Tag Archives: Kevin Rudd

The dark side of political life: Sandwiches, name-calling and “assault”

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Being a politician is not for the faint hearted. Whether we’re talking about student politics or an Australian federal election, those in public life are often subject to ridicule, insults and angry protests. This reality was made clear this month, when several current and former Liberal politicians were confronted and even allegedly assaulted by angry university students while visiting several uni campuses in Sydney and Melbourne.

Early last week, student protesters disrupted a lecture by former Liberal MP Sophie Mirabella at the University of Melbourne. This was predated by students yelling at Foreign Affairs Minister Julie Bishop when she visited two Sydney universities this month. Education Minister Christopher Pyne has also seen his fair share of student activism – first on a now famous episode of Q&A and then again last Thursday night, when he attended the Howard Debating Cup at the University of Sydney.

Pyne was quick to label students’ approach to Bishop as “assault”, though many dispute this. Disagreement and dissent are healthy to democracy, but as shown in the latest series of student protests against the Liberal government’s cuts to higher education, the level of acceptable dissent against politicians and other authority figures can polarise opinion across Australia.

Defending the Q&A protest

When you make promises to the public – when you are elected on those promises and when you wield enormous power over the nation’s future – your actions and your policies are justifiably scrutinised. “That politicians would become the focus of intense public scrutiny and intense emotions is to be anticipated to some extent”, said Dr Peter Chen, a politics lecturer at the University of Sydney, to Hijacked.

Dr Chen said we should recognise that politicians are people with human emotions, but that the power and responsibility they hold is exceptional. Dr Chen defended the chanting Q&A protesters and pointed to the power imbalance between students and politicians. “On the one hand, it would be good to engage in civil policy-oriented debate, and I think in general people do agree to that, but that position assumes we are in an environment where all people can participate in civil debate [equally] and I’m not sure that’s necessarily the case,” he said.

Throwing shoes and sandwiches

When your voice is ignored, when your letters are answered only with regurgitated statistics, and when forums like Q&A become more and more scripted, how far should you push to be heard? Some people draw the line further along the spectrum than others, and throughout the years, politicians have been subject to some pretty humiliating and threatening demonstrations.

During his reign as Prime Minister until 2007, John Howard had shoes – an old school form of spectator disrespect – thrown at him twice over “racist” policies and the Iraq War. Australia’s first female PM Julia Gillard also had sandwiches thrown at her during two separate school visits and she narrowly missed a flung egg in Perth. Even in New Zealand, MP John Banks was recently sprayed with a bucket of mud over charges for failing to declare high profile donations.

Dr Chen says that throwing things constitutes as violence. “Everyone should have the right to participate politically without the fear of violence, and it does no good when violence is used as a political strategy by any side of the political spectrum in a democracy,” he said.

Name-calling and ridiculing

If an average person experienced the amount of name-calling and ridiculing that politicians face in the media and on the street, people would not hesitate to call it extreme bullying.

During her time as Prime Minister, Julia Gillard was called a bitch and a witch. “Take that, you dog,” is one line shouted before a group of Greens supporters threw shoes at somebody dressed up as former PM Kevin Rudd. Last October in Melbourne, students burnt an effigy of current leader Tony Abbott outside Victorian Parliament, and it’s not unusual to see young and old Australians wearing t-shirts or holding signs that say “Fuck Tony Abbott” or “Tony Abbott eats poo”.

When we don’t know a politician, it is easy to idealise them as an ultimate hero or villain – much like the way we sometimes forget that celebrities like Kanye West or Kim Kardashian are actually real people. Some people say that putting yourself up for criticism is a price to pay for public power. But should we still take into account a politician’s emotions, the impact on their loved ones or their basic human rights?

Some people realise that politicians aren’t just talking heads on a TV screen. Georgia Hitch, a student from the University of Sydney, went to school with Kevin Rudd’s son. Kevin Rudd was mostly just the dad who showed up to his son’s tech shows or held a charity event with the school. “He was first and foremost a dad, just like the rest of our [parents],” says Hitch to Hijacked. “At the end of the day, politicians really are people with emotions,” she says of the effect of Rudd’s ousting on his family.

Like the rest of us, politicians deserve the right to feel safe from harm, to be free from persecution based on sex, race and religion and – dare I say it – to be allowed freedom of political communication (to the extent that it does not incite hatred, violence or significant harm against others).

Ineffective protest strategies

Some people say that violence, profanities and abusive slogans like “Fuck Tony Abbott” are not only crass, but that they also undermine the effectiveness of the movement because they overshadow the issues and peaceful nature of protests.

“The ambush of Julie Bishop made the protesters seem erratic and abusive and potentially undermined the cause and their motives,” says Hitch. “Considering how critical the media are being towards protesters [we] all have to think very carefully about exactly how we choose to get our message across [and not] through profanities, shoes and sandwiches.”

In a protest of thousands, it is often the small and apparently violent group that will make front page news. It is the violence, the egg and the shoe – not the issue or peaceful protesters that we remember – that are often latched onto by tabloid newspapers or those with an agenda to push.

Dr Chen says the protesters face a difficult paradox when dealing with the media. Violent protests can distort the focus of an issue, but peaceful protests like March in March are often under-reported. “While a more rambunctious style of protest may be somewhat counterproductive, it may be less counterproductive than getting no coverage at all,” he said.

Politics is not an easy job and sometimes it becomes intensely personal. While protesters are disadvantaged when challenging powerful politicians, it is still within their power to determine their personal actions and decide what kind of social movement they want to create.

Published in Hijacked, 26 May 2014.

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Election Propaganda: The Advertisements That Will Make You Cringe

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Recent election advertising makes me wonder whether it is possible for any political party to make an ad that doesn’t look like propaganda. Maybe it’s from all the film analysis I had to do at school, but I sincerely struggle to see these ads as anything less than ridiculous.

Without further ado, the awards are…

Sex Appeal

Surprisingly, this does not go to Tony Abbott. No, the Greens have stolen it.

When I first saw this Greens ad, I genuinely thought it was a joke. On second look, it has the perfect amount of, in the words of Tony Abbott, “sex appeal”, to keep the viewer hooked until the punch line at the end. It even incorporates an iPhone to show that the Greens are hip and down with the young people and there are enough close-ups of screaming faces at the end to make sure you understand the emergency of the situation.

Most Natural Performance

“I believe that investing in local schools (pause), like this one here, ” he says, pointing behind his shoulder while his eyes remain fixated down the barrel of the camera. The seamlessness of Kevin Rudd’s performance deserves an Oscar. At the very least, he could give weather presenters a run for their money.

Most Inspiring

There stands Prime Minister Rudd on a sunny day amid background shrubbery. His voice, of course, is accompanied by happy music, which crescendos as the video progresses to match the rising level of inspiration. “I know for sure that the old politics of negativity Just. Won’t. Work”, he says with a sort-of-smile on his face and hand gestures to match.

With this positive outlook in mind, I bring the next award.

Best Horror Film

Cue the doomsday music you often hear in horror films when the killer is hiding behind the curtain. A high angle shot looms over Tony Abbott’s helpless victims. A gloomy voiceover croaks into your ear as the stage light is symbolically switched off over the glum-faced ‘losers’. The simple slogan “If he wins, you lose” evokes the appropriate amount of edginess in anyone who doesn’t like losing. Most importantly, a dark shadow is cast over Abbott’s sinister face, looking more like a character from The Godfather. Real subtle, Labor.

Heartbreaker
This Liberal ad speaks to the sentimental among us, marking the third anniversary of “Labor’s Carbon Tax Lie”—there’s even a cake and a candle! The sombre music and slow-motion montage bring back a flood of haunting memories.

If you look carefully at the bottom-right, you can even spot a sneaky Kevin prancing and laughing jubilantly, followed by his best pal, Julia, after the carbon tax is passed. The ad even sneaks in that awkward photo of what looks like Kevin and Julia smooching.

Best Disney Remake

I sense Walt Disney won’t be happy with how similar the background music of this Liberal ad sounds to ‘Beauty and the Beast’. It has the magical feeling of a Disney movie with smiling faces and a sprinkle of Australian slang—“having a go” and “land of opportunity”—in true Tony Abbott style.

At the end of the ad, there sits Tony on an airplane (in what looks like Business Class), looking out the window with hope as the light shines on his face (hint: symbolic for the promising future under the Coalition).

So there you have it – the ads that are supposed to inform the electors. Mind you, I’m not complaining. I would rather political agendas be sensationally blatant than perniciously subliminal. Use all the dramatic music and plastered smiles that you want – just don’t expect us to take your ads seriously.

Published in Vibewire, 24 August 2013. 

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Australia far from settled on refugees

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In a sea of political rhetoric, phrases like “stop the boats, “refugee rights” and “queue jumping” seem to constantly get splashed around. Problems, causes, symptoms and solutions get swirled together, often making it difficult to grasp the complexities of the asylum seeker issue.

Rudd’s PNG Solution gave fresh lungs to voices across the political spectrum. Over a month later, the Coalition has finally made its move.

Early on, the left voiced outrage at Labor’s PNG solution with Greens leader, Christine Milne, accusing Rudd of lurching so far right that he leapfrogged Tony Abbott in cruelty.

In a political standoff, the right found itself facing a Labor policy that looked uncannily like its own – ‘offshore processing’ and ‘stopping the boats’ seemed to be the phrases of the day. Abbott’s initial response seemed baffled and ambiguous. “I welcome it, but it won’t work under Kevin Rudd, ” he said. Later, at the federal debate 11 August, in almost schoolyard “you copied me” style, Abbott said: “let’s face it, we invented off-shore processing.”

But on Friday 16 August, Tony Abbott came out with bigger guns and a more coherent response in an attempt to distinguish Liberal from Labor and secure the conservative votes.  Firstly, Liberal will deny asylum seekers the right to appeal to the courts for refugee status. Secondly, any legitimate refugee found among the 30, 000 asylum seekers who have already arrived will only be granted temporary rather than permanent visas.

There are many stages in an asylum seeker’s journey to Australia. Every stage remains controversial. This is the story Australians tend to hear: a person is manipulated by a conniving boat smuggler into hopping onto a rickety boat without a visa, placing their lives at the mercy of the turbulent high seas. If they survive, the asylum seeker is taken into mandatory detention where their claim for refugee status is processed. If the claim succeeds, questions remain over where they will be settled and what rights they will be given.

Should the boats be stopped?

Both Labor and Liberal have echoed a resounding “yes”.  Australians are no stranger to stories of disastrous boat journeys and deaths at sea. Like most politicians, when Rudd announced his hardline deterrence policy, he framed it as a compassionately motivated attempt to end an exploitative system of boat smuggling. “There is nothing compassionate about criminal operations which see children and families drowning at sea, ” he said.

However, many refugee advocates denied these moral claims, arguing that such deterrence methods merely punish the most vulnerable.

Daniel Webb from Human Rights Law Centre told Fairfax Media that deterrence was the wrong policy. He said deterring boats only addresses the symptom of the problem. The problem, he said, is that there are people in our region who desperately need protection and who lack a safe, viable, alternative pathway to access it. “Now you can shut Australia’s doors but that doesn’t resolve their underlying desperation and their underlying need to obtain protection”, Mr Webb said.

Like Rudd, Abbott seems determined to stop the boats, expressing sentiments of effective border protection. ”The essential point is, this is our country and we determine who comes here, ” Mr Abbott said.

Detention and Processing Claims

With both major parties now supporting offshore detention, the Liberal party has hardened their stance on the processing stage. Shadow Immigration Minister, Scott Morrison, expressed a desire to end Labor’s “tick and flick” approach by removing asylum seekers’ right to appeal. In the March quarter, Labor’s court appeal system saw an increase of approved refugee statuses from 65.3 to over 90 per cent. According to Mr Morrison, this appeal process was being “promoted by the people smugglers to put people on boats”.

Settlement

There are currently 30, 000 asylum seekers “that Kevin Rudd’s already let in”, said Mr Morrison. From these, any legitimate refugee will be denied permanent residency under the Coalition.

In the words of Mr Morrison: “You don’t get the right to stay in Australia forever, you don’t get the right to apply for citizenship, you don’t get the right to bring your family here, you don’t get the right to come and go from the country as you please.”

Refugees on welfare will be signed up to the ‘Work for the Dole’ program where work experience must be completed in order to receive continuing income support from the government. This is because “you shouldn’t get something for nothing if you’re coming to this country, ” said Mr Morrison. According to the government website, this program aims to “give eligible job seekers the opportunity to learn new skills, get work experience and improve their chance of finding a job.”

When a temporary visa expires, refugee status will be reassessed according to whether a person’s home country has improved enough for them to return home.

#AUSylum Conversation

The questions are complex and the answers in Australia remain divided…

Should the boats be stopped and if so, how?

Will policies of deterrence support the greater good in dismantling a boat smuggling system of exploitation or does it merely punish vulnerable individuals? 

Is this a matter of border security, humanitarian obligations or both?

Is ‘queue-jumping’ a myth used to demonise desperate boat people?

Is a system of (potentially indefinite) detention humane and economically viable?

Should asylum seekers be processed on the mainland or offshore?

Should refugees be granted permanent or temporary visas?

Whether you want to learn more, or you want to have your say on these issues, join the #AUSylum Twitter conversation. To tackle these complex questions with you, Vibewire will be hosting these panellists:

  • Joe Hildebrand, journalist from The Daily Telegraph
  • Graeme McGregor, National Refugee Campaign Coordinator of Amnesty International
  • Sara Saleh from Amnesty International
  • Gemma Amy-Lee from I am a Boat Person

Follow the twitter feed and add your piece to the puzzle as we explore these complex issues in 140 or less characters.

Published in Vibewire, 21 August 2013.

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Shock Greets Rudd’s New Refugee Policy

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Rudd’s new asylum seeker policy has sparked fresh anger among refugee advocates on an issue that continues to divide the nation. 
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