About Leo D'Angelo Fisher

I have been a journalist since 1982, when I joined the Numurkah Leader in northern Victoria as a reporter. I freelance for several publications, including Fairfax Money, The New Daily, Acuity magazine, ANZ BlueNotes and CMO.com. This site, however, is my forum in which I will write regular columns on business, politics, current affairs, society and pretty well anything I please. Most recently I was a columnist and senior writer with Fairfax Media’s BRW magazine (2006-13) and a columnist for the Australian Financial Review. During an earlier stint with Fairfax (1986-89) I was BRW’s associate editor and editor of business magazine Rydges. I am former deputy editor of Far East Business magazine in Hong Kong, deputy editor of Business Queensland newspaper in Brisbane and senior writer with The Bulletin. I have been a business and current affairs commentator for various radio stations. I have written one book, Rethink: The Story of Edward de Bono in Australia (Wiley) and it’s about time I got around to my second (I'm working on it). I have a BA and a Master of Letters degree and speak at various forums, such as the Australian Rural Leadership Foundation, the CEO Institute Leadership Summit, the Creativity Exchange Network, the International Association of Business Communicators and the Singapore Business Council of Australia.

COVID-19 provides Scott Morrison with a clean slate and an opportunity to reboot Australia

It has been said many times in recent weeks that things won’t be the same when we get to the other side of the COVID-19 pandemic. That’s probably right. What hasn’t been said is that the eventual defeat of COVID-19 will present Australia, and the world, with a clean slate, which is infinitely more exciting.

The society we live in today is not the result of a master plan, nor the fruits of a grand vision or epic struggle. It is a haphazard melange of outcomes good and bad.

A clean slate presents a rare opportunity to start over: an opportunity to right past wrongs, to repair the unintended consequences of globalisation, to create a fairer and kinder society.

Simply shrugging that things are going to change, more as a function of dumb circumstance than deliberate agency, is the kind of apathy that gave us the bloated, selfish and unsustainable way of life that has brought our planet to the brink.

Beginning with the corrosive Howard government Australia has continued its lurch to the right. Paul Keating, sensing defeat in the 1996 federal election, was on the money when he warned: “When the government changes, the country changes.”

The Howard years changed Australia into a country that was less tolerant and more self-centred, a country whose overt racism was reawakened and given license by a government that knew no shame – Tampa, Children overboard, “We will decide who comes to this country…” – a country whose people still parroted jingoistic ideals of the fair go and mateship but who had become self-absorbed and heartless, a country whose economy had, like the US, baked in a permanent and growing underclass that was vilified for bludging off the rest of the nation. Howard embraced a scorched-earth brand of globalisation in which the drive for “global competitiveness” and a quasi-religious faith in “the market” would supposedly ensure the commonweal. What poverty could not be alleviated by globalisation was deemed the fault off the poor. Howard super-charged traditional Liberal antipathies by demonising the unemployed and trade unions.

After 11 years voters grew weary of the “mean and tricky” Howard government and in 2007 booted the government from office and Howard from parliament. But while voters were attracted to the optimism and vibrancy of Kevin Rudd’s Labor, we remained Howard’s Australia.

Voters went off Howard – the cranky old coot in the tracksuit – but they weren’t prepared to hand in their white picket fences. Howard orthodoxies still coursed through the electorate and continue to do so. Labor’s dilemma became how to be progressive without alienating Howard’s conservative battlers.

John Howard hasn’t quite left the building

In the post-Howard years poverty and homelessness became more entrenched, the unemployed and disadvantaged remained marginalised, the mantra that “work is the best welfare” continued to inform government policy, the harsh treatment of asylum seekers continued and – Rudd’s historic Sorry notwithstanding – the grievances of indigenous Australians went unanswered. It says everything about Australia’s political climate that in the 2019 federal election Labor could not bring itself to promise an increase to the Newstart allowance, committing itself only to a review.

The Liberal party has remained Howard’s Liberal party, and then some. The Abbott-Turnbull-Morrison governments venerated Howard and practised his hard-C brand of conservatism – even if Malcolm Turnbull was an unwilling acolyte.

The returned Morrison government, full of Pentecostal vigour and conviction, was intent not only on preserving white-picket fences in the suburbs, it was going to build a white-picket fence around Australia.

Morrison shared Howard’s conservatism but, unlike Howard, he was inarticulate and tin-eared, was a weak policy thinker, tended to shoot from the hip, was almost comically sensitive to criticism and enquiry, and, to put it bluntly, often seemed out of his depth. Morrison surrounded himself with ministers who shared similar attributes and he frequently overlooked and defended blatant ministerial incompetence and malfeasance. The national bushfire emergency marked the beginning of 2020 and never had an Australian prime minister been found so wanting in a moment of crisis.

We can only speculate on the course and fortunes of the frazzled Morrison government had the coronavirus not intervened. For a time, as the global health emergency unfolded, it seemed that Morrison was again out of his depth, proudly declaring that he was off to the footy even as he foreshadowed a ban on large gatherings. His early public statements on the virus were rushed and confused and verged on incoherent.

And then something changed, not least the prime minister himself. He overcame his distaste for Rudd-style economic stimulus, casting aside firmly held ideological verities about big government. What changed? Morrison was not known for changing his mind or accepting unpalatable advice. We can only assume that once he accepted the enormity of the threat posed by the pandemic the policy options recommended themselves. Morrison is not known for nuanced policy formulation, so again we must assume that this time he followed advice from inside and outside government.

An opportunity to reimagine Australia

Unlike the Rudd government’s response to the GFC the Morrison government’s response to COVID-19 is not designed to stave off recession. That there will be a recession is a given. But at least the blow to Australia, both economic and social, will be cushioned. The government’s $320 billion (16.4% of GDP) in economic support for the Australian financial system, businesses, households and individuals affected by the coronavirus will ensure that come the other side of the pandemic Australia will not have been reduced to rubble.

Morrison’s thinking is very likely that once the coronavirus is defeated Australia (that is, the Coalition government) will resume “responsible” economic policy.

But the “defeat” of the coronavirus is unlikely to be total and in any case it’s unrealistic to assume that Australia can bounce back as if 2020 was a self-contained event. The economic impact of COVID-19 is likely to linger for years, which will necessitate extraordinary policy settings and “new normals”.

In many respects, the Morrison government has let the big-government genie out of the bottle; it’s going to take some doing to get that genie back in there. (Scott Morrison will become the new Major Anthony Nelson.)

So why not use COVID-19 as an opportunity to reimagine Australian society?

The Liberal ideal of small government is just that, an ideal, an ideal wrapped in mythology. Australia has never had small government. Small government ended with colonisation. Since 1788, government has loomed large in the lives of Australians, and especially in the lives of the original inhabitants.

Instead of an unattainable – and ultimately dishonest – quest for small government, Australians should be clamouring for better government. Australians already want that; they have simply stopped believing that it is possible. This may be our chance.

We have the opportunity to reset Australia, to be true to the values we claim to hold dear, to strive for a fairer society rather than accept that progress cannot co-exist with equity. As Barack Obama recently observed, the pandemic has underlined the importance of government and, more to the point, the importance of good government.

Hopefully the coronavirus emergency will make people more vocal in insisting on honest and accountable government in future. Australians might realise that their tacit acceptance of mediocrity in government has been at their expense.

The Morrison government has an opportunity to anticipate the demand for better, more enlightened and more relevant government by making some fundamental changes.

It should use its clean slate to reconsider its ambivalence to climate change; it can overcome its ideological myopia to consider whether some of its “wartime” measures should become permanent features, free childcare being a case in point.

It can reconsider its kneejerk opposition to wage rises for our lowest paid and give meaning to its rhetoric about the importance of shelf-stackers, service workers and the many and varied invisible workers that make society tick, particularly casual workers. (State governments can put taxpayers’ money where their mouths are and properly reward healthcare workers, teachers and first responders.)

It can use some of the empathy gained during the pandemic to devise an asylum seeker policy that restores human dignity to the world’s most vulnerable people and it can get serious about making a meaningful peace with our own most vulnerable, Australia’s dispossessed First Peoples. It can also call off its ideological vendetta against Australians on welfare.

The Morrison government has a once-in-a-century window to reset Australia, to banish the corrosive ideologies that have been permitted to fuse themselves into Australian society, to channel New Zealand’s Jacinda Ardern and place kindness at the centre of its deliberations, to act with its new-found compassion in the interests of all Australians. And it can use the reset to clean up its own back yard.

If Scott Morrison thinks his job is to restore Australia to business as usual post-coronavirus then he hasn’t learned a thing.

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

 

 

Bob Gottliebsen is right: Scott Morrison is out of his depth as PM

Bob Gottliebsen made an especially interesting comment in his column for The Australian today. Commenting on the Morrison government’s first coronavirus rescue package, which was generally felt to have missed its mark, Bob slipped in an observation that might easily have gone through to the ‘keeper.

Bob wrote: “The world saw our first ‘rescue attempt’, where [the government] thought we could overcome the problem with higher depreciation allowances and giving more money to the elderly and welfare recipients, as not only crazy but as confirmation we had a government which was out of its depth.”

One reason it may not have raised an eyebrow is that the observation that Morrison is incompetent is made often enough on social media.

But it’s something else again when Australia’s most respected business columnist matter-of-factly dismisses a government – and by logical extension the head of that government – as not just misguided or mistaken but “out of its depth”.

Love or hate our prime ministers, agree or disagree with them, there is generally an assumption in the electorate that anyone who makes it to the top must be competent, able and smart.

The last time Australians thought otherwise was the prime-ministership of William McMahon (1971-2). McMahon served as a minister in the Menzies, Holt and Gorton governments, occasionally with distinction, and was external (foreign) affairs minister when he deposed John Gorton to become PM. But the position of prime minister was a step too far for the ambitious and scheming McMahon: he seemed overwhelmed by the job, an anachronism in the new decade and had become the plaything of the magisterial Gough Whitlam who swept to power in 1972. McMahon was conspicuously out of his depth.

What about Tony Abbott you ask? It’s true, he had no business being prime minister. But Abbott was an aberration, a terrible mistake, which the electorate understood the moment he was sworn in. When he was replaced by Malcolm Turnbull, the nation breathed a sigh of relief and it was understood that this was something never to be spoken of again.

As for Turnbull, he looked and sounded the part and was obviously bright, but the nation was deprived of the “best Malcolm” when he retired “angry Malcolm”. Bob Hawke gave up the grog when he became PM, but he was still Hawkie. Turnbull without the fire in the belly became strangely one-dimensional. There was no Keating electricity and spontaneity, none of Whitlam’s crash-through-or-crash, no hint of Fraser’s authority.

That peculiar brand of Christian mongrel

Australians knew Turnbull was stymied by his party’s right, but for this he received neither sympathy nor allowance. People expected him to stiffen his spine and take on the recalcitrants, to put principle before internal politics, to fight for what he believed in. Turnbull called it pragmatism, the electorate saw it as appeasement. There was no dancing in the street when Turnbull was toppled; nobody wanted him to go that way. But was he missed? People were missing Turnbull even when he was PM.

And so to Scott Morrison. A man of some attainment before entering parliament, in a LinkedIn kind of way. Lots of fancy job titles, but always a nagging suspicion that something was not quite right.

As Minister for Immigration and Border Protection and later Minister for Social Services Morrison got to demonstrate that peculiar brand of Christian mongrel that presents itself as tough love. As the nation’s underwhelming Treasurer Morrison gave the distinct impression that all in all he’d rather be in Philadelphia. Whatever a BSc in economic geography is, neither it nor his experience as a senior minister prepared him for the Treasurer’s job, so better to chuck that in and go for the boss’s job (once again setting off that LinkedIn vibe).

When he became PM in 2018 he mysteriously took on the cringeworthy persona of the daggy-dad prime minister, complete with baseball cap, goofy smile and backyard-barbecue bonhomie. Once elected PM in his own right the character disappeared.

Scotty from Marketing had simply created a temporary brand in the lead up to the 2019 federal election: the dufus-daryl persona was meant to assure the electorate that he was not a back-room assassin of prime ministers and to lull Labor into a false sense of security.

Morrison is not very bright. But he is wily, or as an outback philosopher might prefer, “cunning as a shithouse rat”.

Once he was unexpectedly returned to office – Morrison proving a better campaigner than Bill Shorten – the Gomer Pyle persona disappeared. In its place the electorate was treated to more of that bitter, hard-faced preacher that preceded the man in the baseball cap. The goofy smile became a thin-lipped scowl and the happy eyes became lifeless lumps of coal. When Morrison forgets himself he takes on the look that will be familiar to anyone who has been to a Catholic school: the half-crazed, half-nutter priest, volatile and totally unpredictable. (Imagine Morrison in a cassock and amaze yourself at how easily the image comes to mind.)

Deny, dissemble and divert

Of course, looks are neither here nor there when competence is what most voters look for in their leaders. Malcolm Fraser as prime minister was no cuddle-bunny but that didn’t stop him from winning three successive elections.

But Morrison? He has no redeeming features as prime minister. None.

His first response to criticism or ministerial scandal is to deny, dissemble and divert, even when he does not know the facts, and worse, when he does. Once it is clear that he has denied the undeniable he will maintain his position to the death. He resents being questioned by journalists or by the opposition in Question Time and will point blank refuse to answer a question not to his liking. When he does deign to “answer” a question he treats his interlocutor to a steaming torrent of word vomit.

Under Morrison, Question Time is a bigger joke than usual, ministerial standards and ministerial responsibility have been essentially jettisoned, the public service has been compromised and to quote policy wonk Kevin Rudd, Morrison is “showing himself to be an abject failure in the engine room of public policy”.

Delays in the formulation of policy in response to fast-moving events are explained away as methodical and considered deliberation. The responses to the national bushfires and the coronavirus pandemic were nothing of the kind. They were slow, misdirected and inadequate.

Even before these events, the Australian economy was showing signs of distress. Despite blather about an “economic plan”, the government was armed with nothing more than its delusional budget surplus.

Morrison is super-sensitive to criticism. Rather than being seen to submit to the opposition’s charges of a flailing economy the government stubbornly maintained that everything was going to plan. When the pandemic struck, Morrison and his successor as Treasurer Josh Frydenberg insisted that the promised surplus was inviolate. A position only reluctantly dropped.

Morrison’s biggest concern was that his stimulus measures were not compared with the Rudd government’s stimulus package following the GFC. Morrison harbours a visceral loathing of Rudd and his former Treasurer Wayne Swan, which extends to their stimulus package. The objectives of Morrison’s response to the coronavirus was to deliver a stimulus package that was seen as the antithesis of the Rudd-Swan program: methodical, considered and proportionate.

Scott Morrison is petty-minded, petulant and peevish. Australians have seen this time and time again. One has only to think of the scandals engulfing Angus Taylor and Bridget McKenzie and Morrison’s unblinking defence of the indefensible.

These are not attributes that ensure a level-headed and intelligent response to policy challenges and national emergencies.

For anyone who retained any doubt about Morrison’s competence, his handling of the coronavirus emergency should remove any such doubt. Bob is right. Morrison is out of his depth.

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

 

 

The scramble for toilet paper was just the first surprise of the COVID-19 outbreak…why weren’t we better prepared?

If the coronavirus were to be considered a test for humankind we would all be feeling pretty nervous about the result right now. An F-minus seems in order. And one imagines we haven’t even got to the hard part of the test yet.

The coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic has revealed much more than our predilection for toilet paper. But even that deserves a moment’s reflection.

The scramble for toilet paper in the nation’s supermarkets reveals a hitherto little seen aspect of the Australian fundament, and more is the pity that it did not stay out of sight. And if you are wondering, either definition of fundament will suffice.

Here are the three stages of the Great Australian Toilet-paper Stampede: initially a quaint unexpected consequence of the developing coronavirus contagion, then mildly disturbing as supermarkets took to assigning security guards in the toilet-paper aisle, and finally a sense of despair that neither calls for calm nor public shaming could arrest the irrational mania for paper products.

Oh, for the days when the paper wars referred to circulation battles between The Age, the Herald Sun and The Australian. (Readers in other cities insert your own mastheads.)

The good news for Australia’s daily newspapers is that for critics who have long maintained that newspapers were only good for toilet paper, the rush for actual toilet paper suggests otherwise.

It’s difficult to attribute this behaviour to the “great unwashed”, for clearly these are people of impeccable hygiene.

Why then this collective conclusion that stockpiling toilet paper somehow outsmarts the coronavirus? Especially as the virus, little troubled by borders, perforated or otherwise, is now criss-crossing the globe with contemptuous abandon. For now, there is little clue as to when and how the warehoused toilet paper will make its mark.

The impact of the coronavirus has way outstripped the initial mealy-mouthed assurances of calm and calls for perspective from politicians and grandees such as Alexander Downer.

Downer tweeted a few days ago: “So far this year 4,000 people have died from covid19, 92,000 from flu, 320,000 from HIV/AIDS, 256,000 from road accidents. Perspective!”

As of this morning federal finance minister Mathias Cormann was inclined to agree with Downer. Cormann told breakfast radio that he was still contemplating a visit to the Melbourne Grand Prix even as the Victorian government and Formula 1 organisers were preparing to shut down the event. Perhaps Cormann was sanguine about the effect of the coronavirus because he has adequate provisions of toilet paper.

Much more than a nasty cold

By the end of the day, even the ponderous Morrison government finally understood that the coronavirus is much more than a nasty cold and that it is spreading more rapidly than was initially held.

The historic cancellation of the Melbourne Grand Prix has cast doubts about the start of the AFL season next week – with the prospect of matches taking place without spectators under consideration – and the NRL season, which commenced this week, is a week by week proposition. In the meantime, Cricket Australia has banned crowds from the Sydney Cricket Ground for tonight’s Australia-New Zealand game.

These are conversations that would have been considered unthinkable a year ago. However, with the Morrison government today accepting the advice of national, state and territory chief medical officers to ban gatherings of more than 500 people, many more of these unthinkable conversations will be taking place around Australia.

While we’re at it, another conversation worth having is why it has taken more than two months since the first report of the outbreak on 31 December 2019 for such crowd bans to be considered. Instead, even as the number of coronavirus cases increased around the world, authorities and organisers of large cultural events in Australia insisted their events were safe, with plenty of free hand-wash to be made available. It is only a matter of good luck that Australia has not had serious breakouts of the virus.

Similarly, the Morrison government took its time before announcing its $17.6 billion economic stimulus package. This is supposed to assure Australians that the government was being methodical, considered and proportionate – blah, blah, blah. This was a government that placed cosmetics ahead of what was important for Australia. It was more concerned with not appearing to “rush” its response, as the Rudd government allegedly did in response to the global financial crisis, and with being more “targeted”, again, unlike the Rudd government’s supposed haphazard approach to stimulating the economy. (Scott Morrison’s visceral, not to say un-Christian, hatred of Kevin Rudd and former Treasurer Wayne Swan has been something to behold.)

$750 handout is laughable

If we think the cultural impacts of the coronavirus are going to be significant – and they will be – they will be dwarfed by the economic hits. The Morrison government has at last publicly given up on its spurious budget surplus, but is not yet moved to prepare the community for a recession. (A technical recession, that is; many Australians have been living in recessionary conditions for some time.)

It seems absurd that it’s even a matter of debate whether Australia will go into recession. It almost certainly was going to anyway; the coronavirus pandemic simply seals it.

Government one-off-payments of $750 to six million Australians from 31 March might soften the blow of a weak economy belted by the coronavirus, but even that’s a best-case scenario. The coronavirus is going to expose all those households that have been teetering on the edge for the past decade. The idea that $750 is going to make a difference to anyone is laughable; it won’t even touch the sides of most household debt, which is where most of it will go.

COVID-19 has been revealing in so many ways.

Here we are, humankind in the 21st century – enlightened, beneficiaries of scientific breakthroughs, holders of unprecedented knowledge, enjoying record good health, wealth and peace – and we’re fumbling around in the dark, unprepared, displaying wholesale panic, fear, greed and stupidity.

A noticeable feature of the coronavirus pandemic has been the lack of international co-operation between governments. So much for that top-secret World Government that was supposed to be pulling the strings behind the scenes. Instead, it’s every government for itself, every government, with a few notable exceptions, apparently run by Laurel & Hardy. (With apologies to Laurel & Hardy.)

Of our response to COVID-19 it can be concluded that we have learned nothing from the past and the future is a place for which we are ill-prepared.

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

 

The horrific murder of Hannah Clarke and her kids stunned the nation; so what are we going to do about it?

The murder of Brisbane women Hannah Clarke and her three children by her estranged husband has cast a pall of grief over the nation.

Coupled with the grief is an anguished question that women are tired of asking:

How many more women and children must die at the hands of a violent husband or male partner before there is a concerted move to stamp out male violence in the home?

The nation was stunned by the horror and brutality of this calculated act of murder, when on Wednesday morning a murderous coward set fire to his family – Hannah, 31, and their children Aaliyah, 6, Laianah, 4, and Trey, 3 – as they sat in their car in the Brisbane suburb of Camp Hill.

Hannah, still ablaze, made it out of her car and according to reported accounts yelled at horrified neighbours who had begun to gather that “he’s poured petrol on me” and that her “babies” were still in the car. The flames prevented neighbours from reaching the children.

We know from Friday’s heartbreaking interview with Hannah’s parents and brother on Nine’s A Current Affair that at the scene of the ambush Hannah, with burns to 90% of her body, gave police a detailed account of what had occurred. We simply cannot comprehend the strength of will and body to make such a statement in the throes of death, but it gives us a measure of the woman.

Hannah lived to understand the horror that had been inflicted on her children by her estranged and abusive husband and she made sure that he was held to account. Hannah died later in hospital.

At some point, at the scene of the carnage, the murderous husband and father killed himself with a knife, a craven release from having to face the devastation he had wrought upon his family.

These are the bare facts as we know them; a coroner’s report will in time record the precise details of that awful morning.

But in the meantime, we do know one thing for sure: a man, unable to accept that his marriage was over, incensed that his wife and three children had fled the family home and sought sanctuary at the nearby home of her parents, responded with murder.

Living in state of constant siege

Hannah left the family home late last year. We know that her husband was possessive, abusive and controlling. Brisbane police have confirmed that there was a history of domestic violence and that a restraining order had been issued to prevent her husband from approaching her.

It beggars belief that in 2020, there are still men who believe that they are entitled to demand the inviolability of a relationship – unless they choose to end it – which of course is another way of expressing their entitlement to possess a woman, and by extension, to control a woman.

For many women this manifests itself as unrelenting, unremitting, incessant violence, both physical and mental.

Somehow men seem unable to imagine what it must be like for a woman to live in a state of constant siege in her own home. If they could there might be more sympathy for women who plead for an end to domestic violence.

When tragedies such as the deliberate incineration of Hannah and her children occur the cry goes up: “It’s not all men”.

The problem may not be all men, but make no mistake: men are the problem. Men and their attitudes. Men who still see women as inferior and inconsequential, of ornamental value but not to be taken seriously, as subservient to their manly needs; as partners they are seen as chattels.

For women, expressions of these male attitudes are manifest in almost every facet of their lives: in the workplace, in social settings, in public places and at home. Women are abused, molested, assaulted, raped or murdered by men based simply on the fact that they are women.

Is it any wonder women demand change? Or more to the point, is it any wonder that women are fed up with having to demand change?

But how is such change to be affected? Hannah’s killer was 42 years old. He was the beneficiary of a more enlightened education system; he was exposed to the many and various campaigns seeking a fair go for women; he would have read media stories and watched films that presented women in a modern light.

We have barely moved the dial

Women know that the message is not getting through. It didn’t take the death of Hannah and her children to know that. This was just the latest instance of an estranged husband and father murdering his children or his entire family. Most of us can probably bring several instances to mind.

So what can be done? Attitudes need to change, but as a society we have barely moved the dial, and what appears to be change for the better is more often than not lip service.

There is still a body of people, male and female, who believe men are the head of the household and that women, by their actions or lack of deference, incite violence upon themselves.

Many people still look at domestic violence as none of their business. In fact, it is everyone’s business. It goes against the grain of modern living, but it may well be that we must become our neighbour’s keeper and our community’s guardian, because it is obvious that a less connected society provides too many blind spots in which bad things happen.

Again and again the education system has clearly been found wanting. How many more videos of boys and young men from elite private schools chanting sexist and misogynistic songs in public do we need to see to understand that not even a privileged education is changing attitudes?

Apologists for the status quo argue that it’s not up to schools to change social attitudes, that these are matters for the home. This is a bogus argument. Schools have always incorporated values, civics and a basic moral schema. The proposition that promoting gender equality is “social engineering” is the kind of obstinacy that enables social dysfunction. If society is failing women – and it plainly is – then surely it is not unreasonable to expect primary and high schools to do their part.

A thorough examination of how the legal system and law enforcement is failing women – if necessary a royal commission – is crucial. It says everything we need to know about the current conservative climate in Australia that instead of such a review what we have is the Morrison government appointing Pauline Hanson to conduct a review of family law. Hanson has openly stated that her agenda is to expose how family law unfairly advantages women over men when it comes to custody and how women are gaming the system. We can be sure of two things: that almost every word uttered by Hanson in the conduct of her “review” is going to be offensive and, worse still, that many Australians will agree with her.

One obvious failing of law enforcement in how it deals with domestic violence is the use of restraining orders: Hannah had such an order in place against her husband. It is almost too trite, and yet entirely accurate, to say that these orders are not worth the paper they are written on.

Surely, if someone is dangerous enough to warrant a restraining order he is dangerous enough to warrant an electronic ankle bracelet that will enable authorities to follow his movements?

When all is said and done, I am simply throwing questions into the ether. The solution to domestic violence is not to be found in my words. But we owe it to Hannah, Aaliyah, Laianah and Trey, and the many victims of domestic violence before them, to acknowledge that society is failing women (and their children) and that we must redouble efforts to stamp out the scourge of male violence against women.

It seems so little to ask.

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

 

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