Let’s drug test the nation

By Warwick McFadyen

“I believe in a fair go for those who have a go . . . under our policies, if you’re having a go you’ll get a go.”

By now Scott Morrison’s ineffable logic has worn its way into homes across the nation. If you’re having a go, you’ll get a go. It is perfection in its steel-trap reasoning, no matter which way you turn the words it will come out exquisitely the same nonsense.

It is this attitude of progressive thinking that has informed the government’s drug testing proposal for those on Newstart, only cleverly, it’s been switched around: if you’re not having a go, you don’t get a go.

And just to confirm the Ommm-like state of mind of the government, the Minister for Families and Social Services, Anne Ruston, has come out swinging. “Giving [people] more money would do absolutely nothing . . . probably all it would do is give drug dealers more money and give pubs more money,” she says.

Too true. But aren’t drug dealers members of 1002-nssociety too, don’t they spend their money and thus stimulate the economy? Perhaps Ruston should have gone further and said what this country really needs: compulsory national service reintroduced, thus hiding the problem of the non-working class for the election cycle and boosting defence numbers. Subs crews are apparently thin on the ground. It’s a win-win.

As to living on Newstart’s $40 a day, well Ruston couldn’t possibly bring herself to say the money was enough to feed yourself or your family, but she could say “I have not said that it will be easy to live on Newstart.” Indeed, she’s said it several times, which is a kind of empathy one supposes.

But there’s a spanner in the works. If we are fair-dinkum about being an egalitarian society, this Coalition-flavoured empathy and fair-go mentality should go further.

We should drug test everyone.

The argument for drug testing  is very small target stuff. If you’re on the dole, it’s obvious you’re taking drugs and squandering government money. So, we, the government will test you for drugs, two strikes and you’re out. Not all drugs, mind, just some. Alcohol is OK, the government makes a lot of money from sales of alcohol. It makes none from cocaine or ice. Not saying as a health issue taking drugs is going to make you an ultra marathoner, but neither is a slab of beer a day.

The argument for drug testing the lot of us is simple. Everyone benefits from government money in some shape or form. It mightn’t be directly into the bank account, though of course there are a lot of public servants and politicians, but in less direct ways. For instance, feel safe from marauding asylum seekers? That’s Border Force using our money to protect us.

So, once a fortnight there should be mandatory blowing into the tube and urinating into the bottle. For everyone, above the age of 16. Let’s hang onto thinking below 16 children are still young and innocent. Self-testing kits could be sent to homes, like bowel cancer kits, if anyone is a bit shy. Non-compliance could result in withdrawal of funds or indirect benefits – by increment (we wouldn’t want to be seen as going a bit totalitarian). Those on the government payroll could lose a proportion of their wages until they pass muster as straight for say three months, or if not on the government payroll, then there could be mandatory audits of tax returns for the past 10 years, or simply being slugged with a new levy. We could call it the contaminated urine tax.

At least this way there would be an honesty about what’s going on here. Let’s stop this pretence that we really care for those on welfare. Why we care so much we are going to modify their behaviour, and their behaviour only, that’s how much we care. We’re going to knock those suffering from addiction with a bloody big hammer. We’re going to call it conservative compassion or compassionate conservatism (depending on which side of the bed we wake up on each day).

Oh, and we’re not going to give them any more money to get by. That would just be absurd.



ScoMo: Has this been the face we’ve been aspiring to all along?

By Warwick McFadyen

Say hello to the face of Australia. It’s roundish, pale-skinned, short-cropped hair top and sides, wearing glasses and now, because of one day in May, a smile as big as the Nullarbor.

It’s the face of ScoMo.

For one who doesn’t travel the length and breadth of the country, as do leaders and wouldbe leaders in a hurry to their destiny, it is slightly disconcerting.

Should one have known that all along Australia is ScoMo writ and painted large? After the result of May 18, dare we say we are now the sons and daughters of the great ScoMO, god of all things antipodean?

For certainly Scott Morrison is a miracle worker. There have been enough opinion polls backed up to Darwin predicting he and his party would lose. ScoMo turned that on its end.

In his victory speech, he declared, “I’ve always believed in miracles.”

As a good and practising follower of Pentecostalism he would say that. So there we are – most of us through the act of voting have felt the spirit of the Lord moving through us. How else to divine May 18?  The election result was a miracle, therefore, as all miracles emanate from the God of Pentecostalism, we are not only now the face of ScoMo, but we move in mysterious ways, too.

It is the resurrection before the death that had been foretold for months. A miracle indeed.

This was quite a lot to comprehend on a Sunday morning – the rise of the messiah from the shire (as one newspaper jauntily japed) – after the night before.

But let it also be said, Morrison was with humility.  He praised not the Lord but the little people on Saturday night: “It’s always been for those of you watching this at home tonight, for me and for my Government, for all of my team, it’s all about you.

“Tonight is not about me, it’s not about even the Liberal Party. Tonight is about every single Australian who depends on their government to put them first. We’ve got a lot of work to do. And we’re going to get back to work.

“We’re going to get back to work for the Australians that we know go to work every day, who face those struggles and trials every day.”

He would, by extension, deliver on his belief “in a fair go for those who have a go”.

The crack in this mantra, which in its constant retelling has hardened into seeming truth, is that in fact it mocks the truth.

It mocks those, unfortunate of circumstances, whose lives are bashed against the rocks by forces beyond their control. But they’re not the true believers. They are not the “quiet Australians”. They are the invisible people, those on welfare, for instance.

Thus in the certitude of nature’s cycles, the sun rose May 19 upon a nation that it appears was hiding in plain sight. Again more than a little disconcerting.

The writer Rainer Maria Rilke once observed that “there are quantities of human beings, but there are many more faces, for each person has several”.

As this election has shown, trying to paint a portrait of a nation can be a foolhardy exercise. It takes a rare breed to see beyond what you want to see. Perhaps, it is all but a mask. Perhaps values are just a sliding scale of self-interest and altruism.

Perhaps, it is about face values. Certainly, ScoMo is true to Rilke’s observation. There is the face of refugee condemnation, the face of friendly coal, the face of trumped-up gang fear, the face of a hollow vessel.

Morrison travelled the length and breadth of the continent. A man alone on a crusade. He only had to keep going so that the blur of his movement hid his inaction. Policies didn’t even come into it. It was about binding his face to enough of ours so that now as a nation that is who we are.

The face of ScoMo. Say hello to ourselves.


Moon dream


The night washes

Into my eyes

And I tether the moon

To see what is not there:

The deeper meaning

From a plate of light.

The stars glow less

In this tidal pool,

While I, earthbound,

Swim in its pull,

Until, letting go,

I drift out, to sea.

Warwick McFadyen

Falling Light


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As I was walking one morning

Under the oaks

The acorns, knowing their time,

Were falling to the ground around me.

I breathed in and out

Deliberately, slowly

To hear with a conscious ear

The life that rises and falls with each step.

The early light was not yet full of sun.

It was the turning of the tides; moon

Pulling night towards it; the shore not

Yet glistening.

Still, as I walked, the acorns kept falling,

For it was the season.

Warwick McFadyen

Postcards from the Edge: how being un-Australian can make you an alien in your own land


Third in a series on the state of Australia

By Warwick McFadyen

Terror can come at anytime. It knows no boundaries, dismisses conscience.

Terror can be a flash of metal hurtling towards you, a mob of hatred marching towards you, an infinite horizon of one in limbo, staring at nothingness.

Terror can be asylum.

Terror can be an order.

An order such as this:

‘‘You will be expected to support yourself in the community until departing Australia.

‘‘From Monday 28 August you will need to find money each week for your own accommodation costs. From this date, you will also be responsible for all your other living costs like food, clothing and transport.

‘‘You are expected to sign the Code of Behaviour when you are released into the Australian community. The Code of Behaviour outlines how you are to behave in the community.’’

The order is from the Immigration Department, as reported in The Age on Sunday.

It is directed at 100 asylum seekers, based in Australia, who were transferred here from offshore detention centres because of medical reasons. They will be placed on “Final Departure Bridging E Visa’’. Their $200 a fortnight payment will be cut, they have three weeks to move out of government accommodation. They have to get a job. They are on their own. Oh, and they have to leave the country.

Daniel Webb, a lawyer with the Human Rights Law Centre, said: ‘‘It’s hard enough for people in full employment with good wages to find a rental on three weeks’ notice, let alone people our government has imprisoned for years on remote islands and banned from working or training.

‘‘[Peter] Dutton knows full well he is making people destitute. It’s a cruel attempt to force them to return to danger. We’re talking about people who have been part of our communities for years. The sensible and compassionate thing to do would be to let them stay. Instead, Dutton is trying to starve them out.’’

The order could affect, eventually, 400 asylum seekers in Australia, babies included. Those damn infants, would-be terrorists the lot of them, with their incomprehensible gargling and mewling. It’s as un-Australian as the lawyers representing the asylum seekers, as Immigration Minister Peter Dutton agreed with radio broadcaster Alan Jones – the broadcaster who thought the best thing for the then Prime Minister Julia Gillard was that she be taken out to sea in a chaff bag and left there.

This from a government that is very likely to represent Australia on the United Nations Human Rights Council. The ABC reported last month that because of France dropping out of the race Australia and Spain will be elected. Australia lodged its pledges and commitments package on July 24. You can read it here:


The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade states the “pledges are in line with Australia’s five campaign pillars and adhere to our longstanding commitment to promote and protect human rights”.

Laugh? You could almost cry. Janus has nothing on how we deal with different parts of the world to suit the temper of the political times. The government makes much of “universal” values. Clearly, its universe is very small and weak of spirit.

As if to reinforce this government’s hatred of kindness and compassion, it’s also been revealed that it has removed the human touch from dealing with refugees. Last September the Security Risk Assessment Tool, essentially a computer algorithm to assess asylum seekers, came into service.

Data on detainee is punched into a machine, hey presto a decision is made on their security risk and conditions while they are in detention. No human judgement needed, no areas of grey need be contemplated. It is the complete abdication of responsibility. As the former head of the Australian Human Rights Commission Gillian Triggs said of it: “The use of an algorithm to replace professional judgments – I thought this can’t be true.”

But, of course, it is. Really, it is no more than reaffirming a mantra of government that everyone must obey and uphold Australian “values”. It’s part of the code of behaviour – Australian values – by which asylum seekers must abide as they slowly starve and disintegrate in our society.

Hugh de Kretser, Human Rights Law Centre executive director, said: “It defies belief that any decent government could act in this way.’’

Actually it doesn’t. Not this government. Not this minister in Peter Dutton. Nor Alan Tudge, who as the whimsically titled Human Resources Minister seemed nonplussed, after all these moves were all of the one principle that anyone who arrived by boat would be treated the same.

Yes minister, that is with same level of inhumanity, cruelty and callousness we mete out to each man, woman and child who arrives by whatever means they can hoping for a welcoming hand and the chance of a new life.

But we don’t hand out favours. Not here, not in Australia.

Terror Australis, that’s us. Or at least that’s our government’s epithet and modus operandi, and is not our government representative of us?

So it’s come to this: to do the right thing for the wretched and vulnerable is to be un-Australian, and thus an alien in your own land.

Refugees all.

Warwick McFadyen is a freelance writer and editor

Postcards from the Edge: On the battle for all to say I do – without prejudice


Second in a series on the state of Australia

By Warwick McFadyen

No one will die. No one will be hurt. Cities will not tumble into the sea, towns will not turn to dust. The sky will not fall. Locusts will not descend upon our homes.

There is nothing to fear.

Our children will not die in the cradle.

And yet it is fear, cloaked in an arrogance of superiority, that is rising and driving the opponents of same-sex marriage. They would not call it such.

This, to them, is a crusade to preserve a status quo that no longer exists. They are the defenders of the faith and of the blessed union of three people in marriage: man, woman and God.

It is a battle by one set to impose a viewpoint, and a course of life, on another set, and yet for whom the actions of the first set have no interaction or consequence to the other. It is about power.

Same-sex marriage only affects the participants. It is only about those whom it will affect personally. This is so obvious it is incredible how obscured it has become. The union of two people of the same gender does not affect anyone outside that union. It does not stop others from acting how they wish to.

Yet to hear the wailings of the churches and some conservatives it will bring down fire and brimstone upon civil society. Parents and children will be coerced into acting against their will and beliefs. They will be shackled by the chains of political correctness. The children will see . . . God forbid, they might see love between two people, irrespective of that gender.

But, once you strip away the moral equivalence, it is not an attack, it is an evolution (a word and concept that plainly scares the hell out of many). For the move to same-sex marriage is, in effect, an action to make the terms of one club the terms for all, even for those who are on the outside of the club, who never want to be part of the club.

After the federal government announced that it would hold a $122 million non-compulsory, non-binding plebiscite, Tony Abbott went on the attack.

He breathlessly informed the country, “I say to you if you don’t like same-sex marriage, vote no. If you’re worried about religious freedom and freedom of speech, vote no, and if you don’t like political correctness, vote no because voting no will help to stop political correctness in its tracks.’’

Abbott is the apostle who, blinded by his righteousness of his cause, cannot or will not allow himself to see the wood for the trees.

One of those trees takes the shape of John Howard. In 2004, the then Prime Minister Howard, about to go to the polls in October, instigated an amendment in the Marriage Act (which had come into being under Robert Menzies in 1961) so that marriage was the “union of a man and a woman to the exclusion of all others”.

Howard said at the time: “We’ve decided to insert this into the Marriage Act to make it very plain that that is our view of a marriage and to also make it very plain that the definition of a marriage is something that should rest in the hands, ultimately, of the Parliament of the nation. It should not over time be subject to redefinition or change by courts. It is something that ought to be expressed through the elected representatives of the country.”

He said this in May. In August, according to reports, more than 1000 people attended a National Marriage Forum in Canberra to support the amendment. The forum was organised by the National Marriage Coalition, whose members include the Australian Christian Lobby and the Australian Family Association.  Labor’s Nicola Roxon told the forum that Labor would support the amendment.

Howard told the forum: “I support marriage because I believe it provides stability in relationships, because it is a public expression of commitment, but it also the environment in which children are best raised and nurtured and brought to full adulthood and enjoyment of life’s opportunities.”

In 1973, Lionel Murphy, as Attorney-General in the Whitlam government, established civil celebrants. The first was Lois D’Arcy. As now, back then there was fierce opposition. However, according to the ABS in the past 20 years, “Australians have increasingly opted for civil rather than religious celebrants, with civil ceremonies almost doubling, while the number of religious ceremonies have almost halved’’.

If that isn’t righting on the wall, then there is this: People of faith are old and, of course, getting older. According to the latest Census, “no religion’’ was the religion growing rapidly – from 22 per cent in 2011 to 30 per cent in 2016. Of those aged from 18 to 34, almost two fifths had no religion. These trends won’t reverse. Although 60 per cent say they have a religious affiliation. However, there is a vast distance between practising it and ticking a box. The writing is on the wall.

These countries have same-sex marriages, Holland (the first in 2001), Belgium, Spain, Canada, South Africa, Norway, Sweden, Portugal, Iceland, Argentina, Denmark, Brazil, France, Uruguay, New Zealand, Luxembourg, the US, Ireland, Colombia, Finland, Germany and Malta.

In Australia, the ABS “counted more than 47,000 same-sex couples in 2016 – up from 33,000 in 2011 (a 42% increase) and 26,000 in 2006 (an 81% increase)”.

If you are worried about the future of freedom of speech, as Abbott declares, then you actually should vote “yes’’. It pushes the door open that little more so that in this supposedly progressive nation, our elected representatives can have a free vote in Parliament.

And if that fails, stock up on candles, for we will have returned to the dark ages.

Warwick McFadyen is a freelance editor and writer


Postcards from the Edge: On asylum seekers and the language of cruelty



First in a series on the state of Australia

By Warwick McFadyen

A small section of the product was damaged beyond repair this week.

The Prime Minister regretted the irreparable nature of the damage. ‘‘We all regret the death the honourable member referred to (of) the person detained in PNG,’’ he said.

The person to whom the damage was done had a name. He was Hamed Shamshiripour, an Iranian national. Turnbull didn’t call him by name. He was the person detained. He was part of the ‘’product’’ by which the Prime Minister called the detainees on Manus Island and Nauru when he spoke to US President Donald Trump by phone.

“It is not because they are bad people. It is because in order to stop people smugglers, we had to deprive them of the product,’’ he told Trump.

It is easy to rationalise this use of language, to cut Turnbull some slack, because after all he was trying to talk to a child, who only knows that to succeed in this world you have to come out on top. You have to master the deal, screw the opposition in fact. So, it is easy to think, well Turnbull is using terms that the listener will appreciate. After all, they were speaking of a transaction, and they’re both transactional businessmen.

But here was a man. He lived and breathed, even in capture, even condemned to limbo, a victim to a vast indefinite indifference. And it did him in. The cruelty inflicted on the more than 1600 on Manus Island and Nauru is such that even Trump told Turnbull he was worse than himself. Of course, Trump has no sense of history or perspective, or he would have said Turnbull was just one of many who in this country are worse than he. Trump wants to build a wall. Kids’ stuff mate.

You come by boat and we don’t even care if you’re the President of the United States, you’ll be tossed onto an island, and left to be someone else’s problem. That’s the principle, and it applies to everyone on Earth, from theoretically a Nobel Prize winner to a nobody. It’s all product.

The government can live with the product getting more damaged as time goes by – six, seven, eight dead, it doesn’t matter. It can live with the global condemnation from human rights groups and the United Nations, and goody-two shoes bleeding hearts at home. Doesn’t matter.

What matters is the deal. Turnbull as much as begged on crooked knee to Trump to uphold it because “this is a very big issue for us, particularly domestically”. Turnbull didn’t even care about the outcome as long as Trump went through with the process. That’s all anybody needs to see – that there was a transaction of product. And in a scene from Lewis Carroll, Australia will not accept these refugees, but it will accept some of America’s unwanted, for the sake of the deal.

When the centre on Manus Island closes in October, humanitarian agencies are anxious that the detainees will be cast adrift even further. Tensions are rising among the detainees and the alien world in which they find themselves. PNG admits that those who try to enter outside life find it too difficult.

The UN High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi says the death of Hamed Shamshiripour “highlights the precarious situation for vulnerable people on Manus Island’’.

Even Trump asked why Australia didn’t just take them in. How’s that? Our moral compass is questioned by Donald Trump. And the answer? They came by boat.

This is not a matter of future freight deliveries. It’s about the here and now and doing the right thing. Do you think if Albert Einstein was on a boat we’d toss him off to a speck of sand in the middle of the ocean and say, you’re on your own? Or WB Yeats, or Barack Obama? Turnbull would. He said so.

The language of politics is a product of the times. Are these times in Australia so bereft of compassion that innocent life, life that has done no harm, is labelled akin to unwanted cargo?

Warwick McFadyen is a freelance writer and editor


The Horizon

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From the river

To the sea

The sky awaits

Each drop of rain

To return

Into the silence.

I dip my hand in

and out of the water.

The tide is

Leaving me.

Droplets cling to my skin.

I look to the sky

And write 

On its surface

With my hand:

My name.

Warwick McFadyen



Assisted dying, and the right to choose the time

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By Warwick McFadyen

I looked into my father’s shrunken, red eyes. Death was tolling. I cradled the skin and bone that once was a man, a force of life, but now was in a palliative care bed awaiting nothingness. The voice had gone, breath rose and fell slowly; these whisperings of existence were really the last gasps.

Cancer did him. He had fought it through the final year of his life. He did not want to die, did not seek it, but he knew it was coming for him. ‘‘I’m so weak, son,’’ he told me in the weeks before his death. He would never have said that before. He knew the light was fading into black. He also knew that beyond his death was zero. Not even the word death.  That word belonged to the living, rolled off the tongue with familiarity, for everyone dies. Everyone speaks of it, most times in the abstract, and then up close and personal.

Did my father ever say or acknowledge he had entered the terminal stage of his 82 years? No. He always resisted the ferryman carrying him to the fatal shore. He kept his self-awareness until near the end. The drugs helped. He was loaded with chemicals to keep the pain at tolerable levels.

He took no solace in knowing his passing was merely a staging post to elsewhere, beyond sight and comprehension. Religion could stay out of his death. It had no place there. It was a stranger. In the final days his body had begun to convulse, uncontrollable spasms seized his once strong frame. We tried to soothe his fevered brow, tried to hold down his limbs, while the ambulance came, yet again, until the paramedics, my mother, sister and I knew, the only path left was the road to a dying ward.

We told him, as the afternoon light streamed into the bedroom and we held him, that it was OK to let go. Let go, let go if you can. It was a useless attempt at assisted dying, the urging of a life to go. A life we loved. But the pain had taken over completely, utterly. The letting go was the only option to end the suffering.

I think back on those last days as debate rises over the proposed legislation of assisted dying in Victoria. There is no more personal event or element to a person’s life than their death. It is abhorrent that any institution, or set of people who are held together by a common belief, can influence how a person chooses to die. It is a dictatorship of the spirit. This is not about their right to believe. It is about others not having to live and die by a stranger’s belief.

The bill introducing the legislation is expected soon to come before Parliament. It will be a ‘‘conscience vote’’. The Premier Daniel Andrews said, ‘‘This is about dignity, choice and giving Victorians the support and care they deserve in their final moments.’’

Guidelines recommended by an advisory panel include that a patient is expected to die within 12 months, have the capacity to decide and be a Victorian resident 18 years or older.

There would be ‘‘rigorous checks and balances’’, the Premier said. His views had changed following the death of his father, aged 65, from cancer. He told the ABC: ‘‘I’ve come to the conclusion that whether you would avail yourself of this option isn’t really the point. If the right safeguards are in place, then the question becomes do we have the right to stop others from accessing a safe — and on some measures a very conservative — scheme?’’

The Premier is right. ‘‘Do we have the right to stop others?’’ Of course not. Choosing the timing of the end of your life has nothing whatsoever to do with what someone else might believe is the grand plan of the cosmos and the omnipotence of an unseen deity of the universe. Nothing. To try to subjugate a person’s will to die (and obviously live in better circumstances) because of another’s spiritual bent is arrogance beyond belief.

It is administering torture behind the excuse that all life all the time is sacred, despite the agony and wretchedness that a life might have become. There comes a time when enough is enough. It should not be up to anyone but each individual vessel of blood, flesh and bone to decide when that time is to let loose the moorings and cross the river.

The only slippery slope attached to this legislation is that of allowing one set of beliefs, mainly those based in the Christian tradition, override all of us. It is fair enough, and welcome in an open society, that people do bow to a faith and live by it. As long as it harms no other. The days of the missionaries are long over.

On Monday, a group of religious leaders, including the Catholic Archbishop Denis Hart and Anglican Archbishop Philip Freier, issued a joint letter arguing against the legislation. It read, in part: ‘‘Once the fundamental principle to do no harm and never kill is removed from our medical practice, the integrity of our health system is compromised.

‘‘It would be counter-productive to legally endorse any form of suicide when our governments and community groups are working so hard to persuade others that it is not a solution to take their own life.’’

It may not be a solution to take one’s life – in a perfect world, where if not splendidly painted in beautiful colours, it is seen in black and white. But life is not like that. Even the dictum ”never kill” is not an absolute. The word of those who believe in a life after life is hardly grounded in reality, despite their gravitas.

This legislation will usher in a ray of enlightenment in the humane way in which we live with the terminally ill, and how we respect their wishes.

I know my father would have agreed.

Warwick McFadyen is a freelance writer and editor