2018: Not Such A Good Year (Marriage, Sex, Birth, Politics, Murder and Madness)

Murder and madness Violence and the courts’ response was prominent as an issue, because it was an election year in Victoria, and so was racism because of the Minister for Making Refugees Disappear and other senior government people.  I liked John Silverster’s end of year article which celebrated the fact that crimes were down 7% and 3,000 extra police were in training.  A miserable law and order scare campaign ill-executed by state and federal Liberals ultimately bombed spectacularly when Dan Andrews stared it down.  For example, the shadow Attorney-General John Pesutto lost the seat of Hawthorn to a retired school principal who does not drive, John Kennedy (not the Hawks legend of the same name, or the Hawks legend’s Hawks playing son of the same name) and the Liberals held Brighton (Brighton!) by only 865 votes against a late-announced 19 year old Labor candidate who also doesn’t drive and who spent $1,750 on his campaign.  The newly elected Liberal member then surprised many by railing in his maiden speech against duck shooting and expounding environmental concerns more generally.

But before that electoral catharsis which drained the South Sudanese gangs beatup swamp quite effectively and allowed Melbourne lawyer Nyadol Nyuon to garner 16,000 Twitter followers, indeterminate events of violence confounded debate amongst thinking people and it became a ‘Who’s actually the problem here?’ kinda year, at least in my little Twitter echo chamber.  The local terrorists were sufficiently ineffectual, sufficiently un- or questionably jihadist, and sufficiently self-evidently nuts that those who wished to keep the focus on the presumably comparatively sane blokes who just kept plugging away at murdering their wives, children, mothers, mothers in law and grandmothers had much to work with.  Current and former wives and partners alone, for example, have in recent years been killed at the average rate of one a week.  This year, 69 women were killed in homicides in Australia, almost all of them by people they knew.  And the thoroughly white, awfully mad Jimmy Gargasoulis, back in the news as his trial played out, frustrated for the time being anyone who wanted to paint a picture of terror being a refugee jihadist problem.

We learnt that Mr Gargasoulis was a schizophrenic Australian of Greek-Tongan descent on bail for family violence offences who had a history of drug use.  He burnt a Bible and threw it into the face of the maroon Commodore’s owner before demanding the keys else he’d gouge the public housing tenant’s eyes out.  Then he stabbed his brother, took his pregnant girlfriend hostage and went on a wild ride in a Holden Commodore (a Commodore!) mowing down 33 people in Bourke Street resulting in 6 deaths.  In court, he said the ‘Muslim faith is the correct faith according to the whole world’, but also rambled about the illuminati and believed he was Jesus Christ, the Messiah, the King of Kings.  He said he committed the offences so as to free himself of pursuit by the police the better to promulgate his Messiahship.

The main issue in Mr Gargasoulis’s trial was whether he was fit to stand trial.  A jury answered affirmatively and Gargasoulas was subsequently found guilty of murder. While that was playing out, Hassan Khalif Shire Ali set alight a Holden Rodeo (poor old Holden!) with opened gas canisters in its tray in Bourke Street.  Thank God they did not explode, but he managed to stab 3 people killing one (the much treasured Sisto Malespina, Pellegrini’s cravatted host, Melbourne’s original barrista, given a State funeral).  Shire Ali, born in Somalia and a Muslim who did not attend mosque, is reported to have believed people with spears were following him, and had stopped seeing his psychiatrist.  Someone set up a crowdfunding appeal to thank Trolley Man for his brave confrontation of Shire Ali netting him $136,000 before it emerged that he was allegedly a serial burglar and, inexcusably, allegedly a bike thief.

Twice the number of people killed in these headline terror events of 2017 and 2018 were allegedly murdered by 3 other men in less than half a year in south-western Western Australia alone:

  • May, Peter Miles at Osmington near Margaret River: 6 family members and himself at the barrel of a gun;
  • July, Teancum Petersen-Crofts (now resident in a psychiatric facility) at Ellenbrook (Perth): 3 alleged victims (‘a criminal wanted to take me out bush — he did it and he came back for my family … I was painting a picture of Jesus and stayed there for two months. He punched me in the head so hard. I left because I had to. I was that scared he was going to kill me.  Mamma told me to save myself.’)
  • September, Bedford (Perth): Anthony Harvey: 5 alleged victims at a property called ‘Forever Dreaming’.

Then there was the ice addict who thought drones were following him who allegedly stabbed his grandmother to death in Maryborough in Victoria. 

One could go on.  Indeed, though mental health doesn’t  necessarily seem to have anything to do it, I cannot bring myself to omit the details of a murder in Kew (Kew!), belatedly resolved in 2018 following Katia Pyliotis’s fifth trial (five (5)!), in which the McDonald’s worker bludgeoned to death a widower wont to make suggestive comments when ordering his cheeseburgers.  Her weapons of choice were a Virgin Mary statue and a tin of mangoes.  DNA made the case very straightforward in the end, except for the fact that an alcoholic with an acquired brain injury whom the widower used to pay for sex falsely confessed to killing the widower with a paperweight.

It was a very mental health year in other words.  The Victorian Premier bravely avoided panic even when the Shire Ali events occurred during the election campaign. Scott Morrison and Matthew Guy’s decision to hold a tough on crime press conference just down from Pellegrini’s soon afterwards went down like a lead balloon.  Dan Andrews picked the mood of the electorate perfectly by announcing that he would hold a royal commission into the mental health system if his government was re-elected. And I tell you, I had a lot of dealings with mentally ill people in 2018 and my heart went out to them. Such (mainly) quietly suffered suffering and agitation of the mind I saw, and all usually hidden away from me.

Marriage, Sex, Births It’s not often one can speak of notable births in the year just gone.  Notability at birth tends to be restricted to royalty, and Australia did get a new Prince this year (William and Kate Middleton’s third, Louis). 

There was a proper royal wedding too: in a sign that things have moved on significantly since December 1936, Harry wed Meghan Markle, a black divorced American television actress with a messy relationship with her father who is yet to meet Harry and a mother descended from slaves who well remembers being called ‘nigger’.  The Reverend Michael Curry, first black bishop of the American Episcopalian Church and also descended from slaves, shot to prominence, abandoning his comparatively brief pre-prepared sermon typed up on his iPad for a great gush of extemporised proselytization of love of a carefully defined kind, in what was, for me, one of the most surprising and amazing events of the year, even after I realised the ‘bomb’ in Gilead he kept sermonizing about was in fact a ‘balm’ (though I still have a very imperfect understanding of what the balm in Gilead actually is, except that it’s a negro spiritual).  He spoke of slaves to a room of aristocrats some of whom are no doubt wealthy beyond imagination from slavers.  The Palace did invite a posse of 1200 commoners to the wedding to sit on the grass outside the chapel for four or five hours (great for the tv coverage) but the invitation advised them ‘to bring a picnic lunch as it will not be possible to buy food and drink on site’.

But getting back to notable births, this year Sebastian Joyce was born not to his father’s wife but to his former staffer, after his father, who is no longer Deputy PM and no longer a Minister, blagged on about the virtues of traditional marriage during the same sex marriage referendum-not.  ‘Australia’s most overrated politician’, as Chris Bowen called him on the Q&A episode when the former accountant with a man of the earth shtick, fantastically, seemed poised to have another go at the deputy leadership, really looked a right galah.  He asked for privacy, but accepted $150,000 for an exclusive interview on channel 7.

He initially explained that the decision to advise the press that the paternity of the proto-Sebastian was ‘a bit of a grey area’ was jointly made between him and his former media adviser lover. That made me wonder about her media skills.

But later he blamed the outright lie on his mental ill health, explaining that he had been drinking heavily and wandering Canberra’s bars pursuing other women for years.  Sebastian’s mum claimed that senior people within the parliament told her to get an abortion if she wanted a future, people Mr Joyce described as scum of the earth in the ‘mad boarding school’ that is parliament.  Seb begat a ‘bonk ban’ which employment lawyer Josh Bornstein said was stupid and which just suggested to most that Turnbull was a twit.

The Ban ran counter to the trend of the year of querying prohibition: Australian Catholic priests asked if they could just get married; Ireland decriminalised abortion (Ireland!) after a referendum; India’s Supreme Court (which was fractious this year, and has 54,000 pending cases) decriminalized homosexuality and adultery in two separate decisions, told a Hindu temple to let in women of menstruating age (with this extraordinary result), and upheld a marriage of a Hindu who married a Muslim and converted to Islam, against her parents’ wishes; a NSW coroner brought over Portugal’s Dissuasion Commissioner to testify about Portugal’s traffic infringement like fines for drug offences, in an inquest into six overdoses, and police and doctors alike called for drug law reform; people smoked pot perfectly legally in Canada and various states in the US (Hint to the proprietor of CCs’ intellectual property: licence a ganja product to use the CCs trademark. Then: ‘Just say No! You Can’t Say No’); Aspirant Premier Matthew Guy’s pledge to close Victoria’s injecting room was a disaster.

The bonk ban, which was not expressed to have extra-territorial operation, resulted in the loss of another hard working member in the bush, after (so it is alleged by that grand organ of investigative journalism, New Idea) another Nationals Minister sought non-staffer relief extra-maritally and extra-territorially, and resigned from Cabinet upon the allegation being aired (‘Broad Offboarded Over Broads Abroad’, as Annabel Crabb put it).  This occurred, inconveniently, when it was assumed that the news for the year had ended, while ‘the grinning fool in a baseball cap’ as Wayne Swan described him, was trying to ‘debarnacle’ the Coalition.

This ‘sex scandal’ was ill-reported.  It involved no sex.  The real story, it seemed to me, was that a woman who seems to have believed she was entitled to her consideration of c. $1,500 (8,000 HKD) for accompanying Mr Broad to dinner at an expensive restaurant at his expense, brokered through a sugar babies website, decided to approach New Idea in the public interest to tell the world about their unrequited love.  That was bizarre and must have worried many men of the world, until it emerged that Mr Broad had failed to pay the woman the abovementioned ‘allowance’ (in the argot of the sugar daddy world).

The Deputy Prime Minister appears to have suggested that Mr Broad take the matter to the police.  Even if he believed the situation to involve blackmail rather than debt collection, that advice does seem to be monumentally stupid in comparison with ‘Consider paying her the $1,500’.  Mr Broad offered his resignation from the front bench of the government to the Deputy Prime Minister 5 weeks prior to New Idea’s revelations and the PM knew two weeks beforehand.  We don’t know exactly who knew what when, but an air of incomprehensible incompetence was given off by the handling of a scandal which may have arisen as a matter of principle over $1,500.

For the Minister Assisting the Deputy Prime Minister to send a text saying ‘I pull you close, run my strong hands down your back, softly stroke your neck and whisper “G’day mate”’ also seems right up there to my mind with Tony Abbott eating a raw onion.  It is quite simply inexplicable (though Alicia Dawson of Balmain queried whether it was a typo and should have ended ‘… whisper “G’day! Mate?”’). It is said that many Australians giggled every time anyone greeted them with a G’day.

Remarkably, the proprietors of www.seekingarrangements.com who claim to have 700,000 Australian members (which would mean, if they’re all blokes, that about 3 in every 50 men are members), say that they do not judge their sugarbaby member for going to a gossip magazine with one of their daddy members’ private texts, and warn that it is up to their daddy members and sugarbaby members to take care of their own privacy.

State politics The Victorian election was held, and it was a Danslide, Matthew Guy never having managed to shake off the headline writer’s brilliance following ‘Lobster with a Mobster’ or disquiet about his antics as Planning Minister.  Really, a meal with an alleged mafia figure whom Mr Guy had no idea was going to turn up ought not to have been such a big deal.  But the punters were put on notice that something odd was going on by reports that the Opposition leader drank Grange with lobster (presumably the excuse was ‘I had no idea anyone was actually going to order lobster when Rupert ordered the Grange’) and that Mr Guy thought the topic of conversation was to be a new wholesale fruit and vegetable market (so, the punters asked themselves, why on earth would an experienced politician consider the possibility that no Mafiosi would turn up?).  There were 4.1 million voters enrolled, but only 90% of that number appear to have voted.  Four percent of those who did vote voted informally.  Pauline Hanson’s One Nation did not field any candidates.  ABC election coverage can be a bit same same from year to year, but on this occasion, watching the very decent John Pesutto lose the seat of Hawthorn, live, as a panelist on the coverage, was excruciating, while the technology simply did not work for Anthony Green.

I hope you will not consider it perverse of me in the hundredth anniversary of preferential voting to follow my whim to interrogate how many first preference votes people got.  I was surprised by how many seats were won outright in the lower house.

Labor won 1.5 million primary votes (43%), the Liberals 1.1 million (30%), the Greens 375k (11%) and the Nationals 165k (5%).  To look at it another way, the the Labor / Greens vote was 54%, while the Coalition vote was 35%, independents got 6% of the vote (and 3 seats), and everyone else got about 11%.  Forty percent of people in Brunswick and Northcote voted for local doctor Tim Read, and local businesswoman Lidia Thorpe, Greens candidates.  Read won while Thorpe, who won in a November 2017 by-election and so had a short stay in parliament, lost.  In Melbourne, Ellen Sandell retained the seat for the Greens with a primary vote of 39%. 

Labor won the following seats without recourse to preferences: Altona, Bendigo East, Bendigo West Bentleigh, Broadmeadows (68%), Bulleen, Bundoora, Carrum, Clarinda, Cranbourne, Dandenong (66%), Footscray, Keysborough (Martin Pakula), Kororoit, Lara, Mill Park, Mordialloc, Mornington, Mulgrave (Dan Andrews), Narre Warren North, Niddrie, Oakleigh, Polworth, Preston, Rowville, St Albans, Sunbury, Sydenham, Tarneit, Thomastown, Williamstown, Yan Yean, Yuroke, and it got >48% in many other seats.  Thirty-three out of 88 seats won on a first past the post basis seems like a pretty amazing result to me, though I have never before made a study of this aspect of things.  Only in Euroa, Gippsland East, Gippsland South, Lowan, Malvern, Murray Plains, and Naracan did conservative parties get more than 50% of the first preference votes.

The Coalition ended up with 27 seats, 11 fewer than in the previous election, Labor picked up 8 seats to get 55 and the Greens picked up one (or picked up two and lost one, to be precise) to have three.

Independents won seats from the Nationals in Mallee (Ali Cupper, a former councilor and Labor candidate), and Morwell (Russell Northe, who resigned in 2017 from the Nationals because of stress, depression and gambling issues including debts), held the seat of Shepparton (Suzanna Sheed, a trustee of the local hospital and local businesswoman).  The Nationals must be really worried about this local conservative independent woman challenge.

Matthew Guy the Victorian opposition leader gave way to former barrister and Peter Costello acolyte Michael O’Brien.

Other states’ politics South Australia elected a Liberal government after a long innings for the Labor party.  NSW got a new Labor opposition leader when Luke Foley resigned over some things he was alleged to have done to journalist Ashley Raper.  So, at year’s end, there were 5 Labor governments (Victoria, Queensland, WA, ACT and the NT), and 3 Liberal governments (NSW, SA and Tasmania).

Federal politics  Mark Latham joined Pauline Hanson’s One Nation.  Peter Dutton challenged Malcolm Turnbull for the leadership of the Liberal Party, with the result that, following an arithmetical error on the part of the number crunchers, Scott Morrison became Australia’s sixth PM in 10 years, we got a new Deputy Prime Minister for good measure (Julie Bishop out, Josh Frydenberg in) and a new leader of the National Party as well (Barnaby Joyce out, Michael McCormack in).  But let it never be forgotten that 40 of Australia’s parliamentarians thought that the Minister for Making Refugees Disappear was the best person to lead the nation.  Mr Turnbull named the plotters of the coup on Q&A as including Peter Dutton, Tony Abbott, Greg Hunt, Matthias Corman, Mitch Fifield, Michaelia Cash, Steve Ciobo, Angus Taylor, Michael Keenan.  That was a nuts episode, but you don’t need me to remind you of that.

Fraser Anning, elected as a One Nation politician, gave a speech which Armando Iannucci could not have concocted.  Mr Anning is descended from graziers of Charters Towers, but ‘drought and predatory banks’ drove him off the land.  He said ‘I was always a Joh (Bjelke-Petersen) man and, to this day, I regard the Joh era as Queensland’s golden age.’  He said ‘I believe that the unfettered ownership of private property and the right to own and use firearms, including for self-defence, are the God-given rights of free people everywhere.’  Amazingly for a grazier turned Gladstone publican, he started quoting ‘Italian Marxist Antonio Gramsci’ to explain why suggestions that there are more than two genders was a form of Marxist revolution playing out before our very noses.   One of his specific aims was ‘to build coal fired power stations’.  He said things about Muslims that must have been made up.  He described Melbourne’s South Sudanese gangs as Muslim which is highly unlikely (and if they’re Muslim, they’re kind of Muslim in the same way the people of Brighton are Catholic).  He said there should be a plebiscite to decide whether we want Muslims to be allowed into the country, or whether we should have a European migration system like in the good old days before the Marxist revolution led by Gough Whitlam.  Such a vote, he said was ‘the final solution to the immigration problem.’  By the time he gave the speech, he was a member of Bob Katter’s party.  Mr Katter described the speech as ‘solid gold’.  Pauline Hansen described it as ‘straight from Goebbels’ handbook’.  Many people said it was unlikely that a man educated enough to analyse Gramsci would be ignorant of the use by the Nazis of the euphemism ‘final solution to the Jewish problem’.  But Gramsci is the subject of chatter in US far-right circles, and Mr Anning’s speechwriter probably picked him up from there.  In the end, what I reckon happened is this. Some speechwriter had a bit of fun and Anning ended up looking like a galah.

Whitlam.  Such a vote, he said was ‘the final solution to the immigration problem.’  By the time he gave the speech, he was a member of Bob Katter’s party.  Mr Katter described the speech as ‘solid gold’.  Pauline Hansen described it as ‘straight from Goebbels’ handbook’.  Many people said it was unlikely that a man educated enough to analyse Gramsci would be ignorant of the use by the Nazis of the euphemism ‘final solution to the Jewish problem’.  But Gramsci is the subject of chatter in US far-right circles, and Mr Anning’s speechwriter probably picked him up from there.  In the end, what I reckon happened is this. Some speechwriter had a bit of fun and Anning ended up looking like a galah.

Malcolm Turnbull promptly left politics and kept quiet, for just a while, on a tour of New York.  There was a byelection in his seat of Wentworth.  Scott Morrison ineptly announced that he would think about moving the Australian embassy from the coastal administrative centre, Tel Aviv which swallowed up the ancient town of Jaffa, 70 km to the complicated capital claimed by both Israel and Palestine, Jerusalem, aping Donald Trump.  This was just widely reported as a sop to the large number of Jewish voters whom Mr Morrison assumed would lap it up. But never let it be forgotten that Prime Minister Morrison is probably the most religious leader we’ve had for a long time, though increasingly he keeps his cultish Pentecostalism well under wraps. Of course, the embassy move has not happened, and the ploy (if it was not in fact God’s earnest work) didn’t work.  Dr Kerryn Phelps, a former President of the AMA, ran as an independent and won, with a swing against the Coalition of 20%, a record in a byelection.  The Guardian catalogued the government’s ineptitude well:

‘The Phelps insurgency in Wentworth did not start strongly, but the fortnight leading up to Saturday night’s result was entirely chaotic for the government – with the leaking of the Ruddock review of religious freedoms, a vote in which government senators first agreed it was ‘OK to be white’ before it was struck from the record because of the association of the phrase with white supremacist groups, Morrison’s signal that Australia could follow Donald Trump’s policy on Israel – a putative shift prompting criticism from our nearest neighbour Indonesia and a warning by the spy agency of a potentially violent backlash, and leadership stirrings in the National party.’

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