Reality check

As Australia grinds towards election day 2004, there’s
something strange in the air. A whiff of surreality is creeping in, on ‘both’
sides of politics.

On Monday, Howard Haters smeared what was thought to
be human excrement over Health Minister Tony Abbott’s campaign office. Less
distastefully, anti-Howard rallies are planned, banners are being painted, and
Howard lies/sucks websites are still springing up in cyberspace like samizdat
mushrooms. Somewhere in between these goalposts, material like the
accompanying cartoon is appearing in my email inbox. I’m no enforcer of
‘correctness’, political or otherwise, but our Prime Minister is no ethnic

On the ‘other’ side, the Regime Hacks are boldly stepping where
propagandists fear to tread. Despite all prejudice,’s spinmonster
of the week award does not go to the Murdoch media empire. The winner is our
nation’s second print-media airline, Fairfax.

For sexing up, Sydney
Morning Herald
columnist Paul Sheehan wins for Monday’s piece ‘exposing’ Labor candidate for Greenway, Ed
Husic, as a NSW Right union headkicker who won’t return his phone calls.
(Der Paul, join these dots: Greenway is Sydney; Sydney is NSW; Labor NSW
is Right; the Right is union headkickers who don’t return calls; and Husic is

Sheehan doesn’t win the gold medal for that. What gets him over
the line is his careful opening description of Husic, whose parents are Muslim
immigrants from the former Yugoslavia, as Edham (why not plain Ed
or even Eddy? which is what everyone else seems happy to call him,
including whoever wrote Sheehan’s byline). Sheehan amplifies the whistle in his
later comments that: ‘Husic believes there is something sinister about
discussing his religious practices’; and that Husic’s stated reason for this
silence (‘I can’t dishonour my parents by disavowing their religion’) is
‘strange behaviour for the front-winner in a must-win marginal seat’.

Hardly strange, I would have thought, when the Liberal candidate for
Greenway is a happy-clappy Hillsong Christian, Howard’s gungho-waging the ‘war
on terror’ at home and abroad, and Greenway is chockers with aspirationals who
think living in housing developments called ‘Tuscan Waters’ is a walk on the
cultural wild side.

Too late, the lily is cleverly gilded: there’s
something sinister about something to do with Husic, who’s more ‘unAustralian’
than he leads us to believe, who won’t talk about his Muslim background, and may
on top of this be suspiciously paranoid. Never mind the power-in-the-union
angle, coming as it does in an election campaign when Howard’s trying to hammer
Labor on industrial relations policy.

As for dumbing down, prose doesn’t
get purpler and prissier than Miranda Devine’s ‘at home’ profile of Janette
Howard in Sunday’s magazine section of the Sun-Herald. Not so much for
what Devine said about the First Lady, which was gooey enough. For

… there is the sound of a female voice in the front hall.
Melanie has arrived for a surprise visit mid-afternoon, looking pretty if a bit
wan, as she pops her head in the door and apologises for

Married for almost a year to lawyer Rowan McDonald, 37, she
has taken the afternoon off from her job as an in-house lawyer at Vodafone.
‘I’ve been sick so I thought I’d come back to the bosom of my family and say,
‘Can I have a sleep upstairs, please?” Melanie tells her mother.

Of course, journalistic minds think immediately of pregnancy when a
recently married woman of 29 needs to sleep during the day. And what better
campaign boost for John Howard than an imminent grandchild? But Janette won’t

More Miranda on Our Mel, this time with Matthew

Melanie is not as politically active as her brothers but as the
oldest child and only girl, she is the apple of her father’s eye. The Prime
Minister lights up when she enters a room and has always been proud of her
achievements in his field of law. When she was working at Clayton Utz, the firm
at which she met her husband of almost one year, Rowan McDonald, her father used
to boast to journalists that she was ‘in M and A’, as in mergers and

Historically speaking, and for many good reasons, I’ve
had my fair share of hating Howard and his entourage. I’ve also taken to the
streets a few times, mainly in times of unjust war. And all that was certainly
cathartic. But it didn’t change anything. Howard took us to war, he’s still in
Bennelong and Kirribilli – elected Prime Minister three times running – and
all’s right-seeming with the world of his many supporters.

At this stage
of the regime and the campaign, the question we need to ask ourselves is how to
translate our emotional response to perceived injustice into effective

So – how do we? I’m not sure, but I know we need to start
getting real. We need to move past delusional feel-good slogans, and, somehow,
get a better grip on our humanity.

For those seeking manifestos, how
about this:

I don’t have faith in political action … The people who
got into politics were mostly those who could not accomplish anything anywhere
else. Even back in grade school I was able to observe those few and mostly
unfortunate people who went into politics with the hope that maybe there, by
means of power over others, they could feed their egos and their pockets. In my
basic system telling stories was always more important and more powerful, if you
like a more subversive act than any kind of straight political action. I have
always believed that life itself can best break open the rigidity and stupidity
of the system.
– Rajko Grlic, quoted in a 1998 article published in Croatian
anti-nationalist newspaper Feral Tribune.

Read the stories below,
taken from interviews with Serb journalists in Belgrade this European summer,
while they reported on their nation’s 2004 election campaign. They’re all
thirty- and forty-somethings who’ve spent the prime of their lives doing a
ballsy job in the face of a real ethnic cleanser. Yes, that’d be Slobodan


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