s no more than the sense of relief you get when you stop hitting your head against the wall. However short-lived, I’ll enjoy it for the moment. Of course, there are some who have unkindly pointed out that a turnip would have made a better PM than Tony Abbott ever did. Tony Abbot was so bad that anyone after him must look good—for a while anyway.

There are many who say of Tony Abbott that he is a ‘nice man’ or a ‘good bloke’. I don’t know him personally, so I can’t say one way or the other. Maybe Robert Mugabe and Vladimir Putin—or a host of other dubious leaders—are also good blokes. Bashar al Assad might be a riot around the BBQ. Hitler loved his dog, Blondi. And before you trample me under foot I am not comparing Abbott to these people. I am merely pointing out that even the worst among us is not devoid of some redeeming qualities. In the end, being a good bloke is simply not good enough: what we need is a good leader. Whether our new PM turns out to be that leader only time will tell. As someone who does not support the conservative side of politics (surprised?) I sincerely hope so.

Friday, September 11, 2015

Not the 7.30 Report

Presenter: Welcome to the show, Prime Minister.
PM: Thanks for having me, Dee. Always a pleasure.
Presenter: Well, Prime Minister, the big news today, of course, is the ending, at last, of the Middle East crisis.
PM: Yes indeed, Dee, yes indeed. We’re very proud of our achievement. Very proud.
Presenter: It certainly was an inspired idea.
PM: Yes indeed, Dee. It was inspired. Inspired.
Presenter: And whose idea was it to construct a huge, impermeable dome above the whole Middle East and suck out all the air?
PM: Well, Dee, it was a team effort. We like to think, Dee, that, er, we played an important part in this, along with our allies, of course. We’re very proud to have made Australia—and the world, Dee, the world—a safer place. A safer place.
Presenter: But some of your critics will say that the people who actually lived there—many millions of innocent people—paid a terrible price for our safety. I think the opposition leader may have mumbled something to that effect.
PM: Yes, well, Dee, there will always be those ... We are tough on terrorism and evil-doers, Dee. If the opposition wants to be weak on terrorism, well ... We are tough on evil-doers, Dee. Tough. We’ve kept our promise to keep Australia safe.
Presenter: Prime Minister, now that the threat has been removed, I assume we will see some of the tougher laws on terrorism, and laws restricting our freedom—
PM: Well now, Dee. We can’t afford to be, er, we can’t afford to be complacent about these things. We can’t afford to be complacent.
Presenter: Does that mean that you won’t be winding back those laws?
PM: Well, er, Dee, we never know when or where the next threat might arise. We can’t afford to let down our guard.
Presenter: But, Prime Minister, where could such a threat possibly come from?
PM: Well, Dee, we are committed to injecting additional funding into our, er, national security agencies to find out just that, Dee.
Presenter: More money?
PM: Yes, Dee, it’s precisely at this point in time, at this point in time, that our national security needs boosting. We need to identify any potential threat and nip it in the bud, Dee, nip it in the bud.
Presenter: So—
PM: We will nip any potential threat in the bud, Dee.
Presenter: And have any potential threats been identified, Prime Minister?
PM: Well, Dee, you know, of course, that I’m not at liberty to discuss national security matters.
Presenter: So you will keep the existing legislation—
PM: In fact we have a whole raft of legislation, a whole raft of new legislation on the books, er, Dee.
Presenter: Like what, Prime Minister?
PM: Well, Dee, I can’t go into details at the moment, but suffice it to say, suffice it to say, that if we are going to be proactive, if we are going to nip potential threats in the bud, Dee, we need to introduce measures ...
Presenter: And when will we see these new measures?
PM: All in good time, Dee, all in good time. And we hope that the opposition will allow these measures through, allow them through, Dee, and not give succour to our potential enemies.
Presenter: And you can tell us nothing more specific about these threats or this legislation?
PM: Dee, we have a responsibility, a responsibility, to keep Australia safe. If we were to identify these potential threats, we would be warning them—warning those who wish Australia harm—that we were onto them, and giving them time to dig in. We can’t allow that. We can’t allow it.
Presenter: It’s difficult to see where such threats might come from, Prime Minister. Aren’t you just scaring people by talking up nebulous threats?
PM: Let me just say, Dee, let me just say, that it’s an awfully big universe out there, an awfully big universe, and we have to be prepared—prepared—for any eventuality.
Presenter: Thank you for your time, Prime Minister.
PM: Your welcome, Dee.

Saturday, September 5, 2015

I am what I write

I wonder if this is as true for you as it is for me.

Those of you who subject your writing to the scrutiny of others will know the anguish that can bubble in the belly as you await their verdict. So much of who I am is invested in my writing. That’s why criticism of it is so hard to take, even when well and truly justified.

Those who don’t experience this ... Well, I wonder how they manage it? Is writing a different kind of experience for them? Is it more of a business venture? Just a job? I suspect this applies much more widely than just to writing. There are those who invest themselves, heart and soul, into what they do, and those who approach the job in a more detached way: it’s just a task to be completed. When we do experience this intense involvement with our work, we know we have at last found something in which our emotional and spiritual energy is heavily invested. We are ‘going with the flow’. We can no longer separate what we do from who we are. I suppose this is what we mean when we differentiate between a job and a vocation. We are called from within, though, rather than from without. Through our work we project ourselves into the world. Ourselves.

I recently had one of my manuscripts assessed, and the assessor clearly liked my writing style. She had some very insightful suggestions to make about the structure and content. I didn’t mind her finding fault with those aspects of the manuscript, but I know that if she had criticised the words I used I would have felt considerable pain. I realised then how heavily invested I am in the words I write. So much more so than in the plot or the structure. Of course I realise objectively that these other things are important. I want to get them right. But they are not so much a part of me as the actual words I use.

It is becoming clear to me that this is simply non-negotiable. Of course I will use the wrong word here and there and build a clunky sentence. Of course some passages of my books are better written than others. But I will not—cannot—change the fundamental way that I use words and construct sentences and images. I won’t do that for any editor, any publisher, or any potential reader. I can no more do that than I can cease to be who I am.

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Re-Visiting Asylum Seekers

How does the rest of the world perceive Australia’s response to asylum seekers (if the rest of the world notices at all)? Our current ‘liberal’ (for which read ‘ultra-conservative’ and ‘right wing’) government won the election based (or so they claim) on their determination to ‘stop the boats’. There seem to be only three elements to this government’s policy towards asylum seekers: (1) stop the boats; (2) process these ‘illegal’ asylum seekers off shore (in another country); and (3) never permit them to settle in Australia.

Let’s assume that stopping the boats was the best way to put an end to people smuggling (which I don’t concede—there were and are numerous other approaches); let’s assume, also, that the policy of turning back boats and off-shore processing has actually put an end to this illegal trade (both of which are contentious issues, if for no other reason than the secrecy in which the government shrouds all of this) ... Assuming both of these things for the sake of argument, surely this should only ever have been the starting point for developing a positive and constructive policy for dealing with the vast and catastrophic wave of migration that the current refugee crisis represents.

We in Australia, together with other western nations, have contributed significantly to the destabilisation of the Middle East which has resulted in this growing catastrophe. Surely as a nation we have a responsibility to do more to address this disaster than to demonise these refugees, make this someone else’s problem and add more bombs to the mix in the Middle East.

Do we really think that this government’s policies have ‘saved lives’ (or were ever intended to)? Even if this were the case, it is only a (very poor) beginning.

It’s time that this government stepped up to the plate and did much more to help address this worldwide crisis. I fear that it lacks both the capacity and the will to do so.