What happens next?

In a couple of days, Australia will have a new government and, barring an upset of almost incomprehensible magnitude, it will be a conservative government with Tony Abbott as Prime Minister. It is a most unsettling prospect, but what will be will be.

What’s important is what happens next.

Abbott seems like almost the worst imaginable person to be given the leadership of the country, and I dislike the Liberal Party on a visceral, or perhaps molecular level, but the most unsettling part is that Australia is about to elect a government that has kept its plans for after the election secret. There is very little in the way of policy details beyond three-word slogans, and until today we have not been told how the promises they have made will be paid for. Even tonight we only have a costing document that provides a line item for each spending/saving measure but no information about the underlying assumptions.

It’s an appalling indictment on the Australian electorate that people are prepared to vote, sight-unseen, for what will likely be a massive swing to the right in almost every area of public policy. It’s an even worse indictment on the Australian Labor Party, which has squandered its own political capital and led many Australians to regard it as a hopelessly dysfunctional, visionless and talentless rabble, not through poor government over the last six years (far from it – the ALP has driven some key policy reforms) but through internecine squabbles and almost comically poor communication skills.

The Australian electorate hates the Labor Party so much they are prepared to have Tony Abbott – a man that most people think is a sort of intellectually dim, semi-deranged religious zealot – as their PM. Most people, when asked, think Abbott will be a terrible PM. And yet they are prepared to elect him purely out of spite directed at the ALP.

They say oppositions don’t win elections; governments lose them. Well, indeed: this particular opposition leader has not had to do anything more complex than remain vertical and robotically repeat ‘stoptheboatsendthetaxbuildtheroadsofthetwentyfirstcentury’ and he’s headed for a landslide victory.

So Abbott’s going to win. What happens next depends on a few factors. First, the scale of his majority and, particularly, the numbers in the Senate.

If there’s a big swing, Abbott could be looking at a 30- or 40-seat buffer in the House of Reps. That will take three or four terms of government for the ALP to whittle away, if it can at all: Coalition governments all the way through to the mid-2020s. It’s turtles all the way down. In the Senate, things are looking a wee bit brighter – with a bit of luck, the Greens vote will hold up, the byzantine preference deals won’t elect too many right-wing crazies, and the Coalition won’t have a workable majority in the upper house.

The Greens have said they will vote against almost every part of the Coalition’s platform: they will continue to stand up for asylum seekers, welfare recipients and wage earners, and against big business and the top end of town. In other words, they will act on well-articulated principles, not based on political expediency. Maybe it’s time for the ALP to join them?

Perhaps this defeat will be the catalyst that forces the ALP to reexamine its place in the Australian political landscape, and relocate its ideological soul. A party of the left, standing up for ordinary people, protecting and extending Medicare, social security, progressive social policies – you know, the old ALP. And maybe they could discover that the Greens, who have become successful by attracting the votes of disaffected leftist voters, aren’t the real enemy: the tories are.

 

Together, Labor and the Greens could yet provide an effective brake on at least some of the craziest plans Abbott, Hockey and Robb have in their secret dossier, and in the process they might just rediscover what it is they stand for.

How crazy might those plans be? We’ll know in the weeks and months to come I suppose, but just today the Coalition has suddenly discovered an appetite for a mandatory internet filter, and one of their chief boosters thinks rich people should be allowed to buy their way out of jail.

So that’s freedom of speech and the rule of law gone, and they haven’t even won the election yet.

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The AIDS crisis in real time

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Starting today, buggery.org has a new baby sister – a side project I’m starting focusing on the history of the HIV epidemic in Australia.

Real Time AIDS is a Twitter feed, Facebook page and website that will re-highlight the daily events of Australia’s response to the early years of the epidemic, as they happened, but 30 years to the day after.

To put it another way, I’m live blogging the AIDS crisis, on a 30-year delay.

The month coming up marks the 30th anniversary of our first AIDS death, and the months and years following that were a time of hysteria, fear and ignorance that we had to fight to endure. While many of us remember at least some of those events, many of the details, the skirmishes, the daily grind of bad news in the papers, is lost. While few people would be interested in reading a lengthy compilation of those events, following Real Time AIDS on Twitter or Facebook will provide a reminder, every day or every few days, of where we were 30 years ago.

Most of the content will be drawn from media reports and other contemporaneous sources. A lot of it – especially in the early days – won’t be pretty, but I hope being reminded of those years of terror and struggle and death will help reinvigorate our efforts for the work that’s yet to be done.

As the website grows, it will also become a fully searchable, but incomplete, index of media, community and government responses to HIV in Australia – something I think would be of more than passing interest. Whether I can keep it up over the long term depends on your interest and my time. We’ll see.

Above: page one screamer from the [Sydney] Sun, 19 Nov 1984.

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Still here

I said I’d publish a weekly post and I will. But not today, or the last two weeks, because of study commitments. Last exam is on Monday and then I’m free for four weeks. I am planning for one of those weeks to be internet-free (more on that later) but should be able to catch up on a few things that I have on the backburner.

The week: 1 June

I don’t remember taking the first pill but I do remember picking them up from the pharmacy. This was in August 1991 – a week or so after I got my HIV diagnosis. The doctor said the treatment options were limited, but there was a drug, called AZT, that would buy me some time. Of course, I’d heard of it.

So with my paperwork in hand I hesitatingly took myself to the pharmacy department at St Vincent’s hospital to pick up my drugs. The pharmacist looked dispassionately at my script, told me to wait, and a short while later handed my the biggest bucket of pills I’d ever seen in my life. It was a month’s supply, but it felt like enough for a year. I stashed the bucket out of sight and, when I got home to my flat in North Bondi, took my first dose. Two decades and sixty-something-thousand tablets later, I’m still here.

This week, I took another step on that path by starting HCV treatment. An extra seven pills a day, a period of abstinence from booze, and a hefty dose of luck, and by Christmas Iris and I hope to be rid of that uninvited hitchhiker for good. As I write this, four days in, I feel rather crap, but glad to have taken this step.

Meanwhile, in the real world, last week’s ugly racist incident at the MCG continues to have repercussions. Eddie McGuire, on Friday night one of the heroes of the story, reverted to form and made a spectacularly ignorant remark on Wednesday morning.

If we were all pulling together to avoid victimising a 13-year-old girl, when the 48-year-old president of Collingwood put his foot in his omnipresent mouth, it presents a unique opportunity for every pundit on the planet to weigh in. McGuire himself didn’t help things with a ham-fisted fauxpology, but the resulting Sturm un Drang did little to inform an understanding of the issue that went any further than ‘you shouldn’t say certain things or people might get upset’. A couple of notable exceptions: Debra Jopson in the (new!) Guardian Australia points out Australia’s ‘covert racism‘ and the six-year-old assault on Indigenous rights that is the Northern Territory Intervention. Helen Razer pointed out that Australia is a racist society and therefore she, he, and we are all racists, and ‘the only way out of this shunless truth is to acknowledge it’.

The Guardian finally launched its much-anticipated Australian edition and, lo, the luvvies were pleased (actually, it’s a welcome addition). It was National Sorry Day again. The British government said it wanted to supply more arms to Syrian rebels, and the Russian government said it would arm the Syrian government, opening the way for a horrible, drawn-out proxy war. An international drugs think-tank warned that the ‘War on Drugs‘ was driving a global hepatitis C epidemic. Cardinal George Pell fronted a Victorian parliamentary inquiry, admitting that the Church covered up paedophile priests, but not taking any responsibility himself. Julia Gillard tweeted in Dothraki. The remains of two Aboriginal men who were unearthed in Tathra in 1961 were reburied in a traditional ceremony. The NSW Court of Appeal ruled that not everyone is male or female.

And finally…

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The week: 25 May

This is a bit of an experiment. Seeing as how I rarely write anything for the blog these days, I’m going to try to do a weekly post with lots of links to interesting things I’ve noticed during the week, a bit of personal narrative and maybe a photo or two.

Selfie, 21 May

Selfie, 21 May

I came home from university on Monday feeling rather brilliant after getting my two major essays back, both with ‘A’ grades. Then I read this blog post by Daniel Reeders and this review by Dion Kagan and I realised I was just an old duffer again. Daniel’s insightful analysis of a real-world encounter with HIV stigma, and Dion’s brilliant synthesis of multiple streams of nostalgia and documentary-making, put my first-year legal blatherings in their rightful place. Thanks to Dion I now have the terms ‘melancholic disavowal’ and ‘traumatic unremembering’ at my disposal.

Still on the subject of stigma, last week I had the opportunity to talk about the stigma that is increasingly apparent around hepatitis C virus infection among HIV-positive gay men, at a public forum hosted by Living Positive Victoria. I recently came across Gareth Owen‘s 2008 paper ‘An “elephant in the Room”? Stigma and Hepatitis C Transmission Among HIV‐positive “serosorting” Gay Men’ that examined this issue and I used some material from that paper in my talk. One sample quote:

‘The hep C situation on the scene is much like HIV was in the early days, so guys will avoid having sex with other guys who they definitely know have hep C. Though they tend to assume that guys don’t have hep C if it isn’t mentioned.’

I also used some anonymised quotes from a prominent serosorting/bareback hookup site to support my observations – I found dozens of texts like ‘žnot on here to get hep c guys so please be upfront about it’ and ‘I’m Hep C neg and not really into putting that at risk, being poz is enough as it is.’

It’s impossible to ignore the obvious parallels with similar statements made by HIV-negative guys about HIV.

Continue reading

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