Knights and flags and anthems and Taylor Swift on the radio. Happy Australia Day!

Australia Day Sketch - Edited

Seriously, Happy fuckin’ Australia Day. That weird holiday when people across the country are able to cover themselves in the Jack and Cross (a slang term for the Australian flag I just invented at this moment) without automatically being judged as racist bogans, parading how fair dinkum Aussie they are in a bizarre parody of national pride ripped heavily from July 4th episodes of American television.  Ozzie! Ozzie! Ozzie! and all that. I’d sooner deck myself in the green and gold, but that’s me.

The lead-up’s been a particularly strange one this year. It’s always a bit of a political wank, as both sides of whatever line you happen to be watching cloak their own ideas of “what it means to be Australian” (or some such crap) within the language of patriotism and nationalism. There were the usual articles about how for the Indigenous community Australia Day, the anniversary of the convicts being disembarked from the First Fleet (and, in the mature-rated history books, the crazy, drunken orgy that followed), is also the anniversary of the beginning of the bloody White European conquest of the continent. Some better (passionate arguments made quite reasonably, by members of the Indigenous community and supporters with proven records fighting for aboriginal rights, for a less culturally insensitive date), some worse (social media hipster liberals ’embarrassed’ by displays of national affection on a culturally insensitive date). But a lot of the air time seems to have been taken up by other controversies (loosely using the word here) this year.

Opposition Leader Bill Shorten raised the old Republican debate in an Australia Day eve speech, reckoning that it’s about time we thought about cutting ties with the English Royal Family and figuring things out for ourselves. This is at odds with Prime Minister Tony Abbott’s reintroduction of rewarding people the government likes with knight and damehoods. One winner was (now) Sir Angus Houston, former Air Chief Marshall of the RAAF and Chief of the ADF, recently in charge of the search for MH370 (by all accounts a top bloke deserving of the right to put ‘Sir’ in front of his name). Another winner? Prince Philip. I shit you not, Prince Philip, the goddamn Duke of Edinburgh is now a Knight of the Order of Australia. ‘Cause he served in the Royal Navy and is the titular Duke of Edinburgh of the Duke of Edinburgh Award. I’m not saying he doesn’t deserve to be a Knight of the Order of Australia, it just seems like pretty small change compared to some of his other titles. Given His Lordship’s (or is it His Majesty’s? Royal Highness’?) sense of humour, I’d like to know what his reaction was when he was informed. Apparently it hasn’t gone down well with Mr Abbott’s own government who, aside from not all sharing his monarchist leanings, are upset that he’s disregarded his own word to use the honour to award prominent Australians (rather than foreign royals).

At the same time, the old argument about the need to change the flag to one that doesn’t give prime position to that of a foreign country did the rounds (as it always does this time of year). While I’m partial to switching to some version of the Eureka Flag, a pattern with some real history and meaning beyond ‘won a magazine competition about a century ago,’ but I don’t expect we’ll see a change any time soon. Unless the Kiwis change there’s first. Fun stuff.

Then of course there was the joy that came from a proposal by the National Australia Day Council encouraging all Aussies to get up at noon (Eastern Daylight Savings Time I’m assuming) and sing the two official verses of the national anthem. Personally, I wanted to kick the shins of whoever came up with that jingoistic tripe. Not only do Australians have a long, storied history of disrespect, flippancy and irreverence for such displays (the ANZACs of the First World War, for example, had a reputation for refusing to salute no matter how hard their British officers tried), but we had to endure the long-winded complaints by pseudo-intellectual lefties like myself telling people exactly why it was such an un-Australian suggestion. We needn’t have bothered worrying. Nobody gave a shit, and nobody sang the anthem.

But the real controversy, the real issue that rocked the nation, was Taylor Swift’s inclusion then exclusion from Triple J’s Hottest 100 list. The Hottest 100 is an annual cultural phenomenon in Australia, receiving millions of votes and listened to at any party, pub or gathering worth a damn. Run by the major public youth broadcaster, it tends to act as a cultural litmus test of what is relevant that extends across genres, leaping from punk and heavy metal to dance and hip hop. Given that the Js are listened to by the kind of folk who eschew commercial radio for being too commercial (and are unable to recognise a tautology when they say one) there was plenty of anguish over a campaign started on Buzzfeed to get Shake it Off by Swift onto the list. Seriously, people were not fuckin’ happy, which only fuelled the anti-hipster fires. Triple J remained relatively mum over the issue, finally announcing before the broadcast that she had been disqualified because of the Buzzfeed campaign (and a social media bandwagon jump by KFC). And again, people were not fuckin’ happy. It was probably the right decision by Triple J, who couldn’t let the lovers and haters get away with “troll[ing] the polls” lest it set a precedent. I don’t imagine Swift is shedding any tears over her disqualification, she certainly doesn’t need the press like so many of the other artists on the Hottest 100 list, and it really was an act of trolling. Still, while I wouldn’t call myself a fan of Tay Tay I don’t hate her, and it would have been a bit of a laugh if she managed to win. It certainly wouldn’t have been as bad as last year when Royals by Lorde was beaten for the top spot by Riptide by Vance Joy. Lorde was bloody robbed.

Christ, are other countries’ national days like this?

G20 Protests: The Good, the Bad and the Useless

The G20 summit has begun in Brisbane this week, a gathering of the world leaders from the top 20 economies. Funnily enough most of them were already in the neighbourhood attending an APEC summit, where some pretty important shit was decided (though just how decided is arguable). Hopefully it’ll turn into an interesting meeting, despite Tony Abbot and Joe Hockey’s endless intoning about how this’ll be all about something as vaguely pedestrian as jobs and growth. There’s already a bit of spice about with the PM’s embarrassment about being the only leader who doesn’t want to mention climate change, and a bit of military showboating with RAN frigates and a surveillance plane keeping an eye on four Russian warships steaming south towards international waters just outside our EEC. Good stuff.

Security’s a bit ridiculous, with bans on bows (of all types) and easily throwable objects like tin cans and eggs in the secure zone that covers most of the Brisbane CBD. There’s been a bit of grumbling and satire about the inability to boil an egg in the city at the moment, though nothing close to the level of the Chaser’s visit to APEC way back when. But there can be no collection of powerful men (and a few powerful women) without some protests, and distaste for the current political status quo and a desire to make that distaste known will find a way!

Free-Tibet supporters floated large black balloons with a banner asking the G20 to unite in forcing China to free Tibet, raising a few questions: 1. Do they realise that China is a G20 nation; 2. Do they really think anyone in the G20 still gives a damn enough about Tibet to ruin their attempts at becoming ascendant China’s best mate; and 3. How long before the One China folk turn up to chase them off?

A few people from Oxfam dressed up in life guard outfits and the comically oversized heads of a few of the leaders (including Merkel, Abbot, Obama and Modi) in order to warn against ‘inequality rising.’ Not exactly as dramatic as black balloons carrying a banner, but it’s pleasant, light-hearted and attracted a lot of people to take photos, and I’ve got a lotta respect for people willing to wear giant heads for hours at a time in a Brisbane heatwave for a good cause.

Far more serious is the protest about indigenous deaths in custody, which I assume is attempting to embarrass the government in front of the rest of the world. It’s a cause I most definitely support, but can’t help but wonder if this is the best audience for the protests. I can’t help but imagine that there’s not going to be a whole lot of coverage of an Australian death in custody protest, and that the gathered leadership is pretty good at tuning out name-calling like “Genocidal 20.”

Perhaps my favourite so far, and the one that seems most… appropriate? let’s say appropriate. The one that seems the most appropriate so far was on Bondi Beach, where hundreds of protesters buried their heads in the sand, symbolic of the Abbot government’s continued wilful ignorance and refusal to acknowledge climate change. I like this one. It uses an internationally recognisable location, makes it’s point cleverly but not obliquely and doesn’t accuse the other leaders of genocide (seriously, what’s with that?) I’m not exactly a big fan of most protests, but this one’s alright.

Finally, let me mention the folks from PETA, who sent a trio of girls stripped down to their briefs, some strategically placed stickers and a mess of green body paint to encourage the approaching international dignitaries to embrace a vegan diet. Now, I’m torn between having a go at PETA for continuing their trend of blatant sexism objectifying women in order to garner attention and controversy (especially because you only need to Google ‘PETA’ and ‘sexist’ to find a bunch of articles doing it better than I ever could), and making a joke about how threatening to put your clothes back on is hardly the best way to get a bunch of men to do what you want. That long sentence does both, so I’ll close this paragraph simply with this: Really PETA? Really?

I’ve always found a lot of these kinds of protests strange. I mean, I get that it’s an international audience but aside from the possibility of a mention in the BBC’s G20 coverage what exactly are people trying to achieve? I mean, Xi Jinping certainly doesn’t care if a handful of Aussies think he needs to extend more democratic rights to Hong Kong, Narendra Modi wouldn’t care about Tibet beyond maybe – maybe! – sticking it to China, and I doubt Dilma Rousseff is all that worried about the rights of indigenous Australians. Yes it raises local awareness, but local awareness is likely fleeting. A big part of the reason I like the Bondi protests is that it reinforces something already filling the media, that our biggest strategic and trading partners are concerned about climate change but the Abbott government wants to ignore it (and is even bragging about ditching the Carbon Tax).

There’s also the problem that with all the different groups protesting about different things at once they simply become a wall of white noise that’s even easier to ignore. This is a problem that has tended to effect left-wing protests in Australia (as well as the lack of achievable goals) over the past few years, such as during the Occupy Sydney/Martin Place movement and the March in March … er … marches.

So I’m not gonna bet on a lot of these protests’ success. But hey, I’m a political cynic.

Anyway, let’s see what the rest of the summit brings. Here’s hoping for a few more laughs.

Nope, can’t think of one.

Well, I’m gonna guess that it’s safe to assume everyone’s heard about the assault by a lone gunman on the Canadian Parliament and War Memorial (where an unarmed soldier was killed). A senseless act of violence, and apparently not the only senseless act of violence perpetrated in Canada by another senseless jackass cloaked in the figurative banner of Jihad (though the police are saying the two acts are unconnected). I can’t speak for the media in Canada, but the news down here in Oz was a weird – but not unexpected – mix of pollies (and people in the know) saying “we’re good, we take safety seriously and are confident in the strength of our counter-terrorism measures to stop something like this happening here,” and others saying “we’re so much like Canada! It could happen here too! Be afraid! Be very afraid!” This followed an incident earlier in the week when Australians were once again reminded that we should be scared of young, angry, Muslim men/boys, after a 17 year old twat from Western Sydney ranted on an Islamic State propaganda film. It seems radical Islam is still frightening.

I’m a firm believer that the greatest threat to radical Islam is moderate Islam, and one the best ways to strengthen moderate Islam is through inclusiveness, positive example and normalisation in our media, writing characters that for whom their religion is a defining characteristic rather than the defining characteristic. To strengthen the Islamic community within the greater community and combat ignorance. At some point in the future I’d like to write about this in a bit more detail, but had a thought I felt like sharing. You see while I was at work monotonously packing boxes (gotta pay for this decadent blogger’s lifestyle somehow, hookers and cocaine ain’t cheap) something occurred to me. I could not think of a single Muslim character on what is probably the pinnacle of western pop-culture, perhaps the most pervasive show in the world. I could not remember seeing any named, speaking Muslims in The Simpsons. Seriously, try and think of one. A google search brought up a kid named Bashir and his parents with the surname ‘Bin Laden’ (sigh) in an episode where Homer thinks Bashir’s dad is a terrorist (I’ve seen kicks to the face with more subtlety) from Season 20 in 2008 (showing just how long it’s been since I watched The Simpsons regularly). If the kid’s wikia page can be trusted he’s only appeared in four episodes, including the first, in the last six years. That’s it.

That’s a bit weird. I mean, I can think of Hindus, Buddhists, multiple Jews and atheists all part of a regularly recurring and literally colourful cast (even if it is a little light on Asian characters beyond the traditional stereotypes). But apparently there’s only one Muslim kid and his parents in the entire of Springfield, used in a blunt force morality tale about how ‘not all persons of Middle Eastern appearance are terrorists.” Doesn’t seem very inclusive or normalising.

Cheering for the bloke in the budgie smugglers


Live from the G20 summit!
Live from the G20 summit!

There’s a lot of reasons to not be happy with Prime Minister Tony Abbott. Hell beyond the insultingly unbalanced budget, classist education reforms, atrocious refugee policy and a cabinet made up, with a single exception, entirely of middle-aged to old white men, he’s given us plenty of reasons to not be happy with him in just the last fortnight. Something I can’t fault him for, however, is declaring that he’ll be picking a diplomatic fight at the upcoming G20 leaders summit with Vladimir Putin over MH17. Because someone bloody needs to.

The challenge was laid down earlier this week when Abbott declared that he would “shirtfront” Putin on the issue, personally confronting the Russian President about the murder of Australian (and a lot more Dutch) citizens by “Russian backed rebels using Russian supplied equipment.” My first thought when I heard this was, “what the hell is ‘shirtfront?'” Apparently it’s slang for a shoulder-to-body tackle in Australian Rules Football (I live in NSW, I follow Rugby League when the fancy takes me, I can count on one hand the number of people I know who I’d expect to recognise what ‘shirtfronting’ is). There’s some suspicion he meant to say “buttonhole” and got his terms confused. My second thought was, “good.” While I tend to agree with Opposition Leader Bill Shorten that Putin shouldn’t have even been invited (that would require support from the rest of the G20 nations though so isn’t really up to us), I’m glad to know that the government is at least planning on calling him on his shit. Because, as I said above, someone bloody needs to, and at the moment it just seems to be us and the Dutch.

The Russians responded to Mr Abbott’s tough talk with some tough talk of their own. They’d already voiced their negative opinions of Mr Abbott in state mouth-piece Pravda before the shirtfronting threat, and again afterwards. From what I understand it’s a bit of diplomatic foreshadowing, one side indicating an important part of the agenda and the other indicating their displeasure at its inclusion. The international relations equivalent of two boxers trash-talking each other to the press before a fight. The fact that everyone seems to have taken Mr Abbott literally and are expecting the him to strip down to the speedos and Putin to rip of his shirt so they can toe-to-toe down Brisbane’s main street certainly helps the image.

So the roo and the bear have been sizing each other up, and if the Pravda articles are anything to go by the bear found his opponent wanting… Or did he? Maybe. Friday morning Foreign Minister Julie Bishop had a sit down with Putin and managed to get a… promise? (that might be too strong a word)… that he’d influence the Russian-backed rebels to allow investigators in before the famous Ukrainian winter set in. There are also indications (such as his current attendance at the Asia-Europe Meeting) that Putin wants to re-establish some positive relations with the west even if his continued rhetoric (and the fact he occasionally shouts “WE HAVE NUCLEAR WEAPONS!” in his loudest diplomatic voice) has left many, including Australia’s leadership, taking everything with a grain of salt (or several dozen). The sanctions have certainly hurt the Russian economy, and their own counter-sanctions hurt them more than they hurt everyone else (for now). The Economist ran an article back in July that estimated Putin’s leadership cost the Russian investment market one trillion dollars in value. One trillion dollars. What’s more, Australia has been in a good position to press the Russians on this issue. While not a military threat, Australia has been able to impose economic sanctions (including on Uranium sales) without the same fear of reprisal that energy dependant Europe has faced. As a current member of the UN Security Council, Australia was also key to the rapid introduction and passing of the resolution allowing independent access to the MH17 crash site. We’ve also got a fair bit of international support, and the good relationships with China and India to keep them from weighing in on Russia’s side.

The kangaroo’s got a decent kick, and the bear hasn’t been eating properly. Still, nuclear power being run by a crazy narcissistic bastard seems like the most accurate description of Russia at the moment, so it’s still just a maybe.

What’s been jarring to me has been the number of people I know who seem to be on Putin’s side in all this. Ignoring all the people whose response to the upcoming firm discussion between the man in the budgie smugglers and the man who wants us to believe wrestles tigers was “like Russia actually gives a shit about what Australia thinks” (I’m frequently guilty of overrating Oz’s place in the world, but a lot of people are guilty of underrating), there were more than a few of my fellow lefties who saw this as yet another excuse to attack Abbott. Blogs and satirical websites posted articles that varied between light humour to outright attacks on the government’s international credibility, which were then shared on social media pages like Tony Abbott – Worst PM in Australian History, which then began appearing on my own feeds as my leftie and ‘progressive’ mates enthusiastically hit the ‘like’ buttons.

The theme of a real world leader like Putin putting a small fry like Abbott in his place seemed common and I just don’t get why beyond a bad case of seeing schadenfreude (SCHADENFREUDE!) where it shouldn’t be seen. Because Vladimir Putin is an Arsehole, with a capital A. He’s a misogynistic, racist, homophobic Arsehole with delusions of grandeur responsible for the murders of 298 innocent people including over three dozen Australians. And as I said, if Abbott’s planning on calling him on his shit than that’s something to be supporting.

Truthfully I don’t expect Abbott and Putin’s discussion to be anything history making, and I don’t expect to be seeing video of two shirtless heads of state beating the crap out of each other (though that would be the Best. G20. Ever.) But that doesn’t make the cause less righteous and I wish more people saw that. Cheer for the bloke in the budgie smugglers. Then we can all go back to relentlessly mocking him about his “Coal is good for humanity” remarks.

Callous and disconnected, the tenants of a bad salesman

I like to think I’m a fair-minded person, socially and politically, that I at least try and show the respect that the offices of our elected leaders deserve if I can’t the people filling them. Everyone has an opinion and our society works best when we allow everyone to argue why there’s is best. Then Joe Hockey opens his mouth and I think “Fuck it. Whose idea was this anyway?”

Case in point, the Australian Treasurer reckons poor people don’t own cars, or if they do they don’t drive them much. So they shouldn’t care about his proposed increase to the fuel excise, right? Right? Cause they don’t need to buy as much fuel…

Joe Hockey and random talking: Poor people don't have cars (14:8:14)
Not pictured: Bloody massive cigar

He’s been called callous and disconnected, coming off like he’s telling the peasants to be grateful they’re so poor since they won’t have to pay as much tax as their betters. Then this morning Joe didn’t make life much easier for himself when he apologised for the outrage rather than the statement, saying he simply gave the facts. Problem with that is it’s not the facts that are at issue here, it’s their insulting delivery that ignores thousands of Australians (particularly in rural locations) who already see a higher proportion (key word there) of their incomes spent on petrol and transportation than higher earners. The fact that he can’t see that is just salt in the wound.

Let me put it this way. If a bank put up the interest rates on its loans would it say “it’s cool though, because poor people have smaller loans so they won’t be paying as much extra interest as rich people”? Of course they bloody wouldn’t. That would be stupid. They’d be talking about the higher costs of borrowing because of market conditions, how they’ve tried to keep things as equitable and painless as possible (since they want people to be able to continue paying off their loans), and pointing out how the rates of their savings accounts have gone up as well. You give people plausible reasons and treat everyone like they matter, or at the very least don’t dismiss them and their concerns.

Funny thing is I’ve heard some good arguments in favour of the plans for the fuel excise (not enough to completely convince me, but good nonetheless), but not from the Treasurer or any of his colleagues. But this is just another in a long list of examples of Joe Hockey and the Coalition government failing to sell their budget, either to the Australian people or to the crossbenchers needed to vote it through the Senate. Maybe it’s time the government let someone else have a crack at it.