Thursday, December 18, 2014

The Christmas Blog 2014

Flowers in Martin Place - a sad end to a tough year.
If you take the cynical view, and many will, the Sydney Siege and its emotional aftermath could not have come at a better time for Tony Abbott and his shop-worn and slightly soiled government. On the very day that 'Diamond Joe' Hockey and Mathias 'The Lying Dutchman' Corman were forced to face the  MYEFO music and admit that;

(a) the budget had been an unmitigated disaster scorned and despised by all and sundry, with every divide and rule, tax the poor, ploy rumbled, and;

(b) the mining boom magic-money-pudding that had made the Howard years so easy to tout as economically responsible had finally run dry, and;

(c) this government would never, ever produce a budget surplus no matter how many terms it managed to lie its way into;

~ and suddenly the biggest end of year slap-down for any government in living memory became just a side-show next to the reality of a genuine 'Muslim-terrorist, Dog-Day-Afternoon, fear and loathing in Sunny Sydney' horror show. The siege, its innocent and heroic victims, its brutal and 'just as crazy as we thought these terrorist bastards were' protagonist; and the nauseatingly over-hyped television news coverage, became the setting for Tony 'trust me I really don't know what I'm doing' Abbott to look by turns, concerned, caring, fatherly and genuinely human.

He didn't manage to pull off Prime Ministerial, decisive, or penetratingly insightful, but then, he hasn't done since he got the job, and it's been a bloody long year with a lot of turbulence in what should have been clear political air. The opportunity now hangs in the air for Tony to become Mr. Safe-at-any-price, Authoritarian Asio-bloodhound, 'fight them on the beaches of Sydney', 'no more Mr Nice Guy' right wing demagogue of punitive measures for the disaffected leavened with a healthy dose of refugee bashing. And the worse things get in every other part of his government's remit, the harder to resist that temptation is going to be with the likes of Brandis, Cormann, Morrison and co beating the drum..

The nation's cosseted private sector media will only be too keen to lead, follow and cheer on the charge. Channel 9's post siege news positively gloried in the grief and misery, with an emoting blonde anchor pronouncing the grief of those who lost family members beyond any compare, before switching briefly to the murder of more than a hundred children by the Taliban in Pakistan to round out the A block intro at the top of the hour.

The carpet of flowers grows as thousands arrive to deliver them in person
Don't get me wrong here. I don't discount for a moment how genuine the pain of loss for a murdered family member is. Nor do I think that one person's grief is worth more than another's. But at 57 I'm relatively sanguine. I wept at the heroics of a young man who gave his life to save others, while the loss of the Pakistani children didn't touch me quite as much. Their distance lending a sad diminution of one man's emotional response in which I took refuge without shame. I know just how much my heart can and can't take.

Yet I am touched by the carpet of flowers that now covers most of Martin Place (and is still growing). That people are still coming in person to place their floral tribute displays not just grief and sadness but the warmth, generosity and open-hearted fellow feeling that is the best part of the Australian national character. That and their honest willingness to act on what they feel. And I am cheered to be a part of that. The #Illridewithyou campaign begun on Twitter shows not just how generous and open-hearted Aussies can be, but just how smart, insightful and able to sort emotion from reality. Our young can clearly discern and act on truth in ways that clearly baffle some of our politicians.

Stephanie Speirs organised 1,000 #Illridewithyou badges to give to commuters
But all three commercial TV stations are guilty of telling us how to think, feel and react to every tiny nuance of pain, grief, horror and shock in ways that went far beyond the normal realms of yellow journalism. Perhaps from habit as much as ignorance they hype up the faux-emotional at the expense of the real. They narrow the human response to banal phrases that don't ring true, just familiar. They distort for banal effect and in doing so betray the genuine feelings and thoughts of those involved. Straight reporting took second place to the values of fear-mongering, sensation-seeking and emotional manipulation that underpin the trite 'current affairs' shows that follow the news, and inform the shock-jock blame-a-thons that will surely follow on radio in the weeks and months ahead. I hope I'm wrong. But I doubt it.

The Telegraph - always first with sensationalist fiction.
My concern, however, and surprisingly, is for Tony Abbott. All year he's removed one foot from his mouth only to kick himself firmly in the teeth with the other when his tried and tested political skills were seen through so easily and consistently by so many. It appears that Generations X, Y and Whoever's Next take it personally when lied to so obviously, and in such clear, declarative pre-election promises. That and the endless series of rabid hard-right economic kickings handed out to the non-rich section of Team 'Straya has not worked the way it once used to. Cynical Baby-Boomers may not have been surprised, even if they were outraged. But the young are apparently made of more idealistic stuff, and less inclined to forgive and forget within the time-frame of a first-term government whose credibility before any election can only ever be zero from here on in. 

But, be that as it may, I had thought I'd seen in Tony Abbott a certain stirring of thought, of reflection on how badly things have gone, and in particular on how 'new, caring, soft-spoken Uncle Tony' had failed to earn any warmth from the punters. It looked from the cheap seats that Tony had planned to be John Howard redux - the concerned paterfamilias PM who sat above the fray and seemingly above party politics allowing his ministers their head and only stepping in to curb their honest zeal with a wiser restraining hand when enough voters got shirty.

The problem that won't go away, even if Tony goes away.

In reality it's just an old dog-and-pony show; let the Ministers fly the kites and if all goes well let them run with it, and step in to cut the ribbon when all's done. Or shut things down if the kite crashes and burns. But it seems Tony believed in it. And finding out this year that:

(a) if you lie so egregiously you don't get the benefit of the doubt when you say 'trust me with the details', and;

(b) people really loved that sod Whitlam and every socialist thing he did that sort of 'worked' and gave people a better standard of living, and;

(c) people really do notice when you manage to slide a $1 billion worth of funding for the Catholic Church into an 'austerity budget', and;

(d) if you really don't care about economics enough to pay attention, and just let the Huns ride roughshod over the budget, well damnit, people blame you for it anyway!

It all kind of took the shine off getting the Big Job which was what you wanted in the first place. And then there was that few days in early December when Tony appeared to be taking all this in, and genuinely trying to rethink things. I actually felt for him, which surprised me no end. Not sorry for him, more fascinated in the way that watching a Labrador trying to understand pockets is.

For a while I thought he might actually spend Christmas trying to re-imagine himself as PM - not so much 'Father Tony the political priest' any more, and well, something maybe that was what he actually could be if he stopped being Mr Knuckle-Sandwich from sheer force of habit. Perhaps there were some glimmers of a genuine attempt to learn on the job and adapt to a new century, a new demographic picture of Team Oz, a new ..

Well, it really doesn't matter now. The siege, the posturing, the playing the role of Chief Wreath Layer and uttering the Warm, Caring Pre-Programmed Phrases at every camera in the land may have banished that moment forever. And soon we'll get the inquiries and the security ramp-ups and the blame giving and more right-wing politics as usual. 

 Which is a pity.

One-term Tony. 

Is all I want for Christmas, 2016.

Oh, and peace on Earth. Every year. 

Or at least some signs that the Angels Of Our Better Nature are on duty.

So, Merry Christmas. Hug your loved ones. Cherish your children. 

Take time for your own happiness amid the stress of it all. 

It's been a really tough year with too many good people lost.

With love, AofM

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

here here. to all of that.