Is the Wentworth by-election result the middle of the beginning of the end for Skid?

October 21, 2018

I woke up this morning with a slight headache. Maybe it was the blackbird singing outside my bedroom well before dawn; maybe it was a disturbed sleep because the cat kept jumping on my head.

Nah, it was the celebration of the middle of the beginning of the end of  Scott Morrison’s interim occupation of the Prime Minister’s comfy leather couch.

 

I admit it. I probably had too much to drink, but who didn’t?

COALition supporters were either drowning their sorrows or drinking angrily whilst plotting revenge against someone — anyone really — on the other side of the factional fence.

Labor supporters were celebrating their guy losing so convincingly in a winning kind of way; while the Greens will find an excuse to drink at any time.

Kerryn Phelps deserves to nurse her own hangover this morning too. She has woken up to the aftermath of a political tsunami that rose up out of Double Bay on Saturday morning and came crashing down along the sandy coastline from Bronte to the Sydney Heads in the evening twilight.

It feels delicious to write this morning that Skid has led his tory scum to their worst EVER defeat in a by-election. It is historic and has captured attention from the international media.

Wentworth Nightmare

Read the rest of this entry »


The democracy deficit: It’s an economic problem too

June 29, 2018

WE LIVE IN a democracy, right?

It just seems like common sense, something so secure and simple it’s hardly worth thinking about, right?

But what if I told you that what we have is not a democracy?

Would you be outraged? Would you think I’m some sort of unhinged leftie? Or would you be prepared to at least consider my arguments?

I’ll assume the latter, because you’re still reading. Aren’t you?

My argument, in a nutshell, is that despite the formal features of our political system matching most aspects of the dictionary definition, any sense of real democratic practice is an illusion. This is because our apparently democratic institutions are functionally designed to give power to money, not people.

Let’s start with an example from last week.

We will, or we will not, sell the ABC

I don’t know about you, but I was not at all surprised when the Liberal Party’s Federal Council voted overwhelmingly to sell-off the embattled national broadcaster at its annual conference on the weekend of 16-17 June.

The Liberal Party apparatus has been captured by conservative forces inspired by the Institute of Public Affairs and loyal to factions led by Tony Abbott in NSW, Peter Dutton in Queensland and Eric Abetz in Tasmania.

We can only expect this rightward drift to continue into the future, too. Moderates were roundly defeated in votes for the incoming executive and the Young Liberals grouping engineered the vote. The overlap between wealthy student apparatchiks and the besuited, bespectacled cadre of the IPA is very evident in the ranks of the Young Libs.

No delegates spoke against the sell motion, not even the several ministers who were present.

So, we can assume from this that the Liberal Party rank-and-file are committed to privatising the ABC and probably SBS as well.

Okay, we might disagree with this policy position (here at IA we certainly do), but in a democracy, the people have spoken.

In this case, the people are members of the Liberal Party — they elect a leadership, set policy and pre-select party candidates to stand in elections.

Yep, all totally democratic — except for the fact that the parliamentary grouping of the Liberals have said they will ignore the party’s rank-and-file.

The parliamentary wing of the Liberal Party has apparently been wedged by the conservative wing of the party. In the days after the Federal Council, senior Liberal ministers, from the PM down, were publicly vocal in claiming the Government has no plans to privatise the ABC.

What?

That’s right, the Liberal Party representatives in Parliament – those whose positions on the comfy leather benches depends on the party rank-and-file – have no intention of carrying out party policy as set by the Liberals’ highest decision-making body.

Well, that’s one interpretation if the loud protestations of “never, never” from Turnbull cabinet are to be believed.

But are they to be believed?

I think we have earned the right to be cynical and wary when it comes to the COALition and honouring commitments.

It’s no secret that this Government hates the ABC and would love to see it sold off. The Minister for Communication, Senator Fifield, has demonstrated his loathing of the national broadcaster in a series of vexatious, but nevertheless damaging, complaints. The Government stripped out over $100 million in funding to the ABC in the 2018 Budget, forcing cuts in news and other divisions. The appointment of former Murdoch executive Michelle Guthrie as managing director is also widely seen as a Trojan horse for dismantling the ABC.

None of us should be surprised if the Dutton/Turnbull Government moves to chop up the ABC if it wins the next Federal election.

The take out from this is that either way, democratic processes – both inside and outside of party structures – are a sham, a veil of decency to give a shred of respect to an otherwise broken, decrepit and corrupt system.

And, just so you don’t think I’m being one-eyed about this, the ALP deserves some criticism in this area, too.

In May this year, the so-called “left” unions (a block of bureaucrats and careerists) procedurally shut down the Victorian conference of the ALP so that a motion on ending offshore detention of refugees could not be debated. But it’s actually worse than that: motions on several key issues were blocked by the suspension of business.

On Sunday the industrial left teamed up with the Labor right to close the Victorian state conference, shutting down urgency motions on live exports, gender inequality in superannuation, closure of offshore detention centres, the right to strike, the rate of Newstart and recognition of Palestine.

The same grouping also combined to vote against senators being preselected by an equal vote of rank-and-file members and affiliated union delegates to state conference.

How is this different in principle to the Liberal leadership ignoring the wishes of the rank-and-file over privatising the ABC?

Read the rest of this entry »


Bombing Syria – to restore “democracy”

April 14, 2018

The bombing campaign and missile attacks on Syria began a few hours ago. Supposedly targeting military sites, there is no word yet on civilian casualties, but its certain there will be plenty. Assad, like most dictators, likes to keep his military bases close to civilian centres and no matter how “smart” Trump’s missiles are, a few will surely miss their targets.

I wrote this before the bombing began, but it is still relevant.

First published on Independent Australia

Neither Washington, Moscow, nor Damascus — long live the Syrian Revolution

U.S. President Donald Trump has pushed the world to the edge of a new conflict by threatening a missile attack on Syria. Russia has responded with threats of its own, foreshadowing a new Cold War. Political editor Dr Martin Hirst examines the potential fall-out from the escalating rhetorical duel between rival superpowers.

The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again expecting a different result (Image by Alisdare Hickson via Flickr [CC BY-SA 2.0])

THIS WEEK, I was reminded of the life and work of one of my Marxist heroes, Tony Cliff. Cliff was a founding member and leading theorist of the International Socialist Tendency and famously coined the term “state capitalism” to characterise the degraded socialism and despotic regime in the Soviet Union. The politics of Russia have changed, it is now a rampant capitalist oligarchy, but “state capitalism” remains the economic policy of the Putin regime.

Thinking about Tony Cliff also prompted me to note that he would have taken a very firm position on the conflict in Syria and he would have been vehemently opposed to the Trump regime’s threats to rain down ‘nice and new and “smart”‘ missiles on Damascus.

However, Cliff’s opposition to a U.S. military strike against the Assad regime – supposedly in response to a chemical weapons attack on civilians in the rebel-held enclave of Houda – would not be based on misguided love for the criminal Assad. Nor would it be based on the mistaken view that Russia is somehow “better” than the United States in terms of the Syria conflict.

(In case you’ve not been paying attention, Russia is committed to propping up the Assad Government while ostensibly fighting Islamic terrorism. In retaliation for Trump’s provocation, Russia threatened to shoot down any U.S. missiles fired at Syria.)

Tony Cliff was an International Socialist and, therefore, would not be advocating for taking the side of either of the imperialist powers in their proxy war being fought in Syrian airspace. Understanding Cliff’s background is important here.

Cliff was born Yigael Gluckstein, a stateless Jew from what was then Palestine. He was born in 1917 – coincidentally the first year of the Russian revolution. In his youth, Cliff was a member of the Revolutionary Communist League in Palestine and left for Britain in 1947, effectively exiled for his anti-Zionist political activity.

At the height of the Cold War, when it seemed that the Soviet Union and the United States might actually launch an all-out nuclear strike on each other, the International Socialist Tendency adopted the slogan, ‘Neither Washington, nor Moscow, but international socialism’.

(Image via National Museum of Australia / nma.gov.au)

Today, Tony Cliff would be urging all progressive people to unite behind a similar slogan when it comes to the conflict in Syria. To round out the political message, he would perhaps suggest the following edit:

“Neither, Washington, Moscow, nor Damascus.”

To explain this clearly, a little bit of history is necessary.

The conflict in Syria began with an uprising against Bashar Al-Assad during the ill-fated Arab Spring of 2011. At the heart of the Syrian resistance was a largely secular working class movement which drew strength and inspiration from events in Egypt and elsewhere.

The Syrian revolution grew quickly, and Assad’s response was swift and brutal. He reasoned – as most desperate despots do – that it would be better to destroy large swathes of the nation than see Syria fall into the hands of the rebels.

Assad’s brutality extended to indiscriminate mass murder of civilians through air strikes on some of Syria’s largest cities; the imprisonment and torture (often to death) of his opponents and the deliberate targeting of foreign journalists bravely covering the conflict from behind rebel lines.

Read the rest of this entry »


Wake up Charlies: Why these world leaders are a threat to you

January 12, 2015

The killing of 12 journalists from French magazine Charlie Hebdo was a horrible murder carried out by crazed ideologues. I condemn it unconditionally…But…expressing solidarity with mass murderers and the enemies of freedom of speech is a backward step.

Read this statement from Paris-based socialist John Mullen on why the better sections of the French left marched separately and at a distance from the world leaders.

This letter from another French leftist also sets out some very cogent and nuanced arguments that non-French people should probably read. It outlines the difficulties of fighting fundamentalism and fascism at the same time. But it is the necessary form that solidarity must take — not the perverted version of marching with ghouls.

This is the difficult argument I am having with my French friends: we are all aware of the fact that the attack on Charlie Hebdo will be exploited by the Far right, and that our government will use it as an opportunity to create a false unanimity within a deeply divided society. We have already heard the prime minister Manuel Valls announce that France was “at war with Terror” – and it horrifies me to recognize the words used by George W. Bush. We are all trying to find the narrow path – defending the Republic against the twin threats of fundamentalism and fascism (and fundamentalism is a form of fascism). But I still believe that the best way to do this is to fight for our Republican ideals. Equality is meaningless in times of austerity. Liberty is but hypocrisy when elements of the French population are being routinely discriminated. But fraternity is lost when religion trumps politics as the structuring principle of a society. Charlie Hebdo promoted equality, liberty and fraternity – they were part of the solution, not the problem.

Solidarity is a fine and welcome human emotion. It shows that we are not all Ayn Randian sociopaths who will always place our individual comfort and wealth above the problems of others.

Solidarity is an expression of hope that the world can be a better place and it is a recognition that by coming together in collective action we can and we will change the world.

While the murder of journalists in cold blood by crazed Islamic terrorists can never be condoned and is rightly condemned by anyone of conscience; we cannot allow ourselves to be drawn into displays of solidarity unthinkingly and based only on a gut reaction to horror.

Think before you walk, zombie-like in the footsteps of the damned.

Read the rest of this entry »


Online debate – “free speech” trollworld style

May 29, 2012

This is a classic comment, it speaks volumes about the type of free speech that’s acceptable to the cosy club.

You are entitled to free speech but you are not entitled to exercise it in someone’s privately owned forum.

It is the same logic used by the Victorian police to stop the BDS protests in Melbourne resulting in a court case that has 19 young people arraigned on ridiculous charges such as “trespass in a public place”.

It is a pity that the free speech fundamentalists like Tim Blair, Chris Berg and Andrew Bolt really don’t care about such cases.

Their silence condemns them.

Read the rest of this entry »


Keeping journos safe: more than a code of practice

May 30, 2010

About a year ago a 16 point code aimed at keeping Australian journalists safe in war zones and other areas of trauma reporting was released at a war reporting conference in Sydney. Last week in Auckland several New Zealand journalists suggested it was about time a similar code was established here.

Award-winning freelancer and producer, Jon Stephenson said that he hadn’t seen any progress in New Zealand in the year since the first Red Cross-sponsored conference on war reporting in Wellington; which coincided with the 2009 Sydney event.

Stephenson made his comments during a panel discussion at a follow-up event held at AUT in Auckland on the 24th of May.

TV3’s experienced correspondent and news anchor, Mike McRoberts, agreed with Stephenson, as did TV1’s Campbell Bennett.

The keynote speaker at the AUT event was former ABC correspondent and now journalism educator Tony Maniaty. It was a great speech in which Maniaty talked about the outsourcing of danger now that most large news organisations in Australia and New Zealand no longer have fully staffed bureaux in many places and tend to only send reporters into hot spots when a story is breaking. He also noted that smaller, lighter digital cameras mean that the safety net of a larger, tightly-knit group no longer exists. Heavy gear and complex camera-audio set ups required three or four people to manage, creating camraderie and support networks:

Today, my students can – and some do – circumvent all that rigmarole by walking around the corner, buying a laptop and HD camera and a cheap air ticket to Kabul, and two days later be filming – alone, unsupported – on the frontline. And in this increasingly prevalent scenario are two more challenges facing us. One, we need to inject compulsory safety training modules into our media courses; and two, we need to address more carefully the vexed issue of freelancers, and what I call ‘the outsourcing of danger’. If networks are not prepared to send staff reporters into hot zones, do they have any right to send others there – for far lower pay, without training or insurance or training, without safety gear?

The idea of running safety training modules in J-schools is an interesting one, but what do we leave out in order to include them? We constantly come up against this “pint pot” problem; I might also add that the news industry needs to take some responsibility here (and shoulder the cost). Though I think that having some sort of safety code is not a bad idea. Read the rest of this entry »


Parachute Journalism debate #2

February 14, 2010

OK, so it’s not complete and it’s nearly the end of the weekend, but I felt the need to start my defence strategy – you know: “Strike while the iron’s hot”.

Or in this case, “Write while the brain is febrile”.

If you came in late, this post is a response to a riposte by TVNZ reporter  Gordon Harcourt to some previous comments of mine on National Radio’s Mediawatch about parachute journalism in the recent (Jan-Feb 2010) earthquake and humanitarian crisis in Haiti.

I’ve already told Gordon – via email – that I think he’s possibly over-reacted to my Mediawatch commentary, but I want to consider his points one-by-one here to a) defend myself and b) put the discussion about “parachute journalism” into some context. Read the rest of this entry »


Stefan – read this. Jews say no

February 14, 2009

No doubt these patriots  are “self-hating” people, IYHO,  but I’ve had enough. Shove this, sunshine

Not in our name

Seriously, you can be pious and not zious. Or better still, secular and left.

jsn

[Feb 17 update]

I just read a note from my Facebook friend Ido Liven who works as an independent journalist in the Middle East. He was confused about “IYHO” in the first line of this post. He thought that I thought that anti-war Jewish people were “self-hating”. I need to correct that.

IYHO is In Your Humble Opinion, not IMHO (In My Humble Opinion). In this case the “You” is refering to the Zionist lobby that argues Jews who oppose the occupation of Palestine and the use of phosphorous weapons against Palestinians are “self-hating” One such group is behind Zionismontheweb. There’s a good overview of the topic at Jewish Currents, which outlines why Noam Chomsky is often singled-out as a prominent “self-hater”. It really is just a way for Zionists to conveniently label anti-Zionist Jews, such as this group, Jews against Zionism.

Ido has also written on this issue “Our side or theirs“.


Why defending the Palestinians is not anti-semitic

January 16, 2009

In a recent post – my first on the Israeli’s attacks on Gaza – I mentioned my reluctance to get into the debate because of the tendency of defenders of the State (and territorial borders) of Israel to equate any criticism with anti-semitism.

This is just nonsense, but it strikes a chord because the Zionist propaganda machine has done a good job of guilting us into soft-shoeing criticism of Israel lest we be seen to be being racist, or religiously intolerant.

First of all being Jewish is not a racial thing, secondly not all Jews are Zionists and not all Zionists are Jewish. Third what part of the phrase “war crime” don’t these people understand?

The logic of the “attacking Zionism is anti-semitic” position is that if you are against the existence of Israel as a geographic and political entity in the Middle East you are of the same political ilk as the Nazis.

Bullshit!

Read the rest of this entry »