Wednesday, June 27, 2012


Social media has opened the channels of communication between politics, media and the public, giving us in the cheap seats unprecedented access to the movers and shakers in our world. This is particularly true of Twitter, where the short message format of 140 characters means communication must be to the point. No-one expects a deep and meaningful conversation about values on Twitter, which is good. They rarely happen.

Of course not everyone is on Twitter, so not everyone has this experience. Some don’t want to, some don’t know how to, some don’t see the benefits, and others only see the risks. Whatever the reason, those who haven’t taken up the Twitter invitation are missing out on two levels: firstly, they are not privy to the information flow which is now my primary source of news; and secondly, they can’t contribute to it. There’s a whole world on Twitter and they don’t see it.

More and more, it’s becoming a choice to opt out, rather than a choice to opt in.

The other factor is that people who don’t use Twitter and aren’t part of the “Twitterverse” may not understand it. As with any society, there are standards of behaviour and etiquette to be observed. Within that, there are subcultures with their own “cool” language and their own version of what’s okay and what’s not.

Just last week, Brisbane’s BMag ran a story by reporter Laura Stead, entitled Brisbane’s Top Tweeters. It caused a few ripples amongst the Twitter folk I run with, because it seemed as though she was reporting on a parallel Twitterverse, where the rules were different and so were the people. Ms Stead proposed four major rules for tweeting:
Twitter etiquette

• It’s ok to follow people you don’t know – they can choose whether or not to follow you back.
• It’s better to message someone rather than tweet if you’re making plans or having a personal conversation.
• It’s also ok to openly tweet a reply to a question asked by direct message if you think your
audience could benefit from your response.
• Promote and support others as well as promoting yourself – it’s a nice way to show
support for your community.

I was particularly concerned by her version of Twitter Etiquette (above), which is a little different to mine, and those of the thousand or so people I interact with on Twitter. Points 1, 2 and 4 are basically okay, but anyone who was to follow the third point might find themselves embarrassed.

Just yesterday, I saw an instance where a very experienced and popular tweeter sent a DM (Direct Message, which cannot be seen by anyone other than the sender and the recipient) to a radio personality who has chosen not to tweet, although he and his producer have access to the radio station’s twitter account. The radio man, not understanding the rules, then shared the content of the DM on the airwaves. That’s simply bad form: it's twignorance.

At the opposite end of the twittersphere is Paul Murray Live, a news/chat/commentary show on Foxtel’s Sky News Australia. Last night, Mr Murray mentioned Independent MP Rob Oakeshott on air, and invited viewers to tweet their response to an anti-Oakeshott campaign being run by the National Party. One of the tweeps who responded was Mr Oakeshott himself, who will be most likely appearing on PM Live tonight as a result of that random tweet last night. The difference here is that both participants knew how to conduct themselves on Twitter. Oakeshott, who tweets as @OakeyMP, agreed via Twitter to appear on the show, but arrangements were to be made this morning, off Twitter.

Ms Stead’s BMag piece completely misinterpreted what it takes to be a top tweeter. It’s certainly not about the number of followers, as was suggested in the article. As social media, it’s about engaging with the tweeps you follow, and with those who follow you. Photographer Greg Wilson was noted in the article for having over a million twitter followers across a range of twitter accounts. Bully for him. Does having a swag of followers provide anything of value for Mr Wilson? If his purpose was to amass millions of followers, he’s well on his way. If it was for something different - driving traffic to a website, engaging, making new friends - has he achieved his goals?

BMag also included the @QPSMedia account as one of their Top Tweeters, and that’s entirely justified. QPS's Twitter account is a great service. They provide timely information, they engage with their tweeps, they share some really bad puns, and they’ve earned their place as cluey users of social media.

Spencer Howson, who introduced both Mr Wilson and I to Twitter, would be one of Brisbane’s Top Tweeters. With around 7,000 followers, he’s far short of the million plus reach of Mr Wilson, but the difference is in engagement. Spencer, who also writes for BMag in addition to his regular gig as 612ABC Brisbane’s breakfast host, makes a point of engaging with his followers daily. He understands that Twitter is not a broadcast medium; it’s a means of personal communication with many people at a time, much like radio.

It’s not about the numbers; it’s about the people. It’s the “social” in social media.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Newmania: Free Gift With Purchase

Don’t you love freebies? It's so rare to get anything for free these days, so when something comes along, you should get excited. I particularly love those promotions where if you buy something, you get a freebie. Cosmetics companies love to do it: Spend $75 and we’ll give you a bunch of sample sized potions and unguents and lipsticks to try for free. Or some big box retailers will give away a year’s supply of cleaning products if you buy a dishwasher, or a pair of luxury towels if you buy a front loader. That's what I'm talking about - those little extras that build brand loyalty.

I like to think of the new LNP Government of Newmania a bit like that. We voted them in, we 'bought' their policies, and along with all sorts of politically accessible generalisations around cutting the cost of living and ending public sector waste. In fact, the whole deal was neatly documented in a list that’s available in convenient PDF format. But here's the surprise: we’ve received an abundance of extras, things we weren’t expecting, all tied up and looking “gifty” for the Greater Good of Newmania.

Not entirely unexpected was the Grand Reshuffle at the top of the Public Service Tree. New appointees in the Newmanian Public Service include several former colleagues and friends from his days as Lord Mayor of Brislantis, plus well-known members of the Liberal Party. I'm not 100% sure if those gifts were for the electorate or for the folks who got the new jobs, but at least someone is getting something, and that's good, right?

In addition to some lovely new jobs for friends, King Campbell has been particularly kind to his friends at the Australian Christian Lobby. There was always the possibility that changes would be made to the Civil Partnerships legislation, but King Campbell took it over the top when he not only outlawed state-sanctioned ceremonies, and then admitted that decision was to appease his Christian friends who’d been offended that the Civil Partnership ceremony mimicked marriage. That's a rarity. With free gifts, you usually get what you get. The ACL got almost everything they asked for. They must be very special friends indeed.

He didn’t stop there though, he also changed the name to Registered Relationships, which might not sound like much until you ask the love of your life to “co-register” and realise you said something similar last week when you registered your car, your dog or your Twitter username. Clearly King Campbell is not a romantic, despite all the public pre-election smoochies with his Consort Lisa.

The cherry on top of the Christian Gift Bonanza was the prospect of banning access to surrogate pregnancies, not just for LGBTI, but also for singles, and for defactos who’ve been shacked up for less than two years.I hope Wendy Francis isn’t expecting anything else for Christmas! There’s not much else King Campbell can give her, unless he joins the Salvation Army.

As for the rest of us, well, we lost out on this one. It's a shame King Campbell had to steal from our LGBTI friends to give to the ACL. It doesn't seem fair: I already have more rights than they do, but King Campbell stole some of them away? We'll have to accept that Newmania is broke, so perhaps King Campbell is really the Robin Hood of Giftiness. He steals from the poor to give to the noisy, irrational minority. I know I didn't vote for that, so it must be a special gift.

The goodies keep on coming, though. The Unions must be rubbing their hands together with joyous abandon at the thought of all the rare and exceptional opportunities King Campbell has given them! Imagine all that lovely lovely money that the unions won’t be able to pass onto the Labor Party unless their membership has okayed it via a ballot. Labor potentially misses out and the unions may suffer, but hey, Newmania is cold, stony broke. This might be one of those special imaginary presents that really isn't anything but a lot of hot air and those little cardboard boxes full of positive vibes, for the friend who has everything.

It's also a fairly convenient way of kicking your opposition while they're down. Not so much a gift as a declaration of war, then?

Yet as every good gift giver knows, you have to find little treats for yourself along the way. Congratulations King Campbell, you got some new toys to play with.

Hmmm. I don't think King Campbell understands this Spirit of Giving business at all. He promised us all sorts of things - lower cost of living, less waste, accountability, dignity, grace, humility, and we haven't received any of those yet. His Free Gifts with Purchase aren't all they're cracked up to be either...unless you're a very special friend or have a good imagination.

Sometimes, it's not the thought that counts, and it's not the gift either. Sometimes you just want to get what you paid for.

Monday, June 25, 2012

Newmania: The Slippery Slope

The Courier Mail is, like its News Limited sister publications, a little right of centre. It plays to the classic reactionary talk-back style of tabloid newspaper, which is obvious from both the content and tone of the online reader comments. News Limited publications carry the southern commentary of such well known shockers as Andrew Bolt, Piers Ackerman, Janet Albrechtsen and Miranda Devine – the radio equivalent of Alan Jones and Ray Hadley. They appeal to a certain audience and in a self-sustaining cycle of misinformation, shouted from tinny kitchen radios and preached from between the inky pages of the morning editions, then fed back to the media in the most vicious of circles.

News Limited, and particularly the Courier Mail, which was allowed to exist for far too long without competition here in the land of Joh, land on the side of the Coalition, and now, the LNP. It’s what their readers expect.

So confident was the Courier Mail in the ultimate success of the new Campbell Newman LNP Government that it proudly ran a chart of Newman’s first 100 Days In Office. The graphic was of concentric green circles, with green ticks to mark success as measured against the tasks listed in the LNP’s own 100 Day Action Plan…

…Until it became Impossible to hide their problematic truth, that King Newman will not be able to tick off all of the items in his 100 day Action Plan within his hundred day schedule. Suddenly, around the first week of this month, the chart stopped appearing in the Courier Mail. Rather than admit, or even worse, publicise the LNP’s failure to meet their own KPIs, they heaved the graphic altogether.

They seem to have replaced it with Newman’s Razor, a blood spattered image chronicling the latest cost cutting measures. As images go, there’s a huge emotional variance between a bright green target festooned with ticks, and the new image, with the red splatters and photos of Newman and his team wearing Mafia style hats. The paper could have chosen a positive visual to portray the progress of cost-cutting, but they chose instead one that suggests old fashioned values, violence, goodies-versus baddies – just the kind of imagery to appeal to the Courier Mail’s dedicated readers.

Most telling, this image does not contain any key performance indicators – no dates or amounts, no charts or timelines. Let’s not let facts contaminate the beauty of the blood splatters.

It’s not just the imagery, either. The Courier Mail’s reader Poll hasn’t gone according to plan. They’ve been asking readers whether they support the LNP’s changes to the existing Civil Partnership legislation. As at 11:00am today, 55% of readers disagreed with the changes. These are Courier Mail readers – conservative and supportive of the LNP.

Furthermore, in a quick tally of the first 100 comments on the Courier Mail Reader Online section regarding King Campbell’s televised speech last night asking Newmanians to support state-wide belt-tightening, 62% of respondents were sceptical of government’s motives, their willingness to tighten their own parliamentary belts, or their chances of success. Of the 38% who sided with the government, many took the opportunity to blame the previous Labor Government, and snark the public servants whose jobs were under threat.

It’s easy to understand the frustration, when on the one hand, Costello’s Audit squawked a warning about the deficit of $100b, a fact which Sue Lappeman explains in the Gold Coast Bulletin.

There is no argument the previous Labor Government screwed up royally and the state's finances are in bad shape.

But there is no $100 billion debt. I repeat. There is no $100 billion debt.

That is a figure Mr Costello came up with as a possible outcome by 2018 if the spending of the past few years continued spending that included vast investments in major infrastructure including the Gold Coast's new hospital and the massive cost of catastrophic natural disasters and the global financial crisis.

To help manage the non-existent $100 billion debt, King Campbell has terrified every public servant by stating that we can’t afford to pay about 20,000 of them … while at the same time, engineering his team so that every LNP MP gets an $8000 bonus for being a committee member. Okay it’s around half a million dollars for the LNP members versus over $1.5 billion dollars in public service salaries, but as so many readers of the Courier Mail had commented, it’s the principle.

Meanwhile, King Campbell is still planning to spend an unspecificed amount of money to knock down existing buildings in the Brisbane CBD, have private companies build new buildings on the prime riverside land, and then lease the office space back from the private corporations to house the government departments. It was originally a Labor Government initiative, but I wonder why it’s still on the table now, when we’ve been told to brace ourselves for rough times ahead.

Or – Shock! Horror! – is King Campbell considering selling assets? Isn’t that what killed the Bligh Government?

I wonder if there are plans afoot to cancel the Queensland Government’s hundreds of subscriptions for the Courier Mail? That’d just about pay for the 60 seconds that King Campbell of Newmania had his head on television last night.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Newmania: The King's Speech

Tonight, King Campbell of Newmania will be taking some time to address his disloyal subjects in a pre-recorded announcement reminiscent of the Queen's Christmas Message. Unlike the recent Queen's Jubilee celebrations when hundreds of thousands of cheering Poms lined parade routes waving union jacks, tonight's address is less a celebration, and more a whimper of despair. 

Broke King Campbell used a $45,000 60 second spot,  prepurchased by the previous Government,to tell us how terribly, tragically broke the state is, and to urge us to read former Treasurer Peter Costello's interim report on our economy.

After delivering the bad news, King Campbell proceeds to the 'belt tightening' phase. This is the bit where he fails to admit that he can't deliver on his election promises because we are too poor. The timing is predictable: 92 days into his reign, the King is announcing that he cannot deliver the commitments he made in his 100 Day Action Plan

The King has been softening the ground for a week, with talk of a $100 billion dollar debt that doesn't actually exist, 20,000 unspecified public service jobs that we can't afford, and costs that are out of his control. Between chunks of economic disaster-talk, he's commanded the front page with his changes to the Civil Partnerships Act and Surrogacy Act. In fact, King Campbell has owned the news cycle. Bad news can do that.

There's more to the timing than just the First 100 Days. We're just a week away from the Carbon Tax. King Campbell doesn't mention that we can kiss goodbye to lower electricity prices - but blame the Carbon Tax;  lower water prices are looking unlikely - because we don't use enough water, and lower car registration - which is impossible because of rising CTP premiums. These are all parts of his promise to lower the cost of living in Queensland. Talk about belt tightening is spurious at best.

Newmanians, you have no-one to blame but yourselves.  I usually prefer to avoid blame. It achieves nothing. Far better to find the cause, allow the people responsible the chance to rectify the problem and learn their lessons, but in this case, Newmanians must accept the blame for electing a CouldDo LNP Government.

Okay, so the sitting Labor Government was virtually unelectable. The 'time for a change' factor was strong, combined with recent memories of the Queensland Health Payroll Scandal, Dr Death, Gordon Nuttall's convictions, asset sales, cost of living increases. Labor looked incompetent, Anna Bligh looked exhausted (and no, I'm not sure I'd say that if talking about a male politician) and Campbell Newman looked like a realistic option: fresh, decisive,  and able to unite the LNP. The CanDo team had policies, promises and positions, and Queensland voters overwhelmingly chose them over Greens (just another vote for Labor), Katter's Australia Party (too unhinged) and a raft of independents.

Why didn't you look to the South? Victoria and New South Wales had made their misakes already. They tried to warn you, yet you didn't listen. Anything had to be better than Anna Bligh, and the only 'anything' available was the LNP. Queensland was destined to repeat the mistakes of their Southern cousins, particularly as regards the public service.

In December 2010, Ted-the-Toff Baillieu led the Victorian Liberal Party to a narrow victory over the ALP, and has spent much of the past 18 months battling unions. His hatred of the union movement goes back to the early 80s when he joined the Liberal Party out of frustration at the power unions wielded. Premier Baillieu has promised just this week to cut 3,600 public service jobs. Premier Ted Baillieu said the job losses would not apply to "frontline service delivery roles". Sound familiar, Newmanians? 

Baillieu has also introduced a code of conduct for unions on publicly funded building sites, had a series of long-term struggles with nurses, teachers and police over wages and conditions, and even denied workers a public holiday for Christmas Day when it fell on a Sunday last year. Even worse, he scrapped the VCAL programme and has now stolen another $300 million dollars from TAFE education.

Like Newman, Baillieu has acted on behalf of the Christian Lobby as well:  

Shortly after his defeat of the Brumby-led Labor Party, Baillieu pushed to reintroduce the ability for faith-based groups — such as Catholic schools and charity organisations — to be allowed to discriminate against others on the grounds of their religion, gender and sexuality. This is also legal in NSW and WA. Despite attempts by the Opposition and human rights groups to smother Baillieu’s efforts, the bill was passed by the Upper House on June 15, 2011.

This law gives religious employers grounds to fire homosexual employees, or refuse to hire people with different spiritual beliefs. Religious schools are permitted to expel openly gay students, or sack a teacher who happens to be a single mother. People who are defended by this bill will face no consequences for their actions, but the victims of this will suffer enough for everyone.

Premier Baillieu did deliver an address at Victoria's Gay and Lesbian Midsumma Carnival. I can't imagine Premier,  er, King Newman being permitted to address a similar event, although the situation in New South Wales is very different.  Premier Barry O'Farrell signed a pledge to support the Mardi Gras. Sydney is home to one of the proudest LGBTI communities in the world; is it a coincidence that the ACL doesnt have as much influence in New South Wales as it does in Queensland? 

But Barry O'Farrell has upset the New South Wales Public Service every bit as  much as you'd expect. Not just job cuts, but changes to Workers Compensation has the NSW Public Sector Unions planning another round of strikes.

But here we are, less than an hour before King Campbell's speech on the tellie. Please, consider doing as he asks and reading the report into Newmania's finances. Then, when you've decided not to, take note of just how quickly the normally sympathetic media is turning against him. In just 92 days at the top, the man with the biggest majority in history has shown just how quickly he can make himself unpopular.

Play along on Twitter at #KingsSpeech.

Friday, June 22, 2012

Newmania: The Sad State

90 Days – but Who’s Counting?

Today marks ninety days of the Great State of Newmania, formerly known as Queensland, but as Queens have been relegated to the state of less tolerable sub-humans, the name had to be changed to best reflect the new state of affairs. The picture is emerging of a new way to live.

Fortunately, Premier Newman is a former army engineer who loves a plan, and he has one. Unfortunately, the mysterious Forces of Darkness who supported his ascent are exercising their power to drive their bizarre Bible Belt agenda. Strangely, this Bible Belt agenda isn’t including anywhere in the Pledge Premier Newman made to The People when he became Ruler.

Here’s the pledge:

In the first 100 days we will begin delivering on the five pledges we made: to grow a four pillar economy, lower the cost of living by cutting waste, deliver better infrastructure and better planning, revitalise frontline services for families and restore accountability in Government.

Even in Newmania, where life should be predictable and conform to the Pledge, politics can get confusing. Things happen in a tediously non-linear way. We could work through the 100 Day Can Do Plan item by item, and tick off those that have been achieved – but that wouldn’t be fair to Mr Newman, who has achieved so many things that aren’t in the plan! Besides. The Courier Mail is keeping track of the 100 Day Plan…or they were. I have asked the Courier Mail for a link to their most current update, but have had no response. Draw your own conclusions.

Still, the Bible Belt agenda isn’t a complete surprise to those of us who’ve been paying attention, but the speed and ruthless way it’s being applied has caught many Newmanians off guard.

Far more interesting is his promise to govern with Dignity, Grace and Humility.
Where is the dignity in banishing your opposition from the building? Where is the grace in ripping rights from your constituents to appease a minority lobby group? Where’s the humility in being to busy and important to attend a Prime Ministerial Summit in your home town? Where’s the dignity in lying to journalists about his plans to amend surrogacy laws? Where’s the grace in his treatment of his own staff?

Premier Newman’s traditional honeymoon period is over, just 90 days into his first term. Even those people who voted for him acknowledged that there would be some tough decisions, but he’s crossed so many lines, he probably feels like he’s dancing on railway tracks. After last night’s inexcusable carry-on in Parliament, in which the changes to Civil Partnerships and Surrogacy legislation were debated, the outpouring of disgust on Twitter was crushing.

Here in the luminous land of Newmania, life is changing faster than we could have predicted 90 days ago. Premier Newman was right to cancel production of number plates that said “The Smart State.” Perhaps he should have changed them to “The Sad State”.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Census 2011: It's Made of People

For some, it’s that annoying intrusion one night every five years. For others, it’s a boring set of numbers that waste my taxpayer dollars. For a very special group of geeks and weirdos, the release of new Census data is like statistics Christmas. The “are-these-numbers-still-accurate-enough” insecurity of the last couple of years is wiped away in an instant, replaced with the delicious bouquets of fresh numbers, new knowledge, insights and awareness of things only guessed at.

Today the Australian Bureau of Statistics released the data from the 2011 Census, and for the geeks and weirdos like me, the mysterious sets of numbers all fit together to build up multi-dimensional pictures of what Australia looked like on that one night in August, 2011. These beautiful new numbers are already ten months out of date, but this is the best that we can do, at least until the brave new world of micro-chipped humans emerges. Then, the chips will report back to Control every eight seconds, confirming where we are, what we’re doing, and who we’re doing it with. Personally, I look forward to that day; it will ensure the responses are accurate. No more writing “Jedi Knight” in the field where you should’ve written Lapsed Anglican. The Census Chip will know all. 

Mwahahahahaha! Just kidding. Probably.

But until that glorious day, we have shiny new figures that have been released today, and armed with these, we can do all sorts of brilliant things. By counting everyone, all at the same time, we can see how many of what sort of people live where, so that we can ensure governments and councils provide the right facilities in the right places. 

The beauty of the Census is not in raw numbers or processed statistics or colourful graphs for powerpoint presentations; it’s about people.

For example, we might not want to build a retirement home in a new outer suburb that’s full of young families or university students. Equally, we wouldn’t build a new infants school in a small rural town where the population was declining and most of the people were over 45. Councils and Governments love this data; it helps them to plan.

My favourite part of the Census isn’t the who, when and where questions. I love the way a series of numbers can provide such a rich view of our culture and heritage. 

Religion is one of the hot topics in Australia right now. Can the Census shed light on the state of Australia as a religious nation? 

We hear far too regularly from the Stop-The-Boats brigade that we must be alert to ‘Creeping Sharia’, the insidious (and imaginary) infiltration into Australia of the traditional Islamic justice system. Since the release of the Census figures today, I can report that the Muslim population in Australia is indeed on the rise. In fact Islam bounces into 4th place in the religion countdown. Is this Creeping Sharia business a real threat to our way of life?

The Census says its unlikely. Compare the 2.2% that identified as Muslims with the 22.3% of Australians who stated that they have no religion at all, or the 61% of Australians who identified as Christian, and you’ll recognise how truly insignificant Islam is as a religious force in Australia. It’s not even the fastest growing religion in Australia: Islam grew by 69%, but Hinduism grew by 189%, and I'm not hearing rumours about 'Creeping Dharma'.

Meanwhile, the Australian Christian Lobby has already released a statement asserting that Christianity is not on the decline in Australia. According to the Census, the number of Australians who answered as Christians has dropped from 68% ten years ago, to 61% now. That is a decline, yet its not necessarily other religions stealing our Christian souls, no! In the same period of time, the people reporting “No Religion” increased by the same amount: 7%.
Of course, we cannot conclude that 7% of Australians who were Christians in 2001 have lost their faith in the ten years since then, but there's no doubt that the population has less Christians and more atheists.

The ACL's Lyle Shelton puts this 7% increase down to an "aggressive" campaign by an atheist group convincing Christians to tick No Religion. Unsurprisingly, that's not quite what happened. There was a campaign, but it's purpose was to promote honesty - and sanity - by discouraging people from writing "Jedi Knight" on their census form as their religion. It might sound ridiculous, but thousands and thousands of people worldwide have done it, and it reduces the accuracy of the data. In the 2001 Census, around 70,000 Australians reported Jedi as their religion, but only 55,000 in 2006. 

Remember, today's gift basket of statistical bonbons is just the first release in a series of data releases from the 2011 Census. There's so much more...

Go! Have a browse through the Census data. It's all about us. 

Talking About School Reunions

Did you go to your high school reunion? Were you full of excitement, and eager to see all those people you spent so much time with in your teens? Or could you not think of anything worse, and would have rather sat at home and given yourself thousands of paper cuts than attend?

Last year, I organised our 30 year reunion, for my Year 10 class of 1981 at Wingham High School. Earlier this week, I chatted about all things "Reunion" with Rebecca Levingston on 612ABC Brisbane.

Click here to listen.


Wednesday, June 20, 2012


It looks as though Queensland is about to go where no state has gone before.

Just days away from the 3 month mark since Campbell Newman and his LNP mates crashed into power, the face and the future of Queensland have changed.  Some commentators, including this one,  likened the new Premier’s approach to that of corrupt conservative Sir Joh Bjelke Petersen. It was a brave call, an early call, and now, from beneath a grimy layer of cynicism, I’m willing to admit, a naïve call.

Meanwhile, Premier Newman is in good form. He will surpass the notoriety of Sir Joh faster than Alan Jones can summon the Prime Ministerial Chaff Bag. Already we have seen the end of the Premier's Literary Awards, the EnergySmart Initiative, the Sleeman Ski Jump, the entire Climate Change department, the Queensland Association of Healthy Communities, state-sanctioned civil partnership ceremonies and more.

The Campbell Newman Abyss has claimed the careers of a handful of very senior public servants, and there's a quivering mess of exposed nerve endings formerly known as 200,000+ Queensland public servants waiting for their lives to resume. Expect up to 10% of them to be offered the opportunity to pursue their careers elsewhere. Remember, Queensland has no upper house and almost no opposition. Premier Newman and his crew can do whatever they want to do, and they are, without oversight.

Today, Premier Newman has announced to Parliament that his latest whim is to restrict trade unions from being associated with political parties.

Before I pose the obvious questions, like whether the LNP Government will distance themselves from other interest groups looking to barge or buy their way into positions of political influence – the Tobacco Lobby, Clubs Australia, Menzies House, the Institute of Public Affairs, the Farmers Federation, and the Australian Christian Lobby - I should probably know a little more about the relationship between Australian trade unions and the ALP.

According to the Australian Electoral Commission, Trade Unions are classed as ‘Associated Entities’, which means nothing to most of us. The AEC defines Associated Entities as

·        Is controlled by one or more registered political parties; or 
·        Operates wholly or to a significant extent for the benefit of one or more registered political parties; or 
·        Is a financial member of a registered political party, or on whose behalf another person is such a member; or 
·        Has voting rights in a registered political party, or on whose behalf another person has such voting rights. 

Examples of associated entities include '500 clubs', 'think tanks', registered clubs, service companies, trade unions and corporate members of political parties. Associated entities may be: 

·        Companies or incorporated associations; 
·        Trusts, including charitable foundations; or 
·        Unincorporated associations, societies, groups or clubs. 

Fair enough. Under this official definition, trade unions are definitely Associated Entities of the ALP, with both financial and voting relationships. It's those relationships, those bonds reaching back to the earliest days of Federation, that Premier Newman wants to dissolve.

Why is Campbell Newman is concentrating this attack on the trade unions?

It's exactly the same reason why Gina Rinehart is after control of Ten and Fairfax. They want influence. They want power. They want to silence dissenting opinion, whether from the trade unions or the media, and they want to drive their personal agendas. Gina Rinehart is buying her stake via the media, Clive Palmer is buying the loyalty of a political party , and Campbell Newman is trying to disarm what's left of the Opposition, by stifling both the political heft and the flow of money from the unions to the ALP.

But make no mistake; there is conflict ahead: the Queensland Public Service will not take well to forced job cuts. The Together Union – formerly the QPSU, which was an entirely satisfactory name, by the way – is mobilising already. Teachers were meeting in Brisbane just a few hours ago, and the LNP Government should expect a lot more meetings, gatherings, protests and displays of public action in the coming weeks and months.

 In fact, we should not be surprised if this move against the unions backfires. The LNP won Queensland by such a terrifying majority, it's fair to conclude that many of Queensland's nervous public servants voted for them.  They might not be union members now, but if their jobs are threatened, where do you think they'll turn? 

And what does it matter whether the trade unions and the ALP are joined at the hip? Despite two decades of creeping to the right, the ALP is still the closest thing Australia has to a workers' party. If the unions can drag the ALP back to the left, where it should be, they might just regain the respect of the voters who deserted them months ago...and if they can't bring Labor back to its base, they will find another way to be heard. 

Mining magnates and media barons have much in common with conservative political leaders. They are not of this world: they are independent and ego-driven and measure their worth by the value of the deals they make.

For the workers whose jobs are threatened, and the unions that represent them, and the writers, the environmentalists, the LGBT community, even the ski-jumpers who've already lost out to Newmania, it won't matter who owns Fairfax, or who's got a paywall. It's about people. Political parties exist as organised groups of people with similar ideologies. So do trade unions, lobby groups, and churches and in the end, the abyss is hungry.

It's life, Queensland, but not as we knew it.

The Blackest of Abysmal Hyperbole

If you work for the Queensland Public Service, you’re lucky to be getting a pay cheque, and you know it, because the Premier has told you that. According to the Brisbane Times yesterday, Premier Newman

"…argued the state employed 20,000 more public servants than it could afford, following Friday’s report by the Peter Costello-led financial commission of audit."
Premier Newman’s slash and burn solution to the Labor Government’s economic legacy is to cut – cut – cut. I’ve lost track of the number of projects and programmes that have been seen funding cut or cancelled altogether. Underlying all of that has been the constant threat that public service jobs were in danger.
Peter Costello’s interim report on Queensland’s economic position was released last week, giving the government more certainty of their financial position. According to the report, the Queensland Government is employing 20,000 more public servants that it can afford to pay: not 20,000 public servants more than Queensland needs, just 20,000 more than we can afford. As of March 2012, Queensland had a little over 200,000 public servants. Apparently we can’t afford about 10% of them.
At this stage, the Premier says he is trying to protect those jobs, and warns public servants and their unions not to ask for pay rises.
So what’s the point? Why would the Premier be making big nasty noises with big nasty numbers, and scaring every single public servant in Queensland unless he’s trying to soften the ground in front of an even nastier announcement?
In fact, we didn’t have to wait for the next scary announcement.
"The Premier said the former government was paying for 20,000 full-time-equivalent public servants with debt and referred to the state as heading towards “the blackest of all black abysses” in regard to its financial position."
Black black black black blackity black.
On Monday, when Fairfax announced that it was terminating 1,900 employees, there was a lot of talk, possibly fuelled by the fact that the people whose jobs were threatened are the same people who bring us the news. In any case, 1,900 is a big number, and a genuine blow to the entire industry. I wouldn’t want to be studying journalism right now; it’s a shrinking market.
Twenty thousand is more than ten times bigger, but when it comes to jobs, it’s a concept many of us can’t comprehend. Twenty thousand is the entire population of Armidale, in New South Wales. Can you imagine an entire town – including kids, grandparents, part-time workers, and both staff and students at the University of New England – being told their jobs are under threat because we can’t afford to pay them?
So what are these jobs?
I doubt that it’s been decided, but we do know that the Queensland Public Service encompasses over 200,000 workers in a wide array of roles. The average wage for a Queensland Public Servant is around over $80,000. Multiply that across 20,000 full-time equivalent roles, and Mr Newman is talking about Queensland having to borrow $1.6 billion to meet its payroll for that 20,000 workers that he says we can’t afford.
But can we afford to do without those roles? The clichéd picture of a public servant is the desk-bound pencil pusher in a beige cardigan. The Queensland Public Service consists of jobs in Health, Education, Police, Justice, Economic Development, Environment, Museums and Galleries, Transport, Roads, and more, as well as the bureaucrats you’ve probably pictured. Details of the QPS Workforce are here. These people provide necessary services that we expect from our state government, and while it’s usually possible to find efficiencies and savings that allow an organisation to trim the headcount, there’s also a limit.
Cut past that point, and frontline service levels fall. For now, we might be talking about a few less back office bean counters that take longer to prepare reports for their middle-management bureaucrat bosses, but at some point, it starts to hurt. It starts to matter. I'd even argue that it's not a bad thing to have a little depth on the bench, a little wiggle room in the back office. It gives an organisation flexibility, which is what the Queensland Government needs most right now.
Premier Newman’s dire predictions that Queensland is sinking towards the inky depths of despair is undoubtedly alarmist, but what is his worst case scenario? Is it larger class sizes, longer hospital waiting lists, fewer police, dangerous roads? Is it rising unemployment (and $1.6b dollars less circulating through and stimulating  the Queensland economy)? Or is it simply a wages bill we still can’t afford to pay?
Frankly, the most acceptable of those options is the wages bill we can’t afford. Premier Newman must keep the state functioning, growing, while we work our way back out of debt. Protect those jobs at all costs. Don’t pay off the state debt to prove that you can, while the careers of Queensland public servants pile up in your blackest of black abysses.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Why Politicans Should Be Chameleons

Good news for Queensland Premier Campbell Newman and his inexperienced team of Ministers, MPs and advisors: You won. On March 24, there was a state election, and you won. You can stop campaigning now. You won.
The time for promising change, for impressing donors, for flattering supporters, for doing deals with lobbyists, for courting votes, kissing babies, shaking hands and smiling until your cheeks ache is over. You won. 
Here's the bad news: now, you have to govern. 
I know that governing was the point of the whole exercise, and that Mr Newman jumped right in on Day One announcing plans and looking busy, yet the LNP seems to be having trouble letting go of the campaigning. Perhaps being in Opposition for so long has left a legacy, a mentality that demands constant public positioning as the better alternative. Queensland believed them. The LNP won, so now it's time to stop trying to win.
For most governments, there's a window of opportunity when they can focus all of their energies on governing, and with a majority the size of Clive Palmer's ego, Campbell Newman's window is indeed panoramic. But when they confuse governing with campaigning, they undermine their own mandate, and end up looking petty.
Here's an example. Yesterday, the Minister for Outdoorsy Fun Stuff, Steven Dickson announced that they had "uncovered" more evidence of wasteful Labor Government spending in the form of a planned but as yet unbuilt $6m winter Olympics training facility at the Sleeman Sports Centre near Carindale. Sounds fair enough...except that the use of the word "uncovered" and the tone of the media release suggests that the wasteful spending had been hidden by a sneaky, inept Labor Government. 
But rather than being hidden, it was announced in early December 2010 by then Sports Minister Phil Reeves, and reported in the Courier Mail. Former Member for Chatsworth Steve Kilburn recalls being at two announcements about the facility. The real story is that the Newman Government has decided that the Sleeman Ski Jump training facility is an extravagance the state doesn't need and can't afford.
Mr Dickson is the Minister now; he gets to make those decisions, and with Premier’s Newman’s budget busting tactics, we know expenditure is being cut. We didn't need another barely disguised accusation of Labor's undisciplined spending; pointing it out now doesn't get him extra votes; his team already won.
But it's not the only example of continuous campaigning. Premier Newman's announcement last week that he was doing away with state-sanctioned civil partnership ceremonies was a direct appeal to Christian voters. He admitted it…but why do it? The majority of Australian are now in favour of same-sex marriage - ironically, it's about 64%, which is about the same percentage of Australians who self-identified as Christians in the 2006 Census.

Newman himself supports same sex marriage, so in changing the rules on same sex marriage, he is working against majority opinion, his own beliefs and existing legislation, to appease one lobby group that represents the minority position, but which has its hooks into the LNP....and he's already won the election. Premier Newman doesn’t need to appease anyone; he is now in a position where he can call the shots.
Perhaps this LNP groupthink is something they learned from the torturous 2010 Federal Election, which 22 months later, Opposition Leader Tony Abbott is still trying to win. The situation is vastly different though. Premier Newman leads a record-breaking majority, while Mr Abbott has the slimmest possible margin separating him away from power. Why are they using similar strategies?
Just yesterday, Mr Abbott denied a pair which would have allowed federal Environment Minister Tony Burke to represent Australia at the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development in Rio this week. Mr Burke won't leave the Government vulnerable by going to Rio without a pair, so the result of Mr Abbott's decision is to lessen Australia's standing as a global leader and influencer on environmental issues, and to make himself look petty. He has literally put party politics above the national interest. That doesn't just look petty; it is petty.
In Mr Abbott's case, the continual campaigning mode, identifiable by his reliance on the same three-word slogans he parroted during the official campaign, has made him a very effective and very unpopular Opposition Leader. It's time for him to change his approach: with just a year or so til the next Federal election, the electorate needs to see him as an alternative to Julia Gillard. Latest opinion polls suggest that isn't happening, although there is every chance that the Coalition will form the next government. Will “Prime Minister Abbott” remain as unpopular as he is now?
Politicians need to be chameleons. They need to know how to conduct themselves when campaigning, when in Opposition and when in Government, and fine-tune their approach depending on the situation. There’s little evidence yet that Premier Newman’s team has found its feet, and no evidence that Tony Abbott ever will. In the meantime, the electorate has had more than enough campaigning.
For now, please just get on with it.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Sticks & Stones


The Australian Christian Lobby issued a media release earlier this week, claiming that it was unhappy with the way the Greens and gay activists were using strong language in their battle with the ACL over equal rights. Apparently the ACL don't take kindly to being called 'haters' and 'extremists'. 

ACL Managing Director Jim Wallace claimed to be both hurt and deeply offended by being referred to as a 'gay hater':

“I and the ACL do not hate anyone, let alone same-sex attracted people. Using pejoratives like ‘haters’ and ‘extremists’ to describe ACL is tantamount to intimidation tactics designed to cause us and others to stand aside from the debate,” Mr Wallace said.

I won't call Mr Wallace and his colleagues names. I'll suggest, quietly and with all due respect, that they're a bunch of self-aggrandising sooky-lalas with a narrow agenda and a fringe perspective. 


Has Mr Wallace considered how the LGBT community, single people and their supporters feel when accused of gross child abuse if they choose surrogacy as a means to parenthood? I can tell Mr Wallace right now that being accused of gross child abuse leaves "hater" in the shade, yet, on June 1st, the ACL issues this media release,
headlined "Single and same-sex surrogacy a gross abuse against of the rights of the child".

It was a carefully worded release, short on facts, designed to evoke the kind of imagery associated with pedophilia and the Roman Catholic Church. Mr Wallace says they run their campaigns without resorting to words of hate. Who needs words when you can evoke those images?

As discussed previously, the ACL hasn't offered any examples of this gross child abuse they're linking to gay (and single) parents,  or even a source from which they get their definition of what a child's rights might be. The rights of the child remain a convenient distraction for the ACL. 

This week's press release suggests that the ACL aren't too fond of being called extremists either. Well, I guess if their policy (singular) to repress gay rights wasn't so unpopular and so extreme, they wouldn't have to wear the title. According to the release, Mr Wallace and his team of non-haters don't hate people who are "same-sex-attracted". 

I challenge Mr Wallace on that. There has been exactly no evidence that I can find of any engagement with or compassion to the LGBT community by the ACL. None. Instead, there has been a wall of anti-gay commentary and persistent lobbying against anything that could bring this segment of our a step closer to equality.

Why? For the sake of the children, of course...except that there's no evidence of that either. 

Speaking of children, the vitriol directed at ACL's Wendy Francis following her high profile campaign against the Rip & Roll Safe Sex billboards is indefensible. No excuses.

Having said that, the ACL and their followers need to accept that every time they issue a media release, send a tweet or appear on media speaking out against rights for the LGBT community, there will be a response. Just as the ACL doesn't like being called 'haters', gays don't like being labelled abnormal, perverted, deviant, sick, or dangerous. The ACL has no right to be playing the victim card.

Still, if Mr Wallace wants to lose the "hater" tag, how about exercising some Christian love and acceptance by putting some of his, and the ACL's resources towards promoting an LGBT cause. They could choose any gay cause that doesn't conflict with their restrictive, anti-gay agenda: how about a campaign to address homophobia in public schools? Or a campaign to secure funding for the Queensland Association of Healthy Communities? 

If the ACL can't - or won't - find a pro-gay cause that it can support, then the homophobia and gay-hater labels are likely to they should.

As for the Greens and gay activists using words like 'hater' and 'extremist' to intimidate, Mr Wallace knows better than that. He's a retired soldier, a former commander of the SAS Regiment. This won't be the first time in his life that he's been told to "Harden up, Princess." I'll also encourage him to enjoy a nice big cup of reality; words aren't all that intimidating out here in the real world, and Brigadier Jim Wallace (Ret) knows it.

It's well past time that the ACL accepted that they aren't the victims in this battle, and they don't control the moral high ground. There is no moral high ground in a war to sideline, to undermine, to marginalise your fellow humans to preserve your own superiority.

If you want others to be happy, practice compassion. If you want to be happy, practice compassion. - His Holiness Dalai Lama

Who Shot The Messenger

After almost two years of swings and roundabouts, last weekend's Newspoll has Opposition Leader Tony Abbott now dead-set equal with Prime Minister Julia Gillard as preferred PM. There's a reason though, and its not Abbott's fault, of course. Mr Abbott says his unpopularity is due to his solemn responsibility to deliver unpleasant news to the electorate. In other words, Mr Abbott has accused Australian voters of shooting the messenger.

That's a very creative way of looking at things, although not entirely true...which is pretty much how Tony Abbott handles facts. In his infamous 7:30 Report interview with Kerry O'Brien, he stated   

"Well, again Kerry, I know politicians are gonna be judged on everything they say, but sometimes, in the heat of discussion, you go a little bit further than you would if it was an absolutely calm, considered, prepared, scripted remark, which is one of the reasons why the statements that need to be taken absolutely as gospel truth is those carefully prepared scripted remarks."

Mr Abbott's job as Opposition Leader is largely about finding fault with the Government and communicating that to the electorate. Add to that his tendency to stray from the truth, to embellish, to "go a little bit further" to make a point, and we have an Opposition Leader who is focussing attention on the exaggerated negativity about the Government. 

"I'm here to hold the government to account and present a credible alternative," he told Macquarie Radio.

Tony Abbott is doing one of things fairly well. The other - presenting a credible alternative - seems to have been lost in an overflowing Too-Hard basket.

Last week was Good News Week for the Australian economy, which is reported as having the fastest growing economy in the developed world, increased workforce participation (38,900 new jobs were created last month) and an excellent report card from Dun & Bradstreet' Global Risk Register:

"Australia is one of the safest trade and foreign investment destinations globally, ranking alongside Canada, Germany, Norway, Sweden and Switzerland, according to an analysis of 131 countries.

"Australia's rating also makes it the best ranked country in the Asia-Pacific region, ahead of Hong Kong, Singapore and New Zealand."

The Government was peacock-proud, the economic commentariat was in agreement. Australia's economic fortune cookie held nothing but good news. The global financial wobbles mean that we must be watchful, everyone agreed, but all in all, Go Us! 

Enter Mr Abbott.  

"But a lot of Australians today are saying, 'Wayne Swan does not live in the same world that we inhabit','' the Opposition Leader said in Victoria this morning.

"He's running around patting himself on the back, calling himself the 'world's greatest treasurer'.

"What I see people are saying is: 'shops closing down, my job under pressure, my wages under pressure, my costs going up' _ and look we're all delighted to see that the mining industry is still strong and we're all thrilled that the mining industry is carrying the Australian economy.

"So look let's be grateful for small mercies and that's what I suppose those figures yesterday were. But economic management does not depend on the occasional good statistic. Economic management depends upon consistent good policy and that's what we haven't had from this government.''

And there it was: Tony Abbott delivering his sad truths to the nation - but is he? Or his he talking down the economy for political gain. His sustained attack on the  Australian government's economic management the hallmark of his period as Opposition leader, and it's likely the only weapon he has. 

This strategy cannot keep working for him. He simply can't respond to a story like Australia having the fastest economic growth in the developed world by referring to "small mercies." Similarly, it would be too awful to contemplate that Mr Abbott might want our economy to stumble, just for the political triumph of saying "I told you so." The irony would be Mr Abbott winning the next election and having to deal with whatever nasties the economy has produced.

Last week, in the midst of the good news, ABC's Lateline tackled the negativity, so much more obvious when contrasted with the series of economic data: Even a high school student at a community forum suggested that Mr Abbott need to offer something other than just wall-to-wall sad-talk.

High School Student: Don't you think it would be more helpful if you could more clearly outline an alternative positive vision for Australia?

Tony Abbott: I don't believe that that is a fair characterisation of the positions that my colleagues and I are putting forward. 

And the high school student nailed it. Mr Abbott and his economic team of Joe Hockey and Andrew Robb need to listen to themselves. The Liberal Party Spin Team might think they're communicating something substantial, but the Australian people are hearing nothing but negatives, and it's the same old negatives they've been hearing for almost two years. Do any of these sound familiar?

Great Big New Tax / Carbon Tax / Mining Tax
Stop the Boats / Lost control of our borders
Pay back the Debt / Poor Fiscal Management / Return to Surplus
End the Waste / Fully Costed 

They should sound familiar. They were the cornerstones of the Liberals 2010 campaign, and we're still hearing the same catchphrases.

Last week, Glenn Stevens, Governor of Reserve Bank, delivered an address entitled "The Glass Half Full", in which he explored the many upsides of our economic position. 

Even now on ABC 612 Brisbane, the Prime Minister has revealed that while the Opposition is talking down the economy and foretelling the end of the coal industry due to Big Bad Carbon Tax Wrecking Ball, members of the Opposition are buying shares in coal companies.

The problem for the Liberals team is that with such a solid primary and 2PP voting intention in the polls, they don't need to change the message. It's working for them. They don't even need to change the messenger, despite his 59% personal disapproval.

Having said that, the Coalition failed to win the last election with this campaign. The next election is the Coalition's to lose, and if they do, this relentless negativity will be a key reason. 

When you're running for office in the best performing economy in the developed world, and your contribution to the national dialogue is about how bad the economy is, you just look silly. We're not shooting the messenger; the messenger is shooting himself.

Monday, June 11, 2012

How Embarrassing

I'm a relatively new Queenslander, having been here just ten years, but it's taken less than three months of the new Queensland LNP Government for me to feel embarrassed to be a Queenslander.

Don't misunderstand me; I wasn't always a happy Queenslander under the Beattie and Bligh Governments either. Yet in under three months, Premier Newman and his titanic team of baby MPs have annoyed me, disappointed me, frightened me, angered me and finally embarrassed me.

The Prime Minister, a handful of key federal ministers, most of the states' Premiers and  swag of top tier business leaders will meet in Brisbane this week for a national brainstorming session on Australia's role in the changing global economy. If that sounds like a bit of a big deal, that's because it could be, if the delegates are prepared to leave their titles and egos at the door.

But Premier Campbell Newman won't be there. He is too busy to represent the state that he leads at a major summit to discuss the economic future of the country. Even when the talkfest is being held in his home town. Never mind leaving his ego at the door; Premier Newman's ego is so big at the moment that he can't see around it. 

I'd like to see Premier Newman's diary for this week. I'm not denying that he has important work to do with his 100 Day Plan, yet how can he guide Queensland's future if he won't engage with the federal government, business leaders and his state counterparts? Furthermore, how can Queenslanders feel confident that we are being represented, if our most senior representative won't attend meetings being held literally up the street from his office?

Just a week after federal Environment Minister Tony Burke played a spiteful game of duelling press conferences with Queensland's Deputy Premier Jeff Seeney, this appear to be nothing more than another round of He-Man chest-beating from the new Government. Alternately, it could be a display of personal disrespect aimed at Prime Minister.

In a last minute attempt to get a seat at the table, Premier Newman offered to send a couple of junior ministers, but was told that registration for the event had closed. That's a shame, and possibly another example of politicians playing silly games, but equally, offering up a pair of junior ministers to sit at a table with the Prime Minister and her ministers,  and the heads of some of our most influential businesses, insults the rest of the participants. In any case, it wouldn't have been necessary if Mr Newman had done the right thing and accepted the invitation to represent Queensland's interests.

Premier Newman is a new player at this level; he still needs to secure those relationships. Even though the Labor Government looks like being rolled, the private sector representatives at this summit won't be. 

Premier Newman was offered a seat at the table and declined it, as did the Premiers of New South Wales and Western Australia...but this summit is not being held in Sydney or Perth. It's here in Brisbane, but it might as well be on the moon.

Common wisdom within a democracy suggests that if you don't participate in the process, you lose the right to complain if you don't like the decisions made in your absence. Decisions are made by those who show up. Premier Newman's decision to not show up undermines Queensland's position, and makes our new Premier look like an uncooperative prima donna.

How embarrassing.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Swimming with Guns

We've bred an entire generation of confused people, and the next generation is on the way. It's not because we allow gay health posters in bus shelters or because we legalised same sex civil partnerships or because of some progressive watermelon agenda to turn us all into lovely little communists. Its not even because of the Carbon Tax.

It's because we are totally inconsistent.

"Bad boy" swimmers Nick D'Arcy and Kenrick Monk are being punished by the AOC for posting on Facebook and Twitter a silly picture of themselves holding an armload of firearms. Oooh-Aahh, they've (possibly) brought themselves and their sport into disrepute, so they won't be permitted to use social media while at the London Olympics, and they won't be allowed to attend the Closing Ceremony. As punishment goes, barely more than a stern talking-to.

In other words, some uptight sports administrator thought the photo might be a bit controversial, so jumped up and down. It turns out that Australians aren't offended - or even interested - in these young blokes or their photos, but now that the noise has been made, token punishment must follow.

So did D'Arcy and Monk do something silly or not? I don't think Swimming Australia or the AOC can make up their minds. Having said that, the two sports organisations are the punch lines of the jokes, while the athletes have public sympathy on their side. International media is reporting this "scandal" with an appropriate degree of incredulity.

I particularly enjoyed the jokes about the Australian Shooting Team being suspended after posing for photos in a swimming pool, holding goggles and flippers.

Contrast this with the photo of Queensland Minister for Computers & Creative Bits and Pieces Ros Bates holding onto some kind of military mega-gun that looks like it could take out your house. Nary a whisper from her employer or her boss, Premier Campbell Newman.

Opposition Leader Tony Abbott is also the subject of controversial photos with a gun. While visiting our troops in Afghanistan, he allegedly asked to have a closer look at some of the weapons, a request probably not met with joy by the army brass. Still, the photos are there. The media didn't pay a lot of attention at the time, and later, it was overshadowed by the other media event of Mr Abbott's visit: Shit Happens.

Photos of our last four decades of Prime Ministers handling firearms are virtually impossible to find.

Many people go through their entire lives without touching or firing a gun. The swimmers were holding firearms that were legal; Ms Bates and Mr Abbott were holding a weapon not available outside the military. If you're a young adult watching the news, what message do you get? Is it:

A. Don't touch guns in America
B. It's okay if you're a politician but not if you're an athlete
C. You can handle guns if you're with some soldiers
D. Swimming Australia and the AOC are a bunch of uptight sooky lalas
E. Do whatever you like, but don't post the photos on Facebook

Why are Swimming Australia and the AOC over-reacting? Is the problem with their athletes handling guns, or posting the proof on social media? It's all about perception, and protecting reputation of Swimming Australia and their naughtiest athletes.

By the way, the answer to the question above is D.

Jim Wallace's Very Bad Week

"I like your Christ, I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ." - Mahatma Ghandi

I wouldn't want to be Jim Wallace this week. I wouldn't want to be Jim Wallace any day, but this week must've been spectacularly hard. This week, his moral crusade - the Australian Christian Lobby - is under attack on all fronts.

It was this week's surprise announcement that Sunrise was teaming up with Marie Claire and GetUp! in support of same sex marriage that triggered their latest campaign. The ACL, with their broad fiction linking the existence of homosexuality to endangering the welfare of children, jumped up and down and tried to convince their supporters to email-bomb Sunrise and it's advertisers. 

The ACL even approached ACMA (the Australian Communication and Media Authority) complaining that a "news and current affairs" programme should not be allowed to support a position. I guess they haven't seen The Bolt Report or listened to 2GB lately.

Sunrise saw the gathering controversy ahead of time, and invited Jim Wallace to debate Dr Kerryn Phelps on the show. Jim's nightmare continued. In fairness, the ACL's supporters felt he did a good job in hostile circumstances. I don't know that I'd categorise the environment as hostile - well, not until Mr Wallace compared the gay rights movement to Nazi Propaganda Meister Josef Goebbels. 

In that few moments, and with a national audience, he transformed the ACL from an annoying lobby group with rich, conservative friends in high places, to the an organised group of crazy extremists who represent the minority view.

The Australian published an editorial this morning in which Greg Callaghan commented:

In 2012 it is no longer acceptable to suggest that gay people are abnormal or unnatural, as the ACL regularly does, by separating us from "normal" heterosexuals in their nomenclature. Even columnist Andrew Bolt, a very vocal opponent of gay marriage, never descends to this, writing recently that "it offends me to hear someone say gays and lesbians are not normal".

The Fairfax press was also on the story today. 

Canon Richard Tutin from Queensland Churches Together, a body which represents 12 Christian churches including Catholics and Anglicans, said people from different churches were frustrated by the ACL.

"They totally have an agenda," he said.

"They're more interested in upholding a very, very traditional view of marriage and that's derived in their eyes from scripture and societal practice."
I hear you wondering if the ACL knows just how far it has travelled from the mainstream. The answer is that they believe they are speaking for the majority, and that those in favour of same sex marriage are a noisy minority with an evil agenda - hence Mr Wallace's reference to Goebbels. Statistically, the opposite is true. 

In February 2012, a Galaxy Poll reported 62% of voters supported gay marriage. So there it is - only 38% of Aussies agree with the ACL's position on same sex marriage...and I'd bet far fewer than that would have approved of Mr Wallace's Nazi inference. In fact, the ACL's position on gay marriage is more aligned with the fundamental Moslem position than with many Christian groups.

But remember that the ACL is a lobby group, not a church. Sure, they'd love for you to join their supporters, but their primary focus is in influencing our governments, whether that's by getting their candidates elected, or by influencing those already in parliament. For that, they need money.

Doug Pollard's blog is shining a light on the ACL executive: who are they, what are their backgrounds, and who funds them. This information isn't nearly as easy to find as it should be, given the ACL's status as a political lobby group, but Doug has learned that Goldings, a Queensland construction company, contributed in the order of six figures to ACL. Gloria Jeans, the coffee chain previously associated with Hillsong, has also donated tens of thousands of dollars to the ACL.

Jim Wallace and the other members of the ACL team probably won't be surprised to hear that there's talk on Twitter of boycotting Gloria Jeans stores to protest their support of the ACL.

Yeah,  it's been a bad week for the ACL: a frontal assault in the form on the Sunrise "I Do" campaign, Mr Wallace's cringeworthy appearance on the debate, the offensive Nazi reference, an opinion piece against them in a national newspaper, a news story in Fairfax publications about other Christians distancing themselves from the ACL, bloggers digging into their activities (including this one) and now murmurs of a boycott of one of their key donors? 

Their war might be against gays and gay rights, but the ACL should consider choosing their battles. Taking on a national television show, a magazine and experienced activist group and the weight of public opinion armed with nothing but a website and Jim Wallace was not their finest moment. 

Saturday, June 9, 2012

Stupid is not Illegal

Australian Swimmers Nick D'Arcy and Kenrick Monk went to a shooting range, fired a few crackers (under supervision), had their photo taken with guns, posted it on Facebook, got in trouble, removed the photo and flew home into a media shitstorm and a cloud over their Olympic selection.

Is there any chance that someone has over-reacted?

Maybe. Swimming Australia has a social media policy. They encourage athletes to be involved in social media, subject to their policies. That sounds fair enough, but begs the question: on what grounds has Swimming Australia reacted regarding the now-infamous photo of two swimmers with a handful of guns. What exactly happened?

The Swimming Australia Statement fails to explain anything other than that the photo or photos were judged by someone to be inappropriate.

Swimming Australia became aware of inappropriate photos posted on athletes' Facebook pages and Twitter accounts this morning, and instantly contacted the athletes involved to ask for them to be removed under Swimming Australia’s Social Media Guidelines.

The athletes have subsequently removed the photos.

Swimming Australia in no way condones these photos, and does not condone the posting of inappropriate content on Facebook, Twitter or any social media platform.

This is a timely reminder for athletes to more be responsible to themselves, the public with whom they engage through social media, and the reputation of the sport.

The athletes involved are currently returning from a training camp and competition in the US, and will be spoken to further upon their return.

Swimming Australia's Social Media Policy is every bit as vague as their legal team would want it to be. It's impossible to detail every way in which the spirit of the policy could be breached, so the policy is not specific. It also leaves it open to interpretation. The following is the policy guideline regarding posting photos to the internet: 

Swimming Australia also treats all photographs, video and audio ‘material’ posted onto social media as public comment and accessible to the public. Any material that may be considered negative, derogatory or inappropriate towards Persons bound by these Guidelines should not be posted. 

So, the photo of Nick D'Arcy and Kenrick Monk fondling an armload of firearms is considered "inappropriate" by someone is a position of authority within Swimming Australia...would it be different if instead of swimmers, the athletes in the photo had been shooters? 

What the swimmers did - posing for photographs while holding firearms - is perfectly legal in the USA. It's not illegal to buy these real-life Rambo-props in California. Equally, it's not illegal to be photographed handling those weapons. It's not even illegal to post the photo on Facebook or Twitter. So they haven't broken any laws.

It must be the association of swimming or swimmers with guns and violence.  It's not a great look, but is it worth this level of hand-wringing? They were being yobbo-tourists. Had they been in Germany, they might've taken a few laps of the Nurburgring, and had photos taken with crash helmets. 

Our Aussie Chef de Mission Nick Green commented "you can't be serious", but whether that is directed at the photo or the outrage is unknown. He did, however, explain that the by posting the photos, the swimmers may have brought themselves and the team into disrepute.

That would be redundant. These two swimmers have already blotted their copybooks. I doubt that this would be an issue if Nick D'Arcy and Kenrick Monk weren't better known for bad behaviour out of the pool than great performances in the water. D'Arcy king-hit another swimmer, putting him in hospital, and Monk stacked his skateboard, then made a police report that he'd been in a hit-n-run. 

It's a fact that of the hundreds of athletes representing Australia in London this year, D'Arcy and Monk will be watched more closely and punished more severely if they do something dumb. We're seeing evidence of that already. They should bear it in mind before doing anything that could be considered even marginally risky. 

I wish that was the end of it; it's not.

Kenrick and D'Arcy may have to front the AOC to explain why they should keep their places in the Olympic team. I'm not a fan of either of these swimmers, purely due to their previous acts of stupidity, but enough is enough. In this case, there was no malice, no violence, no-one was hurt and no intent to deceive: just a couple of immature guys and a trigger-happy authority calling the shots.

Note: The photo in question was removed from Facebook when instructed by Swimming Australia officials, but the Internet is forever. A quick Google search will yield multiple copies of the image. 

Friday, June 8, 2012

The ACL Agenda

This morning, Sunrise hosted a short debate on same sex marriage. The participants were Dr Kerryn Phelps, a married lesbian, and Jim Wallace, Managing Director of the Australian Christian Lobby. Time constraints, and a lack of debate structure hampered the ability of either side to land a killer argument, although each had a theme. For Dr Phelps, it's all about equality. For the ACL, it's all about the children...and something entirely inappropriate about Nazis, but let's concentrate on his focus: children.

Mr Wallace failed to make any explanation as to why same sex marriage had anything to do with children, other than to suggest that all marriage is about children. That, Mr Wallace, is bollocks.

There was a graph floating around on Twitter yesterday, showing the disproportionate focus of the ACL on homosexuality. The graph illustrated that the number of anti-gay press releases and self-reported media mentions from January-June outnumbers the sum of press releases and mentions for all other topics. (I'm unsure who put this together, but whoever you are, thank you.) I'd go so far as to suggest that a large chunk of the ACL press releases and media mentions about homosexuality also make mention of children, children's rights, and protecting the children from the dangerous influences of gay people. 

So, let's take Wendy Francis's suggestion, and think of the children.

According to the Australian Human Rights Commission, children – defined as a human under the age  of 18 - have rights. The Convention of the Rights of the Child include these four core principles:

·         The right to survival and development;
·         Respect for the best interests of the child as a primary consideration;
·         The right of all children to express their views freely on all matters affecting them; and
·         The right of all children to enjoy all the rights of the CRC without discrimination of any kind.

According to a media release from Jim Wallace just last week, single and same-sex surrogacy is a gross abuse against the rights of the child.

Jim Wallace and his ACL are so completely disengaged from the real world that they themselves are the danger, as we saw during Jim's semi-coherent debate appearance this morning. Jim's a former Army Officer - he should know better than to liken his "enemies" to Nazis. But he did pivot back to his point, that it's all about children.

In fact, the ACL has an entire programme called ForKidSake dedicated to serving the best interests of Australian children.

Each of the three key recommendations from the ACL's ForKidSake campaign comes from a research project commissioned by the ACL and conducted by Professor Patrick Parkinson, professor of law at Sydney University. There is a handy link from the ForKidSake section of the ACL website to Professor Parkinson’s 126 page report, yet the ACL website includes only the summary that the ACL wants you to see. Their cherry-picked summary makes for annoying reading: it includes “Some of the research findings”, and “some significant recommendations”. Any half-awake reader would know that it was incomplete. 

"Some of the recommendations" might be good enough for the ACL, but the rest of us demand the complete picture. I have read the three recommendations published on the ACL Website, and I have read the 14 Recommendations in Professor Parkinson' Report, and I suggest that you do too. This is a solid and inclusive piece of work which emphasises the importance of family and community as they relate to the development of children, and suggests an overall responsibility is at the Federal Government level, cascading through levels of government into the community.

The report does not, however, define the ideal family. It does not exclude non-traditional families, single parent families, blended families, mixed-race families, polygamous families, 1960s hippy communes, extended families or families that include same sex parents. Equally, it doesn't shy away from exploring the higher proportion of problems encountered by children in non-traditional family structures.

I suspect the reason that Professor Parkinson has neither detailed the ideal family structure nor discussed the ACL-suggested dangers of non-traditional families is because the research doesn’t support the notion that every traditional nuclear family is better for the children that any other option. 

In fact, the Report accepts the existence and legitimacy of LGBT groups within the community as early as Recommendation 1(c).

To encourage Parents and Citizens’ Associations, community organisations such as Rotary or Lions Clubs, churches, other faith-based communities, Culturally and Linguistically Diverse organisations, gay and lesbian organisations and any other interested group to offer relationship education programs free of charge in their local community or in workplaces, or in universities, utilising trained volunteer educators, or educators paid on a sessional basis.

So sustained is the ACL's campaign against gay marriage and gay parenting, we wonder if, in ACL-World, it is better to have a perfect Mum plus Dad plus two-point-whatever kids (biological offspring of the aforementioned Mum and Dad), even if Mum drinks a bottle of vodka before breakfast, even if Dad feeds his entire income through the pokies every payday, even if the home hides domestic violence, emotional abuse, incest and worse, than to have two parents of the same sex. Yes, this is gross exaggeration, yet there are no asterisks in the ACL literature.

Still, according to last week's press release from Jim Wallace, gay parenting (and single parenting) resulting from surrogacy would be gross abuse against the rights of the child.

That kind of homophobic nonsense is simply not true, and Professor Parkinson's report did not suggest that it was.

Mr Wallace’s statement last week said:

“Evidence heard at recent enquiries and a parliamentary inquiry in Victoria into donor conception and surrogacy has shown it is harmful to children to be deliberately severed from their biological mother or father.”

This argument suggests that all surrogacy is equally detrimental to the child, due to the severing of connection to a biological parent. It's not just gays and singles. Heterosexual couples who use a surrogate face the same risks and dangers that Jim Wallace links to single and gay parents. Is that what the ACL really thinks? Professor Parkinson noted the separation as an issue in his report, yet again, did not mention gay parents specifically.

And what is this about severing relationships in the specific context of surrogacy? That’s an assumption by Mr Wallace. The non-custodial biological parent may be a treasured  member of an extended family, which would surely align with Professor Parkinson’s recommendations. 

Given the ACL's objection to abortion, where does it stand on adoption? Adoption forces separation between a child and it's biological parents. Wouldn't that be risking harm to he child? Maybe the ACL would prefer that all pregnant women just shut up and keep their babies? What if the mother is single? The ACL won't like that! The entire argument is so circular, so nonsensical, that the only solution that would be acceptable to the ACL would be for no-one to ever be pregnant outside the structure of traditional hetero-sexual monogamous marriage.

This does not reflect the reality we live in.

The ACL is an all-or-nothing political lobby groyp. Their mantra is "Won't Someone Think Of The Children?" Good question, because I can't see where the ACL places children first. It looks to me as though the ACL is using children as a convenient smokescreen to disguise their real purpose: the anti-gay agenda. 

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Rainbows Over Sunrise

It's common knowledge now that Sunrise has teamed with Marie Claire and GetUp! in support of Same Sex Marriage. It's almost as well known that Australian Christian Lobby is exploding in a small fiery ball of self-righteous homophobia at the thought of a major television show supporting something they spend their entire lives fighting against.

Good on them, I say! We don't hear nearly enough from Jim Wallace, Lyle Shelton and Wendy Francis about how private, consenting relationships between two adults who happen to be of the same sex can do irrevocable ... something something ... Oh, won't somebody think of the children?

In truth, I'm in favour of looking after the children too, and I'd volunteer to babysit hoards of them before I'd let the folks from the ACL anywhere near one. There. I said it.

But back to today's ACL campaign, designed to ensure that the Governments - both State and Federal -  aren't influenced by anyone or anything other than the Christian Right, and perhaps Big Mining. That's fine; it's their job, and they do it well. Those skills should come in handy they try to talk their way through the Pearly Gates. Somehow, I think their greeting might not be what they expect.

Anyway, the ACL's website includes the following paragraphs, which I'll include here so you don't have to go there:  
That a TV current affairs show, let alone TV station, should take sides in such a highly contentious issue in the public square is disgraceful.  What it says for the respect they have for alternative opinion, even our values, is extremely disappointing and we need to register our disappointment.

This comes at a strategic time in the debate, so please spend a minute to fill out the Sunrise comments section at this link to make your comment, but please do it now 
You might:

Ask them what you are supposed to think this action means for their respect and even tolerance of your views and values on an issue that  goes to the very heart of family and the flourishing of children;

Ask why Sunrise has decided it’s a ‘human rights issue’ when the Australian Government has removed discrimination in 84 laws in 2008 and when the European Court of Human Rights ruled in March that same-sex marriage is not a human right

Register your disgust that the press, supposedly the neutral umpire and facilitator of public debate, should allow itself to be captured by the propaganda machine of the gay lobby; and

If you’re so convicted, you might advise them that you do not propose to watch the show again.

Also, please consider sending an email to Sunrise’s partners sharing your concerns about the television show. They include Purina, The Coffee Club, Accor Hotels, Myer and Jetstar.

Bully for the ACL,  who are without doubt the least Christian group of any Christian group this side of the Vatican. Remember though, they are not a Christian Church; they are a political lobby group, with all the Christian grace and generosity of spirit that you'd expect from a political lobby group. Their anti-gay stance is as steadfast as it is bewildering.

Meanwhile the rest of us are signing our petitions and sending letters of support to Sunrise and their advertisers. Thanks again to the ACL for including that list on their website, along with the helpful Sunrise Feedback link! Yes, we're that clever!

At the other end of the spectrum, the official GetUp Petition to thank Sunrise was closing in on 30,000 signatures at the time of writing this. Here's GetUp!'s blurb:  

Yesterday we announced that Sunrise are getting behind the campaign to stop marriage discrimination. This morning they woke up to a campaign backed by the Australian Christian Lobby denouncing their decision.
The Sunrise team went out on a limb and others who might be thinking about backing this campaign will be watching how this situation unfolds. Can you let the team know they have our support by adding your name to the thank you card on the left?
You know how I feel about the ACL's hate campaign against the LGBT community. Please take a look at the two perspectives above, and consider which one is deliberately divisive, which one is promoting fear and distrust, which one is more Christian.