Monday, March 31, 2014

The 44th: Back to the Future

History books will exalt Tony Abbott as Australia’s greatest ever devotee of history, a man so obsessed with recreating the past that he is transforming Australia into a living history museum. Regrettably, the budding history-themed continent-wide fun park is being created from the remnants of a progressive nation. The result is a haphazard collection of concepts dating back through the decades to World War II, overlaid across a nation ramping up for the 21st century.

Scarcely a single new idea has emerged from the government. The first six months of the 44th Parliament has been dominated by recycling old ideas and dismantling existing laws. On March 3, the Guardian reported that the House of Representatives had literally run out of legislationto discuss. This wasn’t reported anywhere else, although was discussed on social media. For a government which is so feisty, there seems to be surprisingly little governing actually taking place. 

The lack of an original legislative agenda should be no obstacle when there is so much history to mine, and when all else fails, there are throwaway media conferences and ceremonial distractions to perform. 

“Stop the Boats” is a perfect example of such meaningless activity. Last week there was a press conference to announce that no boats had arrived in Australia for one hundred days. This was a jarring change from the shy and silent traditions that surround Operation Sovereign Borders, yet was every bit as empty as the briefings provided during World War 2, under the glare of wartime censorship.

Tony and Grace Sullivan
Dare I say that for anyone who cares to dig, the OSB media policy is more instructive about World War Two than the iconic Australian drama series, The Sullivans? Perhaps that’s where Prime Minister Abbott stole the idea…which makes sense, as he believes we are at war with people smugglers, and we treat asylum seekers worse than prisoners of war.

The long-long-long Menzies era, is another pocket of history within Mr Abbott’s Australian History Theme Park. He’s always been socially conservative, following the dogged traditionalism of his Liberal predecessor John Winston Howard. Our little piece of the 1950s and 1960s arrived last week with the reintroduction of knights and dames. How Menzies would have approved!

But the 50s and 60s was also a period where Australian identity and culture slid across the Atlantic and we started identifying more with America than with Great Britain. Fortunately for Mr Abbott, America provided Australia with a wholesome, values-driven example to follow, even though the TV shows – Little House on the Prairie, Happy Days and The Waltons - weren’t made until the 70s. It was during those years that we learned that the only acceptable family structure is illustrated by the Ingalls, the Cunninghams and the Waltons.*

Howard and Marion Cunningham and their long-lost son, Tony.
Alongside the best of 50s family values, last week our strong, forward-looking country glanced over it’s shoulder, and turned to embrace former Governor General Quentin Bryce as she accepted her Dameness. Damehood. Dameship. No-one denies that she’s a real Dame, but why not refuse the honour, the republicans ask, bewildered. Dame Quentin Bryce has just served as Her Majesty’s representative in Australia. Would it not be hypocritical to refuse an honour bestowed by the very same Queen of Australia? In any case, our Dame has too much class, as befitting a titled woman of the Menzies era.

The iconic image of Australian politics of the 1970s is Gough Whitlam on the steps of Old Parliament House. Prior to being sacked, the Whitlam Government introduced free healthcare in the form of Medibank, later Medicare. When Mr Abbott is in a 70s mood, he takes us back to a time before socialised medicine, a time when conservatives had governed for over two decades. A six dollar fee for “free” GP consultations is not the same as free medical care for all.

Malcolm Fraser was a Liberal Prime Minister who has since resigned from the Liberal Party. The government led by Tony Abbott is far more conservative than the Fraser Government ever thought to be: the Racial Discrimination Act, the Human Rights Commission Act and the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park became certainties during the Fraser years. The Abbott Government is undermining each of them, dragging us back to a time where bigotry was acceptable, where people could be imprisoned without trial and corporations could pollute without penalty. 

The Qantas Sale Act, another Abbott target, came during the Hawke-Keating years. It’s on the hitlist too, courtesy of Qantas boss Alan Joyce, but not in a back-to-the-future way. The proposed changes to the Qantas Sale Act could leave Australia without an Australian-owned national carrier.

Doc Brown with Tony McFly summon the DeLorean
Predictably, little from the glorious Howard years will change during Tony Abbott’s step back in time. His trademark Stop The Boats policy referenced the Howard years as the very model of success, and his IR policies echo that Howard hit, “Workchoices”. Perhaps the name has been changed to protect the guilty, but back to 2007 we go.

The last chapter of our history to undergo the Extreme Makeover – Abbott Edition is the Rudd-Gillard Years. In this episode, Mr Abbott is attempting to show us what would’ve happened had the Coalition won the 2007 Federal election, and every one since. Every major initiative of the Rudd-Gillard Government is going…going…Gonski, the NDIS, Carbon Tax, Mining Tax, our relationship with our Asian neighbours: Gonski, or at  least, changed beyond recognition.

Subversive television featuring supernatural beings & unnatural families
Tony Abbott’s relentless charge to recreate the past is a singular achievement in the history of this country. Never has a multi-themed fun park been created so quickly. Experts anticipate that at this rate, all progress in Australia since the 1940s will have been obliterated by the end of Abbott’s second year in power. At that point, the Government will need to find some new ideas to enact.

The only thing that springs to mind is Paid Parental Leave.

*Whatever you do, don’t mention those subversive 60s shows like Bewitched, I Dream of Jeannie, & The Brady Bunch.

Saturday, March 22, 2014

The 44th: Friday Morning, 3am.

In those quiet moments between the middle of the night and darkest-before-dawn on Friday morning, Joe Hockey’s spin team issued a statement clarifying the chaotic web of stories linking Treasurer Joe Hockey and Assistant Treasurer Arthur Sinodinos with donations from ICAC target, Australian Water Holdings (AWH).

The statement, which is not available on Mr Hockey’s website, but was reported in The Australian, states  

“I have never received any money from AWH. I have never repaid money from AWH,” Mr Hockey’s statement read.

“The membership fees AWH paid to a Liberal Party business and community organisation known as the North Sydney Forum were refunded for AWH membership from 2009 until early 2013.

“I am advised that the North Sydney Forum cancelled AWH’s membership and returned its membership fee of $11,000 when allegations about AWH first became publicly known in February 2013, more than one year ago.

“I am further advised that subsequent to that $22,000 was returned to AWH for membership fees paid prior to 2013 and paid since 2009.”

Despite the early morning statement, there are still many questions unanswered, and too much that is open to interpretation.

Piecing together the various media reports, the money trail is straightforward. AWH paid $33,000 for membership to the North Sydney Forum, a group of businessmen who, in return for their membership fees, have exclusive access to a calendar of events featuring the Australian Treasurer. The businessmen, and possibly women, are paying to schmooze the Treasurer.

But the NSF returned the money to AWH. First, when AWH fell under the corruption spotlight, NSF repaid $11,000, with the balance of $22,000 being repaid at some point later.

The amounts and dates in Mr Hockey’s statements are a not precise. The statement refers to membership from 2009-2013. That’s probably 2010, 2011 and 2012, but the vague wording leaves it unresolved.

The statement describes the North Sydney Forum as a “Liberal Party business and community organisation”, yet there is no Liberal Party livery on the NSF website. In fact, the Liberal Party is only mentioned a couple of times on the entire site, and never on the homepage. The focus of the website is specifically about supporting Joe Hockey. (Check out the spelling errors on the site too!)

Words and Image from the NSF website
So the biggest question is around interpreting “Joe Hockey”. His statement that he did not repay any money to AWH is correct. The funds were repaid by NSF.

His statement that he did not receive funds from AWH is also correct, strictly speaking, yet there’s a direct line from NSF to Mr Hockey. Mr Hockey’s capability to develop and extend his political career has benefited from the NSF, which appears to exist for that purpose. There are no other beneficiaries. It's impossible to say that Mr Hockey has not benefited from the NSF, so we're left with dots we can't connect.
  • ·         When were the funds repaid?
  • ·         Would NSF have repaid anything to AWH if ICAC's interest in AWH had not become known?
  • ·         Did Mr Hockey know that AWH was a supporter, via NSF?
  • ·         Did Mr Hockey know that AWH was entangled with the Obeid family?
  • ·         Did NSF receive any funds from AWH in addition to the $33,000 we know about?
    I don't expect to be up at 3:00am pondering those questions.


The aftermath of the Marches in March have been too much for right wing commentator Chris Kenny’s gentle soul to take, and he’s walked away from the ugliness of the lefty-dominated Twitter

Profane, violent and sexist, these attacks usually emanate from anonymous or fake accounts. Both ends of the political spectrum dish it out but, given Twitter's strong green-Left bias, the slurs from the Left dominate, shouting down voices from the Centre Right and spreading the sort of personal hate we saw in the March in March protests last weekend.

Those placards about killing or retrospectively aborting Tony Abbott were shocking to see on our streets but such sentiments would hardly raise an eyebrow on Twitter.

Mr Kenny, like so many right wing figures before him, has proven that he just doesn’t know how to use social media. He was, until a couple of days ago, a frequent tweeter, and because his position is so staunchly pro-Coalition and anti-Labor/Greens, the response to his tweets was often strongly worded…and worse.

That’s Twitter for you.

He’s certainly not alone in being the target of some nasty treatment, but rather than walking away, why wasn’t Mr Kenny managing his Twitter feed? As soon as anyone indulged in unacceptable (as defined by Chris Kenny himself) tweeting, he has the facility to block them. Even Paul Murray, his conservative colleague at Sky News Australia recommended that he stop complaining and just block the offenders. That he didn’t do that strikes me as bizarre. He did not have to endure Twitter abuse; no-one does.

Piers Akerman, Chris Kenny, Alan Jones, Andrew Bolt
 In fact, there are plenty of left-leaning people on Twitter who are ready to engage in polite, reasoned debate - albeit with a little gentle mocking thrown in. Most high-profile conservatives, including Andrew Bolt, Alan Jones, Ray Hadley and Piers Akerman, don’t tweet. Chris Kenny was one of the few, and Australian political Twitterati will be diminished without his input.

It’s awkward to make an unbiased comparison with commentators from the left, as they don’t exist en masse. David Marr doesn’t tweet, although Mike Carlton does. Labor politicians are largely comfortable in the Twittersphere, yet Coalition politicians are discouraged from using Twitter. This imbalance could be why Mr Kenny perceives a Twitter bias favouring the left, and cutting himself off from the collected wisdom and flavour of day to day political tweeting is denying himself valuable insight. It’s not a socialist echo-chamber; ten minutes visiting the #auspol hashtag is all the proof he would need.

Mr Kenny’s Twitter rejection is all too reminiscent of the recent threat by Andrew Bolt to quit his career as a conservative commentator after Professor Marcia Langton blamed him, on QandA, for driving an aboriginal academic away from public life. Professor Langton later clarified her comments, and an apology was issued by the QandA programme for airing the comments.
But Bolt, the Australian conservative defender, used his column to have a mighty sook. It was a piece of psychological manipulation designed to whip his fans into a froth of protective fervour. 

And when Attorney-General George Brandis hotly insisted I was not racist, the ABC audience laughed in derision. Not one other panellist protested against this lynching. In fact, host Tony Jones asked Brandis to defend “those sort of facts” and Channel 9 host Lisa Wilkinson accused me of “bullying”.

That immediate reaction from the QandA studio is similar to the cadence of Twitter. The ABC audience did laugh and the panellists didn’t protest at the idea of Andrew Bolt being anything but racist – that should tell Andrew Bolt something about how he is perceived by an audience that identified itself as 48% Coalition and 48% ALP/Greens.

Of course Bolt didn’t quit, and I expect to see Chris Kenny back on Twitter sooner rather than later. After all, he hasn’t deleted his Twitter accounts, he hasn’t deleted his tweets, and despite this week’s decision, Chris Kenny enjoys the interaction, the profile, the discussion.

Monday, March 17, 2014

For What It's Worth

If you aren’t involved in the progressive side of social media, you’d be forgiven for not having the faintest clue about the March in March before seeing last night’s television news. After seeing the coverage, you’re probably not much better off. It was a strange series of events which grew from   and within social media, a passionate but unfocussed mass of strangers shouting at a government that isn’t listening, about a range of issues.

Everyone with even a vague interest in Australian politics is analysing and interpreting the March In March events which were held this weekend, climaxing today with a Letter of No Confidence in the Abbott Government being hand delivered to Greens MP Adam Bandt.

That was the end point of the three-day March in March event, and by the reckoning of the organisers, it was a success. Not everyone agreed. The event drew criticism for having no single issue to focus on, and no possibility of an acceptable resolution…at least according to various external definitions proposed by conservative commentators. Apparently, in order to be “valid”, a nonconformist lefty protest must conform to the standards set by the conservative right.

There were the unavoidable comparisons with the conservatives' last big protest action, the Convoy of No Confidence, including one by Jacqueline Maley who was herself the target of Alan Jones’ wrath at that very protest.

The gathering, which was matched by similar events around Australia, was a left-wing echo of the infamous ‘‘Convoy of No Confidence’’ rallies held against Julia Gillard's former Labor government, at which Mr Abbott and other Coalition MPs appeared alongside offensive signs, to much public criticism.

In every way possible, the March in March was the antithesis of the Convey of No Confidence.

It looked as though mainstream media would ignore the event. Ultimately, it was covered, but too often, with a cynical sneer. Firstly, Jacqueline Maley opened her report in the Sydney Morning Herald with the whimsically irrelevant comment that

“Socialists, it seems, are not made of sugar.”

Goodoh then.

Sky News Australia’s Sunday night team of right wing commentators Chris Kenny and Paul Murray chose to emphasize the handful of tasteless and couple of downright offensive placards that were caught on camera yesterday. No respect was paid to the overwhelming majority of protesters who were both well behaved, and carrying a wild array of pithy or humorous and downright blunt slogans. 

Their colleague at Sky, political reporter Laura Jayes tweeted at lunchtime today, asking for people to forward to her pictures of the worst, most offensive placards. What on earth is she planning to do with them?

Several media outlets and plenty on social media have commented that Opposition Leader Bill Shorten chose not to appear at any of the rallies, drawing another comparison with the Convoy of No Confidence, where then Opposition Leader Tony Abbott, along with Coalition faces Sophie Mirrabella, Bronwyn Bishop, Warren Truss, Barnaby Joyce and others stood on a podium in Canberra, flanked by banners referring to Prime Minister Gillard as “Bob Brown’s Bitch” and calling for someone – anyone – to “Ditch the Witch”. These are the enduring images of the anti-Carbon Tax protest.

The only politician from either major party to comment on the March in March was Warren Mundine, who tweeted his disapproval. Note that he had to google the name of the rally - that's how thoroughly the mainstream media ignored it.

Despite the organisers’ pleas for civility, it was always probable that a few wowsers would disregard good sense. Where Sky News Australia is happy to give these sad characters publicity by shining a light on their deplorable placards, I am not. Sadly, their selfishness has allowed the mainstream media to obscure the real story, which is that over 100,000 Australians gave up their Sundays to express their disappointment with the current government.

The ALP must not allow itself to be so easily distracted. Labor MPs chose wisely in refusing to associate themselves with March in March. Now they should be studying the vision of the events, tracking down transcripts of speeches and talking to their constituents to pinpoint the issues that progressive and centre Australians care about: respect and care for asylum seekers, protecting the environment, fast broadband, gay rights, equality, honesty and transparency in government. The marchers knew that catching the acknowledgement of the Abbott Government was highly unlikely; this protest is a message to Labor.

The same social media that allowed the March in March to become a reality was euphoric last night, as marchers celebrated a shared experience. Over 100,000 potential Labor voters are so frustrated with Australian politics, they attended protest rallies in what was largely a series of organised venting sessions, but they did it together, with little more than a few tasteless placards in the negative column.

Social media is already rippling with talk of the next rallies, protests and boycotts. 

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Race Over

Carolyn Habib, Liberal candidate for the South Australian seat of Elder, has described this pamphlet (pictured at right) and distributed in her electorate by the ALP as filthy and racist.

I have scoured this pamphlet, and I cannot find a single suggestion of ethnicity, culture, skin colour or religion anywhere. Oddly enough, neither can Ms Habib! According to News Limited, she finds the pamphlet 

“…very very offensive and very un-Australian
“I think it is a very thinly veiled racist attack against my surname,” she said. 
“It’s a new low and a very, very filthy campaign in what has already been a dirty campaign over the past few weeks.”

Let’s think about that for a moment. Ms Habib’s only complaint is that it’s an attack against her surname? She’s not claiming that the flyer contains an untruths, any reference to her ethnic heritage or skin colour?

Does Ms Habib find her own surname to be racially offensive?

I too have an unusual surname with challenging ethnic roots, but I don’t scream for the racism police every time someone uses it as, say, on an envelope addressed to me, as part of my email address or in reference to me. It’s my name, and I’m actually proud of it, despite having called “La Cookooracha” or “Piranha” since I started school. 

If Ms Habib was serving in the Australian military, she’d be wearing a uniform with her surname on it every single day. It's not healthy to dislike your name.

There is the possibility that the intent of this pamphlet was to emphasise the surname in the hope that voters would see a middle-eastern name and perform some gold medal standard jumping to conclusions that would lead them to vote for someone else. If so, it’s racism by assumption. But we can’t know that. We can only go on the face value of the pamphlet, which is entirely free of racism.

It’s something of a moot point anyway. The name “Habib” will be printed on the ballet papers, and if voters have that much of problem with it, they won’t write 1 in the box beside the name. If the owner of the name believes it’s damaging her chances of winning the election, she needs to find a better PR team – or change it to something she believes is more palatable to Liberal voters. Smith, perhaps? 

Having said that, I’d like to sit down and chat with whoever put the pamphlet together and with the person who authorised its use. It’s poorly written, and poorly laid out and the imagery doesn’t seem to be connected to the message. I don’t understand the choice of fonts or colours. I’d hold this up as an example of mediocre campaign material, and I’d leave it out of my portfolio. The ALP needs to do better.

But it’s not supposed to be pretty, or arty. It’s the pamphlet version of an attack ad. It’s the Habib equivalent of Kevin-O-Lemon. It makes the point about rate increases during Ms Habib’s time as a councillor, although the rest of the message is a bit lost due to the poor wording. It's unlikely to have much of an impact on voting intention.

Ms Habib needs to learn to love her name, and stop whipping out the race card at every opportunity. This unreasonable charge of filthy racism is only undermining her own cause.

Random Thought: If this is a strategy to get Ms Habib out into the limelight and make her Australian identity known, it may be a masterstroke. After this, her name should not be an issue with anyone except the most ignorant and racist voters. If that's the case, well done.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Tweeting with Rupert

If you were in any doubt about Rupert Murdoch’s integrity, take a look at his tweet from 10:15am Sunday (left). The tweet suggests fairly bluntly that the reason why Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 is missing is related to a jihad, which implicates Muslim involvement. The tweet goes on assign a motive for the "attack", and recommended changes to American – and therefore Australian – foreign policy as a result of the crash.

This tweet is astounding for several reasons.

  •       Rupert Murdoch tweets. As far as we know, he doesn’t hand it off to his minions to type. These thoughts are his.
  • ·         This tweet was sent just over 24 hours after Malaysia Airlines announced that the flight was missing.
  • ·         The plane, or wreckage indicating its location, had not been found – it still hasn’t. Authorities are still searching. No physical evidence of what happened has been located.
  • ·         If the flight has been the subject of a terrorist attack, no-one has taken responsibility for the attack.
  • ·         No evidence has been released to suggest the ethnicity or religion of the terrorists, if indeed terrorism is involved.
  • ·         The purpose of the terrorist attack, if that’s what was, is unknown.
  • ·         If all of Mr Murdoch’s assumptions above are accurate, he proposes that it’s an opportunity for America to realign themselves with China, leaving the Russians to crush Ukraine and make themselves look bad to the rest of the world.

That’s quite a lot of assumptions to cram into 140 characters, but Mr Murdoch has a track record of tweeting absurd missives, particularly in support of the Republican agenda, and with more than a touch of Islamophobia.

This garbled tweet is from March 2:

Obama should all Chinese President following today’s incident and say “we both have the problem of Muslim terrorism. Can we work together?”

Again, on March 2, he made his opinion on New York City Council known. This tweet follows a twitter rant at New York City’s new mayor, Bill de Blasio’s education policy. 
NYC now totally managed by leftist activists with no experience in running anything beyond protests. Big mess ahead.

This is, of course, an impertinent generalisation, nothing more than an especially vague form of trolling powered by sour grapes. Democrats won 48 of the 51 seats in the New York City Council elections.

From February 25, he weighs in on Prime Minister Tony Abbott’s close adviser, Cardinal George Pell, who is before the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse:

Pope Francis appoints brilliant Cardinal Pell from Sydney to be no.3 power in Vatican. Australia will miss him but world will benefit.

And earlier, still singing the conservative Top 10, Mr Murdoch reveals himself as a fully-fledged climate change denier.

Wild winter in US, UK, etc. no respectable evidence any of this man made climate change in spite of blindly ignorant politicians.

Respectable evidence, Mr Murdoch? Like the NOAA, Australian Bureau of Meteorology, the CSIRO and about 97% of scientists publishing peer-reviewed papers on the subject? As the twitter iikes to remind people who deny climate change.

If 97% of doctors tell you have cancer and 3 doctors say you don’t, are you going to treat it, or just hope they’re wrong?

And on Australia’s economy, Mr Murdoch’s tweets are entirely in line with Treasurer Joe Hockey’s talking points. One could also believe that Mr Murdoch was pulling the strings:

Australia in deep economic trouble left by last six year wildly incompetent government. New govt must take quick, painful actions.

By every economic measure, Australia was doing fine when Mr Murdoch posted that tweet on December 23rd. I wonder if the same can be said after a full six months of Coalition government.

I must congratulate Mr Murdoch on one fiercely accurate tweet, in which he argued with himself about the outcome of Australia’s federal election in September.

@rupertmurdoch “Tele wot won it”! No, Australians just sick of Gillard-Rudd incompetence and infighting wrecking great county.

At least he didn’t suggest that the Coalition had won the election…merely that the ALP had lost it.

But really, how much notice should we take of Mr Murdoch’s tweets? His credibility in the UK has been shot to pieces, and the one-sided commentary in his USA and Australian media is the thing of legends. 

I hope he's entirely wrong about Flight MH370, and that his tweet about it is nothing more than his personal nightmare where his people tap the wrong phones.

If he wants to tweet, I say “go for it”! No-one who isn’t already welded to his traditionalist right wing agenda takes any notice anyway.

Follow Mr Murdoch’s personal tweets at @rupertmurdoch.

Thursday, March 6, 2014

Day 3

Originally Posted 22nd April, 2013

Life is imperfect. Take me, for example: I am hugely imperfect, hard to live with, and I know it. I'm a high maintenance woman, and my partner Rob does more than his fair share of the maintenance. In spite of that, we are somehow imperfect equals in this imperfect relationship. Amongst our challenges, we are both in treatment for depression. It surprises people to learn that its possible to be happy and in love while being depressed. Actually, its possible to be just about anything while simultaneously depressed.

Since we fell in love over the internet, suddenly and without warning in January 2008, we've never gone more than a few hours without at least speaking with each other or sending a text. We are all of the cliches and more.

And Rob is a recovering alcoholic.


Last Thursday, we cancelled our plans to attend a live broadcast at the ABC studio in Brisbane so that Rob could attend a special work event. Rob manages a high-end retail store in Brisbane's Fortitude Valley, and last Thursday night was a special 'Up Late' fashion promotion in the James Street shopping area. Rob's store was involved, and the boss came up from Sydney for the event.

After the shop closed, somewhere around 10pm, Rob and his boss had a couple of quiet drinks. By 11pm, I was concerned; I'd expected him home. I rang him, hating the naggy-wifeyness of the call, yet unable to talk myself out of it. He was slurring his words. Rob doesn't do that. A drink or two, very very occasionally, to celebrate special moments was the extent of our relationship with booze. I was furious, nervous and somewhat sensitive after a strange day at work. Rob was drinking the way he hadn't in years. I hung up on him; I wanted to stamp my feet and shout like a toddler who wasn't getting her own way.

I rang back fifteen minutes later, because I wanted Rob out of the situation and away from temptation. There was no answer. I rang again and again. I sent texts, iMessages, emails, tweets. The phone would ring eight or nine times, then divert to voicemail. Rob wasn't answering.

As midnight passed, I went to bed. Sleep was impossible. Hours escaped, though I tried hold onto them til Rob came home.

Rob didn't come home.

My partner, love of my life, hadn't come home. I couldn't contact him. I didn't know where he was, how he was, why he was... if he was... I told a couple of friends. It was already too much to bear alone. I had become one of those women who can say "he didn't come home one night", but I couldn't finish the sentence.

Eventually, horrifically, the sun came up. There was no Rob, not in bed beside me, not on the phone. I decided to contact Bob. I should've done it much earlier, but much earlier, I didn't know that Rob wasn't coming home. Between ringing Rob's number, I tried several times during the darkest hours to phone the Lifeline counselling service for advice. Each time I was placed in a queue on hold. I called the non-urgent PoliceLink number for advice, and that call went to an overflow queue as well.

Mercifully, Bob knew what to do. He knows stuff like that. By 7am, I was ringing the Brisbane Watch House, and the Emergency Departments at the major hospitals. No-one had seen Rob, which is a quite a feat considering that he was wearing his favourite dress shirt, made of hi-viz green cotton. Bob called in the services of another friend: Iain drove around the Valley and across the Story Bridge, looking for Rob. Bob walked around the area near Rob's shop. There was, quite simply, no trace of him.

It was hard to breathe, hard to think, harder still to sound calmish. Mum was stunned, panicked, and on her way. Bob was coming too. I wished I had spent the night cleaning the house instead of uselessly fretting. It was nine hours since I'd last spoken to Rob; I couldn't recall the last time we'd gone that long without speaking, if ever.

I rang PoliceLink again. This time someone answered. Too many American police shows had left me with the perception that a person had to be missing for a specific minimum period of time before they could be officially reported as missing. That's entirely wrong: each case is assessed on its merits, and while the process is repetitive, it's also compassionate and supportive...or perhaps that's the special skill of the police officers I met. The officers came, took pages of information, and left again. They rang back three times to check details. Finally, something was being done.

Please God, I ignored my atheism and continued. Don't let me be one of those crumpled, fear-stained women on tellie, begging for her life back.

We checked the joint bank account again. Bingo! Rob had withdrawn cash at the Treasury Casino. But Rob doesn't gamble. Hates poker machines, bored by the horsies, not interested in blackjack. So it must be poker and booze. The casino is open 24 hours a day: he must be drinking. Don't ask me why I hate booze. You know why.

The police sent their officers at Treasury Casino to have a look. We had the time-stamps from the withdrawals; the officers identified Rob on the Casino's CCTV. He looked happy enough, relaxed, not bothering anyone, or drawing anyone's attention or causing trouble. Had he been there, the police would have done a quick "welfare check", but Rob had left the Casino by 7:30am. The trail was cold. Mum made chamomile tea and toast.

On the upside, the CCTV footage indicated that he didn't look like he was going to self-harm. The police officers suggested that we didn't formalise the Missing Persons Report, because my fears seemed to be unfounded and he'd probably make his way home soon. We were advised to wait, so we waited. I lost track of time. I'd been awake for 30 hours. We waited. Rob had gone out boozing and gambling instead of coming home. We waited. We waited.

Eventually, I thought to call Rob's psychiatrist, a renowned specialist in veterans' psychiatry and addiction medicine. I asked him if he could recall anything that could have set off Rob's drinking this time, when for four years, he'd been in control. His answer? "Proximity". As simple and as complicated as that.

And there it was. Rob wasn't out there alone, trying to numb some hitherto unrecognised pain. He wasn't drinking because he was pissed off with me. He was drinking because he's an alcoholic and there was booze around. "One is too many and a hundred isn't enough."

This week, Rob would have celebrated four years since the last time he got drunk. I'm not much of a drinker, so our approach to alcohol was to enjoy one or two glasses together on special occasions. We had thought that even Rob's problem with booze was imperfect; that unlike "real" alcoholics, he could still enjoy a glass or two without putting himself in danger. Wrong.

It was late afternoon - I don't know when - when I decided to formalise Rob's status as a missing person. We'd watched the ends of two of Rob's favourite movies on Foxtel: The Hunt for Red October, and Jumping Jack Flash. Time passed. I'd left behind any pretext of 'holding it together'. Rob was missing and I couldn't just wait.

For the third time that day, a police car parked outside our house. I'd been listening to the sound of passing cars since midnight. Taxis squeak. Police cars don't.

The police officers - a new shift this time - refused to be seated, towering over us with feet planted in the carpet, requesting that the television be turned off... It would have been intimidating, but the events of the day had made me impervious. I answered the questions again. They left, ready to classify my Rob as missing. Missing.

No-one bothered to turn the television back on. The day was nearly done, and my second night without Rob was beginning. I'd been awake for 36 hours.

Bang on 6pm, my iPad plinked.

I am ok, I'm coming home, I love you.

I won't explain where he'd been for those nineteen hours, other than to say that Rob is thoroughly ashamed of himself. Humiliated. He is, again, a recovering alcoholic, and this is Day 3.

My thanks to Andy Hallam and Richard Meredith at Carina Police Station, to Bob and Michael and Iain and Mischa, to Kel and Donna and Jane, to POC and Aileen, to Bruce, and to the best Mum in the world.


Originally Posted August 2013

612ABC Brisbane’s Steve Austin interviewed Kevin Rudd’s LNP opponent in Griffith, Dr Bill Glasson this morning, and frankly, Dr Glasson is talking through his ophthalmoscope. It was an enlightening interview, not because it was the first interview with Dr Glasson since Kevin Rudd was restored to the position of Prime Minister, but because Dr Glasson is absurdly out of his depth. 

For starters, Dr Glasson was out of Australia during the blustery hours leading up to Wednesday’s spill, returning this morning just before his chat with Steve Austin. Dr Glasson may have expected the leadership change, and even have planned for it, and I’m sure his LNP team has briefed him, but he wasn’t here. He hasn’t had time to smell the earth he’s so proud of treading in search of votes.

Like Dr Glasson, I live in Griffith and my workplace draws many of its staff from Griffith. Senior Management, tradespeople and white collar workers are here together on a daily basis. Surprisingly, yesterday morning's water cooler topic was not Queensland’s huge victory in the State of Origin, it was Kevin Rudd. The feeling in the staff canteen yesterday morning was  that the spill had made things right. It was nothing like the sad scene described by Dr Glasson, who suggested that the spill had “neutralised the element of sorrow that had persisted in Griffith” since the Ms Gillard took the Prime Ministership.

This "sorrow" business is news to me. I haven’t been aware of any Griffith-specific “sorrow”. Instead, there has been anger, there has been confusion and there is been disengagement, side by side with pride in having a female Prime Minister, and in what she achieved.

Kevin Rudd is adored by many in his electorate, probably even moreso in the last year, during which time he settled into the backbench and become one of the hardest working local MPs I’ve ever known. Unfortunately, Dr Glasson seems to equate the public face of politics with an attempt to deceive the electorate in some way. He even spoke of his campaign, and that he will continue to promote “grievances”. 

What grievances? I hear you ask. According to Dr Glasson, some of us in Griffith are aggrieved by Mr Rudd’s “tendency to use his division for little more than photo opportunities”. I guess that means he’s using his constituents as props?

If Dr Glasson knew about PR, he’d know that voters hate negativity, so here’s a free tip: leave the "grievances" behind. If Dr Glasson knew about media, he'd realise that it’s inevitable for a former Prime Minister who is still in parliament and incredibly popular with the public to attract media interest. Every one of Australia’s former Prime Ministers attracts media attention. Like Whitlam, Hawke and Keating, Mr Rudd is a senior member of the ALP, a former Prime Minister, but unlike them, he’s been a sitting MP and for the past three years, he's been Prime Minister Emeritus.The only way Mr Rudd could avoid the media would be to lock himself inside his house and close the curtains.

Dr Glasson needs to understand that the local member must be visible to the people in his electorate, that he will be a minor celebrity, and that he will need to maintain a high profile. He will be expected to show up at speech nights, cake stalls, junior sports days, sausage sizzles, churches (and mosques), military ceremonies, random openings and closings, community groups, retirement homes, and if that’s not enough, the local member is expected to take on local issues, as Mr Rudd has in Griffith with the proposed sell-off of school land by the Newman government. Getting your face out there is a big part of being the local member. These are not cynical photo opportunities, as Dr Glasson seems to believe. This is the bread and butter of a politician’s life. It’s something which Kevin Rudd does very well, which is one of the reasons the people around here like him so much.

Dr Glasson questioned Mr Rudd’s track record and said “He [Rudd] was not performing.” Dr Glasson was referring to Mr Rudd’s previous tenure as Prime Minister, not his performance as local MP. 

Another free tip: All politics is local. Its a truism for a reason. 

Dr Glasson also stated that the electorate was polarised. On Wednesday, it may have been polarised. By Thursday, I’d say the polarisation had all but disappeared in Griffith. I experienced none of it – every single person I work with was thrilled with the leadership change.

It’s fair to say that a lot of people in Griffith and around the country disliked and distrusted Julia Gillard. Many couldn’t even tell you why. Australians can be very cruel that way. There was the feeling was that they wanted to vote for Kevin Rudd, but couldn’t support Ms Gillard as Prime Minister. Now, that conflict has been removed, and the clearer choice in no way benefits Dr Glasson’s cause.

Like his leader Tony Abbott, Dr Glasson dug his pit even deeper when asked about policy. Carbon Tax, Carbon Tax, Carbon Tax. Cost of living pressures are related to the Carbon Tax, or least according to Dr Glasson. Cost of electricity – not even a federal issue. Productivity cost of doing business, Carbon tax…but not a solution, a policy or even an idea in sight.

In fairness, I did check to see if Australia does have the second worst productivity rating in the world, beating only Botswana, as Dr Glasson claimed. That’s not really true either. Australia does rank 50th out of 51 in a study of productivity growth, which is not the same as productivity. Details are important.

Dr Glasson has already refused to take part in a local debate against Mr Rudd because in Dr Glasson’s opinion, Mr Rudd has too much debating experience and it would be an unfair contest. It appears that Dr Glasson is entirely unprepared for this political campaign, and even less ready for the life he’d be expected to lead if he was to defeat Mr Rudd.

Dr Glasson still believes that Kevin Rudd is beatable in Griffith. I think that’s unlikely, but in any case, I doubt that Dr Glasson is ready to be a federal politician. 

CAAANBRA: Campaignomics

Chris Berg was bang on the money last week when he stated in The Drum that now is "Not the time to convince us of economic prowess". He was right again when he claimed that every election is about the economy. If we're being honest, its never a good bet to expect to win points or elections by talking about the economy, and Mr Berg's article is one reason why.

As I've stated repeatedly, what you see depends on where you stand. Mr Berg's two key arguments are based on the economic figures released less than two weeks ago by Treasurer Bowen and Senator Wong, and a question mark over the credibility of the major ratings agencies. Both are fair arguments, but this campaign isn't about selling the economy as healthy; it's about winning an election.

All the ALP has to do is convince the electorate that they are better economic managers than the Coalition, and Chris Berg knows this. When better than the midst of the dullest, least engaging, election campaign in living memory? When better than now?

The earlier financial statement released just before the election was called, and the PEFO, aren't flash on two fronts. Firstly, they're potentially scary numbers, easy for the opposition to frame and feed to the media. Secondly, they make the Government's ability to read the tea leaves look about as solid as the Liberal Party's policy pamphlet. 

The major ratings agencies which have rated Australia's economy as Triple A are, according to Mr Berg, largely responsible for the Global Financial Crisis, and therefore, nothing to get excited about. 

That's one perspective. Here's another: it doesn't matter that much. What does matter is the message. In order to convince Australia that our economy is in grave danger, you first need to convince Australia a deficit - any deficit - is bad. That's not hard to do; the imagery is negative. The Coalition's message was a simple sell, assisted by a compliant media. 

What does matter is that Australia, under Labor's guidance, avoided the full financial disaster of the GFC. Our official interest rate is low, but it hasn't bottomed out. In fact, it's being used as it was designed to be used - as a control mechanism. Productivity, inflation, unemployment: all of the standard measures are solid. We know the counter-argument, that it was the surplus left by the Howard Government that enabled Australia to skate around the perimeters of the GFC. Why has that argument never been challenged? 

The numbers are what they are. They aren't the entirety of this election campaign, other than by accident. As John Howard reminded us recently, context is everything. The credit ratings are a comparative measure. Australia is rated higher than about 95% of the countries in the world is noteworthy, just not hugely important. 

Having said that, the biggest failure of the past six years of Rudd and Gillard Labor Governments has been their inability to sell good news. We have heard ad nauseum about debt and deficit and big black holes and bigger new taxes and failed this and dodgy that. We've heard relatively little about the governments' successful navigation of the GFC, or the relatively smooth implementation of the carbon economy. These things happened. No spin required.

Ask the question: are we better off now than we were under the Howard-Costello team? Voters seem to be terrified that the cost of living is being driven ever higher by the loathesome carbon tax when in fact, 

Demographic Analyst David Chalke from Australia Scan is another who suggests a disconnect between economic reality and economic perception. The fear-of-the-future mindset has seen more and more discretionary income squirrelled away for that rainy day instead of being spent.

Feeding into that fear is the haze surrounding costings for the Coalition's policies and promises. Will they or won't they release their numbers, and if so, when? In 2010, the Coalition decided that they didn't trust Treasury, and had their coatings independently audited by WHK Horwarth, who produced a flimsy one-pager just two days prior to the election. It was subsequently shown that the "audit" provided to the Coalition, and subsequently to Australian voters, breached professional standards and was the result of  cosy deal between Horwath and the Coalition.

This time around, would-be Treasurer has ummed and ahhed at Olympic standards, suggesting at one point that if we wanted a Coalition bottom line, we should add it up for ourselves. The Coalition's reluctance to share their costings has become the basis for Labor's first really provocative ad of the campaign.

And Joe Hockey's response is to assure us that economics are boring and we don't care anyway. Chris Berg was right - now isn't he time for Labor to sell their economic credentials. At this stage, all they have to do is show up.

The 44th: Hero Status

Originally Posted 6 March 2014

It's 7am Thursday in Brisbane, and just over 30 hours ago, Western Australia's Greens Senator Scott Ludlum delivered an extraordinary Adjournment Speech inviting Prime Minister Tony Abbott to visit Western Australia.

The video of that speech, delivered entirely without theatrics to a near empty chamber, has gone viral, being viewed over a quarter of a million times since being posted on YouTube. That in itself is remarkable.

Equally incredible is that the mainstream media appears to have completely missed it. Granted, we're not in a quiet news period. Traditional media is juggling headlines: Operation Sovereign Borders, the Qantas backflip on the impact of the Carbon Tax, the crisis in Ukraine, the censure of Senator Fiona Nash, new GDP figures and the Prime Minister Abbott's odd remarks about trees and forests, and an overnight victory to our cricketers in South Africa.

None of that has slowed down this juggernaut. Why are people being drawn to this speech, with its Western Australian bias? After viewing it, why have so many retweeted the link, shared the post or recommended it to friends and family?

This speech encompasses much of what the ALP should've been talking about for the past three months. Rather than swapping petty digs at competing press conferences, this is a catalogue of reasons why Australian voters are turning away from the Coalition. From mocking the Liberals' trademark series of three word slogans to the perverted authority of Gina Rinehart on matters of industrial relations, to the Government's deliberate impotence on anything to do with the environment, Senator Ludlam's measured words are more suited to an Opposition Leader than a Senator from a second-tier party.

Senator Ludlam has found his audience: Greens, appalled coalition voters, disappointed swinging voters, plus many on the left looking for more than their party has offered them.

For weeks now, Labor members have been asking each other why ALP Leader Bill Shorten isn't tougher, more vocal on issues ranging from Manus Island to Holden's withdrawal from Australia. Muted calls to replace the understated Mr Shorten with his deputy, Tanya Plibersek, or with Tory streetfighter Anthony Albanese have peppered progressive blogs. The members of the Labor Party, so encouraged by their new role in electing a leader, are now looking for leadership, craving inspiration, only to have it handed to them by a Greens Senator.

What does it mean for the Western Australian senate election in early April?

Senator Ludlam has all but assured his future in the Senate. Beyond that, he'll pick up support from disillusioned ALP voters, and from random voters who responded to the speech.

But it's not good news for Bill Shorten or the ALP. This is the speech Shorten should've been making in one form or another every week since Christmas, albeit without the Western Australian flavour. The is the first true offering of progressive leadership since the election last September.

It seems that the left has a new hero, and he's Green. Now it's up to Labor to respond.

The 44th: Madam Speaker

Originally Published 11 December 2013

Speaker Bronwyn Bishop's boundless Coalition partisanship has allowed the 44th Parliament to resemble a preschoolers' game of cowboys and Indians, where one of the bandanna-wearing cowboys owns the playground, is wearing the Sheriff's badge and wants the Indians run out of town.

It seemed both obvious and appropriate that when the Coalition Cowboys won government three months ago, they would appoint veteran MP Bronwyn Bishop as Speaker of the House. 

What else could they do with her? It would hardly be acceptable to give her a ministry. In fact, it's tragic that after more than a quarter of a century in federal politics, including seven years as a Senator, if you play word-association games and say 'Bronwyn Bishop', the most common response will probably be 'kerosene baths'. If you can't remember why, google it.

And yet her years of loyal service to the Liberal Party, and her failure to retire at the last election held just a month before her seventy-first birthday, meant that something special needed to be found for her; an Emeritus position of some kind, if you like. She is well spoken, with a commanding presence, decades of parliamentary experience and seniority, and she wanted the Speakership. 

In fact, Mrs Bishop was probably the most logical choice for Speaker in yonks. Her authority should be the iron-clad guarantee for the conduct of the new 'adult' government that the new Prime Minister is so fond of talking about.

On November 20, the usually right-leaning Courier Mail described the role of Speaker:

Australian Speakers, while not required to check all their tribal colours at the door, are expected to at least look like they can give the opposition a fair hearing and pull up government mates who break the rules.
It's not just Westminster convention, it's central to the Australian fair go.
We - those of us in the cheap seats, at least - didn't count on Mrs Bishop's stubborn bias breaking through thevparliamentary convention of Speaker impartiality, particularly during the chaos of Question Time. She appears to be making no attempt at all to censor herself, and has allowed her Liberal Party alliance to dictate her conduct as Speaker. 

We shouldn't be surprised, though. As far back as the late 1980s, during the Coalition leadership churn, Mrs Bishop's ambition was known. In his biography of John Howard, Peter Van Onselen quotes from notes made as a guide to approaching various members regarding a leadership challenge. The note about Mrs Bishop, a relatively inexperienced Senator, described her as "so full of herself that she might agree to anyone who supported her own ambitions as the quid pro quo".

A Fairfax reader poll conducted last week generated 14,534 votes from online readers, with an overwhelming 86% of respondents critical of Mrs Bishop's performance as Speaker. Reader polls have about as much credibility as Christopher Pyne's position on Gonski, but 86% might well be indicative.

MP Stephen Jones tweeted "Is anyone aware of any precedent in the Federal Parliament were the Speaker engages in sledging from the Chair? New paradigm".

"Sledging" might be over-stating the actions of Madam Speaker, yet there is no denying her biased approach to parliament. During the first hour of parliament's first sitting day, she ruled that it was acceptable conduct for Education Minister Christopher Pyne to refer to the Leader of the Opposition as "Electricity Bill". 

The Australian reported that Prime Minister Abbott is not totally supportive of Mrs Bishop's decision.
Manager of opposition business Tony Burke moved a motion of dissent against Mrs Bishop on only her second day in the chair, saying she had allowed “a new low of name-calling” in the chamber.
But, after about an hour of argument and repeated divisions, the Coalition-dominated chamber upheld the Speaker's authority.
Tony Abbott yesterday conceded the term “Electricity Bill Shorten” would probably be unparliamentary.
But according to the notoriously unbalanced Andrew Bolt, the nickname "Electricity Bill" was first used by Tony Abbott himself, albeit not in parliament. What's that about 'adult' government, Mr Prime Minister?

Last week, Mrs Bishop clashed repeatedly with the Manager of Opposition Business Tony Burke, who again moved dissent against the Speaker, emphasising the need for the Speaker to hold herself to a higher standard than that required of Ministers. 

With this unfortunate group of sugared-up political toddlers running around, picking fights with the neighbours and taking out random targets, it is the Speaker's responsibility to bring impartial discipline to the parliament. Bronwyn Bishop is showing such immature favouritism that she has made the 44th Parliament, the shibboleth of Australia's democracy, a farce.