Who does Alan Jones think he is to speak to the Prime Minister like that?

Share

I was completely appalled to hear how a well known radio personality in Sydney spoke to the Prime Minister of Australia on air. The details are outlined well by Barrie Cassidy on The Drum in Liar, liar, shock jocks on fire; and you can listen to the entire interview here.

This radio shock jock berated the Prime Minister of this country on air for arriving late for a media interview. Further he called her by her first name throughout the interview. He called her a liar to her face.

I’ve heard him interview Prime Ministers of Australia before. He referred to them civilly to their face and called them Mr so-and-so, or addressed them as Prime Minister. But now, when confronted with a woman Prime Minister, he seems to think he can disrespect her and her office.

I’ve got no problem with people having an opinion that is different to mine or to anyone else’s. And that shock jock has as much right to his opinion as anyone. But what he did to our Prime Minister went beyond the pale. Agree with Julia Gillard and her politics or not, as Prime Minister she deserves to be treated with the same respect as every other Prime Minister that went before.

I can only hypothesise that misogyny drove his behaviour, misogyny coupled with a deep hatred of non-conservative politicians. When confronted with a woman holding that office he seems to have felt that it was acceptable to berate and speak so un-civilly; and to do so in ways he’s never done with a male office-holder.

It reminds me of the continuing misogyny that exists in Australia. It reminds me that women are still not considered equal to men, even if they are the Prime Minister of the country. It makes me sigh. It makes me sad. It makes me wonder how we can change things.

Share

A lucky country indeed …

Share

Even though it was once said ironically, it has always seemed to me that Australia really is the lucky country. Our national anthem, Advance Australia Fair, sums it up:

We’ve golden soil and wealth for toil…
Our land abounds in nature’s gifts…
We’ve boundless plains to share…

In recent times the troubles of far off places like Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, Bahrain, Yemen and others have made me think about Australia.

We have been very lucky. Australia has a good economy, stable government, social cohesion, rule of law and a very congenial way of life. We have adjusted to the rigours of our climate, which has been so well described by Dorothea Mackellar in her poem My Country.

Australia alternates between flood and fire in ways that would make most people blanch. But in between we enjoy weather, beaches, mountains and scenery that are breathtaking in their beauty. And our healthy economy means that we enjoy amenities that inhabitants of other countries might envy.

But given the challenges that we face as part of the world community – climate change, food security, refugees, religious and political extremism – Australians need to start thinking about how we can best meet these challenges.

It is somewhat disconcerting to realise, given the enormous challenges facing us, that neither of the major political parties in Australia has any proposal or policy to deal with them.

Instead the political parties are consumed with petty internal divisions and ignore those for whom they supposedly stand. Our political parties and the current crop of hacks certainly live up to the second part of Donald Horne’s saying:

“Australia is a lucky country, run by second-rate people who share its luck.”

When did the Liberal Party become the party of naysaying cold-hearted xenophobes? When did the Labor Party become a cold-hearted machine driven by internal polling and factions?

I think the past elders of each party would be horrified to see the nasty polemical poll driven machines that each has become.

How do they sleep at night when they fight against each other, not for principle nor for policy, but for petty gain that sets the needs of the nation and its people as naught?

We need leaders of of vision. We need leaders who can look twenty or more years into the future, then build and plan for it. We need the kind of vision that built us a nation. We need the kind of principles that gave us a fair and equitable system for determining the treatment of working people. We need an engaged citizen populace who are educated enough to participate in democracy as educated citizens.

Most of all we need leaders who do not fall back into polemical and party driven positions that do not reflect the many shades of grey in the real world. We need leaders with compassion for people and who are true to the spirit of a fair go for all in this nation.

Share

More thoughts on revolutions #Egypt #Tunisia #Bahrain #Iran #Libya

Share

THESE are the times that try men’s souls. The summer soldier and the sunshine patriot will, in this crisis, shrink from the service of their country; but he that stands by it now, deserves the love and thanks of man and woman. Tyranny, like hell, is not easily conquered; yet we have this consolation with us, that the harder the conflict, the more glorious the triumph. What we obtain too cheap, we esteem too lightly: it is dearness only that gives every thing its value.
Source: The Crisis, 23 December 1776, Thomas Paine

As the wave of people’s uprisings sweep across North Africa and the Middle East it is fascinating to watch from afar in Australia.

We are safely ensconced in our comfortable homes distant from the terrible decisions that people are making in those far off places. And what terrible decisions they are. Taking to the streets to reject tyranny – perhaps risking death, torture, or even the lives of your family – is a terrible decision for anyone to make.

The gallant reporting of Al-Jazeera and others, together with the incredible real time feeds from citizen journalists and media journalists via Twitter, bring the action close to those far away. And this kind of transparency makes these revolutions quite different to those of the past.

Never before have the eyewitnesses to a revolution been able to report in real time to such a broad an audience across the world about the events taking place. And now on Twitter we have people who are acting as relays of that information – people like @acarvin @AJEnglish @AJELive @shervin. The network amplification effects of Twitter are playing a significant role in uncovering and shining a light on the various regime’s responses to the uprisings.

We can see how the regimes view the internet now, as a tool of revolution, by the way that they move to block the people’s access almost immediately. They do this in an attempt to cover up their next step, which is typically their attempt to crush the uprising of the people.

In the past the reaction of a regime to an uprising usually happened in an atmosphere of secrecy and confusion. But now, while the confusion remains, the reaction is happening in a more transparent way. It is hard to hide a vicious crackdown when everyone in the crowd has a mobile phone with a video or still camera.

Modern democracy has always posited that governments should govern at the will of the people. And there are many regimes around the world that do not govern at the will of the people. Many of these regimes do not govern for the people at all. Instead they govern for a corrupt few – the worst kinds of oligarchies or dictatorships. The despotic rulers of those governments must now be fearful that they too are vulnerable to the will of the people in ways that were unthought of only a few months ago.

It is worth reading Thomas Paine on the matter of government if you’ve never done so: Dissertations on First Principles of Government, The Crisis, or Common Sense. Thomas Paine’s works were highly influential in the development of the American democracy, which many have come to assume is the natural form of democracy in the world today. By the way, I can only assume some of the conservatives who quote Paine so admiringly have never actually read any of his works.

Share

Australian citizenship, ceremony and ritual

Share

A friend invited me along to his citizenship ceremony the other day. He’s terribly excited about becoming an Aussie after living here for a number of years.

We went to the newly refurbished Sydney Town Hall and the Lord Mayor, wearing her Lord Mayoral bling, gave a lovely speech. Several hundred people from all over the world gathered to receive and to celebrate receiving Australian citizenship. They took the oath or affirmation and were given their citizenship certificates and we all sang the national anthem. Afterward we were treated to afternoon tea with Anzac biscuits, lamingtons and Pavolva; and the Australian Electoral Commission was there to sign them up as registered voters.

It was a touching ceremony and then, it being a hot Sydney summer day, we decamped to a pub for a proper celebration with cold beer and other icy beverages. Many of Mark‘s friends attended, bringing with them essential gifts such as Vegemite, and shouts of Australian beers in celebration.

This all got me thinking about my own experience, and that of any Australian citizens who are born here. Our citizenship dribbles past us, uncelebrated, unthought, unremarked. As we sat out in the beer garden at the pub discussing the various citizenships held by people around the table it dawned on me that I’d never really noticed I was an Australian citizen.

Sure I tick the box on official forms but had never really actively noticed that I’m an Australian citizen. There was no ceremony or ritual that marked my acquisition of Australian citizenship because it happened at birth.

I started nosing around the rules about Australian citizenship, the nuts and bolts are in the Australian Citizenship Act 2007 (with other details via Australian Citizenship Instructions).

“The Parliament recognises that Australian citizenship represents full and formal membership of the community of the Commonwealth of Australia, and Australian citizenship is a common bond, involving reciprocal rights and obligations, uniting all Australians, while respecting their diversity.

The Parliament recognises that persons conferred Australian citizenship enjoy these rights and undertake to accept these obligations:
(a) by pledging loyalty to Australia and its people; and
(b) by sharing their democratic beliefs; and
(c) by respecting their rights and liberties; and
(d) by upholding and obeying the laws of Australia.”
Source: Australian Citizenship Act 2007

But what I also discovered is that the various Commonwealth governments have never really articulated a clear statement of obligations and rights in relation to Australian citizenship. In this regard it is quite enlightening to read Citizenship in Australia: A Guide to Commonwealth Government Records.

In particular Chapter 4 outlines historical records on civic rights and obligations, movement and passports, and international instruments on human rights which have affected citizenship in Australia.

I never learned any of this in school. There was never a moment where we enacted any ceremony or ritual that brought citizenship to our consciousness. It makes me wonder if this might be a good kind of ritual to invent for our civil society?

Perhaps a ceremony similar to that which I attended with Mark and all the other new Australians the other day would be a fitting ceremony for eighteen-year-olds who are just coming into their right to exercise political power?

Share

Public discourse and private citizens – how free is freedom of speech? #groggate

Share

A recent disclosure that a Federal public servant has been blogging about matters political in his personal time has come to be referred amongst Australian journalists and bloggers alike as #groggate.

There has been much discussion about the rights and wrongs of this unmasking of a pseudonymous blogger who had the temerity to question the efficacy of the retinue of journalists who were following the election candidates around the country.

The debate about this continues to rage across the blogosphere and twittersphere; and in the publication that outed the blogger it seems they are using the issue as linkbait in fine blogger tradition.

But, as some wiser folks have realised, this matter is not about one public servant and his blog. It is about participation by private citizens in public discourse.

Up until recent times the opportunity for the average citizen to participate in public discourse was extremely limited. Instead participation by private citizens in public discourse was mediated by newspapers, magazines and television channels – the professional news media.

Because of this historical role as gatekeepers of access to public discourse the professional news media in Australia appear to believe that they have a privileged position to maintain. I believe that this feeling was what drove the unveiling of the author of the Grog’s Gamut blog.

It appears to have been a rearguard action by members of the professional news media who feel their gatekeeping role with respect to public discourse is being eroded. Funnily enough they are right. Their role as gatekeepers who set the agenda for public discourse is eroding under their very feet.

Instead we are seeing a fragmentation of the media landscape. Eternal verities such as guaranteed audiences are splintering and nobody really knows what will happen next. And into this shifting media landscape new voices – those of private citizens – are flourishing in niches. Not every new voice is excellent or expert. Not every new voice is skilled in the ways of fact-checking and other journalistic niceties. But some of these new voices are finding loyal and interested audiences. Grog’s Gamut was one such new voice.

But Grog’s blog was written under a pseudonym – it was not an anonymous blog as some have asserted. And the journalist and his publication could not resist the temptation to reveal the real name of the author.

That revelation means nothing to most people. But to this particular public servant it means scrutiny from mandarins at senior levels in the public service and the possibility that he might lose his job over his private opinions shared in his private time as part of his contribution to public discourse.

Further, it means that every other public servant will be watching what happens to the author of Grog’s Gamut. They will be watching to see if it is possible for a public servant to participate in public discourse in Australia. They will be watching to see if it is too dangerous for their jobs to put their heads above the parapet. They will be measuring the possibility of danger and assessing whether or not they should support Government 2.0 initiatives.

Other private citizens – those who work for major corporations – will also be watching what happens to Greg Jericho. Many will assess the risks of their participation in public discourse. Some might be discouraged from participation. But I hope that others will choose to embrace the new media tools and give voice to their opinions. I hope that others will share their opinions, ideas and information. I hope that they will continue to create niches and fragmentation of the traditional media.

We need new voices. We need to democratise participation in public discourse. Some of it will be ill-informed rubbish. But amongst the dross will be some gems and our society needs to find those gems.

Share

Twitter, commonsense and journalism #groggate

Share

I’ve been observing the discourse in the mainstream and social media worlds about the ‘outing’ of the blogger Grog’s Gamut – the so-called #groggate. Craig Thomler has made an excellent aggregation of the various sources of comment.

There were two things that really irritated me recently:

These articles irritated me because they each conflated ideas that were not necessarily related – activism and social networks.  And, in the case of Elliott’s article, he disingenuously used Gladwell’s arguments to continue the justification of The Australian’s recently declared war on bloggers and Twitter.

In my opinion Gladwell does his usual trick of lightweight commentary without bothering to delve into any level of depth or subtlety. This seems to be his stock in trade (and he writes entertainingly) so I tend to let it pass by.

But the value of Twitter in respect of creating loose ties than enable the development of deep, real life, and personal relationships cannot be underestimated. Twitter provides the regular interaction – much like at the water cooler in the office – that let’s us understand who we might want to get to know on a deeper level.

The ambient knowledge about people in your network that Twitter affords is invaluable.  It assists us in transcending physical separation and allows us to stay in contact with friends without the need for physical co-location. Another great benefit with Twitter is the ease of making new connections with people who share common interests.  The recent Social Innovation BarCamp in Sydney is a good example of an event that brought together many people with common interests – it was organised and publicised mainly via Twitter.

But Elliott notes “Malcolm Gladwell writes that social media is really activism-lite and a tool that makes participation in a cause more efficient: that is, through the click of a mouse one can make a donation to a cause or send a supportive tweet”.  He then argues that because Greg Jericho (who we now know as the author of the blog Grog’s Gamut) was not entitled to privacy because he was merely a “commentator” and not a “whistleblower”.

Elliott then goes on to compare Jericho’s situation with that of famous activists like Martin Luther King or Steve Biko and to note that Jericho is “now even more popular, thanks to The Australian“.  This comparison of Jericho to famous activists is spurious.  He never claimed to be an activist.  Jericho’s only claims were:

I’m a guy interested in sport, literature and politics. I have in turn wanted to be captain of the Australian cricket team, Olympic gold medalist, PM and Booker prize winner. Now I’ll just settle for blogger.

Thus no claim by Jericho to special privilege or “whistleblower” status.  Just an ordinary citizen taking advantage of the freedom of speech afforded in Australia to share his opinions and insights.

And, as for action by the people in the Twitter-sphere in response to Jericho’s outing by The Australian, no physical action was meaningful or relevant to the situation.

What physical action was possible, reasonable or sensible in the recent #groggate case? No physical action would do anything for Jericho except to inflame the situation. There is no direct analogy between the Grog’s Gamut case and calls to action like those issued by Martin Luther King or Steve Biko. Twitter is not peopled entirely by complete idiots.

Using Twitter to organise a picket line at The Australian’s offices would have been foolhardy and would have made Jericho’s situation at work more difficult. No need to take up a collection for Jericho’s legal fund as The Australian did nothing illegal.

All we can do is express our dislike of the actions of the publication and the journalists involved and express our disapproval of their continued self-serving justifications. We can mourn the death of any notion of journalistic decency.  We can feel sad that Australian mainstream news media is becoming as polarised and polemical as that in the US.  And we can note that by their actions James Massola and his colleagues have done a huge disservice to freedom of speech in Australia, especially for public servants. The use of pseudonyms has been an important part of free speech for a very long time. Pseudonyms proliferate in the mainstream news media – so why are they unacceptable from a blogger?

This whole affair does make me seriously question the journalists – what are their positions on political, social and religious matters. I want to know more about their backgrounds. What are their political and religious affiliations? And what about these mysterious people called Editors? Who are they, what do they stand for? Perhaps they’ve unwittingly raised the issue? But we need transparency from journalists as well as bloggers. It’s time for journalists to come clean about their personal viewpoints and perspectives, no more pretending to present facts in an objective and disinterested way. We need to admit that there is no such as as unbiased reporting and embrace transparency for journalists too.

As for activism, we are seeing real action happen as the result of social networks.  GetUp! is a good local example of this. Say what you like, but  raising enough money to put ads up on prime time TV via social media channels counts as real action, as does winning a High Court action regarding the enrolment of voters.

Many other NGOs are also working out how they can embrace the new media. It’s a pity the old media folks are so busy fighting a rearguard action to save the past that it seems they cannot consider the future in a positive way.

Share

Warning: I'm probably going to tweet a fair bit about #OzPol & #media140 this coming week

Share

Because, along with the witty and intelligent @neerav @smurray38 @grogsgamut @paulwallbank, I shall be in Canberra blogging and tweeting about Media140 Oz Politics.

This event is on Thursday 23 September 2010.  There’s a fascinating line up of speakers and I’m expecting that my brain will be buzzing with ideas.

The agenda includes:

  • keynote addresses from US Ambassador Jeffrey Bleich and GetUp Director, Simon Sheikh
  • talks by Senator Kate Lundy and Dr Claire Wardle
  • feature interview with Rob Oakeshott

The official Twitter hashtags for Media140 Oz Politics are #OzPol and #media140 so keep an eye out for them if you’re interested in this kind of stuff.

Share

Tolerance: freedom of speech, thought, association and discussion

Share

It has been very interesting (during the 2010 Australian federal election campaign) to watch people advocating freedom of speech on one hand and then getting upset when people with differing views speak out.

The intolerance of opposing points of view has really resonated with me. It makes me a bit sad that we are not always able to have a free and frank discussion of important issues.

However, it has also made me question how willing I am to listen to the other side of an argument. Interesting question, isn’t it?

Both sides of politics here (Liberal/National and Labour) have abandoned all pretense of bipartisan approaches, leading to polarisation. There is not much listening going on at all, and hardly any visionary policy for Australia – just polemical positions that make me sigh. I suspect that will just drive voters to make the Senate not winnable by either major party, with the Greens and a handful of Independents as the only likely winners.

The other thing that I have observed along with this is the growing trend towards ‘thought crimes’. No longer does one need to actually perform an illegal act to commit a crime. It is now sufficient in many regimes, such as Australia to simply think about something or to have contact with certain groups of people (see here for overview).

Also we are seeing growth in surveillance – CCTV and the like – to protect us from violence and crime.

It makes me wonder if all these things are not adding up to create a less tolerant mindset for our society than we have been used to for the past few decades?

Share

Risk management and real communication

Share

I was reading a post by Dave Snowden that really got me thinking.

In his post, From oratory to the soundbite, he discusses the changes in how our politicians engage with us.  Noting the change from the days of Lloyd George, who would speak for an hour without notes and engage with hecklers in the audience, to that of the manicured and controlled soundbites of modern politicians.

It also got me thinking how we have become conditioned to manicured and carefully prepared speeches and presentations in many areas of our lives nowadays.  And this shift is all about risk control.

This shift to carefully manufactured communications can likely be attributed to the way you can sound easily sound stupid or ill-informed if speaking off the cuff (cf. Barnaby Joyce).  Then that comment can be amplified endlessly (and often mercilessly) via social media.

In the days of Lloyd George his engaging speeches were not recorded for posterity.  They were ephemeral.  Nobody pored over the transcript and excerpted poor phrasing to regurgitate for weeks afterwards in media releases and media interviews.

Our ability to document every happening is changing how free we are to express ideas and opinions.  No longer can we have an amusing interplay with a heckler at a speech that is heard by only those present.  That interplay can now be taken out of context and used as a weapon against you by people of ill-will.

This is one of the reasons I believe we are seeing the growth of the politics of NO. In the past oppositions and governments could make bipartisan stands and it was hardly known by the populace. But now a new transparency means that it is easier and simpler for oppositions to stand against things than to work together for the common good on issues.

Perhaps once people understand how transparent things are becoming we can evolve new ways to communicate in less manufactured ways?  But for that to work we do need to accept imperfection.

Share