Sunday, June 5, 2011

Q&A WA: Don't mention the war!

This one's an opinion piece...

The question I was handed by an anonymous source
from within the mining industry.
Source: scanned.

In November 2010, the ABC's Q&A programme came to Perth.

As I have, in recent times, been reasonably interested in What Goes On, I was particularly keen to become involved.

Eventually, after a near-miss in which I was not selected, a friend of mine came to the party with a guest pass.

It probably goes without saying that this event was intense.

On the panel was my most loathed of jerks: the enviro vandal and Protector of Big Business, the Right Honourable Cockroach, Mr Colin Barnett.

This man has an utterly infuriating position on everything.

Early in the programme he made the blanket announcement that if Australia became a republic then WA would effectively secede:
That is a distinct possibility. [see transcript]
Later, he dismissed the issue of Aboriginal incarceration in the WA prison system; going on to explain:
You know, many of the young Aboriginal people in prison are there for traffic offences, for driving without a licence in Aboriginal communities. Well, that's clearly a ridiculous situation. [see transcript]
(To be fair, he did briefly mention that leglisation would be introduced to try and combat this. Whether it ever happens is another matter.)

I tried repeatedly, in vain, to question this man regarding the loathed Stop & Search bill; which was still on the table at the time.

But it seems the show was focused on more nationally-important (I suppose) issues: the relationship between the mining industry and Aboriginal people, asylum seeker policy, and the like.

The intensity on the ground floor was insane and bizarre. It's something I won't forget in a hurry.

The weirdest part was the audience dynamic.

Now, it seems that most people are generally good people; and most of the rest are at least well-intentioned.

It doesn't take half a heart to realise that, even though I'm sure most people would probably prefer that the issue would just go away, what's going on with asylum seekers in this country is pretty fucked.

So generally, and this is just an example issue, most people in the crowd were pretty appalled by the Premier's attitude toward the issue and the vague lip service paid by the ALP's representative Stephen Smith.

Only the Greens' Rachel Siewert was willing to show some balls.

Unfortunately she is a sensible and informed, quietly spoken woman who can't really hold a candle to sensationalist questions such as this one from Gerrit Van Der Sluys: in WA we are increasingly used as a perceived dumping ground for possible asylum seekers ... why is it that these people are being given more help and better treatment then homeless and impoverished Australian citizens? [see transcript]
Enter the Young Liberals.

These infuriating ideologues have to be in the highest category of 'jerk' known to man.

As I quickly learned by squabbling with them on Twitter later in the evening, they hold belligerent and dismissive attitudes towards every idea that's not based on neo-liberal post-colonialism.

They probably represented about a third, or maybe a quarter, of the audience on this particular evening. That's pretty high odds. There were heaps of them.

One of them (LYLSWA Treasurer Anthony Spagnolo) was even referred to by name by Barnett.

It's actually to the ABC's credit that these people were given a chance to speak--and they spoke a fair bit.

But it's an example of their boisterous ingratitude that they were on Twitter throughout the proceedings claiming that the "communist ABC" was censoring them and swinging the debate in the leftist direction.

If anything, these douche-bags were over-represented.

It would be disingenuous for me to claim that there isn't a place for conservative politics within the Grand Plethora. Of course there is, so long as all other angles of discourse get a look-in.

But if this is the future of the conservative party in this country then we are completely and utterly fucked.

Between Barnett--with his monarchist, protectionist, neo-liberal agenda--the steely-eyed lost cause Julie Bishop, and these kids in the audience, there wasn't one among them who came out not looking like a complete fuck head.

The only conservative who came out looking like he actually had a soul was mining industry fucko Andrew Forrest.

His attempts to give Aboriginal people large-scale employment in the mining industry are admirable, but, of course, they fail to take into account the fact that not everybody views life the same way he does.

Thank christ, then, that Marianne Mackay had managed to land herself a spot in the front row.

This relentless woman, who I'd not encountered before but have seen talk a couple of times since, pointed out fiercely that the traditional Aboriginal worldview of Country is anathema to large-scale industrial mining, and asked what the point was of employing Aboriginal people to do the one thing they didn't want to do:
If people want to help Aboriginal people get employment, don't help our people kill our land. You know, save our environment. Get on environmental protection. [see transcript]
I'm white, of course, but I'm also an environmentalist and I wish this point had been discussed further.

(It's important to note that the one Aboriginal member of the panel, Tony Wiltshire, is a successful businessman and is clearly down with the capitalist paradigm as a way forward for equality.)

But the thing I'll remember most about this whole ordeal--and it was indeed an ordeal--was the man who slipped me a piece of paper imploring me to ask his question.

He'd evidently sussed me out and desperately wanted his question answered.

"I can't ask this," he told me urgently.

"I work in mining. If I ask it, I'll lose my job."

Shit, I'll try! I thought, but I was unsuccessful in this regard.

Peering down at the neatly typed and folded piece of paper he had given me I saw the following words... written repeatedly.
Mr Premier, would you let us know whether your government has any public policies or strategies to maintain at least the current prosperity and living standards of all Western Australians, after you have send [sic] the last shipment of WA's non-renewable resources overseas? [see image above]
It shits me greatly that I wasn't quicker on the uptake.

Somebody needed to ask this question, because it's one of the most fundamental ones that Western Australian society is facing.

There's no question we're getting fat off digging up shit and selling it, but what (on Earth) are we going to do afterward?

We in WA don't exactly have the best track record of pulling off these kinds of large-scale stunts without screwing ourselves long-term... one look at the Wheatbelt should remind us of this.

As Andrew Forrest said in his final speech, to the baffled consternation of many people both in the studio and on Twitter:
I've got a number of incredibly rich friends and I can assure you they're no happier than anyone in this audience. [56:10]
Well, if money doesn't make you happy, what does? And where are our priorities? And what legacy are we leaving behind?

I do hope Q&A returns at some point, because all I was left with after this one was dozens of questions, mild confusion and a battered psyche.

NB: All unattributed quotes in this article are the author's own interpretation based on ground floor experience. It's not possible, to my knowledge, to link to old #qanda quotes on Twitter, but if it is please let me know and I'll attribute them more thoroughly. The specific Q&A episode can be streamed, and the transcript accessed, here.

1 comment:

  1. What WA does next is indeed a huge problem. The Barnett government has left the dinner burning on the stove whilst digging holes outside in the sand pit. Tax incentives, infrastructure and training initiatives that are directed towards key manufacturing skills, rather than just skills for the resources sector, are required. We thankfully still have Austal ships after they almost went off shore. Unfortunately, WA has this year lost Quikstep, a company conceived in WA that offers advanced materials products to international companies such as Boeing and NASA. Quikstep was conceived and established in WA, however, they were recently lured to NSW by government incentives that the Barnett government was not willing to even come close to. Arguably, large incentives to secure and support manufacturing are justified by what they will give back to the state ten fold in the future, something that mining can not offer. I believe a moderated mining culture (rather than a 'rush' culture) has an integral part to play in creating a sustainable future for our state. However, Western Australia and Australia must look beyond the dirt if we are to continue our current living standards in the future. JP