Scott Morrison finally utters the c-words, but will he really act on climate change?

The national bushfire emergency has broken hearts, destroyed homes and livelihoods and taken lives; it has made heroes of otherwise modest men and women and it has sent spirits soaring as neighbours, strangers and communities come together as one in their determination to overcome.

The catastrophic fires – an enduring name for which has yet to be coined – have also achieved what years of scientific warnings and activist protests have failed to do: they have forced Prime Minister Scott Morrison to acknowledge the fact of climate change.

That said, acknowledgement should not be confused with a change in policy or the prospect of informed action, and certainly there is no admission of having brought Australia into international disrepute as a climate-change recalcitrant.

But Morrison is for now professing himself, and his government, to be fully mindful of the impact of climate change. More than that, he even claims that he has been a champion of climate-change action. Which of course is arrant humbug, not to say bullshit. Until Morrison’s hand was forced he could not even bring himself to utter the c-words.

Morrison is first and foremost a marketing man who believes catchy slogans can solve anything. Thus he has been profuse in his references to climate change. Unfortunately, Morrison was never a particularly good marketing man so it is not surprising that his slogans are falling on disbelieving ears.

Voters who have not been asleep since the last election know that the prime minister, delivered unto them by divine miracle, has the tendency to say one thing while meaning something completely different.

More weasel-speak from the PM

Accordingly, Morrison has introduced some new jargon to divert attention from the policy imperatives posed by the bushfires and his own avowal, albeit through gritted teeth, of climate change. His posturing suggests action, but amounts to inaction.

“I have set out what I think we need to do in terms of the future and…I think, more significantly [than emission reduction targets], that resilience and adaptation need an even greater focus,” Morrison says.

“We must build our resilience for the future and that must be done on the science and the practical realities of the things we can do right here to make a difference.”

If Morrison believes that “resilience and adaptation” is the catchphrase that will galvanise the nation,  we are some way to understanding why marketing was not for him.

As for the reference to “practical realities”, that is the key to what we might expect of the Morrison government on mitigating the effects of climate change: nothing. Observing “practical realities” is weasel-speak for not disturbing the status quo, it is a dishonest caveat that precludes any action that would purportedly affect jobs, regional prosperity and wider economic well-being.

The cost of weaning the Australian economy off coal exports or setting higher renewable-energy targets is too great, the Morrison government argues, blind to the evidence that not acting will come at an even greater cost.

If the current national bushfire emergency does not make that point to the Morrison government, then what will?

Morrison’s bumbling response to the bushfires – starting with the infamous Hawaii holiday – has been so damaging that even he recognises that he can no longer pretend that climate change is a conspiracy theory.

The grudging concession by the prime minister that climate change is real is not without significance. It starts the new year with a shift in the political narrative with both government and opposition agreeing on the existence of climate change.

But that might be the extent of Morrison’s epiphany. He might say “climate change” a lot but “practical realities” will continue to determine policy settings. Morrison all but winks conspiratorially whenever he utters the words “climate change”.

Enter the bubble-headed booby

The prime minister has not discarded his lump of coal; he just knows it’s prudent, for the time being at least, to keep it in his top drawer out of harm’s way.

When the bubble-headed booby – to quote Dr Zachary Smith – Craig Kelly appeared on British television to dismiss the impact of climate change on Australia’s bushfires emergency, the purpose of the exercise was clear. Permitting the Liberal backbencher and outspoken climate-change denialist to voice his nonsense was a clear message to Liberal MPs that whatever Morrison was obliged to say in public about climate change, denialists in the party room would not be silenced.

It’s going to take some doing for Morrison and his government to maintain this posture.

The bushfires and their unprecedented severity should spell the end of the spurious argument that Australia’s globally insignificant carbon emissions entitles Australia to make a proportionate response to climate change.

But the bushfire emergency, which has destroyed unprecedented swathes of countryside, coming off the back of record droughts, shows that climate change does not observe the proprieties of proportionate responses.

The world has watched aghast as Australia burns, presenting an overwhelming climate-change reality that is here and now, as well as being a harbinger of much worse to come. At the same time, Scott Morrison has become a global pariah for his climate-change inaction; no Australian prime minister has ever attracted international scorn and condemnation on such a scale.

Morrison has taken a potentially significant step in recognising the science of climate change, but now it remains to be seen whether he has the commitment and resolve to stand up to the climate-change recalcitrants in his party room. He knows better than most the political cost of taking a principled stand on climate change.

Morrison has declared what his predecessor Malcolm Turnbull was in effect gagged from saying: that climate change is real. So what is he going to do about it? Every indication so far is that Morrison intends to rely on the bogus mantra of “meeting and beating” emission reduction targets, while yielding to political self-interest by taking a “practical” approach to climate policy.

For Morrison, conceding that climate change is real was just a necessary political manoeuvre. Like his idol Donald Trump, Morrison believes in saying whatever it takes to get him out of a tricky situation. Morrison, like Trump, treats words as ephemeral and disposable.

Now that Morrison has dared to utter the c-words it may fall to people-power to maintain the pressure and convince Liberal and National party MPs that Australia’s negligence on climate change can no longer be justified or tolerated.

If there are any Liberal MPs left with a spine this is their time to insist that the prime minister must act on climate change. It may get ugly in the party room, but it will be nothing compared to what shattered communities around Australia have endured.

Leo D’Angelo Fisher is a Melbourne journalist, writer and commentator. He is on Twitter: @DAngeloFisher

 

 

Harry and Meghan want out, but it’s not the right royal disaster everyone says it is

The most striking aspect of Prince Harry’s notice to quit the royal family is his naivety which has the distinction of being both charming and reckless.

The Duke and Duchess of Sussex issued their jargon-laded, obscurely phrased and hopelessly confused statement and presumably thought that was that. In the best (worst) traditions of PR statements, it raised more questions than answers.

All the buzz words and pop phrases are there, perhaps reflecting the true audience the Sussexes had in mind. There is much ado about adjustments and transitions, the search for balance and space, promises to share and collaborate. No doubt about it; these are thoroughly modern royals.

But as to the substance of the statement – such as it is – is it really so sensational? Not really. Much of the furore has been fanned by the confusion of messages, including vague commitments to become “financially independent” while “continuing to honour our duty to the Queen, the Commonwealth and our patronages”.

The message between the lines, however, is clear enough: the Sussexes want out. Or more to the point, they want to be in on their terms. (Good luck with that.)

Whatever the slant, talk that Harry and Meghan’s gambit to “step back as ‘senior’ members of the Royal Family” poses an existential threat to the British monarchy is overwrought nonsense. The longevity of the British monarchy can be directly attributed to the fact that no one member of the royal family is indispensable.

The reported anger and disappointment of the Queen, Prince Charles and Prince William will be more familial than institutional, although inevitably there will be some blurring of lines.

Parts of the statement by the Duke and Duchess of Sussex are gratuitous to the point of insolence. Why would you commit to “continue to collaborate with Her Majesty The Queen, the Prince of Wales, the Duke of Cambridge and all relevant parties” when the cause of much of the family’s anger is precisely because no such “collaboration” has occurred? At least they got to use the buzzword.

The royal family believes that duty is everything and on this fundamental principle Harry, a prince of the royal blood, has let down the family, and by extension, the nation and the Commonwealth.

When Harry wed Meghan

Harry has always been the more emotional and erratic of the two royal brothers, but in recent years he has, by sheer willpower, matured into his role as a prince of the realm. He has shown a preparedness to meet his royal obligations, to observe the rituals of monarchy, to stand in dynastic solidarity beside his grandmother, father and brother.

All that soured when Harry wed Meghan. The rabid British press, initially captivated by the royal marriage, turned on the young newlyweds, and Meghan in particular, with merciless and unrelenting vitriol.

Harry might have had the mettle and sense of duty to endure the onslaught if it was solely about him, but it was plainly another matter when it involved his wife. That’s the charming part of this messy affair: behind it is, if not an act of chivalry, certainly an act of love by Harry.

Some commentaries on social media charge that Meghan should have entered the marriage in the full knowledge of what awaited her. The life proved too much for Sarah Ferguson and Diana – both of whom believed they could modernise the monarchy – why should it not for Meghan?

It has been suggested – again on social media – that to lay the blame at the feet of Meghan is misogynistic and racist. On these terms, it becomes almost impossible to analyse what is without doubt an historic event. It is an event unique in its particulars, but containing a familiar element: the difficulty of reconciling personal desire with public duty.

Harry and Meghan’s dummy spit

Harry’s uncle, Prince Edward, the Earl of Wessex, the youngest child of the Queen and Prince Philip, having proven by temperament and disposition to be illsuited for life as a Royal Marine, famously quit before competing his training. Instead, he attempted to fashion a life for himself outside the confines of royal norms as a television producer in the 1980s and 90s. It didn’t work out. Edward eventually settled into a full-time role as a working member of the royal family and in recent years has taken on many of his father’s duties.

More famously, in 1936, Edward VIII preferred to abdicate rather than abandon plans to marry American socialite Wallis Simpson, “the woman I love”.

The British monarchy survived the seismic event of Edward’s abdication – considered the ultimate failure of duty by the royal family – and it will survive Harry and Meghan’s dummy spit.

If Harry and Meghan had been less impetuous and negotiated an accommodation that satisfied family honour and institutional stability – as well as address their own issues – the current angst would have been mostly avoided.

Unfortunately, Harry and Meghan appear to want the best of both worlds: the cachet of being royals (albeit part-time) while pursuing “a progressive new role within this institution”. That might not be so easily done when “this institution” has been so right royally dissed by the two royal hotheads.

Harry has caused his grandmother unnecessary disquiet in the twilight of her illustrious reign. We might all ask, “What was he thinking?”, even as we sympathise with the frustrations that proved too much for him and his wife.

We can’t know how it will all end. Harry and Meghan may well make good their promise, vague as it is. They may or may not become part-time residents of “North America”. Harry might even end up Governor-General of Canada, a compromise no doubt being explored.

Beyond momentary fascination, it doesn’t really matter what the end result is. The British monarchy will get through this. It always does.

As for claims that Harry and Meghan’s “resignation” will prove a fillip for the republican cause in Australia…talk about naivety.

Leo D’Angelo Fisher is a Melbourne journalist, writer and commentator. He is on Twitter: @DAngeloFisher

 

 

Diary of a divorced man: 10 things that really p*ssed off my wife and what they taught me

Marriage is a funny business. Occasionally funny-haha, but mostly not. To the best of my knowledge there is no such discipline as Marriage Science, which is a pity because mastering the science might lead to a happier world.

Loyal and occasional readers may recall that I have on several occasions documented the impact of undiagnosed depression on my life, and most notably on my marriage. But that’s not the basis of this reflection. It’s just normal, everyday stuff that people stuff up.

And by people I mean mostly men; and by mostly men I mean me in particular.

It’s obvious now that during our 25 years of marriage there were red flags aplenty. Most marriages, of whatever composition, can deal with a certain number of red flags, and the number varies from marriage to marriage. But when the number of red flags starts to resemble a birthday parade for Kim Jong-un, then you’re in trouble.

In listing Ten Things That Really Pissed Off My Wife, by which of course I mean my ex-wife, I can’t be sure that my Ten Things correspond with her Ten Things (and Counting). We don’t have that kind of post-divorce relationship. There’s never been a debrief.

6 January 2020 marks six years since my marriage broke up. The break-up happened a few weeks short of our 25th wedding anniversary. Divorce came later, obviously, but I do not have the date fixed in my mind nor do I retain any paperwork related to the event.

In those six years my wife and I have met once. I could look up the date, but I’ll let a guess suffice and say that it was a couple of years ago. The occasion was Jerry Seinfeld’s Australian tour. I sent her a text asking if she’d like to see his show and she texted back ‘yes’. To say that attending Seinfeld together broke the ice of our estrangement would be a complete and utter over-statement. I possibly over-compensated in my quest to demonstrate that I was an agreeable human being again (OK, that’s a depression reference), and she was perfectly congenial. But it all counted for naught. We remain irretrievably and completely estranged.

Knowing my wife, she has obliterated our 25 years together; it simply doesn’t exist anymore. She’s always been very good at compartmentalising. For me, life is one continuous chain, an unbreakable series of links. That makes her the smart one. (For example, I understand that she still wears the beautiful pearl necklace I gave her, I think when we were courting, but possibly one of my “just because” gifts early in our marriage, and she will do so without any conflict of emotions.)

Over the past six years I have trawled through every second of our marriage. More fool I. The happy upshot is that I can be sure that despite it being a hard road for my wife there was a lot of good in our marriage, not least our three sons. The other result of my cogitation is that I have been able to square up to my failings.

My Ten Things are not big-ticket items. They are failings of the “nuts and bolts” variety, the failure to keep those little cogs well oiled; cogs seemingly insignificant in themselves, but which over time contribute to the whole machinery of marriage grinding to a halt when not properly tended to.

So here we go:

01 “How do you like the new recipe?”

My wife is an excellent cook, but she’s not one to stick to a culinary repertoire. She likes to experiment with new dishes from recipe books, which I gladly encouraged. It was my practice to buy her a selection of books for Christmas, and these selections usually contained at least one recipe book, so she amassed quite a collection. When a recipe was not to my liking I would say so – this almost exclusively involved lemon rind. Unfortunately the number of recipes involving lemon zest seemed to bunch up towards the end of our marriage, which proved unhelpful. (For the record, I only rarely cooked after my wife revealed, a few years into our marriage, that she did not like my cooking. Too much olive oil, I suspect.)

Lesson: the answer to the above question should always be: “I love this new recipe!”

02 “Why do we have to bring wine?”

I know it’s the custom to bring wine to dinner parties, but my view of the dinner party is that the host or hosts are saying to their guests: ‘Welcome to our home, I hope you enjoy the selection of food and wine we have chosen for you tonight.’ I argued that flowers should suffice. My wife generally compromised: we would bring flowers AND a bottle of wine. What my wife initially took as being an eccentric point of view eventually became very annoying.

Lesson: there is only one acceptable question, in almost any circumstance, but especially this one: “Red or white?”

03 “Just one dance…pleeeease?”

I don’t move to music. I simply do not. It’s not a philosophical or intellectual objection to dance; it’s just that no part of me moves to music. I like music, a lot, but not in a jiggly way. For some reason non-dancers seem to pair up with people who love dancing. Or maybe most people love dancing. My wife is an excellent dancer and I always enjoyed watching her dance (ie, with somebody else), but it ultimately meant that there were lots of things we didn’t do and lots of places we didn’t go because of my cultural handicap.

Lesson: It’s not easy for committed wallflowers, but dance like nobody’s watching.

04 “I prefer to eat my pizza with a knife and fork, okay?”

In any relationship there are only so many times one can gently mock their partner for eating pizza and fish & chips with a knife and fork. The result is that the mocked party either declines placing an order for take-away or disappears outside with tucker and cutlery.

Lesson: eat your pizza and shut up.

05 “She’s my oldest friend.”

I thought my wife’s best friend was as dumb as a cardboard box. (Ditto her second-best friend. What the hell, No.3 was no prize either.) I was polite and agreeable, at least to begin with, but eventually I stopped pretending that I liked her friends. (My wife also disliked my friends, but I agreed with her.) On paper they were very intelligent, but in practice they oozed stoopid. As I became more and more preoccupied with my own issues I became less tolerant of fools and in particular these fools. I can’t be sure but I suspect that I came to curl my lip at the mere mention of their names.

Lesson: Love her, love her friends.

06 “Where’s your wedding ring?”

I took particular delight in buying my wife’s engagement and wedding rings at Kozminsky’s and they looked beautiful on her. As for my wedding ring, I could take it or leave it, but I thought it was the right thing to wear it. Unfortunately, it was slightly too big for my finger and I was forever playing with it. This can either become an absent-minded habit, in which case there is no harm done, or it drives one crazy. I was in the latter category. It took several years before I took it off and I have to admit I was surprised at how much it hurt my wife that I did so. So it went back on, and over the years it came and went and eventually my wife stopped caring. And I regret to say that the ring is now lost.

Lesson: If your wedding ring is too big, have it adjusted or super-glue it on.

07 “You never ask how my day was.”

It’s true. I didn’t. I assumed that if she had something to tell me about her day she would tell me. I also tended to avoid clichés like the plague. The whole “Hi honey, how was your day?” seemed a bit too Dick Van Dyke (although I was a big fan). But of course communication is not just about what you say, it’s the fact that you say it at all, the fact that you take the interest to ask. Communication is also about mechanics. I’m terrible at small talk, but small talk has its purpose; the first question(s) a journalist asks is very likely clichéd, or small-talk in nature, but it eases both the interviewer and interviewee into the substance of the conversation. It never occurred to me to apply the principle at home.

Lesson: Ask how her bloody day was.

08 “You don’t hold my hand anymore.”

I don’t specifically recall deciding to stop holding hands with my wife, but it is true to say that I’m not a big fan of holding hands and at some point I stopped. Some couples hold hands through hell and high water, even if on occasion it means causing pedestrian traffic jams. But I understand their resolve: they’re a couple and couples hold hands. My wife definitely noticed when I no longer reached for her hand when walking in public. Occasionally she would take my shirking hand or ask me to hold hers. Holding hands is a symbolic gesture; there’s nothing particularly rational about it. It’s a demonstration of affection. Not holding hands doesn’t necessarily mean a relationship is under strain, but it probably suggests it’s seen better days.

Lesson: some things that aren’t strictly necessary can still be important.

09 When silence is not companionable

Most young couples, perhaps when sitting in a restaurant, will whisper gleefully about the older couple eating in silence. “That will never be us,” the garrulous young lovers promise themselves. But two people comfortable in each other’s silence can be and probably are perfectly happy. Or at least satisfied. The problem is when one member of the couple does not welcome the silence. I have never been troubled by silence. If I have nothing to say I prefer to keep quiet. But a predisposition to silence was magnified many times over by depression. It must have been like being married to a rock.

Lesson: relationships need noise as well as silence.

10 When the ‘hello’ and ‘goodbye’ kisses stop

At some point the peck on the partner’s cheek to signify hello and goodbye becomes perfunctory. That won’t concern most people; it’s the nature of ritual, a symbol of abiding affection, a gesture of reassurance. But I’ve got a thing. (Well, many things.) As soon as I become conscious that I’m doing something out of habit or by rote, I recoil and desist, whether it’s the realisation that I’m repeatedly using a particular word or phrase, or that my wife and I are exchanging meaningless pecks because it’s the thing to do. Except that it’s not meaningless. I remember that first time when the peck was expected and, at my resistance, the proffering of faces did not occur. The chasm of that moment was palpable. Of course she was aware and of course she was hurt. I could have reconsidered my petty boycott at that moment, but I had a bug about the peck and we stopped, for the most part, kissing hello and goodbye. By the time I realised how corrosive my decision was, it was too late to rectify the damage done.

Lesson: pucker up, that peck on the cheek is more important than you think.

[][]

I don’t sound very nice do I? So many sore points in a relationship fester because they are not seen to as they become apparent. If I may mix my metaphors – my wife hated my metaphors – our marriage was on automatic pilot. That works at the beginning. Abundant, even extravagant, love powers the marriage along. However, self-aware couples know when it’s time to man the controls and guide the maturing relationship through the inevitable obstacles. My wife and I didn’t do that; we never got beyond the automatic pilot, which did good work over quite a distance. [Metaphor Alert] But when the rugged peaks came into view we just waited open-mouthed, in silence, full of dread, for the fatal crash to happen. I say “we”, and to a certain extent it was about the both of us: the lack of communication, the failure to identify and correct wrongs, the absence of courage to confront the unpleasant. But mostly it was me. I was the selfish and inconsiderate partner. My peccadilloes, perhaps forgivable in themselves, snowballed into something much more threatening. And yes, there were times when the meaning of those approaching peaks was obvious to me. But presented with the choice of fight or flight, my default position was the latter. On 6 January, my wife called enough.

Leo D’Angelo Fisher is a Melbourne journalist, writer and commentator. He is less maudlin on Twitter: @DAngeloFisher

 

It’s time for Anthony Albanese to toughen up and take the fight to Scott Morrison

Oppositions have a critical role in the Westminster system of government. It appears to be a role that Labor leader Anthony Albanese is struggling with.

At their most effective, oppositions, and especially opposition leaders, hold governments to account, present an alternative vision for the nation, and give voice to those sections of the community that are overlooked or disadvantaged by the government of the day.

Opposition leaders who simply see their role as patiently waiting for governments to lose office not only misunderstand their office but are doing the electorate a gross disservice.

Australia has a manifestly bad government: erratic, feckless, incoherent, disingenuous, mendacious and delusional. It is a government that is the personification of the man who leads it, Prime Minister Scott Morrison.

It is a government almost daily compromised by ill-disciplined, gaffe-prone, seat-of-the-pants ministers who are never held to account by a PM who is prepared to defend the indefensible, or simply look the other way until the caravan has moved on.

Living memory can produce no equal when it comes to a PM who treats the electorate with greater disrespect than Scott Morrison. Not surprisingly, his nitwit ministers, who collectively comprise the shallowest federal ministry on record, follow suit.

Two words should spell easy pickings for the opposition leader: Scott Morrison:

  • Scott Morrison, even as Australia burns – although it was he who was supposed to burn for Australia – refuses to acknowledge climate change and would rather chew glass than utter the ‘CC’ words.
  • Scott Morrison, whose advice to fire fighters and fire victims is to tune in to the cricket.
  • Scott Morrison, who seeks to make political capital out of those who dare to be unemployed, refusing widespread calls to increase the Newstart allowance as a matter of ideological principle.
  • Scott Morrison, who at the last election assured Australians that the economy was in robust health, making much of a meaningless budget surplus, is now struggling to craft a response to Australia’s economic malaise amid global economic uncertainty, conditions that were apparent even as he boasted of his government’s economic credentials.
  • Scott Morrison, who with trademark chutzpah claims credit for the banking royal commission, is now struggling with what to do with the Big 4’s banking oligopoly, a cartel that is simply too powerful and set in its ways for meaningful change to occur.
  • Scott Morrison, who perennially claims to have a plan but presides over policy wastelands when it comes to foreign policy (and in particular China), Indigenous affairs (especially on the matter of constitutional recognition), drought mitigation, water and the economy.
  • Scott Morrison, an avowed lover of coal and hater of “greens”, has flagged an overhaul of environmental approval processes that are ostensibly a disincentive for investment in major projects (read coal mines), even as the world’s fragile environment calls for tougher not weaker regulation.
  • Scott Morrison has also flagged a review of industrial relations with a view to reducing the “administrative clutter associated with the compliance regime”, even as the high incidence of wages theft reveals a systemic lack of regulation and/or enforcement.

Challenging neither the government nor the electorate

The Morrison government was re-elected just six months ago and yet it presents as a tired, tattered, tottering government. But in an almost schizophrenic duality, it is also an implacably ideological government, confident and bellicose in its determination to take Australia to the most conservative ends of the political spectrum.

Is this a conservatism that was knowingly endorsed at the last election, marking an abrupt shift to the right by the electorate? Or is the electorate, having voted to secure their hip pocket, being taken where it did not intend to go?

We don’t really know because Anthony Albanese is not putting these questions to the test. He is challenging neither the government nor the electorate.

Albanese is not so much absent from the political fray as hiding in plain sight.

Losing the unlosable 2019 election – on top of losing the unlosable 2016 election – has cruelled Labor’s political nerve.

There is some merit in the opposition tactic of leaving government to its own devices in the immediate aftermath of an election. Nobody’s going to be listening and the voters, having made their decision, are entitled to have that decision honoured with respectful silence.

But the election was six months ago and it’s time to wake up the electorate, not to mention Albanese.

Albanese’s role is more than taking the government to task. At stake is much, much more. What would Australia under Anthony Albanese look like? So far, we don’t know.

The Labor leader has gone out of his way to be conciliatory and even-handed with the Morrison government. The intent is clear enough. Apart from reflecting Albanese’s gentlemanly disposition – London to a brick Morrison will, at an opportune time, raise doubts about his opponent’s ticker – there is no doubt a desire to clean up Australian politics and the standard of public discourse.

It’s a worthy goal, but on this occasion misplaced. Morrison does not deserve Albanese’s bonhomie and exaggerated non-partisanship. Morrison treats his opponent with barely disguised disdain. The olive branch has been declined. Or more accurately, it has been seized by Morrison and repurposed as a stick to be thrown into the distance, accompanied by the command of “Fetch!”.

Albanese needs to step up. Australia cannot be allowed to lurch to the extreme right by default.

Labor lost the confidence of the electorate

Labor has concluded that it had too many policies at the last election. The charge should be that Labor did not adequately defend and explain those policies; did not present them as part of a cohesive vision for Australia. Labor’s loss in 2019 was a function of poor leadership and poor campaigning. The electorate was ultimately sold a pup, but only because Labor was found wanting on the hustings.

Labor was right when it went into the election expecting to win – in part precisely because of its extensive manifesto – but it was in the course of the election campaign  that Labor lost the confidence of the electorate.

Australia sorely needs a vision as opposed to the Morrison government’s piecemeal offering of policy on the run.

Albanese has much to address.

Maybe the post-election analysis was correct when it concluded that Labor’s criticism of the “big end of town” was off-key, but we need to hear more from Labor about our most disadvantaged, ostracised by the Morrison government, being welcomed back into the broader Australian community.

He must prosecute the imperative for climate change action and Labor must stop shilly-shallying – as it did in the last election – and set forth an unambiguous plan for Australia to cut emissions, secure energy supply, phase out coal mining (and compensate and/or retrain its workers) and prepare the nation for a future in which renewable sources will supply our energy needs.

Albanese must also deal with the China question in a way that Morrison has not, which also means some hard-headed decisions about the future of Australia’s relationship with the United States. The longer Australia considers the US alliance an untouchable taboo, the harder it will be for Australia to assert a foreign policy that is in the national interest.

Under the Morrison government, Australia has become an international outcast. On climate change, asylum seekers, press freedom, overbearing national security laws, the growing gap between rich and poor and Indigenous affairs Australia has been found sorely wanting.

Where is Labor’s voice on these issues? And on those issues which Labor feels bipartisanship is a convention to be honoured, at what point does bipartisanship become culpability?

The Morrison government has been so extreme in its conservative agenda that Albanese needs to reframe both the “national conversation” and his approach as opposition leader.

The Westminster system of government provides a platform for dissent and holding to account. And this government warrants plenty of both. It’s time that we heard loud and clear from Albanese that ‘this is not the Australia we want’ for this or future generations.

By all accounts Albanese is a good, decent and principled man. He needs to add “fighter” to his resume.

It’s time for Anthony Albanese to step up and get serious as Labor leader and as leader of the opposition. And he can start by getting into his big-boy pants and stop calling himself Albo.

Leo D’Angelo Fisher is a Melbourne journalist, writer and commentator. He is a former columnist with BRW, brw.com.au and the Australian Financial Review and was a senior writer at The Bulletin magazine. He is on Twitter @DAngeloFisher

 

Depression and divorce: when ‘happy birthday’ seemed to be the hardest words

Over the five years since I was diagnosed with clinical (or severe) depression I have gained a self-awareness that is both liberating and confronting.

In that time I have written about my depression, and the ongoing treatment for it, in part as a means of catharsis, partly in the hope of providing my sons with an honest account of my inadequacies as a father and husband and my efforts at remediation, but also, with that mixture of humility and arrogance unique to journalists, in the hope of shedding light on matters that favour the anonymity of the dark.

Depression is truly awful. It never really stops being awful but it is at its most crippling when it goes undiagnosed and untreated. My depression went undiagnosed from my early teens to the year my marriage disintegrated in January 2014.

From childhood onwards depression has been like carrying the deadweight of my broken self on my shoulders. One broken self, many demons: melancholia, self-loathing, self-doubt, simmering anger, anxiety, fear of being exposed as a fraud, negativity, mood swings and an aversion to the new or unfamiliar.

Undiagnosed depression did not mean I was impervious to my inner turmoils. I managed to function. Consciously and otherwise, and to varying degrees of success, I found the means to keep the demons at bay.

My greatest fortune prior to marrying was to fulfil my ambition to be a journalist. Whether as a reporter, staff writer, columnist or editor I buried myself in my work. If my employment did not fill enough hours I would take on every scrap of freelance work that came my way, which I would do on company premises. And when work did not occupy me, I would close the day with an hour or three at my local, my preferred home from home. Indeed, my preference to home. Home, where I lived alone, was usually where everything came crashing down. Or in the car if I drove straight from work to home, too tired to contemplate a night out.

When I married I maintained the relentless pace of work; the pub thing not so much. Losing myself in my work had become second nature; I loved the work, but it was also a means of protection and validation. It never occurred to me that I could lose myself (much less find myself) in my marriage.

The fallacy of coping

Undiagnosed depressives convince themselves that they can live with and control their unravelling selves. Why? I don’t know. The tears, the anguish, the fear, the constant thoughts of suicide, the sheer exhaustion of being…why would you not seek help? For me, it was a case of, “this is who I am and I just have to live with it”.

Except that when I got married it was no longer just me. I’m sure there was more dancing on eggshells for my wife than I’d care to admit, which is unfair for a partner to have to bear. The fallacy of coping starts to break down when others are involved.

My wife and I never discussed my depression, other than an occasional, towards the end of our marriage, “maybe you should see someone”, and even that was a way to touch on the subject without actually confronting it. It shouldn’t be up to the long-suffering spouse to break down the barriers. It was for me to open up, to explain how I felt, to give her insight into my life-long battle, to reveal when it was getting worse, to admit that I wasn’t coping and that I was in danger of being overwhelmed.

Even as I convinced myself that I was keeping things together, the fact was that my depression did intrude on our marriage from day one.

Understanding how it began

My relationship with my parents, well-meaning and generous though they were, was corrosive from my early teens. My mother was Sicilian-born and my father was born in Australia of Sicilian migrants and was more Sicilian than Sicilians. Their desire, and in particular my father’s desire, that their first-born son should be perfect, proved a crushing burden.

Now, it doesn’t follow that anyone in my situation would end up with depression. Many, probably most, boys from migrant backgrounds in circumstances that mirrored mine, went on to live lives without debilitating mental anguish.

By whatever combination of biological and psychological trauma, my brain, my mind, responded in a way that would shape the rest of my life, including the relationship with my parents. (“Maybe the day will come when I forgive my father,” I said hopefully to my psychotherapist a few years ago. “You will never forgive your father,” he replied chillingly.) And including my marriage.

At some point in my teens I rejected the celebration of my birthday. I didn’t want it marked or acknowledged in any way by my parents.

My parents found such an idea unthinkable and disturbing. They heatedly urged me to see a psychiatrist, a rebuke intended to insult rather than revealing parental sensitivity. No matter that I would greet birthday presents with a stony face the presents continued. (When at the age of 15 or 16 I announced that I wanted a typewriter for my birthday, this was greeted with astonishment. “Typewriters are for girls,” my father insisted. I persisted and they relented; I got my typewriter.)

But that tactical gambit aside, my aversion to birthdays remained. As an adult, I did not and do not celebrate my birthday. It was always a matter of some pride that when asked my age – and it’s amazing how often people do – I would have to pause to calculate my age (which my wife, not unreasonably, always thought an affectation). Others’ birthdays and the fuss made over them were likewise a source of bemusement. (There was one exception to my aversion to birthdays and that was in the case of children.)

A few years ago I sought to correct this anti-social attitude to birthdays by posting birthday greetings to Facebook friends, but I felt like a phoney. I stopped the birthday wishes and removed the birthday setting from my own Facebook profile.

The birthday thing resurfaces

Last week, I saw my psychiatrist for our monthly visit. I had mostly good things to report. I had steady work coming in, I was meeting deadlines, my interviews were satisfying and editors were happy with my work. The only thing amiss was that I was crying a lot, for reasons I could not discern and without any obvious pattern or stimulus.

Psychiatrists are forensic interviewers. They are measured and precise in their questions, not handing over obvious answers or lines of thinking on a platter, forcing their patients to dig deep. They are also masters at joining the dots, taking seemingly disparate pieces of information to identify significant narratives. They also do not believe in coincidences.

Before long the conversation, its flow interrupted only by my flowing tears, turned to birthdays: the rejection of my own birthday, my indifference to others’ birthdays, my inability and/or refusal to observe birthdays as a social ritual, even when it came to my wife’s birthday, which, it transpired, was only days away.

And then I recounted two “mongrel acts” that I continued to feel enormous and unresolved guilt over.

Mongrel  Act #1: “I told you…”

My wife knew, as a bare fact, that I didn’t “do” birthdays. As a right-thinking person she was entitled to believe that my aversion to celebrating my birthday was an exaggeration and in any case that as a customary rite between husband and wife an exception was in order.

It was early in our marriage and my wife presented me with a thoughtful gift (I no longer recall what it was), so thoughtful that surely previous protestations would be set aside. As she presented my gift, my fury was visceral and I could feel my face turning to stone. I cast her a withering look as I seethed, “I told you I don’t want my birthday observed”.

She was firstly shocked and then visibly hurt. I may have apologised later and there would be birthday presents in subsequent years, accepted without demur, but as she would state on the occasion of another birthday gone horribly wrong, the hurt never went away.

Mongrel Act #2: “Not so happy birthday…”

That occasion was my wife’s fiftieth birthday, October 2010. I did not keep track of her age, but I did observe her birthday every year. In fact, I enjoyed doing so because it involved a family tradition I adored, which was taking my boys shopping for Mum’s birthday present.

“Pick whatever you want,” I would tell them. Sometimes we would do the rounds of Southland in an hour, other times several hours, sustained by plenty of ice-creams, fizzy drinks and milkshakes. Despite no dollar limit they never took advantage of that and each put great care into choosing the perfect gift and they understood that was the measure of its value. They didn’t inspect price tags and so it was that one boy might happily choose a $10 gift and another opt for something priced $110. I enjoyed watching the boys joyfully and proudly presenting Mum with their carefully chosen gifts. (Yes, I’m very proud of my boys, all of whom are young adults now.)

Around September 2010, my wife announced that she had booked a week’s holiday on Hamilton Island for the family to celebrate her fiftieth birthday. I was immediately worried because the black dog, or more accurately, a pack of black dogs, had had me in their clutches for some time.

The end of 2010 marked the beginning of the lowest point of my undiagnosed depression. Over the next three years spells of depression were occurring more frequently, lasting longer and plunging me into deeper and deeper pits of despair. Over this time the uncertainty of Fairfax’s future intensified: retrenchments, voluntary redundancy packages, cutbacks, constant rumours, new editorial systems, feckless management flitting from one strategy to the next…and don’t get me started on hot-desking.

Work was no longer sustaining me, even though I was producing some of my best work for BRW, brw.com.au and the Australian Financial Review. If I may suspend modesty for a moment in order to make my point: at BRW I was the most-read columnist, had the highest unprompted name recognition in marketing surveys, generated more letters than anyone else and featured regularly on digital Fairfax’s daily top-five most-read list. I should have been dancing on air, but I was, pure and simple, miserable at work and at home.

At the end of 2013, accepting I could not go on, and against my wife’s express wishes, I took voluntary redundancy from Fairfax, dealing myself out of the mainstream media.

When my wife announced her milestone-birthday idyll I was at the beginning of my downward spiral. All I could do was inwardly panic. I didn’t think I could rise to the occasion of a week’s birthday celebrations. I could see what the right thing to do was but I could not rouse myself to greet the news with excitement and anticipation. Fortunately, the boys made up for whatever my insipid response was.

I just hoped that I could snap out of it in time. In the meantime, on the Friday night before departure, I took the boys gift shopping, but after an inconclusive hour or so, my head swirling in the noisy and crowded shopping centre, I suggested we resume shopping the next day. Which we did not. This was not looking good.

I really did not want to go on this trip; I considered pulling out, but thought that would be just as awful as any other eventuality. Zombified, no presents in the kitbag, my only hope, ludicrously, was that it would all work out somehow, even as I stared impending disaster in the face. I wasn’t even able to take the boys shopping on Hamilton Island.

As best she could my wife sought to make a special occasion of the week away but I dragged the whole thing down. On her birthday, my sorry failure to organise the boys’ shopping (including my own), coupled with my near-comatose demeanour, prompted a much deserved (and rare) bollocking from my wife. That’s when she mentioned the hurt of Mongrel Act #1. Eventually she decided to plan the rest of the week around me.

And then, in the last couple of days, the fog lifted and, while much too late, managed to restore some semblance of family occasion. It was an awful, awful time and words cannot begin to describe the sorrow and guilt I have carried.

Not seeking forgiveness

When I say these were mongrel acts it suggests that they were wilful acts on my part. They weren’t, but from my wife’s perspective, particularly as I did not take her into my confidence, there was only one way to view these (and other) instances.

I would be mortified if this were to be seen as an exercise in seeking forgiveness. There can be no forgiving hurts that run so deep.

Hopefully, I have allowed some understanding of the incomprehensible, a glimpse into the inner maelstrom that is depression.

Depression is itself unforgiving. It ravages everything in its path. It burrows so deep that it becomes an intrinsic part of who you are even as you desperately wish you could banish it from your person and your life.

My regrets, apart from the hurt I have caused to those who have loved me, is that I did not openly and candidly communicate with my wife about how I was feeling, and that I did not seek help when my body ached for it.

And I wish I had made more of my wife’s birthday, even if it was to say “Happy birthday”. Two simple words that weighed so heavily on me.

Well, on that score, forgive my indulgence, but: Happy Birthday, Jag.

Leo D’Angelo Fisher is a Melbourne journalist, writer and commentator. He is a former columnist with BRW, brw.com.au and the Australian Financial Review and was a senior writer at The Bulletin magazine. He is less introspective on Twitter: @DAngeloFisher

 

Scott Morrison, the flim-flam man who rode the Peter Principle all the way to the Lodge

There is no surprise that Prime Minister Scott Morrison should be Donald Trump’s new bestie. Both are flim-flam men who will say whatever it takes to divert, obfuscate and deceive. Both are embodiments of the Peter Principle, obtaining high office way above their competency. And both are seemingly oblivious to the chaos, embarrassment and bewilderment that occasions their every decision and pronouncement.

Morrison will be familiar to anyone working in a large corporation. He is the bumbling middle manager, bereft of any obvious skills, who somehow keeps getting promoted.

His one notable skill, an entirely self-serving skill, is that he knows how to game the system.

Sometimes it’s the happy facility to be the last man standing – the Steven Bradbury Effect – although it’s not always clear if this is by design or circumstance. One might argue that either is not without a measure of wile.

At other times there is clear agency.

 For some beneficiaries of the Peter Principle it’s a one off, a career highlight on an otherwise desultory CV. But others, like Morrison, can make a handsome career of it.

One reason the Peter Principle can be the inadequacy that keeps on giving is that not everyone is aware at the same time that the bumbling fool in their midst is not who his CV says he is.

Beneficiaries of the principle are either smart enough to move on before their incompetence is discovered, or they are quietly moved on by a board too embarrassed to ever reveal that they were taken in by a flim-flam man. And so it is that a fool can flit from one high station to another with impunity, one step ahead of the mayhem left in his wake.

Scott Morrison made a reasonable career for himself as a tourism industry executive: Deputy CEO of the Australian Tourism Task Force (1995-96), General Manager of the Tourism Council (1996-98), Director of the NZ Office of Tourism and Sport (1998-2000) and Managing Director of Tourism Australia (2004-06), before taking a well-earned break as a self-employed consultant and then into federal Parliament in 2007.

If there were any achievements in the advancement of tourism, or even as an administrator, they must pass unremarked as the tourism industry has been struck dumb on the subject.

Morrison’s most obvious achievement as a tourism industry executive was his CV.

From 2007, when he became the member for the NSW seat of Cook, Morrison has shown his adeptness for constructing a formidable CV while snaking his way to the highest political office in the land.

A panoply of shadow ministries (2008-13) – housing and development, immigration and citizenship, productivity and population, but notably not tourism – suggests a parliamentary party that did not quite have a handle on Morrison.

Enter Morrison the “compassionate conservative”

Once in government there was a recognition of Morrison’s “compassionate conservatism”, first in his appointment as Minister for Immigration and Border Protection (2013-14) and then as Minister for Social Services (2014-15). While Morrison was philosophically and/or temperamentally equal to the requirements of these portfolios, there was nothing to suggest that here was a future prime minister, despite his totally unmerited appointment as Treasurer in 2015 (an appointment Malcolm Turnbull has no doubt reflected upon).

Here was the Peter Principle at work once again. Morrison distinguished himself as the most illequipped and underwhelming Treasurer since…well, since his predecessor Joe Hockey. (The Peter Principle has scored a hat-trick with Josh Frydenberg as Treasurer.)

Although the Treasurer’s job is normally the office held by putative prime ministers Morrison’s tenure as Treasurer should have made clear that this was not a man of substance or even parliamentary verve. When he spoke at the despatch box he did not electrify the backbench in the way that Paul Keating or Peter Costello did. Shouty, incoherent, excitable, wayward diction, rapid-fire delivery and confounding non sequiturs: that was Morrison on a good day. His budgets had even less to recommend them.

When he became Prime Minister at the expense of Malcolm Turnbull – the man he was ostensibly ambitious for – in 2018 Morrison was dubbed the accidental prime minister. His goofy, dufus-dad persona was both cringeworthy and disarming. After all, Labor was going to romp it home at the next election. Morrison was surely destined to be a political footnote.

The 2019 election changed everything. Morrison proved to be an able campaigner. After all, if he was nothing else, he was a salesman. (Just like Trump.) Morrison convinced the electorate that his government was an able economic manager (false), that under the Coalition government the economy was strong and destined for even greater times (false), that the government had a plan (false), that pensioners were on Labor’s hit list (false), that the alternative to Morrison as PM was Bill Shorten (devastatingly true).

Graduates of the Peter Principle Academy are without peer when it comes to applying for jobs. Actual performance in those jobs is something else again.

As an elected Prime Minister, Morrison is no less avuncular when it suits him, but the mark of the man is now on full display: incompetent, erratic, disingenuous, wily, unprincipled, tin-eared and a mean streak a mile long.

Treating voters like mugs

His defence of the indefensible, whether it’s to defend suspect Ministers (Angus Taylor) and MPs (Gladys Liu), ideologically driven policies (climate-change inaction) and blatant double standards (the treatment accorded au pairs versus asylum-seeker families), comes naturally. It is based on a simple modus operandi: tough it out on the working assumption that Australians are mugs with short attention spans.

Morrison’s recalcitrance on climate change has made Australia an international pariah. His address before the United Nations in which he chided nations for not recognising Australia’s record as an environmental champion was a high point in chutzpah and one of the most excruciating and humiliating performances on the world stage by an Australian prime minister.

His fawning adoration of Donald Trump is even more deflating. His UN speech on climate change, along with his dismissal of Greta Thunberg, is at least in part intended to impress Trump. His ham-fisted, tactless and unsophisticated approach to the US-China trade war seems to be based on the binary US Good/China Bad, placing Australian relations with China at a 50-year low. Australia’s obeisance to the US on Iran, irrespective of assurances that Australia will not be drawn into a military conflict in Iran, is unlikely to end well. As for Australia’s preparedness to assist the Trump administration in its underhand campaign to discredit the Mueller inquiry goes well beyond the bounds of being a dependable ally. Morrison’s concurrence was at best naïve and at worst a blatant complicity with the tawdry politics of Trump’s bid for re-election.

Morrison’s failure as a regional leader, meanwhile, is another low point in Australian diplomacy. The contempt Morrison has displayed for Pacific nations on the question of climate change is nothing short of a disgrace and should mortify every Australian.

And yet, despite this being a manifestly appalling government and its head a bumbling, incompetent and disingenuous ideologue, the only response from the wider electorate is an unedifying imitation of crickets.

As to how this can be: either the electorate is not engaging, has taken a dramatic turn to the right, or is quietly biding its time until the next election in the guilty knowledge that they handed the keys to The Lodge to a flim-flam man.

Time will tell.

 Leo D’Angelo Fisher is a Melbourne journalist, writer and commentator. He is a former columnist with BRW and the Australian Financial Review and was a senior writer at The Bulletin magazine. He is on Twitter @DAngeloFisher

 

Make way for the office turtles: they’re rude, thoughtless and dangerous

What is it about public transport that turns normally reasonable people into inconsiderate sloths? And what is it about crowded city footpaths that has made getting from A to B the pedestrian equivalent of roller derby?

I live in Macedon, on the regional fringes of Melbourne, surrounded by stately gums, an abundance of colourful birdlife and no pushing and shoving. With infrequent cause to visit the Big Smoke when I do chance to visit I rather resemble the country mouse in awe of the unfamiliar surrounds.

It being almost six years since I last worked in the city there is much that is new to take in. Melbourne’s cabs, for example, are no longer universally yellow, as they had been since the 1990s when then Victorian premier Jeff Kennett proclaimed that it must be so. That’s a change for the better; the mandatory yellow was a bit drab.

The former Media House, on the corner of Collins and Spencer streets, which was once my place of work, sits as handsomely as ever, ‘The Age’ masthead still emblazoned across its façade. Media House was originally intended as a monument to Fairfax’s grand plans for the 21st Century. It remains a monument, but to inept management and the demise of what was once one of the world’s great publishing houses.

Media House is situated across the road from Southern Cross Station which, like the rest of the city, is teeming with impatient throngs of humanity. Anyone who makes the mistake of pausing to gather one’s thoughts will find himself gathered up by an unforgiving – and unstopping – heaving organism dressed in track suits and backpacks (more about them later).

The march of the office turtles

I no longer have cause to wear my adored Zegna and Hugo Boss suits, but I weep at what has become of the suit. The new fashion is for jackets, much too tight for my taste, sitting just below the belt line. Millennial fundaments as far as the eye can see. Those who wear ties favour featureless hues but most prefer to go sans which would seem to obviate the necessity for a suit.

While ties are optional, backpacks seem to be de rigueur whatever one’s station. These are my old enemy the office turtles, ferrying goodness knows what on their backs, as they clog city thoroughfares. In the 1970s and 80s, the busy man about town was more likely to carry a “manbag”, in essence purses with wrist-straps. In most cases, these men sported unspeakable perms, thus the office poodle was the precursor of the office turtle. The point of raising this unedifying fashion trend, which died the unlamented death it deserved, is this: what is it that needs to be stored in backpacks the size of filing cabinets where once a man-purse sufficed?

The most annoying office turtles – male and female – are those who insist on wearing their backpacks on crowded trains, oblivious to the discomfort of bare-back passengers. As it is, trains are crowded and clearly not designed for the throngs they must carry, but when half of those passengers are wearing backpacks the trial of the peak-hour commute is magnified many times over.

Despite the cramped conditions, office turtles generally keep their backpacks on, much to the discomfort of whoever happens to be standing behind them. Office turtles behave as if they are the only ones on the train. They are not only a visual blight, but a risk to life and limb.

Inconsiderate office turtles blithely take up the space of two commuters and as they make their way to their desired spot on the train seated passengers will score a backpack-biff to the bonce while those who are standing will be rudely shunted aside by the reinforced office turtle.

The backpack wearers who affect a nod to civility are in the habit of removing their backpacks with furious abandon, in the process knocking hapless commuters off their already unsteady feet. It’s the public transport version of 10-pin bowling.

Unfortunately, the office turtles are not the only trial to be endured on public transport.

Takeaway food-ferals have turned trains into troughs on wheels. No matter how crowded and uncomfortable, there is always someone, any time of the day, filling carriages with the pungent odour of Kentucky Fried Chicken, curries, dips from hell and chips soaked in vinegar. It‘s also fashionable to come on board with cups of takeaway coffee. So if the smells don’t get you, a shower of latte might.

All these travails amount to one sorry fact: commuter travel has become intolerable.

What makes public transport travel to and from work such an ordeal is not so much the overcrowding but the astonishing rudeness and lack of consideration that one daily encounters.

On a city train recently a middle-aged married couple, apparently overseas tourists, lit up cigarettes. The indignant cries of “You can’t smoke on the train!” reverberated throughout the carriage. A group of students tucking into some of the Colonel’s finest watched impassively and without hindrance. The battle is lost.

Leo D’Angelo Fisher is a Melbourne journalist, writer and commentator. He is a former columnist with BRW and the Australian Financial Review and was a senior writer at The Bulletin magazine. He has been known to carry a backpack but has never worn one in public. He rants on Twitter: @DAngeloFisher

The lesson of the Leigh Sales incident for men: stick to handshakes and you can’t go wrong

ABC presenter Leigh Sales has sparked a media firestorm following her very public expression of revulsion at being kissed on the lips by businessman Phil Newman when he introduced her at a charity ball she was hosting. Sales’ disquiet will be familiar to thousands of women who face unwanted kisses as part of their everyday working lives.

To recap briefly, Newman, having offered his cheek for Sales to peck then turned his head suddenly and planted an unwelcome kiss on her lips. Sales, clearly affronted, according to an account in Guardian Australia, had the presence of mind to make her objection known by declaring “hashtag me too” into her microphone before with admirable aplomb resuming her MC duties at the black tie dinner.

“The only reason I am commenting publicly is that given how many people witnessed the incident, I feel it would be gutless not to stand up and say that kind of behaviour is intolerable and the time for women being subject to it or having to tolerate it is long gone,” she later told Guardian Australia.

“I was offended and angered by the incident on Saturday night. I had strong words to the man involved, he apologised and I accepted that apology. That should be the end of it as far as I’m concerned.”

While it can be safely imagined that Newman is mortified by the experience, the incident is typical of that disturbing brand of male humour that considers the breach of a woman’s dignity to be a harmless jape, thus nullifying the sexual overtones that necessarily underpin the “joke”.

The deception behind Newman’s stolen kiss, and the violation itself, all in full view of 200 people, illustrate the unfair and unacceptable standards of behaviour that women must navigate daily. Choosing Sales for his gambit was just the first of Newman’s miscalculations, but imagine the same scenario with a younger, less confident, less powerful woman in Sales’ place.

Newman’s public humiliation ultimately occurred because it remains the fashion for men to greet women with a peck on the cheek. The lesson for men to be taken from Newman’s faux pas is not to stick to the cheek, but to do away with the peck altogether.

Hazards of the pecking order

Women in the workplace and other professional settings may not have to endure lip-on-lip contact but for most the peck on the cheek is equally something to be endured. They know that one of the hazards of success is being on the receiving end of the power kiss. The higher up the pecking order, the more likely the unwanted pecks.

Imagine being a businesswoman or woman of station about to enter a room in the knowledge that what awaits is a gaggle of men queuing to pucker up in greeting.

This is an issue I first canvassed in a column for the Australian Financial Review in 2011:

“To kiss or not to kiss? That is the question in these fraught times of gender do’s and don’ts. Business etiquette has, by and large, kept pace with shifting norms of behaviour that reflect greater equality between the sexes in workplaces and the corridors of power. But the issue of when, if at all, to greet a female associate or peer with a kiss on the cheek is unresolved.”

The response I received at the time was that most women don’t like being kissed at business or professional gatherings.

Who can blame them? Every time a woman walks into a crowded room, big boofy blokes will circle to plant a kiss on the cheek. The inevitable slobberthon can’t be pleasant for women.

As the Leigh Sales incident makes clear, many men are still programmed to pucker up the instant a member of the opposite sex enters their midst. For these men, the social distinction is clear: you shake hands with a man, you kiss a woman on the cheek.

Women who don’t like being kissed leave no room for doubt. At gatherings their hands shoot out before anyone has a chance to invade their face. But some women favour the kiss as an appropriate greeting, or at the very least are prepared, reluctantly, to let an outdated practice through to the keeper. And so the custom endures.

Business etiquette, which is generally attentive to changing norms of behaviour in the workplace, seems to have bypassed the power peck. The propriety of greeting a female associate or peer with a kiss on the cheek remains a grey area. (And don’t get me started on the hug – when did that start?)

Grey areas aren’t helpful when it comes to stomping out undesirable behaviour. Many men work on the assumption that a grey area is as good as a green light when it comes to zeroing in on a female colleague’s cheek.

Women are entitled to be free of manhandling. It would be better for all if clear rules of engagement were established once and for all. The rule can be expressed in one word: don’t.

The Queen has the right idea. When she’s on the job there’s no touching and no kissing. Flowers are optional.

The bottom line should be this: if it’s business, keep your lips to yourself.

Leo D’Angelo Fisher is a Melbourne journalist, writer and commentator. He is a former columnist with BRW and the Australian Financial Review and was a senior writer at The Bulletin magazine. He is on Twitter @DAngeloFisher

Oh Captain, my captain: remembering Robin Williams 1951-2014

Beloved comedian and actor Robin Williams died by suicide on 11 August 2014 at the age of 63. As we approach the fifth anniversary of his death and to mark the National Suicide Prevention Conference 2019 I am republishing my tribute to Robin Williams.

The death of Robin Williams has struck many people, including myself, in a very personal way because he was that kind of performer: so giving, so immediate, so intense that he left no distance between himself and his audience. To witness a Williams performance was to be swept into its maelstrom.

There was no half-way with this gifted actor and comedian. Everything about Williams was full on, strictly all or nothing. And he was loved for it.

His manic turns on countless television interview shows were hilarious forces of nature: a tempestuous stream of consciousness that fused anecdotes, impersonations, observations, gags and routines that would leave audiences gasping for air.

But it’s also true that Williams was hiding behind these walls of comedic sound.

No doubt there were times when Williams revealed a little of himself during these interviews – be they on television, radio or print – but one could never be quite sure when the real Robin Williams was offering a glimpse of himself. He was in that regard like so many of the great comedians, always “on” and much preferring to be somebody else, at least when in the public eye. Peter Sellers, Spike Milligan and Jim Carrey come to mind.

Making a lot of noise, being the irrepressible wit, dominating discussion: these are ways for people with depression to hide – from themselves, and from those around them. But it’s also a way of pumping the air of life into a deflated soul. To stop long enough for life to overwhelm you is to curl up in a corner and wish you could disappear, while at the same time wishing you didn’t feel that way.

My guess is that while Robin Williams was making the world laugh – or, with equal intensity, cry – he was desperately trying to keep himself alive. It’s a battle he lost.

His death at the age of 63 has shocked the world, a world that felt so close to him, yet many of us will now realise, or will come to realise, that we barely knew this giving man. We were so busy laughing or crying that in idolising Robin Williams we didn’t notice that he was unraveling before us.

The demons that swirled within

In an era when living to 100 is barely remarked upon, 63 is so young, but the blessing of this loss is that it did not happen sooner.

Williams did not let us peer deep into his soul, but neither did he attempt to conceal the demons that swirled within. He was a recovered alcoholic, had suffered drug addiction and most recently severe depression and had recently checked himself into a rehabilitation centre.

These burdens were part of who he was – and some will argue that an artist without demons is no artist, or a lesser artist – but they did not define Robin Williams. The tragedy of this life cut so terribly short was that in giving so much to his friends and family, and to admirers around the world, Williams felt he had so little to give himself.

Depression is many things, but its characteristics include self-loathing, hopelessness and loneliness. Robin Williams’ art and comedy may well have been offsprings of these conditions, but they were also masks that enabled Williams to confront life every day. Which make his performances all the more remarkable, and tragic.

Williams’ talent was not simply a ball of nervous energy. He was a Juilliard-trained actor whose cinema performances were as varied as they were compelling, moving and hilarious. His best-known films include: Good Morning Vietnam (1987), Dead Poets Society (1989), The Fisher King (1991), Good Will Hunting (1997, for which he won an Oscar, having been nominated for the previous three films), Awakening (1990), Mrs Doubtfire (1993), The Birdcage (1996) and One Hour Photo (2002). He will also be known to a legion of fans as Mork in the landmark TV comedy Mork and Mindy, which ran from 1978 to 1982.

There is no ready answer

Beyond the shock, many will greet his suicide with the question “Why?” They will say that he was so successful, so wealthy, so loved, how could he possibly take his life?

These are questions, of course, to which there is no ready answer. But what answers there are have nothing to do with the gloss of Williams’ life. Everything we admired about Williams was the exterior he hid behind. We know that Williams was gifted, loved and loving. But he was also broken, bereft and afraid.

Is suicide a rational choice? I don’t know. But it is a lonely choice. And a desperate one.

Williams was married and had three children. His third wife, Susan Schneider, issued a statement in which she expressed her heartbreak: “This morning, I lost my husband and my best friend, while the world lost one of its most beloved artists and beautiful human beings. I am utterly heartbroken.”

Williams’ death, ultimately, was not the death of a comic genius and actor, but of a man.

His death will shed momentary light on this darkest of scourges: depression.

Let me conclude by quoting Stephen Fry, who like this writer suffers from depression, but unlike this journeyman journalist has the gift of writing with an angel’s touch:

“If you know someone who’s depressed, please resolve never to ask them why. Depression isn’t a straightforward response to a bad situation; depression just is, like the weather. Try to understand the blackness, lethargy, hopelessness, and loneliness they’re going through. Be there for them when they come through the other side. It’s hard to be a friend to someone who’s depressed, but it is one of the kindest, noblest, and best things you will ever do.”

Leo D’Angelo Fisher is a former columnist and senior writer with BRW, the Australian Financial Review and The Bulletin. He was diagnosed with clinical depression in 2014 and has written extensively on his experience with depression since.

Lifeline: 13 11 14

ADDENDUM: Ahead of the fifth anniversary of Robin Williams’ death his son Zak reflected on his father’s mental health anguish. He recently told Good Morning Britain“As a family member and a child, you want to do everything you can to help soothe and ease what seemed to be intense personal pain. It was sad to see someone who was suffering so.” Williams’ wife Susan Williams has attributed her husband’s suicide to the debilitating brain disease Lewy body dementia, stating emphatically: “It was not depression that killed Robin.” 

 

 

Bill Shorten believes he was robbed of the prime ministership and that should make Anthony Albanese very nervous

Bill Shorten is a political animal. Unelectable, but a political animal nonetheless. And while he may lack appeal, he does not lack wile.

He better than most understands the importance of optics in politics, and that is said despite his predilection for jogging for the cameras.

Instead of retiring to the backbench following his second successive election loss he very forcefully let it be known that he wanted to be a member of Anthony Albanese’s frontbench – despite having reportedly backed and campaigned for his deputy Tanya Plibersek to succeed him as Labor leader.

Albanese obliged his former boss by appointing him shadow minister for the NDIS and government services. “I thank Albo for giving me these responsibilities,” said Shorten, his chummy informality very possibly masking a range of truths, not the least being that he too struggles with the pronunciation of Albanese.

As for Plibersek, she had publicly declined the leadership, declaring that “now is not my time”.

“At this point, I cannot reconcile the important responsibilities I have to my family with the additional responsibilities of the Labor leadership,” she explained.

Plibersek has consistently taken this position over several years, placing family before political destiny. But while Plibersek can be taken at her word on matters of family, and likewise on her assessment that time is on her side, it is still telling to note what she has turned her back on.

Having lost two unlosable elections on the trot Labor will be understandably gun-shy about entering the 2022 election as favourites…but it will be, particularly if the Morrison government continues on its shambolic way.

There is every chance, given the “Rudd rule” which is designed to protect incumbents from challengers, that whoever is leader of federal Labor today will be prime minister in three years.

But do you get the feeling that nobody in the Labor caucus believes that?

Plibersek has plainly taken the view that accepting the leadership presented to her on a silver platter might not be the gift that it appears to be. Faction hostilities, after a hiatus of six years, show every sign of reigniting.

Shorten’s decision to remain on the frontbench is replete with portent. Albanese must know that but there is little he can do about it.

Albanese has decided to accommodate Shorten’s request, which is a little like “deciding” to say “yes” (on anything) to an 800Ilb gorilla. There is no way that Shorten’s Right faction would have permitted the Left’s Albanese to consign Shorten to the backbench against his will.

Although the NDIS is a matter close to Shorten’s heart, Albanese, in choosing it and the strictly junior portfolio of government services, will be hoping that Shorten’s narrow frontbench responsibilities will limit the subjects on which Shorten can speak publicly.

It will be interesting – and revealing – to see whether at some point Shorten claims the right, as a former Labor leader, to speak on any subject of his choosing.

Long-time leadership rivals

Shorten and Albanese are long-time leadership rivals. After the defeat of the second Rudd government in 2013 Shorten and Albanese became the first to contest the leadership under the Rudd Rule. The rank and file membership backed “Albo” but the caucus backed Shorten and triumphed.

It is almost certain that if not for the Rudd Rule Albanese would have challenged Shorten at some point in the latter’s leadership of Labor in opposition. Former leader of the House Christopher Pyne was not just creating mischief in Parliament when he repeatedly referred to Albanese’s leadership ambitions, much to his Labor mate’s discomfort.

One critical factor that protected Shorten’s leadership against anyone who would dare unleash the cumbersome and divisive process of launching a challenge under the new rules was the importance placed on a united Labor party.

Shorten, who played a key role in destabilising the prime ministerships of Kevin Rudd and Julia Gillard, benefited from the self-evident – if self-interested – assertion that Australian voters would only trust a united Labor with government.

Except that they didn’t. Having lost the second successive unlosable election Labor’s factions immediately cast aside all semblance of unity and amity. Television footage of the first post-election Labor caucus meeting rendered palpable the unease and discord behind the wooden smiles.

Albanese becomes federal Labor’s twenty-first leader – elected unopposed; Richard Marles (shadow minister for defence) is his deputy. The redoubtable Penny Wong remains Labor leader in the Senate (and shadow foreign affairs minister), and former NSW Premier Kristina Keneally (shadow home affairs minister) – a loved or loathed figure in the Labor caucus – is her deputy. (Time will tell which senator will be the first to switch to the lower house.)

Keneally’s leadership berth comes at Albanese’s insistence. To make it happen, Labor’s byzantine factions, perhaps for one last time, chose to accommodate the new leader’s impertinence. In the name of gender equality the very talented Ed Husic stepped aside from the frontbench to create a spot for Keneally.

Albanese was quick to claim credit: “I’m making it very clear as leader of the Labor party [that] I want the best team, and the best team includes Kristina Keneally.”

Sacrifices made and not made

One might reasonably pose the question: if Albanese’s role is to come up with the strongest possible frontbench surely places could be found for both Husic and Keneally? That should be but isn’t Albanese’s role; his role is to balance the competing demands of the reawakened factions. Keneally is on the frontbench thanks to Husic’s sacrifice and she is deputy senate leader thanks to Right powerbroker Don ‘Who?’ Farrell giving up his claim on the deputy’s role.

Farrell, a key player in the defenestration of Rudd as prime minister, will no doubt keep a keen eye on the favour balance sheet, particularly as a boastful Albanese felt it prudent to claim credit for Farrell’s sacrifice.

“Even though he had the substantial support of caucus colleagues, [Farrell] was prepared to step aside as Labor’s deputy leader in the Senate on the basis that he understood that I had made it clear that my view was there needed to be gender balance in Labor’s leadership team,” Albanese said with firmness, if not elegance.

Farrell will be able to reflect on his sacrifice at his leisure: he has been appointed shadow minister for sport and tourism.

Shorten, however, did not feel the need to take a hit for the team. He would have known that his continued presence on the frontbench would spark speculation about his remaining leadership aspirations, as indeed it has. But his words have spoken far louder than his actions.

At the abovementioned Labor caucus meeting Shorten, while pledging his love for the Labor party and loyalty to Albanese – “I am ready to help you with uniting our party and carrying the case for Labor values” – made a point of blaming everyone but himself for the shock loss.

“[O]bviously we were up against corporate leviathans, a financial behemoth, spending an unprecedented hundreds of millions of dollars advertising, telling lies, spreading fear,” he said.

“Powerful vested interests campaigned against us, through sections of the media itself, and they got what they wanted.”

These words are telling and should make Albanese very nervous. In blaming dark forces in corporate Australia and the media (read Murdoch) Shorten is saying that voters were denied the opportunity to consider Labor under Shorten as ready for government. From this can be extrapolated the corollary: given clear air, given another chance, Shorten would be much more attractive to Australian voters as the alternative prime minister.

Bill Shorten believes he was robbed of the prime ministership and that spells danger for Anthony Albanese. Meanwhile, Peter Dutton still harbours leadership ambitions and will be watching Scott Morrison like a hawk. RIP the Canberra bubble? Don’t count on it.

Leo D’Angelo Fisher is a Melbourne journalist, writer and commentator. He is a former columnist with BRW and the Australian Financial Review and was a senior writer at The Bulletin magazine. He is on Twitter @DAngeloFisher