Welcome to our kitchen table election

This Federal election is powered by Kitchen Table Conversations, a technique developed in Melbourne in the late 1990s and which has mobilised the constant political chatter around tables, in cafés and over drinks

THE “CLIMATE” INDEPENDENTS expected to win an increased number of seats on 21 May, and conceivably the balance of power, are propelled by KTC.

This is the mobilising technique of “Kitchen Table Conversations”. Self-selected hosts invite perhaps nine others around to discuss the political issues they find important, and to plan possible actions. A coordinating group collate reports from the kitchens to help find and inform a local candidate.

A relatively spontaneous, and still quite loose, movement is now significant in Australian politics (and I would like to learn about similar techniques elsewhere in the world).

Various “Voices 4”, “climate”, “teal” or “community” independents have sprung up in Coalition electorates, with voters disgruntled principally about lack of action on the climate emergency, and on an independent commission on corruption.

Behind that, kitchen-table activists respond to perceptions that political parties have failed participatory democracy.

While progressive on some core issues, participants thus far tend to be relatively comfortable, financially, so that campaigns lack neither professional access, nor funds.

Compiling a definitive list of KTC-propelled candidates proves tricky, initially because I have not checked through all possibilities. Climate 200 has published a list of those it supports, but others remain sufficiently independent as to refuse all outside funding. Other estimates suggest more than two dozen “teal” candidates. My attempted list (below) contains four up for re-election, plus eleven newcomers in city seats held by Liberals, and six rural candidates mainly challenging Nationals.

From Kitchen Table Conversations: A guide for sustaining our democratic culture, by Mary Crooks and Leah McPherson (2021)

The mechanism was adopted famously in the rural Victorian seat of Indi in 2013, when Cathy McGowan replaced Sophie Mirabella (and was succeeded by fellow independent Helen Haines). In like manner, in 2019, Zali Steggall spectacularly beat former Prime Minister Tony Abbott in Warringah.

KTC had originated even earlier, among women worried by the aggressive neoliberalism of Premier of Victoria Jeff Kennett as he closed schools, privatised government activities, and dismantled democracy.

Introducing a new booklet on the topic, Mary Crooks relates how, in 1996, she lunched with two friends (Sandra Hart and Angela Munro) at the Red Sage Café in Clifton Hill (Melbourne). “Despite the Kennett government being re-elected for a second term, we sensed a groundswell of community unease across Victoria,” Crooks recalls.

At a second meeting, Crooks took along an ad for the position of executive director of the Victoria Women’s Trust. She got the job, and developed the grassroots mechanism. The initial name of the “Red Sage Project” (after the café) was soon changed to Purple Sage to avoid political confusion (and setting off a palette of colours, often teal). Working with other respected community groups, the project engaged as many as 6000 women and men across the state “in a thoughtful deliberation of the key issues and the actions they could think about taking”.

The model very much belongs to the (traditionally womanly) domain of the kitchen table, and the treatment of women has remained prominent.

In the new booklet, Mary Crooks and Leah McPherson advise: “Hosts will need to provide some drinks and light snacks. This may be as simple as tea, coffee, and a packet of biscuits.” This contrasts with political candidates drinking a beer at the traditionally male pub (although photo-ops have lately included sipping tea in workplaces).

Crooks and McPherson accept that “Core Group” organisers might enjoy a proper meal for a post-mortem: “You may wish to organise a lunch or dinner together, share a drink at the pub or café, or enjoy a peaceful walk to decompress.”

These domestic get-togethers should be viewed as a deliberate alternative to the presently dominant conversations at board tables, business lunches and cocktail parties among politicians, billionaires and lobbyists, titillating each other with coal mines, highways, new airports, outsourcing opportunities, and cuts to public education. (For more on “state capture”, read this recent report.)

In pursuit of the “delicious revolution” in Meals Matter, I recognise meal conversations as the essential ground of democracy, because table chat covers not only regular meals past, future and present, but also the wider meals of schools, hospitals and aged care, and all that surrounds them – table talk naturally encompasses life’s essentials.

Political theorist Janet Flammang has written how everyday meals generate popular political consciousness.Even slightly more formality can be powerful. Like-minded experts and enthusiasts typically “socialise” at drinks and restaurant tables.

Courtly banquets were centres of political proposals and intrigue. Regicide has been plotted at aristocratic feasts, and so, too, revolutions have been planned in coffee-houses, and people’s victories celebrated in street banquets.

Some might defend digital media as furthering political discourse, but online chat drifts too far from social foundations in food sharing.

Politics emerges from the pleasure of the stomach, “especially through participatory democracy, in which everybody labors at everyday meals and converses, so that knowledge collects up and distributes”. The political economy is to be “rewritten by living well” (Symons, Meals Matter, 2020: 272-273).

Long live table politics!


The “community”, “climate”, “Voices 4” and “teal” independents seeking lower-house re-election are: Helen Haines in Victoria, Rebekha Sharkie in South Australia, Zali Steggall in NSW, and Andrew Wilkie in Tasmania.

As to newcomers in Liberal city seats, we’re speaking of at least: Nicolette Boele in Bradfield; Jo Dyer in Boothby; Kate Chaney in Curtin; Zoe Daniel in Goldstein; Claire Miles in Casey; Despi O’Connor in Flinders; Monique Ryan in Kooyong; Sophie Scamps in Mackellar; Allegra Spender in Wentworth; Georgia Steele in Hughes; and Kylea Tink in North Sydney.

Taking a swing at rural, mainly National seats, similar candidates include: Penny Ackery (Hume), Kate Hook (Calare), Suzie Holt (Groom), Hanabeth Luke (Page), Caz Heise (Cowper), and Rob Priestly (Nicholls).

The campaigns are unique to each electorate, but all wanting to “do politics differently”, and they generally feature climate action, and integrity in parliament, and they listen at kitchen table, fireside and pub get-togethers.

Mary Crooks

Morrison, “fake”

SCOTT MORRISON would never make a good waiter. He’s a total “fake”, as certified by recent Australian of the year Grace Tame.

She responded to the Prime Minister’s attempt to effuse sympathetically, when a mother inquired about cuts to NDIS payments for her child with autism.

Scott Morrison and his wife were unable to conceive for the better part of two decades. Nearly giving up on IVF, at the age of 39, Jenny gave birth to the first of the couple’s two daughters.

“She is our miracle child, the answer to a lifetime of prayer and 14 years of painful, invasive, heartbreaking treatment,” Scott wrote in 2009.

So, in a televised leaders’ debate the other night, he replied, concerning the future of the NDIS, “Jenny and I have been blessed, we’ve got two children” – and here he stumbled – “that don’t – that haven’t had to go through that.” He added: “And so for parents, with children who are disabled, I can only try and understand your aspirations for those children.”

Grace Tame and fake (to her right)

Along with the famous photo of her sideways look at Morrison, Grace Tame tweeted that “autism blesses those of us who have it with the ability to spot fakes from a mile off”.

In a classic non-apology, the Prime Minister later said he was “deeply sorry” about the way his comments were “sought to be represented by our political opponents in the middle of an election,” and that he had intended to “respect the challenges they [?] face, not the opposite”.

He’s a fake leader. He pretends to the role – as a “bully” to some, and “friend” to all the “quiet Australians”, while leaving CEOs, lobbyists and cronies to run the place.

Serious waiters are not fakes. They actually care for people. They help them have a good time, and cope with the full range from angry ignorance to gratitude. They have seen it all – couples in love, couples parting, two-timing spouses, drunken politicians, business wheeler-dealers, tearful families, wedding parties, and new-borns in baskets. They have studied the strangest dietary preferences, and all manner of anxiety.

We have had personal experience. Strangers would try to say the “right thing” when confronting our beautiful son, whose disabilities were in plain evidence. They would say things like: “It’s wonderful what science comes up with”. Or they promised a “miracle” from God.

At restaurants, Lawrence would often cry, and possibly be calmed by listening to the Wiggles. But, truly, the better the restaurant, the happier he was.

Perhaps the noise levels were more comfortable. Perhaps he joined our enjoyment. Perhaps the waiters knew what do. Whatever it was, we confirmed the effect time and again.

There was much that Lawrence couldn’t do (he was blind, never said a word, and remained unable to walk or even grip an object). But, among some wondrous abilities, he could spot fakes.

At good places, waiters would organise clear soup or a mash, so we could feed him. (Ultimately, though, he was happier and healthier just being tube fed.)

And, invariably, good waiters did not carry on about science or God; they just said something sensible.

We can’t exactly remember the best-ever response, but we know it was by a waiter, and where he was – Café di Stasio in St Kilda. His intent was something like: “He will look after you, and you will look after him.”

I dedicated my latest book, Meals Matter, to “Marion, Dorothy, and Lawrence Symons Maddox (1999-2009), who together have taught me so much about meals, and thereby everything”.

Tom Uren and me

AT THE TIME OF THE DISASTROUS BRISBANE FLOODS of January 1974, I was acting for some months as Whitlam minister Tom Uren’s media officer in Canberra.

Planners in his new Department of Urban and Regional Development explained to me that the flooding was exacerbated by laissez-faire development, whether chopping down trees upstream that hastened run-off, further speeding up rivers as flood “mitigation” or, incredibly, subdividing housing blocks on flood plains.

Brisbane, January 1974 (Qld Archives)

I suggested to Uren that he issue a media statement about the environmentally-destructive policies. Tom refused. He believed it wrong to score political points when people were losing their lives and property.

While humbled by Tom Uren’s decency, I’ve never been sure that he chose, at least in this case, the better way to practise his unchallenged love for humanity and nature.

Back then, the Queensland Premier, Joh Bjelke-Petersen, was famously pro-development, and never let up as a ferocious and ignorant detractor of the Whitlam Labor Government.

The pattern has continued until now, nearly five decades later, and with incontestably worsening floods.

With storms continuing, immoral N.S.W. Premier Dominic Perrottet demanded more housing, whether on flood plains or not (“NSW Planning Minister scraps order to consider flood, fire risks before building”, Sydney Morning Herald, 22 March 2022).

One difference now is the featuring of climate change. Back then, the more generalised fear was that too many people were sold too much technology, destroying biodiversity and unleashing harmful chemicals in a race to disaster.

This broader concern about resource depletion, loss of species, pollution, etc, might yet prove more realistic. For example, with pandemic lockdowns, investigators found that the rate of heart attacks dropped, in synch with the clearer skies.

That health improvement was detected in the U.S., and much of the air there is cleaner than other parts of the world.

A WHO report recently recognised air pollution as the “the single biggest environmental threat to human health”. That’s illnesses and deaths from the same fossil fuels that produce the greenhouse effect.

I did successfully organise photo-ops for Tom Uren opening bike paths (ACT Archives)

Australian Republican Movement, listen! We’re the “head of state”

THE AUSTRALIAN REPUBLICAN Movement has proposed a two-step model for appointing a “head of state” to replace Queen Elizabeth (or King Charles, Andrew, Harry or whomever). Of all people, republicans shouldn’t cling like this to the monarchical archetype.

The simple fact is that the head of state is (or should be) the people. We are in charge. Our appointment merely requires simple assertion: Australia belongs to the people! The #AusRepublic proposal betrays nostalgia for hierarchical rule by our betters – “something higher than the politicians”, when it is actually us.

According to the ARM model, the head of state would be little more than “ceremonial”, that is, perform as pseudo-royalty. In terms of power, this official could merely ask members of the House of Representatives who has their “confidence” to form a government. If that’s no-one, the HOS calls an election. Parliament could do that by itself.

So far, Australia has largely got away with a mediocre Constitution, no Bill of Rights, and little by way of a popular or even elite understanding of civics, liberal theory, political philosophy, jurisprudence, republicanism, or however you want to approach the requisite knowledge.

A republic is not achieved by merely replacing a powerful, foreign “figurehead’ with a powerless one. However, getting an Australian republic even half right would require massive research, contemplation, education, inspiration and debate.

The inadequate comprehension around these parts showed up, as Marion Maddox pointed out, when the 1998 Constitutional Convention opted for recognition in the Preamble of some supreme “generic God”. Come on, the supreme national authority is the people, with only the natural economy/ecosystem more formidable.

Since at least the 1930s, when William Cooper petitioned for enfranchisement, direct representation in parliament, and land rights, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander campaigners have sought serious constitutional recognition, with Treaty pressures escalating from the 1970s.

That might sound gradual. Discussion has scarcely even emerged on the constitutional status of corporations. As I show in Meals Matter: A radical economics through gastronomy, corporate apologists have got away with claiming the human right of “liberty” for businesses, while denigrating government by the people. No republic is wanted, when money runs things.

A republic would require renewed investigation of familiar topics – the role of the judiciary, States’ rights, taxation, border security, health, education, etc. – but often in unfamiliar ways. A proper democracy requires a real commitment to education, research and the arts, and not just training, tech and the leisure industries, for example.

But we’re a long way from a fundamental understanding when even political philosophers fail to recognise that John Locke argued his liberal case in basic economic terms, i.e., the human need to eat and to cooperate on that within nature. My next book will cover more of that.

PS: Governors’ residences could be put to good use as retreats for Australians of the Year, poets laureate, writers, playwrights, thinkers … generating more discussions like Grace Tame’s than the present Governor General’s. Yarralumla’s State Dining Room could experiment with banquets, given that’s what political economies are centred on (again, see Meals Matter).

An uncultivated continent?

IMAGINE IF Captain Phillip and his charges sailed from Botany Bay into Port Jackson today. Never fear, we would be secure. The Minister for Home Affairs would quickly round up the poorly-armed marines, would-be settlers, miserable convicts and people smugglers.

Before being whisked away, the intruders would have noted an astoundingly “uncultivated continent” of oil refineries, container terminals, waterfront mansions, soaring apartment blocks and vast urban stretches. Around the coast, they might possibly have sighted some patches of agribusiness, somewhere amid the rest being burnt.

That was the strange, industrial Australia I tried to evoke in One Continuous Picnic, my gastronomic history, published in 1982. Forty years ago, the place was feeding on cans, frozen packets and plastic. Fresh, local foods were widely assumed to be doomed. Indigenous culture was discarded. Little nuance was needed. A “land without peasants”. We only ate on rather than of the land.

My history found exceptions, including instances of the colonists resorting to, and sometimes enjoying, native foods. More importantly, I spent a couple of introductory pages celebrating Aboriginal eating, apologising that topic would require another book (and subsequent appearances include Bruce Pascoe’s Dark Emu, 2014, and its response, Peter Sutton and Keryn Walshe, Farmers or Hunter-Gatherers? The Dark Emu debate, 2021).

My sole example was Western Desert people, rounded up for the British atomic tests. Relying on a paper by anthropologist Dr Richard Gould, I sketched their “complicated skills and culture which had sustained them perhaps 40,000 years in apparently inhospitable conditions … They survived not so much through great physical endurance as through knowledge – their ‘cognitive map’.”

I mentioned them, I said, to “highlight our own profoundly novel way of feeding”, contrasting their “respect for the immediate environment and the invaders’ indifference”.

In the mid-1990s, I learned about semi-permanent settlement and complex horticulture, when Marion Maddox and I wrote a book on the Hindmarsh Island affair, involving the Ngarrindjeri of the Murray Mouth.

Incidentally, such was the well-financed legal ferocity of that anti-Indigenous campaign, including Slapp writs (Strategic lawsuits against public participation), through which obsessed parties from Tony Abbott to Chris Kenny assisted John Howard into power, that, understandably, no publisher would touch our revelations.

Speaking of an “uncultivated continent”, especially when covering Indigenous supervision, was a simplification; but my main contrast was between what I had discovered in Italy, where people still then enjoyed good cooking, fresh markets, and handy gardens, orchards and vineyards, and Australian in 1982.

Mine certainly wasn’t a terra nullius argument, since the book opened with “the patrols to round up remnants of the 10,000 or more Aborigines who once roamed the Western desert”. If anything, I guess, it was overly influenced by Wilderness Society-type thinking.

Much more has been written about Australian food since, both about the successes before the First Fleet, and the at least partially improved prospects, but my book had established eating as historically insightful (against the widespread acceptance there was nothing to write about), and I stick to the broad case.

My latest contribution, Meals Matter (2020), generalises the claim to assert that capitalism has systematically uncultivated the world, by having trivialised gastronomic talk, along with separating people from the soil, and imposing globalised machine production, and plastics.

I’m sure Meals Matter will also turn out to be overly-simplified in important respects. Yet I believe, again, that gastronomy can correct prevailing political and economic theory. Many of us keep trying.

“Traditional” marriage

Pugnacious ex-Prime Minister Tony Abbott urged a “no” to same-sex marriage to help “stop political correctness in its tracks“. Instead, the government’s postal survey found 62% in favour and 38% opposed, and so demonstrated strong Australian support for political correctness.

224042-tony-abbott
Cheap shot (Abbott in red)

Tony Abbott deplores the “long march of the left through our institutions”. As he also told a group opposed to equal marriage in New York recently: “It’s not just the loss of Christian faith”; the politically correct also promote the “slow erosion” of “Western civilisation”.

How wrong could he get! But let me just explain here that the end of traditional marriage is a good thing.

Firstly, even professed proponents no longer really want traditional marriage; they want little more than “what I like to think is traditional marriage”.

In a pastoral letter entitled Don’t Mess with Marriage, the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference defend specifically “traditional marriage”. However, among many errors and omissions, the Bishops fail to mention that traditional marriage has included gold ring-wearing priests having “married” the church. The tradition for nuns “marrying” Jesus dates back at least as far as St Catherine of Siena, who saw herself as a bride of Christ, after a vision of the infant Jesus giving her a wedding ring.

Until late in the nineteenth century in Australia, traditional marriage meant depriving a wife of property rights (and she became property herself). In 1969, the Conciliation and Arbitration Commission lifted the general female award minimum wage, but out of deference to men as the “traditional” breadwinners to only 85% of the male wage. The patriarchal marriage was so sacrosanct until recently that police remained reluctant to intervene in a “domestic”.

Historically, marriage has been highly diverse, including polygamy. But let us concentrate on the tradition of child brides. As recently as 1942, the state of Tasmania raised the minimum legal age of marriage from 12 to 16 for girls, and from 14 to 18 for boys, and Tasmania led the other states on that. The Australian Marriage Act of 1961 still allowed girls of 14 or 15 to marry in “unusual and exceptional circumstances”, although that provision was amended in 1991.

Such traditional marriages might now be illegal, but religious “conscientious objection” is so strong that a few such weddings are still performed surreptitiously in Australia.

Tony Abbott’s former chief-of-staff Peta Credlin recently fulminated on Fox News against the silence of “feminist warriors” on these child brides. Blaming the politically correct’s hesitation to criticise other cultures, Credlin said that “in other faiths, we call it paedophilia, but not when it comes to Islam”. But how post-fact could Credlin get?

Worldwide, an estimated more than 700 million women alive today were married before their 18th birthday. That includes massive numbers of Christians. Especially in Africa, Christian-predominant nations still encourage child brides. UNICEF figures show 16% of Ethiopian women aged from 20 to 24 were married before 15, and 41% before 18. In the Central African Republic (where 80% of the population are Christian), 29% were married by the age of 15, and 68% by 18. (For comparison, 3% were married under 15 in Iran, and 5% in Iraq.)

In the US, the statutory minimum age varies between 13 and 17, depending on the state. However, 25 states have not set minimum ages, instead relying on the “traditional” minimum – taken to be 12 for girls and 14 for for boys.

Many American Christians defend child brides, arguing that the girls are of child-bearing age, and, anyhow, Mary was probably 14 when she carried Jesus. Such claims were reasserted recently to defend Judge Roy Moore, the Republican’s fundamentalist Senate candidate now accused of harassing and sexually assaulting girls as young as 14. He is said to be socially inept, and in his early 30s notoriously haunted a shopping mall in search of a young bride.

New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof recently reported that between 2000 and 2010 as many as 250,000 children got married in the United States (“children” being aged 17 or younger).

Kristof interviewed Sherry Johnson, who was raped by both a Pentecostal minister and a parishioner, and gave birth to a daughter when she was 10. A judge approved the marriage to end the rape investigation, telling her, “What we want is for you to get married.”

“It was a terrible life,” Johnson recalls. Married at 11, she missed school, and spent her days changing nappies, arguing with her husband and struggling to pay expenses. She ended up with nine children, and periodically abandoned by her husband.

Proponents of “traditional marriage” have to accept that conservative Republican states tend to have higher proportions of sexually-active school students, teenage mothers, users of prostitution, married “swingers”, and divorce.

As to strongly Democrat states, Naomi Cahn and June Carbone wrote in Red Families v. Blue Families (2010):

the most visible representatives of blue family values [that is, the politically correct] bristle at restrictions on sexuality, insistence on marriage or the stigmatization of single parents. Their secret, however, is that they encourage their children to simultaneously combine public tolerance with private discipline, and their children then overwhelmingly choose to raise their own children within two-parent families.

Additionally, Democrat states tend to be wealthier and better educated, and, as Kristof wrote a couple of days ago:

So the deeper problem seems to be the political choices that conservatives make, underinvesting in public education and social services (including contraception). This underinvestment leaves red [Republican] states poorer and less educated — and thus prone to a fraying of the social fabric.

Australian right-wingers, including Tony Abbott, claim to uphold “the traditional stance of the centre-right in the English speaking tradition”, which is “to be pro-market and to be socially conservative”.

To translate, Abbott-style conservatives are proudly both neo-liberal (cutting social services, and undermining public health and education), and wanting to prop up the ensuing disaster through the promulgation of fundamentalist religious values, plus  divisive fear-mongering, and dog-whistle politics.

Such “no” leaders are sexually obsessed. For example, in Don’t Mess with Marriage, the Catholic Bishops warn against, among other consequences, “sex-education classes that teach the goodness of homosexual activity” (as opposed to teaching “the badness” or perhaps “evil” of homosexual activity?).

But basing “traditional marriage” on reproductive sex hardly works. Most immediately, other animal species successfully procreate without any tradition of marriage. In turn, embracing childless heterosexual marriages leads to shaky generalities about the “potential” for procreation. The Bishops want an institution, “open to the procreation of children”. The real concern therefore must be the social control/licensing of procreation.

For sexually-preoccupied conservatives, meals don’t matter (or don’t matter enough).

If we take marriage basically to be an institutional foundation for meal-sharing, it is then ideally a core commune of equals.

That explains, for example, the main problem with child marriage: juveniles are typically ill-equipped emotionally, educationally and financially to form an equal partnership, seeking “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” together.

Even the Bishops have a sneaking appreciation of marriage’s gastronomic basis, declaring that the union is “centred around … the wellbeing of the spouses”. Admittedly, the union also aims towards “the generation and wellbeing of children.” But, even in that requirement, “well-being” still counts.

In a little more detail, the Bishops accept:

Each marriage, from its beginning, is the ‘foundation-in-waiting’ of a new family and each marriage-based family is a basic ‘cell’ of society. Families also provide the social stability necessary for the future by modelling love and communion, welcoming and raising new life, taking care of the weak, sick and aged. The principal ‘public’ significance of the marriage-based family is precisely in being the nursery for raising healthy, well-rounded, virtuous citizens.

Once the Bishops have added something about marriage establishing a “nursery for, and household for sustaining, healthy, well-rounded, virtuous citizens”, even they might one day vote “yes”.

Note: I wrote previously about the “habitually divisive” Tony Abbott’s close relationship with the openly gay Christopher Pearson. As Abbott said: “Christopher was the aesthete; I was the athlete; he was a reformed Maoist and I was a lifelong conservative. Yet he had made it his mission to take me under his wing.”

They died for this

RSL hamburgerThe other night I commemorated the anniversary of my conscientious objection case. This was a court hearing to determine that I actually held beliefs that prevented me from being conscripted for the Vietnam War. It was a while ago, but as you might imagine, trying to establish beliefs under cross-examination jolted me enough not to forget (existential threat does not permit complexities).

The alternatives of win or gaol loomed so large that, even three decades later, an exhibition on so-called National Service at the Australian archives in Canberra just made me laugh. For there was the tiny wooden Tattersall’s gambling casket from which they drew our life-and-death birthday marbles. And there was a typewritten letter from Minister for the Army Malcolm Fraser sending off young people with corrections scrawled in pen.

The other night was the anniversary of the day we were summoned back to hear the magistrate’s verdict on the evidence provided by me and two witnesses. My father Christopher and uncle Lawrence confirmed talking to me over the years about the issues. Both had fought in WWII, my father still saying it had been the right thing to do, and his brother believing he should have refused.

I have previously written that their father (my grandfather Alex) departed London for South Australia, never to return, based on his trench warfare experiences. Mind you, the strength of my views probably came even more from my mother; with two brothers and young husband away, she suffered at home.

Several supporters had warned against appearing without a lawyer, especially in front of a magistrate who by then had a string of knock-backs to his name. But I was only 20.

On that day, the magistrate entered, summarised my case, stopped, and, without mentioning anything asserted by the newbie barrister challenging me, found my case justified, and left the courtroom. I remain convinced he changed his mind half way through his prepared statement.

I was not going to gaol for refusing to train to kill. I was not, like so many peers, to

containment

participate directly in death and destruction. Instead, my father took us out to dinner at the Fiddlers Three in Cremorne, where I was allowed to order anything I wanted – duck à l’orange and chocolate mousse.

On this anniversary, with my usual dinner companions at the Hannah Gadsby show (confronting in a different way), what was I to do? Celebrate alone at home with a bottle of red?

In the end, I decided to try the nearby Returned Services League club…

The club is decorated with medals, and a Tasmanian artist’s depiction of various WWI soldiers doing their thing (set number 962 of a run of 1000 prints). A glass case inside the entrance displays a book, whose pages would seem to be turned every two days to name soldiers to be remembered.

And the club has lots of poker machines, and bright lights and jangling sounds. Originally, at such clubs, ex-soldiers recalled dead comrades, but gambling facilities have subsidised expansion into mini-Trump casinos. Members, including presumably now even former enemies, can lose themselves in spinning images.

The club was surprisingly big and busy. As well as the Gallipoli lounge, poker machines reach into the “Kokoda Terrace outside smoking area with comfortable seating and table service”. The main dining is the “All You Can Eat restaurant – Buffet 88”. I went to the smaller, almost empty Poppies Cafe for the largest hamburger with the lot and chips that I’ve been served.

Many young men (mainly men) died for this, and others returned so damaged that their PTSD afflicts partners, and is passed on to the next generation. My grandfather, uncle and mother remain right.

I’m with the cow cockies on daylight saving

See original imageTonight, Paris switches off daylight saving, and I’m again confused about turning clocks back/forward. Do I or don’t I get an extra hour’s sleep?

You wouldn’t think my first degree was in mathematics, and that my mental arithmetic is faster than average.

What would “back” mean, just for a start? Where it was an hour a go? To a lower number?

It might be a defect in my education, because we didn’t have to learn such things when I went to school. Nevertheless, I’ve mainly blamed a mental block, until now.

Given that my attempted biannual (not “biennial”, don’t ask!) calculations are more likely to be wrong than right, it must a problem with daylight saving.

Confronted with the confusion for a third time this year, I’ve decided that the system is just one step too alienated – as the cockies complain. Let me explain why the cows get confused.

Noon is meant to be when the sun is highest, and midnight 12 hours later. (While I’m at it: noon is 12 am, and midnight 12 pm or, if you like, 00 am – do the counting!)

And no-one can shift when the sun is highest, without difficulty. Nevertheless, daylight savers pretend they can, wrecking our daily lives.

All that mental and bodily confusion, and for what? Something about an extra hour’s sunlight. Really?

If people really wanted more light to run around in after work, then the sensible thing would be to shift when they work. Instead of knocking off at 5 pm, stop at 4.

And if they wanted sunnier breakfasts or dinners, then likewise, shift them an hour later/earlier.

Postscript: I even confused my laptop – insisted I needed an extra two hours’ sleep.

Cultural density clash

See original imageParis has relatively high cultural density. Even modest cafes, bistros and restaurants are meant to be run correctly, I argued the other day.

Crowded, pedestrian-friendly streets and stair-filled buildings help keep people slim. I can add that significant social solidarity – more dining together – protects not only against sugar-snacking, but also against competitive individualism, which provokes mental harm and binge eating.

Such observations provide a contrast with Australia, which might have let more sunlight in when it was the land of the “fair go”,  when lucky country inhabitants would say, “she’ll be right, mate”, when the cuisine was “one continuous picnic”, and when waiters were notoriously slack. But a loose Australia was left comparatively exposed to a hazardous new regime.

Paris is the capital of a relatively tight French republic that demonstrates that any future Australian republic cannot merely banish the monarch, but has to put real power into the hands of the people through a strong state. Here in France, for both good and ill, people gather relatively keenly behind the tricolour, and take seriously “Liberté, égalité, fraternité” (“liberty, equality, conviviality”).

Australians have an embarrassing flag, carrying four Christian crosses that signify colonialism, theocracy and beer-swilling. It’s symbolic of a less committed polity, which has its attractions, but which leaves Australia a wide-open marketing opportunity. In recent decades, we have had insufficient cultural bulk to resist the neoliberal agenda of let-profit-rule. Certainly, French food is being corporatised, too, but less thoroughly than in Australia, where business pressures intensify relatively uncontested just about everywhere – through the internet, on the sport-grounds, in privatised émigré gulags, and across the arts, where the common good is being replaced by the sponsor’s. If audiences don’t flock, then the “market” has spoken.

That is more or less the complaint in an article, “Culture crisis: The arts funding cuts are just a symptom of a broader malaise in Australia”, in the latest Monthly.

Writer and critic Alison Croggon is worried principally by attacks on a more elevated culture – “the yarts” – but she makes a similar comparison.

“The past three years have seen an unremitting ideological war on knowledge, inquiry and, significantly, cultural memory,” she writes, citing cuts to scientific bodies, universities, research programs, museums, archives, galleries, the ABC, National Library’s Trove, and, of her special concern, grants to small arts companies, and individual practitioners.

Right from the start, Prime Minister Turnbull announced a ruthlessly neoliberal agenda, promising “a thoroughly Liberal Government committed to freedom, the individual and the market.” That’s liberty for business, and hostility to égalité and fraternité. He wants a nation “that is agile, that is innovative, that is creative”, which the context makes clear means financially creative, even financially disruptive, as he later added.

While Turnbull’s government might flounder with set-pieces, his Ministers have gone to town using administrative methods to prosecute the culture war against Australia Council recipients and the like.

As Croggon explodes:

The forces of convention have slammed down again. Just as the arts funding debacle is seeing a new conservatism rise on our main stages, so too our critical culture has returned to its default chitchat.

She then reveals: “I’m writing this at La Chartreuse, a former monastery in the south of France… In the 17th century, this room belonged to monks. Now that La Chartreuse is the headquarters of Le centre national des écritures du spectacle (National Centre for Theatre Writers), or CNES, it’s occupied by artists.”

See original imageShe couldn’t imagine a similar institution in Australia – “a centre with comparable resources, devoted solely to the development of writing for theatre … The imagination stops dead. It is simply an impossible thought.”

I have figures to demonstrate France’s more financially assertive collectivity. According to a survey for 2014, general government spending as a proportion of GDP in France was 57.3%, which ranked second highest of 29 OECD countries. Australian expenditure of 36.2% was second lowest. We were even worse than the U.S., also in the bottom bunch, on 38.0%. A huge chunk of the Australian budget goes, through outsourcing, not to socially or culturally useful spending but to corporations.

More specific figures for public funding on the arts are harder to locate, so I gave up after clicking on a Canadian report from 2005, quoting older British data. For what they’re worth, France then spent £37.8 per head on the arts (or 0.26% of GDP), while Australia spent £16.4 per head (or 0.14% of GDP).

Croggon bemoans the collapse of critical, let alone angry, arts in Australia and, along with those, the decline in arts criticism in newspapers and apparently now even in blogs. If that’s the case, we need to protect and enhance serious criticism around the dinner-table. We also need conversations about a republic that puts the people more in charge of their fate through a sizeable, non-capitalist state.

Census needs another party

Turnbull

I haven’t laughed as much for a long time as on Census night 2016. The internet sarcasm almost converted me to lifelong tweeting.

We tried to get through for an hour,  with final responses suggesting we try again in two days.

The organisation behind #CensusFail graciously promised we wouldn’t be fined for being late.

The flood of social media comments included a photo of the IT cat inside the bureau’s pc, and suggestions they try turning it off and then on again. Others said these same people guaranteed to keep our data safe.

Undoubtedly the most historic tweet came from the man who, according to then Prime Minister Tony Abbott in 2013, had “virtually invented the internet in this country”:

This is the Prime Minister that Albo predicted the other night might last a year!

According to the Sydney Morning Herald:

Census was delivered by technology company IBM using its Australian SoftLayer cloud. Figures from the Australian Government’s procurement agency AusTender show IBM was paid $9,606,725 in 2014 to design, develop and implement the “eCensus”.

IBM motto

That certainly cut the cost of scurrying Census collectors, although, as it turned out, the ABS shouldn’t have relied on IBM to handle the inevitable storm in the local cloud.

This morning, the ABS boss is trying to blame denial-of-service (DoS) attacks from “an international source”.

Kalisch says it all went smoothly, and they fended off three attacks, until a fourth about 7:30 pm, when they decided to shut the site down.

As if a government data collector mightn’t expect antagonism here or there.

But, as Age economics editor Peter Martin revealed this morning, the ABS has a “reckless” new culture at the top. (David Kalisch in so much trouble that I won’t go on about him, of all people, using “data” in the singular.)

The fact is that the ABS organised its own DoS flood of messages. That’s if we believe ABC News:

In the lead-up to census night, the ABS spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on load testing and said its servers could handle 1 million forms per hour.

Let’s do a simple sum. Let’s assume only 10 million forms. At one million per hour, that would take 10 hours, assuming everyone were nice and orderly.

Census AustraliaPerhaps not unusually, we had a small party to upload our information. After something to eat and a Barossa red, we opened up the laptop about 8:20 pm. Annoyance eventually turned to social media hilarity, and we set a date for another Census party.

What did these people think? That they could insist that everyone was legally required to participate (as, apparently, television advertising kept reminding through the evening), and not expect an after-dinner rush?

Perhaps IBM staff assumed people would fill in their forms at work. Perhaps neoliberal bureaucrats have already abolished all life’s rhythms, ridding the world of penalty rates, at least in their heads.

And you don’t think meals matter!