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Words by Kevin Hawkins

If you voted for either the Coalition or the Greens in the last federal election, chances are that you won’t appreciate all of Tom Gleeson’s comic material. With mic in hand and audience at his feet, Gleeson’s one-hour show Quality is an opportunity for him to speak about his political beliefs (and specifically his hate for Tony Abbott). And there’s nothing the audience can do about it.

Two things save Gleeson from crowd heckling and mid-show walkouts. The first is that his show is part of the Melbourne International Comedy Festival, a cultural event in arguably Australia’s most progressive left city. The second is that Gleeson is laugh-out-loud hilarious. Even if you’re ideologically opposed to some of his rants, it’s difficult not to appreciate his clever critiques of the government’s demand for a surplus or their lack of action on climate change, not to mention his caricature of Tony Abbott as a bumbling idiot.

While politics is a prominent theme of his set, Gleeson is smart enough not to limit himself to that arena. Gleeson speaks in depth about his experiences as a parent, and is brutally honest about his struggles with alcoholism and his sessions with his counsellor. Gleeson’s confessions may make some audience members a little uncomfortable; laughing at Gleeson’s expense has more than a little bit of schadenfreude to it. But Gleeson’s self-deprecating style and ability to read the audience means the show is more than just a sad AA meeting.

While converting his crowd into Labor supporters probably isn’t Gleeson’s intention, it wouldn’t be surprising if a few audience members leave the show with a few reservations about Tony Abbott, or a few question marks over the Greens. In doing so, Gleeson demonstrates how powerful comedy is as a persuasive tool. While my personal allegiance to Sir Tony was not shaken by Gleeson’s repertoire*, the quick-witted comedian nevertheless convinced me of his natural comedic talent. And for this reason I’d implore you to give him your vote.

*Disclaimer: Don’t worry. I didn’t actually vote for Tony Abbott.

Tom Gleeson’s Quality is on at the Melbourne International Comedy Festival at the Melbourne Town Hall from April 10-20.

Words by Nathan Fioritti

1,200 Australian academics have signed an open letter to Prime Minister Tony Abbott, calling for the closure of offshore detention centres. The letter claims that the offshore processing on both Manus Island and Nauru is “seriously flawed and unsustainable”.

Professor Philomena Murray, of the School of Social and Political Sciences at the University of Melbourne, coordinated the letter. According to Professor Murray, the letter itself is a symbol of deep unease by academic staff across the country.

“Basically what you see is 1,200 academics who are so passionate and so concerned—really concerned, I think that’s the most important word to use—that they have written to me and to other people to talk about this concern.”

“When the letter got to 500 signatures in about three days, I sent it to the Prime Minister.”

After posting the letter online, there was an overwhelming reaction, leading to a national response, according to Professor Murray. It gained signatures and support from academics from every university in the country.

The idea for the letter came following a discussion with members of the group Academics for Refugees. The collaborative effort began after attending a vigil at Federation Square, following the death of 23-year-old asylum seeker Reza Berati on 17 February.

The Prime Minister has not responded to the open letter.

Words by Travis Lines 

According to dhmo.org, dihydrogen monoxide—DHMO for short—is a colourless and odourless chemical which is capable of mutating DNA, disrupting cell membranes, and chemically altering neurotransmitters. In Australia alone, DHMO is responsible for thousands of deaths. Some of the effects of DHMO listed by the website include death due to accidental inhalation, tissue damage due to prolonged exposure, and severe burns caused by its gaseous form.

Despite the ill effects of DHMO, most people have never heard of it. Even more surprising is that DHMO is commonly used for a number of purposes, such as an industrial coolant and as a major food additive. In fact, reliable sources have informed me that DHMO is even used in the production of Farrago. 

Campaigners for prohibition of DHMO remain frustrated by Canberra’s lack of enthusiasm to take up the cause. In a bold act of defiance, Tony Abbott went so far as to ingest DHMO in front of cameras before embarking on his daily bike ride. While politicians refuse to accept incontrovertible evidence, more and more innocent people lose their lives to this devastating chemical.

Now that I’ve scared you to a point where you are certain of your imminent death, it’s time I let you in on a secret. The common name of this insidious chemical… is water.

Though I have not told a single lie in this article, you’d be forgiven for thinking that I have misled you. Undeniably, I have.

Amidst accusations of bias, a number of ABC journos have fronted the cameras to defend the ABC’s credentials as an organisation that is only interested in the facts. This seems to be the standard response: “we’re not biased, we just want to present the facts”. The ABC is probably right to laud the quality of their fact checking—after all, they are renowned for ABC Fact Check. But as the DHMO hoax suggests, balance isn’t just a case of presenting the facts.

With just the facts alone, nearly everyone who encounters the DHMO hoax for the first time is left feeling alarmed and worried for their wellbeing. It is therefore wrong for media organisations to suggest that a strict adherence to facts will eliminate bias.

Relying on facts to produce a balanced article is akin to using a fork to eat your soup—you may get a couple of chunks, but you’ve got no chance with the rest. Carefully placed, the right statistic or piece of scientific ‘research’ can give credence to almost any proposition. Omitting a key point, as I have done above, can make crackpot stories seem reasonable. This is a common technique used unabashedly by the spin doctors parading as journalists at Today Tonight and A Current Affair.

The onus is therefore upon media outlets, including Farrago, to develop and follow more detailed standards to prevent bias. A simple reliance on presenting the facts will not suffice. How to achieve these standards is a matter for debate, but that is exactly where the debate should be shifted. While you ponder that, I’m off to pour myself a glass of DHMO.

Words and Photo by Michael Roddan

Australia’s relations with Indonesia are at their lowest point in years. Thanks to multiple spying revelations, numerous naval incursions and some increasingly malignant boating directions (i.e. ‘back that way, mate’), Canberra and Jakarta are having a hard time getting it together.

Not only has Indonesia suspended defence co-operation with Australia, they have also recalled their ambassador from Canberra, and Indonesian Foreign Minister Marty Natalegawa has complained to US Secretary of State John Kerry publicly about Australia’s behaviour. Though perhaps worst of all, President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono condemned the behaviour of Abbott—until recently his ‘best friend’—in his most recent book.

What’s more, there seems to be very little hope of our chilled relationship defrosting, with both sides stubbornly sticking to their guns for domestic political leverage. Do we entrust our recently freed cultural attaché Miss Corby to pass the ‘peace-pipe’ on the left-hand side? Do we wait for a change of government to extend an olive branch across the Timor Sea? Or can we just blindly place our faith in black magic voodoo to patch things up?

Fuck it. We might as well try the black magic.

Though Indonesia is known as the world’s largest Muslim country, religion is not taken very seriously by the majority. It’s Muslim in the same way Australia is labelled a Christian nation.

Indonesian life is centred around the island of Java. It’s the most populous island and it accommodates Jakarta, the administrative, cultural and financial capital. But the Javanese also have a long and strange tradition of mysticism, which still runs through the society today.

Even the most highly-educated and western-oriented Indonesians still frequent their local shaman, called a dukun. The dukun play the role of traditional healer, fortune-teller and cosmic medium. But they do more bullshit services too, like cursing an ex-lover, or putting a hex on a foe. What’s wonderful though is the whole-hearted earnestness with which the Indonesians accept this practice. They really believe it.

President Yudhoyono’s recently released memoirs detail how witchcraft summoned black clouds, which ostensibly haunted his family. Yudhoyono recounts that he prayed to Allah, and here the reader can presume the existence of an interventionist God as the clouds showed themselves out. Yudhoyono claimed it was his political foes using black magic to derail his 2009 re-election campaign.

A dukun is like a mistress—it’s usually the males who visit them, it’s secretive, and you always return to the same one. It’s also stupidly expensive. It’s not just for the political class either. Celebrities visit dukun to ensure their popularity. Singers ask for a better voice. Actors wish for their good looks to remain with them. The father of one my Jakartan friends visited a dukun to curse his ex-wife. He remembered the occasion as rather unnerving as they performed a series of bizarre rituals like breaking eggs filled with sand and cutting their nails into a makeshift potion. It was never made clear exactly who drinks the potion.

Tales like these abound. Either you know someone who has been to a dukun, or you’ve been to one personally. Founding President Sukarno, pro-Western military strong-man President Suharto, and first female President Megawati Sukarnoputri all employed dukun with tax dollars.

I assumed if anyone could fix Australian-Indonesian relations, it would be the richest and most famous dukun in Jakarta: Ki Joko Bodo.

MEDIA_dukuns2_431x576

Bodo is like the Noel Gallagher of dukun: he’s rich, eccentric, loves to party, and (so they say) talented at what he does.
He’s got a Mercedes-Benz and an eleven-storey temple to prove it. Government officials and high-ranking police
officers are his best customers.

But for the poor student, he’s a hard man to get a hold of. I’m
in Kemang, south of Jakarta, and I’m knocking on the glass
wall of Pak James Ramal’s office. Ramal is a dukun, who is known to hangout and do dukun things with Bodo, but by the looks of his office—frosted glass walls with a good view of a
food court—he’s not nearly as successful.

He finally answers my knocking. It’s two pm, but he has just woken up and before saying hello, excuses himself to take a piss. If it weren’t for his boardshorts and polo shirt, Ramal might actually look a bit scary. His eyes are deeply sunken and his neck has these strange marks on them, like his throat’s been slit a bunch of times.

In Ramal’s office I talk to him about getting in touch with
Bodo. but he was more concerned with showing me his TV
ads: him in a suit in front of a green screen where playing
cards fly out at the viewer. It quickly becomes apparent these dukun are more concerned about cash than they are with
fixing the precarious Indo-Aus relationship. I don’t blame them. Plus, I can’t afford their rates.

So after consulting with the local dukun expert—a sweating, toothless tuk-tuk driver—I agree to be taken to a dukun who’s
a bit more slummy. A more, if you can say it, genuine dukun. He’s down a nest of tiny alleyways, opposite a flood-damaged asbestos shack, which seems to be slowly melting into the ground. Like Ramal, this mystic, Paaji, is taking a nap—but he assures me that it’s just to recoup power.

Paaji isn’t a straight-up dukun—he’s more like a multi-talented Islamic mystic. But hey, close enough right? Paaji sits me down and talks, like any self-respecting octogenarian, at length about a number of indecipherable things.

I pull out three A4 pictures. First, I ask him to heal the relationship between Abbott and Yudhoyono. Paaji concentrates, dances his hands to the heavens and mutters something I can’t understand. Second, I ask him to protect the ABC from Andrew Bolt and, if he can, put a curse on him. Paaji agrees and does the same incantation, trying not to be distracted by my camera’s flash.

“But,” Paaji says, looking in my eyes, “this will only work if you believe that it will work”. Thankfully the service was free, otherwise I would have choked down hard at that “conditions apply” asterisk. Nevertheless, I followed up to see if anything had changed.

I met with Greg Moriarty, Australia’s ambassador to Indonesia. I asked him if he had noticed any change in the diplomatic stoush since Paaji weaved his magic. In response to the issue, he merely shrugged, declaring: “I’m still waiting.”

I sent Andrew Bolt an email, asking to see if he’d noticed any change. He responded: “I once wrote a piece from Sumatra on the magic of local sorcerers and know it is meant to be powerful. How disappointed I have been to see it used to protect the ABC. My columns have been useless.”

Wow, A. Bolt. What a champ for responding! He’s not that bad after all, I thought. But then I clicked the link to his blog at the end of the email to his most recent post, which implied that raping young Melbournians is somehow endemic to African refugees, and that rape is a by-product of our refugee intake.

Sadly, it looks like it’ll take more than magic to make the world a more wonderful place.

Words by Tess McPhail
Illustration by Ashleigh Duncan

Like many students, 2013 was my first opportunity to vote in a federal election. In the race to win my vote, Labor, the Coalition, and the Greens made Australia’s immigration policy a battleground for debate. I attempted to make an informed decision by looking beyond the sound bites and the spin. But the more I researched, the more frustrated I became with the lack of media reports on the condition of asylum seekers living in detention. I soon realised, however, that this was not because Australian journalists were chasing a better story, but that chasing this story was a breech of Australian law.

In 2011 the Australian Department of Immigration and Citizenship (DIAC) introduced a Media Access Policy to immigration detention facilities, known as the “Deed of Agreement”. But don’t be fooled by the name; the DIAC and the media have not constructed the terms of the deed.  Rather, it was the government that laid down these conditions, which outline the media’s capacity to gain access to detention facilities. Among the visitation procedures, the deed requires that media remain with an escort at all times, and that journalists must submit all photographs, video footage and audio recordings for review by the Department. It’s no wonder then that media bodies such as the Media Entertainment and Arts Alliance have argued that the deed frustrates the democratic right to freedom of press and the public’s right to know.

Although we do not have an implied right to freedom of speech in Australia, the landmark High Court case Lange v. ABC (1997) established that there is an implied right in the Australian Constitution to political communication in respect to matters that could affect peoples choice in federal elections or constitutional referenda. Given the central role immigration policy played in the 2013 federal election, it is hard to deny that the treatment and conditions of asylum seekers living in detention centres is a matter of public interest.  And yet, we have an Australian government body restricting political communication on this issue.

According to Prime Minister Tony Abbott, it is important to balance government secrecy and freedom of speech in the interest of national security. There is no doubt that there have been instances when limited public knowledge has been in our best interest. However, when the law prevents journalists from conducting interviews with detainees, even if informed consent has been given, one can’t help but ask whether this is censorship undertaken in the interest of protecting the safety of the Australian people. Or could our ignorance of the happenings at detention centres be aimed at fostering a sense of political inertia? The Australian Press Council’s Letter to DIAC that called for reform of the Deed of Agreement in 2012 suggests the latter.

Raising these questions does not depend on your party ties or where you sit in the offshore processing debate. Rather, they are questions that need to be asked by any of us who value democracy in Australia. Drawing on the ideas of philosopher and free speech advocate Alexander Meiklejohn, an informed citizen body is required for representative democracy to function most effectively, However, limited media access and a subsequent lack of information on federal government policy hinders our  ability to make informed decisions when placing our vote. Instead we are required to almost blindly navigate our way between persuasive politicians and catchy slogans.

Reports emerged in January that media restrictions are set to increase, with the Government of Nauru allegedly increasing media visa fees to deter journalists from visiting detention centres. Refugee Action Coalition spokesman Ian Rintoul responded by labeling this “an obstacle to prevent coverage”. “Without independent media access to Nauru and detention centres, there is no accountability,” Rintoul said.

Though we often take it for granted, we would do well to remind ourselves that democracy is not a default setting for society. Rather, it is fragile and—as Baron de Montesquieu first recognised—must be protected from the corruption of a self-interested few.

The judiciary, by its nature, is limited by the fact that it can only act as a check on government policy if a case is brought before them. The media must therefore play a key role in acting as the Fourth Estate in democratic societies. However, as we contemplate the consequences of the DIAC’s Deed of Agreement on independent journalism, we are compelled to ask, if the not the media, then who is keeping the government accountable?