Not That Bad: A Look at the Abbott Government, So Far

Sunday, 29 September 2013
Courtesy of First Dog on the Moon

Following the ascendancy of the Abbott government, as those of us on the left shuddered at the thought of what was to come, moderates and the politically neutral urged us to give it a chance...maybe an Abbott government wouldn't be so bad. Well we can see now, three weeks in, the Abbott government haven't been that bad. They've been terrible, a shrieking disaster worse than we could have imagined already. Let's see what they've been up to, shall we?

  • In pretty much their first act of government, sacked Steve Bracks, whom the former Labor government appointed as consul-general to New York, showing petty rivalry was to be the order of the day (in 2007, the incoming Labor government didn't cancel any of the Howard government's diplomatic postings). 

  • Appointed precisely one woman to his new cabinet, giving a female representation of 5%, worse than Afghanistan. Of course the Liberal party has always rejected the idea of quotas for women, stating that they appoint on "merit" the only reason there aren't more women in cabinet is they're just not as good (oh sorry, I meant they have physiological differences). Abbott has assured us there are several other women "knocking on the door" of cabinet; presumably the big knob is blocking their way. 

  • Meanwhile, Tony Abbott has appointed himself minister for women, presumably so he can tell us the circumstances in which women do not have an absolute right to withhold sex.

  • Failed to appoint a science minister, for the first time since 1931 (or a youth minister, or a minister for mental health. We will however get a minister for ANZACs).

  • Broken a promise for Abbott to spend the first week as Prime Minister in an Aboriginal community. 

  • Said and done precisely nothing about that budget emergency we apparently had prior to the election.

  • Have borrowed $800 million dollars a day. This one has my favourite defence from the Libtrolls on Twitter: the Liberals have to borrow this money to fix Labor's mistakes. I thought Labor's primary mistake was borrowing too much money? 

  • Put laws in motion to outlaw consumer boycotts.

  • Abolished a pay rise for aged care workers, even as Abbott's income increased to over $10,000 a week. 

  • Abolished the climate commission, in the same year that Sydney has had its hottest day on record, its hottest year on record, its hottest winter on record, and an early and horrendous start to bushfire season (Tony Abbott is from Sydney, he must be aware of this). Meanwhile, no response whatsoever to the latest IPCC climate report which shows the effects of climate change in Australia will be worse than first thought, with temperature rises of up to 6 degrees by end of century. And you think we have an asylum seeker problem now? Imagine the boat arrivals if rising sea levels make the Pacific Islands uninhabitable. 

  • Planned to university amenity fees and cut places for low income students, changed their mind after the backlash, then denied they'd said any such thing. 

  • Eight asylum seeker boats have arrived in Australian waters since the election. I understand it can take time for new policies to take affect, but Abbott pledged to stop the boats "from day one". (Incidentally there were no boat arrivals in the last two weeks of the Rudd government). We'll never know if the new policies are working though, because the Liberals will now only hold weekly briefings on "border security" for "operational reasons"; a contrast to the previous government who announced each arrival. And did the Liberals advocate silence then? Hell, no; they put it on a mobile billboard.

  • Created a diplomatic dispute with Indonesia over asylum seeker policy. Always a wise move to piss off one of our largest trading partners with a population of 250 million to impress the talkback radio crowd. The redoubtable foreign minister Julie Bishop blamed this on a "misunderstanding" with the Indonesian foreign minister - unlikely considering Dr Natalegawa has, in addition to a BSc from the London School of Economics and an MPhil from Cambridge, received a PhD from the Australian National University. I'm fairly sure he understands.  

  • Horrifically, on Friday an asylum seeker boat sank off the coast of Indonesia with the loss of dozens of lives, mostly children. There have been claims that the Australian navy, under new orders to not respond to calls for assistance from asylum seeker boats, ignored rescue calls for up to 24 hours. And what was Abbott's response to this? He couldn't talk now. The Footy was on

  • So why are you surprised, they ask? I'm not. I didn't expect Abbott to legislate for gay marriage or call for a more humane policy on asylum seekers. Regressive policies and cuts I expected. I guess though I hoped they would at least try for a little while not doing the very things they accused Labor of - lying, backflips and wasting money. No wonder the new government has seen an immediate fall in the polls - pretty much unheard of for a new government to not enjoy a honeymoon period - and no wonder that apart from the hardcore, head in the sand "proud to be Liberal" supporters who will never change, many people are lamenting their choice to vote Liberal. The head-banging frustration thing though is that all these signs were there before the election. What did they expect? And dear god with two years and eleven months of this lot to go what else are we going to see?

    On The Nestor Affair

    Saturday, 21 September 2013
    Ask any Australian who they most hate, and paedophiles would be near the top of that list. Hate them, can't stand them, they should be burnt at the stake, along with anyone who supports them. Supports them, like say Brett Collins, who defended paedophile Dennis Ferguson's right to live in the community? Oh yes, absolutely awful. What about Tony Abbott? But then there will be a stunned silence.

    Tony Abbott, with help from the media, has successfully crafted an image for himself drastically at odds with the reality. But one of the most astonishing things about all this is the fact he provided a character reference for a convicted paedophile - supporting supposedly the most loathed creatures in society - and "Mums and Dads" are unaware or think it doesn't matter.

    The facts are these. Tony Abbott met John Nestor in Sydney in 1984 when they were both training for the priesthood. Abbott has we know left that vocation, but kept in touch with Nestor, meeting several times a year. In 1997, Nestor - now an ordained priest in the Wollongong diocese - was charged with indecently assaulting a teenage altar boy. Abbott, now a minister in the Howard government, provided a character reference for Nestor, stating that he was "An extremely upright and virtuous man." Nestor was convicted and sentenced to 16 months in jail; however he was bailed pending an appeal and never served time in jail. Now, here we have at the time Abbott providing a reference for a convicted sex offender. Did John Howard dump him from the ministry? Expel him from the Liberal party? Did Howard run out of parliament to avoid accepting Abbott's vote?

    John Nestor won his appeal later in 1997, with the judge stating "inappropriate conduct does not prove an offence took place". However inappropriate the legal system found the conduct to be, it was enough for the Catholic church - infamously reticent on taking action against priest suspected of sex offences - to never allow him to serve in the ministry again; he was finally struck off as a priest by the Vatican in 2008. Teflon Tony has avoided scrutiny over any of this.

    I'd love to know how Liberal supporters really feel about this - how can they be "proud to be Liberal" when their leader supports a sex offender in the eyes of the Vatican if not the courts. But they won't tell you. Ask them and you get one of three responses:

    1. It's all in the past/a long time ago/lefties are always looking for that "gotcha" moment/cheap shot.
    2. References to Craig Thomson/Milton Orkopolous/the AWU.
    3. (Silence)
    They simply cannot defend the indefensible, and will go to any length to avoid talking about it. It will all come out one day, I'm sure, and maybe then we'll finally be rid of Abbott (who rode into power lapping up the support of a media baron involved in the hacking of a murdered child's phone - and this is the side of politics that paints itself as being "family friendly"). We just have to ensure Abbott is not allowed to shut down the royal commission into child sex abuse - and he will try; he'll fight tooth and nail to do so. It was public pressure that led him to support the commission after his initial opposition, stating it must not be limited to the Catholic Church. So we need to keep the pressure up, and keep asking Liberal supporters "how can you think this is okay?". Maybe some of them will decide it isn't. 

    Breastfeeding, Zoe's Law and the Right to Choose

    Wednesday, 18 September 2013
    Tomorrow the NSW government will debate "Zoe's Law", the legislation named after the baby girl stillborn after her mother Brodie Donegan was hit by a car driven by a drug-affected at 32 weeks of pregnancy. Now, whilst no one could fail to have the utmost sympathy for Ms Donegan and her family, this is a deeply troubling piece of legislation. As the law stood when Ms Donegan was injured in 2009, the death of Zoe was recognised as gross bodily harm to her mother. "Zoe's Law" would, for the first time in NSW, define a foetus of over 20 weeks gestation as a person. We have been assured that the law will not affect access to abortion (which as it is, is technically a crime in NSW anyway) but it is hard not to be wary. A version of Zoe's Law was initially proposed in 2010 under the then Labor government; they commissioned Michael Campbell QC to determine if any review of the Crimes Act was necessary to allow for cases that cause death to the foetus. The recommendation was that current laws were appropriate. But with the change in government, this Act has been drafted by the Reverend Fred Nile MLC, a well known anti-abortion crusader, with the support of the NSW Attorney General and former president of NSW Right to Life, Greg Smith. It is hard to fathom that there is no ideological intent behind the Bill to curtail reproductive rights - foetal personhood is a well-known tactic employed by anti-abortion crusaders in the U.S. Ms Donegan has stated that she is pro-choice, but it is terribly sad and deeply worrying her tragic situation has been adopted as a moral crusade by the likes of Fred Nile.

     I got to thinking about womens's rights to decide what they do with their own bodies as I read of the latest move to push the breast is best message - this time the ludicrous proposal that tins of baby formula should carry cigarette-style health warnings of the risks of not breastfeeding (perhaps they could include graphic pictures of fat kids?). Really, is this going to work to increase the breastfeeding rates? Most women do want to breastfeed, and try, and struggle, and give up for a multitude of reasons - none of them involving thinking formula feeding is nutritionally just as good; the majority of them accompanied by great whacking loads of guilt. The message to breastfeed is everywhere - so much so that, as I've written about previously, I struggled through establishing breastfeeding in a haze of pain and PND so horrendous I've pretty much no recollection of my son's first few months; I wish someone had told me "if this is all too hard, you don't have to; it's not the end of the world", and even though we got through those early days and breastfed for 16 months, if I had my time over I wouldn't breastfeed. Bad! Selfish mother! Just about every mother who is bottle feeding feels the need to justify themselves, present their reasons and hope they're found good enough. I'm sick of the guilt heaped on women for not breastfeeding, but not just that. If as feminists we support women's right to make choices about their own bodies, then we need to support women who decide they don't want to breastfeed because they just don't want to.

    It's heresy to say that in some feminist parenting circles. The line runs that the patriarchal spectre of Big Formula has turned us against breastfeeding; as women, we can make the strong, empowering decision to reclaim our natural ability to feed our babies ourselves. And that's great - if that's what you want to do. But what if a woman just doesn't want to turn her breasts over for the nourishment of another person for six or twelve months? Why do feminists, who would march in the street for a woman's right to not carry a pregnancy against her will, insist she must breastfeed her child or be selfish, lazy, not caring about her child (funnily enough some of the same accusations "pro-lifers" level at women who have abortions)? Most women do want to breastfeed, as I've said. Women are not brainwashed drones who need to be protected from the evils of big formula; we can make an informed if reluctant choice. But maybe we need to lay off the ones who don't want to, as well as the ones that can't. It looks like we'll have enough people telling us what to do with our bodies soon enough.

    Brawl on the Left

    Sunday, 15 September 2013
    Pretty much the only good thing to come out of the election of the Coalition government last week was the lovely sense of solidarity it engendered amongst those of us who agreed what a dire thing the rise of Tony Abbott's brand of hypocritical conservatism is for the nation. We traded memes, and gratefully received the sympathy of the outside world, and knew that we may have lost the battle, but the war was still to come. We will unite and fight! We will hold Abbott's government to account, and ensure they're gone in three years time! We will do this together!

    The solidarity couldn't last. It didn't. Within the week, the Left in Australia was back to its usual infighting, nitipicking, and generally tearing itself to pieces in a subconscious deathwish to apparently see a fit, determined Tony Abbott as Prime Minister for the next 25 years. 

    The latest brawl in the family began when the redoubtable Ms Helen Razer published this piece on Sophie Mirabella in The Guardian, stating that the vile Mrs Mirabella does not deserve the hatred she receives, not because she is not vile, but because she is a political middleweight of no consequence. The lazy left, pontificated Ms Razer, would be better placed expending their energies on larger targets.

    The backlash predictably set the internet on fire, and Ms Razer announced she was retreating to the corner to lick her wounds, utterly unable to understand what had happened here. "Why are people so angry I'm defending Sophie Mirabella? That's not what I said at all". No it isn't what you said, and no it is not why people are upset. People are upset, I would wager, about being referred to as the lazy left, idiots, stupid. And I wonder where the hell this leftier-than-thou, more pure of progressive spirit fighting is getting us.

    Say what I will about the right, they always have each others' backs. No matter what pulpy, logic-defying excremental nonsense a conservative comes out with, other conservatives will be lining up to defend them. (The latest? Conservatives insisting that when Tony Abbott says the work of government started "immediately", he didn't actually mean immediately, and it's completely understandable he hasn't been seen all week). Not us on the left. We're tolerant of dissent and appreciate there are a range of opinions on the spectrum of humanity. Unlike the right, we recognise there can be many aspects to an issue, which may conflict. But I'm sorry, fighting amongst ourselves does not make us look nuanced, tolerant of dissent, valuing the freedom to express a diversity of opinion. It just makes us look like a disorganised shower of muppets who can't even get their own house in order let alone run the nation. I appreciate the irony of telling lefties not to fight whilst berating them for doing so, but seriously, we need to get our shit together. We need to stop fighting Twitter wars on intersectionality and nuances in op-ed articles; unite and fight may be a trite cliché, but it's what we need to do. 

    Election Day Diary

    Sunday, 8 September 2013
    Saturday September 7, 7:30 Finally, the day we've dreaded has arrived. It's like reverse Christmas - Tony the evil Santa is coming to take your rights and benefits away. DH and I had planned to work one booth each handing out how-to-votes for the Greens whilst the other looked after Little G, but we decide instead I'll do them both. Don my Greens t shirt and hipster-esque skirt for polling day. Debate ironing skirt - don't want to look like a scruffy hippy - remember I don't iron. Our house is ready, at least.

    9:30 On the bus to my first polling place, and it's a little startling to look at my slack-jawed, vacant eyed fellow passengers and realise all these people vote.

    10:00 St John's Church, Cooks Hill Cooks Hill is a fairly trendy and expensive inner Newcastle suburb, full of gorgeous terrace houses and people riding vintage frame bikes, so I was confident this would be a pretty good booth for us. As I arrive, there are Jaimie Abbott posters everywhere. Even allowing for the overkill of the Liberal candidate's campaign, this is startling - A-frames placed every two metres along 100 metres of foothpath, banners covering the entire fence, perhaps twenty blue shirted campaign workers. There are only two or three red-shirted Labor volunteers and a single Green when I arrive. I grab my pile of leaflets and set up camp under a large tree. Compared to the bitter winds outside Marrickville town hall in 2010, this mild day is a pretty good one to be campaigning. I do suffer from social anxiety/phobia/whatever you want to call it, but I find handing out how to votes quite easy. I just get into a little groove. It's a fairly good response. A few people seek me out (including two young men I overhear referring to J Abbott as a "lying bitch"), some refuse any how to votes. I'm always amazed by how many people take how to votes from everybody - they can't all be undecided. Why? Do they think they need to collect the whole set or something? No hecklers, denying me the fun of responding.

    11:15 Pampered princess - hair, nails, make up and fake tan immaculate, expensive shoes and frock - pulls up outside polling booth in Audi, parks in disabled spot without permit, marches in to vote with her nose in the air, stopping only to collect a Liberal how to vote.  I've been chatting with the Socialist Alliance volunteer; she suggests we confront the woman. I say I'm too chicken shit, but I've got her back if she does so.

     When the princess returns to her car, the Socialist Alliance volunteer says "don't you realise you parked in a disabled spot?" Her: "So? What are you a parking inspector?" and drove off. No, not a parking inspector but I have sent this to council. I've obscured the number plate for this post because unlike her, I'm not a thoughtless cow.

    Meanwhile a Liberal worker is packing up some of the Jaimie Abbott A-frames, saying "there are just too many". It's about three months late for that, I'd say.

    13:00 And done, for now. Little pottering and revivifying lunch on Darby Street.

    15:30 New Lambton Primary School Did I say it was a mild day? It's 30 degrees, it's the first week of spring, and we're about to elect a Prime Minister who thinks climate change is crap. So that's reassuring. Jaimie Abbott is here - has been all day, apparently - along with Labor's Sharon Claydon. (the Greens' Michael Osborne has been doing the rounds of the booths for the day, and I miss him). New Lambton is also a fairly well heeled sort of place, older and more conservative, so I don't expect us to do as well here as we might have in Cooks Hill. Still no hecklers. It's kind of fascinating to see Jaimie Abbott interact with public - she's the punter's new best friend, but gives everyone else the evil eye and doesn't talk to anyone outside her team. Sharon Claydon warm, friendly, expresses sympathy for my bad back. Abbott tells a voter in a Subway staff shirt "I'm Subway's biggest customer!" and I nearly break my finger biting it in the effort not to laugh. The other Greens volunteer (Mike? I'm lousy with names) stands a few feet away from Ms Abbott; she barrels over and butts in whenever he tries to talk to someone.

    17:00 Day drags on. Back really hurting by now. Tim Owen, the Liberal member for the state seat of Newcastle, rolls up to spruik for Abbott; telling a punter who recognises Abbott from her posters "She looks better in the flesh, doesn't she?" Err... I continue to be amazed at some of the punters who pick out Liberal cards; a guy with dreadlocks, a woman with pink and yellow hair, several hipster-looking Portlandia types with organic hemp shopping bags. The Christian Democrats candidate is here, and deliberately avoided by many. In possibly the most bizarre thing I've ever seen working an election booth, a young girl who has been handing out for Get Up all day declares she has switched sides, dons a Jaimie Abbott shirt and cap, and starts handing out for the Liberals. I have NFI what went on there.

    18:00 And we're done. Sharon Claydon says goodbye to all the campaign workers, Labor or not, individually. Jaimie Abbott leaves without saying goodbye at all. You know the saying that someone who is nice to you but rude to the waiter is not a nice person? Well, someone who is nice to potential voters but rude to campaign workers isn't really a nice person either. Obviously I want Michael Osborne to win for Newcastle, that's why I've been doing this all day, but I'm realistic about the chances of a Green being elected in Newcastle. I always did, but now I really, really want Sharon Claydon to beat Jaimie Abbott. Anyway, help pack up the booth and home at last to a cool shower and a glass of very cold white wine.

    20:00 ABC election coverage already calling it for the Coalition. This is a disaster, but not quite as bad as feared; the predicted wipe out in Western Sydney and Queensland has failed to materialise. Tony Abbott will still be Prime Minister, though. Pouring myself another pint glass of wine, I note with delight that Ms Claydon has indeed won and will be the new Member for Newcastle (and dear god I would love to be a fly on the wall for Ms Abbott's tantrum when she realises all that effort has been in vain - she needed a 12% swing and got less than 3%).

    22:00 Tony Abbott is making his victory speech. I'm drunk. The sun will still rise tomorrow.

    Sunday, 8:00 The sun has not risen on the east coast of NSW today...

    Edit: Not only did she not win the seat, after spending all day at the New Lambton public school polling place, Jaimie Abbott failed to win the booth. Very sad. Tragical.

    A Short Tale of Liberal Party Censorship

    Friday, 6 September 2013
    Following the Liberal party's embarrassing little "change of heart", over internet filtering, I've discovered a little example of censorship they do agree with. I'm not sure when it happened, but my Twitter account has been blocked by the official Liberal party Twitter account. One Twitter account usually blocks another for being offensive, or racist, or just plain trolling, often with good cause. But I'm a little confused here. Whilst I publish a lot of stuff that Liberals wouldn't like, I've never actually replied to them directly, nor used their name in a hashtag. I don't recall ever replying to any Liberal MP either. So how did they know to block me? Are Liberal party staffers following the #auspol and #ausvotes threads for unfavourable tweets, saying "looks like we've got ourselves a trouble maker here", and pre-emptively blocking? And are taxpayers funding them to do this?

    I'm not saying I'm above any untoward behaviour - I've been half-assedly seeing if I can get Miranda Devine to block me for years now (she hasn't, I'll give her that) but yeah, never having directly interacted with the Libs or any of their MPs, I'm a bit flummoxed to be blocked. I still don't really imagine a time will come where I'm jailed as a dissident under a totalitarian Abbott government, but maybe we take a look at a few countries that might offer asylum, just in case. 

    The Joy of Gardening III

    Thursday, 5 September 2013
    "When the world wearies and society ceases to satisfy, there is always the garden.” - Minnie Aumonier

    Last year, I had a (small) veggie garden for the first time. I built a lasagna garden within some old beds in our garden, and planted a few herbs and lettuces as space would allow. It was a moderate success.

    Some of the veggies did well - the rocket and basil went particularly feral - others not so much; the beds were in the shade of a large wattle tree and didn't get enough sun; also, I stated full time work in October, so really didn't have the time or energy needed to put in the work needed to keep the garden flourishing. Autumn came, most everything died off except the mint and parsely (a word of warning; mint will take over the whole garden if you don't watch it) and that was that.

    Until a winter storm blew the tree down, and I took a voluntary redundancy, and I found myself with a massive potential garden bed on my hands and the time to fill it. But first it would need work...a lot of work. It was a 5 metre long, 2 metre wide patch of land that had been under a wattle tree and overgrown for years, and it would need to be dug up, cleared, and have the soil prepared before we could think about planting.

    I decided I'd put in a bean teepee. 

    A box of potential (only a fraction of the seedlings that would end up going in).

    All finished, yippee! This was one of the largest and toughest projects I'd ever embarked on, and I was pretty damn proud of myself. Except it wasn't finished. I planted corn, eggplants, lettuce, pak choi, bok choi, carrots, and beetroot, as well as bean and squash seeds - as well as onion, garlic and shallots, and basil, coriander, and the existing parsley and mint in the "old" garden, and it was still nowhere near filled, even allowing that these were tiny brand new seedlings you could barely see. Over the next couple weeks I added a larger variety of lettuce, spinach, and seed potatoes.

    And then slowly but surely, things started to grow. 

    All this was watched with much fascination by Little G. Last year, he was walking around the garden but he didn't notice, didn't care. Now he sees everything, wants to know about everything. Which includes stomping across the seedlings for a better look. We've had to explain to him that he needs to stay out of the garden, that he's a little boy who wants to grow up big and strong, and these are little plants that want to grow up big and strong. He gets it most of the time.

    We think.

    As the garden grows and the seasons change, we can see clearly that last year we had a baby; this year we have a kid. He turned two last week, and this being the last year I can pick out his birthday cake without his very definite opinion, I even made a veggie patch cake:

    Well, I tried.

    What is it about the garden that is so soothing? It's very much my domain - DH will help with the heavy lifting when asked, but otherwise it's all up to me. I love being alone with my plants, love the stillness, the "curious kinship with things that grow". I love watching the slow changes - or not so slow. The beans are growing up so fast it's creepy, pushing up piles of dirt as they do so. These had not broken the soil on Saturday:

    Things have been a little bit rough lately, and being out in the garden gives me a peace I can't quite explain; even a few minutes makes me feel better, especially in the late afternoon. I've tried exercise as a remedy for anxiety and didn't much care for it; tried alcohol and it didn't much care for me. But gardening seems to do the trick. Seems like I'll be doing a lot more gardening in the months ahead. 

    Could It Be True?

    Sunday, 1 September 2013
    I had a really weird dream during my nap yesterday. (Okay bear with me here - I know studies consistently rank hearing about other people's dreams as one of the most boring things a human can experience right up there with getting caught up in small talk at a party with an accountant and trying to find mates for all your socks, but I promise this was not one of my normal dreams where an enormous talking hippo is flogging me with a 6ft long licorice whip to knit a ship and my high school science teacher is there for some reason).

    Anyway, in this dream, it was an upcoming federal election. The Liberal party were fielding a candidate in an outer suburban/semi rural seat who was a family man, a fundamentalist Christian, who lived with his wife and six children on an isolated farm, homeschooling the kids to keep them free of the corrupting influences of school and the outside world. His Christian beliefs formed his political views on everything from asylum seekers (against it) to abortion (against it) to same-sex marriage (against it).

    Only here's the thing. The guy was also very wealthy, as he had a flourishing career as a pornography producer, specialising in something called "extreme anal" (don't ask me; it was a dream remember. I ain't Googling it).

    And the general reaction of the electorate - and News Ltd? "Good on him. At least he's getting out there, having a go, providing for his family. Initiative. Family values. The Labor candidate would have no idea what it's like to raise a family - Uni leftist with no kids."

    I think I woke somewhere around there in sheer terror, or it may have been the sound of Little G reacting to being told he can't have a third yoghurt in one day. Considering the some of the candidates who the Liberal party have run in this election:

    Photo courtesy Lieberal Facebook page

    Is it possible that there could be a candidate too bizarre and hypocritical even for the Liberal party? Is my dream psyche giving me a dose of dystopian satire, or a chilling vision of things to come? Looking at the state of political discourse in this country it's hard to imagine it getting any worse, but surely the fundamentalist Christian pornography king is going too far. I hope.
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