Wednesday, February 29, 2012

R-E-S-P-E-C-T

Over the past few days I’ve built up an impressive head of steam. While I was hoping that my local member Kevin Rudd would win the challenge for ALP Leader on Monday, he didn’t, and I’m okay with that. Julia Gillard is an impressive leader and negotiator, and we’ll see soon enough if the polls are wrong and if she can prevail against Toby Abbott.
No, Ruddy’s relegation to the back benches isn’t the reason I’m so annoyed. I’m just appalled by the behaviour of some of our elected officials. I work for an ASX Top 50 company, and if I was to speak about any of my colleagues the way some Labor parliamentarians spoke about Mr Rudd, I’d not only be fired, I’d probably be sued.
Let’s start with Wayne Swan, Deputy PM and Treasurer. Swannie served as Treasurer in the Rudd Government, and as Queenslanders, you might expect a certain cordiality between the two. Ooooh no. You’d be wrong. Wayne Swan left the country in absolutely no doubt about his hatred of Kevin Rudd. His verbal attack was considered, designed to wound. I know I’m not the only Aussie voter who sat in stunned silence as he continued his attack on his own colleague.
"The Party has given Kevin Rudd all the opportunities in the world and he wasted them with his dysfunctional decision making and his deeply demeaning attitude towards other people including our caucus colleagues. He sought to tear down the 2010 campaign, deliberately risking an Abbott Prime Ministership, and now he undermines the Government at every turn."
This is the kind of attack usually reserved for the opposite side of the aisle in the last desperate days before an election. Swan referred to Kevin’s legacy as a mess for Julia Gillard to clean up, and accused him of holding no genuine Labor values.
Perhaps Mr Swan would like to consider whether his words last week are demeaning to his caucus colleague, Kevin Rudd. Pot, meet Kettle.
There have been enough negatives about Mr Rudd’s performance as PM to lend credence to these accounts, yet is that the point? Colleagues excuse each other for badmouthing their former leader by convincing themselves that it’s necessary. Only by sharing their horror stories with the Australian people, could we understand why Rudd was boned in 2010, and why they don’t support a comeback now. The fact remains that senior elected officials in our government stood up and crucified a colleague on national television.
In what world is that acceptable behaviour?
Attorney General Nicola Roxon joined the Gillard-supporters, live on Sky News.
“…he (Rudd) wanted with four days notice on one occasion that I can recollect, to take over the entire health system. Didn’t have any materials for Cabinet, didn’t have legal advice, thought – I think it was on the Wednesday or Thursday – that we could prepare something that he’d take to Cabinet on Monday to announce on Tuesday. Now this is just a ludicrous way to run a Government. We didn’t do that.”
With all due respect, Ms Roxon needs to HTFU. Many of us have had appalling bosses who make ridiculous, impractical and sometimes impossible demands of us. One of the responsibilities of being a grown-up is learning to manage those people and those situations. Another responsibility of being a grown-up is knowing when to keep things private.
Labor’s version of “managing” was to remove Kevin Rudd from power. They had their reasons. Those reasons may have been valid. None of that excuses the hateful remarks I heard from the Deputy PM last week. (Scroll down for the transcript.)
Today I’ve spent some time looking at the ALP’s website, and the APH website, hoping to find some kind of values statement of Code of Conduct for members. Of course there are standards within the house – just remember the former Speaker Harry Jenkins bellowing ORDER for the eleventeenth time this minute, and then ejecting the offending member for an hour or two in the parliamentary sinbin. Not quite what I meant: I’m wondering if there exists anywhere a document that sets out standards of behaviour for MPs or sitting members of the ALP. I couldn’t find one.
Contrast this to my working life: once upon a time I was accused of badmouthing my boss to a new recruit while I was conducting training. I wasn’t guilty of that…but I was guilty of not shutting down a colleague when she did. My colleague would make multiple trips daily to bitch about the boss in the privacy of the training room. I couldn’t disprove the allegations (made by the new recruit, directly to my senior line manager) so I had no defence. I was *this* close to being fired, and was given a written warning. I was very low on the corporate totem pole, but our company values emphasise respect. I went through weeks of hell. Had I been hire up the corporate ladder, or if I'd been bitching in public - or on media - it would have been a career-limiting experience.
Now think about the playground. Do we teach our children to hold grudges, to deny their friends second chances, to throw a tantie in the supermarket if they can’t have a lolly, or  to tell tales on their playmates when they fight over who has the shinier Tonka Toy or prettier Cabbage Patch Doll?
In my estimation, that’s about where the ALP sunk to during last week’s leadership challenge. It wouldn't be acceptable in most corporate environments or schoolyards, but it's okay when it's our elected officials?
In the words of that annoying Yellow Pages ad, Not Happy, Jan!
Where is the respect in the ALP? Where is the maturity?
I saw it last weekend, with Anthony Albanese and Mike Kelly. These two gentlemen conducted themselves with grace and dignity in what was a volatile time. Albo was emotional and sincere; Mr Kelly was discreet and dignified.
There is hope for the ALP after the upheaval of last week, but it’s not where you think. Gillard, Swan, Roxon and friends – make way for Anthony Albanese and Mike Kelly. These gentlemen have the best chance yet of restoring our faith in the ALP.


For the record, the newbie in question only lasted a week, quitting after kicking in a toilet door in a fit of some kind, possibly drug related. She was gone before anyone approached me about the allegations. My colleague – the one who had been badmouthing our boss - was terminated a couple of years later for bullying. The boss was made redundant in a restructure a couple of months later.
This month I celebrate 10 years with the company.

All Aboard the Courier Fail

The Courier Mail has taken bat and ball and isn't gonna play any more.
Queensland is a one-horse town, in newspaper terms. The Courier-Mail is the only hard-copy newspaper available up here. Despite this, the Powers That Be at the CM have chosen to abandon the election trail, and pull its journalists off the road to concentrate on “issues” rather than on accompanying the Premier and the LNP leader around the state in the lead up to the election.

I agree. The first week of official campaigning has been marked by a series of announcements delivered at staged media events, with no hint of detail or debate. Coupled with the leadership insanity in Canberra for the past week, the state campaigns have had little to offer media or voters, and anything of substance that was said had little chance of cutting through the Rudd-dominated news cycle.
On the face of it, it looks like a sensible – albeit cynical – decision. David Fagan, Editor in Chief of Murdoch’s News Queensland seems to think it’s a good idea. The statement in today’s Courier Mail is critical of what the major campaigns offer ‘on the road’

 “…the major parties have done little to convince The Courier-Mail that they want to genuinely debate the issues.”
Now, with Canberra settling and less than four weeks until Queenslanders vote, the one and only state newspaper is trying to change the game. Their statement in today’s paper (see below) claims that their reporter will tour the state, independently of the leaders, and talk to people who have opinions. Their reporter will apparently focus on the issues the Courier Mail identified during their 2011 Let The Sun Shine In campaign.

What a load of hooey.
Let’s look at the Courier Mail’s Let The Sun Shine In campaign. I’d never heard of it until today, but that’s neither here nor there. I went in search of a summary of issues the campaign unearthed last year, yet I can’t find them listed anywhere. Apparently the Courier Mail gathered “rich information” during their campaign, but they are overly reluctant to share it.
I’ve been able to identify a few topics that were discussed:
  • Living with / Planning for Population Growth
  • Public versus Private Schooling
  • Role of the Business Community
  • Law & Order
  • Marine Health
I’m sure that these topics weren’t the only ones discussed, and I wonder if they have much in common with what the ‘real’ Queenslanders want to talk about. In any case, the campaign culminated in a debate between Ms Bligh and Mr Newman. If you want to read the live blog of the debate, you can find it here: http://www.couriermail.com.au/news/queensland/campbell-newman-nervous-ahead-of-courier-mail-debate-with-anna-bligh/story-fn9l8d0r-1226205268673.
But back to the Courier Mail Bus tour, which is their alternative to travelling on the official campaign buses, and christened the Sunshine Express, - and it’s tour of major Queensland cities to talk to people about the issues identified last year: What are the issues?
Despite all the drum-banging about last year’s Let The Sun Shine In project and it’s bounty of wisdom about the priorities of Queenslanders, today’s announcement indicates that the Courier Mail is after new information.

"If you need a ride somewhere, give me a holler. I'm picking up passengers. You can tell us about your issues and we can tell the state.
"If you see us parked in your neighbourhood, don't hesitate to stop by. We'll be cooking sausages on the Weber; cranking Gimme Some Truth on the radio; finding out what matters most to you."
Now, there’s nothing wrong with gathering new information (particularly as I was unable to find much resembling the treasure trove of knowledge gleaned last year), but what are they going to do with it?
My better angels are begging me to take the Courier Mail at its word. How uplifting it would be to think that through people power, a newspaper could succeed in changing the agenda of competing political campaigns, could influence the pre-election conversation in the directions decided by The People, could cut through the crap and focus the hearts and minds of electors on the issues that matter. How I wish that could be.
But no. At it’s most basic level, the Courier Mail’s decision to pull reporters off the Leaders’ respective buses to instead go searching for the truth is a stunt.
By it’s own admission, the paper will continue to cover the election, and send reporters to major press conferences and events. They just won’t have reporters travelling with the leaders.
Let’s break it down. What is the impact of this strange decision?
  • News Limited benefits from reduced costs of not having reporters on the road
  • News Limited benefits from increased staff availability
  • Readers see very little difference in coverage, if any
  • Courier Mail benefits from brand association with community focus (Sunshine Bus)
  • Ms Bligh and Mr Newman’s campaigns are unchanged (Yes, I asked; Premier Bligh has responded and Mr Newman has not.)
It looks as though the Courier Mail is cutting costs with a stunt that its management think makes it look good. Simple. The hoohah was just spin – appropriate given the context.
There are risks though; one of the CM’s gripes is that the reporters get on the bus each morning with no itinerary. They don’t know in advance where they’re going, or why, and when they get there, it's a stage-managed event or announcement. (Newsflash: with the exception of Arnie Vinick on The West Wing, that's what campaigns are.)
The one thing they do know is that if they are on the campaign bus, they’re on the spot. There’s no guarantee that Ms Bligh or Mr Newman won’t do something unexpected – sit down for an impromptu one-on-one with a reporter on the bus, have a few too many shandies with dinner and blab about who-knows-what, leave their briefing notes for how to beat the opposition on the bus overnight. The Courier Mail won’t be there. When something happens, the rest of Queensland's media will be right there, ready to ask for a comment. The Courier Mail won't be there.
As for their bizarre claim that the campaign is too important to be left to the politicians, I remind David Fagan and his team of one thing: the Courier Mail isn’t running for anything. It can’t be elected. The Courier Mail is not running the campaign agenda, and the existence of the Sunshine Express proves it.
What media can do is shine a light on the issues that matters to Queenslanders, which apparently, the Courier Mail identified during the Let The Sun Shine In campaign last year. It can’t force politicians to address those issues though, and removing themselves from physical proximity to the candidates isn’t going to get the People's Agenda heard and addressed.
I can only conclude that the Courier Mail decision to abandon the official campaign trail for its own ends will have close to zero impact on anything.
On the upside, it did start a few of us questioning whether newspapers are still relevant in covering politican campaigns.


"This is about Queenslanders getting the campaign the state deserves. It’s too important to be left to the politicians."

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Conservatrivia

It’s still only 10 months or so since the LNP embarked on their daring game of leadership switcheroo in a bid to win government in Queensland for the first time this century.  On paper, the Newman-lead LNP seems likely for win the election and form government, and yet there are two new factors to consider: the risk of the Campbell Newman failing to win in Ashgrove, and the impact of Katter’s Australian Party. Despite much media noise over a recent ReachTel poll in Ashgrove, the polls simply don’t ask all the right questions.
Campbell Newman was a well-known and popular Brisbane Lord Mayor, but ask any Queenslander what Mr Newman achieved as Lord Mayor of Brisbane, and they’ll tell you three things:  bridges, tunnels and those yellow bikes in the CBD. Probe a bit further and you’ll find that the bridges aren’t that popular, the tunnel (the Clem 7) is a financial failure, and the City Cycle Scheme is a punchline.
A topic that is starting to get some attention is the various permutations of governmental leadership in Queensland after the election. With Newman’s position as Leader-elect of the LNP, pending his victory in Ashgrove, this isn’t like other elections. To add to the uncertainty, would Anna Bligh take to the back benches if the ALP is defeated? If so, is 35-year-old Andrew Fraser “The Man”?


To test the Newman-factor, we can look to the fact that he was elected Mayor of Brisbane twice, and in both cases, his vote in areas in and around the state seat of Ashgrove was very very solid. Does that translate to victory in a State Government seat against a phenomenally unpopular Government, but with a popular local member in Kate Jones? Polls suggest that it might be too close to call…but how far should polls be trusted 6 weeks out, particularly as they aren’t taking into account the impact of the minor parties.
Polling is based on a strict 2 Party model, where one of the key metrics is a two party preferred number. It doesn’t factor in a Katter Australian Party, or any other third party. This is insane, given the presence of third parties and independents in recent Queensland history: Democrats, Greens, One Nation, and now KAP, all exerting influence at various times in the past 30 years.
The KAP is attempting to run candidates in every seat, and is expecting to win some of them. Bob Katter’s son Robbie is standing in Mount Isa, and former cricketer Carl Rackemann is standing in the seat of Nanango, currently held by a retiring independent.  Name recognition will give both of these candidates a boost. In addition, there are two sitting members who were elected as LNP members, and have quit the party. They have continued as independents, but are now KAP members. Will this change of affiliation change voter behaviour?
Meanwhile, One Nation still exists, and Queensland State President Jim Nelson is himself standing against Newman and Jones in Ashgrove. One Nation, a party which currently holds exactly zero seats in any government in Australia, is so concerned about the KAP, it has published on its website, a piece declaring how it is superior to the KAP.
With all the parties except the Greens performing this snuggly shuffle to the right, it's hard to know where the minor parties fit into the picture. I think it looks something like this:


Personally, I think that the ALP is also to the right of the centre-ish line, but we'll give them the benefit of the doubt. There's plenty of crowding on the right hand side of the page without the ALP getting in on the act.

Can Campbell Newman win in Ashgrove? I honestly don't know. The conservative parties are playing some random form of preference bingo, and it's almost impossible to predict who will steal which votes...other than to say that One Nation is a spent force.

Monday, February 13, 2012

It's The Principle Of It

It’s no secret that many Australians are disillusioned with the current mainstream political parties. The rise of the independents and the large number of undecided voters in recent polls is proof enough, but what happens when a couple of outspoken independents come together and form a new party?
Nothing yet, but the KAP – Katter’s Australian Party – about to contest its first election is about to take on Queensland. Amidst a bizarre launch function featuring conservative shock jock Alan Jones, a red double-decker bus and dancing politicians, fans of the KAP are predicting that this new political party will win “45 seats in the bush and make the chardonnay sippers in Brisbane suffer” ( - Raj Patel via Twitter). Some are even more optimistic.
This idealistic new bunch, which has adopted the slogan “It’s the Principle of it”, seem to think they can attract voters from both sides of the political divide, and fill the gap left when the LNP moved even further to the right.
Jade Connor suggested in The Drum that the left should be supporting the KAP. He’s a lefty himself, and found plenty of sane reasons why this would be a good idea.  In selected policies, the KAP does tend to land somewhere to the left of the ALP – Coal Seam Gas, economic policies and funding for health and education, just to name a few. In other areas – income tax, for example – the KAP doesn’t seem to have a policy at all.
But what about the rest? The KAP has a website with it’s Core Values listed. I had a look, and compared it with the most right-leaning party I could find: the Tea Party.
The Tea Party website has listed it’s 15 Core Values in short, sharp and sometimes ambiguous order. Bob Katter’s party have opted for a much wordier approach. Here they are, side by side. There's usually not an exact match, policy for policy, but I've tried to line them up where I can.
Note: All policies and statements attributed here to KAP are available on the Katter Australian Party website.



So there you are: a confusing mixture of Tea Party conservatism, Katteristic economics, and a few nuggets of lefty environmentalism. Still no support for gay marriage, but hey, Mr Katter has made his feelings on that perfectly clear.

Clear as mud.

It's Just A Step to the Right

Campbell Newman is not a wowser. I know this because he addressed an ACL forum last week, and he told the forum that he is not a wowser.   Parts of the evening’s forum were replayed on 612ABC Brisbane the following morning. You can listen here.
I thought it was an unusual decision for a mainstream political leader to address the ACL: the ACL is about values voters: those people who will make up their minds based entirely around issues of morals, ethics, and religion. We know where the ACL stands; their website is specific. Their agenda is strictly conservative Christian.
The ACL is headed up by two people: National Managing Director is retired Brigadier Jim Wallace. Wendy Francis is the ACL’s Queensland Director. Both are outspoken in support of Christian values, and both have become the object of media ridicule in recent years. It’s fair to say that while their followers know them as lobbyists for Christian values, they are better known for their apparent lack of both media nous and Christian compassion.
You’d remember Jim Wallace’s infamous tweet from last Anzac day:
@JimWallaceACL Just hope that as we remember Servicemen and women today we remember the Australia they fought for - wasn't gay marriage and Islamic!
And from Wendy Francis, while she was a candidate for the Senate in 2010’s Federal election:
@Wendy4Senate Children in homosexual relationships are subject to emotional abuse. Legitimising gay marriage is like legalising child abuse.
But back to the issues: I have trawled through the ACL’s website today, trying to understand their policies and get a handle on what they really stand for. The ACL has no interest in separating religion and government separate; in fact, they lobby hard to have government reflect the values of their version of Christianity.
In fact, the only issues they care about are what we’ll call “Christian Issues”. There’s nothing there about the environment, the economy, foreign relations, security, agriculture, health or anything else, except as it relates to the protection of Christian values. That’s fine, I don’t have an issue with that when it’s from a lobby group. It would be a different can of tuna if the ACL managed to get a candidate elected on the single Christian Values platform, without addressing the numerous other issues on which that candidate would be entitled to vote.
So it’s obvious that voters who favour the policies of the ACL are values voters – specifically, Christian values voters, and that’s it.  But if you line up the positions of the ACL against their conservatives on the right, is there really any difference?
A quick cross-check of ACL and LNP sees them agreeing on all kinds of values issues, from gay marriage to the presence of religion in our schools to internet censorship, abortion and surrogacy.  This is common ground.
When Campbell Newman addressed the ACL forum last week, he wasn’t talking to a group of average voters, hoping he could sway them to the right. He was talking to a group of far-right voters, hoping he could sound conservative enough to satisfy them.
Yes, in taking on the issues of the ACL, Campbell Newman has taken just a step to the right.
Aren’t the parties all neatly lined up in a row? Doesn’t a step to the right leave a gap?
You bet it does.

Monday, February 6, 2012

The Fun Theory

Watch this one minute video. No really, watch it. You'll enjoy it.

video

Now, here's your challenge. What do we need to change (politics, behaviours, media, attitude) and how do we make that fun?

Okay,  two questions. Leave your answers below.