Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Y U No Tweet?

Especially for the vintage members of my family, who might be curious about Twitter.

What is Twitter?

Twitter is part of what’s known as Social Media. It’s entirely interactive, and relies on its users to provide all of the content. Like all social media, it has no value until people start contributing. So, after you’ve logged in to Twitter, you have to find content. On Twitter, that’s done by subscribing to what other people tweet; it’s called following. Tweets are limited to 140 characters, so the messages are short, and will appear on your Twitter screen with the most recent tweets at the top.
How does it work?

Well, you sign up and register for a Twitter account, which is free. You select a name to go by (politicians are wise to stick with their own name), you log in… and absolutely nothing happens. No, really: nothing happens.
But who do you follow?
Anyone you’re interested in: friends and family, celebrities, politicians, organisations like charities and clubs, news media
Do they know you’re following them?
Probably, although it depends on which twitter client they are using, and how they have set up their notifications.
What’s a Twitter Client?
It’s literally a different way of looking at Twitter – like watching the same piece of television footage on different channels. It may look slightly different, but it’s the same basic footage. Different clients are available for download – but that’s for later.
Do you have to ask permission to follow people?  
No, unlike Facebook, you can follow anyone.
How do you tweet?
Just write something and hit the Tweet button. It doesn’t have to be profound or funny or enlightened or even sane. Consider the tweets you’ve already seen – some of them are garbage
What does RT mean?
An RT – or Retweet -  means that someone saw a tweet and wanted to share it with their followers. You can retweet by hitting the Retweet button.

What's a Hashtag?

Tweets can be assigned a topic so that other people can find them quickly. The topic is a few letters or a word or two, preceded by the hash sign. For example, #twitter #instructions
…and from there, it should be pretty self-explanatory.

Monday, January 23, 2012

On the way to work this morning...

This month I celebrate 10 years living in the one house. Next month, I celebrate 10 years working at the same place. That’s 10 years of taking basically the same route to and from work.The surprising thing about that is that it’s still surprising.
Take this morning, for example. I puzzled over a new business at Westfield, wondered about the sanity of people who build (and approve) office developments, and despaired at the lack of safety awareness on the roads.
All this in fifteen minutes!

Mystery Suntrap
Each morning, Rob and I drive through and around Westfield Carindale on our way to work. I drop him off in the green carpark, and continue on, around Carindale Street and Millenium Blvd to Creek Road. We’ve been watching the redevelopment progress for many months, and I check the Westfield website periodically, so see how things are going. It’s starting to look quite impressive, yet we’re collection of café umbrellas and awnings in one of the most unwelcoming places on the Westfield campus.

I looks as though it might be a café…but it’s squeezed between the outside of a multi-level carpark, and a road, in a hot-as-blazes little suntrap that faces vaguely north and I’d assume, costs a fortune. It has no real view of anything other than the surrounding roads, and I imagine the combination of exhaust fumes from the carpark, noise from the giant aircon compressors, and general noise and smells from the street would make it somewhere you just wouldn’t want to be.
Right now, we can see a curved brick fence that follows the line of the road around the bend. Inside that, there are two large square white café umbrellas, and two white rectangular awnings. The position of the awnings and unbrellas suggest that people will be sitting there.
What on earth could this be?

Parking Debacle
A little over half way there, I pass an industrial park with office space to rent, and each morning, I shake my head in wonder at what is being offered. The billboards out the front of the building are advertise the following:
Office Space: 86 workstations plus offices, 36 car parks.
That’s 50+ workers who won’t be able to park their cars!
No worries, you say. Take public transport!
I had a look at the Translink trip planner today. The nearest train station is 1km walk away; there is one bus that services the area, but to get there from the city you need to change buses at Carindale. From the city, this journey by bus is at least 40 mins and at least $3.58 each way. That’s $35.80 per week in bus fares.
This property is on the corner of two fairly major roads, it’s less than ten years old, and it’s outside the CBD – but less than 15 minutes by car to the city. It’s easy to find, fresh and modern. Assuming the rent is competitive, this would be great office space – but more than half the staff would be unable to drive to work.

Now why would council approve an office development like this, outside the CBD, with insufficient parking for staff?
And why would a business rent premises that are likely to cause problems for staff?

How to be Roadkill
This is not the 1950s in Rome. It’s 2012 and a very attractive and unbelievely stupid woman was riding her Vespa through peak hour chaos in Brisbane.

There she was on Lytton Road, Murrarie, near the southern end of the Gateway Bridges, riding her red and white Vespa, wearing a matching red and while helmet, and sheer  beige blouse set off by a long cream scarf. The skirt was a red and white too, and the stilletos were beige.  I didn’t see gloves or pearls…

You read that right. Stilettos. This silly woman was riding her silly little bike through heavy traffic wearing a silly little blouse and skirt and stilletos.
I won’t bore you with details of the injuries she could suffer if she unexpectedly parted company with her bikelet, but death is on the list.
There’s a reason why medical authorities and emergency workers recommend that if you’re going to ride a motorbike of any kind, you wear full protection: long sleeves and long pants, solid shoes, gloves, helmet. Even better, make sure your long sleeves and long legs are leather, with hi-vis over the top.
And now it’s raining. I wouldn’t want to be her, this afternoon, driving home in the rain: slippery roads, slippery shoes, sticky clingy clothes…looking gorgeous won't mean as much then.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Build A Bridge

Note to political candidates: don’t sabotage your relationships with media, including social media.
Sounds obvious, right?
Apparently not.
I have to ask, what’s going on with Andrew Fraser and 612ABCBrisbane’s Steve Austin. It was Steve’s first morning back on ABC Mornings after several years on evenings, and quite early on in the show. He was interviewing a woman about the protests against CSG mining exploration in the Beaudesert area, when there was a sudden twitter disturbance.
It’s actually a big decision for an MP and Deputy Premier to withdraw from a regular radio gig so soon before a state election, particularly without explanation. He may have disagreed with Steve’s approach to the interview,which is his right, and he may have been annoyed, but surely he’s done himself a disservice by arcing up. What does it mean? Will Mr Fraser never appear on another Steve Austin broadcast? Will he avoid the ABC altogether? Will the ALP be able to find a replacement for the regular segment he used to do with Madonna King and the LNP's Tim Nicholls?

Nature, politics and social media abhor vacuums…and when voters don’t know why the Deputy Premier had a tiny tanty on twitter and dissed the ABC, they’ll speculate. Out here in voter land, we’ll fill the knowledge gap with anything ranging from guestimates to science fiction.
Of course Steve didn’t respond via twitter as he refuses to use it, but he has told ABC Online that Mr Fraser will be welcome on air any time.
You can hear what Mr Fraser was responding to by going to Steve’s blog on the ABC website. 

I think Mr Fraser is a pretty good operator. He’s one of the better communicators in Queensland politics right now, Monday’s twitsplosion notwithstanding, but he can’t afford to lose the loyalty of the ABC morning show audience. So unless Steve Austin stole his girlfriend in fifth class and he’s never gotten over it, Mr Fraser will have to just build a bridge.
Meanwhile, the rest of the Queensland political set wait. Despite Premier Bligh’s strategic reluctance to name a date for the forthcoming Queensland election, there is enough electioneering going on to convince most voters that the campaign has started without them.

Peter Beattie has been busy, trying to reclaim his crown as Queensland’s biggest media tart. As a former Premier, he has ‘Senior Statesman’ status, but I’m not sure that gives him the right to bucket the woman who was his hand-picked successor. Aside from anything else, it’s disrespectful to the party he led for so many years, and it just looks bad.

There’s something else too. I suspect that Mr Beattie’s style of politicking is passé. The political environment has changed, thanks in part to Tony Abbott. The electorate is becoming less tolerant of negativity and political point-scoring. We want more substance, but Peter Beattie isn’t in a position to deliver anything – he’s got about as much legislative power these days as his old dog, Rusty.

Pseudo-head of the LNP Campbell Newman has tried to pull the trigger to start the election, and unveiled a Countdown Clock, counting backwards to a date which has little relevance to anything. 

When asked by Steve Austin, Queensland head of Katter’s Australian Party said this morning that he thought March 17 would be the date, but that he wasn’t sure. (Regulations state that the election can be held on any Saturday up to but not later than June 16, 2012 – 5 months from now. The maximum duration of a political campaign is 8 weeks, if you define a campaign from when the election is called until election day.)

And yet, the campaign bus rolls on.

Steve Kilburn has been out and about, getting amongst the people for months now. Steve holds Chatsworth, the most marginal of Queensland seats by 0.1%. Not a Saturday goes by that we don’t see Steve sizzling a sausage or parked behind a card table at one of the local shopping centres. He’s also very active on Twitter, as many of the ALP members are.

Mrs Kilburn, Steve’s wife, has added a very special touch: she organised a campaign theme song for him as a Christmas gift. The song’s a bit rappy and a bit naff, but it’s a novelty, and a great way of getting some publicity, as he did on 4BC this morning, as well as in the Courier Mail today. As of 3pm today, the video on YouTube had been racked up 1,132 views – appalling if you’re Beyoncé, but pretty impressive for an MP, before the election has been called – and Steve’s not Beyoncé. You can check it out here.

And then there’s the fight for Ashgrove. Keep Kate stickers are all over Brisbane, and she’s out there, day after day, in voters’ faces. On the other hand, her opponent Campbell Newman is trying to hold the LNP together with every ounce of engineering skill in his possession, and the strain is obvious.

After his breakfast address to colleagues on Monday morning, he walked out without talking to the media who were waiting there for him. Maybe it's a new media-management plan for LNP Opposition Leaders. His federal counterpart, Tony Abbott, is well known for walking away from the media. I’ve often thought that with Abbott, the walk-away technique is a deliberate tactic to allow him to extract himself from on-camera situations before he says or does something stupid. It’s certainly better than his stand-there-and-shake routine that he premiered with Channel Seven’s Mark Riley last year. Poor Tony; he really needs to stop trying to win the last election.

But back to Campbell Newman: he doesn’t want to get a reputation as someone who walks away from the media. If he’s feeling a bit shouty, he’ll need to build a bridge and get over it, or forget about a career in politics.

And Steve Austin needs to get over his fear of Twitter.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

No Win

I adored my Auntie Maisey. She was my grandfather’s younger sister. She lived in Epping, in Sydney, in a gorgeous house that smelled of a special mix of trees and damp soil and curry powder and perfume. Each summer, from the time I was a pre-schooler, Mum would take me on a 6 hour train trip to visit Auntie Maisey for a few days in the Big Smoke. We’d do a bit of shopping, eat and drink exotic fare like Spaghetti Bolognese and Iced Coffee.
Maisey was a widow with two grown daughters and soon, she retired. With more time on her hands, the local RSL club beckoned. I didn’t really understand what was happening when she sold her beautiful home and moved to a new, two bedroom unit not far away. In fact, I thought it was the height of sophistication.
Next to go was some of the glorious old furniture. Maisey just sold it. No biggie; it was just furniture to me. But when she moved to a smaller, more modest flat, and started shopping at St Vinnies, selling more furniture, selling her hand-crafted tapestries…well, I was old enough to understand. Maisey put every cent she owned through the pokies at Epping RSL Club.
Not long after she died in 1991, the Epping RSL moved to new premises. We’re all a little bitter – which parts of the palatial new club did Maisey’s gambling fund?

Why are Poker Machines a problem?
Problem gambling defies logic and about 75% of problem gambling involves poker machines, or ‘slot machines’ as they are known in the USA.  Problem gambling is counter-productive to living a happy and fulfilling life – and yet thousands and thousands of people do it in Australia. Clinically, it’s an “impulse control disorder”, similar to an addiction. Studies have shown that while playing the pokies, even casual players will experience a higher than normal occurrence of irrational thoughts. Source: http://oz.berkeley.edu/~aldous/157/Papers/irrational_slot.pdf
Different sources publish different numbers, but the consensus is that we’re talking about the number of adult Australians roughly equivalent to the population of Hobart having a gambling problem. Twice that number are considered to be moderate gamblers who are at risk of developing a more serious problem. 75% of problem gamblers play the poker machines.
January 2012
Right now, Tasmanian independent Andrew Wilkie is trying with all his political might to convince the PM to support  a national programme of Mandatory Pre-Commitment for all pokie players in Australia. ClubsAustralia and the AHA are fighting back with their $10m “It’s UnAustralian” campaign, arguing that clubs rely on the revenue from poker machines to fund their community support programmes.
I hate poker machines. I’ve played them, and I’ve been equally entranced, bored and disgusted. Mainly, I hate what they’ve done to people I love. I imagine Andrew Wilkie feels the same way.  While Julia Gillard holds her cards close to her chest, there are a few things about poker machines and gambling addictions that we should get on the table.

What is Mandatory Pre-commitment?
It’s a system which requires players to set the dollar value that they will gamble or the length of time they will gamble, before they start playing. If they are winning, they can continue to play with the money they are winning, but when they have used all of the money they committed before they started, and have lost all of their winnings, they cannot continue to play. The system requires that all poker machines in Australia be linked, so that if you are locked out, you can’t simply move to a different machine or a different venue.
 The other requirement is that in order to play the pokies, you must be registered – this is the so-called ‘licence to punt’. Civil libertarians and club directors are having a field day with that one. It doesn't mean finger-printing or excessive ID requirements - it requires about the same ID as it takes to enter a club, and gives Australians a choice about how much to gamble.
Mandatory PreCommitment is also known as “informed consent”, because it has been noted that when gamblers are gambling, they may experience a less rational state of mind, and be incapable of making a good decision about their gambling exposure in that situation.
The Productivity Commission has recommended mandatory pre-commitment as the way to help problem gamblers, calling it a ‘strong, practicable and ultimately cost-effective option for harm minimisation’.
While Ms Gillard is considering her options for Poker Machine Reform, Tony Abbott has promised to rescind these reforms if he comes to office.

Why are Clubs Australia, and the Australian Hotels Association against Mandatory Pre-commitment?
Obviously, Clubs Australia is vehemently against any measure that could reduce their profits, and they have launched a major campaign under the green-and-gold banner, its-unaustralian.com.au.  ClubsAustralia believes that Mandatory PreCommitment will reduce the amount of money being played through poker machines, and the result will cut into their profitability. They’re right.
And now we’re off and running. If the club loses money, the price of their food and drinks will need to rise and the amount of money they can donate to sporting clubs and other community charities will be less.
Mandatory PreCommitment would require that every venue in Australia with a poker machine have that machine (or machines) upgraded and wired into the national network. It is estimated that close to half of the machines in Australia are nearing the end of their lifespan, and so would be replaced. The total cost to clubs is estimated at around $3 billion dollars.
Are there any other options to help control problem gambling?
The other Government lead strategy is to limit the amount of an individual bet on a poker machine to a maximum of one dollar. The aim is to reduce the amount of money involved in each bet, making the funds potentially last longer, and the playing session last longer. This could have an impact on problem gamblers who play the higher stakes machines, as those machines would be re-engineered with a less risky, one dollar spin limit. This is an option always favoured by Mr Wilkie.

ClubsAustralia proposes a continuation of a programme called ClubSafe, in which they advocate voluntary, common sense approach to problem gambling, including counselling, self-regulation, Gamblers Anonymous and having club staff monitor and ‘counsel’ “at risk” gamblers. The problem faced by ClubsAustralia is that any programme designed to reduce problem gambling will, by its very nature, reduce the amount of money played through pokies and therefore, reduce the revenue to the club. Reducing the risk to problem gamblers is in conflict with their commercial imperative.
ClubsAustralia also supports the introduction of voluntary, venue-based pre-commitment rolled out over the natural life cycle of the machines, shifting responsibility back to the venues and making it optional.  This allows players who decide that should they wish to exercise the option of using pre-commitment as a tool for budgeting, this technology will be available to them. It also allows those who chose to ignore the facility to ignore it.  (source: http://www.its-unaustralian.com.au/Blogs/Blog/April-2011/What-should-be-done-to-help-problem-gamblers-.aspx)

How do we solve the problem?
Before we find a solution, we have to accept that the aim of Pokies Reform is to get those 100,000+ problem gamblers out of danger. When you consider that 40% of the money gambled via pokies is from problem gamblers, there will be consequences. There’s no doubt that revenue from clubs is a vital part of our community support structure; we can’t afford to lose it all, but we must be prepared to make some sane decisions.
We must accept that any successful pokie reform will mean less revenue for clubs.
I think it’s screamingly obvious that we need a comprehensive approach to the problem, an approach which combines the best outcomes for problem gamblers with the least impact on clubs. This solution must include:
ü  One dollar maximum bet limits on all poker machines – no exceptions
ü  Mandatory PreCommitment – Conditional (for example, for anyone wishing to play the pokies more than once in any given week.)
ü  Mandatory PreCommitment Technology to be phased in over three years, with Government incentives for Clubs as they comply
ü  Additional Support (counselling, support groups, literature) for problem gamblers and their families

 Random Facts about Poker Machine use in Australia 
·         Up to 1% of adult Australians have a gambling problem – 160,000 people
·         Up to another 2% of adult Australians have moderate gambling problems and are considered at risk.
·         At least 75% of problem gamblers play the pokies
·         48,000 Australians (30% of adults) have played the pokies in the last year.
·         15% of people who play the pokies weekly are problem gamblers and account for 40% of the money spent on pokies each week.
·         88% of pokie players bet one dollar or less on each spin.
·         Australians lost over $12 billion dollars through Poker Machines in 2010.
·         ClubsAustralia has a budget of $10m to fight the Pokie Reform legislation.
·         ClubsAustralia estimates the cost of bringing all of Australia’s almost 200,000 machines up to standard and adding them to a national network to enable PreCommitment at around $3b.

Friday, January 13, 2012

Mud Wrestling

There were some momentous outcomes from the floods that drowned much of Queensland a year ago. Think of Brisbane’s Mud Army, Baked Relief, the impact of social media, the ABC’s role as an emergency broadcaster… and the many personal stories of survival. For those weeks in January 2011, the people of Queensland pulled together as never before, and performed miracles. This week, we’ve looked back, we’ve mourned, we’ve celebrated our recovery and we’ve looked forward, but we haven’t done that together.
The ‘face’ of the food disaster was undoubtedly Premier Anna Bligh. Her presence on our televisions was steady and reassuring, informative and sensitive. Her sustained efforts during the flood peak showed her strength and her love for her state.  Queenslanders warmed to her compassion and control, and we saw a huge bump in her polling numbers. Conspicuous in his absence at the time was the Leader of the Opposition, John-Paul Langbroek. Later, he explained that he had been putting his time and energy into helping with the cleanup. Fair enough.
What about Brisbane City Council? I recall seeing Ipswich Mayor Paul Pisasale on the television, but I don’t recall Brisbane’s Lord Mayor, Campbell Newman,having a major profile during the flood disaster, although he was certainly talking to media. A quick Google search revealed comments in newspapers, on ABC, B105 and 4BC and elsewhere during the week 10-17 January 2011. He was visible, but he wasn’t seen to be sitting in the driver’s seat. Anna was already there.
Lord Mayor Campbell Newman resigned from Council in April, to contest the state seat of Ashgrove. He is also the Leader of the Liberal National Party, despite not being a parliamentarian. If the LNP wins the next state election, and if Mr Newman wins the seat of Ashgrove, he will be the next Premier of Queensland. Recent polling indicates his support may be sliding, but not enough to cast serious doubt on his chances.
Meanwhile, the new Lord Mayor of Brisbane is Graham Quirk, currently serving his 27th year on Brisbane City Council. Yesterday, he hosted a cruise on the Brisbane River for a hand-picked group of flood survivors, volunteers and a few dignitaries. Undoubtedly, he was the right person to do it, and yet it felt a little off-kilter. The two leading figures during Brisbane’s floods were both absent, and there was no public  function of any kind in the city. This was a decision made by Brisbane City Council who apparently decided that it would have been inappropriate to a have a public event to remember the floods, lest it seem like a celebration.
NineMSN reported that Mr Newman was invited to the reception, but declined, choosing instead to hold a Shadow Cabinet Meeting in Ashgrove. Strange decision: it would have been entirely appropriate for him to be on the ferry with Lord Mayor Quirk.

Aside from his class excursion to Ashgrove, Mr Newman spent yesterday pretending to call a state election. “Today marks the start of the state campaign, whether the premier has confirmed it or not," Mr Newman told reporters in Ashgrove.  Well it sounds ballsy; it’s just not correct.
This morning, he’s gone a step further and has stated that March 24th is the three year mark since Anna Bligh’s government was sworn in, and that the election must be held before then, or time will run out. There's even a "countdown clock"... but it's counting down to the wrong date.
Queensland electoral law requires that the next state election can be held on any Saturday, up to and including, but no later than 16th June 2012. That date is based on a convoluted calculation involving  the issuing of writs, the closing of the electoral roll and the maximum length of an election campaign. Unless Mr Newman is planning some sort of media stunt to mark the 3rd Anniversary of the current government, March 24 has no special significance.
My guess is that all his talk about an election being held on March 24 will only guarantee that the election will not be held on March 24. The unofficial campaign has been rumbling along in Ashgrove for months now; all Mr Newman’s talk of election campaigns starting is nothing more than Newman trying to look like a Premier.
And the real Premier? Where was she on the anniversary of the Brisbane Flood of 2011? I did see her announcing that there would be some kind of statue or monument commissioned to honour the Mud Army, and I hear that she jumped in a tinny and had a look at some of the areas that were underwater a year ago. Where she wasn’t, was on the ferry with Lord Mayor Quirk.
That struck me as bizarre, so I nosed around, and it appears that she wasn’t invited. Yep, the Lord Mayor of Brisbane did not invite the Premier of Queensland to the one-and-only official event to mark the first anniversary of the Queensland  floods. A council spokesman told NineMSN that “representatives from several state government agencies had been invited, but the premier’s office did not contact the council about the event.”
Hang on – is it protocol for the Premier to have to request an invitation to an official council reception of this nature? That doesn’t sound right.
I suppose there could be many reasons why Mr Quirk would have left Ms Bligh off the invitation list. Perhaps he thought…um…maybe…it could have been...um... No, I can’t think of a single reason why the Lord Mayor would deliberately not invite the Premier to yesterday’s reception, other than the obvious one: political partisanship. He’s LNP, his predecessor and former boss is now Ms Bligh’s opposition. Maybe that’s enough of a reason. I’d call it a deliberate snub.
As to yesterday’s events, it’s certainly not the way I would have done it. I would’ve had a massive public reception, maybe at Suncorp Stadium or at South Bank, and I would have invited Ms Bligh and Mr Langbroek, Mr Newman, all of the MPs (both state and federal), representing seats in and around Brisbane, the PM, the Opposition Leader, the vice-royals, and the remarkable people who lead the recovery effort. I would have had a sincere and solemn service to remember all that was lost – thankfully no lives were lost in Brisbane as a result of the flood – and I’d follow it with a massive one-off festival, with satellite festivals in suburban hubs.  The focus would be on celebrating Brisbane’s resurgence and refocussing on what is still to be done. I’d hold it this weekend, the first anniversary of the Mud Army self-mobilising, and I’d make it as low-cost and family-friendly as possible.
No politics and no politicking. The people of Brisbane – flood survivors and recovery workers alike – deserve an opportunity to mark this anniversary. Perhaps our city council misjudged the mood.

Update: If you search Dirty Politics in Google Images, the first uncaptioned photo image - and the first image on Page 2 - is of Campbell Newman. He appears before such luminaries as the head of the Delhi Commonwealth Games Committe and most of the Republican presidential hopefuls.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

The Rainbow Connection

Margaret Court is an Australian sporting legend. She has won every grand slam tennis title on the same year, on her way to 24 grand slam victories. She was inducted into the International Tennis Hall of Fame in 1979, she’s had her face on a stamp, and has a major tennis stadium in Melbourne Park named after her…at least for now.

And now, at almost seventy years old, she is still as determined as ever, even at the risk of undermining her deserved reputation as a great Aussie. It seems that her faith is very much out of step with modern society (just typing ‘modern societies’ makes me wonder if we’ve all time-warped back to the 1950s).
Put simply, Margaret Court has a problem with homosexuality, and she’ll take her beliefs out and shake them all around in public. In 1990, she said that Martina Navratilova and other lesbian tennis players would ruin tennis and were a bad example to younger players, and she’s been singing from that hymnbook – literally – ever since.
Ms Court became a minister in the 1980s, and founded her own pentecostal church, known as the Margaret Court Ministries. She even has her own Christian television programme, “A Life Of Victory”. Past retirement age, Pastor Court is still working as a minister in Perth, and she is still preaching the evils of being gay.
In 2012, we’re seeing great progress being made in the area of gay rights, a journey which would have been further down the road to completion were it not for that pesky AIDS thing… but here we are. Queensland and the ACT have passed laws in favour of civil unions. Most other Australian states have partnership registries and equal rights for gay de facto partners. In a Morgan poll in mid 2011, 68% of respondents supported same-sex marriage. It’s on the agenda, and with the ALP voting in their national conference last month to allow a conscience vote on the issue, it may be a reality sooner than we think.
Back in December 2011, Margaret Court’s response to the issue was to state on the record that “Politically correct education has masterfully escorted homosexuality out from behind closed doors, into the community openly and now is aggressively demanding marriage rights that are not theirs to take".
Uhoh. The gay community and its many supporters were not happy. So unhappy, in fact, that they are calling for people attending the Australian Open Tennis, particularly those watching games in the Margaret Court Arena, to wave rainbow flags in support of gay rights.
And now we’re into a debate about free speech. Pastor Court has suggested that she is being discriminated against because she is a Christian. From her perspective, all sorts of minority groups are encouraged to speak out, but she is not.
Balderdash. Hogwash. Malarkey. Crap. What a load of old cobblers’…
Let’s talk about this, starting with her assertion that she is not allowed to speak out. Margaret Court has as much right as anyone else – and better opportunity than most - to say whatever she wants to say, and ensure that it is heard. She has her pulpit at the Victory Life Centre Church in Perth. She has her own television show, which I believe is broadcast on the Australian Christian Television network (available on Foxtel). She has two websites: www.margaretcourt.org.au and www.victorylifecentre.com.au  On top of that, she is still regarded as one of Australia’s all-time greatest sports stars. If she wants to call a press conference, issue a statement or make an appearance, she can do that, and the media will attend.
Let’s compare that to a fairly normal person like, say, me. I have this blog, plus active accounts on Twitter and Facebook. I can talk to family, friends, and the people I work with, leave comments at online media news sites, and if I’m really steamed, I can call a talkback radio station and have a little shout. Ms Court really can’t claim that she has no avenue through which to say her piece.
Did you catch the irony there? The comment about not being able to speak up against the minorities and voice her opinion was printed in every major Australian newspaper.
So what happens to model members of our society, like Margaret Court, when society changes and leaves them behind? Dr Kerryn Phelps, one of Australia's best known lesbians and doctors has tweeted, suggesting to Victorian Premier Ted Bailleau that Margaret Court’s name should be removed from the arena. Dr Phelps’ tweet is getting a lot of support on Twitter, but the idea doesn't sit well with me.

Lesbian tennis stars Martina Navratilova, Billie Jean King and Rennae Stubbs have condemned Pastor Court’s stance. Tennis Australia has also distanced itself, with the following statement on its website.

Margaret Court has every right to her beliefs. She has every right to voice her opinions too, and contrary to her own words, those opinions are heard and broadcast far and wide. Having said that, the gay community and their supporters have an equal right to express their beliefs and opinions, and they are planning to do just that when they wave their rainbow flags at the Australian Open.
The question is whether Margaret Smith-Court, tennis legend, and Pastor Margaret Court of the Victory Life Ministries can co-exist.
Margaret Court, tennis legend is our history; half of Australia’s population wasn’t born when she won her last Grand Slam. No-one can take those victories away; surely no-one would want to...yet many of the gay activists who are planning to wave their rainbow flags have no memory of Margaret Court as a tennis champ.
Pastor Margaret Court is here and now, attracting a national audience, talking about the way she is discriminated against for her Christian views, while at the same time, preaching that we have not only a right, but an obligation to the Bible to discriminate against gays. It’s incongruous.
I hope that we can find a way to preserve her reputation as one of the greatest tennis players ever. Her second career is taking over now, and unfortunately, it’s leaving its shadow across the first. This extraordinary woman has two monuments in her honour. One is a tennis stadium; the other is a church. One will be the scene of protest as a result of what is taught in the other.
Someday we'll find it, the rainbow connection, the lovers, the dreamers and me.

Update Friday 13th: For further developments, see Professor Kerryn Phelp's response.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

The Idiot and the Village

Never argue with an idiot, quoted Billablog in his most excellent blog, referring to the social media storm that hit yesterday in response to Teresa Gambaro’s bizarre suggestion that we teach immigrants about deodorant and the etiquette of queuing. The idiot, of course, is Ms Gambaro, the Member for Brisbane and Opposition Spokeswoman for Citizenship and Settlement. Billablog made a valid point when he pointed to the dangers of public outrage drawing attention to something best left alone. The risk of giving the idiot attention is to increase her profile and give the argument longevity and even credibility.
In fairness, the only people arguing with this particular idiot are the members of her party, and probably a few family members, friends and advisors. The rest of us are just stating our opinions and arguing amongst ourselves.
Really, all the attention has added to Ms Gambaro’s statement is visibility. It’s up to us, her constituents, to determine whether her comments are credible, and by extension, whether she is credible. I believe that bringing Ms Gambaro’s ‘deodorant and queues’ comment to prominence is important because it gives the electorate the chance to see what she stands for.
So who is the idiot-woman? Ms Gambaro is the Member for Brisbane, an experienced parliamentarian, yet in her first term representing the precarious seat of Brisbane. The LNP holds the traditional Labor seat by a margin of 1.1%. There’s a reasonable chance that she might not be re-elected. Billablog is right to say that she was, prior to yesterday, a minor player at best, with no national profile. Well, she has one now, as an opposition backbencher who spouts unpopular opinions that don’t reflect the mood of the country and aren’t endorsed by the party to which she belongs. These are serious charges for someone hoping to build a positive profile.
And what did she say? She told The Australian that she was concerned about new migrants on work visas not integrating into the community because Australia had failed to teach them about cultural issues related to health, hygiene and lifestyle.
Using deodorant properly and waiting patiently in queues were two examples she used to illustrate what she considers to be acceptable norms.
“Without trying to be offensive, we are talking about hygiene and what is an acceptable norm in this country when you are working closely with other co-workers.”
Billablog hit all the sensitivities in his blog: I care.
“Of course, we could talk about how this trivialises the issue of multiculturalism, we could talk about how it appeals to racists, we could talk about the irony of a daughter of Italian immigrants saying something like that but really, who cares?”
I can’t agree that Ms Gambaro’s comments have trivialised the issues of multiculturalism. In fact, I suggest that the Deodorant Debacle has brought the issue into the public domain, and forced us to think more about how we behave, and how we expect new arrivals to behave. It makes us ask questions about our responsibility to prepare new arrivals to live as part of an Australian society we can barely define. I’d like to think that the mention of deodorant and the etiquette of queuing was a clever ploy by Ms Gambaro to get these issues on the agenda and gauge the response. I doubt that’s the case. I doubt Ms Gambaro is that wily. The social media response to her comments tends to suggest that if anything here is trivial, it’s Ms Gambaro.
But do comments of this nature feed into the stubborn streak of racism that we see every so often in Australia? Yes, I think it does. A quick analysis of the first 200 comments related to the Courier Mail’s online coverage of the story showed that 54% of comments were either opposed to Ms Gambaro’s comments, or thought she was targeting migrants when the larger population was a fault. Only 35% agreed with Ms Gambaro. 8% of comments were either irrelevant of could not be classified. Is there a degree of racism at play? At least one in three Courier Mail comments – and these are traditionally conservative – supported Ms Gambaro’s comments.

Perhaps racism is the wrong term, as Ms Gambaro didn’t specify a race. She did specify immigrants though, and by singling them out for mention, her words are discriminatory.
What have we achieved, by voicing our disapproval through social media, on talkback radio and in online comment sections? Is it, as Billablog suggests, counterproductive as it raises her profile, and hence her standing?
I think it’s far more than that, and I think our right to hear our politicians’ speak  and respond to them is one of the strengths of our democracy. At its most basic level, the attention Ms Gambaro received tells her that her comments are not shared by a majority of the population. Her response to the message we sent was to issue an apology for any offence she may have caused. Note that she didn’t not apologise for her words, or retract them; her apology applies only to the impact of her words. It’s standard in politics and celebrity circles, but seems to lack conviction and sincerity. In Tony Abbott’s absence, acting Opposition Leader rebuked her, saying that her suggestions were “not Coalition policy and not in line with modern Australian attitudes.” At the least, Ms Gambaro knows exactly where she stands…which is, politically speaking, on her own.
Oftentimes, it takes a controversy or a scandal to reveal the truth and bring it to the attention of those who are not generally interested in politics. Now, when voters in the seat of Brisbane head to the polls, if they know nothing else about Teresa Gambaro, they’ll probably remember that she considers new arrivals to be ill-mannered and foul-smelling.  Some will agree – about 1 in three, if you believe the comments pages of the Courier Mail, and I don’t – but others who may have considered voting for the LNP may turn away because of this. Remember, it’s an inner city seat.

There’s a larger effect to be considered when feedback is provided to politicians: the richness of being part of the process, or being heard and being acknowledged, the sense of vindication when you react and see others reacting the same way, and know you're part of a community of shared values.
We vote for our candidates, we elect a government, and quite often, when our local member is less prominent, we hear little of them beyond the occasional press release and appearance at speech nights.  I’ve scoured her website; there is no mention of her shadow portfolio – Parliamentary Secretary for Citizenship and Settlement – since July 2011, when she attended a forum with Scott Morrison. Neither yesterday’s interview, which sparked the controversy, nor the hasty apology, are on her website today. She doesn't make the news...well, not until now.
Shine a light on the idiots and hold them to account.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Keeping Up Appearances

Ros Reines is copping it this week. Tweeting as @tabloidterror, Ros is trying to outrun the social media explosion that occurred in the wake of her comments in the Sunday Telegraph about MasterChef celebrity Julie Goodwin (see below) and her controversial swimsuit pic on the cover of New Idea magazine. Ros has been very public about her recent 20kg weight loss, so she should understand the emotional minefield around weight and body image. Regardless, she waded in, even making reference to the health issues related to weight.

Julie wasn’t happy, and in one of the more reasoned and gracious blog posts of this kind, made her point, and in doing so, made her reputation with the folk who don’t give a rat’s patoote about MasterChef. This Julie Goodwin woman has class.

But what about Ros? Clearly she’s feeling the pressure, and not for the first time. Ros has had public stoushes with Brian McFadden and Ruby Rose. But this morning, she tweeted this, to her old friend-then-foe-then-friend-again.

Picture it: a club for those people who’ve been rolled by social media – but that’s another blog. For the record, Vile Kyle stood in for Ros when she was on leave last year, writing her column.

For now, let’s stick to Ros. Ros is a self-proclaimed gossip columnist. She is not a journalist, although she may have had aspirations once. No, Ros dishes the dirt for a living. She spends her working life surrounded by all manner of minor celebrities – soapie stars, reality show victims, footballists with models on their arms, tv chefs, and an assortment of wannabe Kardashians who spend their time sucking up to her, in the hope that if she writes something nice about them, they might find themselves another rung or two up Sydney’s social ladder.

That constant upsucking can lead to an inflated sense of one’s own importance, and a bizarrely off-centre view of the world. The Telegraph describes Ros as “Insider social columnist”. She brings us the gossip from behind the scenes at Fashion Week, from Sydney’s hottest parties, where she ‘chats with celebs’, and trackside, where she advises us on race-day etiquette. There are lunches and launches and cocktail parties and premieres and presumably, the occasional get-together where it’s just friends. Or not – I don’t know.

But life isn’t one a big series of parties and Ros knows that. Being thin is no indicator of health or worth or beauty or courage – and despite not being a doctor, Ros know that too. I sincerely congratulate Ros on her weight loss, but here’s something else I bet Ros knows: 20kg is just 20kg. It hasn’t changed who she is. She even admits that the reason for her weight loss was that two somewhat paunchy male friends commented on her appearance – not her health or her intelligence or her personality. Her appearance.

So it’s not surprising that Ros and her employer are still peddling the same skinny-is-better, beauty-at-all-costs garbage. Just look at the page here from today’s Daily Telegraph Online Diet+Fitness column. You’ll see that there’s not a single item there about fitness or health, but there are five stories about celebrities and their efforts to look good.

In 2012, it’s still about looking “good”, honouring a stereotype, appearances first.
Come on Ros, find something else to write about, something that matters.