Monday, April 30, 2012

The Clivening: Why Stop At Clive?

Most of us are unhappy with the goings on in Canberra, although to be fair, there are a handful of really exceptional members of the parliament. The risk is that, whenever the election is called, we will have to make a choice between our current Government, and our current Opposition. Look at any recent polling and you’ll find that dissatisfaction numbers are higher than satisfaction numbers. This indicates that we don’t much like either of these choices.
Bob Katter knew that, and registered Katter’s Australian Party with hopes aplenty for change. The KAP’s first test was the Queensland State Election, and Katter must be disappointed to have won only two seats: his son Robbie, who leads the Queensland chapter of the KAP, won his seat of Mount Isa, and incumbent Shane Knuth held his seat of Dalrymple.
In fairness, Bob Katter must realise that his brand of politics just won’t play well in the city, so chances of the KAP becoming a major force are low.
Equally, the Greens have a problem in the bush, and with traditional conservative voters in the city: they are perceived as Watermelons – green on the outside and socialist/communist red on the inside.
The rest of the minor parties have even less of a chance of making an impact: One Nation is past its use-by date, Family First and the other “values” parties are seen as too conservative by the middle.
But now that Clive Palmer has stepped up, there’s a new dynamic. The Coalition under Tony Abbott will win the next election, but what impact does Clive have? Clearly Wayne Swan isn’t too impressed, and Clive has been active on Twitter today, openly baiting the Treasurer. How do voters feel about him?
I’m still not entirely convinced it’s a bad idea to bring some fresh thinking into the picture. You can’t deny that Clive knows success and how to get it. He also knows how to work the media – his CIA  funding the Greens statement was both ridiculous and masterful. Mainly, it was successful.
I can’t help wondering who else might be interested in getting into parliament: who else has a successful track record in their chosen field, doesn’t need the money (and therefore it isn’t an incentive), is smart, innovative, energetic, selfless, and willing to donate a few years of their life in service of their country?

So let’s try this: I’ll pick up Parliament House, tip it upside-down, and shake. Most of the current crop of politicians fall out. Simple as that.
A few smart ones saw the writing on the wall, and strapped themselves into the basement with the miles and miles of red tape they keep down there. A quick roll call tells us who is left: Julie Bishop, Malcolm Turnbuil and Joe Hockey from the Coalition, Mike Kelly, Bill Shorten, Bob Carr, Penny Wong, Tanya Plibersek, and Ed Husic from the ALP, Sarah Hanson Young from the Greens and Rob Oakeshott. That’s it. Everyone else from both houses fell through the cracks.
We’ve got a lot of spaces to fill, and we want smart, successful, innovative people with drive and energy and vision, and we want lots of different perspectives. These people will represent us, and build Australia for the next generations. 
Here are a few suggestions:
  • Arts and Media:  Philip Adams, John Farnham, Ita Buttrose, Latika Bourke, Geoffrey Rush
  • Science: Dr Karl Kruzselnicki, Dr Ian Frazer, Dr Fiona Wood, Veena Sahjwalla, Prof Peter Doherty, Prof Tim Flannery
  • Religion: Father Bob, Tim Costello, Jim Wallace
  • Business: Clive Palmer, Lindsay Fox, Gail Kelly, Therese Rein, Frank Lowy
  • Legal: Julian Burnside, Michael Kirby
  • Activists: Germaine Greer, Waleed Aly, Gabi Hollows, Ian Kiernan
  • Politicians: Kim Beazley, Natasha Stott-Despoja, Bob Brown, Peter Costello
  • Military: Peter Cosgrove, Angus Houston
  • Sport: Steve Waugh, Shane Gould, Cathy Freeman
  • Agriculture: Jock Laurie, Chris Russell
  • Smart People: Ross Garnaut, Mark Pesce, Benjamin Law, Clive James
Okay, so it resembles the guest list of QandA? I’m okay with that. Who have I missed out? Who would you want to have in parliament? Leave your comments below.

The Federal Clivening

The events of the past two weeks or so, since the accusations against Peter Slipper frustrated the nation, are the best arguments yet  against fixed parliamentary terms. There is already so little faith in the government, so little trust that it’s going to get better…
Sometimes, you can’t predict failure, and you can’t control it. Despite a successful legislative programme, and despite Tony Abbott’s censure attempts, the ALP Government’s has run out of time. The choice now is a daily crawl through fire towards the next election, trying to govern as if they had a mandate, or to call the election and start the rebuilding now.
Yesterday’s presser from the Prime Minister was an appalling start to the week, a desperate attempt to look as though she is in control. It didn’t work – it was too late, and her words lacked conviction. Under public and media pressure, she has consigned to the cross benches two members who as yet have not been convicted. There were no winners on the ALP side yesterday.
It was, in comparison, a better day for the Coalition, if only because they were able to point and mock. That doesn’t make them a better prospect for government; it just makes them “not Labor”. Tragically, that’s all it takes to get elected in this country right now.
In the next act of what is an increasing bizarre week, mining magnate Clive Palmer has raised his hand via talk radio, and announced that he will be seeking Liberal Party pre-selection to run against Treasurer Wayne Swan in the Brisbane seat of Lilley. Known for supporting the LNP’s Campbell Newman in his successful bid to become Queensland Premier, Mr Palmer has always harboured some parliamentary ambition. In 1984, he lost a pre-selection battle in Fisher to Peter Slipper. Assuming Mr Palmer wins pre-selection for Lilley – and given the amount of money he’s pumped into the LNP, he will – he’ll probably steal the seat for the Liberals.
It’s really not a bad idea though. Clive Palmer is a very smart man. Wouldn’t we all be better off if our government was made up of people who know how to be successful, who know how to achieve results, who know how to think? I’ve long thought that part of the problem in our parliament was the number of representatives who had never proven themselves outside of the government. Most of the current crop have spent more years working as political advisors, union officials, press secretaries and chiefs of staff before entering politics themselves than they’ve spent in private enterprise. Malcolm Turnbull is the obvious exception to the rule, but being richer than god tends to remove one from the day to day struggles to pay for the groceries.
Of course there’s a range of issues contributing to the gulf between where our politicians are, and where voters want them to be. Even the lowest paid of our federal politicians is earning $185,000 plus per year. That’s more than twice the average wage.
There is an argument that I first heard at the ripe old age of 12, that we get the politicians we can afford, and if we were willing to pay them more, we’d attract better credentialed candidates to public office. All the really good business and management minds are living it up in the private sector, earning ten times a backbencher’s salary.
I’m not sure that increasing the salary of our representatives would have the desired effect– there needs to be a passion to serve the nation. No amount of money would make up for the lifestyle, travel, time away from your home and family, the constant intrusion and the inability just to have a bad day. That’s a different kind of driver –it’s the desire to serve.
Does Clive Palmer have that ambition? Does he really want to be elected to public office and serve his country – where his salary would most certainly be less than it is now – or does he just want to kick Wayne Swan out of his way. Perhaps this politics lark is another item for Clive to cross off his personal bucket list. Perhaps he really does think he’s god and is behaving accordingly.
Or maybe Clive’s the Real Deal.

Sunday, April 29, 2012

And You May Ask Yourself...

Life, death and human rights. Somewhere in the world right now, all of these lofty concepts are being debated, and in some cases redefined. It's part of the human search for truth and meaning and relevance. Some look to Holy texts, some to science and nature, and still others look to the arts. Increasingly, we all look to the media to help us find our reference points.

In the midst of these individual journeys comes two stories, each so extreme as to extend the definition of human life. 

Sydney's Daily Telegraph is reporting that Egypt's fundamentalist Muslim-lead government is looking at making it legal for a man to have intercourse with his deceased wife up to six hours after her death. 

Meanwhile, conservative Christian-lead Governments in two American states are moving to amend pro-life laws to redefine pregnancy as beginning two weeks prior to conception.  

A quick Google of the Internet - that font of all knowledge - suggests that only one of these stories is true. 

Several sources are reporting that the Egyptian Embassy in London has denied the story, and others report 'Farewell Sex' story is a hoax, although, the most respected source for debunking urban myths, doesn't mention the story at all. The UK edition of the Huffington Post, has amended its original story. 

Editor's note: Since the "proposed law" was first reported in Al Arabiya, questions have arisen over the validity of the claims. The Christian Science Monitor is just one of several outlets that have questioned whether the reports are true or indeed if any such law would be able to gain traction in the Egyptian parliament. Since first published, this article has been amended to reflect those concerns.

Update: Several Egyptian sources are claiming via Twitter that the story below is false. It has been suggested by some that a rumour may have been placed by sources loyal to former dictator Hosni Mubarak.

If true, it's a far bigger story than that, involving conflicting definitions of life, death, marriage and human rights, and the relationships between religion and government. Those issues aren't being covered; all I've seen is a series of cookie-cutter stories about the more sensational aspects. If the aim is to throw another unflattering story about Islam into the media, mission accomplished.

Yet the story hasn't been widely reported. The absence of traction in most respectable mainstream media around the world is another factor in support of giving this story the status of hoax, or at least, unconfirmed.

Meanwhile, in the USA, Arizona and Georgia, both states with pro-life Governors, are in the process of redefining life as it relates to pregnancy and abortion. The change is based on the way in which doctors calculate gestational dates. New Scientist has a great explanation:  

The bill bans the abortion of a fetus that is at or over 20 weeks of gestation, except in cases of medical emergency. It also states that gestational age should be defined as "the age of the unborn child as calculated from the first day of the last menstrual period of the pregnant woman.
That starts the fetal clock an average of two weeks before the fetus actually exists. The purpose of a menstrual period is to get rid of an unfertilised egg, plus all the tissue that has built up in the womb to support it. A new egg typically reaches the uterus two weeks later. In practice, the law therefore bans abortions as early as 18 weeks into the fetus's development.
If I understand this correctly, it would be possible to be legally pregnant for a fortnight prior to losing your virginity. According to this law, life commenced two weeks before sperm met egg: legal life is now possible prior to physical life...and why? To allow a pro-life government to tighten the period of time during which a woman can obtain a legal abortion.This story is horrifying. Sickening. Unthinkable. My first reaction is to dismiss it as a truly warped hoax, probably designed to see just how many media outlets are naive enough to publish it. That the Telegraph ran it is unsurprising; it isn't the first time that News Limited tabloids have run stories that appeal to an Islamophobic audience. Despite the doubts surrounding the story, it's still there, doing its damage via social media.

The actual moment when life begins has been the subject of debate for as long as abortion has been around. Having said that, surely we can all agree that life cannot exist prior to conception. Equally, and irrespective of religion, death must surely equal the end of physical life? 

Can't we at least agree with these basic definitions of life and death?

* Acalculia is the acquired inability to perform arithmetic functions.

Talking Heads - Once In A Lifetime by hushhush112

Trust Deficit

As Prime Minister Gillard speaks to the media about her conversations with Craig Thomson and Peter Slipper, the first questions are inevitably about the possibility of an early election.

I've seen tweets over the past days and weeks, suggesting that our current federal politicians - the whole lot of them - is the worst group of Australian politicians ever. I can't disagree with the sentiment. No wonder there's so much blah in the electorate. It's almost impossible to find anything to relate to, much less admire, in the representatives we elected.

I can see that this government has produced some outstanding results, but the message isn't cutting through. They've also delivered some solid gold, fur-lined ocean-going political failures, and they continue to dominate the news cycle.

An opportunistic minority government with unstable leadership, an obstructionist opposition, an ever-increasing pod of independents and a largely tolerant news media have encouraged the voters to disengage. We're in a perpetual motion negativity machine, and we can't break free. 

Conventional wisdom (and Rupert Murdoch) suggest its time to eject the warp core and call the election that isn't due for more than a year.

I'm a fan of at least listening to the unconventional wisdom...or perhaps in this instance, I'm just more cynical than most. My dissatisfaction with Canberra is not partisan. I'm disappointed by both sides, so going to an early election, which the Coalition would win, would be replacing one set of underachievers for another. 

I want some of that hopey-changey stuff that President Obama promised back in 2008. Why is there so little of that in Canberra in 2012? 

Instead, we've had months of Craig Thomson' credit cards, years of JuLiar, and a week or so of Peter Slipper's bizarre behaviour with CabCharge dockets and young male staffers although it feels like longer.Speculation about the ALP Leadership just won't stop, and Kevin Rudd's name keeps bobbing to the top like ice in XXXX; it's better than warm beer, but only as a last resort.

Although the ALP has been in power less than five years, there's a richly curdled legacy of School Halls, Pink Batts, the Carbon Tax "lie", the Malaysian Deal, the ADFA Skype scandal, the unReformed Pokies laws and the legendary Faceless Men.

And yet, if we did go to an early election, what would we get? A Prime Minister (Abbott) whose been a brilliant attack dog for the Liberal party, but is as about as unpopular as the Prime Minister. The Coalition's Shadow Finance team is a running joke under the heading Team Acalculia*,  and there's Malcolm Turnbull, who probably doesn't believe his own party's platform on the NBN. There's Theresa Gambaro and her view than new Australians lack courtesy and deodorant, and Scott Morrison, who had issues with us footing the bill to fly children across the country to attend the funeral of their parents. The Coalition's greatest strength is Julie Bishop's death-stare.

The unknown quantity is the core of Independents, mainly former Coalition members: marathon speech maker Oakeshott, farmer Windsor, anti-Pokies Campaigner and former spook Andrew Wilkie, stood-down Speaker Slipper, Bob Katter and his Magic Hat (and his new Katter's Australia Party that lives there) and now Craig Thomson. Unpredictable is an understatement.

What disturbs me most about the current situation is it's fragility. The Government has been functional, but every new ripple is a threat, and every deal to reduce the risk has consequences. 

Prime Minister Gillard is correct to say that Australia is a strong country, with a strong economy, but our government is constantly at risk and under pressure, and that weakens us all.

Twenty four hours ago, I would have protested the call for an early election. The Government is part-way through a legislative agenda. Despite this, today's bombshell has shaken my position and my trust. 

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Blame It On The Rain

Today, the democratic process is an imposition, a burden. I have to vote. It's Local Council Elections throughout Queensland today, our second major election in just five weeks. Today's election is the perfect electoral storm: widespread election fatigue, crippling cynicism, largely uninspiring candidates (at least in Brisbane) and rain. Lots and lots of rain.

Why bother?

Here in Australia, voting is compulsory. We are required to turn up at a polling place, have our names marked off the roll, and be given a piece of paper on which to record our choices for public office. For those not engaged with our version of democracy, there's often a fund-raising sausage sizzle or a cake stall as enticement or reward, depending on your perspective.

It's the compulsory nature of our democratic process that provides the minor twist: if your preference is, for example, none of the above, you still need to go through the motions, and have your name checked off a list. Failing to vote can result in a fine. In Queensland, failure to vote fines start at $50.

There are some exceptions, but not many. According to the Human Rights Commission, the right to vote is a human right. While there are restrictions - you must be an adult and a citizen of the country you're voting in - the only exclusions occur if any of these conditions apply:
* You are in prison serving a sentence of three years or more
* You are of unsound mind (incapable of understanding the nature and significance of voting);
* You have been convicted of treason or treachery and have not been pardoned.
So that's it then, if you're not on the restricted list, and you're an adult living in Queensland  (and you weren't as clever as some, and haven't completed a pre-poll or postal vote) you need to get off the couch and vote.

But wwhhyyyy? asks the whiney little voice inside. I can do almost everything else online from the couch - pay my bills, complete the Australian Census form, perform most of my job, renew my drivers licence, car registration and insurance, manage all of my banking, conduct all of my shopping, apply for jobs, interact with friends, plan an entire school reunion, gamble away my family's future, publish my own musings - why can't I vote online?

In 2012,  my little voice has a valid point, and it's a point being investigated, though at a glacial pace. Electronic voting was trialled in Australia in 2007, but with two groups who have had difficulties voting: those voters with a vision impairment, and ADF personnel posted overseas. Electronic voting isn't online voting though; electronic voting still requires the voter to register in person at a polling booth on a specific date. It's the mechanism that changes, from pencil and paper to an electronic terminal.

So why don't we have electronic voting? Software companies are vying to be 'the one' to get their product out there first, yet most major democracies are reluctant to take the step.

Security and cost are the main issues. Tom Stoppard said that it wasn't the voting that was the heart of democracy; it was the counting. Obviously he's not thinking of the electronic process of counting votes; computers have been doing that flawlessly for well over half a century. He's suggesting that it's during the results phase of the process - the counting - that any democratic system is most vulnerable to fraud. This is how dictatorships hold "free and fair" elections yet continue to get elected. Comprehensive (and entirely biased) arguments against electronic voting can be found here.

Online Voting is a vastly more complicated proposition. All of the security challenges of the counting phase exist, plus the issues around identity and privacy during the voting phase, and the inevitable technical problems that will impact individual voters. I'm having one now - my wireless broadband service throws a tantrum every time it rains and my electronic connectedness is blasted back to 1982.

Back in 2012,  it's off to the polling booth for me. I'm imagining the parking nightmares, queues of voters huddling under inadequate umbrellas, bemoaning the sad state of the sausage sizzle and the economy, all to have their say in an election that few seem to care about.

But that's our democracy, in all it's imperfect glory. We get to vote, and no-one shoots at us.

(Go on. You know you want to.)

Friday, April 27, 2012

The Courier Mail versus the ABC

Last weekend, the Courier Mail ran an editorial with the provocative headline, "ABC has Failed to Deliver".

It's no secret that I'm a fan of the ABC, so I was appropriately provoked by the headline. I'm rarely a fan of Queensland's only statewide daily, either - also public knowledge. Here we go, I thought. My respectable and respected ABC is up against the lowest-common-denominator tabloid Courier Mail. Quite prepared to be transported by a wave of righteous indignation on Aunty's behalf,  I started reading the editorial.

Nothing happened. No rising blood pressure, no bad out-loud words, no urge to hurl my precious iPad against the nearest wall. Nothing. 

It certainly wasn't that I agreed with the Courier Mail's editorial attack. I don't accept the premise of the criticism; it feels more like a manufactured opportunity to undermine a rival.

I blinked, and wondered who the Courier Mail thought had been failed by the ABC, and what constituted an editorial-worthy failure.The answer is in Paragraph 2:

The ABC's journalistic presence in Queensland is disappointing. It has walked away from news breaking and retreated to basic coverage of some news events.
So says the Courier Mail editorial. Okay.

Where does my ABC stand? What is the ABC's responsibility as a news organisation? Are they failing by their own standards, or is this a standard being imposed from outside the tent? 

But we should expect more of such an important public institution which is benefiting from government largesse to expand in every area but its core of local news coverage.

"Benefitting from government largesse"? It's a little more than that; the government funds the ABC. In return for funding, the ABC is required to provide certain services. The basic requirements can be found here.   It's relatively short - about the length of a Courier Mail editorial - and I encourage you to read it. I have, and there is no mention at all of journalistic presence or breaking news in the Australian Broadcasting Corporation Act 1983 (Section 6 - Charter). 

Digging further, I read the Act in more detail, as it pertains to provision of news services.  It's every bit as dry and non-specific as you'd expect the Act to be, and in amongst the legalese you won't find any obligation or objective to fulfil the the requirements suggested by the Courier Mail.

And yet, they are disappointed. Has the ABC somehow failed to meet the standards set down by the Courier Mail?

I suspect that David Fagan and his team at the Courier Mail is judging the ABC against its own objectives. The Courier Mail - and all of its News Limited cousins in Australia - are part of a now-infamous global operation headed by Rupert Murdoch. The ultimate objective s profit. 

Nowhere on the Internet was I able to find a News Limited equivalent to the ABC's Charter. There's simply nothing on display to indicate what News Limited staff should look to as guiding principles. Where's the Mission Statement? The poster with the Company's Values? Yes, they're a corporate cultural hangover from the end of last century, but they mean something.

Okay then. So it's not that the ABC is failing to meet the Courier Mail's standards. Perhaps then, it's the personnel at the Courier Mail who are disappointed. 

I can't answer that, other than to suggest that a newsroom is, like any workplace, a hothouse environment. Every input is filtered through a unique lens of industry and employer: what does this mean for me, for my colleagues, for my employer? Do i need to recalibrate? If the Courier Mail is committed to breaking news, is there a simple expectation that the ABC must be committed to the same goal?

I'll leave defence of the ABC's news service to Mark Scott, who responded to the editorial. Here's part of his response:

The ABC Queensland news team comprises more than 130 radio, TV, online and specialist current affairs reporters including the hardworking people in our 11 regional newsrooms who provide vital news and information for those in rural and remote communities.

I could indulge us all in a spiteful round of favourite preschool games, headed by It's My Train Set (So We Play By My Rules), ranging through You Started It, and finishing with My Dad's Bigger Than Your Dad. I won't. I crashed a tricycle at preschool 40-something years ago. I still have a scar on my left knee, but I've grown up. Let's do this the grown up way.

News isn't generic, and neither are the consumers of news. We can - and do - choose how and when we want our news delivered. Online technology allows us to tailor our content even further. In short, we can get the news we want.

If the ABC news service disappoints the editorial team at the Courier Mail, then that's okay. It's their opinion. It's not mine. I believe the ABC is a modern news service that meets the needs of its audience now, and is positioned to continue to meet the changing needs of it's audience into the future.

What you see depends on where you stand.

Talking About Blogs and Blogging

Click here to listen to 612 ABC Brisbane's Kirsten MacGregor chat with me about blogs and blogging - and of course, the excitement of being a finalist in the Australian Blog of the Year Awards.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Brisbane's Lord Mayor: Harmless Enough

Before sitting down to write tonight, 612 ABC Brisbane hosted the one and only debate between the five candidates for the position of Brisbane’s Lord Mayor. Rightly or wrongly, I’ve been criticised for, well, criticising the calibre of the five candidates. 

Two of the candidates, mysterious independent Chris Carson*, and Sex Party candidate Rory Killen, have taken the unusual step of phoning in sick. I'm not sure of the exact reasons for their decisions to be no-shows; in any case, it's not acceptable for a serious candidate to refuse a surprisingly rare invitation to talk to the voters. Perhaps they weren't serious after all...or perhaps the dog ate their homework.

That leaves three: the incumbent, Lord Mayor Graham Quirk, the ALP Contender Ray Smith, and the wild card, Democrat-turned-Green Andrew Bartlett.

But before I can make my voting decision, I have a question: what does a Lord Mayor actually do? The position is worth a salary of almost $220,000, plus a $70,000 car and allowances. In the corporate world, that's not a lot. It's a senior manager, but probably not executive level. 

That's right: We have to vote for one of these gentlemen running for Lord Mayor. The winner is going to enjoy a $300K+ package, and I'm not sure what he does. That makes it impossible to compare candidates against a job description.

Our current Lord Mayor, Graham Quirk has been in local government for 26 years. That’s a long stretch to work for any single employer these days, yet to quote Ms Shania Twain, "That Don't Impress Me Much." 

Does he have the fresh ideas for Brisbane? Or is he so institutionalised that he's lost touch with the city? Having worked for so long in the shadow of Campbell Newman, is “Quirkie” riding on his ex-boss’s coat-tails, or is he tainted by association? Remember, he was never elected Lord Mayor, just assumed the position when Premier Newman resigned a year or so ago to enter state politics. I'm sure Graham Quirk knows what a Lord Mayor does, but he hasn't told me.

The ALP's Ray Smith is a self-made business success story with an enviable reputation across many areas, but no experience as a councillor. Labor is so unpopular in Queensland right now, it’s hard to imagine him winning a chook raffle. His business experience would certainly be an asset to Council, and through his business, his fundraising and his leisure activities, has contacts all over Brisbane and beyond. Can he do whatever it is that a Lord Mayor does? Probably; he seems capable. (Vague, isn't it?)

And then there’s Andrew Bartlett, probably the most credible candidate of the three. A former Federal Senator and leader of the Democrats, Bartlett has name recognition, experience in and out of Government, and a real passion for public office. He contested the federal seat of Brisbane in the 2010 election, and while he came third, he polled over 20% of the vote. Could he do what a Lord Mayor does? I'm not sure, but I know that the Lord Mayor wears robes and chains, and I suspect Andrew Bartlett would look quite spiffy in them.

As this is "just" a local council election, there's been very little polling, and as I've mentioned in previous posts, very little interest. The lawn signs that are taking over the suburbs seem to be enjoying the warm autumn weather more than their minders in the folding deck chairs. Even during morning peak hour, the roadside campaigners seem disinterested.

Election fatigue is no excuse, though. We have to vote this weekend. This getting-interested business and learning about the candidates is part of our responsibility to the democratic process. What do we want from our local councillors? What do we need from our local council? Of the candidates, who best addresses our issues, our concerns, our priorities? 

In the Federal arena, we can talk about the big concepts: capitalism, socialism, foreign affairs, the economy, national security, cultural identity. Down here in local government, the view is different. The concepts tend to involve stable rates, a clean, reliable water supply, regular garbage collection, potholes that don't swallow the family car and decent libraries, preferably with iPads. Rates, roads and rubbish. This is not the stuff of Socrates, nor, I suspect, is it the business of the Lord Mayor. Council employs a CEO for that, and pays him rather more than the Lord Mayor gets.

One automated ReachTEL phone poll conducted earlier this week suggested that the incumbent will be re-elected comfortably. I wish I could get worked up about that, because of the three candidates with any chance, he's the one I have least faith in. Unfortunately, he's also the one who knows what the job is.

Here in Brisbane, I can turn on the tap and clean water comes out. I put out the garbage and a nice man in a big truck takes it away. I drive to work because I can't get there on Public Transport, but my Barina hasn't been swallowed yet. Quirkie has had a whole year to break Brisbane, and he hasn't. Whatever he's doing seems harmless enough.

I reckon I could do that. For a three-hundred-thousand dollar a year package, I too could be harmless. 

* Chris Carson did attend the debate, but arrived late.

ANZAC Day - 612 ABC Brisbane

ABC 612 Brisbane's Rebecca Levingston featured Rob's thoughts on ANZAC Day on air last night. Click the link to hear the ABC's Matt Wordsworth voice the blog post below.

ANZAC Day - a personal journey - ABC Queensland - Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC)



Tuesday, April 24, 2012

ANZAC DAY: Rob Remembers

Last week,  when I asked my partner Rob if he'd like to share his thoughts about Anzac Day on this blog, we were on our way home from an appointment with a psychiatrist who specialises in treating serving and former members of the military. Rob's a retired army officer, and the last few months have been tough.

We talked about the doctor's waiting room. Men and women in their twenties, through to Vietnam veterans in their sixties, waiting. They're all good men and women who carry with them the psychological hangovers of war: depression, anxiety, PTSD. Some were chatting about Anzac Day, others were silent.

Anzac Day has its own story, as unique as each of the people it honours. These are Rob's thoughts.

Anyone who's ever worn a uniform takes a moment on Anzac Day. The traditional Anzac Day activities - the Dawn Service, the Gunfire Breakfast, the Anzac Day March and Service, old mates and two-up at the RSL. These are the outward signs of remembrance. Like a duck on a pond, there is much going on under the surface that you can't see.

For those of us who have a lot to remember, attending the Anzac Day Ceremonies can be too hard, too intense, too soon and too late.  Everyone who's been deployed has seen too much and felt too much already - why the hell would we want to be reminded of that?

Memories come as a package deal. Even in war, not every memory is bad. But you can't just select which images and emotions you'll let in. Remember the makeshift cricket matches and the marathon card games and inevitably, you remember the other stuff too. You don't ever forget completely.

There are mates. Anzac Day might be the only time I would get to see them, and even if I don't go to the Anzac Day events, I'm thinking of my mates, remembering our shared experiences, the way we would talk in short-hand, the smells and sounds and tastes. Our shared experiences bind us together.
They bind us to other generations too. The original Diggers are all gone now, just three years short of the Anzac Centenary. Their wars were different to ours, but they set a standard. They were the Anzac Spirit, as we were, and all of those who came between, and those yet to come.

Anzac Day was out of favour from the late 60s to the 80s. It wasn't cool. When I was a young officer, most of the senior officers and NCO's were Vietnam Veterans who'd avoided being blown up or shot, and who'd come home to a different Australia from the one they'd left.  We sent them to fight in a hopeless jungle war. And when they returned, we spat on them. In the aftermath of the peace-and-love 60s, warriors were not welcome. Not even our reluctant warriors, the Nashos, were considered in the same class as the original Diggers, the WWII Diggers or those few who travelled to Korea.

They're scarred, yet many are not as bitter as they should've been. As a society, we should be ashamed of what we did to those men and women we sent to Vietnam.

We've come a long way in 97 Anzac Days. Everyone who's served remembers, in his - or her - way. Respect is everything. 

Some of us are ready to pin on our medals and march with our mates. Some of us, like me, remember more quietly. I'll go to a Dawn Service this year, but I'll stand quietly up the back, remembering. No rum-laced coffee at the Gunfire Breakfast for me this year. I know the other men and women there will recognise me as one of them. Something about me will give me away. I know that they'll respect my solitary presence. This quiet acceptance is now part of the Anzac tradition.

These last few years when I've avoided Anzac Day services have been solitary too. For all the shared experiences, my memories are mine alone.

Perhaps next year I'll stand up the back, wearing my medals. I don't know. What I do know is that Anzac Day goes on. My young friend Nate is just starting his Anzac journey. He's a good bloke. Last year, on Remembrance Day, we were working together in retail. Some shoppers bowed their heads or just waited quietly at eleven am on the eleventh day of the eleventh month. Others went about their shopping. Nate and I, two generations of soldiers, stood at ease, heads bowed paying our respects to those who didn't come home. The shoppers had to wait.

My generation of servicemen and women has much to remember. Somalia, East Timor, Iraq 1, Iraq 2, Afghanistan, but nothing is more important to remember than those who came before us and those who never came home.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Slip Sliding Away

After arriving back in Australia this morning, Peter Slipper this afternoon stood aside from his position as Speaker of the House. It was the right thing to do.

Mr Slipper's self-imposed suspension is only in force until the conclusion of the criminal matter - the allegation that he misused government issued CabCharge vouchers. It's a journey Slipper is familiar with, having been there in 2010. That scandal resulted in Slipper repaying tens of thousands of dollars in illegitimate travel expenses to the Commonwealth. The current CabCharge allegations are a criminal matter and are being investigated by Federal Police.

In the matter of James Ashby's allegations of sexual harassment, Slipper is maintaining his innocence.

Much has been revealed since I wrote yesterday's blog post. Some of Mr Ashby's past has been revealed. Rather than being an idealistic young political operative with hopes of one day running for office, as I had pictured,  Mr Ashby is a former FM radio announcer, and most recently, worked in PR for a commercial strawberry farm on the Sunshine Coast. Ten years ago he was convicted of making threatening calls to a rival radio announcer. It's likely that his exposure to the political sphere has been minimal.

We've learned more about Mr Slipper's past too. Apparently, Canberra insiders close to the Liberal Party have been aware for years of a rumoured video featuring Mr Slipper and a youngish man. I'll leave you to fill in the blanks. To paraphrase an old school friend of mine, when Tony Abbott said to Julia Gillard after Slipper gained the Speakership "he's your problem now", he knew what he was talking about. 

And none of it makes any difference.

CabCharge notwithstanding, for Mr Slipper, charges of sexual harassment are just the start of what's to come. He's a married man in his early 60s with a high profile. He's an ordained priest. He has few friends in politics or media. Regardless of how the charges play out, this mud looks like sticking. Moreover, as Peter Beattie said today, he has no credibility left.

If the allegations are true, he's far from the first federal MP to indulge in some extra-curricular relating. Craig Emerson and Julia Gillard "hooked up" about ten years ago. Dr Emerson was married with three children at the time. Even now, there's at least one member of federal parliament who's making whoopee with someone he shouldn't. When these types of indiscretions become public, there's an appropriate amount of tsk-tsking, but as Julia Gillard has proven, it's not a career-limiting activity. 

The difference is "harassment". Prime Minister Gillard and Dr Emerson were "involved". The current MP who is enjoying himself with a member of his staff is doing so with her consent, as far as I know. No-one was bullied, pressured, abused or hurt in the making of those affairs. (The hurt comes later.)

The Australian Human Rights Commission website tells the story:

In 2009 – 2010, 21% of all complaints to the Australian Human Rights Commission were under the Sex Discrimination Act, and 88% of those complaints related to sex discrimination in the workplace. The wide use of new technologies such as mobile phones, email and social networking websites creates new spaces where sexual harassment may occur.

I hope, for everyone's sake, that the allegations of sexual harassment against Mr Slipper are not true. If they are true, let's at least use this opportunity to drive the message that sexual harassment is not acceptable. Ever. 

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Something About Slipper

Speaker of the House and former Liberal Peter Slipper has been accused by a relatively new male staffer, of sexual harassment. In a single, terse tweet,  Mr Slipper denied the accusation, despite reports confirming that Slipper's accuser has provided emails and text messages as evidence.

Since Sydney's Daily Telegraph lead with the story after midnight this morning, media has scrambled to get at the facts, but faster than a Zyrtec, attention has screamed from salacious accusation to blame game. It doesn't seem to matter whether Mr Slipper is guilty; this is politics and therefore, someone is to blame. 

On Sky News, vintage Liberal politician Bronwyn Bishop described the allegations as "a bombshell", and "an enormous disappointment". Ms Bishop has obviously known Mr Slipper since she was elected to federal parliament in 1994, and she  emphasised that that allegations against Mr Slipper were a complete surprise.

 Yet according to Ms Bishop, the worst crimes are the ones of Prime Minister's own making. The eternal cloud that hangs over Labor's Craig Thomson and and his finances during and after his time with the HSU, and now the allegations against Mr Slipper, (including new charges relating to his use of Cabcharge vouchers), are being wilfully ignored by the PM. Ms Bishop claims that the charges against Mr Slipper reflect badly on the parliament, and it's up to the Prime Minister to take action.

Bronwyn's partly right; it doesn't look good. Having said that, in the list of things that reflect poorly on this parliamentary term, this is just another example of alleged bad behaviour.  The climate inside the chamber of this hung parliament is caustic. Opposition Leader Tony Abbott's regular censure motions were a counterpoint to former Speaker Harry Jenkins' rumbling calls for OoorDah!  The number of members ejected from the chamber - "sin-binned" - for bad behaviour is an insult to the constituents they represent.

This parliament deserves its reputation for bad behaviour which is, more often than not, led by Opposition front-benchers. How does that reflect on the parliament, Ms Bishop?

Late last year, Slipper's promotion to Speaker and his departure from the Liberal party was accompanied by strident calls from within the Queensland LNP that Slipper was planning to undermine LNP candidates in the recent State election. Peter Slipper was not well liked within his own party. In fact, the Liberal Party wasn't his first choice anyway.

Mr Slipper was originally elected as a member of the Nationals, then later as a Liberal, leaving the party behind in late 2011 to accept the role of Speaker and serve as an Independent. Timing is critical with today's accusation: Mr Slipper's accuser was hired after Slipper quit the Libs. This can't be spun as a Liberal failure.

Still, I doubt I'm the only punter who is wondering about Peter Slipper. He's in his early sixties, married, and his previous 'scandals' have involved overenthusiastic use of travel allowances, and unenthusiastic support for party politics. Not a hint of anything personal.  

In addition to his career in politics, Mr Slipper is also prominent within his religion. In 2008, while serving as Deputy Speaker, he was ordained as a priest of the Anglican Catholic Church in Australia. Its not the first time a man of the cloth has occupied the Deputy Speaker's chair: Presbyterian Minister Philip Lucock, was the Country Party Member for Lyne, and served as  Deputy Speaker for every Coalition Prime Minister from Menzies to Fraser. Of course, being a cleric doesn't prevent anyone from indulging in unsavoury sexual activity.

This looks bad for Peter Slipper. There are, apparently, documents proving the existence of suggestive emails and texts. Slipper isn't speaking to media, and carries his history under a cloud. There's just something about this man that attracts negative attention. It could be dangerous for the Gillard Government.

Equally dangerous is our tendency to jump to the nearest, juiciest conclusion, rustle up a quick round or two of the blame game and make political hay. Opposition Leader Tony Abbott has called for the Prime Minister to take swift action, for Mr Slipper to be stood aside. This potentially damaging tale is proof that Gillard will tolerate unprofessionalism to maintain her skinny status quo.

But nothing has been proven. This parliament is less about achievement and more about accusation and speculation. That's not good for anyone. 

The UnFairer Sex

This time a month ago, you could line up our Prime Minister, Queensland Premier, Tasmanian Premier, Governor General and the Governor of Queensland, and you'd have wall to wall women. In fact, every Australian state except South Australia has had at least one female Premier. These women are high achievers, role models, imperfect, but proof that women can make it to the top in public office.

Undoubtedly, the corporate glass ceiling becomes more just a little more fragile each year. Gail Kelly is CEO of Westpac. The top spot on Australia's rich list is held by Gina Rinehart.   The Spotless group includes three female General Managers.

So everything is good, then? Men and women have equal opportunity to achieve in both public and private sectors?

Er, no. Some extraordinary women do make it to the top. The overwhelming majority of women do not. There are as many reasons for that imbalance as there are women, and yet themes exist. Physically and culturally, the family demands of women are greater. Most corporations reward a culture which is subtly skewed to favour men. Equal opportunity initiatives don't extend to internal promotions. Old-fashioned prejudices and traditional expectations still exist.

Here's the result:

Only 8% of senior executives in Australia are women.
Women make up less than 15% of Australia's military.
The average wage for women is about 16% lower than the average wage for men, and the gap is increasing.
43% of women reported surviving violence by a previous partner*
23% of women reported enduring violence by their current partner*
76% of domestic homicides involved a male offender and female victim*
More than 4 in 5 single parents are mothers.

Women have opportunity, but it is not equal.

Queensland Premier Campbell Newman, son of Jocelyn Newman, who served Prime Minister John Howard twice as Minister assisting the Prime Minister on the Status of Women, has no Minister in his cabinet whose chief responsibility is women's issues. In fact, Premier Newman has rolled responsibility for women's issues into a crazy mishmash portfolio, best described as the Department of Touchy-Feely-Handle-With-Care Issues.

Tracy Davis MP is Queensland's new Minister for Communities, Child Safety and Disability Services, which includes such responsibilities as Homelessness, Youth Affairs, Women's Policy, Seniors, Adoption, Disability Services, Carers, and the Registration of Charitable Organisations.

In fairness, these portfolio areas are ones with which she is familiar, having covered many of them in her one previous parliamentary term when she served as Shadow Minister for Child Safety, Disability Services and Mental Health. 

She is also experienced at promoting women's causes. According to her own website,

"Tracy has an ongoing commitment to encouraging women’s political participation at organisational and parliamentary levels.  She has held the position of Vice-President of Liberal Women’s Council QLD, and until her election to Parliament was the Policy Chairman of LNP Women."

Well, Ms Davis, the Sisterhood wants to know why you let your boss get away with this? Only 3 members of Premier Newman's cabinet are women. Sixteen percent. Queensland's population is 50.4% female. 

Campbell Newman has effectively devalued the status of women in Queensland to that of a minority or special interest group. Perhaps as he looked at his predecessor, he assumed that all was well with the status of women.

I dream about that day; the day when we won't need a special ministry dedicated to making women less unequal. That day isn't here. It's not even close.

* For more terrifying stats on violence against Australian women, click here.


Thursday, April 19, 2012

The Night of Two Joes

Just an hour or so after commentator Joe Hildebrand's epic rant on Sky's Paul Murray Live last night, Shadow Treasurer Joe Hockey held his own television moment, live via satellite from London on ABC's Lateline. The two Joes' rants were about as far apart as you can get in style - as far apart as the two Joes themselves.

Any yet, there were moments when the two red faced men would have found themselves in loud and violent agreement, if either one of them took the time to listen. They are both smart men. Never forget that simple truth.

I usually go out of my way to avoid Joe Hildebrand. He makes me want to stick my fingers in my ears and sing LALALALALA until he stops speaking. It's not always about what he says; it's the affected way he speaks...Like, yew know, those teenaged girls who talk too fast? At least there's no inappropriate upward inflections. Yes, today, I am shallow. 

You might be better able to handle a crazed political rant from a scruffy thirty-something Journo than I am. If so, I recommend you experience this cracker of a rant.

If, like me, you'd rather hear fingernails on the proverbial blackboard, here's the summary. Joe's rant is an emphatic statement about the ALP's tangled relationship with Twiggy Forrest, and with themselves, and about how ultimately, pride and internal distrust are dragging the ALP into an abyss from which they might never emerge. That's a scary thought.

Meanwhile, Joe Hockey had his bit to say. He's in London to talk about money, a subject close to the heart of our Struggle Street Shadow Treasurer and his meagre salary of just $231K plus allowances.

The title of Hockey's speech: The End of the Age of Entitlement. The title doesn't lie, although to be honest, the substance of the speech is so rooted in big ideas, grand theories, global concepts, that it becomes an exercise in economic wankery. In order to buy into Hockey's conclusions, you have to accept the premise that debt/deficit is bad. I don't accept that. Then, you have to agree that not all wefare is necessary. That's brutal stuff, and even Joe has trouble with that, as we see on Lateline.

But there's this:

"As a community we need to redefine the responsibility of government and its citizens to provide for themselves, both during their working lives and into retirement."

That sounds sensible to me. Daunting, yet I'm attracted by the opportunity to look at what we expect of ourselves, of each other and our government. Challenging the norm is good. It forces us to compare the existing structures against present needs, a projected reality, and an idealised future. 

The real thrust of Joe's address was that debt is bad, and because our welfare bill is apparently so large, we have to borrow to sustain it. Solution: roll back welfare. Follow the lead of our friends in Asia, not our traditional economic role models in the Northern Hemisphere.

Then, Oh Gawd. Enter Lateline. Our Shadow Treasurer has been overseas, talking about rolling back welfare to lower debt. A man who never performs well when (a) talking about money, and (b) under pressure, was about to try to turn those grand economic concepts into bite-sized chunks of relevant policy. 

Welcome to Joe Hockey's nightmare.

Tony Jones, hosting Lateline, asked the question: "If - let's bring this to Australia straightaway. If the age of entitlement is over, which entitlements would you like to see reduced or gotten rid of?"

Joe answered that we need to be ever vigilant. 

I don't know what that means, and I'm pretty sure that Joe doesn't know either. It sounds entirely practical, until you realise that it would entail making some people worse off. Those people who would lose entitlements are unlikely to be the Joe Hockeys of the world, who can afford it. 

Just remember, this Joe is the Joe with the meagre salary of $231K, plus allowances, who agreed with Treasurer Wayne Swan's assessment that means tested  'middle class welfare' should cut out at $150K. So, $150K is well off, unless you're Joe Hockey, when a well-off $150K is more than $80K less than 'meagre'. An answer to Tony's question about which cuts he had in mind was never found. With maths like this, I'm not surprised.

Just today, Joe's Coalition colleague Kevin Andrews has shot Joe down, stating flatly that no, it wasn't coalition policy to tighten welfare spending. In light of Barnaby Joyce's minor policy blip last weekend, on doubling the baby bonus for stay at home Mums, I'm literally losing track of how many Coalition positions exist from day to day on welfare reform. 

As much as I hate to admit it, Hildebrand won the battle of the Joes last night. Unlike Hockey, Joe The Younger had a point to make, and he made it. Maybe Joe Hockey could learn something.

I'm as surprised as you are.

Hajnal Black: Movie Of The Week

Hajnal Black. If you're not in the South East corner of Queensland, you might not know of Ms Hajnal Black. Let me fill you in on some of the salient details. Hajnal, pronounced Highnal, is an attractive naturalised Australian of Hungarian/Israeli origin who's lived a life that's so much more than many of us can imagine.

Hajnal is a very clever lady. She has a double degree in Law and International Business, is a Barrister, has written a book or two under an assumed name, served as a local councillor, married another member of Council, contested the 2007 and 2010 Federal Elections for the LNP, is associated with Australian Tea Party, had her legs lengthened in Russia, is a convicted criminal, and as of tonight, looking quite unemployed.

All this and she's only 34.

Hang on, she had her legs lengthened? In Russia? Didn't that set off some alarm bells? 

Apparently not. In 2002, instead of kicking off her career as a legal high-flyer, she travelled to Russia and had her legs lengthened in an experimental process that must have been crazy-painful.  The entire process took about a year, during which time, Hajnal wrote a book "God Made Me Small; Surgery Made Me Tall." If you're wondering, she gained 8cm in each leg. Now she could really kick her legal career into overdrive. After returning - with her longer legs - to Australia, she did the media rounds, talking about her leg lengthening, but under the name Sarah Vornamen. Hajnal's book was published, again under the name of Sarah Vornamen. Surely her family and friends knew that Sarah was Hajnal, but it stayed a secret until 2009.

Hearing those alarm bells yet? They're about to get louder. 

Last year, a strange story emerged, featuring Ms Black and a former legal eagle who was now suffering from senile dementia. Ms Black was assisting in selling the gentleman's property. The trouble started when it became known that proceeds from the sale - over $1.3million - were transferred to Ms Black's bank account instead of being held in a trust account. She was found guilty of failing to act properly on behalf of the dementia patient, whom she described as a friend. 

Added to that, she failed to disclose to council that she was in possession of the additional funds. By now, it was clear that Ms Black's dual careers in law and politics were not progressing as she had planned.

We've moved out of eccentric and into criminal behaviour now. 

So last month, Ms Black must've decided it was time to show the Courts who was boss. The Courts disagreed with her assessment that she was boss, and the next thing, we have tears, tantrums, media stakeouts and bizarre car chases. Oh, and she stormed out of Court. Two warrants were  issued for her arrest.

Protip: Don't antagonise judges. Be polite, courteous, punctual. They like that better than long legs.

Next came the runaway. Ms Black went into hiding. Even her husband didn't know where she was. After a week, she resurfaced, claiming tearfully that the whole ordeal was destroying her marriage. Um...yeah.

Finally fronting Court, she was found guilty on four of the five charges, fined $5000 and had a conviction recorded. She is first person in public office in Queensland prosecuted under register of interest legislation. 

The latest chapter occurred tonight, when it was confirmed that Ms Black will not be a candidate in next week's elections for Logan City Council. Unfortunately for confused voters, Ms Black's name will appear on the ballot, but no, she's not standing.

In fact, reports are that she was literally not standing, but leaning on a crutch. I am concerned about her artificially un-shortened legs.

That's a lot of living for just 34 years: an intelligent, attractive woman had it all in front of her, hers to lose. She's well on her way to losing it all.

I wonder who should play her in the telemovie? Asher Keddie perhaps? Lisa McCune? Melissa George...?

Update April 19 2:30pm

The Brisbane Times reports that this morning, Hajnal Black lost yet another legal bid to retain her rights to one of two multi-million dollar properties.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

The Federal Coalition: Double or Nothin'?

With the Queensland Nationals and Liberals uniting as one party rather than as an unbalanced Coalition, perhaps it’s time for the federal coalition parties to do the same. My country cousins are constantly complaining that the National Party does nothing for the country. In fact, even when the coalition is in government, the Nationals do less for country voters than the Independents do.

I believe that’s because the two parties that make up the Coalition are determined to remain as individual parties, with different structures, policies and platforms. As the party with fewer seats, the Nationals are routinely disregarded, as we’ve seen this past week.

It started sometime last weekend, when I saw a few tweets suggesting that Nationals Senator Barnaby Joyce had contacted the Opposition Leader Tony Abbott to suggest doubling the baby bonus, from $5,000 to $10,000.

Twitter was wrong. Both Senator Joyce and Mr Abbott have denied that any such contact was made. Barnaby has gone even further and has denied that he supports the existing baby bonus, at least in its current form.

So where did this rumour come from? Where did we first hear that Barnaby supported doubling the baby bonus, and how did it gain such traction?

At midnight Saturday night, News Limited’s Online versions ran with the headline “The big push for $10,000 baby bonus by Nationals MP Barnaby Joyce”, complete with justification for the push.

Fearing a backlash over the generosity of the Coalition's proposed paid-parental-leave scheme, which would offer wealthy working women up to $75,000, the Nationals have proposed a better deal for stay-at-home mums.

"It's an incredible sacrifice for women to stay at home. You can see it in their superannuation and everything else," Senator Joyce said.

"We want to make sure people don't lose their house. Because everything is based on two incomes these days. All policies have a cost. But it's a substantial sacrifice for people not to go to work."

But when did Senator Joyce say this? Why won’t anyone on the Coalition side of politics own the statement or the policy? Why is there no footage? The Double the Baby Bonus story was reported widely, including on ABC’s Insiders and the Breakfast Giggle-Fests, the websites of politicians from both sides of the aisle, various blogs and a selection of niche magazine sites on everything from parenting to HR.

This was another big story featuring the unpredictable Barnaby Joyce, but Barnaby wasn’t confirming or denying anything. Yet.

The story was credible enough to force a joint media release from Penny Wong (Finance Minister) and Jenny Macklin (Minister for Families and Community Services). The release referred to a ‘blunderous back flip’ by the Coalition after Opposition frontbencher Christopher Pyne confirmed on ABC’s Insiders programme that “Barnaby is entitled to his ideas, but the Coalition doesn’t support the policy.”

By Sunday evening it was starting to sound flimsy, and because Barnaby’s reputation precedes him, it was all too easy to accept that he’d gone rogue and was whispering sweet somethings in Tony Abbott’s ample ears without the knowledge of the Nats. It’s no secret that he wants the leadership of the Nationals; his move from Senate to Lower House is designed to make that possible.

With surprisingly little creative googling, it’s not too hard to find the origin of the story. It’s right there on Page 23 of the Nationals 2011-2012 Policy Platform document, albeit worded a little obscurely. How it made it from a policy document to national headlines is anyone’s guess, but there it is.

And here's Christopher Pyne claiming that no, it’s not Coalition policy, although yes, it exists as policy within one of the Coalition’s policy papers. Warren Truss, Leader of the Nationals has confirmed that it’s National Policy, but not Coalition policy.

So why even mention it? I’m sure it would make a lot of stay-at-home mothers very happy, but if it’s not Liberal policy, and it’s likely to cost around $900 million dollars in the first year alone, it’s unlikely to become a reality.

After some pretty fancy backpedalling and policy doubletalk, it now seems that what Barnaby is willing to accept is a rethink of the Baby Bonus, with the Nationals’ policy as one possible way forward. That’s quite a distance from the headlines we saw on the weekend.

Historically, the Liberal Party and the Nationals (or the Country Party) have shared conservative ideology; that doesn’t seem to hold true any more. Historically, the Liberal Party has needed the support of the National Party as coalition partner in order to win and govern effectively.

If their policies are no longer aligned, and with the ALP so week across the board, perhaps now is the right time to either consolidate as a single party with a single platform, or dissolve the coalition to allow the Nationals to support what they actually believe in.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

The Politics of Distraction

Today is Tuesday 17th April. In about a week and a half, Queenslanders will be back at the polls to vote for their local councillors and mayors. A couple of weeks ago, I talked about Election Fatigue. It was only days since the ferocious state election, and I was both bemused and afraid at the near-absence of election hype about the council elections.

Surprisingly, things seem to have deteriorated further. Back then, we were at least aware that we’d be back at the polls. Now, most of us seem to have forgotten the council elections are even on. If it wasn’t that every second house in the suburbs seems to have a corflute bearing the beaming face of a candidate, I would’ve forgotten altogether. I just can’t get interested, much less excited.

And it seems, neither can anyone else.

Firstly, I scanned the headlines and the ten “Breaking News” stories on the Courier Mail Homepage. No mention of local council elections there. Next, I checked the top ten most popular stories on the Courier Mail site today, there is not a mention of the council elections there either. In the More Top Stories box, there are eight more stories listed – still nothing about the local council elections.

Further down the CM’s homepage, out of view unless you unless you scroll, we finally hit paydirt, but it’s not a featured story. I click through, and there’s a story about the ALP Candidate for Lord Mayor of Brisbane challenging Graham Quirk to a debate. There’s a whole six comments on the story, in comparison to the stories about David Gibson, which had well over 200 comments. There’s also a handy link you can click to access more stories on the local government elections.

Curious, I clicked. Yes, there’s a list of stories there on a feature page, but under the Quest Community Newspapers banner. Perhaps the issue here is that the Courier Mail is a statewide publication, and the council elections are local?

I’ll turn my attention to the Gosh! I’m entirely underwhelmed. Again, there’s nothing on the homepage unless you’re committed enough to scroll down. There’s the same Quirk versus The ALP Guy debate story, this time with a whole 9 comments.

The comparison here is a story about Peter Costello and his role as an independent auditor of Queensland’s books. Remember yesterday, when Premier Newman ruled out consultants on government contracts? Peter Costello is being paid a sexy $3,300 per day, amounting to $140,00 for about six weeks on the job. I can see why that story might catch some attention, but I don’t recall seeing it in the Courier Mail!

Like everyone else, I’ve been distracted by the spotlight that seems determined to stay focused on Premier Newman. So, back to the Council elections, and the ABC Brisbane Local News page. Guess what? No mention of the Council elections. 

The final confirmation of a state’s election apathy came in the form of a tweet from media academic. In his class of 30 journalism students, only one was even aware that we’re heading into a local council election in less than a fortnight.

It’s a conundrum. If media pays more attention to the council elections, will the public be more engaged? Or does the public need to be engaged to drive media attention?

I think it’s neither. I think we’re all distracted by the fascinating drama still going on in Queensland state politics. The Brisbane Lord Mayoral candidates are so insipid that we just don’t care.

David Gibson: Fast and Furious

Oh dear. David Gibson survived just two weeks as a Minister in the Newman Government in Queensland before his past caught up with him. There was a short meeting with Premier Newman, and the next we saw, Mr Gibson had announced his resignation from the Ministry via his Facebook page and Twitter account.

Reaction has ranged from disappointment to more disappointment, with just a short break for some pointless politicising from Annastacia Paluszczuk, the new leader of the Opposition, and a large slab of indifference from the public.

Having said that, we’re not all indifferent: some members of the public – those on the right hand side of politics who like to post comments on the News Limited Online websites – have tried to link Mr Gibson’s resignation to the yet-to-be-introduced Carbon Tax. Good luck to them. It’s reassuring to know that even while the LNP won Queensland by an embarrassing margin, it’s still Labor’s fault, and we can still blame the C-Tax.

I do feel a bit sorry for David Gibson; he seems like a decent guy. Having said that, he did the wrong thing. I’m a genius at doing the wrong the thing – not deliberately, of course. It’s just one of those natural talents that shines through. It doesn’t make it acceptable though, and when it’s a fine, you really really need to make sure you’ve paid it. If SPER gets involved, things get nasty, confusing and expensive, very quickly.

There is a bit of a feeling around that Premier Newman was too tough on what some see as a minor infringement. I disagree: this is not a minor infringement.
  • Strike 1 David Gibson was fined for speeding in mid 2011
  • Strike 2 The speeding fine wasn’t paid, and was referred to SPER
  • Strike 3 A second speeding fine was incurred in Feb, while driving without a licence
Now, the Courier Mail is reporting that senior police told Mr Gibson before Easter that there was an unpaid fine that he needed to deal with. There were at least five separate letters relating to the unpaid fine – and a warning from within his department - but by then, he had lost any ability to control the situation.

Is losing a senior ministry appropriate punishment for Mr Gibson’s behaviour? I believe it is. He didn’t break the law once; he broke it three times. He wasn’t in ignorance of the law; knowing and respecting the speed limit is a responsibility of holding a driving licence. He wasn’t ignorant of the fine; he admitted to having at least one of the letters from SPER.

More importantly, he was the Police Minister – the person with ultimate responsibility for the police force in Queensland, and for the performance and behaviour of police officers. He failed to live up to the standards that he expects of the people in his department, and that he expects from Queenslanders.

Now, Premier Newman has appointed Jack Dempsey, LNP Member for Gympie to the Police portfolio. It seems to be a popular choice. Mr Dempsey is also a former policemen, and with a name like his, I can’t wait to see the pugilistic puns.

Follow up on yesterday’s post Money’s Too Tight To Mention:

A few of you have tweeted and emailed to suggest that perhaps I was a bit too soft on Premier Newman, particularly given my open support for Anna Bligh’s team. Fair comment; there as a deliberate change of tone, and here’s why:

I live in Queensland. Three weeks ago, the LNP won the state election with a gobsmacking majority. Those of us who preferred the other side are disappointed, but I’m not like Tony Abbott. I don’t want to spend the next few years finding fault with everything the Newman Government says and does and contributing to the negativity that seems to surround us. As a Queensland resident, I want to see the Government make decisions that are right for Queensland.

The time will come when the Newman Government does something truly insane, something on the scale of the asset sell-off that signalled the end of Anna Bligh’s popularity. When that happens, I won’t hold back.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Money's Too Tight To Mention

Newly minted Queensland Premier has plans: there was a plan for day one, the day on which he was sworn in. There was a plan for the first week, and I dare say, the plan for his first month is merely a step along the way to the traditional First Hundred Days media milestone.

At this early stage - just three weeks into a three year term - a lot has been done, but nothing has been delivered. 

This is the process of new government. Unlike a re-elected team, a new government needs to spend precious time learning: where are the pencils (and the loos)? Who's in charge of X-Y-Z? What does the balance sheet really look like? What projects are underway, and what's their status? Who stays on my team, and who do I want to replace? 

In Premier Newman's case, there's a lot more questions than usual. He's never been a state parliamentarian; he has no experience in state government. He's in the job now; he has to be a fast learner on many levels. 

I suspect that for Newman and his team, the magnitude of the task is becoming clearer. Today, Premier Newman announced that the State Budget will be delayed by three months, not because Queensland's economic position is different to what he'd expected. Newman explained that the reasons for delay are so that his restructured departments can realign their budgets, and Peter Costello's independent audit can be completed and digested.

I've worked on my fair share of projects, and deadlines move for all sorts of reasons. Audits are conducted, restructures are rolled out, business priorities change, managers come and go, priorities are altered and budgets are redefined. 

One thing doesn't change: there is an end to our financial year and we report on our performance to our shareholders and to the Stock Exchange. We don't get to move our reporting dates at will. In fact,  I doubt that our shareholders would be delighted with an interim economic statement, and an IOU for a Real Budget. That's what Newman is providing to the people of Queensland...on a date yet to be determined. 

We are your shareholders, Premier Newman. 

Meanwhile, the Queensland Public Service won't be spending their time planning swanky conferences and attending feel-good courses either. Those have been outlawed, along with consultants. I guess current contracts will be honoured, so it's not so much a ban on consultants as it is a hiring ban on consultants. Phew! Peter Costello's audit is not in danger. He just won't be able to deliver his results from a five-star resort in Far North Queensland.

I hate the idea of banning training courses, though. In my perfect world, employers would have a responsibility to provide the means for employees to improve their skills. In fact, it would be mandatory.

More urgently, staff training is an essential component of managing workplace change. Campbell Newman has used the restructuring of some departments as reason to delay the Budget. A restructure of that size is a significant change. He must allow those departments to manage the changes coming their way.

Other cuts already announced include the now infamous Premier's Literary Awards, and the Government's Corporate Boxes at various venues. At least one of those cuts makes sense.

Three weeks in, Premier Newman has stated that his immediate goal is to cut waste. I admire the focus, but with caution born of experience: Don't cut too fast or too deep. 

Then again, the new Premier of Queensland is an ambitious man who has an ambitious agenda. 

The Lurgies

Last night in Brisbane, 244,000 people watched The Logie Awards telecast on Nine. It’s not a particularly high number, given that the lead-in programme, the new talent show called The Voice, triumphed with 454,000 and the Red Carpet arrivals special delivered 329,000 viewers. I’m sure Nine was hoping for better. Logies-related water cooler chat this morning has been sparse at best, limited to a few comments on the number of bridal frocks and the eternal Australian Cultural Cringe.

The Logies are Australian television’s Big Night. There was a time when the Logies equated to a big Friday night around the tellie, cheering on your favourites in your PJs, then waiting an eternity for the next edition of TV Week to come out with the winners listed…and then the next edition, with the photos.

Things were different last night. A few of us gathered in Brisbane for a live-recorded Logies Podcast with the brilliant Steve Molkentin of MolksTVTalk but every one of us in the room was splitting our attention between a telecast that couldn’t hold our interest, and the temptations of the twitter feed.

So what’s happened to the Logies?

Let’s try a little Root Cause Analysis and see if we can find the problem.

Problem 1: The Telecast wasn’t live.

As late as Saturday night, Nine boffins were tweaking the schedule, moving the end time for The Voice from 7:30pm (ish) to 8pm, effectively pushing the Logies telecast back half an hour. No big deal, thought Nine, in a piece of staggering rose-coloured naivety. The telecast was being delayed already.

Enter Twitter. Add some wine. A few nerves, a bitchy comment , a photo of a frock, and everybody’s smartphones were out. Never mind that the Logies had a strict policy banning tweeting at the event. The same policy was in place last year and the year before. It didn’t work then; it wasn’t going to work last night either. The tweeting was well under way by 7:00pm, and there was no holding it back.

Delayed telecast in a room that was impossible to “seal” ensured leaks were inevitable. In fact, for most people with access to a smart phone, there was little reason to watch the Awards show. The results came faster on Twitter than they did on television.

Problem 2: The Telecast finished too late.

It’s an Awards Show tradition to run late. They’re always longer than they should be: too much padding, thank you speeches that run forever (Ray Warren, Asher Keddie), delays in getting back to the action while we wait for celebrities to get back to their seats after a trip to the too-few-loos. Still, last night was unforgivable; where were the familiar prompts: the swelling music, the audience coughing, a gentle hand on the elbow from the presenter, a huge shepherd’s crook? It went on and on and on…

The saving grace of these shows, at least for the network with hosting rights, is that the big awards are presented last. If we want to know who wins the coveted Gold Logie, we need to wait up til midnight. Newsflash for Nine: We don’t all work in television. Most of us have school or work today, so a late show on a Sunday was never a good idea.

That’s when the wheels really fell off the Logie wagon.

Problem 3: The Leak

Last night, bad things happened and the blame game is actually more interesting that the main game. Somehow, the Gold Logie’s winner’s name was available for a short period of time via a Google search which included a result for the Herald Sun’s website. There it was, for all to see: Hamish springs golden surprise, time stamped 22:29pm, some 90-odd minutes before the results were announced via the telecast, timed to coincide with the media embargo.

The Herald Sun says they were testing their new iPad app, and it was accidentally live for a moment or two, but that it was all Google’s fault, who accessed the News Limited system to find an unpublished story. Google are denying it.

In any case, it’s irrelevant. There was a 90 minute gap between when the winner was leaked, and when the winner was announced. Nine carried on as if nothing had happened…until the Herald Sun reporters in the room were escorted out by Nine’s hired goons.

Ninety minutes of internet denial - in twitter terms, that’s several lifetimes.

Problem 4: The show was old fashioned

I don’t remember a recent Logies Ceremony with so many musical numbers. From the One Direction boys to Flo-Rida to Delta Goodrem to the incredible Tony Bennett to Seal. I guess the thinking is that there was something for everyone. It was a good old-fashioned, singing and dancing variety show. I’m just not sure that’s relevant any more.

Add to that Nine institution Richard Wilkins, and his Logie Minutes, and we had another way of dragging the show out.

I’m not sure of the chronology, but obviously the show had to be timed to end at or around midnight, in order to coincide with the timing of the press embargo on releasing the winner’s details. Really Nine, was all this carry-on scheduled to meet a meaningless deadline?

Root Cause?

In a nutshell, the Logies have resisted change for far too long, and found themselves languishing back in the mid-90s, while the rest of us moved on. It’s the same affliction that first saw me watching illegal downloads of television programmes that Nine was airing five months after their screen date in North America. It’s the same disease that enticed me to spend many many hundreds of dollars buying television series on DVD from overseas suppliers because Nine had dumped them mid-season. It’s the same illusion of indestructability that had NBC sobbing into their Dr Peppers back in 2000, because the Sydney Olympics failed to rate. Why? The internet had undermined the exclusivity of television, and the committed sports fans were getting their Olympic news on the net, hours before NBC’s delayed telecast hit the screens in peak viewing times.

Australian television is still waiting to learn that lesson.


TV Week and the Logies Organisers have to define what they want the Logies Awards Night to be. If it’s an industry night, kill the telecast and give us a tight highlights package the next night.

If it’s for the television audience, tighten it up, get rid of the fillers and broadcast it live, later in the week. Incorporate social media participation into the telecast. Make it relevant again. Review the categories and add some fun ones. Have a look at The Molkies categories, probably inspired at least in part by what the Logies don’t give us – engagement, fun, relevance, social media, and irreverence.

I had a fun night last night, hanging out with friends and snarking the Logies. What a shame it was more about the snark than about the awards themselves.