Wednesday, November 28, 2012

The Clivening: Clive Harder

Last week, the conservative love affair of the century ended. The ultimately futile attractions of the LNP to Clive's millions and Clive to the benefits of an LNP Government has failed. Clive has dumped the LNP; the LNP has counter-dumped Clive. There's no happy ending in sight.

Surprisingly, it is crazy Clive F Palmer, with his soccer addiction, his Titanic replica, his Jurassic Park-themed golf resort (formerly the Hyatt Regency Coolum), and another mega-resort and international airport planned for the Sunshine Coast who has the most support. Politically, Clive has (or had) that pesky life membership of the LNP, plus his seven-digit donation to the party, a conspiracy theory linking the CIA to the Greens, threats to run for federal parliament against Wayne Swan, a stoush with Tony Abbott and a rare talent for media conferences that would make him political dynamite.

So what is Clive Palmer up to? He is speaking out against the reign of King Campbell, in a manner that most voters to the left of Genghis Khan will appreciate. King Campbell's popularity within Newmania has dropped from a high in the 60s, before he started his Campbell Scissorhands routine, to somewhere in the 40s in around six months. Wonks are claiming that this is the fastest fall in post-election leadership approval and popularity ever seen in Australia.

Voters have been protesting against King Campbell's Slash & Burn tactics for months now; Opposition Leader Annastacia Palasczcuk has tried to lead an effective opposition and has been entirely ineffectual; the media, including the Murdochian Courier Mail has has been appropriately critical, too. Nothing has broken through the way Clive's criticism has.

Clive Palmer has a decades-long relationship with the LNP and it's predecessor. Even without his business successes, he's impossible to ignore, particularly when he compares King Campbell's first eight months with the Bjelke Petersen government, and claims the Newman regime is worse. Clive believes in the goodness of conservative politics, and largely bankrolled the amalgamation of the Queensland Liberals and Nationals, creating the party he just dumped. The LNP is, in part, his creation, and through that, he enabled Labor's defeat.

Clive Palmer carries a lot of conservative political clout - dare I suggest he has even more clout without he LNP? Imagine a Clive who wasn't wedded to LNP mantras; a Clive who could apply his business expertise to running the state while still being true to his values. This is the man who donated substantial funds to the Queensland Labor movement to assist public servants who'd been sacked. He doesn't hesitate to put his money where his mouth is.

When Clive parted ways with the LNP after that unforgettable media conference where he referred to King Campbell as Caesar, he asked us to expect something big. Someone should probably tell Clive that when he calls a presser, "big" is usually an understatement.

Clive also likes the visual, and for that media conference he stood in front of a yellow and black backdrop covered in the words "Together we achieve the extraordinary". I wondered if that was significant. It's a slogan adopted by organisations ranging from fitness clubs to the Jefferson Baptist Church to various construction companies, metalwork businesses, corporate consultants and...Clive Palmer himself, who had the words included on the billboard he erected in Wayne Swan's suburban Brisbane seat of Lilley. There was no party branding, just the slogan and Clive's name and easily recognisable face.

The LNP must be curious and more. They have weathered the Flegg resignation, but still have to deal with Michael Caltabiano and Ros Bates. Ray Hopper's defection to Katter's Australia Party might not have shaken a government with a majority the size of Jupiter, but today, the last sitting week of the year, Gold Coast LNP member Alex Douglas is stirring the party pot over his removal from the Ethics Committee, and Carl Judge, yet another LNP member, will in all likelihood be disendorsed by the party. Bob Katter thinks there are more LNP members ready to jump ship, but which way?

The million dollar question: What about a Clive Party?

Would Clive Party throw his money behind another political venture? If he did, would he run for office as it's leader? Would other, disgruntled LNP MPs dump the LNP to play in Clive's sandpit? If they did, where does that leave Katter's Party? Could Clive summon seven or more LNP members to 'be extraordinary' with him, allowing his party to replace the ALP as the party in Opposition?

With Clive, anything is possible. He loves being the ringmaster, revealing his latest and greatest thought-bubbles to the world. When a man like that ends a press conference with a promise of something bigger, he could well be gearing up to announce the formation of his own political party, or a plan to challenge King Campbell head-on in Ashgrove, or release some hitherto unknown documentation implicating half the LNP in dirty deeds, or a plan to save Queensland by building replica Titanics and cloning dinosaurs...or he could be announcing that he's had enough enough of the whole shebang and he's going to colonise the moon.

It's Clive, after all. Nothing is too far out there.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Talking Back

Cameron Edwards is a foolish young man.

Every Monday night during the ABC’s tweet-back programme Q&A, tweeters interested in politics warm up their smartphones, tablets and laptops, and tweet their responses to the various partisan statements made by the members of the Q&A panel. It’s a rowdy, undisciplined affair with views ranging from the literal middle ground all the way through to the extremes, and surprisingly, it’s usually well-informed, articulate and oftentimes, hilarious.

Iconic Q&A moments were amplified to greatness within the twittersphere: GetUp’s Simon Sheikh fainted on air, an audience member through a shoe at John Howard, Julie Bishop tried to kill a cameraman with her trademark stare, Germaine Greer became obsessed with the Prime Minister’s wardrobe choices. These are one-off, unscripted examples of what can happen on live television, with an equally live “participating” via social media.

Cameron Edward's series of offensive tweets
Last night’s Q&A sparked another twitterstorm, but this time, it had little to do with what was on the television screen and everything to do with what was on the twitterscreen itself. One viewer, a young engineering student at UNSW, chose to tweet a series of incredibly rude tweets addressed to Senator Penny Wong, who had been on the Q&A panel last night.

The viewer was Cameron Edwards, an insulter in the mould of an Alan Jones or Kyle Sandilands. With expertise rarely seen outside Sydney commercial radio, Cameron Edwards succeeded in tweeting a stream of insults directed at Senator Wong’s gender, ethnicity and sexual preference.

An hour or so later, after hundreds of people pointed out the error of his ways and forwarded screen shots of the worst of his tweets to UNSW, a rather embarrassed Cameron Edwards deleted some of the offending tweets, protected his twitter account (so that others cannot get access to his older tweets) and apologised. Today, he has emailed a personal apology to Senator Wong.

Two remarkable events happened here. Firstly, the deluge of disgust at Cameron Edward’s tweet was not organised in any away or affiliated with any group. In fact, the disgust was purely at Cameron Edward’s tweets. It was not arguing the substance of his tweets or supporting Senator Wong; it was just disgust and disbelief that anyone could be so stupid as to tweet those sentiments even once, much less multiple times and using such unacceptable language.

The second remarkable thing was that Cameron Edwards has ‘manned up’, and apologised, more than once. In fairness, his apologies on twitter last night and today lacked gravitas, but that may be nothing more than a reflection of the writer, and his lack of maturity. The apologies sound far more like the embarrassed backpedalling of a boy who has realised that he’s in trouble and he can’t lie his way out of it. I haven’t seen his emailed apology to Ms Wong.

Having said that, this is what is possible. This is why movements like Destroy The Joint exist. Last night, a group of people who are unconnected to each other, except by twitter, used their collective influence to state clearly that abuse is not acceptable in our society. It’s the same theme as White Ribbon Day, the Royal Commission into abuse of children in care, Prime Minister’s Gillard’s speech slamming misogyny, Destroy the Joint and Reclaim the Night. It’s the New Revolutionaries, starting to influence the way society develops.

And no, Cameron – booze isn’t an excuse. If you can’t handle yourself drunk, don’t drink so much. You took responsibility for your offensive tweets; now take responsibility for the sentiment behind them.

Then there is the other half of my night on twitter. A young psychologist named Holly made a poor joke about fat people and cake. She was challenged about whether the joke was appropriate by blogger and commentator Chrys Stevenson. What happened next was like peeling an onion. Holly sounded so superior and so shallow when she eventually confirmed on twitter that she does not accept that there is a psychological element in the causes of obesity. For a psychologist, that’s a fairly naïve approach.

I can’t imagine that many people set out to be obese. I know that I’d be so much happier and healthier if I lost about 40kg. I haven't been able to do that yet. But I am what I am – imperfect - and being fat doesn’t give anyone the right to treat me any differently to how they would treat me if I was a size 10.

The battle with Holly is lost; we’ll get her next time, and if we don’t, it’ll be the time after that.

But we won the battle with Cameron Edwards. His apology may not be the most sincere apology, but I suspect that he has learned a lesson. I hope he's learned that the opinions he expressed and the language he used are not acceptable.

It’s not about point-scoring or popularity or one-upmanship. Nor is it just bad behaviour from yobs; these people are educated, articulate young people who should know better. So why do we engage with people like Cameron Edwards of Holly-the-Psychology-Graduate or Tony Abbott or Alan Jones?

Because as individuals, we are troubled by what we see, and our opinion matters too.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

The New Revolutionaries

A few weeks ago, I was asked a life-changing question: What are you tolerating? What are you putting up with you don’t want to, don’t have to, shouldn’t have to put up with? Where do you draw the line between what you’ll accept and what you won’t – and what has strayed to the wrong side of your personal line? The most important questions of all were these: Why are you tolerating sh*t in your life, and what are you going to do about it?

For me, the obvious answer related to a situation I’ve been tolerating at work. With a little inspiration from the Destroy The Joint movement, I’ve escalated the issue and I expect a result before Christmas.

The less obvious answer is also the bigger answer. It seems that right now, this decade, many of us have decided that this is the time when we won’t just put-up-and-shut-up any longer. It not about bringing anyone down or destroying anyone’s joint; it’s about living in a world that is smaller and more connected than it has ever been. It’s about accepting that you won’t agree with everyone and being secure enough to let others have their opinions too. It’s about respect for people who aren’t like you are, and being truthful and acting with integrity and holding each other to account.

Perhaps I’m just feeling more confident after President Obama’s re-election, Cardinal Pell’s ruinous press conference, or the resignation of Bruce Flegg from Queensland’s ministry, but I feel something happening. Perhaps it’s the English-speaking world’s equivalent of an Arab Spring. Perhaps its astrology, or maturity or simple old coincidence. I think it’s more: the passage of time combined with incremental social change over several generations, social media and connectivity, and the understanding that people have power.

It’s complicated.

Look at the events of last year or so, which have challenged the behaviours and institutions that make up the basic societal structure of the past decade or so.

News Limited and the phone hacking scandal
  • The Occupy movement
  • President Obama’s re-election and the rejection of Tea Party values
  • Destroy The Joint & Alan Jones and advertisers
  • The international response to the shooting of Malala Yousafszai
  • Julia Gillard calling Tony Abbott a misogynist
  • The Royal Commission into institutionalised abuse
  • What’s driving these campaigns? It’s not government, and often tackles issues which are entirely removed from Government. Equally, sometimes the campaigns are targeting potential legislation. Organisations like GetUp! now operate alongside industry lobbyists, trade unions, and churches. Social Media platforms like Facebook and Twitter now connect users to online petitions where they can show their support for or against a cause.

    The diverse list of headline grabbers above has one thing in common: there’s an energy coming out of a collective challenge to “the way we were”, particularly when “the way we were” allowed the more powerful in our society to do whatever they want without thought for those who have less power, less money, less influence.

    But before the ‘establishment’ cries foul, those who are driving change are not all gay Muslim hippy-dippy feminist socialist global-warming advocates, dragging the world towards single planetary governance and a carob-coated Soylent Green existence. They – those people who destroy the joint and start petitions (and sign them) and choose to become whistleblowers and speak out? They are us.

    The Royal Commission into the institutionalised abuse of children is the most recent example of what is happening. Despite Cardinal Pell’s denialist perspective, it’s correct to say that the sexual abuse of children, particularly boys, has been an open secret for decades. It may well have been going on for centuries – we don’t know. What we do know is that there was no support for victims, who rarely spoke out in any case. Paedophile priests concealed each other’s crimes, and the Church’s own customs and dogmata allowed these men to find absolution.

    So secretive is the church that even now, they choose the sanctity of the Confessional over their responsibilities as humans, as adults, and as moral leaders of their community. Any attempt to impose a secular law to over-rule the rule of their church would probably fail; the collective will of "the church" - those who have perpetrated crimes against our most innocent, those who have concealed it, and those who turned a blind eye - will defy en masse
    It’s handy to have no legal status whatsoever.
    And so something is starting. Something to do with intolerance, but as a positive movement rather than a negative descriptor. We’re challenging the way things are now, and sending strong messages out into the world.

    No, Mr Murdoch, it is not acceptable for your organisation to source its scoops by illegally hacking phones and email accounts, by bribing officials and by lying about it.

    No, Mr Romney, we are not going to vote for a President who will legislate to control women’s’ bodies, gay rights and immigrant’s rights, while making it easier to get guns. Nor will we watch you talk about reducing the deficit will simultaneously reducing taxes on the rich and services for the poor.

    No, Alan Jones, it is not okay for you to continue your abuse of our Prime Minister…or your abuse of anyone, for that matter.

    No, Mr Abbott, you may not continue to mutter derogatory and sexist comments across the despatch boxes in Parliament, and to base an entire party leadership on the absence of policy.

    Hell No! Your Holiness, we are no longer willing to accept the way your church has treated young boys and girls in our communities for generations; neither will we accept your church’s intricate attempts to cover its tracks, evade responsibility and use your Holy rituals as an excuse for inaction.

    And to my employer, thank you for noticing.

    Tuesday, November 13, 2012

    Newmania: Existential Politics

    Sshhh. Don’t ask – it’s Secret Squirrel Government Business!

    The thing about keeping just about anything in the dark is that eventually, it’ll develop an old, cold, mildewy smell, like damp ugg boots left in the cupboard during a humid summer.

    If it smells rotten, it probably is. It’s a whole series of things that are rotten, and this time it’s not policy, jobs being cut, programmes slashed and facilities closed, although that continues to provide a unique stench. This time the brutality of bringing the state “back on track” is drowned out by a series of internal events effecting the Government, the Public Service and the LNP itself.

    This morning, Graeme Hallett spoke to the media, starting with some flattering words for his former boss. Those words were ineptitude and arrogance. Mr Hallett should be good with words; he was Minister Flegg’s media advisor, and long time Liberal Party staffer who had also worked with the Howard Government, and with Dr Flegg when he was campaigning in 2006. Mr Hallett has some credibility, and contacts in the media. He’s promised documentary evidence to prove that his former boss is unfit for high public office.

    The allegation is that Mr Flegg’s son Johnathon, who is a lobbyist, has made over 50 calls to the Minister’s office. These activities need to be logged in a register, which according to Mr Hallett, shows only a couple of instances. To further confuse matters, Minister Flegg stated during the budget estimates process that there had been a handful of occasions of contact.

    So is it a couple of times? Half a dozen times? Fifty times? And seriously, who cares?

    We all should care. Lobbyists, by definition have an agenda, and when one lobbyist makes multiple visits to a Minister’s office, the agenda will make its way into the conversation.

    Does it matter that the Minister and lobbyist in question are father and son? I believe it does. Do you pop in to see your father and his cronies at his workplace four or five times a week? Does your Mum call in regularly to discuss her work with you and your staff? In the case of Minister and lobbyist, you’d think both parties would be making a singular effort to ensure that everything is correct, and is seen to be correct, particularly in a new government from the party who brought us the most corrupt government Australia has ever…er…caught.

    Consider the surface of Doctor Flegg’s little Ministry well and truly scratched. It may be Mr Hallett who is speaking out this morning; Flegg also sacked his Chief of Staff last Thursday, and just yesterday, Education Minister John Paul Langbroek sacked his assistant, who had previously worked for Flegg. Three staffers from the one Minister’s office sacked in under a week is not coincidence, and one of them is pissed off enough to gather documents on his way out the door and distribute them to media. What do the other two know?

    Then there are the rumours about Right To Information documentation. King Campbell has issued a royal decree that ministerial staff are not to be issuing documents requested under Right To Information laws. In fact, King Campbell stated that such requests were to be referred to the relevant Department for assessment and action. Daniel Hurst reported in the Brisbane Times that Minister’s Flegg’s media staff had made some RTI decisions in contradiction to King Campbell’s orders.
    Even more intriguing is the suggestion that the RTI requests in question were made by Opposition Leader Annastasia Palasczcuk, and that the information she had requested related to the register lobby – and that the register was factually incorrect.

    It doesn’t stop there. Mr Hallett has stated that Dr Flegg continued to practice as a medical doctor while being paid to work as a full-time Minister, a choice which Mr Hallett says he begged Minister Flegg to reconsider. I doubt that’s illegal; it’s just bad form.

    Minister Flegg has addressed Mr Hallett's accusations in Parliament today. According to Minister Flegg, it’s just a disgruntled former employee who’s taking his bitterness out on his former boss, and his documentary evidence is inconclusive. It’s a predictable response, but at least it’s not violent. These days, disgruntled ex-employees are usually associated with mass shootings in the USA.

    It’s unlikely we’ll get to see any footage of Minister Flegg’s speech though; Speaker Fiona Simpson has banned television cameras from the Chamber.

    …and now Henry Palasczcuk, former Labor Minister and father of the Leader of the Opposition, is paraphrasing songs from Evita and tweeting whole verses. Can this day get any stranger?

    You bet it can, ‘cause today, Minister Ros Bates is in Da House. Minister Bates has been off work, recovering from shoulder surgery and providing emotional support to her hapless son, 25 year old Ben Gommers. Ben lucked into a parliamentary liaison role on a six figure salary, but has recently been off work, suffering from depression. Mr Gommers works for the Department of Transport and Main Roads. Their Director-General, Michael Caltabiano, is still suspended on full pay while the Crime and Misconduct Commission investigate his involvement in lobbying firm Entrez Vous where Minister Bates and Mr Gommers were co-directors.

    Aaah yes, Newmania’s infamous Crime and Misconduct Commission is investigating the conduct of two Ministers, a Director General, and a minister’s son, and the relationships between them. I suppose they will be well practised when Minister Flegg, his lobbyist son and his unhappy staff come before the CMC, as they most probably will. If there’s a CMC left.

    What’s that you say? King Campbell is slowly, quietly, dismantling the CMC?

    Welcome to Newmania, where there is no Upper House to temper the excesses of the Newmanian government (or any other government). In this parliament, there’s almost no Opposition either (and they’ve been evicted from their offices in Parliament House and relocated down the road). Mercifully, the media is still welcome, but not with their cameras pointed at the chamber, and not in their former tea room. There are cutbacks everywhere.

    The people of Newmania need the CMC more than ever. Since July, there has been a headcount reduction of at least 44 through voluntary redundancy, plus 13 forced redundancies last week. That’s about 15% of their workforce gone, at a time when they already had cases queuing for investigation, and when the CMC itself is being investigated by a panel appointed by King Campbell. So now we have the CMC, an “impartial” government agency, being investigated by the Government, while simultaneously investigating
    the government. I can't see that ending well.

    And Mr Hallett couldn’t take his concerns to the CMC, because the CMC is under instruction to dismiss complaints which are politically driven.

    Thank god there’s a Committee of the Legislative Assembly Ethics Committee to oversee the ethical conduct of members. LNP members outnumber Labor members 5-2 on the Ethics Committee, but that’s less unbalanced than the ratio of LNP to Labor in the actual parliament, so we shouldn’t complain, right? It’s not like the LNP is running Queensland entirely without opposition or oversight.

    BREAKING: Minister Bates has confirmed that her son’s flatmate is working as an advisor in her office. I’m tempted to add “der”.

    Monday, November 12, 2012

    Dazed & Confused

    Prior to the US Presidential election last week, columnist and libertarian Deroy Murdoch said,

    "It's vital that this be not just a slight GOP win, but a crushing defeat for Obama...We need to discredit and destroy socialism in the US for at least a generation"
    Days after the US Presidential election, conservative voters, libertarians, Tea Partiers, and Christian evangelicals are still dazed. Barack Obama was never supposed to win a second term. The result is, for them, sincerely unexpected. The only outcome for which they were prepared included a calmly confident President-Elect Mitt Romney. It's fair to say that the conservative side of American politics was both unprepared for another term with President Obama, and not expecting to have to face it.
    Sad faces

    It's always hard to be a loser, harder still to do it with an audience. Mitt Romney admitted that he had not written a concession speech. Romney's team went live with a President-Elect website. Republican talking head Karl Rove refused to accept the loss of Ohio and sent Fox News Host Megyn Kelly on a long-legged trek to find the psephologists' bunker. Such was the rock solid belief that Romney would win, it appears that Fox's election night hosts hadn't considered any other result.

    Out here in the blogosphere, the sense of shock was less polished but no less vehement. Right wing forum Godlike Productions posted this gem:

    Dick Morris was wrong
    "I'm not arguing that Romney was a great candidate -- but up against the Worst President In The History Of The United States, The Kenyan Marxist Muslim, The Socialist Redistributor Barack Obama, a tree stump could have won."

    Robert Bowen wrote for The Examiner on November 12.
    "There are several things to take from this. First, Romney had coat tails—for Democrats. Secondly, the Republican brand is severely damaged by its war on women, its immigrant bashing, and its obstruction in Congress. This damaged down ticket candidates. Lastly, the pick ups in the West show the changing demographic. Hispanic voters shocked Republican know-it-alls and old school pollsters by turning out to vote. Republicans totally underestimated that. They also underestimated the turn out by African-Americans and young people.
    If the Republican Party will even survive, it needs to do some soul searching about its policies. Right now, many GOP pundits are saying their policies are fine, they just did not make their case “delicately.” Is there a more delicate way to say “self-deportation” “legitimate rape”, or forced trans-vaginal ultra sounds? I suspect Republicans still do not get it."

    I fear the reality is worse than Bowen suspects, and the Republicans simply won't acknowledge it until it’s all too late. Bear in mind that these terms "right" and "left" are literally relative. Both Democrats and Republicans are significantly to the right of centre, and that's part of a bigger problem for Republicans and Tea Partiers.

    One of a series of aggressive tweets which Donald Trump later deleted.

    Another four years with President Obama will renew the Tea Party's energy; he's someone to rail against, someone to hate, someone to fear. He’s black, with a foreign/Muslim middle name. He’s an easy target. Donald Trump will continue to suggest that President Obama is somehow an illegitimate president. Rush Limbaugh's face will get redder and shinier, Greta Van Susteran will grit her teeth even tighter, and Glen Beck will howl tears of rage.
    Still, few Republicans are accepting that conservative voters have also changed. What was conservative twenty years ago is now mainstream, and the ignorance and prejudices that were silently accepted then are now cause for revolt. Fox’s Bill O’Reilly read the electorate well on election night:

    “The white establishment is now the minority. And the voters, many of them, feel that the economic system is stacked against them and they want stuff. You are going to see a tremendous Hispanic vote for President Obama. Overwhelming, black vote for President Obama. And women will probably break President Obama's way. People feel that they are entitled to things and which candidate, between the two, is going to give them things?”

    “The demographics are changing. It’s not a traditional America anymore.”
    It's difficult to define a "traditional" America on the basis of voter preferences in a country where voting is not compulsory, but it is safe to say that the groups which were once considered to be minorities and special interest groups won the election for President Obama. Despite recent economic history, and warnings of a financial cliff heading their way, the more economically and/or socially vulnerable groups - single women, the poor, African Americans, Latino, gay - voted overwhelmingly in favour of the party most likely to look after their needs.
    The biggest block of voters to support President Obama was women. This is hardly surprising, given that Mitt Romney’s party was better known for it’s serial ignorance on a range of issues, including pregnancy, rape, abortion and climate change. These are not “Womens’ Issues” – they are human issues. (see left)

    These are the issues which will ultimately split conservative politics in America.

    The core values of the Republican party are being challenged by America’s changing demography. Much of mainstream America is rejecting the extreme brand of conservatism favoured by the Tea Party, so moving to the right to embrace the Tea Party won’t win Republicans more votes; it will probably cost some in the middle. Shuffling to the left is even more dangerous, because it makes it impossible to be an effective opposition – they would agree with too many Democratic policies and end up opposing them just to be seen to be opposing them. If Republicans were willing to move to the left far enough to alienate the Tea Party faithful, they would lose enough of their base to make winning a Presidential almost impossible.

    So where to now for the GOP? Deroy Murdoch wanted to see the Democrats made irrelevant for a generation. It looks far more like the Republicans are the ones who are endangered, a victim of their own conservatism.

    Monday, November 5, 2012


    Try if you can to imagine a conversation between two of Sydney’s thirty-something personalities: Bookie-about-town Tom Waterhouse, and tv chef Pete Evans. I’m sure their paths must have crossed at the odd soiree, just as they did in my tweet stream this weekend. Increasingly they seem like two successful, high-profile men capable of boring most people rigid.

    Let’s start with Pete. He's the guy with the activated nuts. In a bold move, he made his diet public in one of the Sunday papers, and in a matter of hours, everyone was talking about activated almonds. Why? Probably because almonds are the one item from his bizarre diet that seem familiar and non-threatening.

    Pete Evans is Sydney-based chef, a television personality, an online retailer, a Weightwatchers Ambassador, the author of several cookbooks, and a minor celebrity whose name endorses a range of kitchen products bearing brand names like Breville and Baccarat. Pete surprised everyone yesterday by revealing that his daily food intake isn’t all posh, nor is it the trendy ten minute meals that chefs off duty whip up for themselves. Instead, it’s a controversial health food extravaganza includes alkalised water, apple cider vinegar, activated almonds, cultured vegetables, emu meat and herbal teas.

    All right, I'll say it. Pete's diet sounds like a cross between old-fashioned mung-bean hippy food, and a joke. It sounds revolting, and if I was a chef, and that's what I ate, I think I'd keep it a secret.

    It didn't take long after seeing the now infamous diet for the Twitterverse to squint sideways (over their Sunday morning toasted brioche with rhubarb compote and mascarpone), to wonder if he was taking the p*ss out of himself, his industry, or even Weightwatchers...and Weightwatchers isn't such a far fetched target as you might think. Kasey Edwards' brilliant piece last week reminds us all that weight loss companies rely on the failure of their programmes to ensure repeat customers. That’s their business model, and it works.

    I absolutely guarantee if Pete's diet is a Weightwatchers initiative, it will fail. Mornings are tough enough without having to add cider vinegar to my alkalised water and raw organic free-range eggs to my activated almonds.

    And when the snickering and googling about activated almonds was done, there was still the cultured vegies to discuss:

    @deaong: My Cultured Vegetables are so cultured, they were raised listening to baroque music and attended a Swiss finishing school #MyDayOnAPlate

    @PatchouliCowgirl: For dinner this evening I shall use bogan vegetables but the almonds have been lazy on the couch all day very demotivated.

    @fatheffalump: Actually cultured vegetables are the ones in the monocle & top hat. #activatedalmonds
    In fact, I can't imagine the marketing team at Weightwatchers are thrilled to see this horrifically healthy selection of organic, activated, cultured and alkalised goodness associated with their ambassador, either. Here's Pete, rejecting the Weightwatchers’ brand Berry Flakes Cereal in favour of something that sounds like each mouthful needs to be chewed for 45 minutes prior to swallowing. Unless I'm mistaken, the Weightwatchers brand food is designed to be as much like regular food as possible, but with less kilojoules. Pete's selection is a collection of mismatched, unproven dietary fads, with a couple of staples - fish, vegies - thrown in.
    Still, if you are interested in activating your almonds, here's a simple guide to doing it at home.

    If you’re like me, and prefer your almonds dead, and covered in rich, therapeutic chocolate, Martha Stewart’s got you covered.

    None of that post-hipster health food rubbish for Tom Waterhouse though; just good honest betting on anything that takes your fancy, and that probably includes whether Pete Evans will still have a career in the food industry after revealing what he prefers to eat.

    By the way, is anyone still reading? I'd completely understand if you weren't. It’s, and by now, you’ve probably had more than enough of him telling you what he wasn’t born to do. For months now we've had saturation advertising from young Mr Waterhouse, his legitimate businessman suit and bland demeanour all over our plasma screens. He wasn't born to wear this...or do that...or play that other thing. Depending on your perspective, he wasn't born to achieve anything respectable either, or even to try. He was born to tempt the most vulnerable of us to bet on sports events.

    Many believe he was born to be an over-exposed upper class twat.

    Tim Elliott's profile in the Sydney Morning Herald earlier this year was the first time I'd paid any attention at all to young Mr Waterhouse. I have no interest in horse-racing, and in general, not a fan of gambling, so I tend to ignore the racing elite. When I started noticing the black and white television ads with their teal highlights, I assumed that young Tom was breaking out on his own and starting his own business.

    Those who had been paying closer attention would've known that Tom Waterhouse was already one of Australia's most successful bookmakers, playing with millions of dollars daily. He employs about sixty people, lives in a suite at the Crown Casino which costs more per night than I pay in rent per month, enjoys fast cars and slurpees, and has a client list of 80,000, including one secret list of one hundred high-end gamblers.

    Am I dirty with him because he's young and rich and overexposed? Or am I dirty because he promotes and enables gambling?

    The answer is yes.

    That he can be an expert commentator on a handful of sports shows all at once is some brilliantly naïve marketing. To have it peak during Melbourne Cup Week takes a real genius – and has that, with his multi-million dollar marketing budget. Make no mistake, this is a serious operation.

    But he knows what he’s doing. He accepts that his career can ruin lives. He told Tim Elliott

    Waterhouse was raised in a religious household. "We went to church every Saturday night," he says. "I still pray occasionally, just to reflect on family and loved ones." But the moral dimension of his business doesn't trouble him. "I always say to people who bet with me, 'Anything in excess is bad for you: shopping, eating, gambling.' "
    Wise words. Wise, callous words.

    Thursday, November 1, 2012

    Country Girls

    Wendy Machin is a girl from my home town, just a few years older than me. We’ve met probably half a dozen times in total, and our families know each other. It’s even possible that we may be distantly related, but I’m not sure about that. Wendy and I attended the same high school – it wasn’t hard. Our small town only has one high school. Wendy studied Communications at the Institute of Technology (now UTS) and a few years later, I studied Communication at Mitchell CAE (now Charles Sturt University.)

    Wendy is without doubt a feminist role model for small town girls like me. She was elected to North Sydney Municipal Council at 25, until she stood for election to the New South Wales Legislative Assembly in the seat of Gloucester, which included our home town. That was the first election I voted in. The seat of Gloucester was a very safe National Party seat, and Wendy won the by-election as a member of the National Party. Wendy was the first woman to represent the National Party in the Legislative Assembly, rising to be Deputy Speaker while still a single woman in her early thirties.

    These days, Wendy is the President of the NRMA (Road Service, not insurance). She’s also a mother, a farmer, a wife, a private consultant in PR and Issues Management and has served on the boards of various NGOs, including Save the Children (NSW), the National Council for the Prevention of Child Abuse and Neglect. She has also been the Deputy Chair of the Australian Republican Movement. She is a master at multiskilling – and has a Masters in Commerce.

    Wendy Machin is the perfect example of a women who can, and has, done what she wanted to do. I'm not suggesting that Wendy's life has been perfect, but it has been blessed by the opportunities created by feminists of previous generations, not notably, the 60s.

    Wendy is a puzzling blend of conservative politics and progressive actions. With her history as a member of the Young Nationals, then a National Party politician, she is without doubt comfortable with conservative values and policies. Having said that, she has broken through barriers and blazed a new trail for women in conservative politics in Australia, she's blasted a hole through the glass ceiling at the NRMA, and she continues to set the bar in multi-skilling.

    Yesterday, the NRMA under Wendy’s leadership, refused to withdraw their advertising from the Alan Jones Breakfast Show. The NRMA is the first major company to remain with Alan Jones’ show. An explanation was posted yesterday on their Facebook Page (left).

    I know that Wendy is aware of Mr Jones’ recent comments, and that she finds them as inappropriate as I do. I also know that she is a Communications professional like I am, and that she is are aware of Mr Jones’ history of bombastic and biased political pronouncements, his half-truths, his extreme climate change denial and on-air provocation and intimidation of guests who do not share his opinions. The fact that Wendy is a National Party member means she might well share a few of his opinions and might not have felt the wrath of Mr Jones herself. That's not relevant.

    The crushing response to Nic Lochner’s petition asking businesses to pull their advertising from 2GB – 116,000 signatures – and the successful and sustained campaign by Destroy the Joint prove that this new conversation is not just another social media meme.

    If anything good has come from the Mr Jones’ comments, it’s that it has been a catalyst for a new conversation in Australia, a conversation not just about women and misogyny, but also about standards of behaviour, about respect, and about what we are willing to accept from our media, our colleagues and our society. Finally, we're talking about where the line is drawn. 

    More than 80 major advertisers have decided that the line is drawn on this side of Alan Jones’ style of broadcasting and public speaking. They have cancelled their advertising on The Alan Jones Breakfast Show and are standing together to support the women (and men) who are driving the appeals for more respect, more civility, more care within our communities.

    The town where Wendy and I grew up is a small town. We would have known many of the same people, the same classy women who set the standards in small town Australia in the 1960s and 1970s: my grandmother Queenie Easton, our cousin Isabel Carpenter, Grandma Queenie's peers Joan Lucock, Ina Mallyon, Glad Skinner, Ruth Gardner and of course, the Machin family. They would never accept the kind of bully-boy tactics and verbal insults that we’ve heard on the radio in recent years, and they’d be disappointed in us if we did.

    I don’t want to return to a time where I have to wear a floral frock from Osti, and a pair of gloves to play canasta while I wait for my husband to come home from work, and I can’t believe Wendy would want that for her daughters either. What we do want – and what we deserve – is an informed media that respects its audience, its government, and the society in which it operates. Alan Jones does not meet that criteria, and by associating the NRMA with Mr Jones, Wendy Machin is aligning “Our NRMA” and herself with his now tarnished brand.

    As a communications professional, I would advise the NRMA to cut ties with Alan Jones and cancel any advertising booked on his show. It's not simply a commercial decision; it has meaning. It doesn't matter how many times the NRMA publishes its denials about supporting Alan Jones, or how many press conferences they give, as long as the NRMA still advertises on Mr Jones' show, it has positioned itself on the Jones side of the line, and the wrong side of history.

    Wendy has responded via my Facebook page: Wendy Machin Hi Sally - I thought it was you, another Wingham girl. I read your blog. Pretty fair and I am glad to see yet another product of Wingham out there and doing well. You are right when you say I do not like the remarks Jones made. You new my Dad and when he died that was a great loss to me. I felt hurt for Julia Gillard when I saw what Alan Jones had said - it was so unkind and just so so wrong. Her Dad, like mine, was no doubt a proud father as he watched his daughter get to the top of politics in this country. I too have a similar Communcations degree as you and I appreciate that people will be critical of the NRMA advertising schedule including the Jones time slot. As you can imagine I am now being subject to a lot of personal pressure. There are several important issues here and they should not be confused. The really important one is proper standards of decency in our community - particularly in our community and political leaders. The media has a crucial role in leading the standard of debate upwards. I fully support that and I think the record will show that I have never indulged in personal attacks or "sledging" (although I have received a bit). The other issue is about businesses of all sizes trying to get on with their job. For many this includes advertising. The 2GB morning time slot has a lot of listeners and for the NRMA this is an important group for us to talk to. Some of the ads you are concerned about were in the traffic report - pretty logical oplace for a motoring organisation to go to given who we need to talk to. Social media is just like a lively debate at the pub - only online so more can see it. Everyone has an opinion and that is their right. But here too, as on radio or in Parliament, we should respect each other. The nasty targeting of some small businesses as part of this wider issue is unfortunate. They and good companies like NRMA should not be punished for another's wrong actions. Surely the best way to send a message is listen to another station?