epitome of the Phonecard Affair
Bulli Pass lookout commands a sweeping view over Wollongong
and the Tasman Sea. Joadja, Old Possum and I stopped there last Thursday
morning on our way down to Port Kembla, where I had to do a bit of snooping
and needed a couple of companions to establish a cover story. Officially,
we were birdwatchers, doing a census of pelagic seabirds.
was stormy and overcast, but it was not an oppressive sky. The cloud
cover was high and you could see far out to sea. The clouds were a misty
blue-grey, the sea was a flat blue-grey, and the horizon was masked
by long skeins of rain. Three big coal ships rode at anchor, eerily
suspended in the blue-grey void.
what gets me about Peter Reith and the phonecard affair is this: He
gets away with murder in the waterfront 'reform' affair and then his
whole career comes a cropper over a piss-ant bit of stupidity like Phonecard",
I said, pouring a coffee from the thermos and musing over a topic we
had touched on briefly during the drive down.
a few people have remarked on that. Poor old Robert Manne was particularly
perplexed. He wrote that he just didn't understand Australian politics",
I don't have any trouble understanding it", said Old, who had been
peering at the ocean through his battered old 7x50s, hoping to spot
a whale. "Half of society -- let's say, roughly speaking, the people
who vote Labor, or Greens or even the Democrats -- instinctively hate
Reith's guts. They feel in their guts that his interests and his values
is just the class struggle. It's like nature. It goes on on many levels
and it ain't about to go away. Workers fight for more pay and shorter
hours. Capitalists fight for lower wages and longer hours. Little capitalists
fight against being oppressed by bigger ones (especially the banks)
public schools get shafted by a government which would rather see them
gone, while the richest private schools walk away with millions,"
the point is that all this continuous struggle is a spontaneous thing",
Old possum continued doggedly (for he hates being interrupted when he's
on a pedagogic roll). "It goes on all the time and on many levels,
but the people who have the ultimate power, the power of ownership and
money, set the terms in which social debate is conducted by the mainstream
media, and it just isn't permissible to explain all this trouble and
discontent in class terms. Journalists don't have the freedom to talk
that way -- not if they want to keep their jobs.
if smashing the unions and enforcing individual contracts -- are acceptable,
taking a box of pens home from the office is a no-no. So people 'hate
and wait', and the class struggle gets fought out in the media in the
only terms that can't be easily suppressed by the ruling class ... and
that's 'scandal'. There's stuff like getting caught with your hand in
the till, rorting your travel allowance, failure to pay your tax."
the old days, being a homosexual or an adulterer or an atheist were
pretty good ones too. That stuff still works in places like Malaysia
and the USA", Joadja remarked.
all agreed, as we drove on down to Port Kembla, that the phonecard uproar
epitomised a malaise of intellectual evasion that wasn't going to be
cured quickly. When we arrived, the old main street was a melancholy
sight. There were three pubs and a tattoo joint and some fine old buildings,
but most of the shops were boarded up and the place had an air of struggling
poverty. No doubt the life had been sucked out of it, many years ago,
by some massive new shopping mall nearby.
in Whispers from the mean streets
-- Best of 2000