On Tuesday 4 February 2020 over 1,000 Australians marched around Parliament House to protest climate change in near-complete silence.
I have some bad news for those protesters: the politicians can’t hear you.
A condition of approval of this march was that the protesters leave behind their signs and refrain from chanting. Because God forbid the politicians hear the people.
Don’t feel bad though. Silent or not, they genuinely cannot hear you. Because the dark, undemocratic secret of New Parliament House is that the structure is virtually soundproof. Chant as loud as you want, bring megaphones and a thousand of your closest friends. They still won’t hear you.
At the height of the protests on February 4, as 1,000 people engaged in a call and response with their in- flamed speakers, the entry to parliament was silent. The coughing of the several dozen police and trick- ling of the fountain was more audible than the pro- testers chanting barely 100 metres away.
It is almost surreal how well the architecture dulls and removes the anger of the people from the air. If one could not see the pennants of protest flying, it would seem like any other day.
By comparison, the protesters’ calls ring clear all the way down at Old Parliament House. The echoes from the walls of that colonial mansion rang clear as a bell so that one could follow every word of the speakers and every call of the protesters from half a kilometre away.
Long gone are the days where Bob Hawke would hang out the windows of Old Parliament House wav- ing at the people. When the Prime Minister’s office was less than 100 metres from the protest lines, and politicians were forced to see the anger and com- plaints of the people going to and from work, whether they wanted to or not.
Today the Ministers’ offices are set near the dead centre of the vast complex. Well back from the roads, ensconced in their fortified hill, surrounded by offices of the unimportant staffers. Where no errant sound of discontent can possibly reach them.
Its four fortified entrances where MPs come and go from are likewise a no protest zone on the off chance they are forced to see something they don’t want to.
Tuesday 4 February 2020 marked the first protest to encircle Parliament House. And it was only approved on the condition that protesters carry no signs and refrain from chanting.
It’s no wonder people feel like the politicians aren’t listening anymore. Because they physically can’t. The next time ScoMo talks about the Canberra bubble, he might consider bothering to listen to the people, instead of walking away as soon as he has the chance.
Comments Off on A Story About Cricket and Climate Change
A few years ago, a number of Australian academics wanted to focus their expertise in media and communications studies on the issue of climate change and sports media. In an article for The Conversation, they stated their goal was “to try to move beyond needlessly partisan political debate by investigating the capacity of professional sport – arguably the most popular form of media on the planet – to communicate environmental issues and awareness.”
They were encouraged by many high-profile examples elsewhere such as the Olympics, and the simple fact that Australia is a sporting nation. Understandably, they saw great potential in using the huge platform that is our sports media as a way to help Australia in the face of serious ecological challenges.
It’s a simple idea, tapping into what’s popular to promote a message, but doing so can be highly effective. As such, it might not surprise you to learn that when these academics applied for government support through the Australian Research Council (ARC) grant process, their project was approved. Titled Greening Media Sport: The Communication of Environmental Issues and Sustainability in Professional Sport, their project was given $259,720 to cover the costs of research staff, and a green light to proceed.
For most researchers, winning an ARC grant is a big deal. For one, the process is gruelling and highly competitive, so it represents an achievement in its own right. Winning a grant also reflects well on a university, and by extension, its employees, so it can be a career booster too. As many academics will attest, however, it is often things beyond the prestige that matter most. Financial support is the lifeblood of research, and often the only way to pursue topics of interest and importance. With this project, the necessity and urgency of their work is difficult to understate. Unfortunately, though, not everyone saw it that way.
Having gone through the arduous approval process, won a grant, and now being on the cusp of beginning some sorely needed work, these academics eventually discovered that their project had been personally rejected by then Education Minister Simon Birmingham. It was among ten others that he had disapproved. Notably, these rejections were all focused on just one of the eight panels he oversaw: Humanities and Creative Arts. If new criteria were being attached to funding these projects, it was not communicated to applicants. Indeed, the entire process was opaque, and it took almost a year for applicants to even realise that they’d ultimately been rejected – a year many people spent wasting efforts on a doomed project.
In their public quest for answers from the Education Minister, it’s clear to see that these researchers care more about helping with climate change than they do about this project’s cancellation acting as speed bumps in their personal career trajectories. It’s equally clear to see that they are deeply concerned about the lack of transparency in this process. Birmingham’s decisions were made according to some unknown criteria, and his successor, Dan Tehan, declared that future projects would need to pass some kind of ‘national interest’ test.
This is standard right-wing theatre, folks: needlessly invoke nationalism, while simultaneously fanning the flames of culture war between ‘everyday’ Aussies on the ground and the detached intellectual elites up in their ivory towers. You can see it permeating Tehan’s idea about ‘national interest’ and the way he spoke about the rejections:
“The value of specific projects may be obvious to the academics who recommend which projects should receive funding but it is not always obvious to a non-academic.”
In other words, Tehan doesn’t think that these projects pass the ‘pub test’. It’s not really about the national interest though; it’s about ivory tower elites not ‘getting it’. Usually, in these narratives, the worst offenders are the same ones who were targeted here: academics in the arts and humanities. Despite its irrelevance, they’re invoking nationalism because that particular posture plays well with their political base, especially when they’re trying to play ‘ordinary Aussies’ against academics.
In reality, ARC applicant rates have sunk to historic lows of around 10 per cent. The process is becoming increasingly competitive. It’s difficult to see how a grant makes it through without somehow serving the national interest already. Looking at our sports media article, it seems to tick many boxes: national interest, industry partnerships, and sport.
Yet, here’s Simon Birmingham on Twitter defending his decisions: “I‘m pretty sure most Australian taxpayers preferred their funding to be used for research other than spending $223,000 on projects like ‘Post orientalist arts of the Strait of Gibraltar’.”
Again, the narrative that they’re trying to push here, as with Tehan, is that the research canned was esoteric academic bullshit that most people wouldn’t value, and they, as ordinary Aussies, can see past all of that. But of course, he reached for one of the more esoteric projects of the 11 that he canned. He cherry-picked, in other words. Remember, too, that this intervention was only in the arts and humanities discipline, the same area often attacked by right-wing critics as being out of touch with reality. Birmingham’s tweet with its selectively used data is a clumsily crafted lie, but to many casual or fleeting observers it is one that is convincing enough on the surface and that plays easily into well-established and well-accepted ‘us versus them’ narratives.
Imagine trying to write the same tweet, except this time it’s about having the odd climate change advertisement run between overs of a cricket game. It’s not a ridiculous concept, nor is it hard to understand. Worst of all, if it were done in the right way, it might even be accepted by their political base! Likely for these reasons, Birmingham never referred to this project, and it may be some time now before we ever see anything like it.
To me, that’s a great tragedy, and a missed opportunity of potentially gigantic proportions. Despite things like this happening all the time, it’s hard for us to notice these missed opportunities. By their very nature they are invisible. We can’t see the things that never happened. They only exist in hypotheticals now. But one key motivation in writing this was to lament what could have been.
CONTENT WARNING: New South Wales and Queensland Bushfires, Ableist Language
An open letter to Scott Morrison,
Climate change is bullshit. And not in the way that you want us to believe.
Climate change is unfair. It’s undemocratic. And despite the fact that 64 per cent of Australians believe that climate change is a critical threat demanding direct and immediate action, you do nothing. You and your mining cronies on Capitol Hill, your arsonist allies, still believe that you can get away with dismissing claims that climate change is a significant threat multiplier for the current bushfire crisis.
This makes me so angry.
Aside from being called an “inner-city raving lunatic” by Deputy Prime Minister Michael McCormack, I’m angry that there have been significant warnings about the danger of not addressing the seriousness of the extreme fire event. I’m angry that people on the ground, like the mayor of the recently eviscerated Glen Innes, are standing in ashes where their towns used to be, despite having issued warning after warning to the federal government.
I’m angry that, despite funding the Bushfire and Natural Hazards Research Centre, no advice or policy outcomes have followed their research. This is in itself a demonstration of gross negligence towards a population which you are supposedly sworn to protect.
I’m angry that the ones fighting the fires are predominately locals and volunteers. Your thoughts and prayers will never extinguish the fires. You have abandoned us, and left New South Wales and Queensland to fight for themselves.
New South Wales is now in a state of emergency. It’s mid-November, not December or January. There’s still snow on the bloody ski fields, mate! These fires are so catastrophic that they are creating their own storm systems. They are raining embers and shooting out lightning!
Mr. ScoMo, if you could take some time off from the sheer effort of thinking and praying, then I would ask that you please address this issue with all the might of our great nation. No more people need to die. Nationalise a professional and paid fire service, agree to continue funding for the Bushfire and Natural Hazards Research Centre, and declare a climate emergency.
I may be a ‘lunatic’ and ‘needlessly anxious’ (I’m not), but you’re unfit to lead this country if you continue to let people die because you’re too proud or too stupid to admit that you’re wrong. Prove me wrong, Mr Morrison.
Let’s get real about climate change – and not Scott Morrison real. Real as in better solutions to climate change than fruit picking. Real as in real accountability for those at risk of losing their livelihood, culture and country due to processes to which they contribute very little. Real as in prioritising the human life of our closest neighbours over the growth of the Australian economy.
Last week Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison joined leaders of the Pacific at the Pacific Islands Forum to talk all things Pacific. Meeting in Funafuti, the capital of Tuvalu, the leaders’ retreat showcased all the good parts of Pacific hospitality: food, song and dance. The purpose being, “to show the world what would be lost, apart from land, if Tuvalu were to disappear”.
This was entirely lost on Morrison, who made himself very unpopular by taking a hard stance on climate change. Or rather, a hard stance on the role of coal and its place on the table. Morrison ensured Australia’s official communiqué watered down commitments to respond to the climate emergency pressed by the others. Morrison’s stance on red-lining some of the language around commitments to coal, limiting warming to under 1.5 degrees Celsius and setting a plan for zero-net emissions by 2050 caused a fierce 12-hour debate which almost broke down twice.
Now you can probably tell by my language so far that I’m not thrilled by the efforts of Mr Morrison. In fact, I’m pretty bloody disappointed. Not only is this bad for our relationship with the Pacific, it’s bad for the people who live there. Not to mention, it demonstrates to the rest of the world how clearly inept we are at any form of regional leadership. The Prime Minister of Tuvalu, Enele Sopoaga, summarised this sentiment perfectly, stating, “You are trying to save your economy, I am trying to save my people.”
The Prime Minister of Fiji, Frank Bainimarama, was so disappointed with Morrison’s performance that despite being a “Wallabies fan from a long way back”, he announced that he would be cheering on the All Blacks in the 2019 Bledisloe Cup.
What is more concerning than the Bledisloe affiliations is the message this sends to the rest of the word – namely, China. Before the forum, Australia promised $500 million in aid to the Pacific for the sole purpose of tackling climate change. It is important to note that this was redirected from existing programs and is not new money. However, it was intended to demonstrate a continued effort showing that Australia is on side.
Morrison dislodged this dialogue in one foul swoop.
Data sourced by the Lowy Institute’s Chinese Aid in the Pacific shows that an increasing aid budget of $2.5 billion across 218 projects is being funnelled into the Pacific by China. Projects like the Navua Hospital in Fiji have been welcomed with open arms, which cannot be said for our leader.
“China never insults the Pacific. You say it as if there’s a competition between Australia and China. There’s no competition, except to say the Chinese don’t insult us … They’re good people, definitely better than Morrison, I can tell you that.”
– Quote from Fijian Prime Minister Frank Bainimaram.
According to another Lowy study, at this point in time 10 per cent of Australians say, “until we are sure that global warming is really a problem, we should not take any steps that would have economic costs.” Either Mr Morrison is blinded by the surging current of political donations that are given by the Rineharts of Australia, or he’s just straight-up ignorant. And in a situation as critical as climate change, the latter is incredibly dangerous.
Not only does the communiqué pushed by our leader not represent the opinion of the Australian population – 62 per cent of whom believe that climate change is the top ranked threat Australia faces today – but it fundamentally impeaches on the lives of those most vulnerable to the effects of our own greenhouse gas emissions.
In case the importance of all of this hasn’t landed, here it is. Our ScoMo has severely damaged our relationship with our closest neighbours who will now increasingly be looking towards China for support, a situation which could be problematic for Australian security. He is representing a position of blind and wilful incompetence with which only 10 per cent of Australians align. Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, he has insulted and compromised our friendship with the nations of the Pacific – nations who shouldn’t have to mop up our mess.
Photo credit: The Guardian (top and bottom), AAP (middle)
Comments Off on What Morrison’s Tax Reforms Mean for Australian Families
Australians will see the first of several tax reforms from the Morrison Government in this year’s tax return. The latest election has led Prime Minister Scott Morrison to claim a political ‘mandate’ to pass some of the largest tax cuts in a generation. But will the average Australian family benefit, or is this just another political promise with little real advantage for Australian households?
The answer is both yes and no. While all Australians would hypothetically financially benefit from these tax reforms, the reforms also bring along budgetary disadvantages. This means that the negative impacts of the reforms on government services will outweigh the financial benefits for numerous Australian families.
To summarise the tax reforms, they will take the shape of three separate policies, labelled tranches. The first tranche will be implemented in the 2018-2019 financial year, and lifts the low- and middle-income tax offset to include levels of income up to $126,000. The maximum amount of the offset will be lifted from $530 to $1080. Importantly for lower income earners, the base amount of the tax offset will be increased from $200 to $255. The second tranche will be implemented from the 2022-2023 financial year, and lifts the 19% and 32.5% tax bracket. The third tranche will be implemented in the 2024-2025 financial year, and will lower the 32.5% tax bracket to 30%. This tranche will also extend the bracket to cover what used to be the 37% tax bracket. Additionally, it will push the minimum income for the highest tax bracket of 45% from $180,000 to $200,0000. These reforms can be seen as a move towards a flatter, rather than more progressive, tax system.
The most significant aspects of these reforms for families are their implementation schedules and their impacts on essential services. Low- and middle-income individuals will experience the fastest change as they receive tax offsets this year. However, the second and third tranche, primarily regarding middle- and high-income individuals, carry a start date of at least 2022. For Australian families this three-year delay could see multiple movements between tax brackets as their fortunes change. It undermines the ability of families to adequately prepare and form economic expectations.
Perhaps the most important aspect of these policies is their estimated cost to the government of at least $158 billion over the next decade in foregone tax revenue. If the reforms are fully implemented the government may find that they have to pull the purse a little tighter. Programs like Medicare, Centrelink, and the NDIS that underpin the health and prosperity of families, especially lower income families, may find themselves the victim of smaller government budgets. It is unlikely that the money these households save from the tax offsets or lower rates will be able to cover the services provided by these programs.
An often-overlooked segment of society that will not see any benefit are families with members working in Australia’s black economy. Frequently a source of employment for disadvantaged and underprivileged Australians and non-naturalised immigrants, the nature of their work precludes them from reaping any of the rewards of the new system. Due to the reform’s impact on government services, these members of society and their families may find themselves the victims of reduced government services without tax offsets or lower marginal tax rates.
An aim of Morrison’s tax reforms is the intention to put more money into the pockets of Australian families. However, the small financial gains Australian families will make are outweighed by the subsequent cuts to essential government services. Nowhere will these cuts be felt worse than by lower-income families and members of Australia’s black economy.
Comments Off on The Mediterranean Crisis: Whose Cross is it To Bear?
On the 6 May 2019, power was cut to one of Rome’s state-owned apartment precincts, leaving the 430 occupants without lighting, refrigeration or hot water for almost two weeks. The power outage came in the wake of a collective €300,000 electricity bill that the tenants, predominantly consisting of migrant families, had been unable to pay. In response to this, Pope Francis sent Cardinal Konrad Krajewski to visit the apartment block to offer food, medical and humanitarian assistance to the struggling families living in the dark. What the residents were probably not expecting was for the Cardinal himself to climb down the building’s manhole and reconnect the power to the main line. When asked who would pay the bill, he responded with “I’ll pay it, no problem.” The cardinal’s compassionate yet seemingly political act drew the attention of Italy’s deputy prime-minister and leader of the right-wing Lega Nord Party, Matteo Salvini. In a Twitter post, Salvini blasted the Cardinal’s action as “illegal,” and asked when he would start “helping the Italians who respect the law.”
Krajewski and Salvini’s spat echoed the rising tensions between Italy’s populist government’s response to European migration and that of the Catholic Church’s. The Mediterranean Immigration Crisis, which has been exacerbated since 2009 by the lack of a globalised response and ineffective UN Peace-Keeping missions, was at the apex of the 2018 national Italian elections. Italy has taken the brunt of crisis, having received over 650,000 illegally arrived refugees from Africa and the Middle East since 2014. Cripplingly high levels of unemployment coupled with growing fears against foreign communities has provided right-wing parties with the perfect opportunity to elicit support from Italian nationals. A joint parliament was formed on 1 June 2018 between Salvini’s Lega Nord and the anti-establishment Movimento Cinque Stelle two months after the general election was held.
An interesting aspect of Salvini’s campaign in particular was his continual referral to migrants as “profughi” which translates more closely to “boat people” than to “migrants.” While both terms can be interchangeable in this situation, “profughi” carries with it a certain racist connotation, which Salvini subtly exploited to further his anti-foreign rhetoric. Even major news outlets began to adopt this mannerism as Salvini used it
It has been little over a year since Salvini’s ascension to parliament, and he has already vowed to instigate a variety of counter-measures to reduce the number of migrants entering Italy’s southern borders. The most contentious of these measures was his ban on EU and NATO-sponsored naval ships having undertaken search-and-rescue missions in the Mediterranean from docking in Italian ports. The parliament’s decision left two rescue ships carrying a combined 340 migrants stranded at sea for almost a week before they were allowed to dock in neighbouring countries.
However, Salvini didn’t wait for the end of the election to pick a fight with the Vatican. Throughout his campaign, he directly appealed to Italy’s Catholic majority by envisioning himself as ‘chosen’ to lead Italy’s parliament. He has kissed rosary beads, invoked the names of patron Saints and prayed live on national T.V. during press conferences. He has no theological diction, nor self-dedication to religion. However, his reliance on vulnerable traditional Catholics scared by Pope Francis’ liberal approach to doctrine has glorified his façade of a religious leader. Given the rigorous anti-immigration sentiment he has adopted, it’s no surprise that the Vatican has rebuked Salvini for his appropriation of Christian symbols. Secretary of State Cardinal Pietro Parolin condemned Salvini’s actions, calling it ‘dangerous’ to invoke religion for his own political gain.
Contrary to Salvini, the unreserved welcoming of migrants has been a central and reccurring theme of Pope Francis’ pontificate. He has provided over USD $500,000 to construct housing for migrants on the Mexico-US border, and has strongly advocated for more lenient border laws in countries on the forefront of the people movement. He has also played a prominent role in the Mediterranean crisis. Following a shipwreck that killed over 360 African migrants off the Italian Coast, the Pope has continuously begged European governments to provide incoming migrants with a ‘dignified welcome.’
The theme for the 2019 World Day of Migrants and Refugees was recently released at the end of May by the Pope as Non si tratta solo di migranti – It is not just about migrants. The day aims to shift the focus from the victimisation of migrants onto ourselves. More specifically, the Pope drags into the spotlight the temptations of developed nations to foster an increasingly visible trend of individualism to demonise migration. It is a subtle yet direct strike against the rise of anti-immigration parties in Europe, such as that of Italy’s new government.
It is difficult to guess the extent to which Salvini and the Church’s feud will fester. On a global scale, the Church’s influence in the political sphere is deteriorating, and the allure of right-wing populism is on the rise. Despite what these governments try to propagate, migratory movements in the 21st century should not be symbolised as a new phenomenon. Since the beginning of mankind, migration has sown the seeds for the creation and integration of new communities and cultures in all corners of the world. It is when these fluxes are forced that a collective international acknowledgment is required. The Mediterranean Crisis and the unprecedented number of refugees in the hands of human traffickers reflect the failure of this response.
CONTENT WARNING: War
The prospect of another three years under a Liberal government, headed by a coal-loving Christian fundamentalist who wears photoshopped sneakers, is frankly alarming. How we respond to Scott Morrison’s attacks on refugees, workers, and the environment is an open question: the ball is in our court. The situation is set to get worse for the majority of the world’s population. Whether it be the rise of far-right formations on every continent, the protracted imperial conflicts in the Middle East, or widening levels of inequality, the global poor and oppressed face a worsening situation year after year. For anyone who is serious about fundamentally challenging the system that produces all these horrors, the key question is one of strategy.
In the wake of the election, the mainstream media were quick to denounce the strategy of protesting. The Age published an article titled “I Doubt I’ll Bother Attending Another Climate Rally,” which blamed disruptive rallies for alienating bystanders. A cursory search of the Internet reveals a litany of op-eds lamenting the uselessness of mass demonstrations.
Contrary to the conjectures of cynics at Fairfax, the humble protest has been the motor force for change in society. Basic democratic rights such as the extension of the franchise to working men, and later to women, had to be fought for by the Chartist and Suffrage Movements. They achieved this through organising mass protests that drew crowds of tens of thousands.
The historic “I Have A Dream” speech, delivered by Martin Luther King Junior on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, drew its power from the 250,000 people who marched alongside King. In 1964, after many decades and many protests, the civil rights movement saw its primary goal of ending racial discrimination enshrined in legislation.
The US and Australian governments were forced to withdraw troops from Vietnam after sustained rallies across both nations. This made it untenable to continue the war. Lyndon Johnson, the US president, was dogged by lively protests at every public appearance he made until he stopped appearing in public and withdrew his candidacy for the presidency.
Some commentators bemoan the era of social media, claiming that it has made it impossible to mobilise young people. But the climate strike earlier this year, which saw 150,000 Australians take to the streets, shows that mass demonstrations have not been cast into the dustbin of history.
Mass protests have won significant gains for the oppressed around the world. But critics of the strategy point out that most of the time, the government does not concede to the demands of protestors. The Marxist art critic John Berger explains that “theoretically, demonstrations are meant to reveal the strength of popular opinion or feeling: theoretically, they are an appeal to the democratic conscience of the State. But this presupposes a conscience which is very unlikely to exist.”
Berger also points out that there is more to a protest than its demands. Even demonstrations that do not immediately achieve their stated aims can have a transformative effect on the participants. Berger observes that for participants in a mass demonstration, “the numbers cease to be numbers and become the evidence of their senses, the conclusions of their imagination. The larger the demonstration, the more powerful and immediate a metaphor it becomes for their total collective strength.” When 4,000 people crammed into Garema Place for the student climate strike, the feeling of confidence was palpable. Imagine what it was like when 250,000 rallied for civil rights.
Protests that inspire confidence are the building blocks for social movements, because they attract layers of people who want to actively – rather than passively – support a campaign. In his speech at the Anti-Inauguration, Anand Gopal observed that “a single protest has never changed anything, but the social movements that link protest, that is the lifeblood of resistance.”
If there was ever a time to build a social movement, it’s now. The threat of climate change cannot be exaggerated: it is existential. Greta Thunberg, the Swedish climate striker, told world leaders to “act as you would in a crisis. I want you to act as if our house is on fire. Because it is.” Since we cannot rely on politicians, the responsibility to address the climate crisis falls to the public.
Fortunately, we don’t have to build a response to climate change from scratch. That work has already been done by generations of committed scientists, journalists, and activists. The majority of Australians already oppose the Adani coal mine, and an even greater number support a transition to renewables.
When millions of people fight together against oppression and exploitation, they show the possibility of living in a better society than a capitalist one. Socialism seems like a distant prospect under neoliberalism, where people are encouraged to feel alienated and atomised. Mass protests cut against the feeling of isolation, and demonstrate the possibility of creating a more just and democratic society based on cooperation instead of competition.
If we want to stop irreversible environmental damage to the earth, we need to build a sustained mass movement. Even the most inspiring mass movements have humble origins, prompting a nod to Paul Kelly’s iconic lyrics, “from little things, big things grow.”
Nick Carlton is a member of Socialist Alternative.
Comments Off on The Fascist Dimensions of ‘Tom Clancy’s The Division’
No one plays looter shooters for the story, and ‘The Division’ – whose sequel was released recently to critical acclaim – is no different. But maybe we should be turning a more critical eye to the stories we’re invited to live out.
Here’s the concerned mothers’ summary: in ‘The Division’, players assume the role of the eponymous Strategic Homeland Division Agents in a crisis-stricken America, equipped with advanced technology and high-powered weaponry and tasked with rebuilding society. In the mainstream player-versus-environment sections you spend most of your time shooting the undesirables, upgrading your base of operations, and gaining newer and better gear.
It’s the last line of defence – the unimaginable has happened, and all that remains are those select few of us who can be there to save us from it. Society can no longer turn to above, so it turns to within. “We are your co-workers. We are your neighbours. We might even be – your friends”, declares the opening cutscene. It’s the preparation for the worst despite the prayers for the best. It’s a fascist fantasy.
Fascism, as Wikipedia provides, is characterised by ultranationalism, concentrated power, the suppression of opposition, and rigid control of society. The ABC states that fascists “embrace hierarchies within nations” and the notion that all life is struggle, typically between binary classes. The power fantasy of ‘The Division’ sits comfortably with all of these notions.
The futuristic gadgets used by Agents come with an intended use, functioning within gameplay and canonically in efficient adherence to design. They are loaded with the normative supposition that they must work a certain way, against certain types of people. The technology is visually distinctive, bringing the flat orange motif of the player’s user interface into the game world. Bestowed to Division Agents exclusively, they separate the players from an otherwise recognisable setting sans post-apocalypse, including friendly non-playable grunt soldiers. Rather than the civilian militia that Machiavelli envisioned in The Art of War, which would draw its armed power horizontally to stave off undue State pressure (itself a notion with significant issues), we draw on what are effectively our superpowers vertically, from a source that is asocial to the common. We get the sense that we have been selected for a higher purpose.
The America that anointed us is not the mundane bureaucratic government that turns around every four years. This is closed rooms sealed by voice-recognition doors, the stuff of conspiracy theories that will never be taken seriously. We’re like the Constitution – all the self-righteousness, but now we have our own distinct will to power and the guns to exercise it. No one but us and the structure we’re a part of has a claim to what we are or what we stand for. The Division initiative goes deeper than the State that is publicly accountable and malleable. Its mindset draws on a core that is national and also nationalistic – designed to last unchanged and unfettered for a thousand years and more.
In Foucault’s imagining of the panopticon, the repressive state has given way to the surveillance state. A prisoner visible from a central watchtower at all times, you are never sure if you are watched, only that at all times you might be watched. The American State of ‘The Division’ is not only prepared to turn our neighbours into spies who have the training and extra-legal capacity to kill dissidents with impunity, it has done exactly that.
In the crisis state, not only rebellion, but anything that might resemble rebellion, becomes forbidden – and this encompasses actions and thoughts far greater than mere anarchism. The Division sees in binaries – there are refugees and escaped prisoners, Agents and Rogue Agents, friendlies and enemies. A vast heterogony of others and near-others becomes only hostile. In staying away from the boundary so that we remain on the right side of this strict dichotomy, even mere thoughts of anything beyond the status quo become useless. We cannot think of anything better than what we have, only things better from what we have.
Maybe it’s ridiculous to ask for something not tainted by some latent celebration of fascism from anything stamped with Tom Clancy’s name. And we can only expect so much from a videogame that wants both a simple split between good guys and bad guys to achieve its gameplay loop and to take place in a recognisable setting. But part of why it’s so ahem problematic is because of Ubisoft’s window dressing. We’re dropped into a supposedly liberal-progressive context with a diverse cast of characters including women, queer people, people of colour, and people with disabilities. Toxicity, while it exists, is external to the main and intended design of the game. We are told to relax – that this, even at least placidly, speaks to our values. But the game’s logic remains steeped in particularly fascist tendencies.
I mean, I’ll probably still play ‘The Division 2’ for like 40 hours after I’m done with exams.
Once upon a time, Australia used to go to the ballot box and vote for a party, a team to become the federal government… unfortunately, the last time that happened was literally when I was five.
I have absolutely no recollection of Australians voting for a government and then having that same, or substantially similar, government makeup when they next went to the ballot box three years later.
The election has now been called, and truthfully, I have no faith that a re-elected Morrison Government will still have ScoMo at the helm in three years.
In the last decade, we have had five different prime ministers: Rudd, Gillard, (Rudd again briefly), Abbott, Turnbull, and finally, Scott Morrison. It may be fun to watch the unscheduled media circus every time there is a leadership challenge but is variety what we really want for the nation’s top job?
“…it should not be an idyllic dream to hope that the government at the beginning of their term actually resembles the government which seeks re-election.”
When Kevin ’07 was elected we we thought he would be in it for the long-haul. Tony Abbott promised stability following the Labor Party’s woes, but then the sad opinion polls saw him out too. On and on it goes, until we reach today – over a decade of party infighting, opinion polls determining the end of politicians’ careers. One of the biggest ironies is that the minority government, led by the first usurper Julia Gillard, was marked by more stability and passed more new laws than any of the coalition governments since.
Now I do not like gambling, but I’m going to take a guess and say that the Coalition will lose the election. At least part of the reason is that nobody actually knows who is part of the Coalition.
Naming government ministers has become like one of those niche Buzzfeed quizzes which test your intellect. Personally, I will be impressed if you can name just four government frontbenchers.
Scott Morrison bus-ted?
For a PM who is supposed to specialise in marketing and slogans, he has failed to build brand recognition around his government. Sure, he might have created his own persona as a ‘fair dinkum’ bloke travelling the country in his bus, but he hasn’t done the same sell-job with his party.
With many of the old guard, retiring and the party still unable to acknowledge that there are not very many female representatives, the only thing they’re trying to sell me is the budget (because that’s supposed to make me excited…). I know barely any of this government’s policies and don’t know if they’ve changed since old Malcolm was top-dog. All I get from the media is that it is a new face but the same product, and the government has done nothing to prove that wrong.
Maybe I’m being unfair: there are so many members of Parliament and there is no way we can know them all. But with so many leadership challenges, and with so many ministers retiring from the Liberal Party, I have no idea what the next three years will look like if people decide to vote blue.
“It may be fun to watch the unscheduled media circus every time there is a leadership challenge but is variety what we really want for the nation’s top job?”
In comparison, Labor at the moment may not be wholly stable, but at least I can name a few likely frontbenchers and have a basic knowledge of their voting records. More than anything, they’ve made a point of letting the media and voters know that they have learnt the lesson from the last time and will not be doing the same again. And they’ve been kind of orderly during their time in opposition.
The ‘broad-church’ of the Liberal party has cracks in the building and a dwindling congregation. The Nationals are playing personality politics between the biggest male egos. It is going to take some real effort to make me believe that they can all play nice.
Everyone has different things to think about when heading out for their May 18 democracy sausage, but one team certainly hasn’t assured me that they won’t fall apart halfway through the game.
The Coalition government, the Labor party and the media make a big deal of the fact that there is a lot of infighting up on Capital Hill. Perhaps this is coming to be what we expect from Australian politics. But if this is the new norm, should we really just accept it? I think not. This is the election to make it clear that factional disputes should not determine who is the Prime Minister.
And really, it should not be an idyllic dream to hope that the government at the beginning of their term actually resembles the government which seeks re-election.
Ben Lawrence is the the Deputy Editor-in-Chief of Woroni. The opinions in this piece are his alone and are not representative of Woroni. If you would like to submit an article on the election, please email a pitch outlining your idea to firstname.lastname@example.org.
No matter your political persuasion, it is important that you have your voice heard. Make sure you are enrolled to vote and that your details are up to date on the AEC website.
Ben Lawrence discusses how ‘ScoMo’ has failed to build brand recognition around his government.
Comments Off on Finally in Canberra… there’s an election coming
There have been a number of moments this year where the best response to politics has seemed to be a retreat to a remote cabin in the outer reaches of Adaminaby. High and cool alpine air seems like the perfect antidote to the regular bouts of stupidity seen in hemmed-in Canberra.
But that’s a cop out.
A lot of political decision making is done by people for whom the decisions are largely inconsequential. If you had the pleasure of listening to Senator the Hon Matt Canavan on one of 54 affiliate talk back radio stations across the country last Wednesday evening, you would have heard the Minister for Resources explain away this bother about climate change.
Coal being our biggest export, he said, renewables aren’t the answer to getting down household electricity bills. So onwards and upwards for coal and boo to renewables. At least, that’s the gist.
But Canavan doesn’t have to live very long with the consequences. Youth engagement is key on climate change. The recent and alarming IPCC report on climate change charts a clear path for our lifetimes.
Consider as well the question of whether we should raise the Newstart allowance. Those who get to lock in the answer aren’t affected. Sure, they might know someone, perhaps even a close family member, who relies on a welfare payment, but they aren’t deciding whether they will be able to find accommodation themselves.
This process of decision making without consequences has been a theme I’ve returned to in this column all year. Climate change, drugs, government led by Newspoll and so on – all areas where decisions on the fly, policy on the run and politics by polling numbers dominate.
Can politicians, who are afforded a privileged position in society in order to be politicians, make empathetic decisions in policy when it will have the greatest impact on people whose experience is so far removed from theirs in this supposedly egalitarian country?
Yes, they can. But it certainly helps when voters reward that kind of behaviour. An election next year gives you a chance to show that’s what you’d like to see more of.
A new book featuring some ANU heavyweights – Professor Frank Bongiorno, Professor John Uhr and Dr Jill Sheppard, among others – argues that elections are key moments in our political history and really do offer voters a way to meaningfully engage with politics and influence governments.
The book is called, perhaps unsurprisingly, Elections Matter and is edited by Benjamin T. Jones, Bongiorno and Uhr. As Jones notes in his introduction, the book intentionally leaves out the Gough Whitlam’s 1972 “It’s time” election and other so-called landmark elections. “[E]lections can be important even when they seem relatively banal or routine,” Jones writes.
Speaking in his Coombs Building office last week after this columnist managed to locate it, Jones said that while Australians feel disempowered by their democracy, they are actually “extraordinarily” empowered. He also had a couple of pointers for political journalists.
“[Fewer] predictions would be good,” he said. “Political journalists love having a punt. If it doesn’t happen it’s forgotten. But if it does, they pull out their article and say what a great political Nostradamus they are.”
Instead, there’s a lot to be gained from history. On the question of whether the internet and the 24-news cycle disruptor tornado has had a sizeable effect on the way politics is done here, Jones said it would be “great to wait nine years to answer that question.” If only there was such a period to cobble together this final column.
But Jones does identify the “new normal”: short term governments and a lot of quick change over. “The old normal would presume that an incoming federal government will set the agenda for a decade or more. … The most pronounced feature of the new normal is the apparent ease with which a prime minister can be replaced,” he writes.
Is there any guidance the book, which is published at the end of the month by Monash University Publishing, offers us going forward into next year? Can we reach into the past for answers? There are few hard and fast rules in politics among a smattering of constantly reworked precedents, but an election will always count.
Luckily, we won’t have to wait nine years to answer the question of what happens when we do get to vote. Will the opposition leader, Bill Shorten, storm the Lodge with his apparent golden ticket? Or will Scott Morrison spin a masterful tale to win an election in his own right?
It’s been a bizarre year. Or in other words, we’ve had a year of politics. Another leadership spill. Oodles of nonsense produced by spin operatives on both sides. Close attention to the sex lives of politicians and their citizenship statuses. The very live prospect of a Peter Dutton prime ministership. And, as ever, a trip further along the road to oblivion on climate change.
There’s no need to suffer death by a thousand sound grabs, though. Retreat to the Adaminaby of your mind occasionally, but keep at it. Somewhere amongst all this noise there is something worth latching onto – and voting for, whatever side you come down on.
…and lastly, a coda
Chances are you’re holding the last Woroni newspaper in your hands. Perhaps use it to line a drawer as a memento.
It was killed off last week in a Special General Meeting, with only two votes to retain it (one of them was mine). There’s a good chance next year that you’ll be reading some other undergraduate bang on about politics in a glossy magazine. It certainly won’t be me.
I’m sad to see the newspaper go. Front pages still have impact and there remains a strong appetite for the printed word. It’s certainly possible to cover the news in the brave new digital world, but there is something symbolic about a newspaper that Woroni will lose.
Woroni could be – and ought to be – Australia’s most prominent student newspaper. Fiercely independent, not beholden to a hostile student union and with access to a healthy budget, it could be strident and campaigning, with a real chance to hold power to account. It could put its money where its mouth is and make a difference with its journalism.
Transforming into a magazine strikes at the heart of that. A magazine, if it’s any good, is a different creature that calls for a different kind of writing, a different view of the world.
So when student journalism matters more than ever and when professional media have fewer resources to cover the affairs of universities, the degradation of another campus newspaper into a less frequent publication is a poignant occasion.
No need to dwell. We must move on. It’s been a pleasure, but after one last press run, my time here has come to a close.
Jasper Lindell is a former news editor and Woroni’s political columnist.