Monday, April 14, 2014

Newmania: the Six Million Dollar Choice

Just hours into the campaign, the Queensland Government’s Strong Choices is being revealed as the shallow PR stunt it is. Public Relations lecturers across the country must be rubbing their hands together with glee; errors like this are such rich learning opportunities.

Strong Choices is a six million dollar campaign intended to fool Queensland voters into believing that they are being consulted about the next Queensland Budget. Underpinning that cynical, warm-and-fuzzy intent, the government hopes that voters will understand the tough choices involved in governing and view the LNP government more sympathetically in the lead up to next year’s state election. The inclusion of Asset Sales, while a valid solution, is also a deliberate attempt to soften voters’ attitudes to the same issue which brought down the Bligh government two years ago.

Strong Choices consists of an online survey, with feedback stations in two major Brisbane shopping centres, and a tour through Queensland to “listen to” locals. The premise is that voters will complete the survey or visit the feedback stations, and build their ideal budget, complete with tax increases, savings, and asset sales. The whole thing is backed up with an advertising campaign and social media presence, at a cost of about $6 million dollars. 

Having said that, the website itself denies that it is a survey of any kind:

The People’s Budget is not a survey or a poll. Your responses here will be a fundamental part of an unprecedented consultation process that is already going on across Queensland. It will also include roundtable meetings with community leaders, open community forums and virtual town hall gatherings open to the public, hosted by the Treasurer, Tim Nicholls.
Make of that what you will.

Under the guise of ‘promoting economic literacy’ the online survey asks respondents to select from lists of tax increases, service cutbacks and asset sales to reach a level of debt reduction which has been predetermined by the government. Then, if you reach the approved level where you start to save on interest payments, you can select which areas you want to spend the savings on.

Side by side with the non-survey is a section called “Online Written Submission”, where respondents can write a few sentences about various potential tax increases, programme cuts and asset sales, rather than selecting a yes/no response. There is also a downloadable submission form with the same format as the online survey. All response methods are aligned with the same sub-headings and choices.

It sounds impressive, and as a piece of website design, it is. As a campaign, it’s Swiss Cheese.

Here’s where it fails.

Firstly, the name is a problem. Anything that ends with the word Choices just reminds people of WorkChoices, and that concept is still on the nose. Whoever would’ve thought that a government – any government in Australia – would have been stupid enough to mount a political campaign with a name that includes the word “choices”? It's code for "we don't care about you". With that stench of the Howard Government’s WorkChoices in 2007 still fresh, it was a courageous choice.

Then there’s the online survey itself - and I will call it a survey because that's what it is. The website worked for me, which is about all it has to recommend it. Survey respondents are encouraged to believe that the options listed within the survey are not necessarily under consideration by the government, but that's a tough sell in a hostile political environment. When commentators are talking daily about the federal Budget, it's unlikely that people will assume that the People's Budget - part of Strong Choices - is not even on the maybe pile until 2015.

Speaking of budgets, the Queensland Budget for 2014-2015 is due to be brought down on June 3. That’s less than two months from now. Major decisions about the Budget will be well and truly made by now. It’s unlikely that major changes will be made less than two months out, and virtually impossible to make changes between the end of the campaign on May 19, and the date on which the budget is due, just a couple of weeks later.

I challenged Queensland Treasurer Tim Nicholls about the timing issue via Twitter. He responded

“Choices will form part of a draft plan to be released with the Budget. They are not intended to feed into 2014-15 Budget.”

Okay, so Strong Choices is not about the 2014-15 Budget. All we'll get this year is a draft plan. I’ll accept that on face value, although I imagine a lot of people looking at the survey will assume that it is far more important than it really is. It also raises questions about the wording of a Facebook post to launch the campaign:

“Today, we are announcing the Strong Choices Campaign, an Australian first encouraging Queenslanders to participate in a People’s Budget. Between now and May 19th we will be travelling around our great State and talking about the debt issues we are facing, listening to your thoughts and opinions on the #StrongChoices we need to make to get our $80 billion dollar debt under control.”

The post doesn’t state that the results of the campaign will feed into this year’s budget, but the suggestion is there…and if it doesn’t feed into this year’s budget it must be for the next major event on the Queensland political calendar, and that’s the 2015 election. Is Strong Choices is poorly disguised research effort from the LNP?

We’re not supposed to notice that the list of preferences for taxes to increase, services to cut and assets to be sold is a list predetermined by the government, either. Other than a small comment box at the end of the online survey, there is no opportunity to make your own suggestions. That's true of all three formats. Facebook comments already indicate that many respondents are writing in their own budget cut: axe politicians’ pay rises.

And if you happen to be a number cruncher who disagrees with the government's calculation of how far to cut, Strong Choices doesn't give you any option at all.

There are reports on Facebook that there are some technical issues: some people have been unable to submit their surveys while others have been able to submit their responses more than once, skewing the results in the process. In the lexicon of campaign sins, releasing a 'buggy' campaign website is pretty close to the top.

Also from Facebook, there are reports that comments critical of the government which were posted on the Strong Choices Facebook page have been deleted. That should not be surprising when the same occurs on King Campbell’s official Facebook Page.

The absolute clanger of Strong Choices is the fact that in order to enact any of the recommendations which could’ve come out of this campaign, Campbell Newman and his band of merry LNP MPs will need to win the next state election…and it appears that Strong Choices is one of the tools they’re using to do that. Isn’t that what Excel would call a Circular Reference?

Congratulations to the LNP Spin Team for such a valiant effort. Few organisations manage to include quite so many misleading cues as this single mis-named effort. It’s just a damned shame that Queensland taxpayers are parting with six million dollars for a campaign that should be funded by the LNP, and which will produce results that are unreliable at best.

Next time I decide to do the Strong Choices survey, I must remember to include the Strong Choices Campaign as a way to cut costs.

Friday, April 11, 2014

Whose ABC?

It’s their ABC according to conservative punters, politicians and commentators. The suggestion is that the ABC is become just another Australian media outlet that’s sympathetic to the progressive cause, promoting ALP politicians and policies over those of the Coalition Government, that it's not supportive of the Government or the 'home team'.

It's a matter of perspective. Any consumer of Murdoch’s News Corporation and the majority of Sky News Australia’s offerings would have to turn their heads to the left to see the ABC, yet that doesn’t mean that the ABC is a lefty-socialist mouthpiece, as conservatives would have us believe. According to the Political Compass, both the ALP and Liberal well to the right of the centre line, and I'd suggest that they've both edged ever further to the horizon in the seven months since then.

An analysis of guests on the ABC’s two flagship panel shows, Q&A and Insiders shows where those two shows line up on the issue of bias. The result is that each show is fairly well balanced, with Insiders slightly favouring the right, and Q&A slightly favouring the left.

Insiders has slid a little to the left, though. In earlier years, regular Insiders guests included Andrew Bolt and Piers Akerman, both hard-line conservative climate-change-denying commentators who write their opinion pieces for News Corporation. Mr Bolt has his own show on Network Ten, and Mr Akerman has simply disappeared from television. For the sake of simplicity, anyone who regularly writes for the Murdoch papers has been placed in the conservative column.

With Q&A in particular, it can be difficult to categorise the political leanings of every guest, as they aren’t all known as politicians or political commentators: guests include comedians and musicians, business leaders and theologians. Those guests have not been categorised, except in blatant cases like Billy Bragg. Palmer United Party representatives have been tagged as conservative, despite being further left than the ALP. 

It’s also unfair to criticise Q&A for being slightly more progressive; Prime Minister Tony Abbott has an open invitation to appear on Q&A, but has refused to appear on the show for several years. 

To give any perceived bias inherent within these ABC programmes some context, the most direct comparison is with another current affairs chat show: Sky News Australia’s evening chat show, PM Live. The show’s regular guests are predominantly conservative commentators and former Liberal politicians. The single former-ALP politician who was a regular panellist was Mark Latham, and he has not appeared on the programme since his on-air shout-athon with Chris Kenny.

So in comparison to PM Live, the ABC panel shows have a higher proportion of left-leaning guests. That's only part of the story, though. The ABC shows are far more balanced and closer to the centre, as required by its charter. It is, in fact, Our ABC.

Post Script: No analysis of Andrew Bolt's guests was possible, as the Network Ten website now automatically redirects to, which is great for watching past programmes, but useless for readers like me. More dumbing down, courtesy of Ten?

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Newmania: Show Them the Money

Nobody outside the world of politics has ever been told that they have to accept a colossal pay rise. It doesn’t happen. There are always too many competing priorities and too little cash. People tend to land at the end of the queue, regardless of the employee friendly “value statements” that adorn corporate office walls.

I know a bit about substantial pay rises. Last year, I received one, but let me explain what happened before the pay rise was awarded.

  • ·         Over a period of years I took on more and more responsibility.
  • ·         I moved well outside my comfort zone.
  • ·         I volunteered to take on more challenging projects.
  • ·         I taught myself to use three new software programmes and coached others.
  • ·         Every year for three years, I requested a formal salary review.
  • ·         Every year for three years I provided updated information on average salaries for people doing similar jobs to mine.
  • ·         I requested the opportunity to study for a diploma in my chosen field.
  • ·         I undertook that study and gained significant expertise, new tools and professional confidence.
  • ·         Finally, I withdrew my labour for a few days.

When my managers were able to convince their managers (oh, the madness of a vertical organisational structure!) that my salary might not be in line with the work I was undertaking, things moved surprisingly fast.
The HR Department had to review and regrade my job, using a tool called the Hay Grade, a methodology used to evaluate job roles. As methodologies go, it’s not perfect, but it’s the one that was used. It turns out that I was right. I was awarded a whopping pay rise, backdated nine months. 

Now my pay rise was not of the same magnitude as those awarded to Queensland state politicians last week. King Campbell will enjoy a 21.8% increase to his annual salary, taking it to $379,562, and it will be backdated to July 2013. His back pay alone will amount to almost $50,000 (before tax).

In fairness, King Campbell did not award this to himself. The Queensland Independent Remuneration Tribunal reached this number, deciding that his salary should be within range of Chief Executive Officers of other NGOs. The Tribunal was formed when Acting Premier Jeff Seeney unblinkingly accepted a 41% increase, which would have taken the Premier’s salary to within shouting distance of President Obama’s salary – and far beyond that in any other Australian state Premier.  That 41% was subsequently howled down by Queenslanders, still reeling from a year of brutal Public Service job cuts. 

After the furore last year over the initial pay rise, care has been taken circulate the talking points to all and sundry, with government ministers all banging on about the “independence” of the independent tribunal, as if “independent” is synonymous with “fair”, “justified” or “deserved”. I don't think the LNP MPs will be willing to negotiate over this one.

I can’t help thinking back to my own experience, and the parameters on which I was assessed. While my role had developed significantly over the years, Campbell Newman’s role as premier has not changed. Therefore the only basis for increasing his salary is to bring it into line with other Australian states.

Having said that, surely every salary adjustment must take job performance into account. This week’s ReachTel Poll saw only 34.8% of respondents rating Mr Newman’s performance as Very Good or Good. His plan to allow Queensland doctors to resign and be replaced if they don’t sign new contracts has just 14.9% support. It looks as though his job performance rating doesn't support a pay rise.

The most telling question of all, the one that deals with the public’s perception of Mr Newman’s performance, was this: 

If an election were held today, regardless of who you would vote for, do you believe the Newman government has demonstrated that it would deserve to be re-elected on the basis of its actions over the last 2 years?

57.3% of respondents said no.

Just a year out from the next state election, the LNP should enjoy their oversize pay rises, as it appears that many of them might be looking for new jobs from about this time next year.

PostScript: Queensland’s tiny contingent of Labor MPs are against the pay rise, even though Labor Leader Annastacia Palaszczuk would have received an even larger salary increase than the Premier received.

Monday, March 31, 2014

The 44th: Back to the Future

History books will exalt Tony Abbott as Australia’s greatest ever devotee of history, a man so obsessed with recreating the past that he is transforming Australia into a living history museum. Regrettably, the budding history-themed continent-wide fun park is being created from the remnants of a progressive nation. The result is a haphazard collection of concepts dating back through the decades to World War II, overlaid across a nation ramping up for the 21st century.

Scarcely a single new idea has emerged from the government. The first six months of the 44th Parliament has been dominated by recycling old ideas and dismantling existing laws. On March 3, the Guardian reported that the House of Representatives had literally run out of legislationto discuss. This wasn’t reported anywhere else, although was discussed on social media. For a government which is so feisty, there seems to be surprisingly little governing actually taking place. 

The lack of an original legislative agenda should be no obstacle when there is so much history to mine, and when all else fails, there are throwaway media conferences and ceremonial distractions to perform. 

“Stop the Boats” is a perfect example of such meaningless activity. Last week there was a press conference to announce that no boats had arrived in Australia for one hundred days. This was a jarring change from the shy and silent traditions that surround Operation Sovereign Borders, yet was every bit as empty as the briefings provided during World War 2, under the glare of wartime censorship.

Tony and Grace Sullivan
Dare I say that for anyone who cares to dig, the OSB media policy is more instructive about World War Two than the iconic Australian drama series, The Sullivans? Perhaps that’s where Prime Minister Abbott stole the idea…which makes sense, as he believes we are at war with people smugglers, and we treat asylum seekers worse than prisoners of war.

The long-long-long Menzies era, is another pocket of history within Mr Abbott’s Australian History Theme Park. He’s always been socially conservative, following the dogged traditionalism of his Liberal predecessor John Winston Howard. Our little piece of the 1950s and 1960s arrived last week with the reintroduction of knights and dames. How Menzies would have approved!

But the 50s and 60s was also a period where Australian identity and culture slid across the Atlantic and we started identifying more with America than with Great Britain. Fortunately for Mr Abbott, America provided Australia with a wholesome, values-driven example to follow, even though the TV shows – Little House on the Prairie, Happy Days and The Waltons - weren’t made until the 70s. It was during those years that we learned that the only acceptable family structure is illustrated by the Ingalls, the Cunninghams and the Waltons.*

Howard and Marion Cunningham and their long-lost son, Tony.
Alongside the best of 50s family values, last week our strong, forward-looking country glanced over it’s shoulder, and turned to embrace former Governor General Quentin Bryce as she accepted her Dameness. Damehood. Dameship. No-one denies that she’s a real Dame, but why not refuse the honour, the republicans ask, bewildered. Dame Quentin Bryce has just served as Her Majesty’s representative in Australia. Would it not be hypocritical to refuse an honour bestowed by the very same Queen of Australia? In any case, our Dame has too much class, as befitting a titled woman of the Menzies era.

The iconic image of Australian politics of the 1970s is Gough Whitlam on the steps of Old Parliament House. Prior to being sacked, the Whitlam Government introduced free healthcare in the form of Medibank, later Medicare. When Mr Abbott is in a 70s mood, he takes us back to a time before socialised medicine, a time when conservatives had governed for over two decades. A six dollar fee for “free” GP consultations is not the same as free medical care for all.

Malcolm Fraser was a Liberal Prime Minister who has since resigned from the Liberal Party. The government led by Tony Abbott is far more conservative than the Fraser Government ever thought to be: the Racial Discrimination Act, the Human Rights Commission Act and the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park became certainties during the Fraser years. The Abbott Government is undermining each of them, dragging us back to a time where bigotry was acceptable, where people could be imprisoned without trial and corporations could pollute without penalty. 

The Qantas Sale Act, another Abbott target, came during the Hawke-Keating years. It’s on the hitlist too, courtesy of Qantas boss Alan Joyce, but not in a back-to-the-future way. The proposed changes to the Qantas Sale Act could leave Australia without an Australian-owned national carrier.

Doc Brown with Tony McFly summon the DeLorean
Predictably, little from the glorious Howard years will change during Tony Abbott’s step back in time. His trademark Stop The Boats policy referenced the Howard years as the very model of success, and his IR policies echo that Howard hit, “Workchoices”. Perhaps the name has been changed to protect the guilty, but back to 2007 we go.

The last chapter of our history to undergo the Extreme Makeover – Abbott Edition is the Rudd-Gillard Years. In this episode, Mr Abbott is attempting to show us what would’ve happened had the Coalition won the 2007 Federal election, and every one since. Every major initiative of the Rudd-Gillard Government is going…going…Gonski, the NDIS, Carbon Tax, Mining Tax, our relationship with our Asian neighbours: Gonski, or at  least, changed beyond recognition.

Subversive television featuring supernatural beings & unnatural families
Tony Abbott’s relentless charge to recreate the past is a singular achievement in the history of this country. Never has a multi-themed fun park been created so quickly. Experts anticipate that at this rate, all progress in Australia since the 1940s will have been obliterated by the end of Abbott’s second year in power. At that point, the Government will need to find some new ideas to enact.

The only thing that springs to mind is Paid Parental Leave.

*Whatever you do, don’t mention those subversive 60s shows like Bewitched, I Dream of Jeannie, & The Brady Bunch.

Saturday, March 22, 2014

The 44th: Friday Morning, 3am.

In those quiet moments between the middle of the night and darkest-before-dawn on Friday morning, Joe Hockey’s spin team issued a statement clarifying the chaotic web of stories linking Treasurer Joe Hockey and Assistant Treasurer Arthur Sinodinos with donations from ICAC target, Australian Water Holdings (AWH).

The statement, which is not available on Mr Hockey’s website, but was reported in The Australian, states  

“I have never received any money from AWH. I have never repaid money from AWH,” Mr Hockey’s statement read.

“The membership fees AWH paid to a Liberal Party business and community organisation known as the North Sydney Forum were refunded for AWH membership from 2009 until early 2013.

“I am advised that the North Sydney Forum cancelled AWH’s membership and returned its membership fee of $11,000 when allegations about AWH first became publicly known in February 2013, more than one year ago.

“I am further advised that subsequent to that $22,000 was returned to AWH for membership fees paid prior to 2013 and paid since 2009.”

Despite the early morning statement, there are still many questions unanswered, and too much that is open to interpretation.

Piecing together the various media reports, the money trail is straightforward. AWH paid $33,000 for membership to the North Sydney Forum, a group of businessmen who, in return for their membership fees, have exclusive access to a calendar of events featuring the Australian Treasurer. The businessmen, and possibly women, are paying to schmooze the Treasurer.

But the NSF returned the money to AWH. First, when AWH fell under the corruption spotlight, NSF repaid $11,000, with the balance of $22,000 being repaid at some point later.

The amounts and dates in Mr Hockey’s statements are a not precise. The statement refers to membership from 2009-2013. That’s probably 2010, 2011 and 2012, but the vague wording leaves it unresolved.

The statement describes the North Sydney Forum as a “Liberal Party business and community organisation”, yet there is no Liberal Party livery on the NSF website. In fact, the Liberal Party is only mentioned a couple of times on the entire site, and never on the homepage. The focus of the website is specifically about supporting Joe Hockey. (Check out the spelling errors on the site too!)

Words and Image from the NSF website
So the biggest question is around interpreting “Joe Hockey”. His statement that he did not repay any money to AWH is correct. The funds were repaid by NSF.

His statement that he did not receive funds from AWH is also correct, strictly speaking, yet there’s a direct line from NSF to Mr Hockey. Mr Hockey’s capability to develop and extend his political career has benefited from the NSF, which appears to exist for that purpose. There are no other beneficiaries. It's impossible to say that Mr Hockey has not benefited from the NSF, so we're left with dots we can't connect.
  • ·         When were the funds repaid?
  • ·         Would NSF have repaid anything to AWH if ICAC's interest in AWH had not become known?
  • ·         Did Mr Hockey know that AWH was a supporter, via NSF?
  • ·         Did Mr Hockey know that AWH was entangled with the Obeid family?
  • ·         Did NSF receive any funds from AWH in addition to the $33,000 we know about?
    I don't expect to be up at 3:00am pondering those questions.


The aftermath of the Marches in March have been too much for right wing commentator Chris Kenny’s gentle soul to take, and he’s walked away from the ugliness of the lefty-dominated Twitter

Profane, violent and sexist, these attacks usually emanate from anonymous or fake accounts. Both ends of the political spectrum dish it out but, given Twitter's strong green-Left bias, the slurs from the Left dominate, shouting down voices from the Centre Right and spreading the sort of personal hate we saw in the March in March protests last weekend.

Those placards about killing or retrospectively aborting Tony Abbott were shocking to see on our streets but such sentiments would hardly raise an eyebrow on Twitter.

Mr Kenny, like so many right wing figures before him, has proven that he just doesn’t know how to use social media. He was, until a couple of days ago, a frequent tweeter, and because his position is so staunchly pro-Coalition and anti-Labor/Greens, the response to his tweets was often strongly worded…and worse.

That’s Twitter for you.

He’s certainly not alone in being the target of some nasty treatment, but rather than walking away, why wasn’t Mr Kenny managing his Twitter feed? As soon as anyone indulged in unacceptable (as defined by Chris Kenny himself) tweeting, he has the facility to block them. Even Paul Murray, his conservative colleague at Sky News Australia recommended that he stop complaining and just block the offenders. That he didn’t do that strikes me as bizarre. He did not have to endure Twitter abuse; no-one does.

Piers Akerman, Chris Kenny, Alan Jones, Andrew Bolt
 In fact, there are plenty of left-leaning people on Twitter who are ready to engage in polite, reasoned debate - albeit with a little gentle mocking thrown in. Most high-profile conservatives, including Andrew Bolt, Alan Jones, Ray Hadley and Piers Akerman, don’t tweet. Chris Kenny was one of the few, and Australian political Twitterati will be diminished without his input.

It’s awkward to make an unbiased comparison with commentators from the left, as they don’t exist en masse. David Marr doesn’t tweet, although Mike Carlton does. Labor politicians are largely comfortable in the Twittersphere, yet Coalition politicians are discouraged from using Twitter. This imbalance could be why Mr Kenny perceives a Twitter bias favouring the left, and cutting himself off from the collected wisdom and flavour of day to day political tweeting is denying himself valuable insight. It’s not a socialist echo-chamber; ten minutes visiting the #auspol hashtag is all the proof he would need.

Mr Kenny’s Twitter rejection is all too reminiscent of the recent threat by Andrew Bolt to quit his career as a conservative commentator after Professor Marcia Langton blamed him, on QandA, for driving an aboriginal academic away from public life. Professor Langton later clarified her comments, and an apology was issued by the QandA programme for airing the comments.
But Bolt, the Australian conservative defender, used his column to have a mighty sook. It was a piece of psychological manipulation designed to whip his fans into a froth of protective fervour. 

And when Attorney-General George Brandis hotly insisted I was not racist, the ABC audience laughed in derision. Not one other panellist protested against this lynching. In fact, host Tony Jones asked Brandis to defend “those sort of facts” and Channel 9 host Lisa Wilkinson accused me of “bullying”.

That immediate reaction from the QandA studio is similar to the cadence of Twitter. The ABC audience did laugh and the panellists didn’t protest at the idea of Andrew Bolt being anything but racist – that should tell Andrew Bolt something about how he is perceived by an audience that identified itself as 48% Coalition and 48% ALP/Greens.

Of course Bolt didn’t quit, and I expect to see Chris Kenny back on Twitter sooner rather than later. After all, he hasn’t deleted his Twitter accounts, he hasn’t deleted his tweets, and despite this week’s decision, Chris Kenny enjoys the interaction, the profile, the discussion.

Monday, March 17, 2014

For What It's Worth

If you aren’t involved in the progressive side of social media, you’d be forgiven for not having the faintest clue about the March in March before seeing last night’s television news. After seeing the coverage, you’re probably not much better off. It was a strange series of events which grew from   and within social media, a passionate but unfocussed mass of strangers shouting at a government that isn’t listening, about a range of issues.

Everyone with even a vague interest in Australian politics is analysing and interpreting the March In March events which were held this weekend, climaxing today with a Letter of No Confidence in the Abbott Government being hand delivered to Greens MP Adam Bandt.

That was the end point of the three-day March in March event, and by the reckoning of the organisers, it was a success. Not everyone agreed. The event drew criticism for having no single issue to focus on, and no possibility of an acceptable resolution…at least according to various external definitions proposed by conservative commentators. Apparently, in order to be “valid”, a nonconformist lefty protest must conform to the standards set by the conservative right.

There were the unavoidable comparisons with the conservatives' last big protest action, the Convoy of No Confidence, including one by Jacqueline Maley who was herself the target of Alan Jones’ wrath at that very protest.

The gathering, which was matched by similar events around Australia, was a left-wing echo of the infamous ‘‘Convoy of No Confidence’’ rallies held against Julia Gillard's former Labor government, at which Mr Abbott and other Coalition MPs appeared alongside offensive signs, to much public criticism.

In every way possible, the March in March was the antithesis of the Convey of No Confidence.

It looked as though mainstream media would ignore the event. Ultimately, it was covered, but too often, with a cynical sneer. Firstly, Jacqueline Maley opened her report in the Sydney Morning Herald with the whimsically irrelevant comment that

“Socialists, it seems, are not made of sugar.”

Goodoh then.

Sky News Australia’s Sunday night team of right wing commentators Chris Kenny and Paul Murray chose to emphasize the handful of tasteless and couple of downright offensive placards that were caught on camera yesterday. No respect was paid to the overwhelming majority of protesters who were both well behaved, and carrying a wild array of pithy or humorous and downright blunt slogans. 

Their colleague at Sky, political reporter Laura Jayes tweeted at lunchtime today, asking for people to forward to her pictures of the worst, most offensive placards. What on earth is she planning to do with them?

Several media outlets and plenty on social media have commented that Opposition Leader Bill Shorten chose not to appear at any of the rallies, drawing another comparison with the Convoy of No Confidence, where then Opposition Leader Tony Abbott, along with Coalition faces Sophie Mirrabella, Bronwyn Bishop, Warren Truss, Barnaby Joyce and others stood on a podium in Canberra, flanked by banners referring to Prime Minister Gillard as “Bob Brown’s Bitch” and calling for someone – anyone – to “Ditch the Witch”. These are the enduring images of the anti-Carbon Tax protest.

The only politician from either major party to comment on the March in March was Warren Mundine, who tweeted his disapproval. Note that he had to google the name of the rally - that's how thoroughly the mainstream media ignored it.

Despite the organisers’ pleas for civility, it was always probable that a few wowsers would disregard good sense. Where Sky News Australia is happy to give these sad characters publicity by shining a light on their deplorable placards, I am not. Sadly, their selfishness has allowed the mainstream media to obscure the real story, which is that over 100,000 Australians gave up their Sundays to express their disappointment with the current government.

The ALP must not allow itself to be so easily distracted. Labor MPs chose wisely in refusing to associate themselves with March in March. Now they should be studying the vision of the events, tracking down transcripts of speeches and talking to their constituents to pinpoint the issues that progressive and centre Australians care about: respect and care for asylum seekers, protecting the environment, fast broadband, gay rights, equality, honesty and transparency in government. The marchers knew that catching the acknowledgement of the Abbott Government was highly unlikely; this protest is a message to Labor.

The same social media that allowed the March in March to become a reality was euphoric last night, as marchers celebrated a shared experience. Over 100,000 potential Labor voters are so frustrated with Australian politics, they attended protest rallies in what was largely a series of organised venting sessions, but they did it together, with little more than a few tasteless placards in the negative column.

Social media is already rippling with talk of the next rallies, protests and boycotts. 

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Race Over

Carolyn Habib, Liberal candidate for the South Australian seat of Elder, has described this pamphlet (pictured at right) and distributed in her electorate by the ALP as filthy and racist.

I have scoured this pamphlet, and I cannot find a single suggestion of ethnicity, culture, skin colour or religion anywhere. Oddly enough, neither can Ms Habib! According to News Limited, she finds the pamphlet 

“…very very offensive and very un-Australian
“I think it is a very thinly veiled racist attack against my surname,” she said. 
“It’s a new low and a very, very filthy campaign in what has already been a dirty campaign over the past few weeks.”

Let’s think about that for a moment. Ms Habib’s only complaint is that it’s an attack against her surname? She’s not claiming that the flyer contains an untruths, any reference to her ethnic heritage or skin colour?

Does Ms Habib find her own surname to be racially offensive?

I too have an unusual surname with challenging ethnic roots, but I don’t scream for the racism police every time someone uses it as, say, on an envelope addressed to me, as part of my email address or in reference to me. It’s my name, and I’m actually proud of it, despite having called “La Cookooracha” or “Piranha” since I started school. 

If Ms Habib was serving in the Australian military, she’d be wearing a uniform with her surname on it every single day. It's not healthy to dislike your name.

There is the possibility that the intent of this pamphlet was to emphasise the surname in the hope that voters would see a middle-eastern name and perform some gold medal standard jumping to conclusions that would lead them to vote for someone else. If so, it’s racism by assumption. But we can’t know that. We can only go on the face value of the pamphlet, which is entirely free of racism.

It’s something of a moot point anyway. The name “Habib” will be printed on the ballet papers, and if voters have that much of problem with it, they won’t write 1 in the box beside the name. If the owner of the name believes it’s damaging her chances of winning the election, she needs to find a better PR team – or change it to something she believes is more palatable to Liberal voters. Smith, perhaps? 

Having said that, I’d like to sit down and chat with whoever put the pamphlet together and with the person who authorised its use. It’s poorly written, and poorly laid out and the imagery doesn’t seem to be connected to the message. I don’t understand the choice of fonts or colours. I’d hold this up as an example of mediocre campaign material, and I’d leave it out of my portfolio. The ALP needs to do better.

But it’s not supposed to be pretty, or arty. It’s the pamphlet version of an attack ad. It’s the Habib equivalent of Kevin-O-Lemon. It makes the point about rate increases during Ms Habib’s time as a councillor, although the rest of the message is a bit lost due to the poor wording. It's unlikely to have much of an impact on voting intention.

Ms Habib needs to learn to love her name, and stop whipping out the race card at every opportunity. This unreasonable charge of filthy racism is only undermining her own cause.

Random Thought: If this is a strategy to get Ms Habib out into the limelight and make her Australian identity known, it may be a masterstroke. After this, her name should not be an issue with anyone except the most ignorant and racist voters. If that's the case, well done.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Tweeting with Rupert

If you were in any doubt about Rupert Murdoch’s integrity, take a look at his tweet from 10:15am Sunday (left). The tweet suggests fairly bluntly that the reason why Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 is missing is related to a jihad, which implicates Muslim involvement. The tweet goes on assign a motive for the "attack", and recommended changes to American – and therefore Australian – foreign policy as a result of the crash.

This tweet is astounding for several reasons.

  •       Rupert Murdoch tweets. As far as we know, he doesn’t hand it off to his minions to type. These thoughts are his.
  • ·         This tweet was sent just over 24 hours after Malaysia Airlines announced that the flight was missing.
  • ·         The plane, or wreckage indicating its location, had not been found – it still hasn’t. Authorities are still searching. No physical evidence of what happened has been located.
  • ·         If the flight has been the subject of a terrorist attack, no-one has taken responsibility for the attack.
  • ·         No evidence has been released to suggest the ethnicity or religion of the terrorists, if indeed terrorism is involved.
  • ·         The purpose of the terrorist attack, if that’s what was, is unknown.
  • ·         If all of Mr Murdoch’s assumptions above are accurate, he proposes that it’s an opportunity for America to realign themselves with China, leaving the Russians to crush Ukraine and make themselves look bad to the rest of the world.

That’s quite a lot of assumptions to cram into 140 characters, but Mr Murdoch has a track record of tweeting absurd missives, particularly in support of the Republican agenda, and with more than a touch of Islamophobia.

This garbled tweet is from March 2:

Obama should all Chinese President following today’s incident and say “we both have the problem of Muslim terrorism. Can we work together?”

Again, on March 2, he made his opinion on New York City Council known. This tweet follows a twitter rant at New York City’s new mayor, Bill de Blasio’s education policy. 
NYC now totally managed by leftist activists with no experience in running anything beyond protests. Big mess ahead.

This is, of course, an impertinent generalisation, nothing more than an especially vague form of trolling powered by sour grapes. Democrats won 48 of the 51 seats in the New York City Council elections.

From February 25, he weighs in on Prime Minister Tony Abbott’s close adviser, Cardinal George Pell, who is before the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse:

Pope Francis appoints brilliant Cardinal Pell from Sydney to be no.3 power in Vatican. Australia will miss him but world will benefit.

And earlier, still singing the conservative Top 10, Mr Murdoch reveals himself as a fully-fledged climate change denier.

Wild winter in US, UK, etc. no respectable evidence any of this man made climate change in spite of blindly ignorant politicians.

Respectable evidence, Mr Murdoch? Like the NOAA, Australian Bureau of Meteorology, the CSIRO and about 97% of scientists publishing peer-reviewed papers on the subject? As the twitter iikes to remind people who deny climate change.

If 97% of doctors tell you have cancer and 3 doctors say you don’t, are you going to treat it, or just hope they’re wrong?

And on Australia’s economy, Mr Murdoch’s tweets are entirely in line with Treasurer Joe Hockey’s talking points. One could also believe that Mr Murdoch was pulling the strings:

Australia in deep economic trouble left by last six year wildly incompetent government. New govt must take quick, painful actions.

By every economic measure, Australia was doing fine when Mr Murdoch posted that tweet on December 23rd. I wonder if the same can be said after a full six months of Coalition government.

I must congratulate Mr Murdoch on one fiercely accurate tweet, in which he argued with himself about the outcome of Australia’s federal election in September.

@rupertmurdoch “Tele wot won it”! No, Australians just sick of Gillard-Rudd incompetence and infighting wrecking great county.

At least he didn’t suggest that the Coalition had won the election…merely that the ALP had lost it.

But really, how much notice should we take of Mr Murdoch’s tweets? His credibility in the UK has been shot to pieces, and the one-sided commentary in his USA and Australian media is the thing of legends. 

I hope he's entirely wrong about Flight MH370, and that his tweet about it is nothing more than his personal nightmare where his people tap the wrong phones.

If he wants to tweet, I say “go for it”! No-one who isn’t already welded to his traditionalist right wing agenda takes any notice anyway.

Follow Mr Murdoch’s personal tweets at @rupertmurdoch.

Thursday, March 6, 2014

Day 3

Originally Posted 22nd April, 2013

Life is imperfect. Take me, for example: I am hugely imperfect, hard to live with, and I know it. I'm a high maintenance woman, and my partner Rob does more than his fair share of the maintenance. In spite of that, we are somehow imperfect equals in this imperfect relationship. Amongst our challenges, we are both in treatment for depression. It surprises people to learn that its possible to be happy and in love while being depressed. Actually, its possible to be just about anything while simultaneously depressed.

Since we fell in love over the internet, suddenly and without warning in January 2008, we've never gone more than a few hours without at least speaking with each other or sending a text. We are all of the cliches and more.

And Rob is a recovering alcoholic.


Last Thursday, we cancelled our plans to attend a live broadcast at the ABC studio in Brisbane so that Rob could attend a special work event. Rob manages a high-end retail store in Brisbane's Fortitude Valley, and last Thursday night was a special 'Up Late' fashion promotion in the James Street shopping area. Rob's store was involved, and the boss came up from Sydney for the event.

After the shop closed, somewhere around 10pm, Rob and his boss had a couple of quiet drinks. By 11pm, I was concerned; I'd expected him home. I rang him, hating the naggy-wifeyness of the call, yet unable to talk myself out of it. He was slurring his words. Rob doesn't do that. A drink or two, very very occasionally, to celebrate special moments was the extent of our relationship with booze. I was furious, nervous and somewhat sensitive after a strange day at work. Rob was drinking the way he hadn't in years. I hung up on him; I wanted to stamp my feet and shout like a toddler who wasn't getting her own way.

I rang back fifteen minutes later, because I wanted Rob out of the situation and away from temptation. There was no answer. I rang again and again. I sent texts, iMessages, emails, tweets. The phone would ring eight or nine times, then divert to voicemail. Rob wasn't answering.

As midnight passed, I went to bed. Sleep was impossible. Hours escaped, though I tried hold onto them til Rob came home.

Rob didn't come home.

My partner, love of my life, hadn't come home. I couldn't contact him. I didn't know where he was, how he was, why he was... if he was... I told a couple of friends. It was already too much to bear alone. I had become one of those women who can say "he didn't come home one night", but I couldn't finish the sentence.

Eventually, horrifically, the sun came up. There was no Rob, not in bed beside me, not on the phone. I decided to contact Bob. I should've done it much earlier, but much earlier, I didn't know that Rob wasn't coming home. Between ringing Rob's number, I tried several times during the darkest hours to phone the Lifeline counselling service for advice. Each time I was placed in a queue on hold. I called the non-urgent PoliceLink number for advice, and that call went to an overflow queue as well.

Mercifully, Bob knew what to do. He knows stuff like that. By 7am, I was ringing the Brisbane Watch House, and the Emergency Departments at the major hospitals. No-one had seen Rob, which is a quite a feat considering that he was wearing his favourite dress shirt, made of hi-viz green cotton. Bob called in the services of another friend: Iain drove around the Valley and across the Story Bridge, looking for Rob. Bob walked around the area near Rob's shop. There was, quite simply, no trace of him.

It was hard to breathe, hard to think, harder still to sound calmish. Mum was stunned, panicked, and on her way. Bob was coming too. I wished I had spent the night cleaning the house instead of uselessly fretting. It was nine hours since I'd last spoken to Rob; I couldn't recall the last time we'd gone that long without speaking, if ever.

I rang PoliceLink again. This time someone answered. Too many American police shows had left me with the perception that a person had to be missing for a specific minimum period of time before they could be officially reported as missing. That's entirely wrong: each case is assessed on its merits, and while the process is repetitive, it's also compassionate and supportive...or perhaps that's the special skill of the police officers I met. The officers came, took pages of information, and left again. They rang back three times to check details. Finally, something was being done.

Please God, I ignored my atheism and continued. Don't let me be one of those crumpled, fear-stained women on tellie, begging for her life back.

We checked the joint bank account again. Bingo! Rob had withdrawn cash at the Treasury Casino. But Rob doesn't gamble. Hates poker machines, bored by the horsies, not interested in blackjack. So it must be poker and booze. The casino is open 24 hours a day: he must be drinking. Don't ask me why I hate booze. You know why.

The police sent their officers at Treasury Casino to have a look. We had the time-stamps from the withdrawals; the officers identified Rob on the Casino's CCTV. He looked happy enough, relaxed, not bothering anyone, or drawing anyone's attention or causing trouble. Had he been there, the police would have done a quick "welfare check", but Rob had left the Casino by 7:30am. The trail was cold. Mum made chamomile tea and toast.

On the upside, the CCTV footage indicated that he didn't look like he was going to self-harm. The police officers suggested that we didn't formalise the Missing Persons Report, because my fears seemed to be unfounded and he'd probably make his way home soon. We were advised to wait, so we waited. I lost track of time. I'd been awake for 30 hours. We waited. Rob had gone out boozing and gambling instead of coming home. We waited. We waited.

Eventually, I thought to call Rob's psychiatrist, a renowned specialist in veterans' psychiatry and addiction medicine. I asked him if he could recall anything that could have set off Rob's drinking this time, when for four years, he'd been in control. His answer? "Proximity". As simple and as complicated as that.

And there it was. Rob wasn't out there alone, trying to numb some hitherto unrecognised pain. He wasn't drinking because he was pissed off with me. He was drinking because he's an alcoholic and there was booze around. "One is too many and a hundred isn't enough."

This week, Rob would have celebrated four years since the last time he got drunk. I'm not much of a drinker, so our approach to alcohol was to enjoy one or two glasses together on special occasions. We had thought that even Rob's problem with booze was imperfect; that unlike "real" alcoholics, he could still enjoy a glass or two without putting himself in danger. Wrong.

It was late afternoon - I don't know when - when I decided to formalise Rob's status as a missing person. We'd watched the ends of two of Rob's favourite movies on Foxtel: The Hunt for Red October, and Jumping Jack Flash. Time passed. I'd left behind any pretext of 'holding it together'. Rob was missing and I couldn't just wait.

For the third time that day, a police car parked outside our house. I'd been listening to the sound of passing cars since midnight. Taxis squeak. Police cars don't.

The police officers - a new shift this time - refused to be seated, towering over us with feet planted in the carpet, requesting that the television be turned off... It would have been intimidating, but the events of the day had made me impervious. I answered the questions again. They left, ready to classify my Rob as missing. Missing.

No-one bothered to turn the television back on. The day was nearly done, and my second night without Rob was beginning. I'd been awake for 36 hours.

Bang on 6pm, my iPad plinked.

I am ok, I'm coming home, I love you.

I won't explain where he'd been for those nineteen hours, other than to say that Rob is thoroughly ashamed of himself. Humiliated. He is, again, a recovering alcoholic, and this is Day 3.

My thanks to Andy Hallam and Richard Meredith at Carina Police Station, to Bob and Michael and Iain and Mischa, to Kel and Donna and Jane, to POC and Aileen, to Bruce, and to the best Mum in the world.