Friday, February 2, 2018

Today by Paddy Manning

Pub test
“Turnbull’s doing what Trump’s done”

Paul Keating used to say he was glad he grew up in Western Sydney, because it meant that, as an Australian politician, he knew where the ballast was. (If he knew where it was and ditched it anyway, that’s another question.)

Western Sydney decides elections. Not every time: perhaps hard-swinging Queensland will be the key to the next federal election. But every poll, journos flood Western Sydney, momentarily over-exposing it, and then depart. It feels token.

Last year’s same-sex marriage survey exposed Western Sydney as an island of “No”: around two million people in total population, clustered together, culturally apart from the greater city, state and country.

What surprised Tony Burke, member for Watson, was that anyone was surprised. There is a valid criticism that journalists get stuck in an inner-city media bubble; while the natural reaction is to boost coverage of rural and regional Australia, for me, it’s to focus on the ’burbs that are least well represented.

So each Friday, The Monthly Today will file from a pub – or cafe, or other public place – outside the inner-city bubble: Western Sydney, or wherever we can get to. We’re not looking for gotcha moments or sensational beat-ups – like Tim Blair’s infamous “Last Drinks in Lakemba”, which unravelled within days – but to keep a genuine ear to the ground, especially for a take on the story of the day or week.

Today it’s a pokies pub in Granville (seat of Parramatta, margin 1.3%, “No” vote 62%), which can’t be named, because it is owned by a major corporate, and the female pub manager’s wary of journalists. (From now on this exercise will have to be done incognito.) I talk to her and the young barwoman off-the-record. Were they surprised about the “No” vote round here? Not really, says the manager. No one here hides their homophobia – “wait, which one’s that? Is that when you hate gays?” the barwoman checks. The manager tells me her husband’s a homophobe, and the barwoman says her brother is too, but throws in: “I’m not; I’ve got a friend who’s gay. I love him.” The manager says a minority voted “Yes” overall, if you add in all the people who didn’t vote. We debate the participation rate – she thought 60-something, I thought 70-something – it was actually 79.5 per cent. But she’s right that if you add the roughly 3.3 million people who didn’t vote to the 4.9 million who voted “No” you get 8.2 million, pipping the 7.8 million who voted “Yes”. Whatever that proves. The manager says she doesn’t care if gay couples want to get married, as long as it’s not in a church. She was proud of her husband, who went with her to an engagement party for a gay couple, and was polite and friendly.

The issue that resonates behind the bar is penalty rates, of course, especially for workers in retail and hospitality. “Have they set that in stone yet?” asks the barwoman, who admits she hasn’t kept up with it, probably because her conditions haven’t changed. The manager says it’s covered by an EBA, and loadings are still paid both for late shifts and weekends. The barwoman reckons most places, unless they’re dodgy, won’t cut penalty rates: “No one’s going to give up their weekends for nothing.”

No bites on anything else: National Integrity Commission? (“You seen who’s drinking round here?”) The Cabinet files? (“I did see that.”) Tax cuts? (“Won’t happen.”) “You won’t get much news talk here,” the barwoman says.

The first and only drinker I get to talk to is a sole trader, an ex-Labor voter who now backs Pauline Hanson or Cory Bernardi. When I ask about tax cuts, he says there are more important things. “Turnbull’s only looking out for the top echelon of earners,” he says. “Turnbull’s doing what Trump has done. He’s lowered taxes for bigger businesses, so there’s more investment and they employ more.” He applauds Trump’s move to whack hefty tariffs on solar panels and whitegoods – already manufacturers are investing in the US. “He’s not stupid, Trump, I’m telling you now.” The drinker, who gets all his news from talkback radio, not TV or newspapers, also fires up on the need to end subsidies for childcare – “because they’ve got to have two SUVs, the woman has got to work” – and the need to build more coal-fired power stations. “You can’t rely on ... what’s it called? Renewables? Yeh, look at Victoria and South Australia.” What about climate change? “There is no climate change.”

since this morning

Donald Trump and Malcom Turnbull will meet [$] later this month to celebrate “100 years of mateship”

Melbourne Lord Mayor Robert Doyle is “seriously ill”, delaying an inquiry into sexual harassment allegations

“You’re gone!” – Alan Jones predicts the end of NSW Opposition Leader Luke Foley’s political career over Foley’s plan to fly the Aboriginal flag from the Harbour Bridge

Bill Shorten says federal Labor is “increasingly sceptical” about the Adani coalmine

in case you missed it

With difficult by-elections on his left and right, in Batman and Longman, things have suddenly turned difficult for Bill Shorten writes Michelle Grattan

Crikey’s Bernard Keane asks [$] whether this is the most repressive government in our history, and Former Supreme Court judge Anthony Whealy says foreign espionage laws could see journalists jailed. Meanwhile, the Attorney-General Christian Porter is reportedly considering giving himself a veto over the prosecution of journalists

Laura Tingle ponders [$] whether pissed-off electors in Tasmania and South Australia will force our political systems to change their modus operandi

by Harry Windsor
‘Molly’s Game’: Aaron Sorkin plays a predictable hand
The screenwriter leaves nothing unexplained in his directorial debut

by Sebastian Smee
‘Rembrandt and the Dutch Golden Age’
Treasures from Amsterdam’s Rijksmuseum at the Art Gallery of New South Wales

Paddy Manning

Paddy Manning is a contributing editor (politics) at The Monthly. He is a writer and journalist who has worked for the ABC, Fairfax, Crikey and The Australian. He is also the author of three books, including Boganaire: The rise and fall of Nathan Tinkler.

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