There is no shortage of predictions for tomorrow’s byelection in Eden-Monaro, from The Australian’s Peter van Onselen calling it [$] “Scott Morrison’s to lose” to Graham Richardson tipping “a pretty good Labor win” on Sky News.

Notwithstanding another beat-up [$] in advance of her speech, Defence Minister Linda Reynolds was surprisingly reassuring as she talked about the government’s $270 billion strategic update at the Australian Strategic Policy Institute today.

Shelf pity: ‘Rise & Shine’
Patrick Allington’s fable of a world in which perpetual war is staged to fuel compassion is too straightforward for its ambitions

Patrick Allington’s Rise & Shine (Scribe) is a post-apocalyptic fable about the possibility of basing a new social and political order on our shared capacity to feel the pain of others. And it is, from start to finish, the most egregious flapdoodle. It’s the sort of book you read with furrowed brow and clenched jaw, shaking your head and resisting grimly.

On the first page, we’re told that the world has been ruined. How did it happen? Maybe it was war. Maybe it was global warming. Maybe it was pollution. Maybe it was something else. The details of how and why, the narrator assures us, hardly matter. What matters is that, in the midst of this toxic mess, two survivors, Barton and Walker, have worked a miracle of regeneration. They have created nothing less than a new civilisation and given hope to humanity. The flourishing city-state of Rise is ruled by Walker and the no-less-prosperous Shine is ruled by Barton. And life in these two proximate havens is very quiet and very snug.

The only thing they lack is food. The earth is too contaminated to sustain crops. Barton and Walker, however, have discovered a great secret: feelings of compassion can provide all the nourishment required by the human organism. Indeed, regular doses of that tender emotion, in Allington’s universe, can apparently prevent starvation indefinitely.

Barton and Walker ensure a steady supply of compassion by staging a perpetual fake war between Rise and Shine. In the wasteland that separates the two cities, small platoons run around shooting rubber bullets at each other while drones equipped with video cameras transmit images of every bump and scrape back to the cities, where the citizens feast their eyes.

But all is not well. After 40 years of life without food, the magic is at last beginning to wear off. A small but growing number of citizens – including Walker himself – are slowly starving to death. Pity doesn’t work for them anymore, or barely works. The people are growing restless and change is in the air. The end of the sympathocracy, it seems, is nigh.

The book is described by the publisher as a Kafkaesque fable, but, while there are things in Rise & Shine that are unexplained, such as how compassion is transformed into calories, there are no nagging ambiguities or profound heuristic difficulties in this book. Everything is as clear and accessible as a claw hammer in a wading pool.

Clear and accessible, however, does not mean swift and gripping. The story is chiefly told from Walker’s point of view. He wanders around his compound, grumbling and wheezing and behaving like anything but a charismatic leader. His main preoccupations are bickering with his subordinates and singing the praises of Barton, his opposite paragon in the city of Shine.

The book’s idiom is like a political melodrama, where everyone talks fast but says nothing:

“What are we going to do about Holland?” Barton asked.
“Now who’s all straight down to business? … He’s my problem, I’ll —”
“No, he’s our problem now. Does he need a few months off? Is he sick? Is he slowing down? Does he need to retire?”
“I’m looking into it. Now. As we speak.”
“And?”
“And … I’m worried about him. Worried about what he’s up to.”
“As you should be.”

This tetchy back-and-forth blather goes on for pages. And nearly all the characters in this novel talk in the same bluntly passive-aggressive way and at the same length.

The flat and affectless tone has a distant familial resemblance to the work of North American fabulists such as Kurt Vonnegut and Richard Brautigan, but with none of the quirkiness or comic ingenuity. In vain you will search the pages of Rise & Shine for witty juxtapositions, clever provocations, memorable slapstick or quality one-liners.

Perhaps the best scenes in Rise & Shine are those involving the interrogation of dissident horticulturists. The secret police are charmingly incompetent, and their attentiveness to the feelings of their prisoners render all attempts to extract information futile. These are the only moments in which Allington’s comedy of too-many-manners comes alive.

But for the most part the story just plods along. Whatever resonances this tale – about the healing power of compassion and the importance of being kind to yourself and to others – might have had in the context of today’s looming mental health crisis are muffled by the slackness of Allington’s satire and the humdrum banality of the future he has imagined.

The book is colourless to the point of vanishing. Nothing has any substance. The characters are wretched spectres, disembodied voices huffing and puffing and wittering on. And the world in which they move, when glimpsed at all, is represented by a shabby backcloth of catastrophe clichés. It’s the crudest and the drabbest sort of puppet show.

Allington is particularly myopic about the city of Rise, where most of the book is set. We see hardly anything at all of the world that Walker built. We do, however, learn that video screens are ubiquitous and that most buildings are a medley of old ruins and new plastic extensions. There’s also a large dome that extends over the city whenever it rains.

As a consequence of the thinness of the fictive covering, the novel’s ideas seem vulgarly exposed. Compassion as a prophylactic against starvation? It just doesn’t sit right. And nor does Allington’s sketch of the social and political organisation of Rise, where everyone knows they’re being lied to but they accept this as necessary for survival.

In one scene, Walker is watching an old dog stagger about, hoping that this pitiful sight will sustain him for the rest of the day:

With a whimper, the dog leapt into the air, performed a midair flip, and landed with a heavy thump on its side. It lay on the floor, panting, wagging its tail that was actually a leg. Hail stared at Walker, who ran his tongue around his teeth.

The dog has five legs because it was retrieved from the badlands beyond the city limits. But this whole novel, which is a shortish pulp fiction mutated out of its right proportion, is really just a parcel of awkward fifth legs, waggling ineffectually.

Andrew Fuhrmann

Andrew Fuhrmann is an editor and literary critic. He is a researcher in the Digital Studio at the University of Melbourne and has taught at the Victorian College of the Arts.

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Image of then treasurer Scott Morrison handing Barnaby Joyce a lump of coal during Question Time, February 9, 2017.

Coal cursed

The fossil-fuel lobby could not have created the climate wars so easily without the preceding culture wars

Image of library shelves

Learning difficulties

The Coalition’s political agenda is a gross infringement on academic freedom

Image from Monos

Belonging to no one: ‘Monos’

Like its teenage guerilla protagonists, Alejandro Landes’s dreamy, violent feature film is marked by a purposeful ambiguity

Image of MasterChef 2020 judge Melissa Leong

Guess who’s coming to dinner

MasterChef conceals and reveals Australian racism


The increasingly bellicose rhetoric around China is frightening, with Prime Minister Scott Morrison today openly canvassing the possibility of “high-intensity military conflict” between our largest trading partner and our strong ally the United States.

Coal cursed
The fossil-fuel lobby could not have created the climate wars so easily without the preceding culture wars

Then treasurer Scott Morrison hands Barnaby Joyce a lump of coal during Question Time, February 9, 2017. Image © Mick Tsikas / AAP 

One of the defining moments for soon-to-be Prime Minister Scott Morrison was when he brought a lump of lacquered Hunter Valley coal into parliament in February 2017. “Don’t be afraid, don’t be scared, it won’t hurt you,” he said, as he handed it along the grinning front bench, “it’s coal.” The point was to ridicule the Opposition’s support for renewable energy, and it was a stupid stunt. But it put on full display how impossible it was for many of our political leaders to imagine Australia’s future with- out fossil fuels. Australia is the world’s second-largest exporter of coal, and in 2019 we overtook Qatar to become the largest exporter of LNG. So we are now the world’s third-largest exporter of fossil fuels, behind only Saudi Arabia and Russia.

In 2018–19, Australia’s top exports were iron ore, coal, natural gas, international education and tourism, in that order. Coal became our top-earning export commodity in the mid-1980s and has been at number one or number two ever since, vying with iron ore, which needs metallurgical coal to be transformed into steel. The production of LNG has increased rapidly over the past decade since the massive developments in Gladstone, Queensland, and it is now our third-largest commodity export and rising fast. Between 2018–19 and the previous financial year, its export value grew by 60.9 per cent. Coal, LNG, iron ore: in 2018–19 these three earned 41.8 per cent of our export income.

Australia is a trading nation. We have a small population, so exporting enables our companies to grow by reaching larger markets. We need the foreign income earned by our exports to pay for the goods and services we import, and to service debts to foreign lenders. Our exporters also contribute to the national economy by paying taxes, distributing dividends to shareholders and employing people. All this is true of the fossil-fuel exporters, but there are costs to having an export profile so skewed to one sector.

The term “resource curse” was first used by the British economist Richard Auty in 1993 to explain why some resource-rich countries suffer from slow development and corrupt, authoritarian political elites: for example, Nigeria, Angola, Venezuela. At worst, the country embarks on a spending spree, using the export income earned to buy expensive imports, and is left with little when the limited resources run out, as happened most notoriously to Nauru. For a few decades, the money flowed from its phosphate deposits, but when the phosphate ran out, the economy collapsed.

The idea of the resource curse is highly contested, and a country’s institutions are crucial in preventing the worst outcomes. A strong civil society, functioning democratic institutions and the rule of law can limit corruption and underpin a functioning diverse economy like Australia’s.

Australia’s success in exporting first wool and then minerals created an economy with a dual economic structure, in which the industries earning our export income produced far fewer jobs than the sectors producing goods and services for domestic consumption. For most of the twentieth century, protected manufacturing for the home market was a big employer, but it was inefficient and uncompetitive by world standards. When it did start to compete, it was too late and is now in poor shape. The big employers are health care and social assistance, retail, accommodation, hospitality and education. Tourism and international students gave an export focus to the service sector.

The mining industry cannot be blamed directly for the weakness of Australian manufacturing, even though its success drove the dollar higher and undermined manufacturing’s competitiveness. The blame lies mainly with political elites of both sides of politics, who waited too long to dismantle Australia’s protective tariffs. Once the most recent resources boom roared into life, most of our leaders gave manufacturing little thought.

It is climate change that has turned the dependence of Australia’s export income on minerals into a curse, and not all minerals. As renewable energy sources are developed, we can continue to export iron ore, bauxite, gold and other non-fossil-fuel minerals without contributing to the rise in global temperatures. It is only coal and gas we will have to give up and it is the fossil-fuel lobby that has turned our dependence on minerals into a political curse.

The fossil-fuel lobby has benefited greatly from the polarised politics of the last three decades. It is a moot point when this polarisation started. Some put it in 1975, with the ill will flowing from the Dismissal, but I think the current period of discord began when Keating was prime minister. Brilliant at invective, he sharpened up lines of division around race and Indigenous politics and Howard transformed these into the culture wars.

When serious pressure began at the turn of the century for governments to reduce carbon emissions, many cultural warriors transformed smoothly into climate warriors. Although the issues were very different, the enemies were mostly the same, which for many politicians is what counts. The fossil-fuel lobby deliberately stoked the polarisation, fostered climate change denialism among Australia’s conservative political elites, and rewarded its political advocates with jobs. But it could not have created the climate wars so easily without the preceding culture wars.

The culture wars were less destructive of our national politics than the climate wars have been because they had little to do with economics. Howard could introduce an economic reform like the GST, and try to reform industrial relations, even as he denounced black armband history. The climate wars are different because they are about what we export and how we produce the energy that drives our economy and they have made it impossible for successive Coalition governments to sustain a coherent economic narrative to support reform. The past fifteen years of climate wars have, in the words of Alan Kohler, “ruined Australia’s ability to conduct any kind of sensible discussion about economic policy and to achieve consensus on anything.”

The climate warriors’ support for coal and gas depends on a cascading series of arguments. The first is that the planet is not heating so there is no need to cut fossil-fuel emissions; second, even if it is, it is not caused by humans; third, even if it is, Australia’s emissions from both what we burn and what we export are so small that stopping them won’t make any difference; fourth, the drug dealer’s defence: if we don’t sell the coal and gas, someone else will; fifth, the predicted damage will not be that bad and doesn’t warrant the economic costs. The commentator Greg Sheridan even argued that if “these crook environmental outcomes are going to come about anyway, would you rather confront them as rich people or as poor people?” The first two and fifth are refuted by science, the rest by both ethics and by political realism. We cannot expect other countries to allow us to escape contributing to the global effort to reduce emissions without some sort of payback.

 

This is an edited extract from Judith Brett’s Quarterly Essay 78, The Coal Curse: Resources, Climate and Australia’s Future. Out now.

Judith Brett

Judith Brett is an emeritus professor of politics at La Trobe University. Her latest book is From Secret Ballot to Democracy Sausage: How Australia Got Compulsory Voting.

Read on

Image of Patrick Allington's ‘Rise & Shine’

Shelf pity: ‘Rise & Shine’

Patrick Allington’s fable of a world in which perpetual war is staged to fuel compassion is too straightforward for its ambitions

Image of library shelves

Learning difficulties

The Coalition’s political agenda is a gross infringement on academic freedom

Image from Monos

Belonging to no one: ‘Monos’

Like its teenage guerilla protagonists, Alejandro Landes’s dreamy, violent feature film is marked by a purposeful ambiguity

Image of MasterChef 2020 judge Melissa Leong

Guess who’s coming to dinner

MasterChef conceals and reveals Australian racism


“These border wars have got to stop,” said Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk this afternoon, while announcing [$] that the border with NSW and other states and territories would be reopened from July 10 as planned, but the state would remain closed to travellers from Victoria until the spike in new COVID-19 cases has subsided.

Speculation about the future of JobKeeper and JobSeeker beyond the September cut-off date is running hot ahead of next month’s economic statement, with the prime minister only today receiving Treasury’s review of the wage subsidy program at the June halfway mark.

Learning difficulties
The Coalition’s political agenda is a gross infringement on academic freedom

Image © Melek Kalyoncu / Alamy

Universities are not, and must never be, walled citadels. Not only do they rely on taxpayers to maintain their existence, they have a responsibility to extend the privileges they are accorded to citizens who wish to receive them.

But universities are communities with their own premises and their unique cultures. And, as such, they need a reasonable amount of autonomy so they may be secure from unwarranted interference by politicians who are intent on enforcing their ideological biases on the day-to-day affairs of universities.

They do not need instructions on what they teach nor the way in which they teach it, which is why the government’s proposal to reset course fees to accord with a political agenda is a gross infringement on academic freedom. And, quite apart from that, it is a hasty and almost certainly counterproductive over-reach.

The most obvious motive from the hardliners is simple vindictiveness. They regard universities – indeed, most forms of education – as something vaguely subversive, yet another conspiracy hatched by the progressives to enhance their dominance.

But the stated rationale is, as always, jobs. Encouraging more STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) graduates will produce, conservatives say, a productivity surge to turn around the horrible employment figures emerging as the country struggles back to what Scott Morrison and his cohort desperately hope will be business as usual.

But juggling the fee structures will, as so many have pointed out, make no appreciable difference to the actual enrolments because school leavers choose courses based on what interests them. And while they expect to find a job when they leave the cloistered halls, young people do not pick certain careers because they may save few bucks on their HECS debts some decades later.

This should be clear even to the dumbest backbenchers, given that if they have gone through higher education themselves, they have almost all pursued courses in law, economics, politics and the social sciences they now affect to denigrate.

Now they sneer dismissively about authors they have never read and never will read. They claim they are realists, knowing the price of everything and the value of nothing – especially not those mythical jobs they avoided themselves but insist are needed for everyone else. There are not many scientists, technologists and engineers among the members of Morrison’s cabinet.

But now, absurdly, they attack those who deface statues for vandalising “history”, at the same time as the government’s reworking of university fees seeks to downgrade and dismiss the entire discipline.

Surely Liberal politicians should know enough history to recall that the revered founder of their party, Robert Menzies, was not just a huge advocate of the universities, but was also the man who took over their revenue base to save them from the vagaries of the states; he regarded his involvement as perhaps the most significant and lasting achievement of his illustrious career.

Menzies would be appalled at the idea that the primary aim of universities is to be mere training mills; to him they were institutes of learning and research, fountains of knowledge. They were bastions of civilisation and culture to be preserved and nourished.

But there are no votes for civilisation and culture from this government. Jobs and growth, growth and jobs, is the order of the day. And if the universities don’t deliver them, says the Coalition, we’ll starve the bastards until they do.

Mungo MacCallum

Mungo MacCallum is a political journalist and commentator. His books include Run Johnny Run, Poll Dancing, and Punch and Judy. Visit his blog, The View from Billinudgel.

Read on

Image of Patrick Allington's ‘Rise & Shine’

Shelf pity: ‘Rise & Shine’

Patrick Allington’s fable of a world in which perpetual war is staged to fuel compassion is too straightforward for its ambitions

Image of then treasurer Scott Morrison handing Barnaby Joyce a lump of coal during Question Time, February 9, 2017.

Coal cursed

The fossil-fuel lobby could not have created the climate wars so easily without the preceding culture wars

Image from Monos

Belonging to no one: ‘Monos’

Like its teenage guerilla protagonists, Alejandro Landes’s dreamy, violent feature film is marked by a purposeful ambiguity

Image of MasterChef 2020 judge Melissa Leong

Guess who’s coming to dinner

MasterChef conceals and reveals Australian racism


Though Virgin Australia has a buyer in US private-equity firm Bain Capital, there were few assurances for the company’s workers in today’s confirmation of the sale by administrators Deloitte. The news comes hard on the heels of yesterday’s announcement that 6000 jobs would go at Qantas, in what chief executive Alan Joyce described as the biggest crisis in aviation history.

Belonging to no one: ‘Monos’
Like its teenage guerilla protagonists, Alejandro Landes’s dreamy, violent feature film is marked by a purposeful ambiguity

Image courtesy of Neon

“I want to dance on television,” says a cherubic teenager to her forty-something companion midway through Monos. It sounds like a perfectly generic wish for an adolescent girl, except that this one is holding the adult woman hostage at the end of an AK-47 assault rifle, and they’re both locked in a bunker somewhere on a remote mountain range. Seconds later, an explosion erupts outside and the teen is on top of her captive, smothering her with kisses that twist from the childlike to the erotic, before giving way to the electrifying onset of madness. As coming-of-age fables go, this is no quirky summer to remember.

The fresh thrill of chaos – of teenage abandon bearing down on a broken system – courses through this dreamy, violent third feature from Colombian-Ecuadorian writer-director Alejandro Landes, a filmmaker lurking at the intersection of Sundance-approved world cinema and a more untethered, experiential formalism. Among misty mountaintops that might be in South America if they weren’t filmed to resemble a time of legend, a mysterious squad of teenage guerillas is guarding the aforementioned hostage, an American engineer they call Doctora (Julianne Nicholson). Their politically ambiguous superiors, billed only as the Organisation, have mostly left the teens to their own devices, save for the periodic appearance of the Messenger (Wilson Salazar), a diminutive man-child who drops by to approve inter-group relationships, deliver a cow by the name of Shakira, and yip orders (“Show me your war face!”) at kids half his age but twice his height.

Collectively known as Monos (from the Greek word for “alone”), these machine-gun-toting small soldiers wear the motley, every-era fashion of military camouflage, nylon sportswear and sleeveless denim, and go by code names (Smurf, Rambo, Bigfoot, Boom-Boom) that read like a parody of pop-culture detritus. Their downtime, which largely involves playing games, making out, and discharging their weapons into the ether while they await commands, has perversely shifted from a pantomime of adulthood to a kind of mini utopia: communal, self-sustaining, open to gender fluidity. It’s an idyllic new world where the androgynous, baby-faced Rambo (non-binary actor Sofia Buenaventura) moves between lovers Lady (Karen Quintero) and Wolf (Julián Giraldo), while the rough-hewn and jacked-up Bigfoot (Moisés Arias) gets about in pigtail dreadlocks, leggings and a skirt. Even Doctora has become one of the gang, more hair-braiding teenage peer than frayed elder. Out of place and out of time, they’ve become a makeshift family with nothing to lose but whatever system put them here to begin with.

Landes frames the group less as teens than primal beings remaking the world in their own image. The film’s early sequences of celebration and communion have a kind of ancient, magic ritualism, while cinematographer Jasper Wolf’s widescreen vistas, painterly and panoramic, are complicated by Under the Skin composer Mica Levi’s arsenal of alien bird calls and subterranean Morse code – a soundscape that captures the film’s heady mix of hormones, adrenaline and oxygen deprivation.

The film’s often luscious imagery is rife with enough muddy face paint and flare-lit jungle flourishes to have critics reaching for their surrealist war standbys (“Apocalypse Now on shrooms” went one unfortunate Guardian headline), and Landes does lean, perhaps to a fault, on his admitted influences, from novels Lord of the Flies and Heart of Darkness to Elem Klimov’s paralysing, dissociative World War II horror film Come and See (1985). Yet Monos is most rich when it echoes the energy and troubled soul of Héctor Babenco’s street-kid classic Pixote (1981), the slippery sexual identity of Bertrand Mandico’s The Wild Boys (2017), and even the mischief of Harmony Korine’s Gummo (1997), films that illustrate what happens when kids are forced to grow up – and grow strange – in the shadow of adult neglect.

Just as Levi’s score switches between tender fairytale motifs and the surround-sound cacophony of wheezing helicopter rotors, Monos embraces its essential paradoxes. As an allegory for the lingering Columbian civil war (and the nation’s uneasy attempts at brokering accord), the film obscures any direct political comment and blurs the division between left-wing guerrillas and right-wing paramilitary. As an all-purpose horror-of-war piece, it works hard to complicate traditional sentiments on the “innocence” of childhood and the compromises of growing up. (In the film’s press notes, Landes insists that Monos is concerned with “rejecting binary concepts of the world”.)

These tensions boil over during Monos’s messy, transformative second half when, after an enemy skirmish in the mountains, the squad are compelled to move their captive upriver, deep into the jungle. Desperate to escape, Doctora reverts to deceptive, self-preserving ploys and adult cunning, and the Messenger, the ineffectual father figure, is revealed to be powerless in the face of those he’s corrupted – both are nominal parental figures that the teenage guerillas must discard. Meanwhile, the squad’s struggle for independence becomes one for internal power, and a longing for normality is shown to be a regressive compromise; one character’s brief sojourn with a nuclear family who gather, dead-eyed, around a TV to watch a documentary about a Gummy Bears (“hard enough to keep their shape but soft enough to chew”)  proves to be a world to which seemingly no one would want to return.

“What should we do with this unidentified person?” says a military soldier to his colleague when Rambo is eventually “rescued” and taken aboard a passing chopper, a moment that Landes can’t resist pairing – to the film’s detriment – with a hackneyed, implicating to-camera glance at the audience. But the question lingers all the same. When the alternatives for kids on the fringes are police custody, the social-welfare system, or simply living in a world where a teen’s aspirational peak amounts to dancing on television, maybe it’s better to belong to nothing, and to no one.

Luke Goodsell

Luke Goodsell is a critic and editor who has contributed to the ABC, SBS and the Melbourne International Film Festival.

@timebombtown

Read on

Image of Patrick Allington's ‘Rise & Shine’

Shelf pity: ‘Rise & Shine’

Patrick Allington’s fable of a world in which perpetual war is staged to fuel compassion is too straightforward for its ambitions

Image of then treasurer Scott Morrison handing Barnaby Joyce a lump of coal during Question Time, February 9, 2017.

Coal cursed

The fossil-fuel lobby could not have created the climate wars so easily without the preceding culture wars

Image of library shelves

Learning difficulties

The Coalition’s political agenda is a gross infringement on academic freedom

Image of MasterChef 2020 judge Melissa Leong

Guess who’s coming to dinner

MasterChef conceals and reveals Australian racism


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