Short and Sweet

All these Shiny Worlds coverI don’t write many short stories, although, at one time I used to write nothing else. These days, when I get a great idea for a short story, I find that, when I think about it, it could easily be expanded into a novel. It’s what happened with Mindrider – my “urban sci-fi” novel that I will be releasing in April this year. I actually wrote a short story and began subbing it to magazines before I suddenly realised that what I’d written was actually the first chapter of a really cool novel. So, I quickly withdrew it and started work on the book. It’s what happened with another novel I have partly written (working title, Metaman) which is based on an idea I had to explain the Fermi paradox. There was far too much I wanted to say, so the short became a long. (Metaman is on the back burner at the moment, I have so many other books I need to complete first!) And, most recently, I had a great short story idea about a man who sacrifices everything to give his daughter immortality – but, with a premise like that, come on, it just had to be a novel, right?

The only shorts I seem to be able to write these days are ones based in “worlds” I’ve already used for novels (I’ve done several short stories in my Timesplash universe and my Placid Point universe) although there is a werewolf story I plan to write when I get the time (don’t worry, it will be hard science fiction, my head would rather explode than let me write fantasy these days). I suppose I’m just a natural-born novelist. If I conceive of a great character, I want to explore their life. If I write about a theme, I want to delve into all its corners. Novels let you do this; shorts don’t.

Yet my fiction writing career (that period of my life in which I make up stuff and get paid for it) really began with short stories – and a piece of advice from SFF and crime writer, Marianne de Pierres. She said I should get a few short stories published because it would give me some credentials to brag about when I submitted novels to publishers, but also because it would give me what was, at the time, a much-needed boost in confidence. In a complete break with everything I hold holy, I actually took her advice. I began writing shorts and submitting them to magazines. (I didn’t have any shorts in my ‘bottom drawer’ at the time because almost all the stories I’d written before then had been lost in a traumatic relationship break-up and I’d never had the heart to write any more.)

Fortunately, I had immediate success and placed a few stories with magazines and anthologies. I even started winning short-story competitions, which was cool. I gathered some of these early stories, along with others, in my short story collection, The Future Below. You will find more in my Placid Point collection (which is free, by the way – I’ll even send you a copy if you sign up for my newsletter), and a couple of older stories are in my collection, Threefold.

The reason I’m waffling on about short stories is that I was recently asked to contribute a story to the Immerse or Die anthology, All These Shiny Worlds, and had to go through my available stories, looking for something suitable. I found I actually still like a lot of my old stories (and would love to turn some of them into novels! There’s one in The Future Below, called “Skyball” which is just begging for it) and I wish I had time to write some more. In fact, I wrote into this year’s business plan that I’d make the time to write a couple more – but we’ll see.

All These Shiny Worlds came out today and is available (for free or thereabouts) at your favourite online bookstore (e.g. Amazon.com, Kobo, etc.). It’s supposed to showcase the writing skills of some of today’s leading independent authors – so, that’s really flattering for a start! The “Immerse or Die” thing is about the editor’s personal philosophy on writing. He reads while he does his morning exercise. If, by the end of his treadmill session, the writing hasn’t got him thoroughly immersed, he ditches it for the next one on his to-be-read pile. Brutal. But it allows him to say, with a certain degree of honesty, in the blurb for All These Shiny Worlds, that the stories are “Guaranteed not to suck.”

 

Changing Brand

It may seem sort of trivial but I’m changing to a new brand of mobile phone. To me it feels like a big deal. But then, I’ve always liked computers, and the one I carry around in my pocket is very special to me. It has to be good. Really good. And it has to be reliable. For those reasons, I’ve been a faithful fan of the Samsung Galaxy range since it started. But, this time, instead of the Galaxy Note 5 I had planned to get when my current contract ended, tomorrow, I’ll be picking up a Huawei Nexus 6P.

I know there’s a certain nerdy cache to owning a Nexus, but that’s not the reason I’m switching. (Well, maybe it’s a teensy, tiny part of the reason.) There are, in fact, three important reasons for the change.

Nexus 6P imageThe first is that the Galaxy range no longer represents the great value for money it once did. It seems to me that, over the past couple of models, Samsung has priced its Galaxy models out of the “good value” bracket, into the “just as bad as Apple!’ range. Everyone knows that iPhones are grossly overpriced but Samsung seems to have only recently twigged to the idea that gullible users will pay through the nose for “must have,” stylish, “market leader” products, even when the technology is not that special. Well, it seems to me that the Nexus 6P has a very similar spec to the Galaxy Note 5 for just 3/4 of the price. So it’s a no-brainer, really.

The second reason is the screen. When I look at what I use a phone for – reading books, reading news, making notes and taking pictures, mainly – I find I really need a big screen. If I could fit a tablet in my pocket, I’d probably go for a flash, Android tablet, or maybe even the Kindle Fire. However, the major benefit of doing my reading and note-taking on a phone, is that it is always with me. Always. Now, the Nexus 6P has a beautiful, high-resolution 5.7″ screen (just like the Galaxy Note 5), which makes it way better than most other phones that have screens up to 5.1″. (By the way, have you noticed that screens are measured in ancient units but the weight of a phone is given in proper, metric units? It’s weird. Maybe the screens are measured in America, where ancient units still linger, but the phones are weighed in a more modern country.)

The third reason may seem a little odd. It’s because the Nexus 6P has an FM radio receiver. In fact, almost all phones have an FM receiver in them only, in almost every case, this is made inoperative by the network or the manufacturer. You won’t get FM radio on a Galaxy phone in this country, nor on an iPhone. You can understand why. If you want to listen to the radio (as I do) it is far better, from the network’s point of view, if you use Internet radio and consume bandwidth that you have to pay for (44Mb per hour for Android phones), than that you simply listen to free-to-air broadcasts. And it probably wouldn’t be that big a deal for me, except that the only two channels I listen to (ABC Radio National and ABC Classic FM) are time-shifted during the Australian Summer because they are, effectively, the Sydney broadcast, digitised. I live in Queensland, which has no Daylight Saving and which often seems a million miles from Sydney and its concerns. And I like to listen to the radio when I’m outside working on my property, often hundreds of metres outside of wi-fi range.

Call me a fool for choosing a Chinese company over a South Korean one (but all you Apple fanbois out there need to acknowledge that your own phone was made in a Chinese factory). Tomorrow I will know whether I made a dreadful mistake that I’ll regret for the next two years. So, wish me luck.

Choosing a phone is such an important decision these days. My phone is an informational Swiss Army knife. It does so many different things. It’s the book I’m reading, my entire library, my online book shops, my news feeds, my jotter and scrap-book, my music collection, my still and video cameras, my map and guide, my web-browser, my dictionary, my star charts, my radio, my torch and my night-light, my clock, my alarm clock, my stopwatch, my calculator, my bank, and a hundred other vital tools. And yes, sometimes I use it to make phone calls and send messages but, honestly, even if it didn’t make calls, I’d still carry it with me everywhere.

Talking About My New Crime Story Collection

Writing crime stories is a new departure for me. If I were asked, this is what I might say about my new female detective character, Detective Constable Alexandra Bertolissio of the Queensland Police Service.

On Alexandra:

Sisters Cover “She’s a quiet person, thoughtful and sensitive, surrounded by jocks and big egos. She’s physically small too. Delicate. Yes, she’s pretty, beautiful even, but most people don’t see that unless they take a close look. I wanted to create a character who isn’t a two-fisted hero, who isn’t well-liked, who doesn’t get their way by sheer force of personality or physical presence. I didn’t want to create a detective who was flamboyant and eccentric. Sometimes the main feature distinguishing one fictional detective from another is what kind of unusual car they drive! Alexandra doesn’t even own a car. I wanted someone who was ordinary in almost every way except for her keen, even brilliant, mind.

“Alexandra’s career with the police is going nowhere. She’s not the kind who would succeed in any corporate environment. She doesn’t push herself forward, she doesn’t have the urge to gain advancement at any cost, she has almost nothing in common with her colleagues and will not pretend to be like them, she just wants to do her job and catch criminals. And she does that extremely well. So well, in fact, that she outshines everyone around her – for all the good that does her. Without the social skills to get along with the system, she is destined to remain a detective constable while far less deserving colleagues are promoted above her.”

On Brisbane:

“Why set the Bertolissio stories in Brisbane? Why not put them in London or New York? I’ve been asked this by publishers Brisbanewho tell me, for example, that Americans – the biggest single market for readers – don’t want to read stories set outside their own country.

“Well, partly its as simple as this: I like Brisbane and I know it well. It’s a big city – two million people – and it’s not a lot different from some US West Coast cities – San Francisco in particular. It’s sunny and laid back on the surface but it has its underbelly, like any other city. It’s got the bush out west and beaches to the east. It even has its own smaller version of Miami along the Gold Coast. I think it’s time people elsewhere got to know Brisbane and I think they’d like it too.”

On Mel, Alexandra’s sister:

“Mel is gorgeous and spoilt and a major source of complications for Alexandra. Tall, blonde, and a carefree daddy’s girl, Mel is attracted to the worst kind of men, most of them the kind Alexandra tends to meet professionally. Mel is much younger than Alexandra and, after their mother died, Alexandra raised her little sister while their father became increasingly distant and unresponsive. So Mel treats Alexandra like her mother, turning to her to solve all her problems, looking to her for emotional support, barely noticing that Alexandra’s life is hard and stressful enough without the burden of minding her too.

“Yet there is a strong bond between them and Alexandra, however much she grumbles, is fiercely protective of her sister. I wanted this relationship to be a major feature of the Bertolissio stories. Most detectives in novels are reclusive loners. Alexandra would be too but I won’t let her be. Her sister Mel ties her to the world and creates a social dimension for her that she would otherwise cut herself off from.”

Business Plan

2016 is almost upon us and, although New Year’s resolutions are dumb, making a business plan isn’t. So I made one. “But you’re a writer, Graham, not a businessman!” I hear you all cry. So true. So true. So what do I need a business plan for?

The answer is simple. To sell books.

Let me take a step back.

When I started writing I had a vague notion that, one day, I’d be published. By a publisher, that is. It sort of worked out that way. I published lots of non-fiction (with big-name publishers, like Macmillan, Hachette and Hutchinson) and, eventually, even started having fiction published.

But I never really made any sales until I self-published my novel, Timesplash. It was a weird fluke and the book’s success could not have happened at a worse time because all the other novels I had complete and ready to go, were out with publishers being considered. I had lots of interest and it seemed like I was going to break out.

But the Timesplash sales gradually petered out (they do that) and because the publishers were all still thinking about it (some for months, some for years) there was no follow-up. One by one, those publishers all said no (apart from one which seemed so taken with the success of Timesplash that they took it on and published it and then published two sequels) and I found myself back at square one with a pile of manuscripts and a fading memory of success.

I  was pretty fed up with being dangled on a string by publishers, so I began self-publishing my books.

It was pretty disappointing. I made some sales but never did repeat the big success Timesplash had enjoyed. I also discovered that, in self-publishing, your books succeed in proportion to the amount of (savvy) marketing you do. This was such a terrible discovery that I gave up marketing altogether and went back to just writing my books and putting them out there. It was terrible because I hate marketing with a passion and could not bear the thought of having to do it forever.

I have a small but loyal readership and, for a while, it was good enough to know that this tiny band of wonderful people really appreciated what I was doing. But during 2015, I grew increasingly frustrated that more people were not reading my books. I’d see some magazine announce the “best sci-fi novels of the year” and I’d find myself shouting at the screen, “How do you know? I published novels this year and you didn’t even read one of them? In what sense are you able to say some other book is the best? Because a Big 5 publisher sent it to you to read? Because it was recommended to you by some other guy who was sent a copy by a publisher? In fact, how many sci-fi books out of the thousands that were published this year did you read? Twenty? Thirty?”

That kind of thing.

Silly, of course. If you aren’t actually playing the game, how can you possibly hope to win? But I’ve always eschewed games. Most in the real world are so corrupt, the very thought of joining in makes you feel dirty. Look at World Cup soccer, or cycling… Anything that involves money eventually becomes corrupt and dirty. Do you know you can buy Amazon book reviews? Makes you shudder with disgust, doesn’t it? It does me.

Still, I’d like more people to read what I write. So I’m going to have to do something.

If self-publishing has taught me anything, it is that publishing is a commodity market with very, very little product differentiation. That’s why advertising and marketing are so necessary. The makers of washing powders, fizzy drinks, breakfast cereals, and so on, need to bombard us constantly with advertising that depends on vague emotional association (this brand is for strong men, this brand is trustworthy, this brand is young and exciting, etc.) in order to create any differentiation at all because there is almost no difference between the actual products.

Now, I’m not saying there is no difference between good and bad books. I think there’s a huge difference. But, either most people can’t see it, or there is so much variation in individual taste that personal judgements that are diametrically opposed, all average out to create no overall difference. In such a market, only brand awareness matters. People don’t read the top-selling crime writers because they are the best writers in the world but because they are the best known. Omo is no better than a hundred other washing powders but hardly any other powder gets a look in.

Thus, writing better books has, at best, a marginal effect on sales performance. Being a better marketer has a major effect.

The secret to being a successful self-published author is to write reasonably well and become a smart, driven, hard-working publisher.

Well, that just isn’t going to happen for me. I work hard at being a better writer, but I just don’t have the motivation to put that much effort into being a great publisher.

And here we are, back at my 2016 business plan. And the plan is to do a few, highly-targeted things that I know will help sales but which aren’t too time and effort consuming. It’s the best I can do and, without the plan, I’d probably let even that little slide. So wish me luck.

Oh, yes. And buy my books.

What’s in a Pseudonym?

I have a terrible confession to make. Although I am a science fiction writer, for many years now, I have been secretly writing crime stories.

Let me give you a moment to pick yourself up off the floor – and for my furious blushing to subside.

I didn’t mean to do it. I was living in Brisbane when it all started. I’d decided to start having a go at this writing thing again and I thought that, this time, I’d join one of those writing group thingies and see if that would help. However, the only writing group I could find within 40km of my home was a bunch of crime writers. (It turns out there were loads of writing groups in Brisbane – many much closer to home – but they didn’t turn up in my searches at the time. These are the accidents that shape our lives.) So I joined and to, you know, join in, I wrote a few crime stories for critiques and such.

The thing is, I really liked the stories I was writing and I very quickly zeroed in on a particular character, Alexandra Bertolissio, a detective constable in the Queensland Police Service. Before I finally left that particular writing group, with a firm intention to focus all my efforts on science fiction, I’d written tens of thousands of words about Alexandra Bertolissio, her sister (Mel) and her daily battle with the Brisbane underbelly. As I say in one of the Alexandra Bertolissio stories:

To be corrupted is to find yourself tempted into a pleasure you should not enjoy, to want that pleasure again and again, no matter how wicked it is. To be corrupted is to discover yourself.

About that time (in fact, indirectly, through a connection I made in my crime writers’ group), my sci-fi writing career began to take off. I got a few short stories published and I was getting loads of interest from Big 5 publishers. I self-published my novel, Timesplash, and it did incredibly well. But I kept glancing at the Alexandra Bertolissio stories and thinking I should do something with them. I sent one off to a magazine and it said it would publish it but it went bust before the edition with my story came out. (This is not uncommon in the magazine business. It has happened to me four times so far.) I was, frankly, a bit relieved because I’d been reading stuff from other authors about how writing in multiple genres can “dilute your brand” and, if you must do it, you should use a different pseudonym for each genre.

I still thought of the crime stories as a potential distraction, so I self-published them (two novellas and a collection of short stories) under a false name and forgot about them. They never sold well and I took that as a sign that I’d made the right choice.

However, I’ve always felt guilty about them, alone out there, disowned by their father, ignored and abandoned, like bastard children, raised by the gamekeeper and his wife, never knowing they belonged up here in the big house.

And, in the end, it grew unbearable. So, I have brought them back into the fold. I’ve put them all together in a single, omnibus edition (novellas and all), slapped my real name on the front, and declared to the world that they are my own. I only hope that, in time, they will learn to forgive me.

If you’re curious as to what kind of crime stories a hard line sci-fi writer like me can produce, the collection is called “Sisters” and it’s available for pre-order at your favourite online store (just type my name into the site search and all my books will magically appear). I believe the stories are what crime writers call “police procedural” and, while there’s a smidgeon of sex and violence in them, they probably tend towards the “cozy” end of the detective fiction spectrum.

These days, I regret not having the courage to own up to my crime stories. Maybe all that brand stuff isn’t complete bollocks, maybe writing in multiple genres actually does confuse “the market”, but that really doesn’t matter, does it? I do what I do. I am what I am. If that doesn’t sell books, who gives a rat’s arse? There are more important things in life.

Fortunately.

Sisters cover

Cover Reveal: Warriors: Book 3 of the Canta Libre Trilogy

It’s here at last, the final installment of the Canta Libre trilogy. It’s gone up for pre-order on Amazon (other sites later) and will be released on Jan 11, 2016. Meanwhile, to whet your appetite, this is what it looks like.

Warriors cover

As usual, the cover design was by Dwell Design and, as usual, they did a great job. And, if you’re wondering what’s under the hood, here’s the blurb:

First contact with alien species had been a disaster, opening a Pandora’s box of trouble for humanity.

Hunted by alien warships, the survivors of the crew of the Canta Libre travel back to Earth, only to discover a ferocious global war has broken out in their absence. Earth’s governments have branded them traitors and they too are hunting Captain Ashton and his crew for the alien technology they are supposed to have brought back.

Fighting for their lives against old allies and new enemies, only the Canta Libre, with its rag-tag crew of scientists and civilians, can bring the world the weapon it needs to defeat the alien warships hot on their tail. But the strange reality-bending force they have on board is a two-edged sword and, in the end, the Canta Libre may be the biggest threat to human survival of them all.

I hope you all pre-order it as a small Christmas present to yourselves and then enjoy it to pieces. If you haven’t read the rest of the trilogy, you start with Emissaries.

 

The Future of Car Crime

I just read an article about a research report that says people would like self-driving cars to behave ethically and kill their driver if it was a choice between the driver and, say, a group of pedestrians. However, the report also said that people wouldn’t actually want to buy such a car for themselves.
 
killer carFair enough, but the real issue here is what the law would require. For example, how would product liability laws treat the manufacturer of a car (the product) which occasionally chose to kill its owner – even for a very good reason? It doesn’t let air conditioners do that, so why let cars? Seriously, we buy products all the time that harm lots and lots of people (like those air conditioners that are powered by electricity generated by burning coal) but it doesn’t seem to matter how many people they harm, as long as they don’t kill the purchaser. Also, what about the laws around homicide? If I’m walking down a street and a car ploughs into me because it chose to do so to save its driver, I think I’d have a pretty good case against both the owner and the manufacturer for attempted murder.

And, if I think a driverless car is about to kill me – for whatever excellent ethical reason – do I have the right to self-defence? I think I should have.

killer car 2
 
The problem is, once you give a car the ability to make decision that might harm (or kill) people, the injured parties are going to want some kind of legal redress. And, since you can’t throw cars in jail, it would have to be the owners and the manufacturers who get prosecuted for all the many crimes their cars can commit.
 
In fact, I think we need to change the law right now to make the owners and manufacturers of cars (not just the companies but the management AND the programmers involved) liable for any crimes committed by their vehicles. It’s the only solution that makes sense. Giving a car the ability to do some kind of utilitarian calculation about minimising harm (or whatever) is fine but the people who create and operate such cars need to be held responsible for what they’re unleashing on the public.

Cover Reveal: Time and Tyde

Being insane and being visited by an amoral jerk from the future are not all that different. Whether he believes his troubles are down to one or the other, for Vince Demarco the outcome is just the same.

My new novel, Time and Tyde, is coming out in a couple of weeks’ time and, as usual, the mad rush to meet my planned release date has me running around like a headless chicken trying to meet the milestones. Well, here’s one I can tick off. The cover for the book has been finalised and is ready to be put up here for your delight and edification. Again, my thanks go out to Kate Strawbridge at Dwell Design for struggling womanfully with my indecision.

I’ve been releasing lots of series set in the future lately, mostly thrillers and space operas in my Placid Point universe. Time and Tyde is a completely different kettle of fish. It’s a stand-alone novel with very little in the way of action or excitement (although, you will find just a smidgin in there) and, if you want to call it a thriller, you might want to tag “psychological” on the front of that. “Black comedy” might be another way to describe it.

It’s set in the present day. The “hero”, Vince Demarco, is a very ordinary sort of bloke and the plot is what you might call “ambiguous” about the sci-fi elements. This might be a wild tale about time travel and the moral turpitude that will one day grip human society. On the other hand, it might just be a sad story about a guy who is slowly going off his rocker. I flatter myself to think that if Nick Hornby or Nick Earls wrote science fiction, this might be the kind of thing they’d produce.

So, with no further ado, I give you the cover to Time and Tyde. Let me know what you think of it.

 

Time and Tyde Cover

 

 

Customer Service and the Modern Writer

I recently had an email exchange with a company called Oz Robots – the people I bought my robot vacuum cleaner from last year. I’d made another order from them and something had gone wrong. Not only did they fix the problem immediately but they did it with courtesy and generosity and left me thinking, “Wow, what a great company!” I’ve had similar experiences with other companies over the years. The company I bought my TV from, WebPrice, is another standout. Their customer service guys moved heaven and earth to sort out a problem I was having, completely owning it, dealing with third parties and, in the end, just like Oz Robots, leaving me happier than if there’d never been a problem in the first place.

CustomerService2It got me thinking about customer service. Most companies can get it more-or-less right at the sales end. They’re polite, eager to please, will go that extra mile, and so on. But it’s after they’ve made the sale, after they’ve got your money, that their true colours are revealed. When you call them with a problem and they know they’re not going to make any money from this new contact, that’s when you see who you’re really dealing with. So often, the polite, eager sales guys are nowhere to be seen – they’re off somewhere spending their bonuses – and you’re left to face surly, incompetent, barely-trained customer service reps. I probably don’t need to name names but I will just mention Telstra and Vodaphone. If you’re Australian, you will almost certainly know what I mean.

I can’t imagine working as a customer service rep. If you’re doing it for a company that doesn’t really care, it must be one of the worst jobs in the universe. Every day, angry and frustrated people will be calling you, demanding you do something about the inferior product or service they’ve just bought. Every day it will be the same problems, systemic problems that no-one is bothering to fix – probably because an understaffed call-centre in the Philippines is cheaper than a product redesign or a service upgrade.

But maybe that’s not even the worst of it. The chances are that, whatever the quality of your product, there will be customers who just don’t like it because… well, because they don’t. It’s not to their taste, it doesn’t suit the way they do things, it wasn’t what they expected, and so on. And that made me realise that, as a writer, I really am in the customer service business after all.

It’s not just that I’m flogging books to people all the time (with a smile and a can-do attitude, I hope) but I’m also receiving calls from disgruntled customers – only they’re not calls, they’re written complaints, and they don’t come quietly to my desk to be dealt with, they’re posted in the most public places the complainant can find. We writers call them “negative reviews”. They’re often vitriolic and almost always anonymous. If you want to see a few, go to the page of any popular book on Amazon and scroll down.

It’s a strange form of customer complaint, unlike any you’d see in most other business areas (unless you read Yelp), and the methods for responding to them are also odd. If you write to a company to complain about its products, it’s usually because you want them to do something about it; refund your money, replace the product, improve the service. When people write negative reviews they seem to be just… well… venting. They don’t seem to want anything except to get their disappointment of their chest and, altruistically, to warn the world about your terrible product.

A good and sensible writer responds to these complaints by ignoring them. Yes, that’s right, we ignore negative reviews. It’s not because we don’t want to engage customer-servicewith customers and understand their grievances, it’s because bitter experience has shown that anything you say to an unhappy reader, no matter how humble and apologetic, will be misconstrued and, ultimately, used against you.

It’s easy to see why. To most readers, the writer is the guy with all the power. The reviewer is just the little guy, speaking truth to power. This is an attitude I feel was fostered in the days when publishers ruled the Earth. Nowadays, the chances are good that the writer self-published his or her book, is starving in a garret, and is happy that anyone noticed him or her at all, even if they said he or she was a misogynist creep whose characters were stereotypes and whose plot was as predictable as a conservative MP justifying their expenses fiddle.

So the advice is, don’t engage with negative reviewers. Either they will feel “got at” and respond with stunning vituperation, or they’ll be seen by everyone else as victims of your bullying attempts to shut down all criticism. In truth, you cannot win. The best you can achieve is to look like the US invading Iraq – and the outcome will be just as good.

So where does that leave the writer keen to service his readers and to learn from his mistakes? Frankly, you just have to lump it. Bad reviews are informative, they can teach you things about your writing and how it is perceived, but they are not going to open a fruitful and rewarding dialogue that will enable you to grow as an artist. So the only thing you can do is read them, suck it up, and move on. Customer service is for people in other professions. Your best bet is to write a blog, engage people on Twitter and Facebook, and make damned sure your next novel doesn’t suck.

 

 

Australian PM Attacks Free Speech – Drags Nation Lower

I’m trying not to put “political” rants up on this blog as much as I used to but sometimes things happen that leave me gasping with incredulity, or saddened so deeply it hurts. In fact, I’m showing incredible restraint since so much of what Australia’s present government is doing makes me feel that way. I could have chosen any number of topics for this rant – the government’s relentless attack on the renewable energy sector, their endless whittling away of civil liberties, their ideologically-driven attempts to privatise our health system and our education system – but it was their recent attack on freedom of speech that was the straw that broke my back this time.

There’s a TV show here called Q&A and it is produced and broadcast by the ABC – Australia’s equivalent of the BBC. It’s a silly, trivial show in which (typically) people of different political backgrounds as well as celebrities and media types discuss current affairs. I don’t watch it. Every moment of it I’ve ever seen leaves me despairing and sickened – although it is generally considered one of the more “intelligent” talking heads shows on the telly. I don’t watch any of them.

This week, they had a member of the Liberal government on the panel. For overseas readers, the Liberals in this country are like the American Tea Party. They’re dominated by Christian zealots, they believe in small government, they hate welfare, they believe in laissez-faire economics and have a “Devil take the hindmost” attitude to the poor, the sick and the underprivileged. In the audience was a young Muslim, a man who had been tried and acquitted of terrorist crimes and who had served time for threatening the life of an ASIO officer (Australia’s secret police). Part of the format of the show is to take questions for the panel from the audience. Eventually the terrorist guy got his turn and he and the government guy had a bit of a slanging match.

This is all in the context of new laws that were recently introduced here to remove citizenship from people who have acted on behalf of certain proscribed terrorist groups if that person has dual citizenship (and would not, therefore be rendered stateless). It’s the kind of law this government loves. It plays to the ignorant and stupid in their fan base. They get to puff out their chests and say, “If you want to fight for terrorist organisations overseas, if you want to attack Australians at home, we don’t want you here!” Never mind engaging in debate, never mind understanding the reasons, never mind that this kind of thing is disguised racial hatred and religious intolerance, never mind that only a handful of people are ever going to fall into this category so it’s a massive beat-up over next-to-nothing. None of that matters. What matters is winning votes from the far right of the population – a very large minority in Australia.

The government guy told the terrorist guy he’d like to see him personally thrown out of the country. The terrorist guy said that, as an Australian, he’d like to see the government guy thrown out. The government guy said the only reason the terrorist guy was still here was because the laws he’d been charged with weren’t retroactive. The terrorist guy said it’s attitudes like that that are driving Muslim youth to support ISIL. Both of them were puerile and childish and very, very stupid – although, I have to say, the government guy came across as far more stupid and aggressive than the terrorist guy who was at least trying to make some kind of a point.

After the show, all Hell broke loose. It went out late in the evening. By 9am the next morning, the head of the ABC had apologised to the nation for allowing this terrorist guy onto the show. The Prime Minister, Tony Abbott, gave a press conference asking why the nation’s public broadcaster was giving a platform to terrorists and wanting to know whose side the ABC was on. The Murdoch press – which, in Australia, is comprised entirely of the most awful right-wing tabloid rags you’ve ever seen (and, yes, I include The Australian) – went wild with full-page idiot-friendly headlines such as “Terrorvision” to the effect that the ABC was providing succour to terrorists and attacking Australia. In Australia, the Murdoch press is rather like state-run propaganda. The government actually consults with Murdoch on major policies and feeds his media empire information exclusively and often before government backbenchers hear it. (Actually, it’s more like the other way around. This government is the executive arm of a number of large corporations, including News Corp.)

What I heard on Q&A was a couple of bigots being rude to one another (I’ve watched the excerpt after the event). What I heard from Tony Abbott was a clear and dangerous attempt to shut down the ABC – one of the few media outlets that does not simper and pander to his government the way he’d like them all to – disguised as nationalist bullshit. What I heard from Rupert Murdoch and his gutter press was a clear attempt to undermine a competitor – and support their friends in government – disguised as moral outrage. The whole thing was disgusting from beginning to end. Just utterly disgusting.

I despair of this country. Political debate here is pathetic – as you’d expect, when there is almost no independent media and virtually no opposition in parliament. There is no working democracy here any more and morality has been completely replaced by economic theory.