Sunday, July 29, 2012

Newmania: The Might Do State

King Campbell promised the voters that he was a Can Do Leader, with a Can Do team. The voters threw their support behind the Can Do brand and the promises implied therein, but the Can Do brand lied. The people of Newmania expected too much. Just yesterday, the rending of Newmania into those who held the faith and those with broken hearts was tweeted:

Ratbaits: @omega_bunny can you tone down the language towards @Can_do_Campbell - he is here to save the world and that is hardly wasting oxygen.

There are those still waiting for the CanDo miracle, and those whose expectations have been grounded with the speed and grace of Alan Joyce running a national airline...and know how that worked out for Qantas. Don't assume that because someone promises that they Can Do, that they'll follow through. King Campbell is the Can Do leader of Newmania. For many Newmanians, the truth is Can Do...But Won't.

In fairness, Can Do has kept his some promises to get Newmania back on track. Strictly speaking. It's about how each person interprets those promises. Newmania is definitely back after 4 months with King Campbell. It's undeniably on track too, although the direction isn't clear to everyone.

Clive Palmer knows that Newmania supports mining as part of the pledge to "Grow A Four Pillar Economy". King Campbell has pledged $300,000 to help Palmer's High Court Challenge against the Federal Government's Mining Tax. King Campbell is very generous on behalf of Newmanians, throwing our money at the one Newmanian who least needs help. It's symbolic support at best.

In contrast, those Newmanians who most need help continue to miss out. Our disabled get nothing, because we're the Spain of Australia and can't afford it. Even worse, King Campbell's tight-arsedness is blocking the NDIS for all Australians who need this vital help. For the record, Newmania is not bankrupt, and if King Campbell isn't sure, he should talk to his own Treasurer, who's been promoting Queensland as a state wirh a healthy, stable economy. King Campbell could support the NDIS on behalf of all of us, if he wanted to. Can Do...but Won't.

Some special Newmanians are a lot more comfortable. The ACL knows that King Campbell's team will support conservative values, even though King Campbell himself doesn't actually believe in them. He doesn't have to do anything - he could leave things the way they are, but no: he's doing what he can do to undermine LGBTI support and equality. In fact, the $300,00 dollars for Clive Palmer's High Court hijinks could've been redirected to support proven campaigns like Rip'n'Roll. Could've been, but wouldn't. 

It's so hard to make predictions. The LNP promised to "Grow a Four Pillar Economy". Part of that is support for the resources and mining industries, but the policy also states that it supports agriculture. 

A CanDo LNP government will revitalise front line biosecurity services as a key part of our plan for a four pillar economy to provide our regions with jobs and hope.

How did that work out for Nothern Newmania?

UP to 20 Townsville-based jobs could be lost after funding for a state-of-the-art biosecurity facility at James Cook University was scrapped by the State Government.

The $18 million facility, which was proposed by the former Labor government, would have brought together the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry - which enforces biosecurity laws - and university researchers at the forefront of animal disease prevention.

The State Government has also decided to close the current facility at Oonoonba because it would cost too much to renovate.

So, Queensland's biosecurity was a MightDo initiative that didn't make it. Like gay equality, it's worse now than it was six months ago.

I recall a lot of pre-election Can-Doing about lowering the cost of living for all Newmanians. Much of that seems less certain now. Car Registration is going up. The ClimateSmart Home programme, which saved households up to $480, has gone. 

The reality has been that my household's cost of living has increased since King Campbell started his reign...and let's not mention the financial pressures on former public servants. I'm sure King Campbell thinks that converting 20,000 public servants into 20,000 unemployed people is somehow cutting waste.

If there's a theme present through King Campbell's priorities, it's that people matter less than, well, everything else - unless those people are high profile LNP supporters, family and friends. They will enjoy legislative, employment and financial support. But what about the ever-increasing list of vulnerable Newmanians: the disabled, LGBTI, even women. They've all been bundled into the one Ministry under Tracy Davis who has ministerial responsibility for Child Safety, Communities, Disabilities and Women. (Funny how a group with just over half the population as members can be treated as a minority, but that's another brainblurt.)

For them, it's No Can Do.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

The Happiness Olympics

In the past 12 months, I’ve heard three respected medical professionals - a GP, a psychiatrist and a psychologist- recommend that people who suffer from depression should avoid news and current affairs. What does that say about our news? Perhaps we're all nearing saturation point when it comes to bad news. We should be: it's unrelenting.

A quick browse through internet news sites on a typical day is nothing short of dismal: most days, there’s not a single good news story amongst the headlines. Not one. It’s bulletin after bulletin of politics, wars, bad news about the weather, the economy, the state of tea in China, plus murders and mayhem, refugees, redundancies, deaths, taxes…and if you watch the so-called Current Affairs programmes after the news, you’d be losing the will to live.

The situation may improve once you get to the Sports section. There are always winners, even if your team wasn't one of them. But brace yourselves. The sports news is making its regular leap from the back pages to the headlines. That’s bad news in itself if you’re not interested in the Olympics, but for those who are, prepare for sixteen days of uninterrupted thrills.

As Aussies, should we be expecting two weeks of triumphant sports headlines? Should we be begging our mental health experts to let us watch the Olympics and celebrate every win with a quiet cup of tea and a civilised ‘whoop’, or should we hide ourselves under a pile of old Buffy DVDs until the whole thing is over?

Even if the thought of 16 nights of Olympic competition brings you out in a rash, there is some incredible human competition coming up, and it will be slathered all over the headlines and social media. Resistance is futile. It’s already started with Natalie Cook’s threats to protest if the Australian flag bearer is not a woman, and has been followed by some typically tasteless comments from Eddie McGuire about Lauryn Mark’s pictorial in a mens’ magazine, to the entirely offensive comments about Leisel Jones being in less than race form. But if you’d rather watch jelly set than a moment of Olympics coverage, you will need to avoid the media from now until about 14th August.

I know what I’ll be doing. I’ll be ignoring the quasi-militaristic undercurrents of Olympic cults and cash grabs that the IPA’s Chris Berg wrote about in last weekend’s Fairfax papers, and I'll be yelling at the tellie. I love the Olympic Games. It’s the ultimate spectator festival – enough sports to satisfy just about everyone, peerless national fervour, unrivalled opportunity to perve on the kind of bodies we could have if we weren't so devoted to the couch, along with a little culture and a little cringe mixed in.

Luckily, my partner shares my love of the Olympic spectacle. We'll be studying the tv guides; including Pay TV, Australians will have ten separate Olympic broadcast channels. We'll have our viewing preferences colour-coded in the guide with fluro highlighters. My alarm is already set to go off at 5:30am on Saturday in preparation for the live telecast of the Opening Ceremony, accompanied by something appropriately British for breakfast. (Probably not kippers - other suggestions welcome.) For two weeks, we'll sit up all night, and sleep during the day - yes, both of us are on leave for the Olympics.

It’s a tragedy that there’s no non-sporting equivalent for the rest of us who can’t run like the wind or leap tall crossbars in a single bound (preceded by a decent runup). With the notable exception of artistic sports like gymnastics, synchronised swimming and some equestrian events, sport tends to be measurable and absolute. We could convene a world Cooking Olympics or Drama Olympics or Haiku Olympics or Customer Service Olympics or Landscape Oil Painting but how would you judge it?

The great thing about being a fan of the Olympics – and I suppose a fan of sports in general – is that it celebrates achievement. Traditionally, Australian Olympians are strong in Swimming, Hockey, Cycling, Rowing, Sailing and Equestrian, and these are all great spectator sports. Of course we want to see Australia win, but when we don’t, we see our Aussies try. We get to celebrate, and regardless of how many or how few medals Australia wins in London, we will be proud.

And in between the news of Aussie triumphs, personal bests and inspiring performances, there'll be more of the usual. In Queensland, Premier Newman will continue to wield his axe, hoping the Games will wipe his bad news off the front pages. In America, Obama and Romney will continue their campaigns for the Presidency. Prime Minister Gillard's rivals might just be able to keep their powder dry until after the Games. In Syria, revolt will continue and in Afghanistan, so will the war. Asylum Seekers will continue to board rickety ferries in search of a better life in the Land Down Under. Life and death go on, but probably not on the front pages.

That sounds like something that mental health practitioners would support.

Note: This blog is not medical advice. If you are being treated for depression, don't stop your medication and watch the tellie, okay? Equally, if you think you might be depressed, please see your GP as soon as you can. You're not alone.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Sterner Stuff

I don't know where this originated. It popped up on Twitter a few days ago, and I thought it was worth preserving...

Apologies that the image isn't clearer. The fuzzy list of words down the left hand side is a list of government achievements - see below.

Introduced the Mining Tax
Deployed NBN
Increased Super Contributions to 12%
Unemployment half the world average
Lowest interest rates in 60 years
Lowest Government debt of all Triple A rated economies
Introduced National Disability Insurance Scheme
63 new regional cancer centres
New medical funding programme
Public Dental Health Scheme
Doubled funding to health
Doctor training places doubled
Double funding to education
Supported Conscience Vote on gay marriage
Infrastructure budget tripled
AAA Credit Rating from all three global ratings agencies
Banning mortgage exit fees on new loans
$2.2b Mental Health package

I doubt this came from the ALP; it doesn't look like something they'd do, but it's definitely a list of achievements that the ALP's spin doctors have failed to sell to the Australian people.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Shut Up, Nat!

This morning, the ABC’s Virginia Trioli entered the debate about female athletes carrying the Australian Flag at the opening ceremony of the Olympic Games. Tweeting as @LaTrioli, she said,

“Extraordinary how so many refuse to acknowledge that only three female flag bearers in Australian Olympic history represents bias. Do they have daughters, sisters? And if the situation was reversed – only three blokes in all of Olympic history would they think the same?”
It’s a touchy subject, brought to boiling point by Olympic Beach Volleyball player Natalie Cook, who has challenged the AOC to select a female flag bearer because there hasn’t been one for twenty years. In a stunning display of gender discrimination disguised as a plea for equality, Ms Cook has made herself look petty, self-serving and ignorant.

Like Ms Trioli, Natalie Cook is trying to equate feminism with statistical equality, regardless of historical or Olympic context. I’m disappointed in both of these women, highly successful, high profile, strong female role models, for missing the point so completely.

Feminism is not a commodity. It can’t be traded or counted or sold, and shouldn’t be used as a means of blackmail, which is what Ms Cook is trying to do with her threat to sit out the Opening Ceremony if a woman is not chosen as flag bearer. This threat has now been retracted, although she is still ‘volunteering’ to be chosen.

Ms Cook’s argument to the AOC seems to be that a woman must be chosen to carry the flag – an enormous honour – because it’s 20 years since the last time a woman carried the flag for Australia.

That’s not reason enough for me. The honour of leading the Australian team into the arena must surely go to the athlete who most deserves the honour. What constitutes ‘most deserving’ is unclear – perhaps it’s number of Olympics attended, or number of medals won, or some other criteria around Olympic ideals or community service. Traditionally, the athlete is chosen by the Chef de Mission. This year, it’s Nick Green, who has been appropriately tight-lipped about the controversy.

Australians have won medals in 25 sports at the Summer Olympic Games. Thirty-nine percent of those medals have been won in Swimming, yet no swimmer has carried the flag since Max Metzker shared the honour in 1980. This year, Leisel Jones will probably become our most successful Olympian ever. Why wouldn’t we choose her to carry the flag for us?

In contrast, equestrian accounts for only 2.5% of our total summer medal haul of 432, and yet of the last 13 Summer Olympics, the Aussie Equestrians have been flag bearers. That’s 23%. Of course there’s a good reason for that: elite athletes don’t have a long period of time in which to compete: gymnasts are rarely competitive past their teens, swimmers and track and field athletes struggle towards their thirties and beyond, but equestrian competitors compete into their sixties.

Ms Trioli’s tweet suggested that the situation would be viewed differently if only three men had been flag bearers in Olympic history. I urge Ms Trioli to consider the historical context. The drive towards equality for women – call it Women’s Lib – occurred during the late 1960s and into the 1970s. Prior to that, it would have been unthinkable for a woman to have been given a team leadership honour ahead of a male. It wouldn’t have happened. For that reason, I wouldn’t even count Olympiads prior to say, 1972, as being in a group where a female flag bearer was considered possible.

That cuts the potential down to ten Summer Games, prior to London 2012. Of those ten Summer Games, sprinters Raylene Boyle and Denise Robertson Boyd, and diver Jenny Donnet have carried the flag. The rest have been men.
Remember also that the twenty year stretch from 1972-1992 was Australia’s dark days in terms of Olympic performance. Even our world-famous swimmers failed to shine; medals were few and far between. Shane Gould was a stand-out in 1972, but attended just the one Olympic Games. I have no doubt that should have been offered the honour of carrying the flag in 1976, had she competed. As it was, in Montreal in 1976, we won only five medals and none of them were gold – and none of them was won by women. 1980 was the Olympic Games with the ‘*’ – the Moscow Games were notable as countries boycotted to protest the USSR’s military action in Afghanistan. Despite the absence of many Australian athletes who chose to boycott the games, along with major competitors like the USA, we won just nine medals. Things were looking better by Los Angeles in 1984, with 24 medals, but only seven medals went to Aussie women. Seoul was a disappointment: only 14 medals for the Aussie team.

These were gloomy times indeed for Australian Olympians: I wonder which female athletes Ms Cook and Ms Trioli thinks should’ve been chosen. Look at the teams, look at the women who performed well, and then retired after just one Olympic appearance. Look at the women who attended four or five or more successive Olympic Games – are there any? Which female Olympic athletes of the past 40 are top of mind? If, for the sake of establishing an artificial gender balance, you had to choose another two female flag bearers, who would you choose – and which of the male flag bearers would you demote?

Natalie Cook, lining up for her fifth Olympic Games, was definitely a contender to be named Australia’s flag bearer for the Opening Ceremony later this week. Despite her backflip this morning (Degree of Difficulty – Infinite) in which she has “offered” to withdraw the protest she was threatening if a man was selected as flag bearer, there’s no way that she can be chosen now. It would appear as though Nick Green had been influenced by her threats. Ms Cook has left the Australians only one way out: they must choose a woman, but not Ms Cook. She has made her own selection impossible.

My money is on Leisel Jones. London 2012 is her 4th Olympics, and she is the first Australian swimmer to be selected to compete at four Olympic Games, and is on track to become Australia’s most successful Olympic swimmer ever.

Update 24 July: ABC's Kelly Higgins-Devine has reminded me that due to the swimming programme starting on the Day 1, swimmers rarely attend the Opening Ceremony, so Leisel is a longshot. With that in mind, consider basketballer Lauren Jackson's record. This will be her 4th Olympics, and she has won three silver medals. She'd be a perfect flag bearer. Alternately, cyclist Anna Meares is another option.

Update 27 July: Chef de Mission Nick Green has announced Lauren Jackson as flag bearer for London 2012. Congratulations to Lauren, a worthy (and humble) winner. Congrats also to Nick Green for making a perfect diplomatic choice.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

When Kathryn Said Mooo

When I was about eight or nine, my cousin Kathryn and I were in a car, driving somewhere with family. I have no idea who else was there, who was driving, where we were going, but I remember Kathryn. Kath is about 18 months older than me, and she grew up in Sydney. I’m from the country, and Kathryn, along with her parents and younger sister Jane, would spend school holidays with their grandmother, just a block or so from where I lived. We did all the things that girls do – we enacted our own versions of Countdown in the lounge room. We swam at the local pool, and at the beach, we shared books, talked about pop stars and listened to the radio. I was in awe of Kathryn: she was older and smart and pretty and thin and she was from the city. That impressed me a lot.

And then she said “mooo”.

Perched in the backseat of the car, as we drove past a paddock with some blurry lumps – possibly cows, possibly spaceships, I can’t remember – Kath said “mooo”. Yes, they were cows.

In that instant, I understood that city and country people can swap geography, learn each other’s language and mannerisms, work, live, inter-marry, have families of their own, but they are different species.

Kath is still gorgeous and thin and smart – she’s a university lecturer these days – but she said “mooo.” to a herd of cattle of some sort. I saw them every day. I went to school with kids who milked those same beasts every afternoon. I would no more say “mooo” to a herd of cattle than I’d say “Whoa” standing in front of the David Jones flagship store in Elizabeth Street during the Boxing Day Sales.

Oh okay. I confess I love a good shop. I’ve been known to sigh with pure delight in certain retail establishments and not buy a thing. I realised if Kath needed to mooo at the cows, there’s no reason why she shouldn’t. Yet for me, it was a light bulb moment.

It should come as no surprise that only 27% of readers of Australia’s rural daily online paper ( describe themselves as believing in climate change. The other 73% are spread between sceptics, deniers, and almost 7% who literally don’t care. No wonder it’s impossible for the ALP to sell the message about Carbon Tax to voters in the bush: most people in the regional, rural and remote Australia would view the Carbon Tax as a Great Big New Tax that (a) the Prime Minister lied about, (b), is going to cost them lots and lots of money, and (c)is supposed to fix a problem that they don’t think exists.

Where are these people getting their information? They can’t be listening to Alan Jones on 2GB, as most regional and rural radio stations have their own local breakfast shows. I imagine that much of the rejection of climate change is a self-perpetuating cycle of misinformation, supported by News Limited commentators Andrew Bolt and Piers Ackerman, spurred on by occasional Rinehart-sponsored “lecture tours” by distinguished climate change denier Christopher Monckton, and maintained by Sunday sermons on the evils of climate change whoopla from Andrew Bolt on Rinehart’s Channel Ten. The world of climate change denialism is surprisingly small.

The Climate Change message, backed by credible science and well over 90% of the world’s scientists in relevant fields, is freely available, and is no longer the subject of debate in most of the world. Still, included within the deniers’ narrative are fantastic tales of far-reaching conspiracies that control the IPCC, the media, and every progressive/government in the world. They’re all in cahoots to create a single global government, and they’re doing it by perpetrating the largest ever con-job in the history of the world.

Senator Nick Minchin claimed on ABC’s 4 Corners

"For the extreme left it [climate change] provides the opportunity to do what they've always wanted to do, to sort of de-industrialise the western world. You know the collapse of communism was a disaster for the left, and the, and really they embraced environmentalism as their new religion."

That’s an interesting claim from the Senator. What he hasn’t provided is any motive for the extreme left, or anyone else, to want to do this? If Climate Change leads to global government, what do the lefties get out of it? It’s a bizarre claim. No-one has yet explained why lefties would be universally in favour of global governance.

Opposition Leader Tony Abbott undoubtedly owes much of his modest popularity to his earlier claim that Climate Change was crap. He’s wheeled that claim back, although that’s for political reasons rather than because his opinion has been changed.

It does seem that the apparent acceptability of Climate Change swings in harmony with extreme weather and potential for another El Nino. Just this morning, news articles in the USA reported that as the northern hemisphere experiences worsening drought, concern around climate change is swelling. We’ve seen the reverse in Australia: the drought broke in 2009 (depending on where you are) and with it, climate change as a cause seemed to lose traction. It’s a natural reaction: when the evidence of sustained hot, dry weather is on the news every night, it’s easy to believe the scientists who link this phenomenon to climate change. When the weather is moderate and the country is experiencing flooding, climate change seems unrealistic.

For country people, especially those on the land, weather and climate are the difference between a university fund for the kids, or being on the dole. It’s emotional and it’s hard, and if I was faced with the possibility of losing my heritage and my livelihood because some scientists who don’t even live here said we were killing the planet, I’d probably look for anyone who’d allow me to keep my faith.

It’s just bad timing that has seen the Gillard Government introduce the Carbon Tax at a time when climate change seems less threatening to Australia than at any time since 1997, when the Kyoto Protocol was adopted and the conspiracy theorists stopped taking their medication. It’s also unfortunate that in the last 25 or so years since Climate Change was confirmed and accepted as a scientific certainty, we have failed to educate our citizens that weather is not climate, and vice versa.

We need to close the cultural gaps between city and country. We need to get inside the minds of our country cousins, and see if we can locate the switch for the blinkers they’ve chosen to wear on this issue. And try not to say “Mooo”. It’s only cute when you’re a kid.

Friday, July 13, 2012

Science Is Not Religion

A hurricane does not have to make landfall to be a hurricane. Science doesn’t have to be believed to be the truth.

Today is the first day of the LNP’s first conference since their astonishing victory in Queensland in March. There are standing ovations, 101 items on the agenda, over 900 delegates. and aside from the usual barrage of political ephemera, one particular branch of the LNP has resolved to have climate science – which it calls propaganda - removed from school curricula.

In other words, this branch of the LNP supports and promotes restricting the access that children have in school to scientific knowledge. This is alarmingly close to censorship. So who are these people, and what is their justification for suggesting this awful change?
“The Noosa State Electoral Council should call on Education Minister John-Paul Langbroek to ‘require Queensland Government schools to remove environmental propaganda material [and] in particular post normal science about climate change’.”

LNP Member for Noosa Glen Elmes has absolutely no qualifications in science whatsoever, and neither does his influential party boss, LNP State President Bruce McIver. McIver, who lives on the Sunshine Coast (possibly in Elmes’ own Noosa electorate), is a former trucker and farmer, and rules over the LNP as if it was his creation. It was, in so far as he engineered the takeover of the Liberal Party by the Nationals and authorised the destruction of decades of Queensland Liberal Party documents.

Most notably, McIver is a prominent Sunshine Coast Christian who is keen to imbue the LNP with his earnest Christians values. He is a climate change sceptic, and has referred to the way that climate science is taught in Queensland schools as ‘brainwashing’. This is just another facet of the epic battle of evolution versus creationism, and the LNP, which is heavily influenced by the Australian Christian Lobby, are trying to use their influence to sway the public school syllabus so that it’s a closer reflection of their religious beliefs.

At last year’s LNP conference, Mr McIver was applauded for stating his concerns about climate science education:

Mr McIver said last year that he was shaken by the way issues were being taught when he and his wife visited their grandson's school. "We were shocked at the way the climate change debate on one side is being pushed in the classroom," he said "And not balanced perspectively. Our kids are being brainwashed under this Labor education system."

Brainwashing is a very strong, highly objectionable term. It’s also wrong.

Are we contaminating the syllabus with propaganda when we teach children that momentum is the product of velocity and mass? Just how much science is trustworthy, and how does Mr McIver, a man with no background in science or philosophy, make such a judgment?

Let’s get out of school and talk about science versus propaganda in our world. Does Mr McIver accept the physics of flight, or does he believe that when he flies, God holds the plane in his hands? Are teachers merely taking a position when school students are taught about fermentation – perhaps someone there’s another explanation for turning water (or juice) into wine? When his family is ill, does he want them to see a doctor or call for the laying on of hands?

There is also no credible debate about the existence of Anthropogenic Global Warming, known as AGW, meaning man-made global warming. It’s barely being debated anywhere in the world, other than in Australia, on Fox News and in Lord(?) Monckton’s sitting room. Where do we draw the line? Where does Mr McIver and the LNP think science stops and propaganda starts?

For a non-religious perspective, let’s turn to a man who has published 31 books on science, and who holds qualifications in astrophysics, mathematics, computer science, medicine, biomedical engineering and philosophy. Most importantly, he won the Australian Skeptic of the Year Award in 2007. Dr Karl Kruszelnicki, well known scientist and science educator has no doubts.

Dr Karl (@Doctor Karl on Twitter) has told numerous tweeters that AGW was proven in 1988. We have known for almost 25 years now that human activity has contributed to the rate of climate change. This is neither new science nor obscure knowledge.

“I wrote a story about the possibility of climate change in 1980. In 1985 I put it into my first book. In 1988, climate scientists of the world declared that climate change was real, it was caused by humans and it was going to be bad. And then…” he pauses. “Nothing happened. And then around 2004 I started up again around the same time that Al Gore was and they’re saying everything they were saying back in 1988.”

Still, there’s nothing that anyone can say that would convince Mr McIver and his supporters at the Noosa branch of the LNP to accept the scientific evidence around AGW, and I don’t give a horse’s patoote about what he believes. My concern is that science be taught as science, and not as a rival or threat to any religion.

In fact, the argument about whether climate change should be taught in schools as part of a general science curriculum is an extension of the larger debate about religion in Australian schools, the Chaplaincy programme, and the role of religious education in a society which is becoming less and less interested in religion.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Brisbane: The Weather is Pretty Good

For some months now, Brisbane (or Newbane, Brisvegas, Brislantis, Gold Coast North, Australia’s Biggest Country Town) has been trying to sell the notion that it is Australia’s New World City. I’ve lived here for over ten years, which is longer than I lived in Sydney, and I don’t even know what that means.

Brisbane Marketing has one of the toughest jobs in the city. How do you market something that you can’t define? What does Brisbane have that makes it unique? What is the differential advantage? What attracts visitors to Brisbane in favour of other places? The great weather makes it a great place to live, but it needs more than that to bring in the tourists.For that matter, what images come to mind when prospective interstate and overseas visitors think about Brisbane (assuming they’ve heard of it)?

Promoting it as “Australia’s New World City” has a problem right out of the gate: no-one knows what it means, and few can be bothered finding out. Most of us who live here love Brisbane, although for many interstate transplants, it can take a while.

I find it challenging to explain why I love Brisbane – it’s where I live, and but it’s not my home. I have no emotional connection to the place, yet it’s far from unpleasant. It doesn’t have the natural beauty and Australian history that Sydney has, nor the sport-and-culture exhilaration of Melbourne. It doesn’t have a decent beach or an internationally recognisable landmark and it’s not really the gateway to anywhere. You don’t have to pass through Brisbane on your way to anywhere if you don’t want to.

It’s got lots of bits and pieces though: If you’re into Melbourne’s cafĂ© culture or throbbing arts scene, just follow the trail of hipsters into the Valley or West End. If you like Sydney’s natural beauty and corporate sensibilities, we have a snaky brownish river that’s better known for it’s floods than for anything else, some really attention-grabbing cliffs at Kangaroo Point, some nice parks, a mangrove-ringed bay and an abundance of businesses where you can work for less money than you'd get in Sydney or Melbourne. Check out some of Australia's other major city tourist logos - was Brisbane's artist off sick the day that one was designed?

We have a CBD: it’s not huge or glamorous, but if you’re standing in Queen Street Mall and you look around you, you’ll see a mall in a CBD. At least it's honest. Brisbane’s “premiere shopping precinct” is a slightly swankier version of a suburban Westfield. The dining scene is picking up, but it’s still patchy, overpriced and too many restaurants close too early, and entertainment venues seem to be closing at an alarming rate.

On the upside, Brisbane punches above her weight when it comes to sporting contests and bad driving.

And Brisbane does have really nice weather.

So where does this leave us?

As much as I hate to admit this, Brisbane has no appeal for tourists and holiday-makers. None. If you have business in Brisbane, if you’re attending a course or a symposium or an event of some kind, or if you have family and friends here to visit, you’ll come to Brisbane, do what you have to do, enjoy the weather, and perhaps nose around a bit. If you don’t have to come to Brisbane for a reason, Brisbane isn’t going to offer enough to lure you here.

We need to have something else, something more, something unique.

Or maybe not. Perhaps the one differential advantage we have is in not having one. Sometimes there is virtue in being who you are – we’re a working city with a suburban sprawl and generally nice weather.

(Note: the last two mockups are all my own work. I actually like the idea of Brisbane: Surprise! as a marketing campaign, but I'm claiming it right here and now as mine, and Brisbane Marketing is invited to pay me huge amounts of money for the rights.)

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Newmania: Independence Day

In November 2014, Newmania will host a meeting of the G20. As an Australian first and a Newmanian second, I find this wholly appropriate. Of course, Australia should host a meeting of the G20. Our economy is about the only one to survive the GFC, and we have the highest GDP per capita of any country in the world. Furthermore, the meeting should be held in Newbane, because Newbane is our New World City according to the marketing chaps, and home to our national Treasurer.

Plus, the weather’s nice.

The G20 is a national and international Big Deal. It’s not in the class of the Sydney Olympics, but it’s big. There will be leaders, treasurers, advisors, support staff, hangers-on, media, security and hospitality. It’s a time for Aussies to show off and be proud in front of leaders from the other G20 members: Argentina, Brazil, Canada, China, France, Germany, India, Indonesia, Italy, Japan, Mexico, Russia, Saudi Arabia, South Africa, South Korea, Turkey, the United Kingdom, the United States and the European Union.

Not everyone is delighted, though. Brad Hazzard, New South Wales Minister for GrumpArsery and Sore Loserism is appalled. He says Sydney is Australia’s only genuine World City, and therefore, Sydney has some divine right to host all of the important stuff. Gee, Melbourne is gonna be annoyed! He’s also accusing Wayne Swan of choosing Newbane for political gain. Well, let's see what happens in 2014 when in all likelihood, Swanny will be guest lecturing and serving on a few boards, and Joe Hockey will be Treasurer.

But here’s something to ponder, Mr Hazzard. It’s not a competition. It’s not same-sex marriage, or State of Origin, for quack’s sake! Newbane getting the G20 doesn’t make Sydney any less beautiful, less worldly, and less desireable; it just means that in November of 2014, Sydney won’t be in crazy lockdown mode. In fact, it has absolutely nothing to do with Mr Hazzard or New South Wales.

What’s worse is that Newmania’s own King Campbell is withholding some of his happiness about this opportunity to show off his beloved River City to the world’s biggest bigwigs. There’s already a stoush developing because King Campbell won’t commit any resources to the G20 Event, and Treasurer Swanny thinks he should. If New South Wales’ Brad Hazzard is the Minister for Sore Loserisms, King Campbell must be the Minister for Sore Winning. And then there's Lord Mayor Quirkie and a rumour about Council funded security? It's bizarre.

Note to King Campbell: Your state won the right to host a prestigious international event. Just be happy.

It’s starting to look as though King Campbell doesn’t want Newmania to be part of Australia any more. When Prime Minister Julia brought her Big and Important Economic Forum to a venue literally up the road from King Campbell’s Parliamentary Palace, he refused to attend. He said he was too busy…but he may have been flossing, or locked in the Shredder Room with Queen Lisa of Mooch for all we know.

In any case, we should prepare ourselves for Separation. Clive Palmer has no doubt advised King Campbell that even the very best hole-digging equipment won’t be able to dig a big enough moat between Newmania and those other states, so we’ll have to be all European about it and just pretend there’s a border.

All financial relationships with the Commonwealth will be severed. Don’t worry about missing out on all that lovely GST revenue; King Campbell will be able to continue sacking public servants until he’s saved enough money to provide the services we need: army, navy, airforce, customs, border protection, quarantine, foreign affairs…wait. Something doesn’t add up. Doesn’t matter – that’s Treasurer Timmy’s problem.

Newmania’s Spiritual Leader will be no surprise. Wendy Joy Of the ACL will lead the state in prayer through good times and bad, from her base in WendyJoy (But Not Too Much Joy and None of That Gay Stuff) Land. Newmania only needs one religion, and hers is fine for Bruce and Clive, so that’ll do for the rest of us. (Unfortunately, some residents of the former Sunshine Coast may feel uncomfortable with this decision; King Campbell recommends moving* to the Gold Rainbow Fun Coast, where everyone is mostly welcome, for a price.)

King Campbell anticipates very little disruption to business and industry as a result of the Great Separation. With the abolition of all trade unions, businesses will thrive and productivity will soar. The Big Holes in the centre of the new Sovereignty will be particularly successful, bringing much deserved fortune to struggling politician Clive Palmer and media Girl-About-Town Gina Rinehart. Of course the Carbon Imposition and Mining Success Levies will be stopped on Day 1, allowing our industries to emit as nature intended. After all, how can Newmanians be expected to take pride in our productivity if we can’t see signs of activity?

King Campbell has decided to make Way Out West a loving memorial to Sir Joh Bjelke Petersen, with one of the last remaining members of the Bjelke-Petersen Government. Katter Kountry, as it will be known, will be a generous area of real-life, real-straight Newmania, with free admission in return for volunteer work driving cattle, controlling reptiles and fixing farm equipment.

Newmania’s glorious tourism industry will blossom. The Gold Rainbow Fun Coast will attract all types of visitors – including those types – and provide basically what it does now. WendyJoy (But Not Too Much Joy and None of That Gay Stuff) Land will become a Mecca, but not the same Mecca as the one for Muslims. A different Mecca. Protestants will flock to be part of the flock. The jewel in King Campbell’s tourism crown, the Great Barnaby Reef, will be a throbbing hub of happy tourists, boozy coconuts drinks, grey nomads, sunburnt back-packers, frenzied commercial shipping and truckloads of tailings from Clive’s and Gina’s Big Holes.

There’s no need to worry about the sludge though – King Campbell himself is an Engineering God, and he has promised to build tunnels from the Big Holes all the way to the Reef, where he will erect state of the art under-sea chicken-wire fences to contain the watery sludge and protect the sanctity of the reef. As King Campbell explained, the added advantage of choosing chicken wire is that it makes it hard for the scuba-diving graffiti artists.

Welcome to the New Newmania. God help us all.

*Resettlement Costs are the Resident’s Responsibility.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Happy Birthday, Mr Whitlam

This week Gough Whitlam turns 96, and aside from the sadness of the birthday without his late wife Margaret, Mr Whitlam will look back across the past half-century and wonder what the hell happened to the once great Australian Labor Party. He is not alone

This year also marks 40 years since Gough’s audacious strategy to woo middle class voters secured him the Prime Ministership in 1972. In the late 1960s, Whitlam recognised that in order to win government, he would need to attract middle class voters who had favoured the Liberal Party since the late 1940s, while at the same time, retaining the loyalty of traditional Labor voters from the factories and mines and shopfloors. 

Regrettably, E.G. Whitlam will always be remembered first for The Dismissal, that ferocious time in our political history which could have seen the death of the Labor Party. Labor endured, much to my grandfather's disappointment, and governed again under Bob Hawke, Paul Keating, Kevin Rudd and Julia Gillard, yet right now, Labor’s future looks about as desolate as it did back in November 1975 when Sir John Kerr terminated Whitlam’s political career.

Gough Whitlam is probably in the best position of anyone to explain the desperate situation of the ALP in 2012, and possibly, to structure another miracle comeback. After all, he’s the one that started the slow-dance with the middle classes...

The music stopped about 20 years ago yet the ALP kept on pirouetting to the right, from Government under Paul Keating into Opposition under a progression of lacklustre leaders: Beazley, Crean. Latham. The more successful Coalition Prime Minister John Howard was, the harder the ALP tried to emulate them.  As Whitlam had done prior to the 1972 election, Labor seemed to think that if they were more like the Coalition, if the offered positions more appealling to the middle classes, they could win. 

Again, Labor went after the middle class voters. The strategy probably would’ve succeeded in 2001 too, but September 11. We were, quite appropriately, scared by the world. Conventional wisdom suggests that the left's strengths are in education and welfare, while the right is about border protection, defence and the economy. Labor lost another one.

Take a look back over the past twenty years:  Labor’s one big success was Kevin-07. It was also the one time when the ALP differentiated itself from the policies of the right: Your Rights At Work successfully tore the heart out of Tony Abbott’s WorkChoices and once again aligned Labor with its working class origins and union-based sponsors. On the environment, Labor was talking about moral challenges and an ETS while the Libs were trying to decide if Climate Change was a global conspiracy. 

Surprisingly, Rudd is socially conservative, but that mattered less to many voters, and gave Labor a vital point of differentiation against the Greens, who now occupy a position on the continuum very similar to that occupied by Gough Whitlam in 1972.

The landscape is very different 40 years on. Tony Abbott leads the most popular political party in the land, while simultaneously surviving spectacular personal disapproval figures. He has company, though; Julia Gillard's personal approval numbers are as bad as Mr Abbott's. Both primary voting intention and two party preferred figures have Labor all but gone. 

The future of the Liberal Party looks even healthier when viewed through the one-dimensional lens of polling results. The two parties are trying to kill each other by fighting over the same slice of electoral real-estate; the slice traditionally belonging to the conservative right. The Coalition has the home-court advantage.

I wonder what Gough Whitlam, Elder Statesman of the ALP,  would say about this situation. He certainly wouldn't be advising his team to fight Tony Abbott for the middle class aspirational voters, and the Mining Executive Class. I think it might be a lot simpler...and a lot more complex.

When the primary vote would have to climb to reach one in three, admit you've lost your way. It's not about leadership or carbon tax or asylum seekers. It's about the people Labor left behind when they forgot to stop moving right. Labor can't be the government we need if they're in Opposition.

The least we can do would be to ask Mr Whitlam for his advice, and listen to the wisdom of his 96 years.

Happy Birthday, Mr Whitlam. 

Monday, July 9, 2012

(Bloody) Oath

Last week, it was announced that Australian Girl Guides would no longer swear allegiance to God or the Queen. Although there has been some media comment, and a minor kafuffle on talkback radio, the new version has been well accepted, except by Bert, and Bert isn’t happy.

The existing verse that Girl Guides recite included reference to both the Queen and God.

I promise that I will do my best;
To do my duty to God,
To serve the Queen and my country
To help other people
and keep the Guide law

The new, inclusive version is here:

I promise that I will do my best
To be true to myself and develop my beliefs
To serve my community and Australia
And live by the Guide Law.

We heard Bert’s sincere disapproval on 612ABC Brisbane’s Cereal Box segment this morning. He was so incensed that he wanted to round up all the Girl Guides and send them to Afghanistan for not recognising the Queen. Now Bert’s an ex-Nasho, and ex-Public Servant and he’s always sworn allegiance to the Queen. In mu opinion, he's also a silly old goat, but I don’t think that requires a sworn oath of any kind.

Surprise, surprise, neither does being a Girl Guide. After all, it’s girls, some as young as seven, making a promise, not declaring an Oath. In fact, the Girl Guides call it that: it’s the Promise, and I think it’s entirely appropriate for young people to make a promise that is relevant to them.

When Julia Gillard, an atheist, became Prime Minister, she had the option of taking an oath or an affirmation. The difference is that the Oath is religious in nature, and the Affirmation is not. She was roundly criticised by conservatives and Christian groups for choosing the Affirmation, which does not mention God. I consider Ms Gillard’s choice was the only truthful alternative. How could she swear an oath which includes a God she doesn’t believe in? Wouldn’t that have been the height of hypocrisy? It’s a no-win situation: she is criticised for not observing prayers, yet every time she sets foot inside a church, particularly for state funerals, she is criticised for that too.

Bert was passionate in his determination that Girl Guides who did not recognise the Queen were unworthy somehow. It’s important for Bert to understand that an Oath, or Affirmation, or Promise is a deeply personal experience. It needs to mean something to the person who is swearing their Oath. It’s pointless swearing allegiance to a religion, a god, or a monarch that has no significance to you.

At this stage, both options still acknowledge our monarch, as do the Oath and Affirmation for servicemen and women joining the Australian Defence Force. There’s a good reason for that: Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth is still our head of state.

I asked Rob about his Oath: it was before there was a choice of an Affirmation available, so he spoke the words about the Queen and God with one hand on the Australian flag, but the words did not hold literal meaning for him. He was swearing his allegiance to Australia, promising to do all in his power as a soldier to protect Australia. The words that were written down (see below) weren’t entirely relevant or irrelevant, but he made them personal. It’s the personal vow that Rob held onto, because that’s the one that held meaning for him.

And the Girl Guides have done the same thing. After a project lasting for about a year, the Australian Girl Guides found the right words that allowed people making the Guides Promise to find their own meaning, regardless of religion, skin colour, origin, or political preferences. The Promise includes the words, “to Serve my Community and Australia”, and Bert can assume that clause includes Australia’s head of state, The Queen.

The World Association for Girl Guides has ratified the new wording, noting that it ensures that today’s Guides and those of the future will be included, rather than excluded, from the Promise. The Queen might be an important figure in Bert’s life, but irrelevant in the life of a seven year old girl who was born in Thailand or Kenya or Argentina, in the same way that swearing allegiance to a Christian god would make no sense for a Buddhust, Hindu, Jedi or atheist.

I hope Bert continues to hold dear the words he spoke all those years ago, because they mean so much to him. Australia needs her history (and people like Bert to keep it alive), but she also needs a future that is inclusive of everyone who may be willing and able to serve, whether it’s as a politician, a public servant, a member of the Defence Force or a Girl Guide. No-one wants to take away Bert’s Oath or challenge his beliefs.

Bert’s Oath is Bert’s Oath. The Girl Guides are simply helping the next generation to find words that mean as much to them as Bert’s Oath means to him.

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Sunday Night Sillies

There were Two Politicians at Parliament House
And one of them was Bad and the other was Grouse.
Julia kept busy, counting the votes;
While Tony kept chanting Stop the Boats.

They lived in Can'bra the weather was hot,
And one of them was Good, and the other was Not.
Julia promised a Carbon Tax,
Gina wanted to own Fairfax.

They lived in Can'bra when the weather was cold,
And they Did, and they Didn't Do, what they were told.
Julia struck a deal with Bob;
Tony was stuck with Andrew Robb.

They argued and bitched with Swanny & Joe;
And one said "Yessir" and the other said "No!"
Julia brought us the NBN,
Tony's still counting to...eleventy-ten?

Craig Thomson sobbed - they all went mad.
Nothing got better and the polls got bad.
Australia's economy is all straight A's,
But Tony knows: negativity pays.

Julia failed the asylum seekers-
Tony became a friend of Latika's(?)
Julia's offside with unions and greenies;
Slipper's offside with everyone. Meanies!

Leadership worries, Julia triumphed.
Turn back the boats, Tony harrumphed.
Marriage Equality, begged Penny Wong.
Now Malcolm admits that Tony's wrong.

There may be a Moral, though some say not;
I think there's a moral, and I think I know what.
They've forgotten to govern, they just want to win.
Kevin and Malcolm? All is forgiv'n!
Clive Palmer versus Katter and Labor's woes...
Julia's PM, but just by a nose.

With most humble apologies to A.A.Milne

Actions Unconscionable

Before you can advocate for a Conscience Vote, you need to have a conscience; a set of beliefs that are stronger than your desire for power.

Conscience votes are rare, and usually involve controversial issues of a moral or ethical nature. Within the context of party politics, a conscience vote is a risk.

In a hung parliament, a conscience vote can be a losing vote. With tissue-thin majorities, parties need certainty. Even with a solid majority, too many conscience votes undermines the party's image and appeal: why support a party that allows its elected representatives to vote against the party line? And to vote against your party when no conscience vote has been granted is to risk being expelled from the party, if you're an ALP member. The penalties for a Liberal crossing the floor are slightly less dramatic, yet still a deterrent.

The reality is that for most politicians, there's no need to decide issues one-by-one. In many cases, there's little need to understand the issues. Just vote the party line, regurgitate the party talking points, and no-one gets hurt. Julie Bishop's ridiculous performance on Ten Breakfast this week in response to the Carbon Tax is a fine example:  

JULIE BISHOP    We can deliver tax cuts by making savings. We’ll ensure that pensioners get a fair go. You don’t have to hit them with a job destroying tax in order to do that. 
PAUL HENRY    Will you take the money away that they have been given to compensate them for the carbon tax? 
JULIE BISHOP    If there is no carbon tax they won’t need that compensation, but we'll ensure there are tax cuts and that pensioners get a fair go. 
PAUL HENRY    But you will take that money away from them?
JULIE BISHOP    They won’t need the compensation if they are not hit with a carbon tax. 
PAUL HENRY    So you’ll take it away from them? 
JULIE BISHOP    But we’ll have tax cuts. Well we won’t need the compensation for a tax that isn’t there. I mean that is just the con isn’t it? To say that you put a tax on and then you give them compensation.
PAUL HENRY    And then you’ll take compensation off them. 
JULIE BISHOP    There will be tax cuts. 
PAUL HENRY    You’ll take the money off them won’t you, that will come away. 
JULIE BISHOP    There will be tax cuts but they won’t be paid for by the carbon tax. 
PAUL HENRY    I love you Julie, I just do!

What about when your conscience is in conflict with the policies you're required to support, crossing the floor is not an option?

Queensland Premier Campbell Newman is on record as supporting same sax marriage, yet the LNP would not permit a conscience vote on amending or repealing the Civil Partnerships legislation.  Newman is the leader of the Parliamentary LNP in Queensland, and even he is bound by the party machine, lead by Christian conservative Bruce McIver. Did the voters of Ashgrove elect Campbell Newman, or did they elect the LNP?

Malcolm Turnbull, in a curious bout of speech followed by duelling op-eds with Andrew Bolt, has urged his party leader to allow a conscience vote at federal level on the same issue. The answer from Tony Abbott  is, as usual, a flat 'no'. As the Prime Minister has allowed Labor MPs a conscience vote, it's unlikely that the current same sex marriage bills would succeed; the ALP members may cross the floor, and the Liberals may not. Turnbull, and probably others, will be required to vote against their consciences. 

If we had a free vote on the matter and, subject always to the wording of the Bill, I would vote to recognise same sex couples’ unions as a marriage. For reasons I have laid out I find the arguments against it unpersuasive.

Meanwhile, in Lyne and New England and Kennedy and Denison, where the sitting members are Independents, every vote is a conscience vote...or would be, if deals hadn't been done to form the minority ALP Government. In Lyne and New England, Rob Oakeshott and Tony Windsor are struggling. 

Why? Is it because they've lost their genuine independence, or because they sided with the dreaded ALP, and that's a bridge too far for voters in these traditional National Party seats. Perhaps it's just part of the national malaise, the all-pervasive disillusionment with politics and politicians of all flavours.

On marriage equality, Rob Oakeshott will vote to represent his electorate, as will Tony Windsor:

Looming challenges for the self-described socially progressive Mr Oakeshott include the gay marriage vote.He said that his electorate has made it clear it thinks marriage is between a man and a woman, and therefore he would vote against reforms in favour of gay marriage unless lobbyists could somehow change his community's sentiment.

In a traditional parliament, with a majority, a minority and a handful of others, Independents would be free to vote with their consciences, or with the will of their electorate, on every bill. They don't have the luxury of a party machine to "help" them form opinions and provide catchy phrases to use when interviews get tricky, yet they enjoy the freedom to vote independently.

Political parties are part of our system of government. The decision to grant or deny a conscience vote is an indicator of a leader's willingness to risk surrendering power.I wonder if those leaders and party officials who deny their MPs the liberty to vote their conscience have consciences themselves. 

“Congratulations. You have met your conscience. In my experience, the world is divided between those who have one and those who don't. And the ones with one are divided into those who will act on their conscience and those who won't. Those who will are, I'm afraid, the smallest category. They will *jeito*. It's Brazilian Portuguese. It means to find a way to get something done, no matter what the obstacles.”
Jean Ferris, Twice Upon a Marigold


Saturday, July 7, 2012

Missed Manners

After my blog post earlier this week in which I compared Liberal parliamentarian Sophie Mirabella to Jane Austen’s delightful Miss Jane Bennet, I’ve been thinking again about standards of behaviour, where they come from, and what they mean. I’ve also been thinking about how Ms Mirabella is actually a mishmash of all of the worst qualities of all five Bennet sisters, but I’ll leave that one for the Austen aficionados. 

So what is the ultimate authority on manners? Who arbitrates good behaviour and differentiates it from poor behaviour? How are these standards communicated through a community, and how are they enforced?
Should we defer to the teachings of American Judith Martin, better known as Miss Manners? I’d mention her age, and suggest that perhaps her preferred style might be out of vogue, but I’m sure she wouldn’t approve of me talking about a lady’s age.

"You can deny all you want that there is etiquette, and a lot of people do in everyday life. But if you behave in a way that offends the people you're trying to deal with, they will stop dealing with you...There are plenty of people who say, 'We don't care about etiquette, but we can't stand the way so-and-so behaves, and we don't want him around!' Etiquette doesn't have the great sanctions that the law has. But the main sanction we do have is in not dealing with these people and isolating them because their behaviour is unbearable."
Australia has our own maven of manners, the indomitable Miss June Dally-Watkins. Around the same age as Miss Manners, Miss Dally-Watkins started Australia's first finishing school for young ladies in the 1950s, and still makes occasional media appearances to talk about etiquette, deportment and 'shoulds'. There are many many 'shoulds' in the world of manners, yet probably many more should-nots.

I have no idea what Miss Dally-Watkins would think of Ms Mirabella's performance on QandA, but I have a fair idea what she thinks of Kyle Sandilands and Jackie O. I'd guess she would dismiss Vile Kyle as absolutely beneath her contempt. His entire existence is a should-not. 

Jackie O would attract fierce criticism for tolerating Kyle's appalling behaviour, and for associating with him. The contrast is even more dramatic against the backdrop of Jackie O's gig hosting Channel Ten's Australian Princess, a reality show in which a selection of less-than-genteel young ladies were transformed into pretentious young ladies with near perfect manners. This was dramatic irony at its best.

But these are, of course, personal judgments, made with only my own sense of etiquette to guide me. There are some authorities which have to make official determinations: ACMA has found Kyle Sandilands to have crossed their line, and has imposed additional conditions on 2DAY-FM's broadcasting licence in an attempt to control Kyle's personal imperative to shock. 

Clearly, 2DAY-FM management has been willing to overlook Kyle's disregard of social standards to keep the money flowing.  They have implemented their own safety measures to ensure Kyle can be 'dumped' before anything too offensive goes to air, but against what standards do they measure  'too offensive'?So desperate are they to keep Kyle on air, they have taken ACMA's decision to the Appeals Tribunal today to have he conditions diluted. The SMH reported: 

Southern Cross Austereo's barrister, Richard Cobden, SC, said in response to Sandilands's behaviour, the broadcaster had taken ''remedial action'' to prevent further breaches, including a 30-second delay and two censors to warn him if he was likely to cross the line. All staff involved in producing and presenting programs had undergone training and Sandilands had been counselled.

But Richard Lancaster, SC, for the authority, said the watchdog wanted the condition to apply 24 hours a day, seven days a week. The condition states ''program content must not offend generally accepted standards of decency … having regard to the demographic characteristics of the audience of the relevant program''.

Wouldn't it be cheaper and simpler to employ a radio host who can be both entertaining and controversial, and can also be trusted to use common sense to censor himself? Or is Kyle's risky on-air behaviour the key to his success?

My friend Jillian suggested that one of the factors that determine standards is celebrity: if enough influential celebrities exhibit a certain behaviour, it can transition quickly from fringe to mainstream. Just look at the way glasses frames have changed over the past 40 years, or trace the origin of almost any fad you care to name, from miniskirts to destination weddings. 

Standards do change: Are the repeated behaviours of Kyle and Jackie O - Kyle crossing the line, and Jackie giggling - influencing standards and behaviours in their audience? Do young male listeners think its okay to call women "fat slags" when they disagree with them? Are  women learning that the appropriate response to hearing a man call a woman names is to emit an embarrassed giggle?

That's the only argument I would need to reject 2DAY-FM's appeal and uphold ACMA's ruling.

Technology is playing a larger role too. Social media provides the means for people to indulge in behaviours - often abusive - that they wouldn't dream of trying in a real life situation. Federal MP Andrew Laming (@AndrewLamingMP) has a reputation for questionable use of Twitter and Facebook, being provocative, at times rude. Failed Sydney politician Mark Sharma (vos2135) is abusive on Twitter, although he cleans up his act during any campaign in which he's a candidate. Dare to contribute an opinion under the #auspol hashtag and you should expect to be attacked for it, by people you don't know. 

In one of the truly great moments of Twitter irony, Rupert Murdoch complained how hard it was to have a civil conversation on Twitter, amidst all of the ignorant, viscious abuse. Is this a sign of social decay, Murdoch asks. Thousands of responses included suggestions about the risks of stones and glass houses, that pot and kettle have met, and that finally, Rupert is reaping what he has sown. 

And I'm still no closer to understanding standards of behaviour, other than to suggest that in most cases these days, the majority rules. Miss Manners, ACMA and even 5S are all about imposing external standards. I'd like to think that we each have our internal gauge of what is acceptable.

In the absence of anything better, The Golden Rule (Do Unto Others) seems appropriate. It's a rule, a guideline, a commandment in every major religion, it has credibility in psychology and sociology, and it's common sense if you don't try to complicate it. 

Let's all try that one for a while.


Wednesday, July 4, 2012

How To Stop A Boat

Australia finds itself in an embarrassing position. Build a word cloud of our national news over the past fortnight and you'll find all the scary terms in large type: asylum seekers, boats, illegal, refugees, detention centres, racist, people smugglers, Muslims, drownings, offshore processing...

This is who we are, or more accurately, this is what our elected representatives have allowed us to become: a prosperous multicultural nation which has lost her compassion, her generosity. Her heart. We allowed this to happen. We allowed our Government and Opposition to place politics and pride at the centre of their response to a human crisis. People died as a result. 

And if that's not enough to make you hang your head in shame, think about how we look on the international stage. A G20 member with an economy the envy of the world, millions of miles of open space, peace, prosperity, democracy and freedom. In 2010, there were 1,700,000 applications for asylum worldwide. Australia processed less than 10,000 of them.

All hell broke loose when ABC1 aired the now infamous 4 Corners episode about conditions in Indonesian slaughter houses. We risked our cattle industry and our relationship with Indonesia to take immediate action to stop our cattle from suffering, but we can't get out of our own way on the Asylum Seeker Issue. Apparently the life of an asylum seeker - possibly darker skinned, possibly Muslim - is less important than cattle. 

Our elected officials must find their hearts and rethink their priorities. 

There are many options, many more variations and combinations and compromises that could form part of a solution to the Asylum Seeker problem off our North Eastern Coast, but Tony Abbott's "Stop the Boats" slogan-response will fail and fail spectacularly. Think of the 2001 Tampa incident combined with last week's mass drowning and broadcast all over the world.

Here's a hypothetical situation: our Government will get word from officials - AMSA, Customs, Navy, Airforce - that a boatload of asylum seekers is in international waters and heading in our direction. At this stage, assume 100-200 people on board, including women and children. Australia's policy is to stop the boats,which in practical terms means stop the boats and turn them around when safe to do so.

Someone in authority will get on the blower, make contact with a Navy warship or a Customs and Border Protection Enforcement Vessel, and instruct them to intercept the boat. It's impossible to gauge the condition of the boat  from the air; this needs to be done at sea. After locating the boat, the Navy will make radio contact with boat, try to establish its condition and intent, and ask it to go back.

Now things get interesting. The people smugglers will either agree to the request, and the boat will make a U-turn and sale into the sunset, farewelled by their new friends from the RAN or Customs, or they will refuse. What do you think the chances are that the boat turns around?

Assuming the answer is no, our Navy Captain despatches a boarding party in a RHIB (rigid hull inflatable boat) to board the vessel, assess its condition, offer to provide fuel, food and water, and if the voyage would be safe*, repeat the request that the vessel's crew turn around and go back to where they came from.

Again, the people smugglers refuse. What do you think happens next?

In the absence of a standing order, the Captain has two options. He can let the people smugglers continue to their destination , or he can order that the boarding party take control of the vessel.

The boarding party is expecting resistance, so they may be carrying sidearms for their own protection. We now have people smugglers - criminals - refusing a request from the Royal Australian Navy. 

Two countries, a UN convention, international maritime law, one boatload of illegal activity, one warship, one group of professionally trained, armed navy personnel versus a group of sailor-thugs, plus an audience of terrified, terrorised refugees, including women and children, bobbing around in the Indian Ocean. 

If we're lucky, the crew will surrender, be handcuffed without resisting, and the boat will be turned around. The refugees will be someone else's problem. For now.

But we only get one shot at this. 

A week or so later, another vessel is detected. The same process is followed, but this time the asylum seekers had been warned that the Australians were playing tough. There's no easy surrender. This time, the crew is larger, and well armed. They're prepared for things to get ugly. In the absence of existing Rules of Engagement, the Navy will need authority from far higher up the tree to take this boat by force.

A political decision is made, and authority is granted. With no land in sight, a small, overcrowded boat controlled by people smugglers and carrying desperately scared refugees faces off against the RAN. There are military helicopters in the air, with special forces personnel ready to fast-rope onto the deck of the boat. Perhaps shots are fired. 

How far does this story go? Do the people smugglers set fire to the boat, sabotage the engine, take refugees as hostages or throw them overboard so that our Navy is duty-bound to rescue them? Does the Navy fire warning shots across the bow of the vessel? 

The next step involves gunfire at sea. 

Of course this is hypothetical, and exaggerated to the nth degree. There are civilians involved, and frankly, our military is too disciplined and too moral to allow such a situation to develop. The Navy would in all likelihood back down to avoid such a conflict.

Congratulations Australia. Our politically motivated dithering last week has already won the award for International Selfish Bastards of the Year. We cannot risk our humanity with Tony Abbott's proposal. "Stop the Boats" is at best a catchy slogan; at worst a humanitarian and diplomatic disaster.

* if the boat is considered unsafe, the Navy will ensure that the passengers and crew are taken to safety for processing. 


Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Vexed & Vacuous

It is a truth universally acknowledged that there are ways to behave in society. I'm not talking about Jane Austen-esque manners, the bonneted verbal bouts of pride, prejudice, sense and stupidity of 200 years ago. This is 2012, and there are standards, albeit somewhat more flexible.

Last night on QandA, GetUp! Director Simon Sheikh passed out on television. 

Immediately after the initial wave of shock and sympathy, viewers re-examined the footage and saw Shadow Minister for Innovation, Industry, Science and Research Sophie Mirrabella, who was seated beside Mr Sheikh, lean away from the slumped man beside her. In contrast, Climate Change Minister Greg Combet, who was seated one seat further away, went to Mr Sheikh's aid. 

Twitter went wild with accusations that Ms Mirrabella's failure to act is an indication of her true character, and proof that she is an unfit representative. Certainly the vision is damning, made worse by Mr Combet's actions.

But several heartbeats later, the second wave of tweets commenced. How dare anyone criticise Ms Mirrabella for her underwhelming reaction? She was shocked. No-one knows how they'd react in a similar situation. Even GetUp! asked, via Twitter, that critics hold their fire.

In Austen's time, Ms Mirrabella's shocked reaction would have been perfectly acceptable. I can see  Miss Jane Bennet, the very model of all that is good and decent, reacting in a very similar way. Still, some critics are determined to attack Ms Mirrabella for not being more like the steady, useful (if entirely without accomplishment) Mary Bennet or the pragmatic Charlotte Lucas. 

Lecturer and writer Lauren Rosewarne suggested that criticism of Ms Mirrabella is because her reaction didn't include visible signs of feminine emotion. Ms Rosewarne wrote:

While I’ve not yet stumbled upon it myself, apparently there’s a handbook out there for women with some very precise shoulds when it comes to conveying emotions.

There's no book and this isn't 1815. We talk about these issues, laugh with friends, discuss over reheated leftovers at lunch, debate in one sentence bursts on Twitter. Should we wear ugg boots to Westfield? Pyjamas to the corner shop after 9pm? Ask guests to pay their own way at parties held at restaurants? Display tattoos at work? Slap other people's kids? Wear tights as pants? Drink Shandies? Lie about your age? Talk down the economy? Sing badly on tellie? Make fat jokes? 

Different people have different interpretations of what is appropriate behaviour in different situations, and gender is not always an issue. Yes, double standards do exist, yet I simply don't accept that this issue is one of double standards. There's no gender bias, just failure to align with Ms Rosewarne's expectation of how the Twittersphere should react to a surprising response to someone else's misfortune.

Convoluted, isn't it?

Put simply, Ms Rosewarne is defending Ms Mirrabella against criticism aimed at her failure to emote in an identifiably feminine way. My recollection of the Twitter stream is that the criticism was generated by the failure to act, the hostile body language and expression. I don't recall a single tweet suggesting that weeping or wailing would help. No hand-wringing displays were requested.

But I'm giving Ms Mirrabella a pass, despite her apparent impotence in last night's QandA emergency, if only because her very presence was largely as irrelevant as her gender during Mr Sheikh's collapse.

If anything, Ms Rosewarne's story in The Conversation seems to suggest that she might be the one with unrealistic expectations of human behaviour. We expected everyone on the panel to have the same reaction, the same desire to help, regardless of gender.

Because double standards are far less common than they were in 1815, and women are capable of being useful as well as decorative.

With apologies to those not familiar with Austen's P&P 

Monday, July 2, 2012

Drowning, Not Waving

Today’s Newspoll results are a bit of a non-event, unless you happen to be in Queensland, where they are worthy of more than a second glance. Nationally, the changes are minimal: the Coalition is still leading Labor by 12 percentage points on a two-party-preferred basis, but when you get to the Queensland figures, the LNP lead is 30 percentage points, a margin devastating enough to be likened to Whyalla and the dawn of the Carbon Tax. Even Kevin Rudd’s seat of Griffith, along with Treasurer Wayne Swan and Trade Minister Dr Craig Emerson’s seats in Queensland, would be in danger. Labor could be ShamWowed right off the electoral map in Queensland, leaving their paltry seven seats in Queensland’s state parliament looking like a strong result.

You have to wonder if a two-party preferred measure is relevant any more.

Worse than that, some are wondering if the ALP is relevant any more.

It’s a ridiculous position. Of course the ALP is relevant. Even on primary votes, 32% of people indicated that they would vote Labor. That’s one in three people, but one in three doesn’t win an election. If the ALP is going to hold onto power – and that looks less and less likely – they need more than 50% of the 2PP number. Nationally, the ALP needs to find a significant slab of voters who will support them and their allies...if they still have any.

So where are they: Paul Keating’s True Believers must be around somewhere. Are they the one in three who are sticking by this wounded Labor Government against all odds?

I’m quite sure that the ALP doesn’t actually know where to look for the voters it has lost along the way…so I’m going to point them in the right direction. Look to the left, Labor. We’re all over here!

Take a look at the Political Compass, which made the following observations just two years ago:

Conservative parties in virtually all western democracies have shifted to the right economically, and the Australian Liberal Party is no exception. However, in most countries a new generation of conservative leaders display eagerness to adopt more socially liberal policies in tandem with full-throttle free market (ie right wing) economics. In the case of Tony Abbott's Liberals, however, the party has not only moved right of the earlier Turnbull leadership years, but it has also shifted to a more authoritarian position on the social scale. This is a move that will no doubt appeal to the otherwise mostly homeless former supporters of One Nation.

Labor reflects this drift, now occupying a space to the right of the 1980s Liberals. The debate between the two main parties, however heated, is within narrowing parameters. The two parties are now closer together than at any other time. The clash of economic vision of earlier campaigns is absent. It's no longer about whether the prevailing neoliberal orthodoxy is actually desirable, but merely a question of which party can manage it best.

By contrast, the Greens, once pretty much a single issue party, have emerged with a comprehensive social democratic manifesto, more in tune with an earlier Labor Party, and significantly more socially liberal than either of the others.

Take another look at the compass above. Should the ALP be fighting for the small stripe of ideological real estate between where they are now, and the conservative crush of Nationals, LNP and Liberals, or should it - to quote an astonishing television documentary series - Go Back to Where It Came From? As hated as she is by the political right, Julia Gillard is dragging the ALP even further to the right, but there's no-one there to welcome her. We're all behind her, in that big slab of open space to the left of Labor.

The results in Queensland are more pronounced, and the reasons are varied. For many Labor and undecided voters, the issue of Julia Gillard’s ascendancy still burns. These voters will not support a government lead by the woman who knifed “our Kev” in the back, and then lied about the dreaded Carbon Tax. Another reason for Labor still being hated in Queensland is Queensland’s reliance on mining and the perception that the combination of the Carbon Tax and the MRRT will damage the mining industry.

And then there’s the Campbell Newman Effect: despite 99 days in office, in which promises have been broken and every Queenslander has been squeezed somehow, Newman is seen as a winner. That’s not a hard look to maintain in comparison to Opposition Leader Annastacia Palaszczuk. Unfortunately for Queensland Labor, Ms Palaszczuk was the most qualified and most willing to lead a small and lacklustre group of MPs. She makes Mr Newman look good. State Labor must regroup and bring in a leader from outside the parliament.

In 21st Century politics, conventional wisdom suggests that elections are won in the western suburbs of Sydney, and the south-east corner of Queensland. Both look lost to the more conservative of the conservative options.

The Australian Labor Party would do well to stop trying to take ground away from the Coalition, and turn around. There’s an enormous streak of centre ground where Labor Voters – the lapsed True Believers, the Greenies with moderate economic views and the genuine Centre-Lefties are waiting with votes and bags of money for their party to return to them.