Thursday, August 30, 2012

Don't Feed The Trolls

I read with concern that Australia's Next Top Model judge and all around trans-Tasman media personality Charlotte Dawson has been hospitalised following a crisis linked to an avalanche of abuse on Twitter. I'm not a fan of Ms Dawson, and I'm not a hater; I'm entirely neutral, and I don't follow her Twitter account. Nevertheless, being hospitalised due to twitter abuse is extreme.

Time to find out what Ms Dawson has been up to lately, and to catch up on the story. 

It seems that from time to time, Ms Dawson adopts the 'Dicko' role on Australia's Next Top Model. She's often seen as the nasty judge, the one who is there to stop the entire judging process from becoming a saccharine love-in. That persona is also the one who tends to cut through the facade of glamour and provide some much needed reality when the fumes from the hairspray get to be too much. It's an important role that lends the show a touch of credibility.

Charlotte's role was probably the toughest on the show. The modelling industry is known to be superficial and bitchy, based around self-centred teenaged girls; the only possible outcome is exposed nerve endings and rivers of mascara. Put the whole thing into a competitive environment and then televise it and it's anyone's guess who survives...which is the point, I guess.

Did Ms Dawson overstep the mark in her criticism of some of the competing models? That's impossible to answer; everyone has their own ideas of what level of criticism is appropriate, but know this. It's irrelevant.

This isn't: Ms Dawson also made the mistake of criticising something to the media, and that something is her home country, New Zealand. Her criticism might well be justified, but I wouldn't encourage my clients to say it to a New Zealand. She told the Herald on Sunday:

"New Zealand is small, nasty and vindictive. It's a tiny, little village ... a tiny country at the end of the earth," she told the Herald on Sunday.
It's a brutal assessment, and has triggered this latest round of Twitter-hate from Kiwis and ex-pats. I don't advise you to read back through the twitter stream. It's literally hateful.

Ms Dawson is involved in the anti-bullying campaign. Mia Freedom said this morning:

Being an ambassador for the anti-bullying program Community Brave, Charlotte holds the firm belief that these trolls should be brought out in the public eye and held accountable to the awful things they say.
She takes a stand against the online bullying by retweeting abusive tweets to shame those that have sent them. Now setting aside whether or not this is the best way to deal with internet trolls (is there a good way to deal with unmitigated vitriol?), what happened to Charlotte this week was truly horrific. 
I've been the victim of bullying too, once in the schoolyard, and once in the workplace. I wish I'd been able to "retweet" all those instances when Mark Miller punched me in the stomach at the bus-stop, but I was five years old and the internet was decades away. The workplace bullying was a different situation: it was quiet, constant, hidden, but it destroyed my confidence while simultaneously leaving me without the emotional wherewithal to act. Eventually, I did blow the whistle. It irks me to this day that while I climbed out of the hole and she lost her job, it was classed as a "redundancy" and she walked out with close to a six-figure payout.

No-one ever deserves to be bullied. Not my five year old self with my curiously ethnic features, not the 30-something year old self was undermined by her boss at every opportunity, and not Charlotte Dawson, who is now in hospital as a result of Twitter bullying by mainly anonymous trolls. Unfortunately, even though no-one deserves to be bullied, some people seem to attract it. Ms Dawson's less than charitable comments about New Zealand, and her role as a judge on ANTM would make her a magnet for that kind of behaviour. 

So, how did a few mean tweets get to this point, a place where her last, desperate response was a vaguely suicidal tweet in the middle of the night?

It's my turn to dish the honesty. Ms Dawson mishandled the whole thing. I'm not blaming her, but I would suggest that she's been getting some terrible advice.

1. Don't feed the trolls. I understand her desire to shame Twitter trolls by retweeting them, thus bringing them into the light and exposing them to ridicule. I'd advise the opposite approach: ignore them. Bullies want power and to be seen as having power. Exposing them to hundreds or thousands of twitter users gives them what they crave, and encourages more of the poor behaviour. Ignoring them gives them nothing. No acknowledgement, no evidence that they've hit their target, no additional audience, no reason to repeat the behaviour.

2. Don't feed the trolls. Don't talk about it on mainstream media, particularly the tabloid kind. Avoid A Current Affair and Today Tonight in particular. Don't allow it to be that important, don't give it that credibility. Don't feed the trolls

3. Don't feed the trolls.Don't try to track down your haters and reason with them. They are, by their very nature, unreasonable. You can't beat stupid.

4. Don't feed the trolls. Don't track down your troll at work and report her to her boss. That's a tad stalkerish and obsessive. It's also a sign that the trolls are winning in their efforts to bully you. If your troll is threatening you, go to the Police, but meddling with someone's employment because they troll you on Twitter is unreasonable. If there are no threats and it's "just" trolling, block and report. 

5. Don't feed the trolls. If you're copping a walloping on social media, get off social media for a while. Seriously, you don't need to read that stuff. Staff it out, or get a friend to monitor your accounts, but step away from the keyboard for a few hours, or a day or a week or as long as you need.

I'm sure that Charlotte will be okay. I know she has great friends, and that she's being looked after. I hope that if she decides to come back to Twitter, she'll get a warm welcome, and she'll remember to not feed the trolls.

For now, as they used to say on Hill Street Blues, "let's be careful out there."

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Americana: Isaac the Angry Uterus

It’s official. Mitt Romney will be the Republican nominee in the 2012 American Presidential election. It’s been unofficial for some months now, with names like Rick Santorum, Newt Gingrich, Rick Perry, Ron Paul, Tim Pawlenty and Thaddeus McCotter, plus token female Michelle Bachmann and token African American Herman Cain all being relegated to the ranks of politicians who didn’t quite make it into the Presidential Race.

Those of us who ignore the mental health advice and watch eleventeen hours of subscription television news each day are only too aware of the Presidential election. For some of us, it’s a perfectly alluring blend of drama, comedy and cut-throat competitive action. No, I’m not being flippant about that; following a Presidential election can be the world’s greatest spectator sport.

Like all spectator sports, you need to be familiar with the rules, understand the language of the commentary team and know the candidates. Unfortunately, you can’t learn everything you need to know from The West Wing boxed set (although it’s a decent place to start, or a terrific refresher course.)

As in the Australian system, there are two major parties. One is to the right of centre; the other is a fair bit further to the right of centre. The incumbent is President Barack Obama, a Democrat, which is the least extreme of the two parties and is symbolised by a donkey. The Democrats are roughly equivalent to the ALP. The more extreme conservative party is the Republication party. They’re known as the Grand Old Party, or GOP, which is roughly equivalent to the Coalition, but with a bit more extreme.

President Obama was elected President four years ago, just about the time the Global Financial Crisis was rewriting the rulebook for the world. His job, to rebuild America’s economy and reputation while fighting the unwinnable war in Afghanistan, was next to impossible, and many Americans see his progress as disappointing. President Obama is phenomenally popular…in Australia, but we’re not allowed to vote. Go figure. His running mate, who will be Vice President if he wins, is the incumbent VP Joe Biden.

Governor Mitt Romney of the Great State of Massachusetts is an entirely different can of tuna. He and Mrs Ann Romney are the Senior Ken and Barbie of American politics. Mitt is independently wealthy, but we’re not quite sure how much moolah he has because he’s hiding his tax returns, but his estimated worth is around $200 million dollars. He has Masters in Business and Law. The Romneys have five sons, all adults. Mitt and his family are practising Mormons. Romney’s Running Mate is Paul Ryan, an even more conservative Republican.

American politics is more conservative than Australian politics, and that could be the problem for the Republicans. How conservative is enough, how much is too much? The spectrum is not infinite, and eventually, the Republicans will move so far to the right that they’ll run out of room to move.

Since Obama’s election four years ago, we’ve seen what can happen when the far right wing of America’s populace get together to oppose the “radical” left. They have a Tea Party, backed by a “fair and balanced” television cable news network. For hard-line Tea Partiers, the standard Republican platform is not conservative enough, but thankfully, the impact of the Tea Party peaked early, fuelled by rage at President Obama’s very existence and egged on by Sarah Palin and the entire Fox News Network: he’s African American, intellectual, and according to Tea Partiers, he’s also possibly Muslim, Kenyan, Indonesian, Alien, Socialist, Communist, Elitist, progressive, Satanist and The End Of Life As We Know It.

A selection of banners from Tea Party rallies during the past four years.

In 2012, the Tea Party is largely without influence, but they are still an important block of voters. There’s no chance that the Tea Party fringe would ever vote for a Democrat; the danger is that if Mitt Romney is seen as too moderate, they might not vote at all. Voting is not compulsory in America: to require someone to vote is an affront to their right to choose not to vote. It’s logical, if your mind is bendy. The bottom line is that Mitt Romney and his running mate Paul Ryan have to find the balance between being conservative enough to attract Tea Partiers to the polls, yet not too extreme to keep that true moderate Republicans away from the polls – or worse, voting for Obama.

After the GOP Convention in Tampa this week, we’ll have a better idea of where that sweet spot might be – because Fox News will tell us. It’s early days, yet we can be sure that from the safety of our Australian lounge rooms, much of it will sound ridiculous:

"Corporations are people, my friend... of course they are. Everything corporations earn ultimately goes to the people. Where do you think it goes? Whose pockets? Whose pockets? People's pockets. Human beings, my friend." —GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney to a heckler at the Iowa State Fair who suggested that taxes should be raised on corporations as part of balancing the budget, Aug. 11, 2011

"[My wife] drives a couple of Cadillacs." –Mitt Romney, campaigning for president in Michigan (February 2012)

"I believe in an America where millions of Americans believe in an America that's the America millions of Americans believe in. That's the America I love." –Mitt Romney (January 2012)

"We have a president, who I think is is a nice guy, but he spent too much time at Harvard, perhaps." —Mitt Romney, who has two Harvard degrees (April 5, 2012)

"I'm not familiar precisely with what I said, but I'll stand by what I said, whatever it was." —Mitt Romney (May 17, 2012)

Still, it could be worse. Todd Akin, a Senator from Wisconsin. All but the most moderate of Republicans are “Pro-Life”, which actually means they are against abortion. The further to the right you move, the less wiggle room there is in the argument. Senator Akin was asked whether women who were pregnant as the result of being raped should have access to legal abortions. Here’s his answer:

“Well you know, people always want to try to make that as one of those things, well how do you, how do you slice this particularly tough sort of ethical question. First of all, from what I understand from doctors, that’s really rare. If it’s a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down. But let’s assume that maybe that didn’t work or something. I think there should be some punishment, but the punishment ought to be on the rapist and not attacking the child.” – Senator Todd Akin (August 2012)
As well has being factually wrong, it’s also grossly insulting to all women. In fact, some American commentators have referred to a Republican “War On Women”, an emotive catchall phrase to describe various unrelated policies that all seem to restrict the rights of women. These include funding cuts for organisations that perform medical abortions, victim support for women who’ve been physically, mentally or sexually abused. Related issues include workplace discrimination, equal pay for women, public funding for family planning, contraception and sterilization.

Of course, the Republicans have no problem with women. They chose Sarah Palin – a “hockey mom” who served half a term as the Governor of a minor state - as the Vice Presidential candidate just four years ago. Perhaps they’ve learnt something since then. Michelle Bachmann was a nominee to be the Republican candidate to run against President Obama. She dropped out of the race early on, but she left her mark on the political landscape.

"I don't know how much God has to do to get the attention of the politicians. We've had an earthquake; we've had a hurricane. He said, 'Are you going to start listening to me here?' Listen to the American people because the American people are roaring right now. They know government is on a morbid obesity diet and we've got to rein in the spending." —Republican presidential candidate Michele Bachmann, suggesting at a presidential campaign event in Florida that the 2011 East Coast earthquake and hurricane was a message from God (Aug. 2011)

Hurricane Isaac: The Uterus of Wrath

Does anyone want to guess at what Michelle Bachmann thinks God’s message must be this week? He’s sent a giant hurricane shaped like a uterus to rain on Tampa during the Republican National Convention. Could it just be that the Republicans need to adjust their attitude to women?

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

My EBoo

Let me tell you a tale about the world's favourite online auction site.

Last week, I listed a new, first generation iPad 64G with Wifi and 3G. I'm lucky. My employer bought too many of them, and has released them to staff to use to aid our favourite causes. We could raffle them, auction them, or donate them to our chosen charity for them to use.

My chosen "charity" is without doubt one of the nicest people you could ever meet. Grant Richards is known around Brisbane and on Twitter as "Grant the Polite Guy". Grant has had his ups and downs, and for a while, he was living on the streets. Homeless. But sheer determination pulled Grant through: he sold issues of The Big Picture and put his life back together.

Now, Grant has a life, a home, a shoe-shine business, a wife and family, a blog, experience and an immense heart. Grant's purpose these days is helping other people who are on the streets to put their lives back together. His latest project is raising funds for a Coffee Cart where people in need can learn the skills to get them ready for work.

The entire purchase price of the iPad I'm auctioning will go to helping Grant achieve this goal. The listing on eBay included all the technical details, a little about Grant, a link to Grant's blog and a link to a YouTube video about Grant.

I listed the iPad last Thursday, with the auction due to end tonight...the bidding was impressive, and had reached $709 when eBay cancelled my auction.

Like everyone else on eBay, I ticked the Terms & Conditions box, although I hadn't actually read them. I'm an intelligent woman and would apply some common sense. That was a mistake. Somewhere in the deepest, tiniest fine print, there's a clause that prohibits sellers from linking to YouTube videos in their listings. Mea Culpa. I was totally willing to delete the link. It's a 30 second edit.

But the automated eBay police don't give you warnings; they just act. With the auction period literally 75% elapsed, my listing was shut down. The first I knew of it was when I checked the auction at lunchtime to see if there had been more bidding.

The item listing was marked "Ended", and I had a message in my eBay Inbox.


We appreciate that you chose eBay to list the following listing(s):

170900007214 - Apple iPad 64GB, Wi-Fi + 3G, 9.7in BRAND NEW IN BOX

However, your listing was in violation of eBay's Inappropriate Links policy and has been removed from eBay. We would like to take this opportunity to let you know what part of your listing is not permitted.

Your listing(s) contains the following information:

We noticed that your listing includes a link/ website address "" in the description.

As per our listing policies, only embedded videos in their listing is permitted and not referenced by an external link.

You are welcome to relist the item with the necessary revisions.

All fees associated with this listing will be credited accordingly.

I have now relisted the item without the "offensive" link, but I can't replay those same bids that were placed last weekend. In fact, I can't attract a single bid. I have a sinking feeling that my reputation as an eBay seller, and the credibility of this iPad listing may have been damaged, and because of my naiveté, I may have sabotaged the auction.

So I have some suggestions for eBay:

Accept that your customers are human. Identify mistakes or policy violations during the validation of the listing (After Submit, before listing) so that your customers can address any issues without being embarrassed or having their reputation dented.

If that's not possible, amend the current process. When you find a listing that violates eBay policy, suspend the auction for 24 hours to give the seller time to correct the listing, but preserve bids already made.

I am heartsick at the thought that my silly mistake could mean less money for Grant's Coffee Cart. Please help in any way you can.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Counter Culture

There's an old joke about change, and the more I experience of life, the truer the joke becomes.

Q: How many psychologists does it take to change a lightbulb?
A: Only one, but the lightbulb has to want to change.

It holds true for groups too. In order for the members of the group to change, they have to want to, and that's one of he biggest challenges for Change Management professionals like me. It's even harder when you're trying to change a culture.

I know a little about organisational culture, but it's hard to pin down. Some people refer to it as the feel or 'smell' of a place. Communities - organisations, states, schools, cults, sporting codes, religions, gangs, generations - have their own cultures. It's a mixture of the heritage and beliefs and behaviours and attitudes and priorities and resources of the people within the group, combined the the organisation of the group: it's structure, size, purpose and leadership. Culture can be the subtle elegance of a Regency parlour, it can be a spinning disco ball and flashing lights, and it can be anything in between. It can also be the result of social evolution, or it can be values and behaviours imposed by leadership. In any case, understanding an organisation's culture is vital you're tasked with changing it.

Right now, if I was an Elder Statesman of Australia's Liberal and National Parties, I'd be worried about culture, looking to change. A near-perfect confluence of events this past week or so has revealed an hubristic tone throughout the Coalition, from federal to state and through to student politics. It's not a policy, nor a formal directive; it's a set of behaviours that reveal common attitudes at many levels of the Party.

This week should have been a difficult week for the government. The big stories in federal politics should've been BHP Billiton pulling out of their $30b plans to extend the Olympic Dam mine in South Australia, and the prickly issue with the Prime Minister's connection to a seedy ex-boyfriend. Should've been...but wasn't. In a decision calculated to drive home the ALP's failure to keep the Olympic Dam project alive, Tony Abbott agreed to be interviewed by Leigh Sales on the ABC's 7:30 programme.

Instead of a bruising round of economic and Carbon-Tax reality biting the Government, Tony Abbott adopted the befuddled persona of Homer Simpson in Mr Burns' office. He was spectacularly unprepared for the interview to the extent that he was forced to admit on camera that he had not read the specific document he was being interviewed about. There is quite simply no reason why anyone whose age is measured in double digits would agree to be put in that position, and yet Tony Abbott lined up up on national television and allowed himself to look like an ignorant, ill-prepared fool. Why?

The answer must be arrogance, the irrational belief that he could bluff his way through, coupled with complete disrespect for the interviewer, and for the audience. The story, which should have highlighted Labor's failure, became Abbott's own failure. Not done, he completed the performance with Lisa Wilkinson on Nine's Today Show, Next, in a moment of complete brain-fail, he decided that he had read the report after all, and when he told Leigh Sales that he hadn't, he was answering a different question.

Don't forget that this was also the week when The Speaker ejected Mr Abbott from the chamber. He went a step too far in criticising the Prime Minister during Question Time, and was instructed to make an unqualified apology. His response was entirely qualified:

''I withdraw but it's still an untrue statement,'' Mr Abbott replied.

Ms Burke then told Mr Abbott to leave the chamber.

''I asked you, as you approached the dispatch box, to do it without qualification - you could not help yourself,'' she said.

In Queensland, the situation is more pronounced as the LNP is in Government, not Opposition, and there is no Upper House to moderate the government's runaway majority. Where is the line on mandates? At what point does a strongly elected government look beyond the campaign dot points and claim their mandate on the broadest terms possible. And within such a majority, does a sense of the 'real world' survive? Five months into a three year term, the infant LNP government is doing whatever they want, under the banner of "getting the state back on track".

When Campbell Newman's team won 78 of 89 seats, he was aware of the risks of governing with arrogance. He told us

"We will conduct ourselves with humility, grace and dignity," he said. "We will not let people down."

Five months later, almost to the day, Premier Newman referred to the distasteful responsibility of axing thousands of public service jobs as cleaning up a mess with a pooper-scooper. The Courier Mail's Steve Wardill said this:

The Queensland Premier's performances of late have fallen well short of the standard he set for himself. Maybe it was the supposed late-night session on the scotch in Parliament's Lucinda Bar on Wednesday that some were talking about. Or perhaps the pressure of public service job cuts, and the impact they are having on the Government, is getting to him.

A week earlier, in an interview with 612ABC's Steve Austin, Premier Newman insisted that the majority of Queenslanders are thanking him for making the tough decisions. Subsequent polling results may have shaken that belief, but possibly not as much as his benefactor Clive Palmer donating a quarter of a million dollars to the Together Union to provide psychological assistance for the victims of Newman's job cuts.

"The removal of tens of thousands of people out of work isn't going to make much of an impact on our $65 billion deficit," he said.

"But it will have an impact on the Queenslanders losing their jobs and will have an impact on the wider community, especially in regional areas outside Brisbane."

And the LNP's response, via Deputy Leader Jeff Seeney was the caustic accusation that Mr Palmer's donation had its genesis in spite, that Mr Palmer's motive was revenge against a government he thought owed him favours. Mr Seeney may be right, but as thank-you's go, it lacked grace and dignity. Considering Mr Palmer's record as the LNP's biggest donor, they might like to reassess the wisdom of undermining the gesture.

The ultimate irony was when Premier Newman told ALP member Curtis Pitt to "get a real job". In what way is Campbell Newman's job more real than Curtis Pitt's job?

Where, and how does such a sense of arrogance originate in an organisation? The Newman Government is still learning it's way around the building, and the federal Opposition haven't tasted success for close to five years. Perhaps this sense of bullet-proof superiority is simply part of the culture of conservative politics in Australia.

The University of Queensland Union election fiasco also surfaced in mainstream media this week. There's no clear answers of the right-versus-wrong variety here, although the Union President denies any wrongdoing. The UQ Union seems to have a convenient set of regulations governing their conduct, and only those who have been elected already can amend those regulations. In short, the incumbents registered the ticket name of their opposition. The opposition ticket should've registered their name but didn't. The current UQ Union officials belong to the Fresh ticket, and by also registering the name of their opposition, they have claimed a massive, opportunistic advantage, albeit morally questionable. The other questions of who knew what, and when, are side issues.

The parallel lack of oversight reminds me of the heady days of Joh Bjelke Peterson's gerrymanders, and Premier Newman's series of changes to allow bills to become law without passing through committee first, and his government's changes to media and public gallery access. The common fear of the left is that if Tony Abbott becomes Prime Minister, he'll govern with the same contempt, the same chutzpah, the same ignorance with he leads the Opposition.

By the way, the President of the UQ Union is Colin Finke, a man with ties to the Young LNP. He was recruited by Brodie Thomson, campus co-ordinator for the Young Liberals. Aside from a single interview with community station 4ZZZ, Mr Finke refused to discuss the issue with media.

If organisational culture is defined by the attitudes and behaviours of the group members, the conservative side of Australian politics has a cultural problem. The next generation of the LNP is already practising their condescension, their hubris, their arrogance.

Their culture.

Friday, August 24, 2012

Newmania: The UnClivening

Once upon a time in a Queensland far far ago, devotees of the once powerful Sir Joh Bjelke Petersen came to the bitter realisation that the Queensland National Party could not regain its former glory. Their Arch Enemies from the Labor Party had clung to power in Queensland with far more energy than grace, much like a small dog humping its owner’s leg. Regardless of who the National Party elected to lead them to victory, they always fell short. Lawrence Springborg had a few goes, plus Mike Horan, Jeff Seeney and John-Paul Langbroek all tried and all failed to defeat the Labor Government and seize power.

Enter Clive Palmer with boatloads of cash, and Bruce McIver, the brains of the operation. Bruce and Clive were buddies; Bruce had served on the board of one of Clive companies, and still works for him from time to time.The way to win Queensland, they said, was with a united conservative party, backed by big business and values voter appeal. The Queensland Nationals merged with the Queensland Liberal Party and the LNP was born.

Bruce McIver, now State President of the LNP, pulled strings. Thick strings. Ropes. Brisbane Lord Mayor Campbell Newman was convinced to step down from leading the city of Bridges and Tunnels, and step up as a Candidate for King of the Whole Blinking State! Mud was slung and names were called; headlines written, prayers recited, promises made, alliances formed and debates debated. When the votes had been counted, the LNP’s victory was so colossal that the state was renamed Newmania.

Newmania would rise from the ashes of the Bligh-led disaster-prone state of Queensland. (The name had to go. King Campbell’s campaign collaborator Wendy Joy doesn’t approve of Queens.) LNP President Bruce McIver and megadonor Clive Palmer were happy. Bruce’s conservative agenda was being attended to in the appropriate manner, and Clive was…WHAT?

Clive Palmer has donated a quarter of a million dollars to the Together Union to help them take care of the thousands of public servants who’s been ‘displaced’ during King Campbell’s Cheap Cuts. If the donation was just a glorious Dummy Spit, as has been suggested by members of King Campbell’s Court, it’s a nice one. A quarter of a million dollars can do a lot of good, and possibly build a few relationships to replace the ones he’s been burning.

Clive Palmer is an extraordinary man. Aside from being a national Living Treasure, he is a genuine mining entrepreneur, Newmania’s richest man, former owner of Gold Coast United Football Club, life member of the National Party of Australia, owner of the Hyatt Regency Coolum Resort (now named the Palmer Coolum Resort), lecturer, spreader of bizarre conspiracy theories, hatcher of grand plans (a replica of Titanic, and a private Jurassic Park style resort with cloned dinosaurs and a jumbo jet pick up and delivery service for guests), horse breeder, accomplished shit-stirrer, and occasional political candidate wannabe. He’s also Bruce McIver’s best friend and the LNP’s biggest donor.

Clive is a big man with a big heart, a big imagination and a short attention span. What could he want from the LNP? Political favours relating to his business dealings? The LNP campaigned on ‘A Strong Resources and Energy Sector' so everything should be flowing in Clive’s direction.

It seems not. Mr Palmer has had several recent differences of opinion with the Liberal Party, the party he was hoping to represent via Treasurer Wayne Swan’s seat of Lilley. After months of huffing and puffing, he announced yesterday that he would not seek pre-selection with the Liberal Party because he has a problem with their position on asylum seekers, although he supports the election of an Abbott Government.

Earlier this year at the Liberal National Conference, Mr Palmer admitted to a shouting match with Tony Abbott over Clive’s proposal that people who are acting as professional lobbyists and journalists should be banned from holding executive positions within the Liberal Party.

Less of a surprise is the ongoing battle between Clive Palmer and Treasurer Wayne Swan. Mr Palmer called the most recent Swan Budget a “sham”. Mr Swan criticised the Axis of Affluence (Palmer, Twiggy and Gina) for their selfish greed regarding the Mining Resource Rent Tax. In fact, Mr Swan labelled the Axis “a threat to democracy.”

When he’s not dabbling in politics, Mr Palmer is planning an immense new tourist development on the Sunshine Coast. He’s going to need many miles of pristine coastline, and some notable advances in science so that he can clone a dinosaur or two. The locals and the environmentalists are against the development and so are the Greens. He’ll also need the co-operation of the state and federal governments to allow him to spend a few hundred million dollars upgrading the Sunshine Coast Airport to International standard.

Clive’s Jurassic Adventureland* will probably take a little longer to eventuate than his replica of the Titanic, with contemporary luxury appointments, a "safety deck" and a casino that will be restricted to First Class Passengers only, so as not to take advantage of people who couldn’t afford to lose lots of money.

And when things were getting dreary in Clive’s world, don’t forget his stunning media conference in which he that linked the Australian Greens to the CIA in a conspiracy theory so convoluted that it could almost be true. Then later, after the state election, he took it back. 

Back here in Newmanian reality, it’s unlikely that a man with so many business interests would be able to devote more than about three days in total to a political career, much less three years. I doubt he’s serious about having political ambitions. That would make Bruce McIver happy; Bruce is adamant that his old boss should not nominate for pre-selection.

Meanwhile, Clive is receiving $300,000 from King Campbell's incredibly tight budget to aid Clive's High Court challenge against the MRRT, but is also challenging that same government to explain why his company was not awarded a major rail contract. If he doesn’t receive a response from Eff Seeney, or if he doesn’t like the response from Eff Seeney, he will take the Queensland Government to the Supreme Court. The rail contract went to his Axis partner Gina Rinehart’s company.

Should someone remind Clive that he has made powerful enemies in both parties, at both state and federal level? At this point, his only chance of getting special favours from any government would be to stage a coup d'√©tat from the lavishly appointed poop deck of Clive’s Titanic Cruiser.

*not the real name

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Sandpit Politics

If you haven't been following the intrigue at the University of Queensland (UQ), you probably think that Fresh is the campus juice bar, and Pulse is a nineties nightclub. You'd be wrong. Fresh and Pulse are the two of the student political parties, or “tickets”, lining up to contest the University of Queensland Union elections.

Well, they were, until the rules changed. Fresh, the conservative group aligned with the young LNP, held a council pow-wow last week, and effectively changed the rules around nominating for the twenty-five available positions. The problem is with the registration of the name Pulse.

The result of this rule-change is that candidates who were running under the Pulse banner have withdrawn their candidacy, because the new regulations forbid the use of Pulse as a party name under the convoluted new rules. 

This is university politics. It's young and energetic and optimistic, but it's not in the realm of hand-made cardboard posters and free Chocolate Crackles, or campaigning on a policy of longer lunch breaks and shorter skirts. Major candidates and tickets have major party affiliation, and some hope to make their careers in politics. What happens in the political sandpit can have an impact decades later, when enterprising journalists and wily oppositions unearth the dumb things you did at uni.

With no disrespect to student politicians, campus politics has a different flavour to the "senior" kind. It can afford to be more idealistic because the stakes are different and the participants aren't as cynical. True ideologues tend not to gravitate towards the warm-and-fuzzy centre where bipartisanship and compromise skip along happily, singing songs about peace and love. Student politicians are either true believers or ambitious bastards, and often both.

Some of the world’s best known politicians were heavily involved in University politics, and that group includes many of the higher profile politicians in Australia right now. Prime Minister Gillard worked with the Australian Union of Students at Melbourne University. Both Tony Abbott and Joe Hockey held the office of President of the Student Representative Council at St Johns College, Sydney Uni. Bob Hawke was Students’ Representative on the University Council at ANU. For a real treat, read David Burchell’s piece in the Australian from a couple of years ago.

Pulse is the left-leaning student group on campus, and they are affiliated with the ALP. They have been holding fundraisers under the Pulse name, and have had their campaign merchandise printed. The decision to make their party name ineligible was made so late – just days before their campaign was due to start - that they were left with only a weekend in which to regroup with a new party name, register it, and kick off their campaign. That was Option 1.

Option 2 was for the ex-Pulse candidates to run as independents. That would be easier, but also most likely to fail, as there would be no way for voters to identify the left-leaning candidates.

They chose Option 3: they have withdrawn in protest.

One other "ticket", as the parties are known, was also made ineligible, but that candidate was not a serious contender for election.

That’s only one side of the story. The other side features the Fresh team, making it well known that they planned to change the rules around naming of political parties and eligibility for registration. Colin Finke, President of the Fresh Party, told the Herald Sun 

"As per normal practice, over a week's notice was given of the council meeting complained of," he said.
"The meeting was completely transparent and not secret in any way members of the Pulse team took the opportunity to speak to council regarding the regulatory changes and after hearing arguments for and against the changes, student councillors elected to pass these regulations."
Mr Finke said members of the Pulse party "can complain all they want" but had 12 months’ notice on the introduction of new regulations on the use of registered ticket names. 

And now it gets messy. The Union’s own returning officer has ruled that Pulse was required to change its name and register for next week's election, according to the new requirements. They chose instead to withdraw from the election.

Is there a higher power that can intervene? The Electoral Commission Queensland seems not to be involved in the UQU fiasco, although they manage the election of office-bearers in other Union elections within Queensland. The University has expressed its concern, but has also stated that the Union is a separate entity to the University. One does not rule over the other, and while it will be guiding its students, it won’t be imposing its opinion on how the election should be run.

So it seems that the students at UQ will have no opportunity to vote for a left-leaning party this year. While there is a certain element of “so what” from people who aren’t students, we need to keep in mind with UQ Union has an operating budget in excess of $18m, and runs the campus cafes, canteen, bar, cinema and the all-important bookshop, as well as running support services for many minority and special interest groups.

Regardless of whether this is sneaky, murky politics from the Fresh team, or a huge blunder by the Pulse group is unimportant, as all of the students involved will soon learn. The actions of both sides paint student politicians at UQ in a poor light. Fresh appears to be devious and deceitful; Pulse appears to be whingers, blamers and quitters. Outside those sandstone walls, none of that matters.

Whether these students end up in politics or not might well depend on whether or not they can regain credibility after this week's shenanigans. In any case, they’ll need to shift their focus from winning at all costs to responsible delivery of meaningful results. This week, the objective was to deliver a fair election for the students at UQ. The objective has not been met.

Thanks to @berniethecool on Twitter for her further information that the issue is rooted in who registered the name 'Pulse', when, and why. Bernie also advised that the Meeting last Friday was not secret.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Newmania: The Fall

ReachTEL - Newman's Performance

Congratulations. If you’ve been watching politics in the Sunshine State during the past couple of months, it’s probably time to take a bow and say I told you so…because you probably did. Gleeful King Campbell and his team of conservatives are no longer enjoying the popularity he did when he claimed victory only five months ago. No-one seems happy, and with good reason. Every Newmanian is feeling some kind of government-induced pain.

But don’t crack the champagne open just yet.

King Campbell has acted swiftly, authoritatively, brutally, to take what he considers to be necessary action for enact his talking points. He always said that he was going to get the state back on track by: 

                 Growing a Four Pillar Economy
Easing the Cost of Living
Eliminating Waste
                 Restoring the Economy
This is the basis on which the CanDo team campaigned to be elected, and won with an overpowering majority. They had their mandate to do exactly what they had campaigned on, and they got on with it, literally, from King Campbell’s Day One.
Five months later, the reality bombs are exploding all over Newmania. The People are not happy, although to be fair, King Campbell’s CanDo Team would easily win another election right now. It just wouldn’t be the near-complete destruction that befell the ALP on March 24. Two polls have been conducted within the last week, and each one shows that King Campbell is has gone from Saviour of the LNP and Queensland, to Gleeful, Insensitive Assassin.

It would be too easy to say that the massive public service job cuts are to blame for the King’s slide in popularity, but that’s the tip of an iceberg in a sea of ice. Over seven thousand jobs have already gone from the Public Service, but the genuine threat of more job cuts has imbued the entire public service – over 200,000 employees – with anxiety. Staff engagement rates would be way down, costing millions in productivity. The entire public service sector is toxic.

That’s just the “Jobs” iceberg, the most visible of his cuts.

Emotional issues are less visible, but every bit as confronting. Members of the LGBTI community and their supporters have been hit hard, with a roll-back of Civil Unions legislation, the defunding of their support centre (QAHC), the continued existence of ‘gay panic’ laws and threatened changes to surrogacy access. Environmentalists are disheartened after a series of green programmes, including ClimateSmart and the Environment Defenders Office were cut.

In fact, there have been cuts to virtually every single aspect of the State Government responsibility, from health to justice to the arts to prisons to schools to tenancy advice to heritage to housing. There’s even been changes to the ways that we can access parliament: the Speaker, Fiona Simpson, has already removed cameras from parliament; next on her list is removing anyone she decides is “protesting” in the gallery.

Morgan Polls - Newman Approval

Throughout these five tortured months, King Campbell has been grinning while assuring us that it was all necessary. So incredibly unaffected is The Axe King that he described his first 100 days in office as "a lot of fun".  

But now, a couple of months further down the track, the pollsters are taking note of Queensland again. Things are not always as they may seem. All the media chatter has been about King Campbell’s declining popularity, yet when you look at the trends in Morgan polls this year, the numbers have barely moved from where they were in March, prior to the election. In fact, the largest movement occurred prior to Black Friday, when the first major round of job cuts was announced. The LNP was up, the ALP was further down, and all the talk was of ALP statewide extermination.

Since then, since the tough decisions have been announced, the LNP lead has retreated to a level close to numbers that saw the LNP win Queensland with the biggest majority in history. In fact, the difference between the March figures and this week’s figures would all be very close to being inside the Margin of Error. Context suggests the numbers are real though.

Reachtel Primary Voting Intention

And then there’s the ReachTEL numbers, which suggest a more dramatic change, particularly as regards King Campbell’s personal approval.

As always, it’s a case of making up your own mind, yet with threats of a painful State Budget hanging over us, and a solid electoral buffer, you can bet that King Campbell won’t be chasing votes by softening his approach for some time to come.

Monday, August 20, 2012


A Different Perspective on Howzat 

Firstly, Sniff N The Tears’ one and only hit was Drivers Seat, which charted in 1978. Playing it during Channel Nine’s ‘Limited Series Event’, Howzat, in a scene set in 1976 was optimistic by about two years.

And that’s almost my only gripe.*

I remember the years of World Series Cricket so vividly. I was 12 in 1977, living with my mother and grandparents in a small country town. The whole family loved their cricket, and I can’t imagine a summer when we weren’t crowded around the old black and white television in the lounge-room, watching the test matches, and sometimes the Sheffield Shield games, on the ABC.

Our access to commercial television was limited: back in those days, well before regional networks had formal affiliations, and still more than a decade before regional aggregation with metropolitan networks, NEN9/ECN8 picked what programming they showed. “Channel 8”, our local commercial station, showed little sport; it was all Days of our Lives and the Young and the Restless, Lost In Space, Bewitched, I Dream of Jeannie and the Brady Bunch. After tea, we’d settle in for a night of Great Temptation, followed by The Six Million Dollar Man, The Bionic Woman, The Paul Hogan Show, The Sullivans, or Certain Women.
In 1976-77, colour television was still new, and Countdown was the pivot around which my week revolved. If the cricket ran past 6pm on a Sunday night, and Countdown was delayed, I’d be furious.

When we first started hearing about this World Series Cricket business, we had no choice but to be vehemently against it. Practicalities aside, my grandparents were of the same generation as The Don, and cricket belonged on the ABC like sauce belongs on a pie. Cricket had honour and tradition, and all this crazy talk about One Day games that would be telecast in living colour had nothing to do with honour and tradition. Cricket at night time had even less credibility.

To make matters even less appealing, the players involved were not less than acceptable to my grandparents. These men had long hair flapping all over their collars and faces, unruly moustaches, shirts open halfway down to their belly buttons, and gold chains bouncing around their necks. They probably listened to rock n roll music too.

According to Grandpa Rex, that Lillee chap was the worst of the lot, with his ridiculous runup, and Jeff Thomson was almost as bad with his blonde hair always in his eyes. They were fast-bowlers, which was fine, but like those Poms under Douglas Bloody Jardine, Lillee and Thommo bowled at the batsmens’ body. It was Leg Theory; Bodyline by another name. That’s not cricket. Of course, Dougie Walters was just a larrikin, though; he was almost a local, so he was forgiven.

And that was that. Mucking around with the traditional game of cricket was not acceptable. Basically what the Australian Cricket Board, now known as Cricket Australia, wanted was only right and proper, and these upstarts with their money and their fancy ideas should bugger off.

Don’t forget that there was no guarantee that our local commercial station would even show the new commercialised cricket, so we had no choice but to side with the Establishment, or risk losing our cricket coverage altogether.

So we were firmly on the side of the Establishment, and when the Packer Traitors became ineligible to play “official” cricket, the ACB was forced to choose a young side of unproven players lead by Graham Yallop, a man with a short, inglorious test cricket history. His young team was comprehensively trounced in the Ashes series that year, although it was during this demeaning season that we first met fastbowler Rodney Hogg, and future captains Kim Hughes and Allan Border.

As it turns out, NEN9/ECN8 didn’t show the World Series Cricket until after the Reconciliation, so while the world was tuning into Packer’s Cricket Circus, complete with One Day Games, Day Night Games, coloured clothing, a white ball, a female commentator (gasp!) and the best players in the world, we watched, with great hope and loyalty, as the “official” Aussies had their arses handed to them, test after test, by an English team that featured Derek Randall, Bob Willis and a young David Gower.

World Series Cricket was a change that had to come, and Kerry Packer was the only man with the vision and the budget who could make it happen. As a cricket tragic, I’ve read about the great Cricket War of the 70s, and I was old enough to remember the names and the bitter antagonism with which the whole thing was conducted. It’s a different story to the one we’re watching on Channel Nine now, a sadder story. It’s also a story of how cricket was transformed, how the sacrosanct nature of the game was shattered for all time, leaving in its place both a rich heritage, and a positive future.

*My other gripe? Nine’s Howzat feels more than a little one-sided. Where is Don Bradman, the man whose legendary status influenced every decision made by the ACB, from 1932 until well after the Cricket Wars of the 70s? Where is the angst that must’ve existed for everyone close to the game? I hope Part 2 lets us see more than just the vicious glory that is Kerry Packer in full flight.

Butchering the Carbon Tax

The Courier Mail today runs the story of young Brisbane butcher Luke Stefanetti, who is having to increase his retail prices by 15-20% in order to maintain his profit margins. Luke is convinced that the Carbon Tax is the single driver that has forced him to raise his profits.

The Courier Mail has chosen – perhaps wisely – not to open comments on this story. If the story was open to comment, we would see everything posted, from misinformed agreement with Luke’s conclusions, to caustic comments about his inability to run a business. I would have liked to have added my comments to the original story, because in a nutshell, I’m not convinced by this piece that the butcher or the journalist know much about the Carbon Tax.

Perhaps they could’ve referred to this basic but handy guide to the Carbon Tax, published in today's News Limited Online editions. (See below). There are a few points here that Luke, and all small business owners, need to know.

In Luke’s case, the most important point is that point is that farmers do not have to pay Carbon Tax, and in fact, they may receive Carbon Credits under the Carbon Farming Initiative. Of course, some farm inputs will be supplied by large polluters, and could be liable for C-Tax – electricity and fertiliser are two examples – but we can’t assume that just because a company is a top polluter and is liable to pay the carbon tax, that they will pass any increase onto customers.

The point is, those big polluters are supposed to pay more under the Carbon Tax. It’s the big stick to encourage them to invest in greener solutions. People like you and me get a tax cut to help us manage the C-Tax, and small businesses like Luke’s Butchery get assistance too.

Luke says that meat prices are going through the roof. Does he mean the wholesale price he pays his supplier? Or the supermarket retail prices? It sounds to me as though someone’s prices are going up and they’re blaming the C-Tax.

Transport costs was another area where Luke feels he’s being hit by the Carbon Tax. It’s probable that he is paying more for transport costs. How much is impossible to say, as we don’t know how much is being transported, or how, or how far the product is being moved. Luke’s business, as a small business, would be exempt from the carbon price on fuel.

One of the things that worries Luke most is his electricity costs. In a C-Tax world, between 9-11% of his electricity bill will the result of the Carbon Tax. According to the Courier mail, his electricity costs are around $3000/month. He should expect a rise of between $270-$330 per month due to the Carbon Tax. No his electricity bill will increase more than that, as it has for each of the past several years, yet these increases will not be attributable to the Carbon Tax. This should be displayed on each bill. Luke should also be investigating assistance from the government. There’s help available – for example, his large electricity usage would qualify him for a 50% rebate on an energy assessment plan to help him become a more efficient user of electricity. He’d not only save money on the assessment; he’s also save money on every single electricity bill if he implemented the recommended changes.

In the meantime, Luke’s 15-20% increase appears to be far above where it should be. I don’t know much about what meat costs, but we could assume that a family might spend $50 per week on meat. That’s an increase of $7.50 - $10 per week, using Luke’s retail increase of 15-20%. Calculating the impact of the C-Tax on a small business is a complex process of financial modelling, and really, he’d be far better talking to his accountant than to a journalist. Comparing that increase to the government’s modelling, I’d suggest Luke is being ripped off. He’s not alone, but this article has some very important tips for nailing down pricing.

Luke needs to grow up and take responsibility for his business. If he is struggling because the things he has to buy (meat, packaging, electricity, transport, staff) cost more, he needs to get quotes from other suppliers, and he needs to understand why prices are rising. A price rise in the area of 15-20% because of the Carbon Tax is the kind of price movement that will see him noticed and investigated by the ACCC. If he’s being ripped off by a supplier, he should know that, too, and consider if he wants to continue to business with them.

It’s possible that Luke is totally on top of all of the C-Tax issues, and that it’s the journalist who has made him look incompetent. In that case, I’d like to see the figures – and I’ll bet the Government would too. Yet even if Luke is a world authority on C-Tax, there’s no getting past this little gem:

Luke told the Courier Mail:

“He didn't vote in the past federal election but says next time around, if he had to vote he would vote for the Coalition and support their promised removal of the carbon tax.”
He does have to vote, because it’s compulsory in this country. He should’ve voted in the last election too, but he chose not to, and was lucky not to be fined. He has no comeback. Decisions are made by those who show up. If you choose not to vote, you have no right to complain about the government.

Perhaps Treasurer Wayne Swan, who is also Luke’s local member, could pop around and explain a few of the details that Luke seems to be struggling with and run through the numbers with him. It’d make a great case study on the Carbon Tax meeting Real Life.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Newmania: It's Tough. It's Really Tough

Unlike the rest of us, King Campbell and the LNP do not acknowledged that there is a developing crisis of confidence as regards the King’s leadership, the course in which he’s steering his state, and the brutal speed at which he’s taking us there. Cuts to programmes, job losses in the public service, legislative changes based on traditional values, unfathomable financial support (and jobs) for mates, criticism from within and a hostile relationship with the federal government have some Newmanians concerned.

Of course, King Campbell has no reason to be alarmed; he told Steve Austin on 612ABC Brisbane this morning that he spent seven hours at the Ekka yesterday, and only heard one negative comment. That’s fair enough; the Ekka on Peoples’ Day is a crowded, sticky, smelly cacophony of terrified animals, sugared up kids, exasperated parents and exhausted tourists. I’m surprised he could hear anything at all. Listen to the interview here, or see the blog post below this one for the fullish transcript. 

King Campbell and his trusty deputy Eff Seeney have each fronted up to 612ABC this week to spend some time answering questions. While there is a commitment to do this regularly, both in one week is indicative of either poor communication between the Leader’s and Deputy Leader’s Communications teams, or it’s a co-ordinated effort. In any case, this morning's performance won King Campbell no new fans, no gold medals and ticker tape parades. In fact, if this was his audition to become a member of the human race, he failed.

Here are the highlights from this morning’s interview.

 It’s all about the money. No really, it’s all about the money. He can recite debt and deficit figures the way the rest of us remember the lyrics to Bohemian Rhapsody. Everything that the Newman Government has done, or is planning to do, is about getting the state out of the financial quagmire. People come second.

 King Campbell shows no signs of getting past the Labor’s-To-Blame Game. That’s a no-brainer. It was “20 years of Labor” – but particularly the last five years - that created the financial cataclysm that has befallen us, therefore, everything that the Newman Government is doing can be traced back to the financially irresponsible Anna Bligh.

 People who aren’t happy with King Campbell don’t speak to him, write to him, email him or phone him. He has no knowledge of such people. Almost everyone he’s encountered in the past couple of months has congratulated him or thanked him for making the tough decisions.

 The decisions are tough. They’re very hard. They’re absolutely necessary, but very tough. They’re not easy, not taken lightly, and they're tough.

 The only people who are unhappy about the tough decisions are public servants in the firing line, and union people with vested interests. Everyone else is happy because these are tough times, and someone is taking responsibility for the tough decisions.

 It takes 3-4 weeks for King Campbell’s minions to respond to a letter, email or phone call. Presumably, most of those would be thank you cards and letters of congratulations.

 It would cost every man, woman and child in Newmania a thousand bucks in extra taxes this year to save the jobs of 20,000 public servants.

 The Labor Party remnants requested a briefing from the Independent Audit Committee and then something something didn’t happen something something. Doesn’t matter; we'd lost interest by then. It’s all Labor's fault anyway.

 King Campbell is gleeful.

 No member of the Government has had his or her salary cut or allowances curbed, but that’s not King Campbell’s fault. That’s controlled by the Committee of the Legislative Assembly, which includes a token member of the Opposition. Therefore it’s the Opposition’s fault.

 The cuts aren’t hurting vulnerable Newmanians because King Campbell said they’re not. Okay then.

 King Campbell does not do Weasel Words of Silver Tonguing. (Be grateful, Newmanians, be very grateful.)

 Caravan Parks are tricky for the Government, who seem to think that the Housing Pixie Dr Flegg can house 30,000 Newmanians in good quality safe, clean public housing, using the proceeds of the sale of three unprofitable caravan parks.

 If anyone becomes disadvantaged because of the Caravan Park sell-off, they’ll be looked after in the private sector train wreck partnership that Labor left behind. I may have got that wrong.

 King Campbell isn’t picking on the disadvantaged. He’s also picking on the over-advantaged, just not as much. They’ve lost their access to Corporate Boxes at the Gabba.

 According to King Campbell logic, writers are not disadvantaged.

 Killing the School Band Fanfare programme doesn’t count as a cut anymore because the Private Sector came to the rescue and reinstated the competition.

 All cuts are because of the need to get the state back on track.

 King Campbell doesn’t agree with Noel from Yerongpilly. He recited more numbers to prove it. Tough decisions, hard going. Big numbers.

 Labor had a party and now King Campbell has a hangover. (The rest of us have a Panadeine, a bacon and egg roll and a gallon of coke. Wouldn't that be cheaper?)

 Despite the calamitous state of Newmania’s economic hangover, there’s plenty of positive signs for the state’s economy. Newmania is in the midst of Labor-made fiscal disaster, but the future’s so bright, I gotta wear shades.

 It’s tough. It’s really hard, it’s unpalatable, it’s gutsy.

 It’s all Labor’s fault, we’re broke, and it’s bloody Anna Bligh’s fault and good riddance and that’s the truth.

Actually, it’s a world-class case of hearing only what you want to hear, avoiding any direct answers, and sticking to the talking points. All that was missing was credibility, sincerity and compassion.