Blog

I’ve never consulted a geneticist to ask; but I suspect creative writing must be in my family genes somehow. My grandfather was an accomplished author and journalist; his father was owner-editor of a newspaper; and my daughter is a Media & Communications professional. I wrote poetry as a child, then stopped entirely (probably with the male machoism of puberty). The writing gift has been rekindled spontaneously in the past decade or so, which I attribute to God’s Spirit.

This blog is thus far the chief outlet for my scribal passions, apart from letter writing to newspapers. Many submitted letters appear here, whether published in print or not. (Commonly the latter – that’s life for us letter writers, generally.)

My social or political comments are mainly targetted at a general audience, occasionally with reference to the interface between faith and society.

My blog also includes sermon texts and devotional reflections. These are intended mainly for Christian readers.

Too much spark

The only truly surprising thing about the excessive revelry of New Year’s Eve indulgence in Fitzroy North’s Edinburgh Gardens, is that it wasn’t replicated in a dozen other neighbourhoods. Are we really surprised that scores of marauding, tanked up partygoers would gather, carouse to excess, urinate, defaecate, graffiti, and leave oceans of detritus for others to clean?

The merrymakers were merely having a ‘good time’ as portrayed by our cultural exemplars. Our political leaders lack any will to sever the marketing nexus between alcohol and sport. Our civic leaders invest our taxes and rates in the never-ending annual quest for pyrotechnic supremacy. We provide free transport for the paralytic. And then the evening news leaves us in no doubt that the wildest are the winners. What can we do but clean up the mess yet again?

Up the poll

Is there no end to the prevailing obsession with polls? When for the past 3 years our senses have been numbed and our reasoning capacities neutered by almost daily electoral horoscopes, I suppose one shouldn’t pause at a front page ‘EXCLUSIVE … Age poll’ about the Federal Labor leadership ballot. But after the gangrenous impact of polling paranoia on the late government, is democracy now truly served by further forecasts of a ‘cliffhanger’ in a ballot limited to Labor members? Will our respect for our nation’s parliament grow by speculating on the roles the factions will play in the ballot, who might swap sides, and which side Mr Rudd is ‘expected’ to take? Enough of this fatuity.

Hanging with the Greens

So its official. Asylum seekers are now the sacrificial lambs, to be offered up by both would-be governments to appease the rednecks who now hold the balance of power in voterland. All thanks to the electoral atom bomb of the 2001 ‘Tampa Election’, reeking damage long past its purposeful deployment.

The one remaining slender hope for the desperate emigres of Afghanistan, Sri Lanka and Iran in 2013 and probably for years or decades to come, would be another hung parliament in which the Greens use their balance of power to extract a return to a hospitality of compassion, generosity and good sense, from a minority government.

Are faces too human?

I can’t say I’ve ever taken much notice of the relative content of The Age’s print and online editions. But I’m intrigued by the non-appearance in print of an online article by Daniel Street, dated 9th July. The assigned headline “Listening, caring Rudd has always been here to help” is de rigueur. But the content recounts firsthand the human face of the Prime Minister one rarely if ever sees.

As one who was closely associated with Mr Rudd at university, none of the qualities of humanity and compassion, as well as vision and discipline, come as even remotely surprising. However the comments to the online article underscore the disconnect between Street’s honest observations and the immutable judgement of the commentariat.

So I ask: What is it with the culture of today’s media, that any hint of humanness in the most senior politicians is so clinically filtered from the public gaze? Is it just the good ol’ tall poppy syndrome? Or is it some ideological determination to retain politics and politicians as objects of entertainment? If a nation cannot respect its leaders, the nation loses.

Go on, shock me. Publish this letter.

Boats and votes

The new Rudd Government’s emerging asylum seeker policy will be a thing of horror to many Australians, but unfortunately not the ‘right’ ones. What we’re now seeing is the long term impact on our culture of the Howard government’s demonising of asylum seekers, using them as electoral fodder, thereby appealing to the basest instincts and prejudices of a sector of the population.

Fast forward a few years, and we have a Labor Prime Minister who on earlier indications may have developed a policy enshrining decency and compassion, now perpetuating a thoroughly entrenched fortress mentality to appease voters in western Sydney.

The well of Australian multiculturalism has plainly been poisoned. And on these indications the erstwhile Australian spirit of generosity to the stranger, mortally wounded in a matter of months by the 2001 ‘Tampa election’ campaign, will likely take a generation or more to resuscitate, if indeed it ever rises again. For living as we now do in an age of unprecedented political disillusionment and disengagement, with serial hung parliaments a likely consequence, expediency will trump principle in the name of electoral survival. In this cold civil war, swing seat xenophobia will win and the world’s most vulnerable will lose.

If this is so, then the only hope for justice will lie in the moral formation of the next generation.

Dishonourable mentions

Your Editorial of 22nd June called on then Prime Minister Julia Gillard to stand aside from her office “so that vigorous, policy-driven democratic debate can flourish once again,” and to allow the party to “present a compelling, united and inspiring voice”. Prior to his re-election last night (26/6) as leader of the Federal parliamentary Labor party (and subsequent return to the Prime Ministership), Kevin Rudd pledged himself to invest his full energy in party unity, without recriminations or paybacks.

In light of all this can you explain to your readers how a front page headline such as “Rudd’s Revenge” (27/6) contributes to the restoration of intelligent democratic engagement in this country?

Quality time

Your leading editorial of Saturday 8th June is right to call our political leaders back to matters of substance, but short on collective self-awareness. The standard and style of current day political commentary are at the very least complicit in the petty soap opera that now plays out on Capital Hill.

The personas of Gillard, Abbott, and their alleged internal rivals, that we the voting public see are in no small part constructed by those who beam them to us daily. The politicians themselves know this, as do the throngs of their media teams. Why then should we be surprised if policy takes a back seat to posturing? The science of politics has become the art of rap-dancing on a minefield. The story sells; characters are cheap and expendable.

In the antediluvian days when reporting of fact trumped opinion, the media’s role in the equation was on the whole constructive in the higher cause of informed democracy. Now we’re commonly left guessing where reality ends and speculation begins.

Yes, politicians please get on with debate. And journos, please get on with reporting.

A Little thought

Cardinal Pell’s account to the present abuse enquiry has quite understandably attracted more anger than sympathy, casting much doubt on his humanity. However on one point, he may deserve some defence.

Pell has been roundly condemned for blame shifting to his revered late predecessor, Sir Frank Little. Some observations are in order. Most importantly, the description of Little’s actions as thoroughly ‘reprehensible’ was first proposed by Michael O’Brien in questioning. Pell repeated the phrase only by way of answering the question put to him. Yet Pell alone has been castigated for besmirching Sir Frank.

Secondly, there can be little doubt that had the Cardinal rejected O’Brien’s assertion, he’d have been widely accused of protecting his mates. A phrase like ‘damned if you do, and damned if you don’t’ comes to mind.

Lastly saintly though he was, Abp Little was a mere human, and hence as capable of flawed judgement as the next man.

Anyone for cordial?

Dave Greenslade’s vignette (Letters, 25/3) of the wartime cordiality between Menzies and Curtin might well be a piece of space fiction, beside the governmental processes that assault our senses in today’s Australia. Thinking of the past decade generally, and the past week most graphically, it’s hard to believe there ever was or ever could be a time when a Westminster parliamentary process could be vigorous without spite.



The dream of, in Tony Abbott’s own words, ‘a kinder and gentler polity’ died with the hung parliament still in nappies. What has followed has been a season of surely unprecedented and almost unrestrained vituperativeness and character assassination. It has played out between parliamentary opponents and within the government, gleefully fuelled by a more than merely complicit media. And therein lies perhaps the greatest challenge to the function of our democracy. As the media regulation debate has highlighted, we won’t readily trust our politicians to scrutinise the media. Yet conversely we’ve come to doubt the media’s capacity to report truth before peddling opinion or trashing images.



How it might happen is hard to conceive. But the rehabilitation of the democratic process in the eyes of the next generation urgently requires some form of multilateral compact between politicians, media and the public. We must commit mutually to ending the culture of dirt units, celebrity gossip, personal invective and character smears. Preferably before it’s too late.