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A rogue 10 Things (until the Vine is successfully live again)

Friends, I take 10 Things very seriously and god knows it take long enough to write. So while The Vine is undergoing some technical rejiggery, here’s today’s column (at least until The Vine is back live again).

10 Things: Awwww, did the mean media make Diamond Joe sad?

Joe Hockey sad

The diamonds are his pretty, pretty tears

Poor Diamond Joe Hockey. All he wanted to do was pass a budget that would reward the wealthy for all their lifting, punishing everyone else for their recalcitrant leaning, and stop spending money on all that dumb “helping people” stuff that’s totally for jerks – and then the media come along and start bullying the government for figures under Freedom of Information requests! Why, the very idea!

Now, usually the Treasury make their modelling public when they issue a budget, because it means that the media can very quickly do their traditional “what does this budget mean for YOU?” spread with pages and pages of pretty infographics and some photogenic families and go-getting young people and elderly couples and so on.

So everyone thought it a bit odd back in May when the budget announcement was not accompanied by these figures, despite this government loudly insisting that it’s all about accountability and transparency.

Of course, now we know why: because it would have lead to multi-page spreads showing shocked elderly people wondering which cat food they’ll be eating for the rest of their lives, young people facing a mortgage’s-worth of debt to complete a degree and families wondering how bad the baby’s cough should get before they consider seeing a doctor, with a mining baron criticising their laziness from atop a throne made of discarded environmental laws.

And that’s not quite as good a look.

So, in other words, the government knew full well what its budget was going to look like, who would be the winners (the very wealthy), the not-winners (the upper-middle class) and the absolute losers (everyone else), and they deliberately withheld that information because they felt that there are limits to both transparency and accountability.

And oh, the tantrum that Joe threw yesterday!

Those figures don’t tell the whole story! What Fairfax said “does not represent the true state of affairs”! They “fails to take into account the massive number of concessional payments such as discounted pharmaceuticals, discounted transport, discounted childcare that goes to lower-income households”!

OK, said the media, show us the “whole story” using the supposed Cabinet documents which you’re claiming absolutely exist and show something other than that the government was entirely aware that lower-income households would be hit hardest by the budget.

And then things went eerily quiet, except for a statement via a spokesperson explaining that documents prepared for Cabinet are not covered by Freedom of Information laws.

So, to recap: Diamond Joe totally rejects the data that Treasury prepared for Diamond Joe, insists that he has much better data that refutes it, and won’t show it because he doesn’t have to. Which is a level of plausibility similar to that of Mark Mangan, who lived up the road from me when I was a kid and who insisted that he had every single Star Wars figure that was ever made, except they were in the attic and he wasn’t allowed to take people up there.

Seriously, Joe: your political capital is pretty much vapour at this point. Maybe people would actually respect you more if you gonaded up and said the truth: that of course treasury did the modelling, that obviously the government realised that the budget would favour the wealthy over the majority, and that this is precisely the point.

What, you think that we’ve not noticed all the welfare cuts, Work for the Dole schemes, plans to let unis raise fees and GP co-payments? We get it: this government wants to punish everyone that’s not wealthy and reward those that are. We understand what’s going here. This little dance just makes you look like a fool.

The Ministry of Love

The government might not care about you, but you know what they do care about? Love. Specifically, heterosexual love. More accurately, married heterosexual love – the only kind of love there is!

Your family services minister Kevin Andrews wants de facto couples to stop dithering and get married because de factos split up at a higher rate than married couples. The statistics, he assures us, don’t lie. Of course, he doesn’t provide any actual of these non-lying statistics, because that’s not something this government does.

However, it does make a certain immediate sense to think that maybe, just maybe, there’s a difference in the level of commitment between couples that spend a shitload of money and effort holding a public commitment ceremony in which they commit to making a lifelong commitment to one another, and couples who don’t.

Still, the divorce stats demonstrate almost half of those couples turn out to be wrong, so maybe making the commitment doesn’t somehow magically fix everything for some reason.

Marriages end, people split up, and it always sucks. I’ve been there. You’ve been there. Breaking up is arse.

Here’s the thing, though: So. Fucking. What. Question mark.

First up, Kev, before you suggest marriage as the cure-all panacea to human unhappiness, might we suggest that perhaps de facto relationships start for reasons other than making a lifelong commitment? It’s not that people don’t care, Kev. It’s simple household economics. You know, of the sort that Diamond Joe gets furious if papers dare to ask about.

For one thing, because housing is incredibly expensive in Australia – especially the biggest cities – a lot of people initially start living together less because they think they’ll be together forever and ever and ever and ever, and more because it’s cheaper than living separately and less disruptive than being the non-rent-paying part-time tenant in a sharehouse. You want to ensure people don’t live together too early, Kev? Start with doing something about spiralling rental costs.

Secondly – and I’m going to make this as clear as possible by using capital letters – BREAKING UP IS OK.

In fact, in almost all cases, breaking up is better than not-breaking up. It’s sure as hell more common. Think about it: how many breakups have you had? Now, how many unbroken lifelong commitments have you had? Is the first number greater than the second?

Kevin Andrews’ statement about how de facto splits and divorces are a stain on our society only makes sense if the point of all relationships is to meet and then stay together until at least one person dies – which is a ridiculous and largely impossible aim.

US sex and relationships advice columnist and stone-cold genius Dan Savage wisely said that “all relationships end until you’re in one that doesn’t, and you only find out which one that is when you’re dead”. Sure, nobody goes into a serious relationship thinking “sweet, this is going to be the ultimate love of my next-three-to-five-years!” but the idea that it’s better to stay in a situation that everyone hates than get into a situation where everyone’s far happier is just plain stupid.

“Look, people can enter into whatever relationship they want. That’s a matter for them,” K-dog said to News Ltd. “It becomes a question for the government and the community when relationships break up. The people who suffer the most out of relationships breaking up are kids.”

Kids suffer when parents are unhappy, Kev. And parents are unhappy if they’re forced to endure each other day in day out after their relationship has died. Again, if you really want people to be happy and therefore make things easier on the kids, charging $845 to apply for a divorce seems like adding insult to injury.

But you do get $200 towards you marriage counselling! $200! Why, that’s almost enough for a single session! Love is saved!

By-the-by, what was Kev’s pre-ministerial gig?

Relationship counselling is not a terrible idea, of course. But it’s also not a popular idea, as evidenced that 98,600 of the 100,000 vouchers he’s made available are still going begging.

And we’ll just quietly cough and suggest that a family services minister whose main idea for family services is to offer relationship counselling vouchers for relationship counselling services including the Catholic relationship counselling organisation founded by the family services minister and his wife might have something of an agenda at work.

Yes, they’re no longer financially involved in the Marriage Education Programme – but, as the About Us page makes clear,

“The Marriage Education Programme is an organisation approved and part-funded by the Federal Government Department of Families, Housing, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs. The Marriage Education Programme is a member Agency of the Catholic Society for Marriage Education and Catholic Social Services Australia.”

…so your voucher can go a little way to clawing back the money you’ve already spent on the service that Kev and Mags founded. Thanks, Kev!

Seriously: ending a committed relationship is painful and expensive and stressful and time consuming. No-one does it for kicks. Pushing an agenda to slow the rate of divorce and of de facto breakups without addressing the reasons people split up (hey, maybe one of the parties has to move away to find work, since that’s something the government now thinks is perfectly reasonable!) is just plain stupid.

Gotta spend money to recover money!

If there’s one thing that we all know is a terrible idea, it’s having an educated and skilled populace. After all, what has knowing stuff ever done for us?

That’s why we all appreciate that universities are, at best,  fripperies – pointless luxuries that have absolutely no bearing on the quality of human life. You know they’re worthless empty buildings, which is why surgery is carried out by enthusiastic amateurs on buses and sewerage systems were designed and built by helpful municipal elves.

So it just makes sense to stop funding them, and to make it cripplingly expensive for people to go there. Hey, we don’t subsidise the rollercoaster ticket prices at Australia’s Wonderland, so why should we support someone working tirelessly for years to learn to save human lives? They’re basically the same thing, right?

After all, the first question on applications for entry to a PhD programme in any discipline is “Are you enrolling in this course of higher study for a) shits or b) giggles?”

This is the opinion held by people who decide whether or not the Australian government should fund unis. And they should know, since they already have their degrees and therefore already have all the professional and personal benefits that accrue as a result. Privilege is only privilege when someone else has it, after all.

And if you’re one of the handful of Australians who got a degree, had a HECS debt and then fled the country like a dirty traitor, then get ready to start paying your debt back.

Christopher Pyne has already started work on putting together a debt recovery arrangement with the UK, because fuck you people. The Grattan Institute has caculated that a system could bring in as much as $177 million over two years. As the already-reduced budget for higher education is $8.97bn for 2013-14, that means we could recover a much-needed 0.001% of the money over those two years, minus whatever it costs to implement a worldwide system of income garnishing and debt recovery.

And on the face of it there’s a certain “that seems reasonable” element to it – hey, those of us that stayed in Australia gots to pay our HECS here after all – but there’s a serious question mark over the whole “would chasing after this money cost more to implement and enforce than it would ever hope to actually recover” thing, and the answer appears to be “yep, easily”.

Professor Chapman, director of policy impact at the Australian National University’s Crawford School, told reporters that bilateral debt recovery arrangements were “too much trouble and too political”. He also suggested that it would be easier just to make all overseas workers over the threshold pay the minimum payment of $2k a year instead, since it’s easier – and thus cheaper – to calculate. Debts get paid, cash goes back in the system, no need for expensive departments calculating tax rates on overseas currencies. Everybody wins!

But that ignores the fact that Pyne knows all too well: greedy students need to be punished for their damn book-learnin’ one way or another.

Dollars vs sense – see what we did there?

Of course, if the government wanted to save some pin money they might want to stop hiring celebrity speakers to address the Defence Department at $10k-plus a throw. Especially when they’re currently offering staff a below-inflation pay rise.

Negotiations are going on at the moment with the 20,000 civilians employed by the defence department, in which it’s been patiently explained that they’re getting a bump that in no way keeps parity with inflation. And that seems like reasonable belt tightening by a government desperately trying to maintain our financial survival – at least, it does provided that the government wasn’t also doing things like, say, dropping $50k flying out celebrity chef Shane Delia of Maha to knock up a spread for Diamond Joe’s gala G20 dinner in New York, which happened in April.

Now, let’s be honest: the government does have to spend money on flashy things so we don’t look cheap in front of the other countries. It’s just that it can’t simultaneously cry poor and then get a fancy new watch in the same afternoon.

But that’s because we’re not actually in a budget crisis. We can absolutely pay $10k for someone like Wil Anderson to MC an event (and he’s worth it too. Seen him live? The dude’s sharp as a tack, and it’s not an easy gig).

And that’s because there is no budget emergency. Just a common-or-garden class war.

Gaza: the fighting has stopped… for a bit…

…but it could all be back on by the time you read this. However, right now Israel and Hamas have agreed in principle to an Egypt-brokered 72 hour ceasefire that could kick in this morning, Gaza time, and open the way to some sort of a truce.

Representatives have agreed to travel to Cairo for meetings, and there is hope that it might even see the end of the siege of Gaza (although that’s only on the Egyptian side – which will inflame the already warm tensions between Israel and Egypt but let’s let that be a problem for down the road).

In the event that this actually does end the four-week war (and yes, it’s a fucking war) then the final tally is 64 Isreli military and three civilians vs over 1,800 Palestinians. So, y’know, draw your own conclusions as to who is a bigger threat to what.

On the sorta-plus side, those numbers are going to make it easier for the Israeli government to sell the idea to its people that it’s negotiating from a position of strength and therefore can stop the missile strikes. Conversely, Hamas need to find a way to sell a similar argument to not only the people of Gaza but the Palestinian people generally and especially the Palestinian Liberation Organisation, which whom they’re attempting to hammer out a deal for political unity for the future of Palestine despite deep cultural differences. And that’s going to need some serious finesse.

But: let’s not look a gift truce in the mouth right now. Gaza might know a moment of peace shortly. God knows its people deserve it.

We R Legion

Meanwhile the war is continuing on the interwebs with Anonymous deciding that enough is enough and taking out various government sites, including that of Mossad – the Israeli secret service.

They’ve been clear that this isn’t an anti-Israel thing but an anti stop-bombing-the-shit-out-a-tiny-civilian-filled-stretch-of-land thing.

“As a collective ‘Anonymous’ does not hate Israel,” an anonymous spokesperson told Mother Jones in the US, “it hates that Israel’s government is committing genocide & slaughtering unarmed people in Gaza to obtain more land at the border.”

And it’s a PR win for the group, but we all know that Denial of Service attacks are annoying rather than destructive, right? You’re stopping people seeing a website, not bringing down their internal computer systems. If anything, the biggest disruption that’s going on is giving their online content managers an excuse to duck out early.

Plaguewatch!

If you were hjoping that the whole Ebola thing in western Africa was pretty much sorted… um, maybe you’ll want to postpone that Sierra Leone holiday for a bit.

Corpses have been reportedly lying in the streets of Liberia for days, not least because burial and medical teams have been fleeing for their lives after ebing run out of town by terrified communities. In fact, the army had to move in to protect a team clearing two corpses from a street in the capital of Monrovia.

Meanwhile Nigeria have their first confirmed local case after Patrick Sawyer collapsed and died after getting off a plane from Liberia. Now the doctor that treated him has tested positive for the virus in Lagos.

Oh, and now it’s been reported that the flight that brought Sawyer from Monrovia to Lagos also had stopovers in Ghana and Togo. So… um, yeah.

Ever played the iPad game Plague Inc? It’s really fun and interesting, right up until the point where you realise that it’s using WHO data and is basically playing out a series of terrifying human futures…

Except that you’re not going to die of Ebola

That being said, you have zero chance of catching Ebola unless you’re exposed to fluids from someone with the virus. And since you’re probably not in Africa, you can rest easy. Seriously, you’re going to be OK.

That’s worth making clear because already the internet is being flooded with panics at the moment. Ebola is very contagious, absolutely, and it’s got a higher than 50% mortality rate and is a horrible way to die… but you have to catch the thing first. Which you won’t, unless the virus is running rampant in your community. Which it isn’t.

And yes, Australian airports are already on the look out for anyone looking flu-y when they arrive. Plans are in place.

So, y’know, chill.

Moment of Joy

And finally, a tiny hamster in a tiny house. Yes, this is what we’re reduced to. I hope you’re happy, internets – happy like a Tuesday. 

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