Australian politics, society & culture


An excursion into George Brandis’s Brave New World of metadata capture and storage
By Tony Wilson
An exegesis on unintended consequences
By Mat Keneally
This month Tony Abbott squibbed the greatest moral challenge of his age and shelved plans to amend the Racial Discrimination Act. That was tough on George Brandis, who had drafted a gem of law prohibiting racial vilification only where the victim felt threatened with physical violence. The proposed law would have sent an important message: in Australia if someone is brandishing a weapon at you while spewing racist abuse, you have the right to demand that person put that weapon down. Abbott’s “captain’s call” was necessary to confront a new threat: the 150 Australians who have joined the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria. Our captain needs everyone (the Muslims) to join Team Australia (everyone else, except the ABC). To join Team Australia all you have to do is: obey the law, fly the flag, and offer unqualified support for expansive national security legislation that curtails civil liberties. We’ll drop our right to be bigots, if you stop insisting on yours to be presumed innocent. While I applaud Abbott’s enthusiasm I’m worried his plan to cancel Centrelink payments for persons found to be supporters of ISIS is not quite fully formed. Let me be clear. I’m no fan of Jihadist bludgers, the most maligned of the bludger family. I’m worried that cutting welfare for ISIS recruits will have unintended consequences. As Kevin Andrews has sagely observed, unconditional welfare breeds laziness and idleness. It subdues ambition and encourages inertia. If anybody should receive money to do nothing it’s young men with a desire to commit barbaric acts. To join ISIS you need: a plane ticket; to make contact with intermediaries on the ground; and the willingness to undergo significant training. Do we want a young man considering this morbid choice to be weighing it against abject poverty in Australia? Or do we want him sitting on his parents’ couch fighting American forces on his X-Box in air-conditioned comfort? The Coalition justifies its policy of denying people under 30 the dole for six months on the basis that it will encourage them to find work, educate themselves, and stay engaged. Presume the government is right. All across Australia potential terrorists will leave the comfort of home, find work and the benefits of self-esteem, energy, and disposable income. Team Australia does not need a generation of CUIBs (Cashed-up-ISIS-Bogans) dedicating their newfound confidence and resources to global terror. No, these are not men who should receive the benefit of the Coalition’s enlightened social policy. Instead ASIO should be identifying security risks and ordering Centrelink to do three things: (1) increase their benefit; (2) on random occasions reduce their payment without any explanation; and (3) when they complain forward them onerous paperwork to complete (the existing forms should be just fine for this purpose). The mixture of lavish welfare payments and endless bureaucracy will be enough to neutralise the threat.
A heartfelt plea from two political comedians
By Toby Halligan and Mat Keneally
To the Honourable George Brandis and Eric Abetz, It’s been a rough week for both of you. Eric, you fell into that classic trap of suggesting abortion and breast cancer are connected. We've all been there. George, you had some trouble dealing with one of those “tech-heads”, David Speers, and now you've gone “viral”. No, George, the fact that you feel fine does not mean you haven't gone “viral” on the internet. It was surprising to see ministers of the Crown perform so poorly. Generally, most MasterChef contestants seem better prepared for interviews than either of you. However, do not blame yourselves. Your many years outwitting other Liberals have not prepared you for the real world. As political comedians, while we personally very much enjoyed your performances, we're concerned that you're making us obsolete. So for our sake and yours we have taken it upon ourselves to make the following suggestions. First, George: If you do not know anything about a thing do not do an interview about that thing. If short on time, read the Wikipedia page about that thing (or at least text Malcolm Turnbull). Analogies can be useful to explain things. But they can also make you seem as if you don't know which century you're in. For instance: using letters and envelopes to explain metadata is a bit like trying to explain the Joint Strike Fighter through references to chariots. If you ever again get caught in an interview where the journalist knows about a thing and you do not know about that thing, ABORT. Pretend to faint or start singing showtunes. A nervous breakdown is less damaging than ignorance. Finally, as you may be called upon to do another interview on metadata let us explain how metadata works, through the example of your interview on Sky News. Using your surveillance techniques we would know you went to Sky News headquarters (the metadata) but would not know what you said in the interview (the content). Despite this, we could surmise a lot about the interview (the trainwreck) by further analysis of more metadata, such as: the number of unanswered phone calls from Tony Abbott's office to your mobile both during and after the interview; the subsequent switching off of your mobile; and that most of your staff immediately logged on to the internet website <>. And Eric: If you want to attend “medical” conferences dedicated to the link between gay marriage and leprosy that's great. We like playing Dungeons and Dragons too. There is nothing wrong with a little bit of fantasy on the weekend. However, when you come back to work do not talk about it like it is real. If you do insist on doing an interview about your “lifestyle choices”, practise beforehand in front a mirror saying the phrase “No, I do not agree abortion is linked to breast cancer”. Get it down to seven seconds, that way you can never be cut off. Remember, you’re a senator. From Tasmania. Flying under the radar is your natural state. There’s an old saying: “If a Tasmanian Senator attends a pro-family conference on the weekend and no normal people see it, did it really happen?” We would hate for either of you to take this personally. You are by no means underperforming by the standards of this government. But please heed our advice, if not for yourselves then for the comics of Australia. We should be better at making fun of you than you are of yourselves but, lately, you’re winning.  
A singular analysis of AFL players’ names
By Peter Cronin