Pyne In The Neck

In the last month the same question has been asked with increasing frequency, yet an answer is still wanting. It is a question that must be asked by all Australians, no matter race, age, creed or location. The question:
Why is Christopher Pyne such a cunt?

Pyne seems to have grown in profile since his infamous Q&A episode and on Thursday made another memorable ABC appearance; this time calling into Hack on Triple J. Yet this time, it was Pyne himself causing the outrage as he addressed education changes made in last Tuesday’s Budget. Amongst his more memorable gaffes were describing post-grad female students getting pregnant as being “hypothetical” and blaming the ALP for the “fiscal cliff” of funding school chaplaincies. He also managed to avoid any real answers by repeating the same party lines.
As can be expected, the internet had a rage-gasm with countless references to Pyne and tweets @triplejHack, and yet for all the fury, the questions being asked of Pyne were as relatively banal and misinformed as those asked of Treasurer Joe Hockey on Monday night’s Q&A in Penrith; and therein lies the issue.

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In 1993, at the age of 25, Christopher Pyne was elected to the House of Representatives in the relatively safe Liberal seat of Sturt. He is a qualified solicitor and a practicing Roman Catholic, having attended Saint Ignatius’ College as a child. He is a strong advocate of illicit drug prohibition and is responsible in part for founding the youth mental health initiative, headspace. Christopher Pyne is married, has 4 children and enjoys reading Australian, US and European history, gardening, following AFL football and spending time with family and friends.
Why am I telling you this?
I’m including the above profile to make it apparent that despite all appearances, Christopher Pyne is a healthy, intelligent and seemingly well-rounded human being. It also goes some way to explaining certain recent policy decisions by the Education Minister. For one thing, he’s a Roman Catholic, and the education portion of the 2014 Budget included $245million in funding for the school chaplains program; while at the same time removing the option for schools to hire non-religious youth workers.

Now, this is not to say that the idea of government-funded support programs for school children is a bad idea, but the indirect funding of organised religion is NOT the role of the federal government. For one thing, this decision to only allow religious groups to operate within public schools will cost 623 jobs. The fact that the current chaplaincy program is facing a high court challenge, due to the nature of the funding arrangement, should have been a sign to the Coalition that pork-barreling favours to lobbyists and special-interest groups is no longer an acceptable practice. If the government was serious about passing legislation to benefit public interest, then the basic funding model that was enacted by the ALP would have been continued, and a provision allowing the hiring of secular social workers would have been included in the Budget.
However, this is not the case. There is only funding available for church-based organisations and Christopher Pyne has repeatedly issued the statement that providing funding for school counsellors is for the state governments to determine. Considering the fact that all chaplains are instructed to leave their religious beliefs out of the service they provide, the question remains, what exactly can chaplains provide that secular welfare workers can’t? When this question was put to Mr Pyne, his response was less than persuasive:
Min Pyne Pope Francis - 27 April 2014“The Labor Party left us a funding cliff on school chaplaincy. They didn’t fund it beyond the end of this year, and therefore the government had to decide (whether) to recommit to the program or not. And given the very tight financial circumstances that we are in, we have reduced the scope of the program slightly and in doing so, because we can’t afford to do it all, I have decided that the area that the states and territories could do is the counsellors area, and we will do the chaplaincy area.”
He went on to say that he is happy for the state education ministers to re-fund the counselling element of the program, but the federal government cannot afford to keep spending taxpayers money on things that aren’t their area of responsibility, given the debt and deficit disaster that was inherited from the ALP government.
A question now to you, dear reader: does the above statement seem like an excuse wrapped in propaganda?
You bet your fucking arse it does. Pyne attempted to manipulate the question so that his answer would seem reasonable, but failed miserably. His response lacks any sense of clarity or purpose, almost as if someone told him to fill three minutes of radio air-time with vague double-talk. When the question was clarified his answer remained the same.
This is the style of Pyne though; he is a smug, over-qualified shit talker. He doesn’t expect people to like what he has to say about the chaplaincy program, but they have to accept it, because tough shit if it’s not what you wanted. The chaplaincy decision isn’t a favour for Chris and Tony’s big invisible friend in the sky, it’s a favour for the church groups that directed their followers to vote for the Coalition at the election. There is no rational reason to ban secular social workers doing exactly the same job as the chaplains. There is no reason to avoid answering direct questions about the policies of his portfolio. There is no reason to repeat the same answers to different questions. But it is folly to expect the Education Minister to be educated.

pyneBeyond the inappropriate nature of the relationship between church and state lies the issue of federal funding of public education, with $80billion to be cut from education and health over the next 10 years. In his first major exchange after the Budget was handed down, Pyne successfully wasted half of his interview with 7.30 talking in circles about Colin Barnett’s comments and the ALP to avoid responding to the questions put to him.
The issues: $80 billion the government has decided to remove from the states over 10 years. Part of that is education funding. How do the states replace that money without coming to you and asking for a raise in the GST? The premiers say they can’t afford to run those schools and those hospitals without that money, so what is there to achieve by making such a large cut over the 10 years?
His response: “Colin Barnett got it right today. He said the states run public hospitals, the states run public schools. In the Budget last night, their funding for the next four years was locked in place … No state treasurer worth their salt would have banked their house on blue sky promises that the Labor Party put into the budget 10 years from now … Colin Barnett is not complaining because Colin Barnett makes the both – quite sensible points – that the states should be responsible for their schools and for their hospitals and they have a four-year funding agreement which is locked in place in the Budget last night. It shows an increase in spending in my portfolio, a very substantial one at that. Delivers more than Labor would have delivered and I don’t think the public out there believe that Labor’s blue sky promises from the past, 10 years from now … We want to treat the states like adult sovereign governments and I think they should want to be treated that way. Now, they run their own schools, they run their own hospitals, they need to find their own revenue measures if they believe that they don’t have enough funds to do so … It’s entirely a matter for the states and territories because they’re adult governments and they need to be treated like adult governments … I’m not a believer in infantilising the states and I think Colin Barnett takes the right attitude in WA about the responsibilities that he has as a premier … The states and territories have many sources of revenue that they can decide to either increase, to decrease, to create new sources, if that’s what they decide, or they can cut their cloth to suit their circumstances … I’m not a state and territory treasurer, I’m the federal Minister for Education and I thought you wanted me to come on the show and talk about higher education reform, but clearly I was wrong about that … I think you’ve run out of time!”
I realise that there is a degree of editing here, but it doesn’t remove context. At no point does he come even close to answering the series of questions put to him, even going so far as to celebrate the fact that he just wasted the opportunity for the public to see him defend his own policies.
What does this tell us about Pyne?
Behind the smarmy answers is a greasy layer of contempt for the general public. His is an attitude of patriarchal supremacy; a confidence that his government knows what’s best and everyone else just needs to accept it.
Pyne’s political image is all about his ego; his electoral office is built as a shrine to God, Australia and Pyne. He loves his reputation for refusing to give a straight answer. He is somewhat delusional about how he’s perceived and, along with Tony Abbott, has developed this fantasy that they’re the last bastions of hope and morality in this overwhelmingly left-wing world. They believe that everyone is delusional except for them. They’re right and if you disagree with them, then you’re either misinformed, far left or ignorant.

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At this stage, it would be remiss to not address the changes to higher education in this year’s Budget. This is a somewhat complex area of discussion. As it stands, the biggest failure for Pyne in this section of the Budget has been his capacity as a salesman during his media engagements. His ego is writing cheques that his department can’t cash. Christopher Pyne’s interviews with regard to higher education reform have been about Christopher Pyne and not about selling the new budgetary changes, as is his job as federal Education Minister. This lacklustre performance has led to the willful spreading of misinformation about what the Budget will actually change, the impact it will have, and whether there are any positive measures to be found. The protests being directed at the changes to universities are mostly derived from ignorant fear-mongering, leading to a growth in the populist views being taken by many politicians. Clive Palmer initially seemed to support the higher education reform, yet as the public sentiment grew against this Budget, has come to the conclusion that the HECS/HELP system needs to be scrapped and universities should be free. Is this Clive jumping on a popular view, or is he the great reformer? Personally, I would see it as the failure of Christopher Pyne in his one major role of the last fortnight: publicly discussing the pros and the cons of the Education Budget.
The fact of the matter is that what the Greens, Socialists, etc. would have you believe about the higher education protests is far from the reality of what this Budget actually means. The marketing of these skyrocketing course fees is dangerous speculation, especially as it has caused this violent reaction from aggressive protesters. The ALP is riding high on the of the failure Coalition to sell the Budget. Bill Shorten’s Budget Reply was sorely lacking in policy and clearly designed to take advantage of the falling opinion of Tony Abbott. Rather than offering an alternate view, the ALP is simply disagreeing with the least popular parts of the Budget.
Does this mean that I believe that the changes to higher education are all positive? No, it means that I have read through the 2014 Budget paper on Higher Education. Granted, some of the logic being used by the government is ridiculous at best, however, reforming universities can only lead to a stronger education system.

I have not addressed the government’s purported ‘failure’ to continue funding the Gonski reforms beyond the four year model, as the ALP’s version of Gonski was not even remotely close to the original model. Both parties failed in relation to Gonski and went to the election with a bastardised plan for a unity ticket in relation to education funding. They both fucked up the plan to shoehorn the states into the changes, and as a result, we are stuck with the Coalition’s messy attempt to build something new.

In summation, the Budget has slashed education funding for no rational reason. It has handed a quarter of a billion dollars to the Christian lobby and enacted legislation to cull more than 600 jobs. It has potentially started the process of delivering a university system identical to that of the United States. As easy as it is to dislike the government’s decisions on education, at least Joe Hockey has been out explaining it to people, admitting his errors, and clarifying misconceptions. Pyne has simply attempted to force it down the throats of the public and scoffed at anyone who might claim to be choking.
The man once described as the Coalition’s “mincing poodle” gleefully rejoices in this Budget and the scope of education funding it has delivered. Pyne appears to feel that this is the Budget Australia has been asking for. As a man with an electoral office overflowing with religious paraphernalia, he has delivered on promises made to his God. He neglects the fact that the place for worship and proselytising is not a schoolyard, it is a church.

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Christopher Pyne is a narcissist driven by his ego and his religion; a politician who represents himself, his financiers and anyone who agrees with him. The question isn’t, why is he such a cunt; it must now be, how do we deal with this cunt?

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