Chasing Peta: A review of Niki Savva’s book: The Road to Ruin

road to ruin coverThe abiding image, the one that sticks doggedly in my mind having read Niki Savva‘s book The Road to Ruin, about the rise and swift fall of the Abbott Government, is of the then prime minister racing down the corridors of Parliament House in Canberra, chasing after a fuming or teary-eyed Peta Credlin, his chief of staff.

Abbott would invariably catch up with Credlin, console her and then bring her back – with great reluctance on her part – to the meeting room, where whoever had offended her (no matter if they were a cabinet minister or senior staffer) would offer a grovelling apology: “Sorry Peta.”

It’s a recurring theme in the book. Savva, a conservative no less, paints a picture of a well-intentioned (from a Liberal voter’s point of view) prime minister, who was seemingly under the spell of this power-hungry, emotionally volatile and unpredictable woman (Credlin would verbally abuse staff, then bring in a cake the next day) and how their bizarre co-dependent relationship brought down the Abbott government in September last year, after less than two years in power.

It’s a thoroughly engrossing book, indeed a page turner which is no mean feat for a book about politics. Savva, a well-regarded columnist for The Australian newspaper draws on all her vast experience in the Canberra press gallery plus her deep knowledge of the Australian political machine (she was a media adviser to former Treasurer Peter Costello) to weave a fascinating tale of ego, stupidity and ignorance that never strays too far into the banal details of bureaucratic government process.

Across 300 odd pages, it reveals just how poorly suited  Abbott and Credlin were to their respective jobs of PM and chief of staff. Both were brilliant in opposition, hammering away at the dysfunctional Labor government of the Rudd and Gillard years, but in office Savva shows how utterly hopeless they were from the very beginning – Abbott with his dreadful captain’s picks, poor choice of ministers, unwillingness to drop poor policies and inability to read the tea leaves and Credlin with her micro-management, dragon-like temper and deliberate sabotage of the good intentions of those who sought to help Abbott save his government.

Right up to a few weeks before Abbott and Credlin both lost their jobs, the chief of staff – not the prime minister’s wife – was still immersed in choosing the decor for the refurbished lodge….a week out [Credlin] was obsessing about artwork, burying herself in trivia…their lack of preparation on that fateful night would astound even their allies

There were numerous warning signs for Abbott – all of which he ignored or dismissed – foolishly believing that the Liberal Party was not Labor, and would never turf a Coalition Prime Minister out of office, certainly not in his first term after such a resounding electoral victory.

As for Credlin, she seemed to believe her own legend of an invincible, warrior, shielding Abbott from his foes. So much in fact that as Savva reveals, Credlin framed a caricature of herself drawn by The Australian‘s Eric Lobbecke depicting her as just such a sword-wielding warrior (with Abbott hiding behind  her) and hung it in her office.


The Eric Lobbecke cartoon

These sorts of astonishing details and anecdotes pepper The Road to Ruin. They have the effect of taking the reader inside parliament or the party room or the restaurants where Abbott and Credlin dined, including that cringeworthy famous account of how Credlin fed Abbott from her own fork, just one of many similar incidents that sparked rumours of an affair (dismissed by both of them) but which more imporantly framed the bizarre nature of their relationship.

Also particularly enjoyable are Savva’s own stoushes with Credlin over the things she wrote in her column in The Australian, which put a spotlight on all the bad decisions. Savva would receive spiteful, threatening text messages and on a number of occasions pressure would be applied to the newspaper’s then editor, Chris Mitchell to sack her. Mitchell stood firmly by his star writer, to the huge frustration of Credlin and Abbott who must have felt like they were taking friendly fire from a supposed ally in the Murdoch-owned broadsheet.

As for the chief criticism of The Road to Ruin: that neither Credlin or Abbott were given the right of reply, I think it’s a fair call. It’s a basic principle of good journalism that people be given the opportunity to respond to their accusers. This is particularly the case for Credlin in light of Savva’s very unsympathetic portrayal of her, which smacks in part of retribution.

However, there is nothing to suggest that Savva made anything up, indeed many people are quoted on the record, a very powerful aspect of her book.

Savva has strongly defended her decision not too seek responses from her two protagonists, saying she believed both have a big enough public platform to give their side of events, (and which has proved true).

“They can go out there any day, any night, any day of the week and say what they think happened or give their version of history, which, I might add, is completely at odds with almost everybody else’s version of what took place,” she said in an interview with the ABC.

If it’s a flaw, then its a very minor one in my opinion and does not distract much from what is elegantly written, finely paced political saga which is certain to become a classic of its genre.

Australia: a backwards country, going further backwards

Devolution_zps5c30acaaLast weekend, whilst driving in the Melbourne northern burbs, my wife’s phone rang.

It was friends of ours, recently back from a holiday in Europe and they had big news. They had gotten engaged in Paris.

They had been together for a number of years and we were delighted to hear they had tied the knot.

But then the realisation struck home that they cannot legally marry in this country, because Australia does not allow gay marriage –  they are a lesbian couple.

For a very brief period in December last year, it was legal for gay couples to wed in the ACT. Rather than embrace this bold move forward, the Commonwealth government successfully appealed the territory laws that had been in force for less than a week. No sooner were  gay couples saying “I do” then their marriage certificates were being gleefully stomped upon by conservative bureacrats.

This is the country we live in.

These are 17 countries where gay marriage is legal with Scotland the latest to the join the list of enlightened nations earlier this year.

First to allow gay marriage was Holland way back in 2000, the others are: England (2013), Wales (2013), France (2013), New Zealand (2013), Uruguay (2013), Denmark (2012), Argentina (2010), Portugal (2010), Iceland (2010), Sweden (2009), Norway (2009), South Africa (2006), Spain (2005), Canada (2005) and Belgium (2003).

Yes, even the country of my birth, South Africa, a developing country with many social issues, has recognised that people of the same-sex have the legal right to become husband and wife, but not in Australia. Prime minister Tony Abbott is vehemently opposed to gay marriage despite, his own sister Virginia being in a gay relationship.

Asylum seekers

This is not an isolated backwards step, Australia is moving backwards in many disturbing and insidious ways.

Our foreign minister, Scott Morrison recently drank champagne with his Cambodian colleagues after agreeing to send refugees that arrive by boat to Cambodia in a grubby “cash for people” deal that treats people like livestock.

Cambodia, one of the poorest and most corrupt countries in the world will take Australia’s unwanted refugees who are already living in secret squalor on the impoverished island of Nauru.

What will Cambodia get out of this – $40 million and the promise of more money if they take more people. At the same time, Australia has washed its hands clean of its commitment to provide a safe haven for genuine refugees in what Amnesty International has labelled “a new low in Australia’s deplorable and inhumane treatment of asylum seekers”.

This is just the tip of the iceberg: The 2014-15 Federal Budget, the first under Joe Hockey, cut Australia’s refugee and humanitarian program from 20,000 to 13,750 places and reduced its aid spending by $7.6 billion over five years.

Free speech squashed

Rather than enshrine freedom of speech as he had promised in opposition, Tony Abbott has done the opposite.

Journalists and bloggers now face up to 10 years in jail for doing their jobs, providing information about the secret activities of government organisations, even if their stories are in the public’s interest.  This is not all, the new national security laws also make it easier for security agencies to access personal computers and spy on Australians overseas, the very violations of individual privacy, that NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden revealed were happening on an industrial scale in the US, UK and Australia.

And while the government eventually backed away from moves by attorney General George Brandis’s love-child – plans to water down protections under the Racial Discrimination Act that would have made Australia a protected haven for Holocaust deniers and racists (legal to offend, insult, humiliate someone based on their race or ethnicity), the fact that they were drafted in the first place, speaks volumes about our retreat from enlightenment.

Other backwards movements

These are but three examples, there are many more:

Savage reductions in funding for impoverished aboriginal communities, scrapping of the two-year carbon tax, which actually worked to reduce carbon emissions  in exchange for support for the coal industry, money pulled from the national broadcaster the ABC forcing the likely cancellation of important investigative journalism programs, a $7 GP co-payment that will hurt the poorest in society. The list goes on.

It’s a depressing state of affairs for those who cherish Australia as a forward-thinking, first-world nation, that values multi-culturalism, basic human decency and a “fair go”.

As for my gay friends who are now engaged,  there’s always New Zealand as a wedding option – a country that’s not just beating us at rugby.

For a far more erudite article on Tony Abbott and his government, read David Marr’s excellent article in The Monthly here.

Welcome to Australia: please turn your watches back 30 years

ilove80sMy cousin Maureen loves telling the story of how she flew to New Zealand in the 1980s and upon landing in Auckland, the pilot announced over the intercom:

“Welcome to New Zealand, please turn your watches back 30 years.”

It was a great line and always made me laugh.

But now it’s no so funny as I suspect Qantas may be forced to play the same message to new arrivals to our shores given the changes that are afoot since the new Abbott government placed Australia “under new management”.

It’s a man’s world

Our new prime minister surrounded himself with his attractive daughters, his wife and other powerful women in an attempt to appeal to female voters during the election campaign, but now that he’s won office its men in grey suits who are running the country. The feisty Julie Bishop is the only woman in cabinet, the rest are all grumpy old men, intent on returning Australia to the conservative values of the king of grumpy old men, John Howard.

Of course the corridors of female power are not assisted by the like of dowdy old Bronwyn Bishop, the Liberal member for Mackellar and someone with the fashion sense of Margaret Thatcher, who said it wasn’t Mr Abbott’s fault he could choose only one women in his cabinet (and just six out of 42 in his ministry), because he had to choose on merit, meaning no other women were good enough to be placed in senior leadership roles.

Give the environment a good kicking

Another swift act the new government was to kick out former Chief Climate Commissioner, Professor Tim Flannery and disband the Climate Commission, an organisation set up as an “independent and reliable source of information about the science of climate change”. Click on any link on the Climate Commission home page and you get this short message:

The Climate Commission ceased operation in September 2013.

With this single act, the new government broadcast its message loud and clear:

We don’t believe in climate change. We’re not interested in the environment.

What it means is that a lot more of Australia’s natural vegetation and eco-systems will fall by the way side to assist the mining industry. Prime minister Abbott is taking his cues from the ultra-conservative Queensland government, demanding that more farmland be given over to coal seam gas exploration. This at a time when even the rapidly industrialising Chinese economy is looking to reduce its carbon footprint alongside that of the US.

The new age of secrecy

Perhaps, most shocking in an age when government’s are being urged to be more transparent and open, that the new government should seek the pull the wool over its own citizen’s eyes. This was most evident in new “go back to where you came from” immigration minister Scott Morrison’s pledge that “there will be no information about whether [asylum seeker] boats are turned around”

scott morrison

Scott Morrison, a “Pik Botha” of his era

“That goes to operational matters that, whether they affect current or future operational activity, you will not be getting commentary from this podium or that podium either way on those matters,” said Mr Morrison in garbled politco-speak that could have come straight out of the mouth of apartheid-era South African foreign minister Pik Botha.

But let’s not kid ourselves – Mr Morrison is no lovable rogue. Old Pik at least had some dour charisma and was happy to give something back under Nelson Mandela.

Mr Morrison has gone to war with asylum seekers and “lefties” who seek to give them a fair go.

These are but three examples in just a few weeks of government, and no doubt more will come (One more example: The Abbott government is attempting to block the ACT government from legalising gay marriage).

Yes, we have a government that’s united. But in what common cause?

To set us on a course for barren shores?

Are we, in the words of Withnail as a nation: “drifting into the arena of the unwell, making an enemy of our own future”?

Withnail, drifting into the arena of the unwell

Withnail, drifting into the arena of the unwell

“What we need is harmony, fresh air, stuff like that,” Withnail goes on to say.

But I fear the air will become clogged with the foulest of fumes.

Are thinner politicians more electable?

rudd v abbottOf all the guff that has been written about this upcoming election – and there has been a lot – an article from Brisbane’s The Courier Mail caught my attention focusing on the fact that prime minister Kevin Rudd is packing on the pounds apparently under the stress of losing his short-lived grip on power.

The story, written by Hannah Davies, had as its headline: ‘Moon-faced PM ‘comfort eating’ as the stress of the Federal Election campaign takes its toll.

The story quotes a number of nutritionist and dietician who comment on the prime minister’s fuller face and apparent appetite for pizza and beer with the insinuation that he’s becoming less able to govern by virtue of his weight gain.

They even give him free advice such a that he opt for “nuts and a fruit basket”.

Hannah Davies even went so far as to ask the PM’s spokesperson whether he was “comfort eating”. A ridiculous, irrelevant question you’d think given the broader issues being faced – she might as well also have asked if he was spending more time on the couch eating potato chips!

Anyway, it does raise an interesting point about appearances.

Contrast Kevin Rudd’s apparent podginess (It’s easy to find an unflattering photo of someone constantly be photographed, hence my use of the word “apparent”) with the superfit appearance of Tony Abbott and its easy for a conservative Rupert Murdoch-owned paper like the Courier Mail to suggest, subtely that gaining weight is a sign perhaps of bad personal management, bad habits and an inability to lead.

It’s interesting that the two other high-profile politicians to lose a lot of weight are both on the conservative side of politics: shadow treasurer Joe Hockey, whose is a shadow of the huggable bear of a man he once was and NSW premier Barry O’Farrell, whose weight has bounced up and down like a yo-yo over the last 15 years, but is now almost unhealthily gaunt.

O’Farrell explained in an interview to the Daily Telegraph in December last year that he lost the weight by challenging himself after the 2003 election to go to the gym every day for a week, a pledge he has stuck to for nine years.

Joe Hockey admits to having some help via gastric bypass surgery over the Christmas break followed up by with dieting and exercise.

He says its because he wants to be around to see his grandchildren grow up and was also tired of being called “Sloppy Joe” by former Treasurer Wayne Swan.

It’s surely no coincidence though that Joe Hockey has lost his weight in an election year.

Slimmer and fitter apparently makes you a better leader, thinker and decision maker in the eyes of many while adding a few pounds is a sign that you’ve lost your mojo.

This, of course, is baloney.

Yes, losing weight is good for your health and overall sense of wellbeing and people who lose weight are to be commended.

But fat people that suddenly become thin do not suddenly develop more brain cells, a better moral and ethical belief system and a greater sense of what’s right and wrong.

Being fat never bothered Winston Churchill, nor did it stop him defeating a far skinnier Adolf Hitler.

And there’s no indication that billionaire mining magnate Clive Palmer intends to shed any pounds as he seeks a political role.

Yes you may live longer and feel better about yourself, but let’s not confuse this with character, decency and moral strength.

After all Vladimir Putin and George W. Bush – two leaders who both puffed out their chests in front of the camera – are hardly the model of political astuteness.

On with the circus!

Tony Abbott as PM: a return to old Australian stereotypes?

tony abbottIt seems that barring a political calamity of some sort (or perhaps the return of Kevin Rudd), Tony Abbott will become our next and 28th prime minister in September.

Two article in the February issue of  The Monthly magazine, (which I picked up belatedly in the library), made me think more deeply about what sort of country we may become under a Coalition government with Abbott at the reins.

Journalist and broadcaster Mungo MacCallum writes that even though there have been desperate attempts to cast Abbott in a less misogynistic light, he remains “irredeemably macho”:

“He spent much of last year dressing up in hard hats and other tough-guy equipment and taking part in long-distance quad and pushbike rides.

“He has competed in an iron man contest. And he has started this year by inviting the media to photograph him in the guise of a fearless firefighter.

“However little it excites women, Abbott has remained determined to be seen in fluoro and lycra.”

The second article has nothing much to do about the current political climate in Australia, but does provide some insights into overseas perceptions of the country.

New Zealand-born writer and artist Nic Low, describes a trip he took with other Australian artists and writers to attend ‘Bookwallah’ in India – an international writing festival – where he travelled the vast country by train with Indian writers.

In Goa Low writes that the question is asked about attacks on Indian students in Melbourne while in Chennai racism rears its head with “a suggestion that Australia resembles apartheid-era South Africa”.

“Beyond polemics, the questions reveal a lingering stereotype of Australia. As [Australian writer Kirsty] Murray puts it ‘It’s an idea of Australia from a generation ago’.

Whatever the deep divisions in the current government, divisions that will likely see it ousted from power in September, the Labor government of the Gillard-Rudd era ushered in a new vision of Australia to the world.

With Rudd there was the historic apology to Aborigines and the ‘Stolen Generations’, acknowledgement of climate change, implementing a fairer industrial relations system and development of the National Broadband Network, that despite its criticism will serve Australia well in the years ahead.

Gillard, for her part, put the idea of Australia as an inherently male-dominated society in its place with her rise to be the country’ first female leader while also introducing policies like the National Disability Insurance Scheme and pushing through the contentious, but ultimately necessary carbon tax.

In short Rudd and Gillard, whatever their shortcomings (of which there are many), have ushered in a new, more progressive image of Australia to the world.

Sadly, what lies ahead is regression led by a macho, uber-male prime minister and his inner sanctum of mostly male ultra-conservatives.

As pointed out by Melbourne academic Leslie Cannold, Coalition hardliners Julie Bishop and Sophie Mirabella are the only two females out of 20 in Tony Abbott’s shadow cabinet compared with four (including Gillard) in the current Labor government.

Make no mistake, sexist views will be less harshly criticised and less harshly judged under a government led by a man, whose most famous piece of clothing is a speedo.

Even beyond the Coalition – just look for a moment at some of the other political candidates – conservative Queensland senator Bob Katter, whose trademark is a cowboy hat and mining magnate Clive Palmer, who is turning the Coolum Resort he owns on the Sunshine Coast into a monument to himself complete with a wall of framed portraits in the lobby and a new museum featuring a collection of his classic cars.

This evolving male chauvinistic attitude is most evident in the denigration of Julia Gillard as the election draws nearer.

Since the day she took office, most criticisms about Gillard have been about her sex: from the relentless derogatory comments from Alan Jones’s to the latest disgraces involving Perth shock-jock Howard Sattler incomprehensible questioning of Gillard’s partner Tim Mathiesen’s sexuality (would anyone dared or cared to have asked John Howard any questions relating to the health of his marriage?) and ‘menu-gate’ where Brisbane restaurateur Joe Richard, seemingly at the behest of Liberal National party candidate Mal Brough, drew up menu for a political fundraiser featuring among other things a dish called “Julia Gillard Kentucky Fried Quail – Small Breasts, Huge Thighs & A Big Red Box.”

Add to these the recent revelations (though not in any way ‘news’) of “demeaning, explicit and profane” emails sent by senior male army personnel denigrating women and I wonder if we are indeed quietly setting ourselves up in the word’s of The Age’s columnist Greg Baum: “…as a land of sexist, racist, bullying troglodytes”.

This mood was also picked up by Fairfax journalist Annabel Crabb when she wrote that ” in Australia, there are people who still think that ”jokes” about women’s lady-bits are funny, whether they are composed with reference to the Prime Minister, or circulated by army perves  and “journalists who think it’s OK to ask the Prime Minister, live on air, if she is in fact a gay man’s beard?”

This fetid atmosphere is only going to get worse when Abbott takes charge, a man who in his university days was apparently not averse to throwing a punch to make his point and intimidating student rivals, even if they be women.

Yes, the next government will undoubtedly speak as one united voice with Abbott at the helm, but what does that matter if the message it sends out is:

“Welcome to Australia. Please turn your watches back 10 years.”

An Australia Day contemplation on becoming an Australian

australia dayA week ago, I rang up the Department of Immigration to enquire about a passport matter.

Whilst on the phone, I asked the woman on the end of the line if she could tell me when I would be eligible for Australian citizenship.

To my surprise, she told me it was mid-March…this year.

I’d expected to be told it would be a couple of years off.

Despite having lived here for over 8 years (and qualified enough in my eyes as my tax returns can attest) I know all too well that there are convoluted rules about how long you must be in the country on certain visas before you can, in the words of Peter Allen (or Qantas), “call Australia home”.

Forests in Tasmania have been decimated to supply the paperwork to complete previous visa applications: two for a work permits and one for my spouse visa.

But that of course is the Australian way.

Finding out about my upcoming dual citizenship opportunity has got me thinking a bit more about what it will mean to be an Australian, provided the spooks (ASIO) don’t deem me a security risk, and send me to the Ecuadorian embassy in London to join Julian Assange, or worse, Pretoria.

Should I pledge my allegiance to Dick Smith and only buy Australian-made products, even if they cost more?

Do I now support the Wallabies, the Kangaroos, the Baggy Greens, the Socceroos, the Olyroos, the Hockeyroos, the Boomers, the Diamonds, the Matildas, the Opals and the Koalas?

Do I have to shout for Lleyton Hewitt? Do I? Do I?

And must I call the mayor the “mare”?

So much to ponder!

Finding out about becoming an oke ‘Stralian has also coincided with the run up to Australia Day tomorrow (January 26) with the nation getting the day off on Monday.

I’ve always had mixed feelings about Australia Day.

My mind always seems to conjure up images of drunken yobbos, Australian flags draped over their shoulders like capes, stomping on cars and hurling abuse at anyone not white enough, as happened in Manly a couple of years back.

And I also tend to think of that famous Australian “pride” t-shirt. You know the one that says:

“This Is Australia – We eat meat, we drink beer and we speak f#ckin english!”

Losely translated it means:

“Unless you’re white, kindly f*ck off”

Strangely enough, this Howard-era slogan has not quite disappeared under the slightly left-leaning Labor government.

Instead, it’s morphed into:

“This is Australia: We  eat meat, we speak English, but if you have $5 million, we couldn’t give a f*ck”

Not quite as catchy I admit, but true.

The ‘$5 million, no English’ required refers to the new ‘Golden ticket’ visa – or the more official sounding Significant Investor Visa – the government is giving out to anyone who can stump up a wad of cash, no matter if they speak Martian.

At the same time, they’re deporting refugees who arrive by boat to remote island hell-holes or forcing them into poverty on the mainland, by not allowing them to work.

Which of course brings me to the issue of who I am going to vote for, since voting is compulsory (a strange phenomenon I have yet to get my head around) and there is an election coming up towards the end of the year.

I was never  a fan John Howard and Mr Speedo (Tony Abbott), Shrek (Joe Hockey) and Condeleeza Rice’s cousin-from-another-mother (Julie Bishop) hardly seem much better.

Perhaps if Malcolm Turnbull took charge I’d consider it. Or maybe I’ll have consider the Greens. I’ll have to do some reading.

On that note, I’ve been reading up about what Australia Day really is all about.

Officially, it serves to commemorate the arrival of the first British fleet of convict ships in 1788 and the laying of the foundations for modern day Australia.

But it seems to mean different things to different people, or nothing at all.

The white bogans in the far outer burbs, rusty cars parked on unkept lawns, pit-bulls at the ready, use the occasion to lament the days when Australian culture was whiter the washing washed in OMO.

The aborigines call it invasion day, and who can blame them.

The government talks about celebrating everything that’s great about Australia, but usually just end up in fisticuffs with the opposition, or as happened last year, with the prime minister being unceremoniously dragged off by her security personnel after Tony Abbott had fanned the flames of aboriginal anger.

As for new citizens-to-be like me?

We’re still trying to figure out the bloody rules to Australian football, ponder why football is called soccer and rugby football, and why that red-faced balding geezer who once coached the Wallabies is still on the radio.

Perhaps on Australia Day this year, I’ll just take inspiration from that marvellous Paul Hogan ad from the 1980s – you know the one where he talks about:

“The land  of wonder, the land down under“.

And throw a couple of shrimps on the barbie.

Is a donkey vote the only option for Clive Palmer at the next federal election?

As coal mining billionaire Clive Palmer tucks into his next big breakfast on his private jet, I wonder if he is beginning to feel like something of a political outsider.

According to a report in the Sydney Morning Herald, Queensland’s richest man is currently deciding whether to retain his membership of the Liberal-National Party following his attacks on the Queensland State Government over its decision to increase mining royalties and his stoush with Federal Liberal leader Tony Abbot (over a number of things including asylum seekers and paid political lobbyists).

It’s all gone for sour for Clive Palmer and the Liberals after earlier plans for him to seek pre-selection in the Queensland seat of Kennedy and take on Bob Katter.

If he does part ways and ditches his long standing Liberal membership it will bring to an end many decades of support and lots of financial backing too.

But the question remains then, who will Palmer back politically?

Looking at the major political parties, there’s not much to entice Palmer:

There’s the Labor Party – no chance given Wayne Swan and his mining super tax and Julia Gillard’s carbon tax.

And the Greens? Let’s face it, there’s no way a coal mining magnate is going to ever get into bed with a party committed to the environment and renewable energy.

But even when it comes to the minority parties, there is little to entice Palmer.

There’s Bob Katter’s Australian Party, which you think might have some appeal given its opposition to the carbon tax, desire to protect state assets and wish to rebuild Palmer’s beloved Queensland.

Unfortunately earlier plans for Palmer to take on Katter in his seat of Kennedy as an LNP candidate resulted in Katter publicly ridiculing Palmer’s size and poor physical condition and suggesting he’d never survive the rigours of political warfare.

There’s the One Nation Party – unlikely given Palmer’s humanitarian views on refugees, Chinese business affiliations and desire to attract Asian big spenders to his growing hotel and resort empire.

What then? The Country Alliance? Family First? The Help End Marijuana Prohibition (HEMP) Party? The Sex Party? I think not.

The thought did cross my mind of a mining magnate coalition party with Australia’s other notable mining magnate and self-appointed “mother of the nation” Gina Rinehart.

But that’s unlikely after Rinehart suggested we all give up drinking, smoking and socialising and work a little harder (while earning less).

“I like the pub, I like going to the footy, I like socialising with friends,” was Palmer’s response to Rinehart’s unpopular suggestion.

Which really leaves Palmer with no other option but to either start up his very own political movement or do what many Australian might end up doing at the next federal election – given the current dissatisfaction with most political parties – and cast a donkey vote!


Tony Abbott and asylum seekers: another demonization opportunity

There can be no doubt that Tony Abbott, if he is elected prime minister at the next federal elections will take a hardline, perhaps even extremist approach, to asylum seeks arriving by boat.

Indeed the opposition leader is tackling the issue of boat people in the same way he has gone about dealing with the carbon tax; by demonising the matter.

According to Abbott, asylum seekers arriving by boat (or any means bar holding a visa) are criminals.

Last week he was in conversation with ABC Melbourne 774’s Jon Faine – never one to step back in an argument.

This is the relevant bit in the debate, following Abbott’s conjecture that Nauru was “good policy”

Abbott: We’ve had 22,000 illegal arrivals, almost 400 illegal boats,”

Faine: They are not illegal. Tony Abbott, do I need to remind you that the use of words in this is critical? They are not illegal arrivals. There is nothing illegal about seeking asylum when you are a refugee.

Abbott: Well, I am making my point.

Faine: So am I. And it has been made to you before

Then Abbott tries to change tack and talk about “untold tragedies” and shift the blame to the government’s inability to adopt the Coalition’s policy, which he says they are now finally doing.

(You can listen to the whole interview here)

Let’s be clear – Abbott has certainly made it plain that he equates those that seek asylum by coming to Australia by boat as nothing more than criminals.

Here’s what he said about them in July in an interview on ABC Radio Perth:

“I don’t think it’s a very Christian thing to come in by the back door rather than the front door. And I’m all in favour of Australia having a healthy and compassionate refugee and humanitarian intake program. I think the people we accept should be coming the right way and not the wrong way. If you pay a people-smuggler, if you jump the queue, if you take yourself and your family on a leaky boat, that’s doing the wrong thing, not the right thing, and we shouldn’t encourage it.”

Essentially, this is just a re-hash of John Howard’s fiery assertion in 2001 at the height of his power that: “We will decide who comes here and under what circumstances they do.”

There’s an excellent rebuttal piece to Abbott in The Drum written by Julian Burnside, QC, a barrister and human rights advocate, who makes the point that there is “no queue when you run for your life”.

Burnside goes on to write: “The recent execution of an Afghan woman by the Taliban (another example of a very well-established pattern) gives some idea of why people seek asylum.

“A significant proportion of boat-people in the past 15 years have been Afghan Hazaras fleeing the Taliban.”

He then points out that firstly, the Australian embassy in Kabul is kept secret for security reasons, and then, even if a refugee could find it, (Burnside quotes from the Department of Foreign Affairs website) that the “Australian Embassy in Kabul has no visa function”.

So, there’s no front door for many refugees – only the backdoor (or the illegal route a Abbott prefers to call it)- even if that be on a dangerous, unseaworthy craft – it’s better than torture and persecution.

Burnside also points out, what should be bleeding obvious on both sides of politics, that these are people to whom “we owe a duty of protection according to our own laws, and according to the obligations we voluntarily undertook when we signed the Refugees Convention”.

Burnside also reminds us that Abbott, a well-known Christian who once trained to be a member of the clergy, is vilifying a group of people, many of whom are Muslims.

“It is inconceivable that he failed to notice that some people, hearing his comments about boat-people being “un-Christian”, would have understood him as criticizing boat-people because they are Muslim, not Christian,” says Burnside.

“It is a sad reflection of the depths to which political debate has fallen in this country that an avowed Christian could stoop to such shabby tactic.”

And it’s a sad reflection on our society that opinion polls point to Abbott winning power at the next election.

If they do, we’ll get the government we’ve voted for – conservative to the extreme and hell-bent on turning the clock backwards (even beyond the Howard-era compromise that’s being put in place) on refugees, the environment, labour relations and many other important issues.