How to scare an old lady

burqa-Three women share a bench in Glasgow during a vigil for victims of the London bombingsDuring my undistinguished days as a not-so-intrepid cadet reporter in Brisbane, I had occasion to attend the scene of a home invasion in the northern suburb of Northgate.

The year was 2003 and the planet was gripped by fear. A shadowy terrorist organisation called Kaos ISIS Al Qaeda was intent on global destruction, and only the plucky guys and gals of the West stood in its path.

They were dark days, friends: the first Iraq War; SARS; Delta Goodrem’s final Neighbours episodes.

To calm the nerves of an anxious populace, the Howard government issued a fridge magnet to every Australian home as part of its anti-terrorism kit, Let’s Look Out For Australia.

howard fridge magnet

On this magnet was written the number for the 24-hour national security hotline, which members of the public were encouraged to call should they witness any suspicious activity.

The kit landed on the heels of the government’s Steve Liebmann-fronted “be alert, but not alarmed” TV ad (seriously… wow), which simultaneously exhorted us to go on living our “decent” way of life while remaining terrified that it would soon end lest we employ more police and persecute more foreigners.

And so it was in this world of unnecessary wars and global epidemics and fear-fomenting public awareness campaigns that I went to a home in Northgate.

The property was cordoned off by the time I arrived with the photographer. There were three marked police cars. A cluster of uniformed constables and two plain-clothes detectives milled about.

I chatted to one of the younger uniformed guys. He wouldn’t tell me much, but there had been gunshots and a vehicle had driven away from the scene. It must have been quite the commotion.

Directly across the road from the house there was a small assisted care facility. Just a handful of pokey white-brick dwellings for grey-haired oldies who no longer had the capacity to look after themselves.

One of the residents, a bony, frail thing, was standing in her tiny garden in her housecoat, staring across the road. We made eye contact and she raised a skinny arm to gesture me over.

She was shaking. Wide-eyed. Terrified. She clutched her hands to her chest. She would have been able to see and hear the whole thing from her front window.

She asked me if I knew what had happened. I told her I was a reporter and joked that I had planned to ask her the same thing.

She said, “I didn’t know if I should call the number or not.”

At first I thought she meant triple-0. But then I realised that she wasn’t just clutching her hands to her chest, she was holding something there. A talisman to protect her from the evil forces that Mr Howard and that nice Mr Liebmann from the Today show told her were out to get us.

The fridge magnet.

How do you scare an old lady? Talk about the boogeyman. Show her pictures of the boogeyman. Show them again. And again. Tell her that the boogeyman is coming to get her. Hire blandly handsome celebrities to tell her the boogeyman is threatening Our Way Of Life. Tell her she has to stop the boogeyman. That the boogeyman could strike anywhere and any time. That it’s up to her.

Then the old lady sees the boogeyman everywhere. At the shops. Behind the wheel of the taxi. Across the road from her house.

And then the old lady is scared, and shaking, and standing in her housecoat in her front yard clutching a fridge magnet and wishing her husband was still alive because then she wouldn’t be alone.


Rubbery boats ‘n’ figures

MORR9-20140131170318787496-620x349If you thought kicking the ALP out of national government would bring a swift end to Deaths At Sea and Break The People Smugglers’ Business Model, think again. The ALP continues to cruelly entice naive brown people to their watery graves.

The evidence is plain: when Abbott ascended the throne in September last year, Labor’s Lure The Boats program was blamed for the death of around 1000 terrorists and job-stealers who just wanted to be free to blow up national landmarks and work that shitty minimum-wage cleaning shift you were after in peace.

But being in opposition hasn’t stopped Labor from continuing to fill the ocean around Australia with exotic shark food. In December, new Minister for Saying the Word “Boats” A Lot, Scott Morrison, said that the ALP was now responsible for 1100 deaths, revealing that despite a massive election loss the ALP was still capable of killing somewhere around 50 future welfare-wastrels a month.

By late February, intrepid journalist and lover of truth Miranda Devine reported that the number of deaths had swollen to 1200, with another 100 people who probably don’t know Don Bradman’s Test batting average making an unscheduled visit to Davy Jones’ Locker.

At this rate, by the time the next election rolls around the federal opposition will have slaughtered another 1500. The Coalition will have to campaign against re-election to stop the carnage.

Anyway, for what it’s worth, this is a pretty good analysis of the actual number of lives lost, although the Coalition’s claim to the high moral ground on this basis is clearly nonsense. Even if we accept the argument that the Coalition’s policies have resulted in fewer deaths, what are we to think of the years of the Howard government that preceded the 2001 Pacific Solution? Thousands of asylum-seekers made the journey to Australia by boat in the five years of Coalition government before the policy was introduced, and hundreds lost their lives. (For that matter, hundreds died while the Pacific Solution was in effect.)

Where’s the outrage about that? There is none, and neither should there be. Because we can’t reasonably expect to hold our leaders to account for the actions of people over whom they have no control. That’s a dumb, logically indefensible argument – just like the one used against Labor.