This is a sample of The Echidna newsletter sent out each weekday morning. To sign up for FREE, go to theechidna.com.au
The Echidna was a flesh-eating monster in Greek mythology, a devilish half-woman, half-snake who dwelled in a cave, preyed on the weak and vulnerable and lured her many suitors with a series of enticing promises. She might have made a hell of a politician had she listened to her advisers instead of devouring them.
The latest incarnation of The Echidna has also become something of a monster. What began as a daily election campaign newsletter hoping to be as unconventional as that prickly and perplexing Australian animal very quickly (and somewhat astonishingly) assumed a vibrant life of its own.
Why the surprise? After decades editing newspapers, magazines and co-hosting a talkback radio show I was convinced most Australians no longer wanted to discuss politics. The feedback I'd encountered for decades was that our system had left people feeling jaded, cynical and powerless. Debates about important national issues had become crude, spittle-filled screaming matches between the far right and the far left. No-one seemed interested in listening to the overwhelming majority occupying the ground in between.
But you Echidna readers spoke up immediately and it quickly became clear you were not cynical about politics, but sceptical. There's an important difference. Cynics believe everything in politics is hopeless. Sceptics understand that the first 50 or 60 years of a politician's childhood is their most difficult. Eventually they must all grow up. Or we simply outgrow them and vote them out.
The recent election campaign might not have been filled with visionary policies but the thousands of emails sent by Echidna subscribers more than made up for it. You told us in greater detail and with far more passion than any opinion poll how much Australians were craving to be heard. You wanted greater integrity in politics and made it clear a federal anti-corruption commission would be a solid start. You wanted action on climate change. You wanted to see more women in politics and an end to the stale brinkmanship and bluster of our traditional two-party system.
The result played out exactly the way so many of you predicted. Judging by the recent softening in the language of many federal politicians, including the new Prime Minister Anthony Albanese and prospective Liberal leader Peter Dutton, we may be on the verge of a startling new political era that will see politicians talk less and listen more. Of course, we'll need to see more evidence first. We're sceptics, after all. But it's a start.
It's been a privilege anchoring The Echidna for the past three months. I'm taking a break to renew my acquaintance with an old fishing rod and I'll be leaving you in the capable hands of the witty and extremely erudite John Hanscombe. And yes, those brilliantly incisive cartoons by the brilliantly incisive Fiona Katauskas will also keep arriving in your inbox each morning.
I'll be back, too. There's some exciting plans afoot for The Echidna which you will learn more about in the coming days and weeks. We've been listening carefully to what you have to say and we'd like to give you an even larger forum in which to vent your frustrations, offer your opinions and unveil some of those innovative ideas for Australia you've been telling us about.
In the meantime, continue telling it like it is and holding our politicians to account. Fellow echidnas, your work is far from complete.
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IN CASE YOU MISSED IT:
- Former prime minister Scott Morrison said the teal independents ran a "vicious and brutal" campaign in their bid to unseat a range of moderate Liberals in previously safe electorates. Morrison said in a Sydney radio interview he was looking forward to "being a quiet Australian in the Shire" and described the election result as "sometimes people like to change the curtains because they just like to change the curtains."
- Prospective Labor frontbench Tanya Plibersek apologised yesterday to Peter Dutton for likening him to Voldemort, the arch villain of the Harry Potter series. Prime Minister Anthony Albanese publicly rebuked Plibersek saying her comments were unacceptable and "in politics we need to treat each with respect."
- Labor's incoming energy minister Chris Bowen claimed a sharp increase in power prices announced yesterday were a legacy of the previous coalition government's lack of investment in Australia's electricity grid.
THEY SAID IT: "To believe all men honest is folly. To believe none is something worse." - John Adams.
YOU SAID IT: "I believe repairs must be made with the Senate, often referred to by Paul Keating as the 'swill'. Why should they have six-year terms? Like the Reps they should be elected from electorates, 6 in each state and 2 in the territories. If a vacancy occurs during the life of the Senate, a by-election should be called, not simply a nomination by the party. The current senate was constructed by political forces at the end of the 19th century. Clearly, the political currents have evolved since. Change is needed. Soon we will be faced with decisions about becoming a republic. The nature of the Senate needs to be addressed before that can happen.- Ian.
"Tanya Plibersek is already likening Peter Dutton to Voldemort. Seriously, even kids are not that nasty picking on someone's looks. What is her excuse? Prime Minister Albanese still has work cut out for him, starting in his own party first." - Wendy.
"Dorothy Dixers are the perfect example of parliamentarians' misguided belief that we actually want to hear them banging on about their achievements. If the Albanese Government doesn't learn from the Morrison Government's contempt for voters, then they will promptly become the next mob to be booted out." - Daniel
"The people complaining about the cost of electric cars and suggesting that they are not necessary reminds me of the red flag brigade. In times past there were laws in England that made car drivers ensure a person walked in front of the car (moving at five miles per hour) so that the car didn't scare the horses." - Phil.
"Australia should do away with state governments & the Senate. To increase the number of politicians to "reflect a growing population" is ludicrous. We are an enormous country and in 1901 probably needed more bloodsuckers. But the tyranny of distance has long been eliminated by modern communications, the Internet and jet aircraft so we can do with many less "pigs at the trough" - not more!" - Ross.
"Every time I listen to parliament I hear ministers simply not answering the questions put but blustering about the opposition instead. The speaker almost never makes them answer the question. In short, speakers generally do a lousy job. Not sure how to fix it. High court judge instead of party member as speaker? More focus on the speaker's failings by the media?" - Darren.
"Clean up political donations. If you want the government to serve the people, then only donations from citizens should be allowed, not corporations or industry associations. And the rich should not be allowed to donate more than the person on the street." - David.
"The States have implemented four-year fixed terms without referendums. Why does the Commonwealth need a referendum ? Are three year terms specified in the Constitution?" - Daniel.
"The Labor Party has picked up a poison chalice. What a mess! I wish them all the best and only hope they do a better job than what we've been dished up by those that preceded them. No doubt there will be big rocks flying around Parliament House very soon." - Brian.
"Increase the number of parliamentarians by as much as 50 per cent to reflect our growing population? The cost would be enormous. And don't forget, they all get 14 per cent super contributions from us taxpayers, not the much less 9.5% we all get from our employers. You would have to be joking. Australia is the most over-governed nation on earth. We have three levels of government, with most having both an upper and lower house. What we need is fewer levels of government, accompanied by a much higher standard of politicians; you know, competent, qualified, experienced professionals capable of governing equally for all." - Bob.
"By election night you thought that it would have been clear to Morrison where he had gone wrong in reading the mood of the Australian electorate. But no, he started his concession speech by thanking the military for keeping us all safe. How about instead thanking all the overworked, dedicated and exhausted front-line health workers who have done so much to help us through the pandemic as well as the brave volunteers who slaved away and risked their own lives fighting the fires and helping rescue their neighbours from rising waters during the recent floods." - Jan.
"It seems good policy to deter people smugglers using boats because they put their "cargoes" in extreme danger. So save the people and punish the smugglers by destroying their boats and placing large fines on them - if there is any chance of getting any payment. For the refugees, it's about time Australia was more humane. If our security organisations cannot determine if the individual refugee is a security risk within a reasonable time(say 6 months) then the refugees should be assimilated into the community so they can be useful members of the community. All a bit logical." - Chris.
"I think Australia can do more (within reason and ensuring that criminal/gang elements are excluded) to absorb genuine refugees. Restricting the ones in that Melbourne hotel for several years is outrageous. Immigration needs to get off their bums! If any are not suitable for staying in Australia, send them home. Let the rest get on with their lives here." - Linda.
"Please explain to me how spending $500 million trying to speed up the uptake of electric cars is going to cut emissions by 43 per cent? It won't even touch the surface! Cars create around 10 per cent of Australia's Co2 emissions. With current production constraints it would take 20 years to supply Australia with that many cars, not to mention the co2 produced in mining the lithium, manufacturing the batteries, making the steel for the vehicles and (because we don't make cars here) shipping them to us. Then there's the charging stations which are mostly powered by coal power stations. Electric cars are simply not the answer." - Stephanie.
"Australia should never change its tough stance on illegal boats and asylum seekers as we are over populated already in a country that is mostly desert or semi-arid. We have a limited supply of potable water and arable land. The out of control cost of living to wages gap needs to be the PM's main priority." - Murray.
"Am so pleased we now have a new voice in Australia. Of course the economy is most important to all of us but so is the climate. I hope we will at last make a stand. Am forever hopeful!" - Val.
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