On why the ‘Refugee Leaderboard’ fact checks are stupid and nonsensical

One group of people claim that Australia is really good at accepting refugees.  Another group of people claim that we are really bad at accepting refugees.  Who’s right?  Who’s wrong?  Let’s get every single news outlet to do it’s own ‘analysis’.

This is where we need public intellectuals, people who can guide public discussion and help the public to develop the language to discuss political debates.  If we leave it up to the Professors of Everythingology in Australia’s commentariat, we are going to get the second rate garbage that results in erroneous ‘explainers’.

Let’s go through this slowly.

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Quickpost: On @GetUp’s video of Abbott quotes #auspol #ausvotes

A number of my friends linked to this video this morning:

For the TL;DR crowd, GetUp has found a collection of Tony Abbott‘s more obnoxious quotes and filmed a diverse group of people reading them out to the sound of a slowly played piano.  The message is that people should judge Tony Abbott by his words.

Leaving to the side that I dislike GetUp, this video shows that there’s something wrong with the Left’s strategy in this election campaign.

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The camera’s watching. He takes a breath… @ABCNews24’s captions go wrong (courtesy @screamingwall) #auspol

If you haven’t checked out The Screaming Wall on Tumblr, you should.  It’s the blog of one of my ridiculously talented friends.  By night, he works on all manner of creative works.  By day, he works beneath a television screen upon which ABC News 24 is broadcast on silent with captions.

During a recent appearance by the Leader of the Opposition, the captions appear to have been downloaded for a different program.  Hilarity ensued.  Fortunately, my friend was there with a phone camera to capture the dadaist gloriousness from which I’ve picked out some of the best.  For the full set, check out The Screaming Wall.

[Edit: Here are the direct links to The Screaming Wall posts:

 
 
 
 
 

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Quick Post: Selections from Tony Abbott’s maiden speech #auspol

There are two Tony Abbotts.  One is the Tony Abbott who wrote Battlelines, a book which is absolutely batshit insane but, at the same time, bewilderingly honest.  You can read Battlelines and be absolutely certain that it’s really what Abbott thinks: that the Constitution should be amended so that the Commonwealth can take additional powers through legislative force, for example.

The other Tony Abbott is the mouthpiece of the Opposition Party.  It’s a man who doesn’t have views of his own, but who dutifully represents the Party.  This is the Tony Abbott of ‘I know politicians are going to be judged on everything they say but sometimes in the heat of discussion you go a little bit further than you would if it was an absolutely calm, considered, prepared, scripted remark. The statements that need to be taken absolutely as gospel truth are those carefully prepared scripted remarks.

In Tony Abbott’s maiden speech, we see the former Tony Abbott but in a philosophically curious position: the position of a man who distances himself from his own desires in order to adopt the desires of his political mentors.  It’s like a larval stage Tony Abbott.  That’s not to say that Tony Abbott wouldn’t agree with the positions, but the speech smacks of somebody desperate to please.  Like Douglas Adams’ essays on atheism in order to please Richard Dawkins.

On the corner of Castlereagh and Hunter streets in Sydney stands a monument to mark the site of the first Christian service in Australia. The preacher, the Reverend Richard Johnson, took as his text:

`What shall I render unto the Lord for all his benefits towards me?’

It is just a small stone obelisk hardly noticed by the thousands of passers-by and dwarfed by skyscrapers, yet its message of faith and hope is fundamental to our nation’s success and the key to Australia’s future. The congregation at that first service was poorer, sicker, and less trained than any conceivable group of modern Australians, yet there was nothing small about what they were to achieve. Our challenge, 200 years later, is to have hearts that are just as big. So at this opening of my time in parliament, I place on record my deep conviction that, nourished by the past and inspired by our great ideals, there is no limit to what Australia can achieve.

Also, I want to record my deep conviction that our Australian story should fill our hearts with pride and our eyes with tears. It is a story of the dispossessed and the outcast, redeemed through the innate goodness of humanity—a society challenged by nature, tested by war, enlarged by other cultures and blessed by such peace, prosperity and tolerance that we are now the envy of the earth.

Almost 100 years ago, the founders of our constitution echoed Richard Johnson’s sense of gratitude when they instituted this mighty Commonwealth, yet they declared themselves, in the words of our constitution, to be` humbly relying on the blessing of Almighty God’. We have so much, yet almost everything we have we owe to someone else. If I can achieve anything at all in this place, I will owe it to the people of Warringah who have sent me here. If I can amount to anything at all in our national life, I will be indebted to my great predecessors whose shoes I struggle to fill: Michael MacKellar, who stood for the humane and the decent; Edward St John, who never shirked a fight in a good cause; and Sir Percy Spender, one of our greatest statesmen and international public servants.

Bounded by water on three sides, boasting some of Sydney’s largest tracts of urban bushland, containing a significant concentration of high technology industries, often set in green and open parks, Warringah is almost a Garden of Eden. Mackellar might be God’s own country but Warringah is God’s own garden. So it is my job to make more perfect what is already one of the best places in the world to live. In particular, it is my job first to help Warringah’s 13,000 families with children who are heavily burdened by government policies and, second, to help find a solution to our transport problems which mean that Warringah is indeed the best place in the world to live, but only until you need to go somewhere else.

When authority first came to the Warringah district, the inhabitants showed what they thought of government policies by spearing Governor Phillip in the shoulder. I hope I can be a similar goad to government, at least until such time as government serves my electorate better.

One of the depressing features of modern Australia is the low esteem in which governments and politicians are generally held. Shortly after the by-election, some kind supporter gave me polling data which ranked the ethics and honesty of various occupations. Lawyers rated 30 per cent for ethics and honesty; stockbrokers ranked 15 per cent; and I was terrified to see that federal parliamentarians ranked just 10 per cent. Notwithstanding this, I feel very honoured to be here because newspaper journalists—my previous trade—scored just eight per cent.

Perhaps we politicians have mostly ourselves to blame because we have neglected what government does well to indulge in what government does badly. The best way to restore politicians’ standing is to have governments which meddle less and lead more; to have governments which stick to their traditional job of providing transfer payments and sponsoring national development but which stop playing the busybody in every nook and cranny of society.

Above all, we need governments which believe in Australia and Australians as much as in the trappings of office, the dictates of ideology or the minutiae of policy.

Loss of faith is a social problem extending far beyond politics and far beyond Australia. Throughout the Western world we are living through a pandemic of doubt and introspection in which people are questioning their God, their country and even themselves. Nothing is safe from the corrosive cynicism of modern times: neither political goodwill nor institutional benevolence nor even parental love. Our challenge is to answer uncertainty with conviction and to refute doubt with faith. This is not a matter of logical argument. No-one can be persuaded to believe. People must be inspired to believe; they must be picked up and carried along by other people—people who believe with heart and soul that no defeat is final, no unhappiness permanent and no evil invincible.

Modern Australia is rightly concerned about unemployment, crime, family breakdown and social disintegration. But we are becoming preoccupied with problems and not answers. We must see each problem in its true setting: unemployment together with the new opportunities of a better trained work force; crime against the background of the greater complexity of modern life; family pressure against the higher expectations of people living longer; and social alienation against greater individual rights. It is absolutely vital that we Australians keep seeking solutions to all the difficulties in our homes, workplaces and neighbourhoods.

But the real antidote to fear is hope, and the difference between despair and confidence is often just the very decision to try to make a difference—a decision based on a balanced appreciation of our true position.

For the first 180 years or so of our national life, Australian government was an exercise in nation building. Government directed work gangs, encouraged settlers and rewarded explorers. In more modern times, government has launched the immigration program, which has helped to make our society so diverse and exciting; it has established the Snowy Mountains Scheme, which powers our cities and waters our farms; it has funded the universities, which are the basis of our technological edge; and it has sponsored much of the national development, which is the foundation of our prosperity.

Yet some time in the recent past Australian government developed a strange affliction. Since Labor came to power in 1983, government has become a means for applying bandaids to social problems rather than an instrument for giving cohesion and purpose to our national life. Our government has policies to bring peace to Cambodia and to keep Antarctica clean. It has policies for unemployment and for making the sick well and the lame walk. But it has only bits and pieces of a policy to ensure that our nation will enter the next century in better shape than it is now. The government is like a householder who keeps fixing walls and mending floors, in a medley of styles often entirely at odds with the original design, plastering up the cracks without working out how the foundations are constantly shifting. In the quest to solve social problems, government reaches into our schools, our workplaces and even our bedrooms. Government tells us what we should think, whom we should like and how we should feel. But it has by and large given up trying to touch our hearts and make us realise that we Australians are a great people with a great destiny. The best that this government can do to lift people’s gaze above the humdrum is tear a corner off the flag, undermine the Crown and attack the very constitution itself. This is the opposite, the absolute opposite of nation building, because it is guaranteed to tear Australians apart rather than bring us together.

Yet there is no mystery in Australia’s needs or voters’ wants. There is no secret about what governments should do. As Edmund Burke said, governments are human contrivances to satisfy human wants. People expect governments to work—and I hope honourable members opposite recognise these lines—`for the betterment of mankind, not just here but wherever we can lend a helping hand’, as Ben Chifley said in his `light on the hill’ speech. There are some things which only individuals can do; there are other things which only governments can do; and there are many things which people can do better, provided governments help.

So let people run their own lives and let government do what individuals cannot. I stand for active government, not big government. I stand for government which gets off people’s backs, not government which opts out of the future because it cannot face hard decisions. I stand for government which backs Australia’s families with real policies and not just platitudes.

This government says that it is in favour of the family, all the time pursuing policies which make family life harder to sustain. At present, for instance, a single taxpayer on $30,000 a year after tax has about $445 a week to live on. A taxpayer on the same $30,000 a year but with a dependent spouse and two dependent children has just $495 a week to live on—and that is after tax, after the dependent spouse rebate and after family allowance. In other words, three extra people to clothe, feed, house, educate and transport and just $50 a week extra with which to do it. Family policy needs to begin with a recognition that our existing tax and welfare system turns middle income families with children into Australia’s new poor. Families are best helped not by argument over definitions but by policies which help the children—the children who are this country’s greatest asset and our most golden hope.

One way to help families with children is to change the tax system to take account of taxpayers’ responsibilities as well as their income. A family-friendly tax system stresses self-help and individual responsibility. But the problem with income splitting, at least in its simplest form between husband and wife, is that it helps high income earners more than low income earners and couples without dependants as much as those with the responsibility for children. While voters have shown an innate mistrust of radical change to the tax system, everyone understands and hardly anyone objects to a cash payment. So one alternative to income splitting is to raise the current level of family allowances to such an extent that they become, in reality, a family wage; in other words, to pay the principal carers of children a substantial sum far in excess of current family allowance, a sum which acknowledges the real cost of raising children. Paying the principal carer a family wage of, for argument’s sake, $100 a week for the first child would virtually cover the cost of child care, if the principal carer wanted to continue in the paid work force. Alternatively, if the principal carer preferred to be a full-time mother or father, $100 a week would make a big difference to the family budget and quite possibly eliminate the need for both parents to work just to make ends meet. Many have a philosophical preference for tax splitting rather than a cash payment. But a family wage is quite different from welfare. It is a recognition of responsibilities, not need. It is a payment for services, not a handout. It means that personal choice could replace economic necessity as a rationale for family decisions.

One beauty of a family wage system, unlike a tax rebate, is that it would take one public servant, just one, and a computer to administer. Payments would start the moment a birth is recorded on the Registrar of Births, Deaths and Marriages database and finish 16 years later. The budgetary cost of introducing a family wage of $100 a week for the first child and $30 a week for each subsequent child would be about $7.5 billion a year. It is worth remembering that this was the approximate size of Labor’s One Nation personal income tax cuts, which were to be funded entirely out of economic growth. The cost of not providing more help for families is more family breakdown, greater call on the welfare system, increased crime and further social instability.

The vast majority of families would be much better off under a family wage policy. For instance, a family with three children on $30,000 a year now receives just $30 a week in family allowance. Under a family wage policy, this family would receive $160 a week. The vast majority of families, those with two or fewer children, would be more than $90 a week better off. It is possible to help families in ways which involve no radical surgery to our system, ways which are financially responsible and ways which avoid debilitating debate about definitions.

But it takes a government that is committed to the long-term welfare of society to do so rather than a government which is preoccupied with the short-term management of pressure groups. Governments which live in fear of tomorrow’s headline are incapable of any change—even change which gives the overwhelming majority of Australians exactly what they want. It is abundantly clear, for instance, that the people of Warringah are heartily sick of clogged roads. So I congratulate the New South Wales transport minister, Bruce Baird, for establishing a committee to investigate alternatives and to recommend a solution. It seems that a road tunnel under Military Road with a better crossing at The Spit can be built with just $30 million of taxpayers’ money. By contrast, the most publicised mass transit system is estimated to require a taxpayer subsidy of some $600 million and is predicated on higher population densities in the peninsula. It would be a tragedy for the people of Warringah if an anti-car mentality stopped development which would help all Warringah commuters, including those who travel on public transport, especially if that development does not require any extension of medium or high density housing to be financially viable and does not preclude the construction of a mass transit system.

The government’s job is not to lay rails, shift earth and pour concrete. The government’s job is to make necessary development happen. Say the word and private enterprise will do the job and very possibly build and operate huge infrastructure projects at no cost to the taxpayer. Australians rightly object to higher taxes because they observe that most government spending disappears down a bottomless well. Government often seems like an evening out—it costs a fortune and in the morning there is little to show for all the expense. But it is my hunch that people would be less hostile to paying tax if they were more confident they were investing in lasting assets rather than $200,000 carports, $170,000 barbecues and $63,000 bicycle accidents. For most of Labor’s decade, we have enjoyed the day by mortgaging the morrow. The $6.5 billion currently spent servicing the Commonwealth government’s own debt could pay for a host of national development projects, including a Warringah mass transit system.

Mr Speaker, standing before you in this chamber, which is heir to 700 years of parliamentary tradition, I feel like a very small boy in a very big school. To my parents and to my grandparents; to my sisters, who have made me what I am; to my wife, my mainstay; to my priceless friends; to my party, which has given me the privilege to serve, I give my heartfelt thanks. To the Jesuits who first encouraged an ideal of public service; to Bob Santamaria, who sparked my interest in politics; to several editors, who honed my way with words; to John Hewson, who introduced me to this place; and to John Howard, who has been the contemporary politician I admire most, I hope I can be true to the principles you taught. May God and the ghosts of great men give me strength. May those who have laboured greatly to build this nation fortify my resolve to make a worthy contribution in this House.

 

Quick post: Should Peter Slipper be Speaker? #auspol

Today’s Question Time was unusually interesting.  Unfortunately, as Jonathan Green pointed out, it quickly deteriorated to partisan lines.

Background

Peter Slipper is Speaker in a hung parliament.  As part of a civil court case against him, it was revealed that Slipper had sent particularly offensive text messages and had targeted a female member of parliament with abuse.  Slipper does not deny sending the messages and has apologised for them.

Arguments

The Opposition argue that the text messages demonstrate Slipper is incapable of being the Speaker of the House.  The messages are offensive and they indicate that he has difficulty demonstrating impartiality.  He has brought the office of the Speaker into disrepute.  Further, knowing his views towards women, female members would have difficulty working collaboratively with him in future.

The ALP responds that the Leader of the Opposition is also a misogynist and yet holds a high office, thus the Opposition are hypocrites.  The texts relate to a case which is currently before the courts.  It is not the role of Parliament to preempt court cases, and people are entitled to procedural fairness.

Analysis

The ALP’s argument is confused.  The motion was on the basis of the content of the text messages, not on the basis of the civil case against him.  Slipper admitted to sending the messages and apologised for their content.  Thus, the question was whether the content of those messages was sufficient to remove Slipper from the position of Speaker.

For example, imagine that Cain is on trial for the murder of Abel.  As part of that case, it is revealed that Cain was stealing from his employer (somehow, it was relevant to the case).  Cain admits in public that it is true and that he is sorry for his actions.  If his employer were to terminate Cain’s employment contract on the basis of this information, it would not be legitimate for some pro-Cain advocate to suggest that Cain’s employer was preempting the court case.

It’s a silly example but it conveys the important message: there is a difference between something revealed in the process of a case and something which is substantially the court case.  If Parliament were to vote Slipper out of the position of Speaker, that would not be preempting the decision of the case.

Put it another way: if Slipper wins his civil case, would the messages be sufficient to remove him from office?  It seems so.  Either way, Slipper’s out of the Speaker’s chair.  Either he loses his civil case (which would be grounds for his removal) or he wins his civil case (in which case the text messages are grounds for his removal).

The ALP’s claim that the Leader of the Opposition is just as terrible a human being as the Speaker doesn’t really have much relevance to the argument.  Is the ALP suggesting that the Opposition Leader’s misogynistic attacks are appropriate in parliament?  The moral quality of the Opposition Leader doesn’t have any bearing on the moral standing of the Speaker.  They could both warrant reprimand from the Parliament.

Conclusion

The political reality is that the ALP is in a hung government.  If they lose Slipper, there’s a good chance that they’d lose a vote of no confidence.  Thus, we’re in a position where the ALP is clinging on to power at all costs.  It is obscene that a person who admits to this sort of conduct could remain as Speaker of the House.  It’s just obscene.  If it weren’t for political necessity, Slipper would be gone.

Deep inside I hope you feel it too… The Coming Trainwreck of LNP Fed-State relations #auspol #budget

It’s been said before and it will be said again: too much emphasis is placed on being the ‘first’ with commentary rather than being the most insightful.

This problem was demonstrated once again with the release of Queensland’s budget.  People flocked to the various news outlets to gush about what it would mean and how it would affect everything we know and love.  Bizarre claims were made about what a ‘neutral’ budget would look like, and claims and counterclaims were taken drastically out of context to present Campbell Newman has an inept, penny-pinching, heartless thug who hates art, social services, and — no doubt — everything you love (including puppies).

The problem for Queensland was simple.  It had no way of restructuring its financial circumstances without completely gutting the existing system.  Queensland should be a lesson for us all: if we don’t make sure the fundamentals of State expenditure are solid and robust, we just delay future pain.

The biggest crybabies of the lot were, strangely enough, those who complain the loudest about how the Commonwealth Government won’t spend political capital on reform.  Queensland is in a process of reformation.  Newman decided to take the pain now and then spend two years restoring voter confidence.  I’m not sure how he will achieve that, but I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt.

The more important problem was missed by (at least as far as I could see) all of the hasty commentators.  Is Campbell Newman playing ball with the rest of the LNP mission?

The Federal LNP strategy has been to devolve responsibility (and, therefore, expenditure) of several services to the States.  It is a truth universally acknowledged that State and Commonwealth relations have failed, with the States persisting to the the burst appendix of Australian governance.  To take even a simple example, the Commonwealth is able to make taxation more efficient.  The States are not, thus continue to make up the gaps in their budgets with inefficient taxation schemes.  We cannot broaden the tax base nor optimise the taxation regimes while the States exist.

The Federal LNP has taken a different path: let’s go back to the pre-Whitlam model of federation where, for example, the Menzies government (it pains me to say) carried very little of the overall governance burden.  The Commonwealth took care of those things and only those things which were specifically its role under the Constitution.  The States should deal with the day-to-day things like hospitals, education, and the Internet.

Here’s where it gets fascinating.

The Queensland government has relied on the Federal government covering enough of the essential services that they won’t completely fall apart.  If the Federal LNP strategy is to withdraw from funding essential services, we result in a situation where <i>nobody</i> is going to take responsibility for the essential services in Queensland.  If Queensland guts its services now and LNP take control next year, will Queensland be in a position to revive its services infrastructure?

More than that, this is a complete reversal of Abbott’s position on State-Commonwealth relations.  In his vain little book Battlelines, Abbott suggests a new section 51A of the Australian Constitution:

The Parliament shall, subject to the Constitution, have power to make laws for the peace, order and good government of the Commonwealth with respect to any other matters in addition to those listed in section 51 [the section which sets out on what matters the Commonwealth can pass laws], provided that a propsed law within the meaning of this section must be passed by both Houses on two occasions — not less than six months apart. [Source: Abbott, T. Battlelines (Updated Edition) Melbourne University Press 2009]

Abbott often claims that we don’t know who the real Julia Gillard is.  I am increasingly uncertain of who the real Tony Abbott is.  Is he a centrist or a devolutionist?  Will we see more ‘State’s Rights’ rhetoric, or will he stand by his book and claim that governing authority should be centralised?

Further, Abbott’s entire budgetary plan revolves around him working directly against what he saw as a necessary reform to the federal model.  It is shocking that the media and commentariat allow him to get away with this kind two-faced nature.

Finally, why is Abbott advocating a budget policy which directly contradicts the activities of his party in other states?

Sun in the sky, you know how I feel… Why @MargaretSimons is wrong about RDA 18C #auspol

In ABC’s The Drum yesterday, Margaret Simons continues to make very strange comments about section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act.  Admittedly, Simons is known for making strange comments in this space, having once championed a ‘Pub Test’ for newspaper content: if you can hear it opined in a pub, you should be able to read it on the front page of a newspaper.

I even agree with Abbott about the obnoxious nature of Section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act, which was used against an Andrew Bolt column. The Bolt piece was a nasty and sloppy piece of commentary, but it should not have been illegal [sic]. [Source: Simons, ‘Media regulation: Abbott speaks sense and nonsense‘, ABC The Drum]

Simons — along with people like Jonathan Holmes, Chris Berg, the IPA trolls, and Tony Abbott — are outraged at the idea of a ‘hurt feelings’ test.  18C makes it unlawful to be frank and fearless with your freedom of speech which, of course, must be identical to the freedom to offend.  The assumption is that 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act is a way for people with thin skins and hypersensitivity to silence people who make them cry.

Utter, utter nonsense.

Let’s go back to the Act itself:

(1)  It is unlawful for a person to do an act, otherwise than in private, if:

(a)  the act is reasonably likely, in all the circumstances, to offend, insult, humiliate or intimidate another person or a group of people; and

(b)  the act is done because of the race, colour or national or ethnic origin of the other person or of some or all of the people in the group.

(2)  For the purposes of subsection (1), an act is taken not to be done in private if it:

(a)  causes words, sounds, images or writing to be communicated to the public; or

         (b)  is done in a public place; or

(c)  is done in the sight or hearing of people who are in a public place.

(3)  In this section:

“public place” includes any place to which the public have access as of right or by invitation, whether express or implied and whether or not a charge is made for admission to the place.  [Source: Racial Discrimination Act 1975 (Cth) s18C]

So there are two prongs to an unlawful act under 18C.  First, you perform an act in public which a reasonable person would think is likely to upset a person or a group.  Second, the act is motivated by the ‘victim’s’ race or ethnicity, &c.

It’s not just a hurt feelings test.  It’s a ‘don’t be a jerk’ test.  Unlawful acts are only those which are reasonably likely to upset somebody and which are motivated by race/ethnicity.

But that’s not even the full story.  Check out 18D:

Section 18C does not render unlawful anything said or done reasonably and in good faith:

(a)  in the performance, exhibition or distribution of an artistic work; or

(b)  in the course of any statement, publication, discussion or debate made or held for any genuine academic, artistic or scientific purpose or any other genuine purpose in the public interest; or

(c)  in making or publishing:

(i)  a fair and accurate report of any event or matter of public interest; or

(ii)  a fair comment on any event or matter of public interest if the comment is an expression of a genuine belief held by the person making the comment. [Source: ibid. s18D]

Where 18C outlines what an unlawful act would be, 18D provides a defence for upsetting a person (or group of people) based on the colour of their skin.  18C and 18D together say, ‘People shouldn’t feel humiliated for the colour of their skin and, if somebody does humiliate them based on the colour of their skin, they should have a really good reason for doing so.’

 

There’s an important underlying philosophy to 18C and 18D.  We are supposed to live in something like a ‘Republic of Reasons’.  In order for me to do some harm to you, I need to have your permission or a really good reason to do it.  For our social order to function, we rely on a problematic notion of consent to inform the extent to which one person interacts with another.  This is what’s being reflected in 18C and 18D.  People of all skin colours should be able to enjoy the fruits of civilisation without being subject to ridicule and humiliation.  And if they are ridiculed or humiliated, there better be a damn good reason for it.

The real question here is not whether 18C goes too far.  The question is whether it goes far enough.

Simons is correct when she says Abbott makes sense in places, she just incorrectly identifies those places.  As I’m an atheist, it will probably shock readers to know which part I think he gets correct:

If it’s all right for David Marr to upset conservative Christians, why is it not all right for Bolt to upset activist Aborigines?  [Source: Tony Abbott ‘The job of government is to foster free speech, not to suppress it‘ The Australian]

The question (if questions can have a truth-value) is correct.  Why is it all right for David Marr to upset conservative Christians?  If we apply the same reasoning from before (about being in a Republic of Reasons) then there should be some good reason for Marr to ridicule or humiliate a section of society based on their religious beliefs.  Indeed, that goes for a lot of the pop-atheist crowd who seem to think they’ve got some God-given right to ridicule and humiliate Christians just because they have different beliefs.

You could argue that people choose their race but don’t choose their religion.  Not only is this naive (most people don’t choose their religion) but it also fails to grapple with the point.  Why does choice matter?  Why shouldn’t people be able to choose what they like without being ridiculed or humiliated for those choices?  I’m on ‘Team Non-Biologically Determined’ when it comes to the question of sexuality, but I’m also on ‘Team If You’re Attracted to The Same Sex but Don’t Have the Gay Genes You Have Made An Awesome and Perfectly Legitimate Choice and Nobody Should Question Make You Feel Bad for That’.  It’s not choice vs non-choice; it’s respect vs disrespect at play here.  In a sense, opponents of 18C are asking us to respect the choice of people to humiliate and ridicule others based on their race.  People who don’t want to extend 18C to religion are similarly asking us to respect the choice of people to humiliate and ridicule others based on differences of belief.

Which brings us back to Simons.  Simons believes that we should have legislative room to be disrespectful to each other without the consent of the person being harmed.  She couches this in the entitled and undergraduate language of ‘freedom of speech’.  It is clear that, if we want to live in a Republic of Reasons, we need a more mature model of this freedom, especially when it affects the apparent right of others to engage in society unmolested.

I try to outsmart him but somehow he knows… Review of ‘Tony Abbott: A Man’s Man’ #auspol

I’m not sure what I was expecting from Susan Mitchell’s book, ‘Tony Abbott: A Man’s Man’. I knew it wasn’t going to be a balanced, objective biography because Mitchell had said in a public lecture that it was a polemic. Which is fine. Polemics have their place in robust public discussion. But what could a polemic about Abbott contain? ‘Grrrrrrrrrrr! Abbott is terrible! Abbott is so terrible! In conclusion, Abbott is terrible.’

Again, I’m in the position of being a conservative writer who disliked something written by a lefty. Not only is my interpretation filtered through my dusty right wing lenses, but your interpretation of my review will be (and, frankly, should be) put in that context.

Lefties will love this book. It says exactly what they want to read: Abbott is terrible and we are rational, reasonable people for thinking that he’s terrible.

But, for me, the book was uncomfortably sleazy. Mitchell has two messages: voters should know everything that they can about potential leaders; Abbott was groomed in male institutions to be either Prime Minister or Pope and has been dominated by these ambitions.

The first message results in a book which, at best, can be called Suetonian. Rejecting the usual conventions of biography, the book is a collection of rumour and supposition. Mitchell plays armchair psychologist not only to Abbott but to members of his family and family friends. The analysis is always informed by confirmation bias: Mitchell is crafting a coherent, decades-long story of an ambitious misogynist, so relatively minor events in Abbott’s life are magnified into destiny-forming moments of crucial importance.

I played a bit of a game with the first few chapters after I read them. I see Abbott as an extremely vulgar and crass man. So I went back through Mitchell’s account of his younger years and emphasised those parts which confirmed my perception. The result was not unlike Mitchell’s account, but painted a different picture. I wondered if this was not the point of her book: she was trying to paint her picture of Abbott for the reader. Many interpretations of the man are valid, and Mitchell is presenting just one.

This approach leads to a distortion of the second of her points: despite a lot of evidence that her account of his motivations are incorrect (Abbott accepts a newspaper job instead of a job with Howard, but a few paragraphs later, Abbott is desperate to get into politics), she keeps hammering away. It felt that she had an unfalsifiable thesis: the points in her favour confirmed her argument, and the points against her also confirmed (somehow) her argument.

So what’s the point of the book? To smear Abbott for the enjoyment of those who already agree that he’s dreadful. Big deal.

As a conservative (painfully aware that I’m on a sinking ship of intellectual credibility as the hoons like Abbott and Bernardi tear holes in the hull), the message I took away from the book was that the left are flatly disinterested in taking some responsibility for the current political climate. For Mitchell, Abbott was the reason why things are so bad. He’s a pugilist, taking his whirling dervish boxing style into the political arena. If only somebody else — Turnbull is proposed in the final chapter — were Opposition Leader, everything would be better.

Clearly, the left has amnesia. Three-word slogans were the domain of the populist left for decades. Complex policy discussions were routinely reduced to chants and mantras. I can think of more violent demonstrations against police in support of progressive causes than I can conservative causes.

Abbott did not appear in a vacuum. Mitchell blames his upbringing but I can’t help but feel she ignores the development of right wing populism and its appeal to a vulgar opportunist like Abbott. Abbott is the telos of decades of left wing populism. He’s what happens when ugly views hijack the ‘groundswell’ techniques used by union movements, environmental campaigns, and other bleeding heart causes.

Mitchell’s book will be popular for a few months among the chattering classes. It will reassure us that Abbott really is the bogey monster we all think he is. Then it will do nothing to mobilise people against the eschatonic nightmare of Abbott becoming Prime Minister.

It’s not fair to remind me of the mess you left when you went away… but it’d be good if you could get your message straight

I really don’t know why Abbott considers himself a conservative.  When he won leadership of the Liberal Party, it was heralded as a victory to the conservatives over the liberals.  Generally, as a conservative, we attempt to preserve the social mechanisms which protect our social values.  That being the case, it seems very strange that he should affirm two statements:

1. ‘We want to make it possible […] for workers to earn more’

2. ‘[T]he laws have […] led to rising wage costs for employers.’

There is only one way for both statements to be true: Abbott wants workers to work for less per hour for more hours in order to earn more.  That sure sounds like a winning election platform.

In order to find ridiculous statements from the Coalition, it’s hard not to look past Barnaby Joyce but that would be an awful lot like laughing at the crippled kid.  Instead, let’s be a little bit more literate.  Let’s take this exchange from the Minister and Shadow Minister for Climate Change at the debate hosted by the National Press Club:

Penny Wong: ‘Every time Mr Hunt says “Direct Action”, I’m reminded that was one of the phrases at university that the Trots used to use.’

Greg Hunt: ‘I feel the same way about how you use the word “Markets”.’

Penny Wong: ‘I’m not sure they used… really… anyway.