Monday, May 27, 2013

Sophie's State of Origin

About 12 years ago, we hired a young woman to work in our office. She was part of a traineeship programme for kids who had left school with few skills and not much hope. Sophie was very attractive, busty, and far too streetwise for her seventeen years.

We were Sophie’s* first work placement after slogging it out at TAFE to learn some basic skills. She had no idea how to dress for the office or conduct herself in a professional environment, so I was asked to mentor her a little.

We started with the simple things. I taught her how to answer the phone, by saying the name of the company, her name, and ask “How can I help you?”. Actually, I would have settled for the company name, or her name, or “How can I help you?” because they were all better than “Yeah? This is Sophie?” said with perfect upward inflection around a mouthful of gum.

Sometimes she’d sing along with the radio, but she wasn’t a real fan of the “oldies” station we listened to. It didn’t matter – Sophie would sing along to whatever was playing inside her head, even while she was on the phone. Trust me – it’s disconcerting when you’re on the other end of the line.

There were other ways in which I had to help Sophie to blend into the office. It was a conservative office in a conservative industry, and the pre-Olympic green and gold-sprayed hair didn’t fit in. Neither did the white, too-tight midriff-bearing tops, demin mini-skirts and boots. We talked about her wardrobe choices, the unfortunate days when all her bras were in the wash, her favourite sparkly blue nail polish, and about how bright red lipstick really doesn’t work well on anyone under 30.

"Work is so b-o-r-i-n-g," she told me, "but the weekends were even better if you had money to spend." At least she was motivated.

In some ways, we saved each other; I helped prepare her for office work, and that responsibility saved me from having to sit with the other women in the office at lunchtime. Sophie and I never became friends outside work – there was that 17 year age gap – but she did confide in me, tell me about her weekends, her family, her boyfriends, the Greek customs at home, and the way her parents still made her go to Church, even when she was hung over.

And she told me about the night she was raped by a footballer in the car park of the footy club – he wasn’t her boyfriend, and she didn’t really want to go all the way, but he was so hot and he bought drinks for her and her friends, and she was so honoured that he wanted to fuck her…so she tried not to scream. She hadn’t let her boyfriend go that far, but this was different. This was a rich celebrity, and she reckoned her boyfriend would be real proud of her.


I always think of Sophie in the leadup to State of Origin. It’s the only time that rubgy league penetrates far enough into my consciousness to be noticeable. I just block it out. In fact, I don’t watch footy of any code. I go out of my way to avoid the whole footy culture, or cultures, and particularly rugby league.

It’s not that I don’t like watching fit young men in shorts; I do. I guess I don’t like watching fit young men in shorts and wondering how many Sophie's are going to have to endure their cavemannish approach to women this weekend.

Whether it’s systemic issues with performance enhancing drugs, typical boys behaving badly, booze, recreational drugs, Tom Bloody Waterhouse and live odds, or the sad fact that they have to stage a “Women in League” round to disguise their appalling culture of disrespect, I just can’t be bothered.

Y’know what? One weekend of footy players wearing pink to honour women is actually quite an insult. It’s like going to confession: the sins of the past are wiped away by this one annual gesture. What about personal responsibility? What about the mates looking after their mates? What about clubs taking care of the young players with too much money and too little discipline? Covering for bad behaviour, paying fines, allowing these kids to experiment with recreational drugs and then hushing it up when they're busted or become violent is absolutely shameful.

Does wearing pinks socks and inviting your Mum to a champagne lunch at the Club change anything that needs changing? Does this one event undo the rape of a starstruck seventeen year old? I think about Sophie and I still get angry because it is still happening.

The inconsistency that the Rugby League Management don't seem to recognise is that for those players who already respect women, Women In League is a lovely event. For those who treat women the way Sophie was treated, it’s just a lark, another social occasion in which to dress up and show off. In league parlance, no ground has been gained.

And in the meantime, the rugby league clubs that host the swanky Pink Lunches are funded in large part by the proceeds of gambling (via poker machines) and drinking. Gambling and drinking are very much part of the national agenda because both have been identified as risky behaviours and both are at dangerous levels in Australia. As always, the clubs making the mega-bucks have the mega-bucks to mount massive campaigns against the small organisations which are trying to preach moderation.

And anyway, how are boozing and gambling and violence compatible with supporting and developing elite athletes?

I don’t deny that licenced clubs contribute to the community with charitable donations, and through the development of junior sports – and that’s great, but also part of the problem. Kids learn to associate playing sports at the clubs with gambling, and boozing and the rest of the culture. Take it to the first class clubs and there are dance floors full of young (underage) ladies like Sophie, blinded by sickly sweet cocktails and the presence of cocky young men with more than a few hangers on.

And the gambling isn’t just a few pokies and Tom Waterhouse on the big screen tellie. In the special gaming rooms, where there is no natural light or sound, you can choose how to lose your coin by playing Keno, Lucky 8s, betting on the horsies at the TAB, Cash Draw Giveaways, lucky door prizes, or your choice of literally hundreds of poker machines per room. Then, to make your gambling experience as surreal as possible, my local footy club provides patrons in the “Games Room” with Platinum Service and free tea and coffee. They hope you'll never want to leave.

Don’t you worry about what to do with the kids, either. There’s a Kids Club on the premises, open six nights a week and during the day on weekends. Or course, the kids aren’t in the Gaming Room or the Bar, but they are right there, soaking up the culture. When the Under Tens are on the field, their parents are cheering from the raised Alfresco Lounge, beer on the table, smoke in one hand while they check off their Keno numbers with the other. Great example.

It’s sad that these risky behaviours all seem to meet at the local footy club, yet the fact that they do makes it all the more important that the footy clubs themselves take real action to correct the dangerous culture in their sport.

* Not her real name

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

CAAANBRA: Missed the Target

Shadow Treasurer Joe Hockey addressed the National Press Club today in what was effectively the woofteenth attempt by the opposition to deliver a Budget Reply Speech. Just an hour or two earlier Independent Rob Oakeshott announced via Twitter than next week he will be mounting a Confidence Motion to reaffirm Parliament’s faith in the departments of Treasury and Finance.

The proposed Confidence Motion is in response to the projectile vomit-like stream of doubt that Joe Hockey and his colleague Matthias Cormann have aimed at the Department of Treasury over the budget figures.

The one thing that irked me most about Mr Hockey’s and Senator Cormann’s suggestions that the figures quoted in the budget are untrustworthy is that they are trying to launch another political attack at the government. It's an election year; if the Opposition wasn't trying to undermine the Government, you'd need to check for a pulse. In any case, they missed their huge, floodlit Government-shaped target by about t--h--i--s much, and hit the public service instead.

Treasurer Wayne Swan has stepped in this morning and labelled their attacks as ‘profound insults’ to the public service. Understatement, much?

What evidence does the Opposition have that there is anything suspicious in the Budget figures? I had hoped that Mr Hockey’s speech at the NPC today would answer that question. Instead, Mr Hockey offered five reasons why we can’t believe the budget that Mr Swan handed down last week. (Five is the Coalition’s favourite number at the moment; their campaign features a five pillar plan to save us all from more ALP thingamyjiggery. It's Newman's CanDo Plan for Queensland all over again.)

Here’s Mr Hockey’s Big Five:

1. The Government broke their promise to deliver a surplus (which he suggested later had lead to the “fiscal emergency” we’re now facing, here in Oz where we have the healthiest economy in the world.)

2. An ALP Government would have to borrow more money, which would undermine the budget forecast

3. If they borrow more money, they’d need to increase the debt ceiling

4. (And this is the clanger) the Budget assumptions are "courageous"

5. The ALP Government spends too much money

It makes you wonder if Mr Hockey has ever had to construct a budget for anything in his life. Cattle stations notwithstanding, he seems to lack even a basic understanding of forecasting, so here's the simplest possible explanation: forecasting is taking the facts that you have right now, and using experience and expertise and wisdom (including everything from Grandma Queenie’s common sense to sophisticated economic modelling and even some wishful guestimation) to try to predict what is going to happen in the future. As for economic forecasting, it’s hardly a science. In fact, getting two economists to agree on what to have for lunch is impossible. But that’s about future, and the Liberal’s beef is with the present. Or not. Confusing.
Let's revisit Mr Hockey’s number 4. The Shadow Treasurer and the Shadow Assistant Treasurer (whose portfolio also includes Financial Services and Superannuation) are both publicly questioning the accuracy of assumptions provided to the Government by the Departments of Treasury and Finance.

It’s important to note that neither of these shadow ministers have any formal education in economics; both have qualifications in Law, as do Wayne Swan and Penny Wong. That has always struck me as a little odd…but like all of us, Ministers and their Shadows rely on subject matter experts – usually public servants - for advice and information.

In the case of the budgetary dollars and sense, the current Secretary of the Department of the Treasury is Dr Martin Parkinson, an economist with a long history in and around politics, and as a senior public servant. He’s copped the brunt of the attacks from the Opposition. In today’s Australian, Senator Cormann continued the tirade:
Senator Cormann said Dr Parkinson provided the government with forecasts behind closed doors and he would "of course" defend them publicly. But he said the budget was the government's document, not the Treasury's.

“I don't believe for one minute that the Treasury, left to its own devices, would have come up with some of the unbelievable assumptions that Wayne Swan and Penny Wong have based their budget figures on,” he told ABC radio.
Yes, the Opposition is suggesting that the Government has somehow coerced public servants within the Departments of Treasury and Finance to fudge figures that would make the Budget look better than it really is? That is one helluva serious allegation, one helluvan insult and quite probably, grounds for investigation. It’s also close to unbelievable.

Senator Cormann wasn’t finished:

“His job as secretary of Treasury until the election period is to serve the government of the day.”
That much, at least, is true, although I suspect his words were thick with unspoken agenda.
Section 1.2 of the Australian Public Service Values and Code of Conduct document is a pretty dry read, but there is no ambiguity around the relationship between public service and the Government. This document lists the Australian Public Service (APS) Values as follows:

•The APS is apolitical, performing its functions in an impartial and professional manner.

•The APS is openly accountable for its actions, within the framework of ministerial responsibility to the government, the Parliament and the Australian public.

•The APS is responsive to the government in providing frank, honest, comprehensive, accurate and timely advice and in implementing the government's policies and programs.

The document continues:

The role of the APS is to serve the Government of the day: to provide the same high standard of policy advice, implementation and professional support, irrespective of which political party is in power. This is at the core of the professionalism of the APS.
If Mr Hockey or Mr Cormann have legitimate concerns around the veracity of figures included within the budget, and if they believe that the wobbly figures were provided by a member of the APS, have the suspected breaches been reported to the appropriate authorities for investigation? (Note to Mr Hockey: Sky News and The Australian are not appropriate authorities.)
If they don’t have anything more concrete than wishful thinking and a desire to hurt the Government’s chances of reelection, they should sit down and shut up now…and in an astonishing turn, even Tony Abbott agrees. He’s visibly placing his trust in the Treasury, and restricting his budget related hostility to attacks on Wayne Swan and Penny Wong.

Where does that leave Joe Hockey and Matthias Cormann?

With no tangible proof of wrongdoing by the Government or the Public Service, no support on this issue from their Leader, and Mr Oakeshott’s decision to lead a Confidence motion in the Departments of Treasury and Finance, their campaign to discredit the numbers is looking pretty fragile.

Monday, May 20, 2013

CAAANBRA: Fair & Balanced

If you’ve been paying attention, you’ll have no doubt that Rupert Murdoch, that former Australian and worldwide media boss, prefers the conservative side of politics. He’s made no attempts to hide it; in fact, many of his News Limited/News International/News Corporation news outlets actively promote a conservative agenda. Fox News is so far to the right, they're the least trusted news organisation in America.

Nooooo, scream the conservative consumers of Mr Murdoch’s newspapers and television interests. In their view, conservative is “normal” and the rest of us are lefty communist stirrers. Hmmm. What you perceive really does depend on where you stand, but regardless of your position on the political spectrum, few would argue that Mr Murdoch’s news organisations are more conservative than most other news organisations.

Headlines and leaders from News Limited today
With new Newspoll and Neilsen federal opinion polls being released today, the headlines are telling. Fairfax's online titles, including the SMH, the Age and the Brisbane Times, are running the headline “Gillard Budget Boost”, while Murdoch’s press prefer to point out that the Coalition still has an ALP-slaughtering lead. Fair enough too – we need different perspectives on our world.
It's not just the Aussie press, though. Rupert Murdoch is not holding back. He has a personal twitter account, and this morning Mr Murdoch tweeted the following:

“Oz polls show nothing can save this miserable govt. Election can not come soon enough. People decided and tuned out months ago.”
With all due respect, I don’t accept that. The polls Mr Murdoch refers to are the Neilsen and Newspoll  numbers released overnight. Both sets of numbers are either stable or slightly positive for the government and for Ms Gillard as preferred PM, in a post-budget context where ALP votes should’ve been lost, not gained.
Internationally, political pollsters aren’t having a great run of late. In British Columbia, all of the media-aligned pollsters were wrong in their recent election. Every single one of them said that the Liberals would romp home and they didn’t. They lost. According to CBC News British Columbia

Angus Reid forecast in its last poll before the election that the NDP was the party of choice for 45 per cent of decided voters and leaners, with the governing Liberals in second place with 36 per cent support.
But in Tuesday's election, the Liberals won 44.4 per cent of the popular vote while the NDP ended up with 39.5 per cent. The win gave the Liberals 50 of the province's 85 seats, five more than the party had going into the election.

Back in Australia, Neilsen’s numbers this week show the Coalition leading the ALP 44-32, a slightly larger gap than was reported in British Columbia, but the BC polls were taken just prior to the election, not 4 months out. There were other similarities too: both leaders were fairly unpopular, and the economy was a key election issue, at least according to the pre-election polls.
The same inconsistencies were a factor in poor polling accuracy in the 2012 American Presidential elections. Gallup, one of the world’s oldest and most respected polling organisations, are holding an internal investigation into how and why their results all pointed to a Romney victory last November. Less than two weeks before the election, Gallup predicted a solid Romney victory; he was leading in the polls by 4%. The final result saw President Obama re-elected by the same margin. In polling terms, that's a big mistake. Huge.

Fox News's Bill O'Reilly, deep in denial on Election Night
Politico has put together a handy summary of some major polls conducted up to Election Day, and few of them had Obama in front.

Remember the faces at Rupert Murdoch’s Fox News when it became increasingly apparent that the Republicans would lose the election convincingly? Less than a month out from the Presidential Election, Fox News ran the story of Los Vegas bookie who was predicting a Romney landslide.  The conservative media in the USA was so sure that their man would win that they were visibly shocked when he didn’t.

The headline doesn't reflect the content of the story.

But Nate Silver, statistician, author and commentator, predicted the election so accurately, he called the result in every one of the fifty states, and DC. He had a look at the Australian situation when he was here in January this year. He predicted a Coalition victory, according to a headline in the Murdoch-stabled Australian.

What he actually said was that the ALP government would be the underdog:

In his first Australian interview after arriving in Melbourne yesterday, Silver said given the recent Australian polls, "clearly the government would be the underdog" but "the most important variable is not how many polls are taken but when the polls are taken relative to the election".
My lefty tendencies aren’t giving this election away just yet. Perhaps it’s wishful thinking, perhaps it’s the weather or some hitherto unknown clairvoyant powers, but this federal election is still up for grabs. Don’t be surprised if, come September 15th, we see more sad Murdoch employees - Andrew Bolt, Janet Albrechtsen, Piers Ackerman, Dennis Shanahan and the rest - wondering how it all went so wrong.

Fox News - America's least trusted news source

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Just the Facts, Ma'am

Once upon a time, in a generation not too far ago, journalists were respected, news presenters were trusted, and politicians were at least, polite. Those were important times, easy times, when you could watch the news at six o’clock or seven o’clock or both, and you could believe what Brian told you.

Journalists were never in that same league of trusted professional as perennial winners nurses and paramedics, but they weren’t bundled in with the lowest of the low either.

Politicians were always a bit further down the list of trustworthy professionals than the journalists who reported their stories; they have a vested interest in telling people what the people want to hear. In this year’s poll of the most trusted professions, newspaper journalists, television reporters and radio talkback hosts were ranked 20, 21 and 22 respectively. Federal MPs ranked 25 and state MPs ranked 26…out of thirty. The only professions ranked lower than politicians were real estate agents, advertising people and car salesmen.

Poll upon poll, list upon list, the story remains the same. Journalists aren’t trusted much more than the politicians they report on. How do you know who to trust? Paul Murray on Sky News promises to tell you what “really happened”, Bill O’Reilly refers to his show, The O'Reilly Factor, as the “the no-spin zone” and our own ABC News tells us that they’re “more than the headlines”. And that’s just television.

Please don’t take this the wrong way; I’m not suggesting that the fourth estate is unrelentingly shonky. The miserable fact is that enough reporters have been untrustworthy enough to build a perception that we should question the news we’re provided. High school students are being taught to be critical consumers of news. Scepticism is hardly surprising in an global news environment dominated by Rupert Murdoch's right wing Fox News and bumbling CNN on one side of the Atlantic and the now-defunct News of the World and the rest of Murdoch’s News International on the other.

And what of Australia’s media? More Murdoch, a relatively small population and a ridiculously high concentration of media ownership makes for easy targets and large ripples. If you control the media in Australia, you control the Australian agenda.

Never was that more evident that in the reporting of our Prime Minister crying in parliament yesterday. reported the tears as being the result of stress, until Sky News’s David Lipson tweeted a card from some of Queensland’s disabled population, thanking the Prime Minister for making the NDIS a reality. But of course, News Limited’s first instinct was to show Ms Gillard being weak, rather than showing her being compassionate. They interpreted what they saw and reported it through their lens of right wing negativity.

And what are we talking about today? Julia’s tears, of course. 612Brisbane’s breakfast producer Anne Debert was not impressed with Ms Gillard’s tears, yet couldn’t explain why it annoyed her so much. The fact is, we are talking about whether it’s appropriate to cry in the workplace, whether it’s a gender issue, and if it is, is it one we should embrace, or one which deserves censure. How has this become the talking point of budget week? Most of our news outlets have led with stories of the PM being “reduced to tears" or “driven to tears” or even “moved to tears” rather than discussion of the Federal Budget, the actual DisabilityCare scheme, or any of the other valid news stories of the day.

And before anyone makes the obvious gender related gags, allow me to remind you of Bob Hawke, crying on television during an interview about his private life and again, during the Tiananmen Square massacre in 1989. Malcolm Fraser cried the night the Liberals lost power in 1983. Kevin Rudd cried the night Ms Gillard replaced him as Prime Minister. There’s a long tradition of Prime Ministerial waterworks in this country and beyond. The Sydney Morning Herald chronicled just some of it in 2010, after Mr Rudd’s final press conference as PM, and observed then:
It seems we have finally come to accept such outbursts of emotion from our male political leaders as displays of genuine human feeling. And yet, for many women in business life, crying is still seen as a sign of weakness.

If the tear ducts of our first female prime minister runneth over at any point, I wonder: will it be interpreted as weakness or strength of character?

I love that the question was asked, for runneth over they did. Few media types attributed it to weakness, though. Initially, it was reported as a reaction to stress; later, as compassion, and more recently, opinion writers have written their defence of tears. 
National Nine News seems to have an opinion on tears.

So where does that leave us, the news consumers who don’t have a front row seat and rely on the accuracy and objectivity of news professionals to keep us informed? With the federal election now less than four months away, is it even possible that votes will be decided on the basis of whether the tears of the PM are conveyed as a strength or a weakness? Why are we talking about this, when it's not even the first time Prime Minister Gillard has shed a tear in the house?

The millions of choices made every day by our news media about which word to use here and what tone is needed there will influence the votes of many Australians. Like Anne, you might not be all that keen on a teary PM, but if those tears are reported as a sign of emotional fragility, it could be a vote changer for some. If the report suggests it’s a sign of strength and compassion, different votes might change.

A vote or two here or there won’t make a difference, and isn’t that the beauty of democracy? If you change enough minds, you change a result. The consistent messages - just a few words, or a blaring headline supporting the Coalition - has continued over three years now, and has thrived during this hung parliament. A daily avalanche of negative spin will change minds.

This stuff matters.

Some get it right, some don’t. American Democrat and sociologist Daniel Patrick Moynihan said, “You are entitled to your own opinion. You are not entitled to your own facts.”
From PolitiFact's American election coverage in 2012

Apparently that’s not entirely true any more; it seems that the Climate Change Denialists like the Galileo Movement are entitled to make up their own “facts” – but 97.1% of peer reviewed scientific papers still agree that climate change is real and we’re making it worse.
All of which leads us to PolitiFact Australia, the first international incarnation of the Pulitzer Prize-winning American fact-checking website. According to their own website:

PolitiFact Australia is a non-partisan, independent journalistic venture run by Peter Fray, the former editor-in-chief of the Sydney Morning Herald, and staffed by experienced reporters and researchers.

Our goal is to bring greater accountability to the federal election campaign.

We want to help Australian voters make better-informed decisions.

We want to help keep our politicians honest.

We want to restore faith in the political process — and the role journalists play in it.

Journalists exist to hold the powerful to account. PolitiFact in the US and now in Australia is an affirmation of that deep tradition.
I’d like to proclaim publicly my support for our truthy new overseers, but you see, there’s this pesky thing called Social Media which is making life interesting for politicians and journalists, and now for PolitiFact Australia. Their judgment has already been questioned on social media.
And isn’t that how it should be? In a mature society we should hold eachother to account. In fact, we should strive for a higher standard? When, for whatever reason, the news media falls for the line which today’s politician is peddling, we have a team of professionals who are spending their discretionary time checking facts…and if they get it wrong, social media will let them know it.

The world will change, just a little, for those paying attention.

All of these images were borrowed from social media: thanks to those who created and posted them.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Everything but the Kitchen Sink

We've been looking at Display Homes, with a view to building our own little Grand Design when we've sold our property in Melbourne. We've walked through over thirty of them, and studied the floor plans of a hundred more. Sometimes, the little things make all the difference.


Thank you for your impersonal form letter to inform me about your recent changes in business structure. It is indeed fortunate that I am able to control my disappointment. This is due in large part to the fact that we had already decided to build with someone else, and I had unsubscribed from your mailing list.

This must come as a humiliating blow to an organisation that doesn’t bother to mail-merge the names on their mailing list into their marketing email before they hit send. I’d hope that a company involved in designing and building homes would have more of an eye for detail.

I will, however, do you the small courtesy of explaining why we are not interested in building a Sekisui House. I have looked at well in excess of 100 floor-plans, and on paper, the Kenzie appears to meet all of our requirements. In fact, the Kenzie was one of our favourite three floor plans.

Luckily, there is a Kenzie on display at Rochedale South Display Village, just minutes from our home. Off to Rochedale we went, excited to see the Kenzie. But it was that pesky week between Christmas and New Year, and few people were working – including your sales staff. Many of the other display homes at Rochedale were open, but not yours.

Y’know, we must’ve really loved that Kenzie floor plan because we went back a few weeks later, and this time, we inspected the Kenzie. It is indeed a lovely home, which surpassed our expectations.

Of course, your lovely saleswoman at Rochedale was almost tripping over herself to provide us with all of the information we’d need. In fact, she tried to sell us the display house, right there on the spot. None of that softly softly approach there – this was hard sell from word one.

That’s where things went downhill. You see, we liked the house, and we’d studied the literature online. Sekisui’s own sales brochures price the Kenzie at less than $250K, depending on your chosen facade. Your display home was on sale for $900,000. Four months later, it’s still listed.

The problem with buying a display home is that you can’t live in it. You have to lease it back to the company displaying it until the end of the display period – quite often that’s years. With that in mind, we weren’t interested. No, really, we weren’t interested. It would not solve our problem of finding somewhere wonderful to live if we couldn’t live in it, and we don’t have almost a million dollars to throw at an investment. Here’s some free advice: people looking at display homes listed at Price Point A probably can’t afford to invest almost four times that much in a house they can’t live in.

A ceiling worth $36K, apparently...

Speaking of money, let’s assume that the block of land is worth $400,000 – which, given that it’s a small block at Rochedale South, it probably isn’t – and the house is fooled up with top-spec everything. That’s a quarter of a million dollars worth of extras which Sekisui has added for display purposes, but which don’t come with the standard Kenzie. What’s what? What’s included? How would a customer know?
We asked about inclusions, of course (although there is a list available on the web).

According to your saleshound at Rochedale, there’s the $36,000 imported ceiling (which we didn’t like and would paint over), thousands of dollars’ worth of sound system wired in, and some kind of electronic drawer closure system in the kitchen that doesn’t work if there’s a blackout, plus there’s Viridian glass, ducted air conditioning, Caesarstone benchtops, a rainwater tank, security system and appliances that just aren’t included.

Rob, looking for the kitchen sink

By the way, there was a hole in the kitchen bench where a sink should be. How can you spend a quarter of a million on extras and forget the kitchen sink?
Looking more closely at Sekisui’s list of inclusions will only depress me. Suffice to say, it’s fairly average, and less than many home builders offer.

The pool, which looks as though it belongs to the Kenzie, doesn’t, and there’s nowhere to put one. As I said, it’s a very small block. Tiny. Imagine that: a fully tricked up display home with at least $250K worth of extras, but no possibility of a pool and no kitchen sink?

Adding to my confusion, the display home has not been constructed exactly as per the floor plan. It’s close, but there’s something about the study that’s not quite right. I think there was a wall in the wrong place, but I can’t be bothered trying to remember what it was.

The last straw, the one that ensured that we crossed Sekisui off our list, was your 6 year structural guarantee. Six years is a great guarantee for a toaster, but for a house, it’s not acceptable. We’ve chosen a builder who offers a 50 year structural guarantee.

And now today’s confirmation: if we hadn’t already decided to build with someone else, we’d have to cross Sekisui off our list. Sekisui is going to restrict its buildings to house and land packages contained within their own planned communities and we’re not interested in a planned community. We prefer our communities to be wild and free and not look like they came out of next year’s Lego catalogue.

Good luck with that, especially since most of your display homes are not located in your planned communities, and you can’t build your designs in the areas where your display homes are located.

Most Sincerely,


And I would’ve shut up about it all, except for that email addressing me as *FIRST NAME*. Perhaps their officer in charge of Sink Procurement and Installation is handling their PR this week?

Monday, May 6, 2013

Uncommon Decency

In my eternal quest to understand the workings of the conservative mind, I find the single area that baffles me most isn’t economics, or religious affiliation and “values issues” like abortion and same sex marriage, denial of climate change or even opposition to gun control. It’s the lack of what my Grandma Queenie would’ve called common decency.

There’s more than four months until the federal election, and Australia is floating is its own sea of semi-truths and outright lies, snide remarks and blatant insults, minor put-downs and major attempts to undermine the Government…and much of this gutter behaviour is treated as both factual and newsworthy by the media, and digested whole by the electorate.

We’re not just tolerating it; we have allowed it to become the dominant tone in our national dialogue.

We all know that my political preference is left of centre, so this may be biased: it looks as though the majority of bad behaviour is coming from the right. In the interests of fairness, please let me know if you have examples from the other side of the aisle to rival some of these and I'll happily post them.

I’d only been on Twitter a matter of weeks  in 2010 when I received some harsh threats from Sydney political hopeful, Mark Sharma, simply because challenged his beliefs and his stereotypes with facts. Mr Sharma has stood as a conservative independent in several state and federal elections, without success. I'm thankful for his failures though; he also failed to carry through on his threats to finish me off.

Twitter’s political enemy of choice at the moment is a particularly unpleasant chap who tweets under the name of @GregJessop1. His stream of hateful tweets were so offensive that his Twitter account has been suspended. He describes himself in his Twitter biography as being “Anti-refugee, anti-communist, and proud LNP supporter”. There’s no question of where his loyalties lie, and unfortunately, no sign of intervention from the LNP either.

It doesn’t have to be weeks and months of deeply offensive tweets, from the usual suspects at #auspol, or a rapid-fire barrage of threats such as I received from Mark Sharma. Common decency can exist in simply thinking about the words you’re using and how they could be taken.

Last night on twitter, Robert Simeon, a Liberal Party supporter and real estate agent, tweeted to Dr Craig Emerson:

“Australians have a plan for Gillard and Swan. It’s called extermination.”
Dr Emerson challenged Mr Simeon on the use of the word “extermination”. It’s a loaded word, associated with Nazis and Daleks, and Mr Simeon has since apologised for his poor choice of words. I’d like to know why he thought it was okay to use it in the first place. Apologies are rare on social media.
Dr Mark Roberts has also apologised. Dr Roberts, who was Tony Abbott’s senior policy director was overheard at a Qantas function making chilling threats against the head of an Indigenous NFP. Tony Abbott must’ve known what happened, but chose to deny it to media. Then, when he couldn’t deny it any further, he excused the behaviour as a “booze-fuelled rant” – as if that makes it any less deplorable. Finally, he had to act, so he slapped Doctor Roberts on the wrist and demoted him. That’s all – a demotion.

Someone needs to remind Mr Abbott that when a member of staff shouts and threatens someone – anyone – it is bullying. If it occurs at a function while the staffer is representing his boss or his department, it is workplace bullying. Every workplace that I can think of has a zero tolerance to workplace bullying. Had Dr Roberts been an employee at my workplace, he’d be experiencing now what it’s like to be a recipient of welfare.

Alan Jones should be in the Centrelink queue too. The way he speaks about the Prime Minister and her government is entirely inappropriate, and the existence of the Destroy the Joint movement proves it. It was Alan Jones who arranged convoys of buses to take his faithfully deluded listeners to Anti Carbon Tax rallies in Canberra to brandish signs with “Ditch the Bitch” written in childish letters. It was Alan Jones who popularised the insult “Ju-Liar”, and it was Alan Jones who suggested that our Prime Minister should be shoved in a chaff bag and dumped at sea. Fortunately for him, his status as an entertainer and commentator give him some protection from the expectation of decency. Commentators from the left simply don’t bring that same level of malice to their work.

Far far worse than Alan Jones is former Katter’s Australia Party serial pest Bernard Gaynor. He seems to believe that his righteous Catholicism gives him some kind of permission to belittle people who offend his beliefs. On April 30, after a string of anti-gay tweets, he offered this gem:

“The prancing pansy parade processing down Oxford Street for gay marriage can thank Henry VIII for starting their cause.”
His colleague in the KAP is Steve Smith, who tweeted his agreement:
“Yep. His liberal church was founded on divorce. Now they have gay bishops. Next they’ll be baptizing animals”
Disregarding the complete lack of both facts and sanity in these tweets, the tone is similar. They could have made their point without resorting to scorn, yet Mr Gaynor and Mr Smith chose the option most likely to cause offence. The conversation also caused a fair amount of laughing on Twitter, so it got what it deserved.
In Newcastle, former newsreader John Church will be standing as a Liberal in the seat of Shortland at this year’s election. I wonder what convinced him that it was a good idea to place a campaign sticker on his Anzac Day tribute this year? It’s months since he launched his campaign, he has the Liberal Party campaign office to maximise his already high name recognition and he doesn’t need stunts to get his head on the television. A campaign sticker at an Anzac Day ceremony is poor form.

Meanwhile at the conservative Menzies Institute, Toby Ralph challenges the notion that the rich should contribute more to society because they can, and because the impoverished have nothing to contribute.
“Is it fair that those who have underwritten our national prosperity should now stump up even more? I think not, and have a more equitable policy alternative that Government might consider. Kill the poor.”

Of course Mr Ralph is using the concept of killing off the poorer classes to illustrate that there might be other options, maybe eveb a better solution to this disastrous burden of being the strongest economy in the world under a flag few non-Australians could recognise. Lop off the last couple of paragraphs of his article and it reads like a genuine suggestion. Poor people – in fact the bottom 80% of earners - are a drain on the economy, and therefore, dispensable, worthless.
And there’s the continual parade of fuzzy half-truths and misleading slogans from the politicians on the right. Yesterday, for example, Queensland’s Premier Campbell Newman tweeted:

“the only cuts to health in qld are Julia Gillard and Wayne Swan’s”
In fact, the Premier Newman’s government cut 4,140 jobs out of Queensland health last year.
Few would believe that tweet from the Queensland Premier, but an alarming number of conservative voters still believe that seeking asylum and arriving without documentation by boat is a crime. The truth is that seeking asylum is not illegal, arriving by boat is not illegal and arriving by boat without documentation is not illegal if you are seeking asylum. The Liberal Party pollies must know this, yet they persist in using this untruth as a dog whistle, on advertisements, leaflets and billboards.

The other huge area of conflict is the state of the Australian economy. Listen to the Government and the ratings agencies and they’ll tell you that Australia is in great shape. Compare Australia to other developed countries across a range of measures, and we are indeed the lucky country. Listen to Tony Abbott, and we have the kind of economy that dominates the sunnier states in Europe.
In September 2011, Wayne Swan was named Treasurer of the year by Euromoney magazine, in large part because he steered the economy safely around the GFC. Of course, the Opposition had to poopoo the award because we have a small deficit. Shadow Treasurer Joe Hockey even said that

“The real recipient of this award should be Peter Costello, who laid the groundwork for Wayne Swan”.
Mr Hockey needs reminding that Peter Costello AC had eleven years as treasurer in which to collect a swag of international awards and he won exactly none. He also had eleven years in which to steer Australia to a Triple A rating from all three ratings agencies. That didn’t happen either.
Right now, it’s easy to listen to the headlines and accept that the ALP Government has made a mess of the economy. The numbers that should be going up – revenue from the MRRT, for example – are failing to deliver, and the promised surplus is looking pretty silly.

Just this morning, Sydney Liberal MP Alex Hawke was pimping his IPA article in which he questions Australia's ability to afford PPL and suggests that we may be heading the same way as Cyprus, Greece, Spain and Italy. He tweeted

@JuliaGillard and @WayneSwan have so badly managed the budget, it is time to reconsider unnecessary and expensive proposals.
Mr Hawke, reconsidering unnecessary and expensive proposals should always be considered, and discarded, but the suggestion that Australia’s economy has been mismanaged is incorrect. As for the economy being poorly managed, I suggest Mr Hawke take that up with the ratings agencies, or any of the millions of unemployed people in Spain.

Even if the asylum seekers were illegal and the economy was in sinking like Gilligan in the quick-sand episode, we’d still be left as virtually the only place in the world where a climate change debate continues, despite the weight of science. Casting doubt on climate change allows space for doubt about the Carbon Tax. So apparently, it’s okay to allow a political agenda to determine whether science is to be believed.

In any case, just take a moment to imagine how different Australia might be in 2013 if Tony Abbott's suggestion of a 'gentler polity' had been part of his Gospel truth. Consider how different Australian politics might be if the Leader of the Opposition had only one kind of Truth. That would be the decent thing, wouldn't it?