Turnbull and Abbott - Watching in Morbid Fascination

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If you can get past the emotions you might feel, the history of Abbott and Turnbull - and the lies, half-truths and distortions can be fascinating to behold. It shines a spotlight on how ideas are developed and debated ...


Having lived through the election as a candidate for the Pirate Party, and having been seeped in rationality for many years, I think I've developed some interesting perspectives on the past election and how we've arrived here. It prompted me to write this commentary.

Our political world is one of deceit, contradictions and tensions; of polarisations and cross accusations. Whatever you say, it will be dismissed and superficially argued past by those that disagree with you. Still ... for those who are sympathetic to my analysis, here it is ( also influenced by discussions with M. Gibbons and others; and I saw C. Sands writing about Morrison and taxation; and others around the traps). I'm building on other articles you'll find on my website - a commentary on Hockey's early budget, and a look at Clangers in Australian political debate.

It's long, as my writings often are. I'd like to think its prompted by a desire to be comprehensive and properly round up all the topics, rather than an inclination to be self-indulgent and verbose. Never mind. Still, if it is a bit daunting you can use the table of contents which follows.

Or not read it at all, as the case may be ...


Setting the stage


While I didn't want Abbott ( or even Turnbull ) in Government, I have some perspective. Wrong as they are, they're not the devil incarnate. However much damage they do, it can only be so much. Further, I think it is important to separate how you feel from an objective view of what the different parties chances are of winning. Now, before Howard won his last term, you could hear so many people - almost screaming - people are so pissed of with Howard! He's not going to get in for another term! And he did. Clearly many people ended up voting for Howard. If we didn't want Howard to win, we did ourselves a disservice by losing our objectivity. It didn't matter that people we knew who were previously pissed off with Howard were now even more pissed off. What mattered was whether we knew people who previously voted for Howard, and were now willing to change that. You need to get out more.

Similarly ... when Abbott won ... according to twitter, Abbott winning would have been akin to a violation of the basic laws of physics. But he won. Echo chamber and all that.

Still; Liberal party supporters ... when Abbott was losing traction, his supporters denied there were any problems, and went through some of the most outrageous mental gymnastics to avoid giving even the slightest recognition of any problem. In contrast, Labor Party supporters were a lot more circumspect, with nothing in the same league. Their response was "Well, I don't agree with everything the Labor Party does, but overall, they're worth supporting".

The door swings both ways; you just have to look.

While I'm not impressed with Turnbull and Abbott, it's not a complete mess. We need to be objective. We need to get a grip. The polarised, one sided nature of criticism is disheartening. But these biases exist on both sides, and are worth understanding.

Their own decisions, not mine - and contrary advice

Much as I disagree with the Liberal Party, their decisions are their own to make. I'll criticise, but I won't presume to say what they should do. That's up to them.

At times your opponents will give you public advice. If they want to talk things privately over a beer or coffee, and make some considered observations, that's one thing. But to publicly say what you should do, or what's in your interests ... Uhhhh???

Remember how the Liberal Party was telling the unions what was actually in their own best interest, when you would have thought the unions themselves would be the best people to know that.

Good things out of the Liberal Party ( Coalition), and past Liberal Party players

Just to clear the air a little ...

Mr. Greg Hunt, as minister for the environment, oversaw the transfer of the Malabar Headland to State Government for use as a national park. Now, maybe they had their own other reasons, but you can't say they're always susceptible to developer contributions.

Then, looking at Amanda Vanstone - in her time, she was very supportive of Voluntary Assisted Dying. Good on her.

Senator Bill Heffernan from the National Party put a spotlight on the BRACA1 patent for assessing breast cancer, and more broadly, how the Australian Patent Act allowed for the patenting of natural phenomena.

In times past, Dr. John Hewson sent his best regards to the Sydney Gay & Lesbian Mardis Gras. While I mostly identify as left ( as you can see ), at times my secular inclinations trump my lefty ones. And I now regret not voting for Dr. Hewson. I condemned Australia to four terms of Howard. The Liberal Party - as led by Menzies and Dr. Hewson - stood for something worthwhile. Now I see them second preferencing the Christian Democratic Party.

Yes, Labor

Because the Libs are in Government, I've naturally shone my spotlight on them. Labor is not without its problems, much as Abbott supporters are much more prone to intellectual gymnastics.

However, yes, Labor is prone to similar problems, though perhaps not quite as bad. They have their own selectivity and ideological narrowness, and there's selective enforcement with a different hand at the wheel.

Then there's spending priorities. Just as people ask the Libs "why are you spending money on this when you could be spending it on that", Labor was under similar scrutiny. Gillard's response was "we're not going to be drawn into a rule in/rule out debate."

Turnbull and Abbott - history, ideology and approach

Turnbull and the professionalisation of politics

Much as I criticise Turnbull, having a business background can be useful. People can chuck rocks and say "oh, he's a rich dude", but it means he's done stuff, and is capable. I don't want to say that being rich means you've only got there through exploiting class privilege, though it's certainly possible; you can see the "big end of town" flexing their muscles. Yes, there are issues ... but being from business means you have skills and abilities, and we benefit from the PM having them.

Life experience outside of politics is a good thing. Whether you've been in business, or have worked your way into politics from being a shop steward, that's better than graduating and going straight into a political career. Sadly, the pursuit of political advantage has meant a "professionalisation" of party politics. This means political parties have undermined one of the very things which legitimates their efforts - being "representative". It's a perverse outcome. We should support people who are not professional party hacks - wherever we find them.

And, the stuff about Turnbull being greedy when giving money to someone. Well, Graham Long of the Wayside Chapel testifies to the personal and financial support he has given to the Wayside Chapel. It seems genuine to him. I'm sure it's a considered analysis.

However, Turnbull is constrained by his own party. We don't just vote for Turnbull, we vote for a faction-ridden party which comes as part of the package. People used to say the Labor Party was faction ridden. The Libs too. <hilarious laugh> Most obvious in the Liberal Party is the tension between libertarians and conservatives. And of the conservatives, you have strident religious believers / religious interventionists, like Cory Bernardi whose analytical abilities show a strangely perverse blindness, which we'll get to. And there's other factional tensions. Apart from actual "factions", people can charge off on their own because they're smart and competent in their way, and other people who don't understand them give them a free rein - because, well, it's a complicated world, and you can't keep an eagle eye on everything. That happened in Brandis' case, as we'll see later. Still, speaking of "regular" factions leads us into Same -Sex Marriage, deserving of its own section.

Same-Sex Marriage; Turnbull, support, and other approaches

Now, Turnbull is a decent fellow in many ways. But the party he leads is nothing like the one Menzies founded, and is a hodge-podge of different intellectual thrusts if not factions pushing in different directions. I think Turnbull had an original commitment to Same-Sex Marriage (SSM), but had to make political trade-offs. We don't just vote for Turnbull. We vote for our local member, and a Liberal Party which is a mish-mash with Turnbull only nominally at the helm.

Yes, money spent on the Plebiscite could be better spent elsewhere. Nevertheless, it is a result of the internal tensions within the Liberal party, not some deep seated desire to "consult" with the Australian public. When the Liberal party has really wanted to do something, it charged ahead in spite of the Australian public. Howard charged into conflict in the middle east, dismissing the largest protests Australia had seen in decades as "a mob". It is a part of "selective attention" and "moral blinkering", which I'll consider later. At the time of writing, Labor is looking more and more like they won't be supporting it. Nevertheless, we don't know whether the Libs will get enough support from elsewhere, and it is also worth analysing as a Liberal initiative, regardless of whether they manage to pull it off or not.

Yes, it's "a waste of money". Still, I can't help but wonder ... do people complaining about wasted money take a broader interest in waste? Do they pay any attention to the auditor-general's reports on problems with the expenditure of government money? Selective attention again. Not just the Government. Of course, to be fair, just because there are other problems does not mean this problem means nothing. Certainly. There is a subtlety, but people mostly skate over it.

Yes, by pursuing the plebiscite, it is possible you will unleash a torrent of hatred against Gays and others. In theory, democracy would facilitate a discussion of the issues for general endorsement. But I think this does need to be balanced against other risks. And, in principle, parliament could - without consulting with the people - initiate the legislation of its own accord. That's also a functioning democracy. We know that when the leader and party agree, parliament can make controversial decisions.

Just not now.

Turnbull claims that because of popular support for SSM, it will eventually become law. However, surely he must be aware of the popular support for Voluntary Assisted Dying? But it has a much smaller chance of becoming law. It's spin, the only question is whether Turnbull believes it himself. Having said that, Turnbull may indeed be doing his best given his constraints. We'll see many more such "contradictory pairs".

Incidentally, the Pirate Party has a different approach. We believe in making things equal by pushing any recognition of marriage out of state control. The state should be neither writing theological textbooks nor dictionaries. The state only recognises civil unions, of different sex or same sex couples. If, as a separate exercise, an outside institution wishes to recognise the arrangement as "marriage", well they can do that. But nothing to do with the state. There are other ways of slicing the cake.

Yes, some people see marriage as a corrupt institution, and wonder why anyone would want to be married, and therefore do not support SSM. They never supported marriage in the first place. I can see their point. But there's an issue of equality; at present only certain types of couples can obtain state endorsed marriage, rather than it being two people ( of whatever sex ) who want their feelings for each other recognised by the state. That's inequality, even if it is inequality in accessing a corrupt arrangement that a lot of people would never want.

Turnbull's history

At first, Turnbull had a honeymoon, and circumstances and his decisions did not affect his popularity. Eventually, though, things reached a tipping point and his popularity collapsed. There the Panama papers debacle. And while there's no evidence Turnbull has done anything illegal, you can still do something that is both legal AND unethical. I suspect many Australians saw this as an excuse rather than a valid reason.

Were things ever that much different to Abbott's rule? One defence is that Abbott's approach was never wrong, it just was not communicated properly. Now, I don't think much of the underlying ideology of the Liberal Party anyway, but even to the extent that there is "an ideology", I don't think the Australian public on the whole bought into it.

Perhaps it is a function of the tensions within the Liberal Party, but it was not possible to figure out what Turnbull, or indeed, the Party itself stood for. In fact, John Johnson, one wag on the internet, suggested that the Liberal Party's analysis of their failings at the last election was:

We lost [ground] because we weren't conservative enough, and also because Labor lied that we were conservative.

Ideology and party perceptions

The Liberal Party seems to think that they are good economic managers, good leaders and so on, because of their ideology. Because they're the Liberal Party, and because of what they believe in. However, I think that voters that matter do not think they're good managers, leaders or whatever because of their ideology - but rather because, well, they just happen to be that.

Voters also worry that a party can go "too far". That's because the voters never really bought into the underlying ideology. If the party makes an ideological charge into the distance, it doesn't mean the public will follow. Voters can see that, well, you need business to employ people. But, equally, business can over-reach too, much as it is important part of the scene. So, when Howard embraced work choices, people who were in their own heads able to make that compromise between business and work, and see a sense of "balance" and "proportion" - saw that Howard went "too far".

Abbott into Power - the Commander with his germ warfare

Neither party has a right to stay in power. The opposition tries to vote the government out. But, it does seem to me that Abbott rode into Government with the claims that the Labor Party was ever that bad, and that the Liberal Party was ever that much better. He claimed that Labor was into lies and deceit, but there would be no surprises, and things would improve. I don't think that any of those claims were ever the case. In fact, if Abbott had just thumped the table and said:

We wanna turn!!!

That would have been a lot more honest.

You wonder if at that time Abbott really believed his own propaganda. The Liberal ideology would be a magic wand; on entering government they would wave it and all the problems would disappear. Labor wasn't struggling with an inherently difficult problems; it was just their fault because they had the wrong approach. And maybe Abbott believed it. But he made a fundamental miscalculation - he thought the Australian people had actually bought into his ideology.

Now, lots of people have commented on the changing face of Australian politics. The "dissatisfaction" of people with politics. Their "tiredness" with the normal face of politics. The 24 hour news cycle. And so on. And, look, they probably have had their own impact. However, my explanation emphasises that Abbott taught the Australian people not be critical of the Labor party, but rather whoever was in Government. And, by setting himself up with such high standards going into Government, he invited strong scrutiny once he was in Government.

Abbott was like the commander who used germ warfare on the enemy. Initially effective, the contagion spread back to his own lines and infected his own troops.

Abbott - the chooks coming home to roost

While in opposition, Abbott criticised Labor, but then faced pretty much the same things. When there was the GFC Labor had to deal with the economy; the Libs threw rocks and said it was not the situation, it was their wrong-headed economic management. But when in power they did special pleading about commodity prices; it was not their economic management, it was the situation - they wanted the same slack they were never willing to give Labor.

When Labor had problems with their speaker, Abbott said it was representative of a Government in chaos. Then, in Government, the Libs had their own problems with their speaker; I guess it must have been representative of a Government in chaos, right?

And so, by degrees, they eroded their own credibility, and the contagion they'd released spread back to their own lines ...

Now, while Abbott is no longer in power, he casts a long shadow; so I think it considering his legacy. If we are to figure out whether the Libs have left Abbott's shadow, we need to work out exactly what his shadow is ...

Abbott - thoughtful at times; and also prone to ideological leakage

There are credible stories of Abbott being a bully - some in particular in Tony Windsor's book "Windsor's Way". Mr Windsor also shines a light on how projects can be initiated for political advantage, not because that's it's where you'd do the most good - that's apparently how Abbott was dealing with them. Windsor's narrative also shows Abbott making untenable promises, showing his willingness to game the system for political advantage rather than being serious about minority government.

Nevertheless, there is a certain logic running through his position. Being blindly "anti" Abbott is self-defeating; you miss how people can see his position as worthwhile without feeling they are deceiving themselves. Yes, you can see people in denial about legitimate criticisms of Abbott, and calling their opponents "anti-Abbott"; however, it's a separate issue.

Abbott was grinding the axe about paid parental leave, and he claimed to be looking out for women's interests. This led to ridicule from some. However, it did have a certain strange logic to it. Abbott was trying to give women the freedom to pursue traditional roles. Normally you think of "enabling" as giving women the freedom to do things they had previously been unable to do. But, in fact, that's how Abbott saw it - enhancing women's freedom - which he was doing - in his own way.

Abbott identifies "poverty traps" - if you are on a benefit and you earn more, you'll suddenly lose that benefit; you have a disincentive to earn more. So, if you provide a benefit, you should provide it regardless of your income, and avoid poverty traps. But, people can claim it's "middle class welfare". They're opposite sides of the coin. Do you want "middle class welfare" - or freedom from "poverty traps"?

At other times Abbott embraced "the market". Ideological leakage - he liked the market except when it got in the way of his ideological goal. These then trumped the market. But he never considered that the market might have problems of its own.

Ideological blindness and selectivity

Ideology can blind you to other issues. You become strangely selective. In Abbott's case, he "went with the flow" unless there was some ideological trump. When we point out an issue, it will be sidelined. But, issues that fit into their ideological agenda will be addressed.

This over-arching selectivity reveals itself elswhere, and can go beyond the ideological, to a more general narrowness - as when Abbott did his whole knights and dames thing, and could not understand what others' issues were, or that he could ever have even done something wrong.

More generally, you see it when a problem is identified, but other similar ones are ignored. Now, it may be fair to focus on one thing because you have to start somewhere; well, fair enough. But a focus on something is normally justified because it is in some sense morally abhorrent while other similar things are ignored because they dilute the clarity of the moral claim.

Tensions and Contradictions

The National Commission of Audit

This was initiated by Hockey and Abbott early in their term. While its chair, Tony Shepherd, clearly knows about running a business, that's different to understanding the place of business in society. The commission proposed many cost cutting measures, rather than seeking to genuinely improve efficiency.

Historically, one view is that Howard cut taxes to the rich, and now to balance the budget, you need to cut spending on the poor; but you could have reverted to the pre-Howard taxation approach and fixed the budget that way. But the options suggested seemed the result of ideological bias rather than being objective.

Afterwards, Hockey distanced himself, saying "it is not the budget" - but it makes you wonder why they convened it in the first place. Did Government not choose the right people? Or did they realise that while a good effort at trying to drive policy with ideology, it did not work? Perhaps even though the initiatives were abhorrent, the Government did not have the numbers in the Senate to pursue them.

Another option ( which I don't think much of, but let's put it on the table ) was that there were good ideas that were sunk as the result of populist attacks. But maybe the same could be said of Labor initiatives. And were medicare copayments ever a good idea?

Turnbull - corruption in the unions vs. corporations

Turnbull wanted to scrutinise the unions and set up new processes to scrutinise them. It was the double-dissolution trigger. The justification was that corporate boards were subject to significant legal scrutiny, but unions were not. Well, that's true but corporations and unions are fundamentally different things. Corporations have limited liability, which is a privilege. In balance for this privilege, a great deal of scrutiny is justified as the burden of limited liability falls on the whole economy. A union has the objective of pursuing its member's interests, and is significantly answerable to its members for this. The outside world has less of an interest in what the union is up to. So, unions are fundamentally different to corporations, and the above claim is a false analogy.

Of course, we do have a general interest in criminal activity and fraud everywhere without focusing on unions because the claimed contrast to corporations. This prompts not a focus on unions, but rather a look at the cost of corruption and criminality in the economy generally, including corporations, unions, and whatever else we can think of ( Kohler, apparently, was thinking of financial advice, for instance). To do this, we need a balance sheet, where we look at the costs of all things we can reasonably easily identify, and then look further once everything is on the table. However, Turnbull seemed to focus just on unions. It's a demonstration of selective attention, something that happens a lot.

Brandis and religious vilification

Having the "right" ideological based understanding of freedom and freedom of speech in particular, Brandis rode into power planning changes to the law to allow greater expression. However, many people felt very uncomfortable, and had a very different understanding of freedom of speech. But Brandis did not see it coming. He thought that the Australian community would understand just how wonderful and grand was his ideological understanding, and that they would leap at the opportunity he provided to escape from the oppression that was the previous Labor party regime.

Now look. Brandis has identified over-reach on the left, with them trying to suppress freedom of expression. Yes. But that does not make his prescription automatically valid. Just because they're dodgy does not automatically mean that you are thereby correct. You're still trying to suppress the freedom of expression you don't like, while criticising the other side for limiting the your preferred forms expression.

Brandis and the rights review

Brandis was concerned about the rights of people to a presumption of innocence in financial trade was being compromised, and so he asked the law reform commission to make a review. Well, it did find that there was a bit of an issue where Brandis was thinking, but it was in fact a balance. However, the review found there was a much stronger issue in stopping whistleblowers and refugees from speaking out.

Which shows the selectivity of Brandis' original point of view. Freedom is a multi-faceted thing, and Brandis had a selective viewpoint - on just the elements which suited his ideological bias.

More and more paired contradictions

You can see how people have a strange bipolar focus in their analysis, and I'll now work through some more examples. Now, to be fair, if Labor was in Government and you shone a spotlight at them, I'm sure you'd find a few. And even my own viewpoint. I try to be aware of these possible contradictions, but the difference is really only one of degree.

A classic one I'm aware of is that Howard was challenging Saddam's refusal to let the UN inspectors into his palaces. But why was Saddam doing that? One wag suggested at the time that it might be for the same reason as Howard wanted to refuse UN inspectors from looking inside his refugee camps. Another was how Howard believed in state's rights, except for when he was happy to trash them to block the NT's Voluntary Euthanasia legislation.

But, now let's continue ...

Cory Bernardi

Cory Bernardi was concerned about unqualified people teaching ethics in schools. But, there was no issue when school chaplains and religious instructors were unqualified.

Now, when convenient, I'm sure the Liberal Party will endorse "community initiatives". Stuff like St. Johns ambulance, the SES and other voluntary initiatives. Good things done by unqualified people. And, actually, I agree. Creeping credentialism is a bad thing. In any case, the focus ends up on uncredentialed people in things people disagree with, while conveniently ignoring participation by unqualified in initiatives they support.

Lleyonheljm, Wicked Campers, and the Chaser

Lleyonheljm was not offended by the signs on the Wicked Campers, and said that people should just get over it and accept it. He claimed they were funny, and that critics of the vehicles were "particularly wowserish", claiming that there was some sort of insidious campaign with him being uniquely principled and standing on the moral high ground.

However, he was offended by a similarly themed Chaser van, together with the effect on his wife. Freedom of expression is fine if it offends others but not if it affects you. Actually, looking at the signs on the Chaser van, I could imagine the visceral reaction he would have to them. Leyonheljm said that while he was happy for the Chaser to disagree, they "crossed the line". "The Chaser came to my house, did not identify themselves, displayed homophobic slogans in my street, and alarmed my wife." "I also thought they were intending to enter my property, which is why I told them I would call the police."

Certainly, the images were directed at him personally, and perhaps he will emphasise that difference. But I see less difference - it is still a reaction. I can see that women could have a similar visceral reaction to the original Wicked Campers, while Lleyonheljm saw it as "funny". Hints of violence to women is fine, but things that Lleyonheljm sees as homophobic are "crossing the line". And he is the one to tell us where that line is. With this sort of selectivity, it suggests that his position about expression is not that solidly based after all. Another view on this can be found at No Place for Sheep

Having said all this, I do have mixed feelings about banning the images on the Wicked Campers. However, I have no problems with their actions being targetted for public scorn, and with the campers being banned by any locations overseen by councils or other entities. It is their choice about the sort of environment they wish to have. Public roads are a bit different; it is a sliding scale but I can see meaningful points of difference. Lleyonheljm never said anything like

I'm empathetic to their concerns, but bringing in the courts and legal system to intervene in matters of causing offence is not appropriate.

... which would have been a finessed way of engaging with the issue. Instead, he said that he found them funny and ridiculed the people who said they were offended. BONUS! You set yourself up.

Morrison and taxation

On August 24 in response to a proposal from the WA Nats for a mining tax on Rio Tinto and BHP Billiton, Morrison's reply was "more tax is not the answer". Then, on August 25, Morrison spoke about the "new divide" between the "taxed" and the "taxed nots", with the spectre of a generation of welfare recipients who will grow up paying no tax. So, it is OK for mining companies to escape increased taxation, but it is problematic for welfare recipients to escape increased taxation. Morrison focuses on welfare recipients who pay no tax, while ignoring corporations who pay no tax ... not to mention those avoiding tax via Panama.

No doubt Morrison would try to distinguish between companies who are supposedly productive and welfare recipients who are not - but it is nevertheless a pair of unfinessed grand claims that do clang. Just what, pray, is the real problem with taxation?


There's other contradictions we can see ...

The opposition lie; we narrate

Now, this "selectivity" above stretches further. We pay much more attention to the sins of our opponents, while we forgive the sins of those we favour. I noticed the denial of Liberal Party supporters earlier; but more broadly, if there's a spotlight of corruption shone on the opposition, they'll think it's disgusting; but they won't worry so much about problems within their own ranks.

Some things are not illegal, but well ... they can sure look bad. Consider Turnbull and his use of companies under the Panama umbrella, or Abbott's use of private grants to help his daughter's education. Now, you could say that these things are private matters, and much as politicians are politicians, they also have their private lives. But if you're financially benefitting in ways that are really only accessible to those in a privileged political class at the same time as the people who elect you who will never have such advantages ... well, it's not a good look. But, Liberal supporters will say that these politicians have the right to run their own lives and these things are not really problems. However, if the spotlight is turned on Labor about things that really are morally equivalent, Liberal supporters will scream blue murder.

It seems that people are not really concerned about lies and corruption. They focus on lies and corruption in their opponents because it is a way of attacking them, not because they're actually that concerned about lies and corruption, or "the truth" as a goal. They forgive lies and corruption of those they favour, or at least look the other way and don't focus on it - because they feel a tribal loyalty to them, and want to support them. This sort of phenomena is considered in more detail in research by Professor Dan Airley, you can hear about it in this RN episode

Once you start to appreciate the nature of this overarching bias, the nature of political debate makes a lot more sense.

We make our approach ethical; whatever the other's approach, it is wrong

Saul Alinsky, in "Rules for Radicals" shows just how flexible the approach to morality by those in power. They do things for their own reasons, and then dress it up in moral garb afterwards. While we are principled, our opponents are portrayed as unethical.

At the last election, when the Libs did marginally well, they blamed Labor for their medicare propaganda. In fact, while you may not be able to say the Libs are "killing medicare" in the sense of one swift blow, or privatisation, they can still be killing it by the death of a thousand cuts. Under the guise of "strengthening medicare" ( what the hell is that supposed to mean?), they've reduced the benefits flowing through it, and imposed additional bureaucracy.

Sometimes it can be politically impossible to just stop something. So, you starve it of resources till it is eventually ineffective and you say you need to shut it down because it no longer works. In fact, it no longer works because of choices you have made in the past, not because it has spontaneously developed problems of its own accord. The point is that the Libs never needed to privatise Medicare in order to kill it. While Labor may have wrongly claimed the Libs were going to privatise it, the idea that the Libs were trying to destroy Medicare could still have validity, regardless.

Now, the Libs in their time have whipped up the emotions of the population to effectively win the elections. Stop the boats. Terrorism. Mabo. When they do it, that's OK. But when Labor whip up emotions for electoral traction, that's just wrong.

Of course the Libs will claim the two cases are different. But I invite you to think about it: apart from the fact that in one case Labor are doing it, and in the other case the Liberals are doing it, what is actually different?

Ideally the two parties put out policy packages, a set of ideas, and we as informed voters make a thoughtful and considered choice between them. Yeah, right. Both political parties will appeal to our emotions if they can.

With both sides making cross-accusations, is there any way of getting through the impasse? Well, I do think there's worth in an objective ethical analysis. It's just that the analyses made by the beligerents are not to be believed. In natural justice, we see the principle that no one should judge their own case. This is normally in context of some sanction or penalty by a court or other body; but similarly you wouldn't want someone "endorsing themselves". Validity is not something for the advocates to claim. It is something for objective parties to grant. So, the problem then becomes finding if we can in fact find someone objective. Really, rather than just making claims - you should point to someone whose objectivity your opponent would recognise and also agrees with you. Wonder if that would ever happen?

Other people make noise; we pursue real concerns

In the ideal, we bring issues to the Government's attention, they take them on board, and they get fixed. In reality, if we bring something to their concern, they will try to ignore and deny it, claiming that it's too hard. However, they will find the political resources to pursue issues which are on their ideological agenda. Selectivity, again.

Now, while you're better off if your concern is on the Government's ideological radar, a second best option is where the opposition takes up your concern and at least it gets some oxygen. Maybe it will be a thorn in the side of Government and they will eventually do something about it.

But worse of all is when you have a problem or injustice that neither major political party can be bothered engaging with. One is Voluntary Assisted Dying, which you can tell I grind my axe over. But, reaching out - another is the regulation of aviation airspace, as pointed out by Dick Smith. He says that overseas experience is that once there are fatalities and inquiries things finally change. But if we had to sacrifice human lives on the altar of progress in Australia, that would be tragic - it would be a needless and tragic waste of human life. But his experience is that Government is lethargic about change, and sees "no reason" to change things.

Selective enforcement

As you can see elsewhere, I'm not against regulation as such. But so often regulation is put in place for show which is not enforced, and while the laws are on the books, without real follow through they have no impact. Also, some good laws can be introduced, but over time become diluted through practical difficulties, limited resources and laziness on the part of those responsible. If the laws are there, they should be enforced. If you're not going to be able to enforce them, don't put them there in the first place.

At times this results from it being difficult to be properly across things; but also, it can result from the fact that the resources and attention get directed to laws and regulations which fit into an ideological thrust, with the others falling by the wayside.


Political debate is a morass of contradictions and self-serving arguments; and that's certainly the case now. But, I do think you can appreciate the richness of that morass, and for all its chaos and problems, it can be warming to be able to make sense of it.

I will now allow myself just a little arrogance, a little presumption. I hope the world does make a little more sense to you. And I hope that's something we can both celebrate.