So the Prime Minister is not just a liar. He's a winker. A granny calls a radio show and explains that she works on a sex chat line to make ends meet (so to speak), and Tony Abbott's initial response is a knowing nictation (sorry, just had to put that in) and an adolescent smirk.
Not a good look. The footage went viral on Twitter and splashed all over the TV news on Wednesday evening, yet another alligator for a government up to its neck in 'em ever since budget night. The initial response from the spin doctors was that it was merely Abbott indicating to the radio presenter, the ABC's Jon Faine, that he was willing to speak to the woman, but it didn't look like that to me. Having done the odd bit of talkback radio myself, I would have taken it as a silent "Phwoaaar!" from the Great Man.
All good fun, amusing for one giddy turn of the news cycle, and I suppose it reminded a lot of people exactly why they dislike Abbott so much. The next day, under some pressure, he admitted it had been a mistake.
But in the grand scheme of things the wink doesn't matter a hill of beans. It is this rapacious and incompetent budget that is the real issue.
As the numbers are crunched and crunched again it becomes ever more obvious that it's the poor and the weak who are taking the biggest hit. Single parents. Low paid families with school-age children. The disabled. The young unemployed. University students. Pensioners and the chronically ill. Indigenous children in remote areas. The list goes on, a roll call of shameful unfairness.
On the macro level, this is demonstrated by analysis from NATSEM, the well respected National Centre for Social and Economic Modelling at Canberra University. Reported in the Herald on Thursday, the study reckons the poorest 20 per cent of Australians, on incomes of $35,000 or less, would lose $2.9 billion over four years. The top 20 per cent, on $88,000 or more, would be down just $1.78 billion in the same period. Not a lot of heavy lifting happening in Point Piper or Mosman, then.
The other startling thing is the sheer muddle of it all. No one in the government, from the prime minister on down, seems to know when the rise in university fees will cut in, or just who will have to pay the new doctor tax of $7 a visit. When Abbott and Joe Hockey tried to faff their way through this stuff on Wednesday with bland assurances they were swiftly contradicted by the Australian Medical Association and a gaggle of university vice-chancellors.
Still, hope springs eternal. "I would like to be in a position to offer tax cuts in our next term,’’ Abbott said on Wednesday. “... the whole point of getting the budget under control now is so that we can give tax cuts in the not-too-distant future.’’
Yes, yes. Another day, another Abbott wink-nudge for the gullible. Pigs cleared for take-off.
Church the place for scripture
Our five-year-old son came home from school the other day with a lurid drawing of a Mutant Ninja Turtle in full cry. Apparently they are a craze again. " I did it in Scripture," he announced proudly.
He didn't, actually. He did it in whatever class they send you to when your parents don't want you to do Scripture. His state public school, otherwise excellent in every way, does not have the teaching resources to provide him with a proper alternative to god-bothering. So the non-Scripture children - who seem to be most of them - sit there drawing aimlessly.
This annoys me a lot. I resent it because this budget has $245 million to fritter away on putting chaplains into schools even as it slashes education funding for the states and territories and prepares to throw the Gonski reforms overboard in a couple of years. It is a wrongful sop to the Christian lobby, and no mistake.
Although to be fair, it's not just a Tory sop. To her discredit, Julia Gillard got in on the act as well, forking out $222 million for school chaplains in her 2011 budget, more than double the money John Howard had provided. At least under Labor schools were also permitted to hire qualified youth counsellors, not just parsons and preachers, but the Abbott government has kyboshed that.
Yes, I know all the arguments. We are a society based on Judaeo-Christian values. And I entirely accept that any literate person should have at least an acquaintance with the Bible, if only for the splendour of its language. But if you want to be a believing Christian, there are places you can do it. They are called churches, and there is one near you.
In 2012, a Queensland father of six, Ron Williams, won a High Court challenge to the chaplaincy program. Labor swiftly fiddled the law to get around that, but Williams is now having another run at it. The best of luck to him.
On a sunny autumn day...
Sydney is at its finest in autumn. The heat and humidity have gone but the sun still sparkles on the waters, and the surf is warm enough for a good long dip without the summer crowds.
This weekend offers a great double act, too. If you're into colour, noise and movement, the Vivid festival lights up the town. For the more bookish there's the Sydney Writers Festival centred at Walsh Bay and ranging across the suburbs, an annual event held specifically to annoy the right-wing natterer Gerard "Gollum" Henderson. At which it succeeds admirably. Once again, as always, he's denounced it as a wicked lefty jamboree at which, inexplicably, he is not invited to appear.
I have a gig on Saturday at 10am, umpiring a debate on Gallipoli and Anzac among my mate and Fairfax co-conspirator Peter FitzSimons, the defence commentator James Brown, and Dr Joan Beaumont, a professor of history at the ANU. On Sunday, same time, David Marr and I talk about my new book, First Victory, the story of the hunt for the German raider Emden.
Okay, I admit it, egregious plug. But they are free events, first come first served, and I genuinely like meeting Herald readers.