Ironic

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Baldrick: I have a cunning plan to save the king.
Edmund Blackadder: Ha! Well forgive me if I don’t do a cartwheel of joy; your family’s history in the department of cunning planning is about as impressive as Stumpy O’Leg McNolegs’ personal best in the Market Harborough marathon.

Since John Howard began stacking the Board of what he was determined would become His ABC, there is absolutely no doubt that the political philosophy of, and reporting by, that once great neutral public broadcaster has, like its role model the BBC, swung sharply to the very right of the conservative end of the Australian political spectrum and beyond into the wastelands of right wing think tankism, libertarianism and tea partyism.

No doubt about the techniques used to achieve this, nor about the result, but, just as in the choice between conspiracy and stuff up to explain a disaster, some doubt about the logic behind it. Well, doubt in my mind anyway, as an avid consumer of ABC news and current affairs for 60 years who has refused to watch any in the last 5 years or so. A doubt brought into even sharper focus by the recent Federal Budget brought down by the “Enemies of the ABC” government which has slashed huge sums from the ABC budget and is now to force them to outsource all production. The end, as demanded by the Liberal Party scriptwriter, the IPA, is nigh for Australia’s public broadcaster.

The doubt? Well we can look at it two ways. The change to the ABC could be the result of fundamentalist political beliefs, or a cunning plan gone wrong in catastrophic Baldrickian fashion. The first theory would point out that, as Keating might say, if you change the Board and senior management of an organisation you change the organisation in a trickle-down effect. Boards appoint politically simpatico senior managers, who in turn appoint like-minded middle managers, who in turn appoint right-minded producers, editors, reporters, presenters. By the time the last appointment is made you have a public broadcaster made in the form of the mind of John Howard.

The second, Baldrickian theory is this. Faced, once the Rudd-Gillard political totentanz began, with the inevitability, apparently sooner rather than later, of an Abbott Murdoch-puppet-government working through an IPA wish list featuring prominently the privatisation of the ABC, and the dismantling (or sale to Murdoch) of the Australia Network, senior management seized on a survival plan. All News bulletins would lead with “The Opposition (ie the Liberals) said today….” restricting any government rebuttals. No government policies or plans would be treated positively. News items would be extensively derived from News Ltd papers, or radio shock jocks, each day. Commentary would be obtained almost entirely from News Ltd reporters and columnists, reliably right wing academics, former Howard ministers, former Labor ministers known for their now far-Right views, IPA staff current and former, vox pops chosen to be critical of government. The same unholy chorus of right wing ideologues would appear on every current affairs show, vastly outnumbering the occasional presence of David Marr or a Labor minister.

Presenters and political reporters would be either known for their anti-Labor proclivities, or be under instruction that all reporting/interviewing was to be on the basis of Liberal Good, Labor Bad. That no scurrilous rumour undermining the government should be left unreported, no examination of Liberal policies was to occur. That satirical programs ridiculing Gillard and Rudd were to be encouraged, but that Abbott was to be given a Menzies aura. The ABC credibility as a serious independent neutral public broadcaster was used to give credibility to News Ltd, the IPA, and the Liberal Party. The prospect of the imminent arrival of an Abbott government was turned into a self-fulfilling prophecy by the ABC on September 7, 2013.

But if the ABC had been turned into a Libertarian wet dream by a trickle of neoconservative ideology, or if this was the cunning plan for the survival of the ABC as a public broadcaster, what went wrong in May 2014? Months of attacks on the “left wing bias” of the ABC by ministers and News Ltd continued in the lead-up to the Budget in which the worst fears of the few remaining Friends of the ABC were realised.

Well, there was just one tiny flaw in the cunning plan (if cunning plan it was), hardly worth mentioning really. But it relied on members of the government sharing a belief with the rest of the country that the ABC was a very important national institution, a fundamental part of Australia, and that pouring right wing ideology into it would be enough to encourage the Liberal Party to keep it intact. That if they heard a chorus of right wing voices singing from the Menzies House song book on ABC every day they would see it as useful in their plans for a thousand-year rule.

Trouble is they didn’t and don’t. With Murdoch and the shock jocks on side they saw no need for an ABC, that given, as it were, a choice between a real News Limited and a Public Broadcaster who acts like a Murdoch mouth piece, a Liberal will vote for his real Masters Voice every time.

So, whether a plan or not, moving to the Right won the ABC no reprieve from the Liberal government, while at the same time it lost it all the support of those of the Centre and Left who were once friends of the Corporation and would once have massively demonstrated in its support.

Blackadder: Baldrick, have you no idea what “irony” is?
Baldrick: Yes, it’s like “goldy” and “bronzy” only it’s made out of iron.

Old currency

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What else can possibly be said about the worst Australian Budget in history that wasn’t said by Abbott’s smirk as Hockey screwed the students; his comment that they were going to undo everything the Australian Labor Party had ever done in government; and Hockey’s comment that they were going to get government out of people’s lives (given that the government is, or should be, the people, this translates as “getting people out of their own lives”)? Well, possibly this:
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Substitute

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All those photos of psychopathic morons proudly showing the bleeding bodies of lions, giraffes, bears, wolves, elephants they have blasted with high-powered penis substitutes? Guess they think we will be envious of their prowess.

Makes good people not envious but sick to their stomachs seeing these vicious fools posed with their killing machines with foot triumphantly on top of the body of their victims. Makes them determined perhaps to try to stop this evil.
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Pixels made flesh

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“What do we want?”
“A slogan.”
“When do we want it?”
“Now.”

Went to the Canberra “March in March” protest today, so need to write about it. Everyone else has written about their own experiences among the 100,000 plus people who marched in cities and towns all over Australia in last three days, so I should too. 100,000 people, by the way, virtually ignored by the media (except to complain about one or two signs, out of thousands, with a rude word or two, in order to discredit the event), but whose actions, just 6 months into the term of a new government, are unprecedented.

The Canberra event was much like the other events everywhere. It all had a pleasantly amateurish feel – no professional protesters or rent-a-crowd here. Ordinary people with no second names (“I’m Jim” “I’m Lisa” and so on) standing in front of an “open mic”, most clearly for the first time, saying in a few stumbling, and in one case tearful, words, why they had made the effort to come. Young and old, radical-looking and very conservative, men and women (about equal numbers), straight and gay, Aboriginal and “indigenous” (as one Aboriginal speaker put it), local Canberra and “from Goulburn” “from Newcastle” “from overseas”, healthy and not-so-healthy.
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Green parasols

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‘You have come down here to see an election – eh? Spirited contest, my dear sir, very much so indeed. We have opened all the public-houses in the place. It has left our opponent nothing but the beer-shops — masterly policy, my dear sir, eh?’ The little man smiled complacently, and took a large pinch of snuff.

‘And what is the likely result of the contest?’ inquired Mr. Pickwick.

‘Why, doubtful, my dear sir, rather doubtful as yet,’ replied the little man. ‘Fizkin’s people have got three-and-thirty voters in the lock-up coach-house at the White Hart.’
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Police Academy 9

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Here we are 8 days since the election that swept Tony Abbott and his Neanderthals to power (although not quite in the Qld-style landslide they and Rupert Murdoch were hoping for) and they have, astonishingly, not yet rolled into Government House to be sworn in.

For the media, including the ABC, the election seems not to have happened. They (rather like a Japanese soldier still hiding out in the Philipines and following the Emperor’s orders 50 years after the end of the war) are still bashing Labor, stirring up leadership tensions and ignoring policy issues, while Rudd supporters still trot into tv studios to talk about the future of the Party they damaged so badly, Graham Richardson is still billed as a “Labor powerbroker” (the word “power” being wrong), and scum from the RW think tank the IPA, busily planning the Hayekian paradise, are merely identified as “conservative commentators” by the ABC, rather in the way they might identify Genghis Khan as a “Chinese Horseman”.
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Visigoths and Vandals

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It is August*, and the citizens are aware of the barbarians at the gates of their civilisation. The Visigoths have a bad reputation, but they have been secretly chatting to the slaves and convinced them they are really good guys, big supporters of the Lower Orders in fact. So one night the slaves open the locked gates and in come the Visigoths who then proceed to rape, pillage and generally wreck the joint, just as their reputation had suggested. The slaves, and this will shock you, ended up worse off.

Forty five years go by. Not very long, really, sufficiently short for old codgers like me to have seen the Visigoths in action and to think, oh shit, not again. But yes, this time it is the Vandals at the gates. No shenanigans with slaves this time, no need, all sorts of silly buggers have been played by the rulers of the civilisation, the politics is a mess, and next thing you know “The Vandals are coming, the Vandals are coming”. Who proceed to try to outdo those wimps the Visigoths and thoroughly trash the joint, so thoroughly that the year 455 is generally considered to mark the end of the once mighty 500 year old Roman Empire.
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Yes, Rome, what did you think? Oh, I see, you thought you could see analogies with the citizens of Australia terrified of the arrival of Coalition barbarians on 7 September? Well, I hadn’t thought of that but now you mention it…
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500 miles

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So this is blog post number 500 and I thought I should do something to mark the occasion, bit of a retrospective.

But no cause for celebration that I can see. I began the blog in late 2005, following a year or so of writing a column for a couple of local newspapers. It seems a very long time ago, and much has happened in personal terms as well as nationally and internationally in the last 8 or so years.

I began blogging in an attempt to add my voice to the many other new voices which were beginning to emerge, in Australia and around the world, to challenge the mainstream media voices. I not only began this blog but began contributing to the new Huffington Post, the first attempt at a commercial version of a blog, and to the ABC, Australia’s public broadcaster, as it caught up with the new medium of blogs.
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Great Expectations

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Hooray, hooray, The Guardian newspaper now has an Australian edition as of this morning. Glad cries from progressives, more and more perturbed, no, angry, at the increasingly blatant right-wing bias of all the other mainstream media in Australia, not just the 70% of newspapers owned by Murdoch, but the others (mainly Fairfax), the radio talk shows, and the public broadcaster the ABC. Please please, came the cry, come to Australia, oh lovely Guardian newspaper where reality creates a left-wing bias, come and save us. And here, at last, they are.
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Field of dreams

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Odd moment during the recent announcement and garbled discussion of education reforms in Australia. Chief Minister of the ACT, Katy Gallagher, was asked by parochial reporters, essentially, “what’s in it for Canberra?”

She said, perhaps bemused by the stupid question, that because most if not all Canberra students were already receiving support above what was being proposed, there actually wasn’t anything “in it” for the ACT.

In hunter-gatherer societies all children are educated equally – it would be suicidal for the society to do anything else. Same with the early agricultural societies. In both cases gifted individuals may specialise in particular areas of expertise later, but all will be educated.

We lost this equality of opportunity as the accumulation of wealth by a few created a situation where better education could be purchased, and that has remained the case, and been strengthened, ever since.

Indeed in Australia the Right, themselves, one and all, the products of the best education money could buy, decided they could do better as old boys (or girls) than merely denoting a few tax deductible dollars to the alma mater. They could, they realised, get their name up on the honour roll by getting the people of Australia to pay big bucks to schools already overflowing with swimming pools and polo ponies and acres of rolling playing fields. And they could lock in such payments permanently with a clever mathematical formula which achieved bias while appearing objective. A simple formula, always applied by conservatives, and always effective = The Rich get Richer. Genius eh?

So, it’s time for a reversal of fortunes. A simple formula = To each according to his needs. Identify the poorest public schools, give them more money to build up their resources to the level of the richer public schools. And then, whisper who dare, onwards to the levels of the private schools. Oh, sorry, getting a bit carried away there. Never mind, let’s get all students onto as level a playing field, playing fields, as possible. Cry havoc and let loose the dogs of class war.

But wait, there’s more. The other conservative legacy also affects equality of educational opportunity – religion. Separation of church and state? Yeah, whatever, but separation of church and school just as important. Yet John Howard unleashed the dogs of sectarianism. Loony tunes religious schools proliferated. Students taught curriculums in which garbage like creationism can be included, because religious freedom. “The more religion, the lower the quality of education” – write that on the blackboard 100 times Mr Howard

But worse is that schooling, meant to broaden horizons, introduce new ideas, allow children to mix widely, teach the ability to think and evaluate, to see a world beyond the walls of their home, has been narrowed. Religious fanatics have been allowed to carry out home-schooling in bulk. Allowed to make sure that no child raised in the closed little worlds of religious fundamentalism is allowed to discover that there is another real world outside.

So, equality of opportunity for all students? Absolutely, stuff of dreams. But understand that it involves more than just money. I have a dream of getting all students onto the playing field of secular education.

What’s in it for Australia? Only the next generation.