Spring fever. Mad, bad and sad

Spring has sprung, the wattle and bottlebrush are in bloom and here’s a small nugget of optimism: Victoria is to ban all onshore unconventional gas exploration, including fracking and coal seam gas, after a parliamentary inquiry received more than 1,600 submissions, mostly opposed. The Greens called it a win over powerful and influential mining companies, and an adviser at the Australia Institute, Mark Ogge, said the ban was “sound economic and energy policy”, given that the economic benefits promised by the gas industry in Queensland had failed to materialise. Research found that for every 10 new gas jobs, 18 agricultural jobs were lost.

Another nugget: young people aged 18-34 agree that drinking too much is a problem. A recent survey showed more than 75% happy with a 1.30am closing time and 3am last drinks for pubs, and more than half wanting these “lockouts” actually extended. It is they, commented a young journalist, who’ve seen first-hand the violence and punch-ups. The issue is “alcohol mixed with Australia’s violent macho culture”. Not being able to buy a bottle of wine in the early hours of morning is “a small frustration”.

“While the law is a blunt tool… it’s the only tool available to us to stop the headlines of murdered teenagers and 20-somethings. And these headlines have stopped,” writes this sensible young woman. The first step to fixing a problem is accepting it exists. “As we can’t change our violent culture overnight, we need to put other restrictions on ourselves in the meantime.”

Damned if you do… When PM Malcolm Turnbull was snapped leaning over to give a homeless man a $5 bill recently, he was criticised on two fronts: the Mayor of Melbourne said he was encouraging begging and should give his money to buskers instead, while other eagle eyes noted he’d peeled the bill off a wad of cash. I felt for the perplexed Turnbull who didn’t say much except, “It was a human reaction… there but for the grace of God go I.”

Was it the mafia, was it drugs, was it poisoning, a religious cult perhaps? Some kind of coercion? Speculation ran wild, the nation was transfixed and newspapers created timelines and graphics for the Tromp family’s movements. Why did they – a mother, father, and three normal-looking adult kids – disappear from their berry farm at the end of August and turn up, separately, in various states of disarray?

They’d fled the farm near Melbourne in their station wagon, minus passports and with only one phone because they had, it seems, some kind of collective breakdown. The phone went out the window, they travelled 1,500km to New South Wales, the children left, one daughter was found cowering and catatonic in the back of a ute (bakkie), the parents were sighted in the Blue Mountains before disappearing, and then the mother was hospitalised with her daughter, and the father was found running, disoriented, away from the family car down a deserted road.

Mark Tromp

“It became clear,” opined one newspaper “that some great misfortune had befallen the family, in terms of their mental health.” No more, no less, that’s it; they haven’t sold their story and they won’t.

“I can see everyone’s questions,” son Mitchell told the press. “I can see why they want to know, but it’s a family matter.” Father Mark Tromp said he hoped his family would makes sense of the matter soon and apologised for the “hurt and concern” caused.

A four-year-old Sydney pre-schooler, about to enter kindergarten, has begun “transitioning” gender, while in Melbourne’s Royal Children’s Hospital some as young as three are being assisted by the gender dysphoria unit.  Transgender advocates argue that children are generally right about their need to switch genders, while others say that the age of four is way too early for a child to change gender. 

Getting back to straightforward bad news, with which we journalists are most comfortable: Police and terrorism experts have told Australians not to be concerned about “Islamic State propaganda” after a new online magazine, Rumiyah, exhorted readers to “Kill them on the streets of Brunswick, Broadmeadows, Bankstown and Bondi…  Kill them at the MCG, the SCG, the Opera House and even in their backyards… Stab them, shoot them, poison them and run them down with your vehicles. Kill them wherever you find them until the hollowness of their arrogance is filled with terror and they find themselves on their knees with their backs broken under the weight of regret for having waged a war against the believers…”

Victoria’s police commissioner Graham Ashton urged the public not to be alarmed or fearful of lone-wolf attacks and pointed out that much of the material had previously been published in Arabic.

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