Monday, March 21, 2011

On the QT: And then there were none.

Today’s Question Time was like a bad mystery/horror movie in which the only interest was who would be the members of the Liberal front bench left standing. The sending off for one hour got started pretty early after Harry Jenkins issued a “general warning”. This came after Chris Pyne wanted to make sure everyone in the chamber knew that he had got up to H in the dictionary as he called the PM a “Harridan”. According to the first dictionary google gave me this meansA strict, bossy, or belligerent old woman”. You could tell Pyne thought he was oh so clever because when he withdrew the remark instead of withdrawing, he said “I withdraw the word harridan” – you to really make sure everyone heard it.

It is a pity Pyne had never sat in any of my English Lit tutorials where I told students that those who use big words in an attempt to appear intelligent, merely come across as someone who is using big words in a vain attempt to appear intelligent. 

Jenkins, if he had any sense, should have booted Pyne straight away, but instead he warned everyone and so booted a half dozen Lib MPs.

First gone was Tony Smith – no loss, he hasn’t said or done anything of note since… (look I have my people working on finding the answer to that, we’ll get back to you at a dater to be specified later).

Next gone was Julie Bishop – for the crime of tabling a CD of Obama saying the a cap and trade would cause prices to “skyrocket”. Unfortunately Julie Bishop did not indulge in song:

Because that would have energised things somewhat.

Chris Pyne however quickly leapt to Bishop the Younger’s defence and Jenkins realising that he had made a little rash decision that was a little rash, let her stay.

Next gone was Ewan Jones, followed quickly by Sophie Mirabella. Absolutely no one cared that the Member for Indi would be absent for an hour. Many wanted longer.

The big scalp of the day was Joe Hockey who was sent off next to the change rooms for an hour. This was followed by the Member for Forde, Bert van Mane, biding the house adieu for 60 minutes. The day’s catch ended with that intellectual leviathan Peter Dutton taking the walk. No doubt he and Mirabella could have reflected on that other time both were absent together from the House – during the apology to the Stolen Generation…

There were other mysteries to solve – for example why did the PM take a Dorothy Dixer that referred to the “top 1000 big polluters paying for the carbon they create”. For mine it devalues the argument of the carbon price – it is not a mechanism which picks on specific companies it just puts a price on carbon and caps the amount of emissions (meaning that companies that emit carbon can trade carbon permits). Referring to the top 1000 companies is not the look of a market based scheme – but rather something dopey like Abbott’s direct action scheme. Sure talk about big companies paying – or big polluters paying – but don’t put a number on it, because in reality the system won’t work that way.

Other mysteries to solve were why two questions on immigration were asked by Michael Keenan and Bronwyn Bishop, and why the only question Shadow Immigration Minister, Scott Morrison, asked was to Kevin Rudd?

Even more of a mystery was why Tony Abbott asked a supplementary to Keenan’s question asking Gillard to guarantee that none of the asylum seekers involved in the riots on Christmas Island would be ever allowed entry in this country. Given the answer is the Migration Act doesn't allow her to do so it is rather a mystery that Abbott would be so pig ignorant of the fact. Obviously he isn’t – he just wants to be able to go on Alan Jones etc and say she should rule it out. At that stage both Abbott and Jones would delicately avoid  mentioning that if we get to the point that leader of a democratic country were able to guarantee something that was actually governed by judicial process it would be rather contrary to living in a democratic country.

Rather a conundrum to unravel as well was why Scott Morrison sought to table a document referred to by Bronwyn Bishop in her question to Chris Bowen given he didn’t have the nerve to ask it himself – perhaps Bowen’s fiery response was the answer – though given Kevin Rudd’s answer to Morrison’s question was also cutting, perhaps Morrison should stick to Bowen. Rudd may have been deposed as PM, but in the chamber he is still a class above the likes of Morrison.image

Another puzzle is why the Liberal think praising Rudd for his work on Libya is in their favour. Rudd is doing what a Foreign Minister should do and doing it well – and the Lib’s praise of him only serves to reinforce that (and also does not put Julie Bishop in a great contrast). If they think this increases leadership tensions then they are pretty silly. Rudd is finished in leadership. But he obviously loves being an active Foreign Minister. Good on him.

Finally, then there is the real mystery of why the issue of whether or not the Bible should be on the national curriculum got asked of Julia Gillard. The reason of course was due to the PM’s statement yesterday on Australian Agenda (a show watched by almost nobody that apparently is now setting the agenda) where this was related:

Now, I know people might look at me and think that’s something that they wouldn’t necessarily expect me to say, but that is what I believe, and you know, I’m on the record as saying things like I think it’s important for people to understand their Bible stories, not because I’m an advocate of religion – clearly, I’m not – but once again, what comes from the Bible has formed such an important part of our culture. It’s impossible to understand Western literature without having that key of understanding the Bible stories and how Western literature builds on them and reflects them and deconstructs  them and brings them back together.

Now I completely agree with her about understanding Western Literature and the Bible. When I taught English Lit, those student who knew the Bible had a major advantage over those who didn’t. The Biblical allusions throughout the work of writers like TS Eliott, Joyce and Lawrence meant if you knowing the Bible gave you a head start. As one who attended Sunday School and had read the Bible a couple times (well the interesting parts at least), I remember being pretty stunned that there were some in my tutorial groups who were pretty ignorant of fairly basic Biblical stories like Noah and the flood, or the Tower of Babel.

That doesn’t mean Year 8s need to know it, but I’ve never been against teaching parts of the Bible such as Genesis which contains so many of the foundation myths of our culture from a literature/cultural point of view because if you are going to study English literature you really should know them. But that of course is a long way from having compulsory Bible lessons for kids.

What I don’t agree is her sense that because she was brought up in a conservative explains why she is against gay marriage:

I do find myself on the conservative side in this question, and I find myself on the conservative side because of the way our society is and how we got here. I think that there are some important things from our past that need to continue to be part of our present and part of our future.

I had a pro-union, pro-Labor upbringing in a quite conservative family, in the sense of personal values. I mean, we believed in lots of things that are old-fashioned in the modern age. We believed in politeness and thrift and fortitude and doing duty and discipline. These are things that were part of my upbringing. They’re part of who I am today.

It’s a pretty odd reason for someone to argue for anything – “because I was brought up that way”. Surely we should at least question what we were brought up to think – we may often come to agree with those things, but we don’t come to that point (or we shouldn't) purely because that was what our parents told us to think. The PM when advocating pro-Labor policies doesn't argue them because she was brought up that way – she argues for them for grown-up reasons. So too I think should people argue on the issue of gay marriage.

I do think sections of the political spectrum give Gillard more heat on this issue than she deserves. She deserves heat on this issue equal with that which Tony Abbott gets. Both advocate the same policy – those who think the ALP is some bastion of gay advocacy are living in a bit of a dream world. Gay marriage is outside the political spectrum – if it ever does happen you know it will be done through a conscience vote.

I only ask that those advocating the staus quo – whether it be Abbott, Gillard, Rudd, Bishop, Turnbull, etc etal – explain how the lives on heterosexual people will be in any way affected. The only person I know who has attempted that was Bruce Billson last year when he said in Parliament:

But the important thing is that if we are to move forward with this recognition we cannot do so by diminishing the sense of right and designation that people who have married have chosen for themselves. It is quite ironic that this charge for rights is being pursued by diminishing the rights of those who have chosen to designate their relationship a traditional marriage. I do not understand that logic. People who have entered into a marriage as it is defined and recognised under the law, whether it be by way of tradition, custom, conservatism or religious orientation, have done so consciously, knowing that that is the designation they have sought, that that will be the designation they will secure and that the nature of the relationship they have entered into will be recognised as such by the broader community. We should not seek to remove that from people who have chosen that pathway and have operated within the current definition of marriage, which I agree with.

Yep my marriage apparently would be devalued if gay people could get married. At least Bill gave a reason, but geez, if that’s the best they can do…


Just before anyone else decides to comment on the issue – my suggesting studying the Bible is good for those studying literature does not mean I don’t think they need to study other foundation texts – eg Greek mythology. When I was first studying the Romantic poets, I found I really needed to go back and read the mythologies. When I studied the Modernists, I needed to know both them and the Bible – take Joyce’s Ulysses for example. I’m also talking pretty higher level stuff here. Year 11 English Student don’t need to know it (but again I bet you could tell the ones who do).

I also never understand why people think if someone suggests the Bible should be studied for cultural reasons that that means they don’t also think other sacred texts should be studied. I wish for eg, when I was in high school I had been taught some aspects of what is in the Koran because I often feel woefully lacking in my understanding of Islamic culture, and funnily I think understanding other cultures – including their beliefs, is actually a good thing. When I was in Year 6 we were given a very basic background on Hinduism, Islam, Christianity, Judaism and Buddhism. It is a disgrace I think that the one page worksheets I did in Year 6 on each of them was the sum total of my knowledge of those cultures provided to me by my education system.


Loki said...

That particular argument for teaching The Bible - so that people will get the metaphors and allusions and whatnot - surely applies just as much (if not moreso) to Greek mythology, not that I expect anyone in the House or Senate to be making that point any time soon.

Gordicans said...

Gillard is against gay marriage for example the same reasons she is pro Israel and is a sycophant to the Americans; it is purely pragmatic and political and has absolutely nothing to do with the reasons she gives or 'what she believes'.

Gordicans said...

whoops, i mean 'for exactly' rather than 'for example'

Greg Jericho said...

Loki - it certainly does - and that's why I put it in the context of studying "literature". What I said about lack of knowledge of the Bible applies equally to those ignorant of Greek mythology - imagine studying Keats and not knowing anything about mythology?

Greek mythology should be in the curriculum - for those doing Literature - Ted Hughes's Tales from Ovid would be a good start.

I should day I am talking more about uni level literature. You could get away without studying the foundation myths - Biblical and mythological, but I would suggest if you're wanting to excel in the subject, you need to know them.

Craig said...

The reason that Gillard cops more heat than Abbott over gay marriage is the (not unreasonable) perception that her objections are insincere. Given her intelligence and personal situation, failing to recognise the vacuity of the arguments against marriage equality would require an impressive degree of mental contortion.

Even an honest bigot is a repulsive thing. But a person who is willing to entertain bigotry for personal advantage, all the while knowing what they do, is utterly despicable.

John said...

What "Craig" said. Her reading of the electoral tealeaves sure makes her say some obviously dumb stuff at times.

Michelle said...

"I think understanding other cultures – including their beliefs, is actually a good thing"

When my kids started school & I was asked if they could attend RE classes (religious education) I had hoped it was an 'overview of all religions' class. It is purely christian, often taught by the local Church Minister. I still wish it was a class where they could learn & understand all religions.

Greg Jericho said...

Yep Michelle - there is a big difference between learning about cultures and RE classes.

I doubt any kid has ever been persuaded to become a Christian because of RE. As a Christian kid, I found them a total bore.

Greg Jericho said...

Craig and John, we may assume that - but nowhere in her history has there been any evidence that she is other where she is now on the issue - in fact she has long (even back to her fights to get preselected) been criticized by many on the left for actually being too conservative on issues.

Perhaps back in her uni day she was out there campaigning for gay marriage, but I haven't seen any evidence. If you find any please link.

Y Kant Goran Rite said...

re: Gay marriage - I also second Craig. It's impossible for Gillard to be questioned excessively on this issue. The hypocrisy, immorality and unconstitutionality of invoking the Bible in order to deprive people of civil rights in the 21st century... Well, it evidently makes me a little too angry, so I think I'll count to 10 and move on to the next point.

re: teaching the Bible and other religious texts in school - I myself am still officially undecided.

On the one hand, I would have rlished the opportunity to analise the Qur'an, the Bible and Greek mythology as literary texts in high school, and this would have vitally informed my understanding of history as well as my reading and comprehension skills. At 25, I shouldn't still be discovering what appear to be basic facts and concepts about Islam and even Christianity.

But on the other hand, I don't trust teachers to teach these things properly. Even without the Bible coming up as a text to study, it was impossible for several of my teachers at least (at my public school in Melbourne's outer North-Eastern suburbs in the early Aughts) to hide their bias.

So I'm always afraid of one particular religion (guess which) hijacking the discussion and derailing it out of a secular humanist context. it's a tricky issue. There is potential there to pervert developing intellects just as much as there is to bolster them.

Patricia WA said...

PM Julia Gillard may not be pro gay marriage for the simple reason she can't see much point in marriage anyway. I myself often wonder why gays would want to 'get married' with all the known pitfalls doing so has for relationships. My own experience is that marriage, which seems to offer legal protection for women and children, gives no more security than a common law live-in relationship. Extricating oneself from a bad marriage is no easy thing. All that disputation over property and maintenance for offspring could have been avoided by a civil contract prior to cohabitation. For her to say something like that would be challenged as cynical in the extreme. Better to claim deep personal conservatism and leave all the arguing to others.

macca said...

Perhaps the PM believes, as I do, that of all the challenges facing this country that the question of same sex marriage can wait a while longer.

Having tried marriage once, and didn't like it, I can't see what all the fuss is about.

Leave it on the backburner, but don't let the question fall off the agenda.

For the record; IMHO if people of the same sex wish to marry...let them marry.

Craig said...

Patricia: the point is that the PM had the choice not to get married. Gay Australians would like that same choice.

(and, while it may be the case that marriages can be inconvenient in divorce, it is also the case that an intact married couple gain a vast range of legal rights and conveniences compared to the current situation for gay couples)

Macca: so,'re saying that you recognise that the current situation is a case of unjust discrimination against GLBT Australians. You just don't think that their civil rights are important enough to bother doing anything about it.

Do you understand why the average gay person in the street might be homicidally pissed off by that attitude?

Casablanca said...

I recently asked my sister and her same sex partner what was their position on the [gay] marriage issue. They were both vehemently against the idea, in large part due to the reasons put forward by Patricia WA @March 22, 2011 12:16 AM.

My sister and her partner have been together as a couple for 16 years at least and always appear to be happy and secure in their relationship. I contrast this with my brother whose marriage has been less than harmonious.

The assumption seems to be that all gay and lesbian couples are in favour of marriage. Clearly, this is not the case.

I don’t oppose the Marriage Act being amended to encompass gay and lesbian couples but I wonder why the hell they wish to enact that change. Be careful what you wish for!

Anonymous said...

Patricia, could not agree more. The biggest mistake I ever made was getting married. The funny thing was that I did not want to and had to be talked into marriage. I can give a commitment without the useless frills of marriage.

Anonymous said...

So a conservative household thinks it is fine to have an affair with a married man with a bunch of kids and live in "sin' with another man yet Gillard is against gay marriage because she is conservative? Huh?

The truth about Christmas Island is no coming out.

The document, obtained by The Australian, details chronic overcrowding at Christmas Island's main detention centre, including 144 detainees housed in classrooms, 92 in storerooms, 30 in a visiting area and 240 in tents.

Now Vanstone got into major trouble few years back for keeping pigs in crowded conditions but apparently store sheds are fine for refugees.

That is the great luxury accommodation that burnt down.

No high moral ground for either set of racist cowards.

She sends in guns, tear gas, armoured cars and dogs and threatens to punish people for throwing stones at an electric fence.

Sounds like she has been lapping up too many tactics from Israel in her rush to be a bum licker.

Veronica Le Nevez said...

On Labor's strategy on the carbon tax, I disagree with you Grog - I think highlighting the big polluters is the right strategy. It reinforces that the price is on polluters, not consumers, which is what's necessary for it to get support. Rudd could never get that message through because he put out too much detail on industry assistance - causing all media to be about whether BHP was getting enough/too much compensation - and not enough on household assistance.

Sir Ian Crisp said...

Ms Gillard is surely indulging in self-parody when she includes herself by saying “We believed in politeness and thrift and fortitude and doing duty and discipline. These are things that were part of my upbringing. They’re part of who I am”. Ms Gillard has failed to clear the bar on politeness, thrift, and discipline.

Russ said...

At the very least, if you have a fairly good knowledge of the Bible, you get a lot more laughs out of The Life Of Brian.

Anonymous said...

Surely the more pressing issue is how to get out of my head an 'Afternoon Delight' video starring the Liberal party.

@AndySHastings said...

On Gay Marriage: the most interesting development on this policy issue will come at the next ALP national conference.

I wouldn't be surprised if there is a serious fight about changing the current policy platform position. Once that happens we will see some progress on this issue.

(Personally, I think the Marriage Act should just be repealed entirely.)

Hillbilly Skeleton said...

I'm fine withteaching comparative texts, of which the Bible is but one among the many. What must certainly be on the same curriculum, however, is 'The God Delusion' by Richard Dawkins. Atheists should have just as much sway on the minds of our young people, as the religionists. Our young people should have all the arguments at their disposal if they wish to make an informed decision, not just the Bible, Koran and Greek & Roman Myths and Legends.
As to the Gay Marriage issue, well I'm with PatericiaWA. However, I think there should be some form of Gay Marriage ceremony, say limited to Registry Offices, allowed if gay couples want to go down the frou frou path. Maybe that's why so many of them want it so bad?
However, I think that the Churches have the right to determine their own policy when it comes to allowing gays to marry in their consecrated buildings or not.

han said...

Here is my letter in the Herald last November:

Julia Gillard declared her objection to gay marriage in a radio interview yesterday morning, saying our ''heritage, traditions and history'' dictate marriage has a special place in our society. Can I remind her that if we had stuck to our ''heritage, traditions and history'', black people would still be slaves, immigrants would only be white, women and Aboriginal people would not be allowed to vote, and Australia would never elect an unmarried female prime minister living with a defacto partner.

On Gillard's position on social issues, it is useful to refer to Peter Harcher's piece in the Herald ( The fact is she has always been a conservative, despite the curious labeling of her being from Victoria Left.

Ian Hooper said...

Damn that Ron Burgundy is smooth. At first I thought I was gonna have to fight him - but he won me over. Bravo, good Sir.

ALSO the Bible isn't just myth and doesn't just have relevance only in an english lit tutorial.

AND we would be doing an amazing thing if we didn't follow Canada, Argentina, South Africa, etc and legalise gay marriage. Biblical teaching aside, surely there are level-headed people who can see it just isn't right!?

Anonymous said...

Julia Gillard has had all the benefits of living in a society that has slowly and doggedly fought off bigotry. Now she has reached the tip, she wants to pull the ladder up after her.

@ian cooper....the bible isn't entirely myths. Just mostly. Also I detest 4wds being used as general transpot. Traditionally they weren't. It just isn't right. However much I feel that way, I don't get to enforce my personal feelings in Laws that the state applies - or Karl Sandilands would be banned from pubkic contact - and neither does Julia Gillard.
I do not give a toss about her opinion or yours. Argue your position or button up.

...Andrew C

A different Craig said...

The fact that marriage is a civil institution governed by an act of (secular) parliament versus, say, Confirmation, which is a religious practice of one specific strain of religiousity (yep new word deal with it) leads me always to the conclusion that Christians, Mormons, Islamists, Jews and others arguing on a religious definition of marriage really have no leg to stand on regarding gay marriage.

What offends me is not the debate whether to allow it, but the implication that marriage is a religious institution 'owned' by the followers of Christ (formerly known as pagans and Romans), rather than a civil institution that happens to be widespread across most religious faiths, and practiced in a number of different regional flavours.

As an agnostic (there are so many gods to choose from!) I would defend the right of Catholics to deny Confirmation, a religious tradition, to those who do not meet their religious criteria, but oppose the claim of any religious group to decide who can get married.

'mawwiage' is not sacred, it's civil.

And my female cat and dog, who have been cohabiting for more than five years, agree.