Thursday, August 13, 2009

Tony Abbott, neo feminist, neo gay rights, neo federalist and a change is gonna come

You'd think that - crushed by his eighteen year old daughter's dismissal of him as a lame gay churchy loser - stout-hearted Tony Abbott might have gone missing this Friday. (here).

Ain't the young so cruel when they talk to power, and even worse when they talk truth to parents. Well what would Tony Abbott know about anything, including the use of the term "gay" as a generic indication of lame loserness?

But things are tough in the commentariat, and you have to be tough to hang in against the deviant arrows of liberal and progressive scum. 

Yet again Michael neo Costa has failed to front The Australian, and we're left to marvel at the rugged durability at just a few columnists who keep churning it out the way the old butter churn used to transform cow's cream into salty yellow globs of saturated fat.

So who's around this Friday morn, willing to kick the crap out of progressives and liberals and socialists and other ne'er do wells?

Funny you should ask. Come on down ... Tony Abbott, with a biblical header Some things must pass.

For sheer industry, productivity and relentless in your face self promotion, you have to admire Abbott. Here he is banging on about his recent book once again, and trying to distance himself from his days as a boof head, head kicking bruiser for John Howard. New soft smiling loving Liberal leader anyone?

These days Abbott's dragged out the kaftan and when not humming "om" in a loud, ostentatious Allen Ginsberg way (when's the harmonium coming into the act?), he's anxious to promote the notion that conservatives are all for social progress and the virtues of change.

Why, he's more feminist than the average feminist and he can see a real and big role for government to play:

... conservatives have had reservations about paid maternity leave schemes because, they think, mothers' primary responsibility is to their children. The further argument that paid maternity leave (but not sick leave, holiday pay or compulsory superannuation levies) would be an intolerable burden on small business has helped to cast, I suspect, a "blokey" pall over conservatism.

Perhaps more than anything else, this suggestion that mothers in the paid workforce might be shirking their real responsibilities explains why there are so few outspoken conservative women. Only a man could think that working might reduce a mother's responsibilities rather than add to them.

In any event, the absence of a national paid maternity leave scheme has certainly not ensured that the vast majority of women remain primarily homemakers. Instead, it's meant that many have not had the children that they might have had but for the lack of better financial support. Far from conceding too much to feminism, a paid maternity leave scheme would make it easier for more women to choose the most traditional role of all.

Oh can't you just feel the touchy feely goodness exuding from the man. Bring it on, bring that paid maternity leave scheme forward, and let conservative women speak out loud about their primary responsibility being to their children, something evil progressives never care about as they introduce their spawn to drugs, the intertubes and satantic rock and roll (not to mention introducing them to sexualisation). 

But wait, we have to pay conservative women to come out so that they can tell women their best role is in the home? We pay women to go to work so that it will make it easier for them to chose the most traditional role of all? 

Gears are whirring, but nothing's clicking in to place. You support progressive policy so people, especially women, can realize work is meaningless, progressive policies are silly, and traditional roles are the only way to go? Fund them to get out of the home so we can get them back in the home?

Yep, it's bait and switch as a government policy.

I see you are sceptical young arsegroper, but sit beside the great man and learn more things.

Conservatives change by working out what is a value and what is a mere prejudice. Not even the most reactionary conservative would today defend, for instance, the right to own slaves yet, in some circles and in some places that was once thought to be an article of conservative faith.

Today, of course, conservatives are glad to claim Wilberforce and Lincoln as part of their heritage. It's not so long since conservatives were defending legal discrimination against homosexuals yet that, too, has rightly disappeared from the conservative canon. It's only by working out what should change that we are able to keep that which most matters.

Wow, conservatives are now officially part of the opposition to slavery. Now there's a big step forward. And ain't it grand that there's no legal discrimination against homosexuals. Except for the matter of marriage, because some are more equal than others, and it's just a matter of precise exclusional definition.

Oh well at least I can toddle off to St. Mary's and get a forgiving absolving wafer from the forgiving hands of Tony Abbott's great mate, Cardinal Pell. Memo to self: must not wear pink when that day comes.

But Abbott is embracing the cry for change at such a ferocious pace, I'm getting nose bleed. He makes Malcolm Turnbull, usually coruscated within the Liberal party for his bleeding heart republican soft patrician eastern suburbs way, look and sound like Attila the Hun.

In response to serious problems, there has to be a conservative case for change. Alternatively, there has to be a powerful argument that the problem is more apparent than real. Perhaps confused lines of accountability and responsibility between different levels of government and haphazard arrangements to support mothers in the workforce are the best that can be hoped for in this vale of tears. I suspect, though, that the case for masterly inactivity would not be very convincing even to conservatives of the most incorrigible type.

It sounds like Abbott is alarmingly in favor of government intervention, and big government activism on a terrifying scale. With an epic centralist Canberran flavor:

The challenge for conservatives is not to identify the changes they oppose but to formulate the changes they support.

The heart of my recent book is the conservative case for change, which might otherwise be thought of as going against the conservative grain.

Australian conservatives have typically made a virtue of our federal system of government.

The states, it's thought, can act as a break on the arrogance of the national government and deliver services that are "closer to the people" than those delivered by a more "remote" government in Canberra.

As anyone studying, for instance, the history of water management in the Murray-Darling basin would have to concede, the states are far more often a handbrake on good government than they are a bulwark against potential dictatorship.

Search as one might, it's very hard to find the examples of bad commonwealth government policy blocked by the states that would render plausible the "states protect our freedom" argument.

Similarly, at least since Queensland abolished death duties in the 1970s, there are no readily discernible examples of good policy adopted by one state and then copied by the others that would render plausible the argument that "states are a laboratory for policy change".

Beulah, bring me my smelling salts, I'se feeling faint. Commonwealth four legged good of humanity, states totally inept two legged failures. Now there's a pitch you can sell to anyone.

Hang on, hang on, enough with the cynicism.

That felt good, with conservatives in favor of Change with a capital "C" and Government Activism with a "GA" (adults only). 

But sadly, when you look a bit closer, it's just another bovver boy routine, with the hapless states standing in for progressives.

It's all their fault the Murray Darling basin, and so are hospitals and the Northern Territory (which should never have been granted self government, look at their current mess), which has been saved by the intervention because there the Feds could. Eliot Ness to the rescue.

What is this sentimental attachment to states?

Our own Federation fathers were quite unsentimental about the states. None of them had thought that a third level of government, pre-federation, needed to be imported into the governance of the individual colonies to prevent tyranny. Far from being a manifestation of the Federation fathers' philosophical commitment, the states exist as the unavoidable price of turning six colonies into one country. If the Federation fathers had expected to set in concrete the then divisions of responsibilities between the states and the fledgling national government, they would hardly have provided for mechanisms to change them.

Except of course that the Federation fathers (oh don't you just love that echo of the United States) made it damn near impossible to effect constitutional change. So while you can change anything, damn all has been changed in over a hundred years. Meantime, the damn ungrateful recalcitrant states continue to be the one obstacle to exceptional government in this country, emanating out of Canberra:

Under the Constitution, the commonwealth has authority over the territories that it lacks over the states. The territories are subordinate legislatures in a way that the states are not. This meant that the commonwealth could launch and sustain an intervention in the Territory that would have been impossible in any of the states.

It's noteworthy that when the former minister, Mal Brough, offered to fund an intervention in the Kimberley, which had social problems of equal magnitude, the West Australian government refused.

So what to do?

My proposal is not to abolish the states but a referendum to give the national parliament the same authority over them that it's long had over the territories. It's not a bid for more power to Canberra. Rather, it's an attempt to establish clear lines of accountability and responsibility.

Uh huh. A referendum to give the Commonwealth power over the states. What was that I read somewhere about masterly inactivity by the most incorrigible of conservatives? Having already shown how a FUD campaign of some masterly anti change kind sank sundry proposals for Australia to become a republic rather than have an aspirational tampon as its king?

Truly it's easier for a Catholic to pass through the eye of a needle and enter heaven than for a referendum to pass in Australia. Which make all this chit chat kind of idle.

Why it sounds just like any other bunch of theologising conservatives who prefer theory over practice.

The states might be closer to the people in federalist theory but that's rarely evidenced by responsive service delivery. In theologising about the states, conservatives lapse into the error more often found in other doctrines of preferring theory over practice.

Hang on, hang on, that was my line. We'd better get back on track, and we'd better get there fast. How about banging on about how wonderful the Commonwealth is, in a very small "c" way:

Anyone comparing commonwealth government health programs (such as Medicare and the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme delivered by private doctors and pharmacists) with state government ones (such as public hospitals run by giant bureaucracies) would have to conclude that Canberra understands the subsidiarity principle far better than the states ...

... Addressing requests that the commonwealth government take over public hospitals, John Howard made the perfectly valid point that Canberra bureaucrats would be no better at running a hospital than state ones. Unfortunately, he neglected to observe that Canberra bureaucrats would no more try to run public hospitals than they do nursing homes which are commonwealth-funded and regulated but privately run.

Say what? So the Commonwealth under Abbott will take over public hospitals and privatize them and run them the same way as nursing homes are run? Commonwealth funded and regulated but privately run? Golly even the neglectful John Howard might find that a mighty big policy cud on which to chew.

But if Abbott's not saying that, what is he saying? After a referendum, the Commonwealth would leave the states running hospitals and they'd just up the level of accountability and responsibility? 

But in reality they can do that already, by using the power of funding, even if herding the sand gropers is like herding cats. As Abbott showed when he and Howard embarked on their little bit of preposterous grand standing down in Tasmania in front of the hospital of their choice, ready to embrace change.

I'm afraid out of all this theologizing about change, we've ended up with two outcomes: a national paid maternity leave scheme is a good idea, and there's no need to do anything about homosexuals, because legal discrimination has ended and all's well with them. 

Oh and change is a good thing, and conservatives should be positive about change, and support it, provided they like the changes that might be offered up (never mind that change is actually about the only pre-condition in life, apart from birth, death and blather, and will happen whether you want it or like it or not).

Oh well Abbott walks the good walk, and is now talking the good talk, even if he does sound like a lame gay churchy loser. 

But I'm still feeling radical and hungering for change. How about we become a republic and abolish the states? As my first act as President, all conservatives will be sent to change school, so they can learn a change is gonna come. Now join with Sam Cooke:

I was born by the river in a little tent
Oh and just like the river I've been running ever since
It's been a long, a long time coming
But I know a change gonna come, oh yes it will

It's been too hard living but I'm afraid to die
Cause I don't know what's up there beyond the sky
It's been a long, a long time coming
But I know a change gonna come, oh yes it will

I go to the movie and I go downtown somebody keep telling me don't hang around
It's been a long, a long time coming
But I know a change gonna come, oh yes it will

Then I go to my brother
And I say brother help me please
But he winds up knockin' me
Back down on my knees


There been times that I thought I couldn't last for long
But now I think I'm able to carry on
It's been a long, a long time coming
But I know a change gonna come, oh yes it will

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