Category Archives: Political commentary

Is Bruce Pascoe’s ‘Dark Emu’ dead?

[Just published in the Canberra Times($), with a few editorial liberties.]

Bruce Pascoe’s popular book Dark Emu argues that First Australians lived complex lifestyles that included durable dwellings and cultivation of food and that they were far from the old ‘primitive nomad’ label.

However a new book, Farmers or Hunter Gatherers? The Dark Emu Debate by Peter Sutton and Keryn Walshe, is severely critical of Dark Emu, claiming it is riddled with errors, is derogatory towards hunter-gatherers, neglects the spiritual side of First Australians’ lives and pushes antiquated ideas of ‘progress’. Several historian reviewers seem to agree the new book ‘demolishes’ Dark Emu.

Paul Barry, of the ABC’s Media Watch, lamented that he and many people accepted Pascoe’s claims too uncritically, yet now they seem to be accepting the new book’s claims just as uncritically.

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It’s time – for another Labor split

[Published yesterday at Independent Australia. Meant to be provocative, and it seems to have worked on that site. Don’t know if it will get any wider circulation.]

Andrew Fisher, three times PM, and a proper Labor leader.

This time the split would be for the benefit of workers and progressives, rather than betraying them. Labor’s long-standing small-target, Coalition-lite strategy is a clear failure, and fails the country. As Labor shows no sign of changing, any members with a shred of integrity should quit.

The previous three Labor splits featured desertions to the conservative side of politics: Billy Hughes, Joe Lyons and the Democratic Labor Party. That can’t happen now because Federal Labor as a whole deserted to the neoliberal side in 1983.

The result has been accumulating disasters, but neoliberalism still promises to deliver worse: an ever-feebler economy along with the full-on police state and climate catastrophe, unless and until neoliberalism is fully repudiated. There is no prospect of that repudiation without a fundamental re-alignment of power, and votes. Continue reading

What does Gallipoli mean to us, and who says?

[First published in BWD magazine, autumn 2021, Braidwood NSW.]

The word Gallipoli evokes one of our most potent cultural stories, but in truth it is not one story but many. There are stories of sacrifice and national identity, but there are also stories of folly and destruction, and stories overlooked. We all, presumably, want to honour the fallen but there are those who, wittingly or otherwise, exploit the stories for other purposes. Can we have a conversation about these stories? Can we talk about which stories to keep, whether some might be corrected or discarded and others picked up? Continue reading

Do the mainstream media have much influence?

[Published today 8th Nov at Pearls and Irritations.]

The other day political commentator Mungo McCallum remarked in passing that ‘the influence of the media on public opinion has always been greatly overrated’. I beg to differ, along with quite a few other commenters on his article. Here is a longer case for profound media influence.

It seems journalists in the mainstream political bubble tend to share the disconnection  of the politicians from the rest of us, which is understandable if their perception of the world is mostly the bubble. And if your measure of the problem is the distance between the mainstream media and ‘public opinion’ you might miss something important. After all, the perceptions of most punters include the highly selected pap the media choose to serve up to them, so there’s not usually going to be a big difference.

But what would a well-informed polity, or just a polity sketchily informed with a rough balance, think? What would ‘public opinion’ be then?

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Dear Labor

[Just out at Pearls & Irritations. Lately I’ve been avoiding politics, it’s bad for my health. Especially after the Eden-Monaro by-election, in which almost everyone retreated to their usual tribal habits. Never mind drought, six megafires, floods, virus … Hard to fathom.]

Andrew Fisher, three times PM

Dear Labor. Has anyone among your parliamentary cohort noticed that neoliberalism is a failure? Has it occurred to anyone that promoting selfishness and making people insecure is a recipe for people to turn on each other and shred the social fabric? Does anyone think it might be time to stop being Liberal-lite? Time to champion the battlers and stop pandering to the fat cats? Time for a Labor party to remember why it was founded?

The current lesson is stark. Private aged care facilities that are under-staffed, under-resourced and disgustingly incompetent at care. Insecure, untrained ‘security’ guards fail to maintain hotel quarantine, and become virus spreaders instead. That is where outsourcing and privatising has got us.

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A chance in Eden-Monaro to reject third-rate governance

[Published at Independent Australia 14, June, but with the headline seriously neutered. See note at end*. May be the end of the line with IA, sad to say.]

The political class keeps acting as though the Government deserves to be taken seriously, but the Government is grossly incompetent, corrupt, deluded and, by any reasonable standard of truth, illegitimate. That the Opposition can’t beat them constitutes its own calamitous failure. Voters in the coming Eden-Monaro by-election have the choice of people who could actually represent, and govern.

There are some things the federal Government could be doing in response to the rapid-fire series of disasters still unfolding in Australia.

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Eden-Monaro can vote to bring us together

[Written for a certain ACT newspaper, but no response so far.]

Citizens in the Eden-Monaro electorate, which surrounds the ACT, have a chance in the coming by-election to vote for a new path in Australian politics. We can turn away from scandal, corruption, in-fighting and incompetence and towards a fair-go, full-employment Australia with a clean and healthy future.

We can turn away from the divisiveness that is having such tragic consequences in the United States. We can work together, as we have through the fires and the virus emergency.

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If you want a better deal, change your vote

[A by-election will be held in my electorate of Eden-Monaro 4 July. This and some likely subsequent posts are in this context, intended for local media—but relevant more widely. Published 17 June at District Bulletin.]

Karen Porter

If you vote the same you’ll get the same. Don’t expect much to change if the old parties stay in power. The Coalition is good at promising but not so good at delivering. That’s because they don’t really believe in government services, they think you should fend for yourself. Labor, with its usual daring, is being Liberal Lite.

So don’t expect much help with bushfire recovery. Don’t expect much to be done to avert more catastrophes. Don’t even expect much help if the virus killed your livelihood, if you vote for the same-old.

In this by-election there are some real choices, choices that can move us towards a better, fairer Australia – more like we used to be, actually. So now I’m going to suggest you step away from your old tribe and have a look at some new talent. Do you really have much to lose?

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High cost of immigration: GDP gets the sign wrong

Much of the alleged economic benefit of high immigration is actually a very large cost. GDP is not accounting, and its misuse as a measure of welfare distorts our priorities, in this case egregiously.

[Can’t seem to interest anyone in this argument. Looks like it can’t be right I suppose.]

Kristina Keneally, Labor’s immigration spokesperson, recently set the dogs barking again by arguing that the rate of immigration after covid-19 should be lower than the previous very high rate. She argued that we should look to get Australians back to work before importing more people (though her choice of phrasing could have been better).

The sudden dramatic drop in immigration is evidently of great concern to some, judging by a spate of opinion pieces at the ABC (e.g. here and here) and elsewhere reiterating the usual claim that a high immigration rate is good for the economy, or even essential to the economy.

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Immigration imposes a large net cost, and should be reduced

[I’ve posted on this before, but the issue keeps coming up.]

Jane O’Sullivan https://theconversation.com/profiles/jane-osullivan-1809

The dramatic drop in immigration because of the Covid-19 closure of our borders is causing concern among advocates of a high immigration rate, who claim it is essential to the economy. But there is a widely-overlooked and very large cost.

Discussing immigration in Australia is fraught, with any questioning of policy likely to generate outrage and to be labelled racist, populist, nationalist and an assault on Australia’s economy. All of that has followed Labor spokesperson Kristina Keneally’s rather mild suggestion that total numbers of immigrants ought to be lowered after the coronavirus shutdown, especially of temporary immigrants.

The rather hysterical response is partly just over-reaction, partly confected by those who support massive immigration, and partly reflecting common economic furphies.

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