Thursday, December 29, 2011


Friday, December 23, 2011

Merry Christmas Dickheads

Merry Christmas. Thanks to everyone who has read the blog posts and the cartoons over the course of the year - it's well over 50 posts now, which means I think I've been doing an average of one a week.

Thanks for the comments, the retweets and the shares - I hope you all have a wonderful Christmas, Chanukah/Hannakah, Festivus or Kwanzaa, and if I don't post again until the new year, New Years Eve too.

- Wes

A new hope

Given the current state of affairs in the asylum seeker onshore/offshore processing debate (or lack thereof, it's a mad rush to a foregone terrible conclusion), I thought I would write the speech that I would love to hear Julia Gillard give on asylum seeker policy.

Sure, it's a pie in the sky thing, but when the mood is so low and the debate so craven, sometimes even the imagining of a better situation can inspire action from a tired and jaded audience.

It seems sad that we are such a level that even the concept of hope on this issue seems laughable. But follow me down that path to where hope might still live. It's not perfect, but it's a start.

Merry Christmas.


Ladies and Gentlemen, people of Australia.

There can be no doubt that in the past ten years, the dominant issue that has been debated and discussed ad nauseum by media commentators and politicians on both sides of the house is the topic of the arrival of asylum seekers on Australian shores.

Australia is in a unique situation - a continent populated by the citizens of a single country - bordered only by sea. We have no shared borders and thus we do not have the complication of policing, funding or debating secure boundaries with a less prosperous neighbour, as our friends in the United States or many countries in Europe do. We are bounded by 35, 877 km of coastline - natural protection from unwelcome visitors and given this, the vast majority (so much so that we may as well say all) of our arrivals, whether for tourism, business or migration, have been via plane since the dawn of the age of modern, cheap, human flight. 

Despite this, the emphasis on policy has been deterring those who would arrive by boat – we forget that the biggest deterrents of all are the coastline, seas and remoteness that divide us from the rest of the world; there is no path that any refugee can walk to cross the border into Australia. 

Even in this period where the government is accused of encouraging people across the sea, boat arrivals make up less than 5% of total asylum applications, and countries like Italy frequently experience influxes of boat arrivals over the course of two months that are double the the annual number of boat arrivals in Australian waters. Overall Australia hosts just 0.21% of the world's refugees, in comparison, more than 80% are housed in developing nations.

While it cannot be denied that “pull” factors have an impact in our immediate region, to some small extent – it is “push” factors that have the greatest impact on arrivals overall, and particularly those by boat. Push factors that drive those whose lives are in immediate risk in countries which have been ravaged by war, some of which we as a nation have helped to fight while not thinking of the humanitarian issue of those who are displaced or endangered as a product of conflict.

We think of the recent tragedy of the shipwreck off the coast of East Java, the loss of life, and the ravaged survivors, specifically Afghani asylum seeker Esmat Adine who has told reporters of being directed by the Australian embassy to wait for the coming years to apply for asylum, despite immediate risk to his life in an established theatre of war. Esmat worked for a US humanitarian organisation in Afghanistan – he is an educated, moral and upright person with a clear knowledge of international human rights and a contribution to make, and yet our system failed him. 

Faced with immediate danger, and the acknowledged mortal risks associated with sea travel to a potential better life, Esmat of course made the choice that gave him a chance of survival. It is a choice that those of us lucky enough to have been born into a country that has a stable democratically government, a bounty of resources, modern infrastructure, universal healthcare and a state-funded education system will likely never have to make, but one that I imagine all of us would make when confronted with the alternative. 

Rather than breaking the people smuggler's business model, the current policy of deterrence creates and reinforces it. If there was a lawful way for those in danger to make their way to Australia, people like Esmat Adine have shown that they would take it. The deterrent, and Australia's reluctance to increase its humanitarian intake as it stands, encourages people onto boats.

And with the capsizing and running aground of the boat that Esmat Adine would have arrived on, it becomes clear once more that the deterrent is not worth the cost to human life. 

The issue of boat arrivals may be one that divides our community at present; many feel that the problem is one of “protecting our borders” - language brought into the debate in the Howard years that conflates those seeking asylum with a fear of alien invasion not dissimilar to the impulse that inspired the White Australia-style policy. My government, and the Rudd government before it, too, has been guilty of borrowing this language. But the time for this language is over, and it is time that we revisited asylum seeker policy and its emphasis in migration policy overall.

We have an ethical, and above all else, legal responsibility to those who seek asylum. This means not punishing them for their arrival, or for the means in which they arrive. It also means creating viable means of entry so that those who have grounds to seek asylum are not encouraged onto “leaky boats” by our policy of deterrence.

We also have an economic responsibility to the people of Australia – this means not paying the exorbitant costs of offshore processing to make a point that is ill-informed, unfounded and above all else, not demonstrably beneficial to anyone concerned. The cost of processing a single refugee in the Pacific Solution was more than half a million dollars. During this time some refugees were detained for up to 3 years, at what has been shown to be hugely detrimental psychologically. And of those who were detained at Nauru or on Manus Island, the vast majority were subsequently found to be refugees – now bearing the scars of not just the countries where they have come from but also those of detention they did not deserve.

While the Howard government claimed that the Pacific Solution reduced the number of arrivals drastically, these figures fail to take into account the fact that asylum seeker numbers worldwide were at an all time high in 2001, and had more than halved by the end of 2006. The numbers of refugees internationally was clearly the factor here, not the policy - at a massive cost to the Australian people, and to the people in detention.

The Opposition Leader speaks of wanting to protect those who would board a boat to get to Australia from the threat of death in transit, failing to see that there is often graver risk in not hopping on that boat if there are no other legitimate channels to seek asylum.

As Prime Minister, I have the job, like Labor leaders before me such as Paul Keating and Bob Hawke, or even Liberal leaders such as John Howard and Sir Malcolm Fraser, of putting policy into place which may be unpopular but serves the greater needs and wishes of this country and its people.

Having the conviction to make these decisions, and to do what is best for the country even if it may mean personal attack or insult, a momentary dip in polling or the loss of government is not just the mark of leadership - it is the duty of the Prime Minister.

Real policy decisions look beyond the populism of those issues that will affect voters on the way to the ballot box at the next election, and to those issues that will affect our lives in ten years time - to those issues that will affect our children, and even their children.

Australians are an intelligent, rational, overwhelmingly well-educated and aspirational people. 
For too long, we have played to those among us who would have opposed the emancipation of slaves in the United States in the 19th century, to those who would have opposed the tearing up of the White Australia policy in the 20th century, to those who fear international trade, essential to Australia's current prosperity, on racial grounds – minority views that have been encouraged into the public's consciousness as being indicative of all Australians' position.

I believe the Australian people are better, more moral and more intelligent, than that.

Given this, my government will not be taking up the offer made by Tony Abbott to change the Migration Act, to again move processing offshore whether it is to Nauru, Manus Island or even Malaysia. The High Court ruled against this decision in the past, and were right to do – offshore processing is wrong in law (both nationally and internationally), as well as ethics and logic, and should remain that way.

A regional solution is the answer, and my government remains committed to that, but wholesale swapping of asylum seekers with other countries in the region, where welfare cannot be assured or duty of care overseen, is not that solution.

We will be moving to ensure that the channels by which asylum seekers can arrive are safer, more open and more transparent - this means increasing the proportion of refugees in our migration intake to accomodate those seeking asylum at their country of origin. And for those who do arrive by boat or plane, processing will be conducted onshore, within the community. This process will be conducted with transparency, and open to public scrutiny – bound by the conventions of the Australian public service, and not hidden behind security classification.

For those who fear for our infrastructure – though the numbers do not merit this fear – we will provide it, and where necessary reinforce it. The Gillard and Rudd governments, and the Labor party as a whole, have shown that we are the party of infrastructure investment – something sorely lacking in the Howard government that preceded us. 

It is time that Australia took a stand, not in protecting or closing our borders, but in meeting our international obligations to create a fair and just environment for those who arrive on our doorstep in need, no matter the means of arrival. 

Let's show the international community what it means to be Australian.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Something fishy about the link bait

Something (okay a lot) about this The Age/SMH article ("Survivors tell why the boatskeep coming") on the asylum seeker boat sinking on Sunday didn't sit well with me. It just fits the mainstream media narrative on the issue so well - it largely skirts around the disaster itself, and jumps right to the "scoop" of finding an asylum seeker who apparently doesn't want to be an asylum seeker. Somehow, Esmat Adine's view on asylum seeker policy fits the current narrative perfectly  - he even asks Australia to "close the borders". Paging Andrew Bolt!

But, clearly, it's not the whole story (in fact, quite literally). It's actually a cut down version of another article by Tom Allard ("Rescuers find 13 onisland off East Java"), the correspondent, which seems to have been custom built for link bait on the front page.

With a quick Google search on his name, you can see that Adine is the key course for virtually every story on the survivors. That's understandable, I imagine it's going to be hard to find someone in the group who wants to talk, especially given the circumstances of their arrival (to twist a Howardism). But more to the point, as mentioned here in the full piece, which also appears on the Age/SMH website, but is not featured, Esmat Adine is a fluent English speaker, and from what we can gather given the spread of his message, the only English speaker - meaning he's probably the only person most Australian journalists or correspondents could easily interview.

The main thing here, though, is that the short feature article, omits to give us Adine's full message - the survivor is actually saying that he arrived by boat because there was no other viable channel:

''We will do again. Because we have nothing. If we are going to die, our responsibility will be with the Australian government.'' Mr Adine says he tried repeatedly though official channels in Kabul to apply to go to Australia as a refugee.
''They just sent me an email that I should apply in 2013 or 2014. I cannot … my life was in serious danger but nobody would answer me.''

Rather than claiming the government has culpability for not "closing the borders" and therefore putting lives at risk, Adine actually appears to be suggesting that Australia's attitude to seeking overall is the reason lives are at risk - ie. "the queue" doesn't work.

"Australia's policy towards asylum seekers is unfair. Those who catch a boat to Australia are resettled quickly. Those who do not make it, or apply through official channels, are denied."

The cut-down version of the article also omits to tell us that Esmat Adine used to work for a US aid organization in Afghanistan - and thus is in a better position to comment on, and likely apply for, asylum.

Really, given this is what's actually appearing on the Age and SHM frontpages as a feature article it's a mean hatchet job. It also seems to be regurgitating the information for two separate articles: one to dishonestly forward an agenda, the other to actually educate and inform. Hedging your bets much, Fairfax?

Kim Jong Getty

The real tragedy is that the final proper Bugle (hopefully for this year) was just last week.

But all joking aside, I don't believe in hell or heaven, so I hope that Kim Jong-Il's last moments were incredibly painful.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Hang on, this is a loaded deck!

I intentionally didn't comment on the reshuffle rumours, because I've been wrong before (and I would have sid it was BS, to be honest), but I've quite enjoyed seeing everyone who was saying last week that it was nonsense covering it like they could see it all coming.

I guess this is Australia. Today.


Speaking of cards....

card ad

Saturday, December 10, 2011

"They made me say it!" or how we learned to stop thinking and love the double speak.


This is partly inspired by the lack of Insiders over the holiday period, and partly inspired by this argument I had with Latika Bourke on Twitter the other night (click to enlarge)...

It really frustrates me when journalists and commentators blame the tone of political discussion on politicians... Surely at least some of the blame must go to those whose job it is to educate and report. The tone and lexicon of political debate in parliament may set the agenda for what is reported, but going beyond the superficial is what journalism is all about.

If you're thinking I'm being unfair (and to a certain extent I am by just targeting Latika, for that I apologise, she's clearly not the only one, just the example I have at the moment), I'm wondering when we're going to start seeing journos on twitter giving regular updates of visa overstayers and the number of asylum seekers who arrive by plane. 

If you're going to call the horse race, call the whole shebang - not just the horses that are easy to see.


Hey, it's almost Christmas! Why not buy some Dickhead Frenzy Christmas Cards to go on your presents?

card ad

Friday, December 2, 2011

A bet each way is the least worst policy

Destroy Build Destroy
It's kind of a sad state of affairs when Mark Arbib's cowardly and hollow bet each way becomes ALP policy. Marriage equality is now the ALP platform, and it's essentially a given that it will also be destroyed by a conscience vote. We live in hope that it won't, but that hope is bruised and knows to flinch when anyone raises their hand.

The even sadder thing is that this is one of those issues where the individual beliefs of those in parliament would appear to be out of step with their electorates. A completely disproportionate amount of MPs state they believe "marriage is between a man and woman" and a similarly disproportionate number of MPs are regular church goers. I'm not saying these things are definitively analogous, but it does show that the personal views of our MPs are often out of step with their electorate - and that the views of the electorate (which polls have shown are consistently in favour of marriage equality by a considerable majority) will almost certainly not be reflected in a conscience vote.

Don't even get me started on offshore processing...

Speaking of religion and religious holidays... would you like to support the Frenzy and delight your relatives in the process?

card ad

Thursday, December 1, 2011

At last, a bipartisan decision

pay negotiation

And remember...


Monday, November 28, 2011

Dickhead Frenzy Christmas Cards are now available!

Dickhead Frenzy Christmas Cards are now for sale!

Get all 5 cards in a pack - 5 for $15 (plus $2 for postage), printed on professionally on high quality satin card stock outside (just like the best commercial cards) and uncovered inside so you can write in it easily for the politically minded relative, friend or particularly intelligent pet.

All cards have "DHFrenzy" printed on the back, with the blog address smaller underneath - so your grandmother isn't staring across the table at "DICKHEAD" in bold type at the Christmas dinner table.

These will be a limited run - 20 packs in total. They should ship early next week (week commencing Monday 5th December).

Inside: I'd understand if you said NO!

You barbarian.

Inside: Don't make a liar of me.

Inside: Don't tell anyone, but it was my idea.

Inside: Having said that, let me say this...

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Deep Sigh Mining


Also - Dickhead Frenzy christmas cards will be properly up for sale tomorrow! Here's a few more samples...

Inside: MERRY CHRISTMAS, you barbarian.
Inside: Don't tell anyone but it was my idea.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

A very Dickhead Christmas

I have been remiss in updating lately due largely to a spike in other drawing and writing work, and hugely busy working days.

I will start regularly updating again next week, but in the meantime, I have a piece on polling in this month's issue of The King's Tribune which you can read here (subscriptions are only $24 a quarter, and are well worth it - more art from me next month and you could win an iPad)!

I have also been working on some Dickhead Frenzy christmas cards, which should be ready to go this weekend. If you have friends, family or disturbed street individuals with an interest in politics, then these could be the cards for you!

These are just a sample of the five (click to enlarge):
Inside: "Having said that, let me say this...

Inside: "Don't make a liar of me

Inside: "I'd understand if you said NO

There will be a full set of five (including an Andrew Bolt and Bob Brown one to come), and they'll be $15 for all 5 (plus $2 for P+H), or $4 each. I will start selling this weekend, but if you're interested please feel free to hit me up on the comments and let me know.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Maybe we'll take the car


If you haven't seen it yet, I also have a new satirical newspaper blog - This is Australia. Today. The only national newspaper which sets the agenda and then forgets where it left it.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

The curtsy and the damage done

the curtsy

Matthew Archer, deputy chair of the Australian Monarchists' League (oh, what a crazy time of Pimms and perfectly poured tea they must have at their meetings) has said he didn't think the Queen would be offended, "No, not really I think she's a pretty tough lady."

It takes a tough old bean to withstand the indecency of a handshake and a bow. Thank God she's such a hardy one, it's a world full of misplaced bows and unfortunately lopsided curtsies out there.

Friday, October 14, 2011

The horror, the horror.

the horror

It's a brave look, being forced into a moral decision after exhausting every possible immoral/amoral option. 

Thursday, September 29, 2011

He's been standing there for years


After reading through numerous great pieces such as this and this, I agree that Justice Bromberg definitely made the right decision both under law and in terms of balancing freedom of speech with protection from racial vilification.

However I can't help but feel this is exactly the punishment Bolt has been waiting for. Page one opinion pieces! Nation-wide coverage! Brandis stepping in to say the Coalition would revisit the law!

In the year of our Bolt.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Now I know why they're called the Tonys

Ladies and Gentleman
Hang on, isn't this supposed to be the other way around?

Saturday, September 17, 2011

How did we get here?

high road

Welcome to a time where Tony Abbott can hold the moral high ground on asylum seekers.

Please forgive us future generations, we were drunk on... I don't know... Xenophobia?

Maybe we were just drunk.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Let's play the game again!

bop the stoats
Let's not pretend there's really anything more going on at the moment than this. On both sides.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011


strike through
Some times the strike-through is important.

This is probably beyond obscure if you don't follow politics on Twitter.

Monday, August 29, 2011

Credit Card Minimum


Friday, August 26, 2011

Confessions of a Talking Potato

Confession potato
He's quite eloquent. For a potato.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Zero Fucks Given

So I have been reading a lot of Paul Keating quotes in the last few days. Recollections of Bleeding Heart is being reissued in a 10 year anniversary edition on the the 31st of August - which is great, because I've been trying to get a copy of it over the last few months, and it's now going to be much more readily available again. Don Watson is actually speaking at a conference I'm going to for work mid-next month, which I'm very much looking forward to.

As to Keating quotes - there are some absolute corkers; he's someone who not only could shoot from the hip with a wit that could kill, but also knew how to pick his speechwriters - see great selections here and here. This article around the launch of the anniversary edition from Fairfax is well worth a read - one gets the feeling that it's a hard job staying on the good side of the man, he works almost entirely for what he considers an objective good, and sees his job as to destroy anyone that gets in the way, and drag the public along with him for their own wellbeing. Oddly admirable, really, compared to what we see from both sides of politics now.

There are so many key quotes of bald-faced, love of the game, "I will play to win and I will drink from your skull after I remove it from your shoulders" (that's me, not him... he never actually said that... as such - see below) moments over his leadership, and since, that you can't really boil it down to one quote. The Robertson letter is an eloquent example of recent years. And there are some other brilliant ones on Howard both before Howard became PM, and throughout his leadership (particularly as it became clear in 2007 that the guillotine was slowly rising).

But, I think, this has got to be a highpoint of parliamentary honesty from history:

Hewson: I ask the Prime Minister: if you are so confident about your view of Fightback, why will you not call an early election?
Keating: The answer is, mate, because I want to do you slowly. There has to be a bit of sport in this for all of us. In the psychological battle stakes, we are stripped down and ready to go. I want to see those ashen-faced performances; I want more of them. I want to be encouraged. I want to see you squirm out of this load of rubbish over a number of months. There will be no easy execution for you. You have perpetrated one of the great mischiefs on the Australian public with this thing, trying to rip away our social wage, trying to rip away the Australian values which we built in our society for over a century.
How do you respond to that if you're Hewson?

Anyway, this is all a round about way of saying it inspired me to throw this together. T-shirts, posters anyone?

Update: Perhaps you would like a zero fucks given t-shirt, in either the original, or negative?

Monday, August 15, 2011

Democracy ahoy on the roundabout stead!

The roundabout stead

Yes, if you haven't heard it yet, Dr Peter Phelps, a member in the NSW Upper House (and Liberal party whip) argued today in the NSW Parliament that, "Traffic lights are a Bolshevist menace" and "roundabouts represent democracy at their finest", something that Roads Minister Duncan Gay sought to distance himself from, understandably.

Over the weekend, Tony Abbott also got caught in a bit of an Alan Jones trap, agreeing that farmers should have the ultimate right to say no about mining exploration of their land before flying to Perth to address a convention of miners.

Apologies about the lack of colour - I have acquired a magnificent new A3 scanner but in upgrading to Lion a few weeks ago I apparently lost most Wacom functionality. Something which Wacom doesn't seem interested in remedying anytime soon.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Sunday, July 3, 2011

I can't taste the coffee anymore

carbon buckeroos

Not to be a prat - but exempt forever from a tax, but from the ETS?

Monday, May 2, 2011

Of Royals, Republicans and Relatives, a guest post by Kim Armstrong

My good friend (and old Meating People co-blogger) Kim Armstrong (@kimridesabike) writes:

I’m kind of a hypocrite I suppose. I’m that upsetting, and probably very Gen Y, combination of a staunch republican who loves the royal family.

I like looking at pictures of them in trashy gossip magazines. I’ve devoured movies like The Queen, The King’s Speech, Elizabeth, The Young Victoria – should I go on? Needless to say I watched the Royal Wedding, surrounded as it happens by my English born extended family. I don’t remember how it came up, but as I have a tendency to do at family gatherings, I set a fox among the hens by mentioning that I think Australia should become a republic.

What with all the celebrity spotting, chip and dip eating, and baby admiring going on, I don’t think I presented my best case for Australia that evening, and was significantly undermined by stopping to say “ooh, Posh and Becks do look lovely”, “is it a rule to wear hats?” and most damningly “Prince Harry is definitely my favourite”.

I’d like a do-over. Here are my arguments in favour of an Australian republic, counter-arguments directed at the ‘if it ain’t broke don’t fix it’ school of thought, along with appropriate disclaimers about how much I respect my family, their views, and our shared English heritage.

Arguments against a republic:

  1. If it isn’t broken, don’t fix it.

    Well, I think it IS broken. I don’t mean to say that the royal family are actively damaging the country, but I do think the idea of a family having the power to dismantle the government not only in their own country, but in mine, disturbing. Would they ever do it? Maybe not. But we update archaic laws all the time for our own peace of mind and to improve our system of government. Our currency wasn’t broken, but we changed it because it needed an update for a variety of reasons. This isn’t so different.

  2. It will be expensive.

    There are many things worth doing that are expensive, that’s the rub with taxes you see. Hospitals are expensive, sporting events are expensive, the environment is expensive…royal nuptials are expensive. We do it anyway.

  3. We had a referendum and it failed, the people have spoken.

    Firstly, this doesn’t change my view. Secondly, in the words of someone is who not one of my heroes, Sir Robert Menzies “to get an affirmative vote from the Australian people on a referendum proposal is one of the labours of Hercules”. Out of 44 referendums held as of 2010, only 8 have been carried. Changing our constitution is a big deal. The model must be right. And, sadly, the marketing must be better. Not as a sales pitch, but as an
    explanation. The previous model was not clear.

  4. This country will go downhill if we lose the monarchy.

    Why? Do we really have so little faith in our own governing that we think the loss of a symbolic, inherited monarch will change the nature of Australia? I certainly hope not.

  5. It’s part of our history.

    Yes, it is. It will still be part of our history. A truly independent Australia will still have close ties with Britain, we will never forget the important role the Commonwealth has had in our history. Changing the future does not affect the past, you know, 'cos it’s in the past.

These are all arguments put forward during our wedding watching, they are arguments from smart and lovely people and I am not belittling them in any way. They are also arguments from people who have a very strong tie to our history and have every justification for that attachment. I just think they’re wrong. And I think we have to remember the fantastically broad variety of backgrounds that Australians now come from, not everyone still thinks of London as home.

Arguments in favour of a republic:

  1. The monarchy is not relevant to modern Australia.

    Sorry, but they’re not. See note above about our backgrounds. My 15 year old cousin who DOES have an English parent pointed out an older lady in startling yellow and asked who she was during the wedding coverage. You see where this is going? It was the queen. After I told her this, she asked what her name was. And you know what? Why should she know? I don’t know the names of any other country’s monarchy. The limited role the monarchy play here should be over. It many ways it already is.

  2. My children.

    No, I don’t have any, but when I do I want them to be able to aspire to be the head of state in their own country. Not just the political leader. But the figurehead, the person we believe exemplifies our values and can be a leader apart from other politicians.

  3. Secularity.

    Australia has a secular government. We are a nation of many faiths. Including the wishy washy agnostics which I call my people. So why do we have a family supposedly bestowed with the right to special treatment by one particular god held up above all others? I respect Christianity in its many forms but the church, any church, does not get to tell me who is my head of state.

  4. Respect.

    This one is pretty well up for debate but I feel that we will not be truly respected until we are independent, not just by default, but by design. The Australian people need to see themselves as an independent, grown up country that does not, and will not, except even the possibility of a family from another country interfering in our sovereign affairs. Yes, this is a symbolic difference for the most part. Humanity should know by know that symbols are important. Just ask the royal family.

I like the royal family for the same reasons I like books and movies, both fiction and non-fiction. I like stories, and they have some great stories filled with humour and tragedy and bravery. I’m also fascinated by celebrity, like a lot of people I like to see people with lives, clothes and friends I could never afford. None of those things is enough to tie the royal family to a country they no longer need play a role in.

I know why we like to believe that the royal family are a good thing, believing in these things is nice. But can’t we believe in something Australian? Justifying something as ‘traditional’ is just another way of saying ‘we’ve done this for so long that we don’t really remember why’.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

I'm interested in apathy

This tweet turned up on Thursday morning from Possum (@Pollytics), sparking a small rumble in the twittersphere. Not a huge one, considering it was a day where people were still commenting on the Chaser being refused access to the BBC Royal Wedding broadcast, (or were banned, or acquiesced, depending on you interpretation), and Obama releasing his birth certificate after several years of nonsensical whining from birthers and, lately, Donald Trump; one wonders how Glenn Beck feels about the fact that Trump appears to have been the one who finally pushed Obama to feed the trolls and release the full birth certificate).

But big splash or not, it got me thinking. This is the report (published today by the ANU here), and the key statistics that informed Possum's comments are below:

52.6% of people frequently or regularly feel that politics seems so complicated that they "can't really understand what it going on". If we include people who occasionally feel that way, that's 79.9%. But let's just concentrate on that 52.6%. That's just 0.1% less than the proportion of votes that won Rudd the 2007 Federal Election. In a country like America, where voter turnout is often around 60%, this would be worrying enough, but in a country where voting is compulsory, this is dire.

So, what's the problem? Well, as Possum implied with his #mediaFAIL hashtag - the media has a lot to answer for in this. When the extent of coverage for politics most days these past weeks consisted of coverage of what a celebrity horse owner thinks of the PM's common attire, an interpretation of Bowen's new temporary visa policy by both Fairfax and News Ltd that can only really be described as binary (Howard or non-Howard), the release of the HIP data from the CSIRO getting a cursory enough glance just to pull out the "oh shit, the government's burning down houses" line to continue the narrative (the data itself actually doesn't, but anyway - covered well here by Possum himself), ongoing Behrendt horse-tweet coverage (critiqued best by Tony Martin at Scrivener's Fancy), etc. etc. And so on, and so it goes, to quote my good friend Bob Ellis.

This "dumbing down" of political coverage and politics itself, or more to the point, only covering the simple politics, rather than the policy, would appear to be what Lindsay Tanner addresses in his book "Sideshow". Now, I haven't read it yet, so I'm not going to pull a Samantha Maiden (or 7:30) and verbal Tanner based on excerpts, or the words of others who have already read it (for the record, Grog's Gamut covers both of these very well), but it appears it's already ruffling feathers. Despite the fact that it would appear Tanner admits the complicity of politicians, and that he himself was guilty of following the headlines, Insiders (probably on iview about now) spent a lot of this morning suggesting Tanner would be best to point the finger back at himself, with the barest of acknowledgements of any flaws in press gallery coverage (oh, I'm pretty sure Gerard Henderson blamed a reasonable amount of it on left bias, but.. you know...).

I do look forward to reading Tanner's book in the next week or so.

But, I suppose, in the spirit of pointing the finger back on oneself, I have to ask, "are we the problem?" I don't mean the general public, I mean those of us who are actually incredibly interested in politics, policy and all. I love Annabel Crabb's pieces, for example, but there's no denying that she writes for us, the people who are knee deep in the political issues of the day like pigs in the proverbial shit - with a wry wink, a touch of humour and a polite distance; there's little attempt to clarify the policy (and we wouldn't expect there to be). On the polar opposite we have people like Steve Price, Alan Jones, Andrew Bolt et al who cover the superficial aspects of the politics of the day for the the emotions - and they capture the readers who most likely would fit into that 52.6% of people who frequently or regularly do not understand politics.

But for those of us who would slot into the "seldom" or even "never" column (I myself would never claim to be in the "never" spectrum - I'll research those things that aren't clear to me, but I'd never claim to completely understand every aspect of policy... if you do, I think either of the major parties would probably like to hear from you), does simply lamenting the lack of policy coverage while we enjoy the political argy-bargy (even enjoy whining about it) actually have any effect? I don't know. I don't want to go down the route of blaming twitter as a whole, it's a medium, and I have a deep-seated hatred of the juvenile attempts by organisations like News Ltd trying to tar and feather it (while simultaneously using it)... but it's hard not to wonder what the real contribution is as we makes jokes every monday night on #qanda, and lament the lack of debate as we simultaneously hyperbolise the responses of panelists.

I also won't agree with the "echo chamber" characterisation of twitter completely, as I've had some fantastic debates on it, and I think most of us often wait for an impassioned response to things we hay have tweeted, but there is an element of tweeting just to the political tragics. And, to borrow a tired cliche, if you're not part of the solution... well, you get my point. Where's the solution for that middle ground of people who don't understand policy, or aren't immediately interested in it?

From a media perspective, where's the middle ground between your Annabel Crabb, George Megalogenesis and Laurie Oakeses, and your Alan Jones, Steve Price and Andrew Bolts?

It's clear we need education, not just opinion, in political coverage if these figures are correct. This has to come from both the government (who manipulates the media) and the media (who should not cry manipulation whilst not doing their job).


It's sad that in a week when we were again debating asylum seeker detention and visas, and Bolt was suggesting that African migrants could not integrate, a piece covering figures from a largely unprecedented Department of Immigration report showing African refugees were the most likely to obtain a job, and that most refugees reduce their level of dependance on welfare over a period of five years, are settled in approximately two and can speak reasonable English in four, was published in the "Victoria" subsection of the Age's website, with no feature focus. Comparatively, the Melbourne Sudanese beauty pageant violence appeared in the top section headlines multiple times throughout the week - bouncing back to the top each time a small amount of additional information came forward.

Coverage like this is why long term newspaper subscribers (and tragics) like Malcolm Farnsworth (@mfarnsworth) are fleeing.



I was going to wax lyrical on the fact people are actually, believe it or not, crying foul at the anticipated cuts to middle class welfare in the upcoming budget, but then I realised I'd actually said everything I needed to say in my last post.


Anyway, this is something light hearted to take you through the rest of the weekend - Grand Spectacular's "Being a Dickhead's Cool":

It is pretty cool, I have to admit.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011