Monday, December 20, 2010


Being Premier of Victoria is a tough job.

Particularly when there's been a change of government, and the new MP's and ministers swarm all over Parliament House, wired on espresso and urinating on everything to mark their territory. Our new Premier, Big Ted Baillieu, is just finding this out.

I mean, take a look at what he has on his plate at the moment.

There's 1400 new jails to build, so he can incarcerate the entire population of the State if necessary, and 14 000 new police to hire, to make sure there'll be enough arrests to fill them. He's got an ailing public transport system to ignore and he's got to be seen on the TV news every night answering questions about it with 'Well after 11 years of Labor neglect...' There's the troublesome 'cost of living' increases which he talked a lot about easing during the election, and which he has to be careful to never mention again now people actually expect him to do something about them. And of course, there are his responsibilities as Arts Minister. I mean all those opening night prawn balls and flutes of champagne don't consume themselves, do they?

So yeah, Big Ted is a man with a lot on.

And this is before we even consider his number one priority. The really, really big thing that's keeping him up at night, that's the absolute toppermost of the poppermost thing on his governmental to do list, that's the very reason that he got into politics in the first place. And that is...

... finding a new slogan for Victoria.

Now this may come as a bit of a surprise to a lot of voters. People who listened to Big Ted drone on and on about crime, traffic, crime, transport, crime, health, crime and cost of living pressures and thought that this meant that he intended to do something about them. At least some of them. Quite a few of the people who thought this probably voted for Big Ted based on this assumption. They may not have even realised that Victoria had a slogan and, even if they did, were probably unaware that it was now naff and out of date and in urgent need of replacement. For anyone in this situation, a brief aid de memory:

That's right, the numberplate thing!

Which is so out and out of date that the photo above will probably be deleted before this is even posted. So let me be among the first to confirm it to you, Victoria is no longer 'The Place To Be.'

So what are we then? While this is unknown at this stage - some time and the transfer of a massive pile of taxpayer funds from Government to advertising agency is required before we'll know the answer to that - you can bet that you won't be seeing 'The Place to Be' on the next letter the government sends to you (hordes of public servants are, even as we speak, working at destroying mountains of old stationary. Your taxpayer dollars in action!).

In the meantime, I can certainly offer Big Ted some suggestions as to what a good new license plate slogan might be:




Or even:

I might also suggest to Big Ted that political honeymoons are fleeting and that he might be better advised to spend his energies on something that isn't a completely ridiculous waste of time and money.

And Now for Something... Completely Different


It's time to take a brief break from politics. For yes, it's that time of the year again, when untalented people with too much time on their hands start compiling lists of things that talented peopled did during the year that we liked. And so we have the year in photos. I've tried to cast the net as wide as possible this year, and get as diverse a range of topics as I could muster. Of course, you (meaning me) could always do more, but I have spent about 14 hours researching this now and am starting to resemble one of those fish that live far below the surface of the ocean, where no light penetrates. And besides, there's laundry to be done:

Death Valley in Winter

Photo: Steve Sieren
Found on one of those websites where amateur photographers with great skills and flash cameras show off their relentlessly amazing pics. Immediately below this quite beautiful image, in the 'Comments' section, was a text argument between the photographer and someone else about whether he'd used the right camera settings to capture the moon properly.

Fly to Eye

Photo: Bence Mate
A green pit viper and a hummingbird come face to face in this 'National Geographic' prizewinning photo.


Photo: Lucas Jackson
The unpronounceable volcano from Iceland derailed travel plans worldwide (and thinned the hair of countless airline executives) but produced some of the years most spectacular photos. This photo was taken at midnight and shows the Northern Lights hovering over the ash plume.

La Valle

Photo: Daniel Rericha
Mountainside church at the village of La Valle, Italy.

Antennae Galaxies

Photo: X-ray: NASA/CXC/SAO/J.DePasquale; IR: NASA/JPL-Caltech; Optical: NASA/STScI
62 million light years from Earth and more than a 100 million years in duration, the Antennae Galaxies slowly collide, triggering the birth of millions of new stars. This is a composite image formed from three - count 'em! - different telescopes, each measuring a different type of light; x-ray, optical and infra red.

Aisha, 18

Photo: Jodi Bieber
'The Taliban pounded on the door just before midnight, demanding that Aisha, 18, be punished for running away from her husband's house. They dragged her to a mountain clearing near her village in the southern Afghan province of Uruzgan, ignoring her protests that her in-laws had been abusive, that she had no choice but to escape. Shivering in the cold air and blinded by the flashlights trained on her by her husband's family, she faced her spouse and accuser. Her in-laws treated her like a slave, Aisha pleaded. They beat her. If she hadn't run away, she would have died. Her judge, a local Taliban commander, was unmoved. Later, he would tell Aisha's uncle that she had to be made an example of lest other girls in the village try to do the same thing. The commander gave his verdict, and men moved in to deliver the punishment. Aisha's brother-in-law held her down while her husband pulled out a knife. First he sliced off her ears. Then he started on her nose. Aisha passed out from the pain but awoke soon after, choking on her own blood. The men had left her on the mountainside to die.' - From 'Time' magazine, August 9 2010.

Dzhennet Abdurakhmanova, 17

Photo: Unknown
On March 29 2010, Dzhennet Abdurakhmanova, boarded a train on the Moscow Metro system with explosives strapped to her body. She detonated them at Park Kultury station, as part of a double suicide bombing that killed 40 people, including both perpetrators. Her husband, pictured above, was a Caucasus rebel who had been killed earlier in the year by Russian Special Forces.

Jose Humberto Castro, 26

Photo: Eliana Aponte
It's November 3, 2010 and Honduran citizen Jose Humberto Castro has made his way to the Mexican-American border to hop a freight train that will take him illegally into the United States, much as tens of thousands of Central Americans do every year.


Photo: Ivan Alvarado
On March 1, 2010 an Earthquake and subsequent tsunami devastated coastal areas of Chile. This survivor from the village of Constitucion (75% of which was destroyed) told the photographer, 'I lost my home, the sea took my son and my wife, and this is all that was left. I can’t leave the dog here. He was my son’s.'


Photo: Feisal Omar
A man walks through the streets of Mogadishu, Somalia (sometimes referred to as the world's most dangerous city) carrying a grey shark. Sharks once infested the waters off the East coast of Africa, but overfishing is dramatically reducing their population.

Backside Tailslide

Photo: Brian Gaberman
Levi Brown cuts it up in one of 'Skateboarder' magazine's snaps of the year.


Photo: Fabrizio Bensch
Christian Petersen admires the facade of the bike shop he co-owns in Atlandsberg, north east of Berlin.


Photo: Larry Downing
Well, I was hardly going to let a list like this go through without at least one Barack Obama photo. The former last, best hope of mankind endured a tough year, with his inherited wars overseas dragging on chaotically, while domestically a poll of US voters showed that 90% of them thought he had raised taxes while he'd been in power... when in fact he'd cut them. Tough crowd or what? Even the weather seemed against him, as we see here as he addresses a Memorial Day crowd at Abraham Lincoln Cemetery in Elwood. The question is, tough it out and let your audience get wet? Or wait and try again later? Either way, 'Fox News' would have him on toast: 'President Obama disrespected his audience of veterans and children by keeping them out in the rain today...' or 'President Obama disrespected his audience of veterans and children today by postponing his speech due to a drop of rain...'

Anti Obama

Photo: Rich Pedroncelli
Barack's shadowy, spiritual opposite, Sarah Palin, had something of a charmed year however, entrenching herself as a 'Fox News' talking head, setting cable ratings records with her show about killing things in Alaska and getting the first vestiges of a tilt at the Presidency in 2012 under way. Confidence sky high, she had no problem owning up to the fact that she writes cheat notes on her hands before giving speeches (as demonstrated here, after an address to the commencing class at California State university). You can almost sense this sort of thing resonating with her supporters: 'She's a nitwit... just like me!' Hell, it worked for Bush for 8 years.


Photo: Herald Sun newspaper
I've posted this one before, but who could resist another look? Mild mannered internet geek (and WikiLeaks founder) Julian Assange recast as a Bond villain, replete with sinister 'lair.'

Inspired Genius

Photo: Unknown<
I'm always impressed by Americans and their desire to get out and protest things. And I'm even more impressed by their desire to protest things with fruity signs. Most impressive of all is the foresight, insight and sheer determination being shown by the bloke on the right.

Angry Monks

Photo: Unknown
In similar vein to the previous photo is this group of people dressed as Angry Monks from the annual San Fransisco 'Bay to Breakers' fun run. In fact, smart people will forgo the rest of my effort here and have a look at the gallery for that event instead.

Google Earth

Photo: Google Earth
The onset of the eye-in-the-sky service that is Google Earth seems to unearth previously unseen oddness every year, whether it was that US Navy building shaped like a swastika, or the mysterious blood red lake in Baghdad. This year, and quite incredibly, a Star of David was noticed on the roof of the 'Iran Air' building in Tehran. It seems that the building had been constructed by Israeli engineers in the 70's, when the Western friendly Shah was still in charge. Make that, constructed by Israeli engineers with a sense of humour.


Photo: Finbarr O'Reilly
View through the window of an abandoned caretakers hut at the cemetery at the Khayelitsha township, just outside of Cape Town.


Photo: Valentin Flauraud
The annual 'Hot Air Balloon Week' at Chateau-d'Oex, Switzerland.


Photo: Anthony Suau
Discarded objects outside neighbouring homes in Orlando, Florida, both of which have been abandoned after mortgage foreclosure. At the peak of the Global Financial Crisis, an American home was foreclosed every 7 seconds.

The Man They Call Tiger

Photo: Mark Pain
At the Ryder Cup this tear, Tiger shanked this shot out of the rough and collected cameraman Mark Pain, breaking his camera a split second after this photo was taken (and apparently earning a filthy look from The Champ too). Perhaps even better than this photo, is the sudden global fame afforded to the spectator to the right of Tiger, who the net community would soon come to know as 'Cigar Turban Man' and who would spawn a few photo lists of his own.


Photo: Ray Titus
Yes, I'm undoubtedly biased (being a Melbourne supporter) but I could never get tired of looking at Liam Jurrah, AKA 'LJ,' AKA 'The Walpiri Wizard' at his best. Actually, now I have to look at the video too...


Photo: Marco Grob
Conan O'Brien fufilled his long held dream of taking over 'The Tonight Show' from Jay Leno... and then lost it again when Leno's new prime time show bombed and he wanted his old chair back. Conan did some live shows, grew a beard and took the most famous hair in television to another network.


Photo: Martin Schoeller
You've seen the movie... and maybe the Oprah interview... and you sure as shit use the website. The immediate future has arrived, and it's so innocuous looking that it almost calls to mind that 'banality of evil' thing they used to describe Eichmann.

Mac and I

Photo: Christian Charisius
30 years of technology in two hands, as Hans Henrik Duessel takes his old Apple Macintosh along to the Apple shop on the day iPads are released in Hamburg.

LCD Sound System

Photo: Will Deitz
LCD Sound System at 'Terminal 5' in New York City.

Lady GaGa

Photo: Merlin Bronque
The world's most unavoidable hermaphrodite pop singer gets in touch with her fans, crowd surfing at Lollapalooza.

Mr Snuggies

Photo: Unknown
I learned my media chops from the nightly TV network news: always end on something cute.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Speak Now Backtrack Later

In her short time as PM, Julia Gillard has already forged a reputation for rash, poorly thought through pronouncements.

For example, in the time period immediately after she displaced Kevin Rudd in the top job, she moved to neutralise some of The Ruddbot's unpopular policy legacies; winding back the mining tax, postponing the carbon trading scheme and appeasing Nationalist bogans in Sydney's Western suburbs by getting tough (er) on asylum seekers. It was in relation to this last issue that she announced, in July of this year, that Australia would build a 'Regional Processing Centre' for asylum seekers in East Timor... and then almost immediately announced that we wouldn't be doing that after all, as no one from her Government had consulted East Timor about this plan in advance, and they weren't particularly keen on the idea.

Similarly, once the election campaign started and Labor almost immediately drove their campaign van through the railings, down the slope and into the ditch at the bottom, Gillard decided to take charge of things by throwing off the shackles and announcing that from now on she would be campaigning as 'The Real Julia'... which lasted about 14 tenths of one second, or until she had fielded so many questions about who she'd been pretending to be prior to this moment that this was adbandoned too.

There are other examples.

And this month it has been Julian Assange and WikiLeaks' turn to be on the end of the PM's patented 'Speak Now, Backtrack Later' technique.

On December 2, shortly after WikiLeaks released a mass of confidential diplomatic cables from around the world that made most leading Government figures look like temperamental children, an angry Gillard declared that this action was 'a grossly irresponsible thing to do, and an illegal thing to do.'

Most observers felt this assessment from the PM was rash and just plain wrong. It's obvious to anyone with even the most passing interest in the law that WikiLeaks has not done anything illegal. The people who have passed information onto WikiLeaks may have broken the law, and you could have a debate about the rightness or wrongness of them releasing the information that they have, but the organisation itself is no more guilty of a crime than any daily newspaper that uses confidential sources for it's articles.

This was confirmed this week, when the Australia Federal Police announced that Mr Assange was not guilty of having broken any Australian laws.

If you listened very carefully, you could probably hear members of the PM's media office groaning and contemplating a change of career (or stepping in front of a train). After all, they would be lumbered with having the PM, their boss, take to the airwaves to claim that she hadn't actually said the quote listed above at all. Or, more accurately, that she'd been quoted out of context, had her words twisted, been the victim of a right wing media plot, been brainwashed by aliens, been hypnotised by her dog and had, in fact, been talking about something else entirely anyway.

Anything but admit that she'd shot her mouth off and spoken without thinking... again.

Anyway, for those with strong stomachs and hard heads, here is the PM at her press conference yesterday, trying to qualify and qualify and qualify her quote from December 2:

'The release of all this documentation has been grossly irresponsible,' she said. 'And done without regard to the national interest. The foundation stone here is an illegal act that breached the laws of the United States of America. A person who is employed and has access to confidential material and then takes that material has obviously been involved in an illegal act. Let's be absolutely clear, that reference to a foundation stone is not a reference to a journalist.'

Riiiiiigggghhhht... Now I geddit!

I mean, it almost makes you feel nostalgic for the Rudd era, with it's focus on crytsal clear Prime Ministerial communications.

Later, the PM's media office would release a slightly more comprehensible statement, which read that 'the Prime Minister regarded publishing on the site (WikiLeaks) as irresponsible but not illegal.'

The person that wrote this communique then vowed never top touch a keyboard again, before setting off for to start anew life, making shoes in the forest.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Wiki Wiki

All over the world, you can hear Presidents and Prime Ministers and Pollies of every stripe cursing him:

I mean, 'Assange!'

By which we mean the Australian-Swedish-Icelandic-British internet activist and citizen of the world Julian Assange, currently showing up on the front page of every daily news outlet from 'The Age' to You must've seen him, right? You can't miss a sinister looking bloke like this:

Clearly a man up to no good, what with his James Bond villain hideaway and his sinister sunnies. Even the hip kids on the tram have heard of him:

(Actual overheard conversation on the #8 tram, Monday, 13/12/10, about 10.00 pm)

HIP KID #1: You heard about that WikiLinks thing?

HIP KID #2: Nup.

HK #1: Really? I thought everyone had heard about it. You know, that bloke in the paper.

HK #2: Oh yeah, him. What was going on with that today?

HK #1: Oh, I didn't pay any attention to the details. I just, like, heard about it.

Really, WikiLeaks has gone from an obscure, cult style media outlet to an omnipresent global phenomenon almost overnight.

I mean, there's something for pretty much everyone. There's the vivid and vividly embarrassing revelations about secret Government correspondence coming nearly daily via the global press. There's the lurid and luridly salacious sexual assault charges against Mr Assange also coming daily via the global press. Then there's Mr Assange's celebrity friends offering support, his mum taking up his defense, talking heads of every description castigating and deifying, even his old internet dating profile, all of it coming daily via the global press.

Come to think of it, the real winner from all of this is the global press, who have undoubtedly sold truckloads more newspapers and internet ads as a result.

But we can hope that there will be some long term benefit from the WikiLeaks experience for the rest of us too. Although this is less certain. Opinion among the better paid and better informed political commentariat is divided, to say the least.

While the local pundits have been enjoying poring over a never ending series of diplomatic cables that expose internal Government thinking on nearly every subject imaginable... And while they've REALLY been enjoying how many of those cables expose our ex PM Kevin Rudd as a tanty throwing nutjob... A lot of the actual information in those cables is probably not that revelatory. Something that the local punditry has noted, once they'd gotten over their initial excitement.

For example, even a poorly paid and poorly informed pundit like myself wasn't shocked to hear that K.Rudd, PM, thought the President of Iran was a loathsome anti Semite. Nor was it surprising to hear that The Bomber, Kim Beazley, willingly pledged Australia to fight at America's side in any prospective future war with China (I mean, if The Bomber had had his way, kids would be singing 'Two All Beef Patties Special Sauce Lettuce Cheese Pickles Onions On a Sesame Seed Bun' at school assemblies).

A little more surprising, perhaps, was the revelation that BHP had worked behind the scenes to scuttle China's attempt to buy a large stake in BHP's competitor, Rio Tinto. But even this is hardly shocking. In this cynical age, I imagine most people hold a similar opinion on large, cashed up corporations to what I do; that short of eating small children for breakfast there's nothing they won't sink to in the pursuit of money (even then, I mean Memo: Eating small children could be a good source of revenue via the value added food market and could score us some corporate brownie points by helping combat the overpopulation problem).

And the only thing surprising about the fact that Mark Arbib, the Federal Minister for Fringe Topics, was leaking confidential cabinet discussion notes directly to the Americans was that, once this was splashed all over the front page of Australia's daily newspapers, the PM took no action to discipline Arbib in any way. Although, on closer examination, maybe this wasn't so surprising either. Arbib is one of those faceless, backroom Labor apparatchiks we've heard so much about, the ones who make and break Prime Ministers, so Julia Gillard is probably utterly terrified of him (although I did hear a rumour that she knocked on his office door and then ran away).

So what does that leave us with? A whole lot of newsprint and little by the way of surprises.

A more important question then, than the details of what WikiLeaks has put out for public consumption, is why they have done what they've done. And, for the people involved, whether or not they have committed any sort of crime.

The why is perhaps the more interesting of these. Previous WikiLeaks efforts appear to have been motivated by a specific political agenda; opposition to the war in Iraq in relation to a leaked video of American troops shooting civilians, for example. The object being obviously to influence public opinion against the war in general. but these recent leaks do not seem to have a specific agenda to them, other than to cause embarrassment to major governments and promote a vaguely defined concept of 'free speech.' This would appear to be taking Mr Assange back towards his roots, as a kind of socio-anarchist intent on causing chaos. Or the sign of someone who no longer controls the thing they've created. Either of which can't help but make you wonder as to what his overall objective might be.

As to the legality of what Assange has done, that is, publishing confidential Government information in a public forum, well, there's already a word for this: journalism. And journalists who get their hands on secret, leaked Government information often times end up with a shelf full of awards, a book deal and Dustin Hoffman playing them in a film:

This has not stopped the American Government announcing that they're going to forge ahead and try to prosecute Assange with... well, something. Stealing secrets? Passing on secrets? Tax Evasion? Jay walking? Anything really, even if it means inventing new laws to prosecute him with. Even this would not be enough for Fox television star and would be 2012 Presidential candidate, Sarah Palin, who puts Assange in the same category as Al Qada and wants him charged as a terrorist (look out New York Times if she gets elected President).

Our own Government seems more equivocal, which is to say that they seem as confused and uncertain about WikiLeaks as they do about everything else. Our foreign Minster - Kevin Rudd... Jesus, again? - made statements during the week that he was in favour of offering full consular assistance to Mr Assange and prosecuting him to the full extent of the law like a dog. Which should surprise no one familiar with his career. While our PM made it pretty damn clear that she was in favour of him being charged with something, by someone, although she was not in favour of having these details clarified any time soon. Which again, should surprise no one.

In fact, there have been so few surprises in this saga to date, that 'Radiohead' would appear to have a lock on the closing credits song when an ailing Oliver Stone makes the movie:

Radiohead - No Surprises
Uploaded by popefucker. - Watch more music videos, in HD!

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

And So This Is Christmas

So now that the Victorian State election is behind us, and Victoria's new Premier has emptied the Parliamentary liquor cabinet into the bin and refilled it with a stock of mineral water, we can perhaps return to the Federal political scene.

You remember that scene, right? The Federal scene is the one with that angry bloke who doesn't like foreigners and the girl who giggles a lot and likes footy. And The Mad Katter, you wouldn't want to forget him. And Federal Politics is where all the big sexy stuff is located; foreign affairs, defense and pots and pots of your tax payer dough.

So yeah, let's flick channels and catch up on all the action that's been going on in Canberra over the past six weeks or so:

Which is to say, there hasn't been a lot.

Christmas seems to come early in Canberra and not much occurs for weeks either side of it. Julia went overseas, Tony went for a therapy session on the ABC 'Insiders' program and everyone else fled the capital, glad to get away from the place and home to their families for the holidays.

Which is nice for them. But it's probably worth noting that not everyone in Australia is so fortunate.

For, as reported by the Victorian newspapers yesterday, workers at 'Australian Paper's' Gippsland mill have been told that they will be forced to work over Christmas. Not even that actually. To add some sort of linguistic insult to injury, what they have been told is that they will be forced to 'volunteer' to work over Christmas.

Now, if you're like me and you immediately think, 'Well that's not right, you can't be forced to volunteer for something, where's my dictionary?' let me explain how it works.

When the previous collective bargaining agreement was signed at the mill, between the company and the workforce, it was included that the mill would remain open on Christmas and Boxing Day's but that only workers who volunteered would work on those days. Those that did volunteer would get a handsome hourly rate and a few slices of dried up turkey roll for lunch. Everyone else would get those days off to stuff their face and argue with their family, as is traditional (and maybe watch Australia get belted in the cricket, which is not). The company had more than 200 workers volunteer to work and all appeared to be well.

But the problem arose, and continues to arise, when it was noted that not enough workers had volunteered in the powerhouse and recovery boiler sections of the mill. The mill is unable to operate without these sections being adequately staffed.

And so 'Australian Paper' had an ingenious solution. Force their employees from those sections to work. When it was pointed out, by the CFMEU, that their enterprise bargaining agreement specifically said only volunteers would work over Christmas, 'Australian Paper' agreed... And then announced their 'compulsory volunteering' plan.

Now if you're like me and you immediately think, 'Hang about, they can't pull this sort of shit, didn't we have an election a few years ago to stop this sort of stuff, where's my Your Rights At Work pamphlet?' then you'd be right... and wrong.

Right in the sense that the 2007 election was fought largely over Industrial Relations and that the voters in this country rejected John Howard's more extreme 'Work Choices' in favour of Labor's more moderate policies. The new Labor Government then set up a new IR body, 'Fair Work Australia,' to serve as an independent umpire and intervene in disputes between employees and those employing them.

And wrong because when the CFMEU took 'Australian Paper' to 'Fair Work Australia,' FWA found in favour of the company, ruling that AP could force their workers to volunteer over Christmas if they deemed that necessary. Further, they also ruled that any required workers who failed to attend work over Christmas could be prosecuted for conducting an illegal strike and could be fined up to $6000.

Which is really too depressing to consider, and leaves open the possibility that John Howard really did win the 2007 election after all (something I thought had only existed in his and Tony Abbott's fevered minds).

And what have we heard about this from our elected representatives in Canberra? Some of whom purport to be from a 'LABOR' organisation? Quite a few of whom talk endlessly about protecting workers rights and safeguarding workers rights and sticking up for workers rights? Well, as of this writing, let me sum up what we've heard from them:

Meanwhile, negotiations between the two sides continue.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

If You Want Blood....

... You Got it!

Which could serve as the theme song for any post election period. For once the polls are closed and votes are counted and Anthony Green has called the election, it's time for members of the losing side to rip into each other. After all, they've been holding their breath and pretending that they all like each other for the duration of the campaign, for the sake of unity, and are pretty much ready to explode by the morning after the night before.

Fans of any type of 'bloodsport' would be attracted to the spectacle; middle aged, geeky, pale political operatives getting their power suits, ties and lanyards off to get all 'Fight Club' with their soon to be ex colleagues.

Along these lines then, former Senior Victorian Labor Campaign Officer George Droutsas took to 'The Age' yesterday to lay the blame for Labor's upset defeat in the state election firmly at the feat of John Brumby. Droutsas describes the former Premier as an 'abrupt,' 'arrogant' man who was a 'poor listener' and 'dismissive' and one who, as he 'didn't like hearing bad news,' had surrounded himself 'with people who were afraid to challenge him.' No wonder then that the Victorian electorate 'just did not warm to the man.'

Pow, eh? BLAM!

Odd then, that Labor's election campaign would center almost entirely around Brumby, with him featured heavily in the principal advertising and Labor's campaign launch almost entirely focused on the man, his history, dreams and love of shearing sheep. Odd until you consider Droutsas' assessment of Brumby's hand picked campaign team, a bunch of people with 'zero' political expertise, who made several 'lethal' mistakes, who thought 'that Ted Baillieu was unelectable' and who were little more than 'sycophants.'

Of course, it's worth pointing out that a key to this assessment could be the 'Former' in the authors title of 'Former Senior Campaign Officer.' Obviously Brumby, or one of his sycophants, did not like the advice they were getting from Mr Droutsas. And Mr Droutsas, by way of payback, has hit a large scale broadsheet to paint himself as a combination of Machiavelli and James Carville and his ex boss as something like Dick Cheney on a bad brain day.

Labor seem much better at this type of thing than the Liberals, who mostly keep their blood stained laundry behind closed doors. I mean, after their humiliating Federal election defeat in 2007 they were comfortable turning to a man - Tony Abbott - who had been the just deposed Prime Ministers pet and who pretty quickly set to the task of restoring all the old leaders policies and Parliamentary supporters.

Something that it would be hard to imagine Victorian Labor doing.

Which should prove entertaining for the rest of us, if nothing else, as Labor's former top people get stuck into each other in public.

Big Ted Baillieu, enjoying a mineral water or a banana or whatever non stimulating thing he has in hand, will probably allow himself a smile at this... before he gets back to his more immediate task of sending most of the electorate off to a newly constructed jail.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Arsenic and Old Labor

The 'New York Times' announced yesterday that NASA scientists had discovered an entirely new form of life: A new category of microbe that was the first known lifeform that didn't need phosphorous to survive. These newly discovered microbes survive by using arsenic as a phosphorous substitute (as I've been doing for years, although no scientists ever asked me about it).

This amazing scientific discovery will make an invaluable contribution to our understanding of, er... Well, it'll certainly unlock the door to any number of new, ummm... It means that we'll now be able to solve the mystery of... ah....

Well, while the discovery of lifeforms that thrive in arsenic may not mean much to the lay person, undoubtedly our major political parties will have taken note. They're always looking for a new source of candidates, after all. And a naturally occurring organism that can survive in a toxic environment may well be a quicker and easier source of political operatives than how they acquire them currently: i.e. growing them from subcutaneous fat in vats under party headquarters. You wouldn't imagine that they'd alter their training program for potential candidates though, as it's served them well for a long time i.e. raising them in darkness and while they teach them the art of 'Staying On Message.' For the uneducated, rare footage of this political training process can be seen below:

Which brings us to one particular graduate of this vat growing/training process, newly minted Victorian Labor leader Daniel Andrews.

But I don't want to rag on him too aggressively. Not right away. I mean, I'd really like to see him mouthing empty slogans for a bit before I really have a go at the bloke. And everything I've read about him so far indicates that he's dedicated, hard working, enthused and interested in policy. All desirable qualities in a political leader.

The problems begin, however, when we look at Mr Andrews' CV and how he got to where he is now.

The State Opposition leader achieved his current spot in what has become a depressingly familiar way. Straight from university and 'Young Labor' to a backroom job working for a Labor MP to pre-selection in a safe seat and then a slow climb up the Parliamentary hierarchy, culminating in a stint as health minister in the previous Government. In short, his entire professional life has been spent in the service of the ALP, with nary a toe dipped in any other field of endeavour. You really have to wonder how, with this background, he will be able to properly do his job formulating policy for the benefit of the rest of us plebs, who have spent our lives are far away from party politics as we've been able to get.

This has been a problem for Labor for some time now (and for the Liberals too, who's candidates also lead remarkably sheltered lives, but Big Ted is flying high so it's Labor who need to soul search). So many of their candidates now follow this path - or the nearly identical one of working for a union - into Parliament that the Labor benches are filled with a mostly bland, nearly talentless, relentlessly unimpressive bunch of representatives who pretty much define the concept 'out of touch.'

Formulating good policy for regular folks and standing up for things are not what this bunch are good at. What they're good at is 'Staying on Message' and 'Managing the Brand' and other crapulent modern political techniques that they've learnt in ALP finishing school. Which normally means that they're good at getting out in front of a TV camera or behind a radio mike and repeating endlessly that Labor stands for some nice, fluffy, broadly defined, focus group tested principals without ever saying exactly how they stand for them or what they'll do to propagate them.

As an example of this, consider the concept of 'Social Justice.'

The modern ALP is very keen on 'Social Justice.' It featured prominently in the recent State, and Federal, election campaigns and was all over their promotional material. There's a billboard at the end of my street for the ALP candidate for Brunswick, Jane Garrett, and 'Social Justice' is top of the list of things that appears beside her photo. I heard the same candidate interviewed on radio stating that 'Labor stands for Social Justice.'

But what does this mean from a policy perspective? Does it mean that the ALP promotes policies that would actually deliver outcomes that could be called 'Social Justice'? Like equal rights for gay people (at a state level) or just treatment of refugees (at Federal). Based on the policies taken by state and federal Labor to their last elections, the answer to this is: no. And people appear to have woken up to this spin heavy, policy lite style of politics, by giving Labor a kicking in both of those elections.

Which brings us back to Daniel Andrews and the task he has before him in Victoria. If he is to reverse Labor's slide in this state - and it's not irreversible as only one seat separates them from Government - he is going to need a lot more than some empty catchphrases and some vague concepts to rally people to his cause. You'd have to think that if they go to the next election spouting 'Social Justice' again (without actually promoting 'Social Justice') than they'll get beaten like gongs and rightly so. Mr Andrews needs to quickly deprogram himself, forget everything his lifetime employers have told him about how politickin' is done, get out in the community and talk to real people and then formulate policy to address their concerns.

A radical plan I know.

For the sake of the polity in this state, I hope he's up to the challenge. But, vat grown and raised in darkness, the odds are probably against it.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010


Actually, maybe I should've called this one 'SEX!' Just to pique people's interest:

But anyway, the Victorian State Election is done and is rapidly disappearing into the rear view for most people (Huh? Wha?) but I think it would be most remiss to let it go completely without some discussion of the 'Australian Sex Party' (not that I could ever actually let it go, of course).

You know those Sex Party people, they were the ones dressed in un-political (i.e. bright and interesting) clothes outside major polling booths, handing out the flyers about un-political issues (i.e. personal freedom and human rights). And they did quite well in the election, for a new party run by a handful of amateur volunteers, garnering nearly 13 000 first preference votes in the lower house and roughly the same in each of the four upper house districts they contested (running as high as 15 735 votes in West Metro). Not enough to get anyone elected but a pretty good showing nonetheless.

But that's not what anyone wants to read about when you mention something like the 'Australian Sex Party.' We want sex! And if we can't have sex, then we at least want something kinky, fruity, outrageous or un-political.

And they didn't fail to deliver in this area either. We had the battle over the Federal Government's dislike of female ejaculation... and the Sex Party's Bayswater Candidate Sortiria Stratis saying (gasp!) 'fuck' while on the campaign trail (well, sort of)... and their candidate for Richmond, Angela White, sending then State Treasurer Rob Hulls a porno film she'd been in:

To which Mr Hulls said something like, 'Sex? What's that?'

But my favourite 'Australian Sex Party' story relates to those volunteers I mentioned at the beginning. It seems that, small low-rent operation that it was, the ASP wasn't quite able to muster up enough people to man all the polling stations they wanted on election day. Their solution to this problem was simple: Pay a bunch of British backpackers $150 for the day to do it. ASP leader Fiona Patten confirmed that this had occurred and added that 'most of them we kept on to clean up after 'Sexpo' too.'

And this made me realise that we've been overlooking a vast, untapped resource in this country. The backpackers! There's lots of them, they're poor and they'll do anything for money! And not very much money! This is who we should have cleaning up our streets, planting our trees, emptying our bins and rebuilding our public transport infrastructure. It'll only cost about four bucks and a slab of beer. They're going to clog up our beaches and pubs all summer so we may as well get some bloody value out of them!

With a bit of luck and foresight, we could even end up with the same wonderful situation that people in the US enjoy:

Monday, November 29, 2010

A Collingwood Supporter

In any election, state or Federal, there's always a certain cache attached to which electoral boffin is the first to 'call' the election. As in, which pundit is the first to get onto some sort of media outlet and declare the winner. And there's even more cache attached to doing this and getting the answer correct.

And the winner this time? For last weekend's state election in Victoria? If you're thinking ABC Election obsessive Anthony Green you'd be...dead wrong.

Incredible as it may seem, long forgotten British electro pop duo 'Bentley Rhythm Ace' were the first to call the outcome this time around. Even more incredible is that they called it 13 years ago!

For their 1997 song 'Bentley's Gonna Sort You Out!' pretty accurately describes the outcome of the poll and also what soon to be no more Premier John Brumby faced up to on Sudnay, the morning after.

In that the election was close, in terms of the number of seats won, with the ultimate winner to be decided by whichever of the major parties managed to win the seat of 'Bentleigh' (so the spelling's different, so what? BRA were artists, man).

The day after the poll, most media commentary had Labor on 43 seats (out of 88) and Liberal on 44. Well, that's not true. Most media had already called the election for Big Ted Baillieu and had the final result 45 - 43 in favour of the conservatives. But Brumby is not a man to let go easily. He waited a long time in the shadow of that likeable goofball, Steve Bracks, doing the Government's heavy lifting in Treasury while Bracksy rode around in the car with the flag on the bonnet, and he wasn't going to vacate the Premier's office until he was absolutely certain, beyond the shadow of any sort of doubt, that there was no way that defeat could be turned into victory.

Hence his election night prediction that a hung Parliament was 'the most likely outcome.' As predictions go well, optimistic is probably the wrong word. 'Creatively unrealistic' is probably closer to the mark (and people had said that the soon to be no more Premier was a dour man, with no creative side).

Which brings us back to Bentley/Bentleigh, as this was the last of the electorates in the 'too close to call' bracket. Nevermind the fact that, again, most followers of the election had this one already falling to the Liberals' Elizabeth Miller. The soon to be no more Premier was determined to soldier on, stating in a press conference on Sunday arvo that there were any number of pre-poll, postal and absentee votes left to count that could still get him over the line, although by this time the Liberal lead was about 400 votes and that was enough to extinguish any hope.

He then went on to point out that even if Labor did lose the election, and the soon to be no more Premier felt this unlikely, Labor really hadn't done too badly. I mean, the Liberals would only win by one seat. And Labor had won at least 43 seats, which was one more than Bracksy won in 1999 when he took office. He’d outdone Bracksy, see. And, and, and, Labor had held all of their inner city seats against the Greens. So really, you know, when you think about it, it was a pretty good result, overall.

So if the soon to be no more Premier's election night prediction was unrealistic, this analysis of the outcome was a bit like the captain of the Titanic saying 'Yes, well, the ship may have sunk and a few people may have drowned, but we were making incredible time!'

For the fact of the matter is that this election result is a disaster for the ALP. Pre election, they looked more or less impregnable having had two large victories in 2002 and 2006 which gave them a buffer of 6.5% and 13 seats statewide. Which really ought to have been enough. Especially when you consider that Brumby's opponent was Big Ted, who's never been the sort of person to inspire any emotion from the public previously, unless mild disinterest counts as an emotion.

But despite these factors, JB has still succeeded in leading State Labor over a cliff. The anti Government swing in the suburbs ran as high as 10 - 12% (JB himself suffered the ignominy of a 12% swing against him in his own electorate of Broadmeadows), and those are the sort of numbers that sweep even well entrenched Governments from office. The ‘It’s Time’ factor was a large part of this, the feeling that the Government had been there too long, but Labor had also had a series of legitimate policy failures – myki, public transport generally, hospital wait lists and water among them – for which the public were calling them to account.

All that was left was for JB to formally concede, which he finally did yesterday afternoon, this time mostly restraining himself from offering up all the same lunatic excuses listed above. However, the soon to be ex Premier couldn't resist putting on the record how he thought Labor had campaigned well and, if given his time over, he wouldn't have changed a thing. If this is really what he thinks, then we can expect a chapter in the ex Premier's memoirs about how he and Ted Baillieu are best mates and he was always a Liberal double agent.

Inept campaigner - and aloof, arrogant bugger - he may be, it was hard not to feel a bit sorry for JB yesterday. His dream of actually being elected Premier and riding in the car with the flag on the bonnet:

is over.

And after a lifetime dedicated to Labor politics; junior staff lickspittle, backroom apparatchik, Federal backbencher, State Opposition leader, State Treasurer and unelected Premier, he now has to find something else to do with his time. It makes a person's eyes moist to be sure…

… until you remember that he is a Collingwood supporter after all.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

A Different Logo

Due to powers beyond my control, I was unable to write any sort of prediction about the State election outcome before polling day. And by 'Powers beyond my control' I mean a combination of 'Friday night' and 'pub.'

But I don't see this as a big problem. I mean for starters, my wishy-washy prediction, something along the lines of:

Labor will lose seats in the East of Melbourne put probably hold enough of their rural and regional marginals to retain Government by a slim margin.

would have been dead wrong, making me look as stupid as every other political pundit in this town. Well, probably not quite as stupid as most of them... most of them are paid a large salary to be wrong.

Failing a prediction then, there's still the other stock standard piece of election day commentary available to me, which is the morning after analysis. The key points from last nights surprise election outcome then:

1. THE LABOR PARTY HAD BEEN IN POWER FOR 11 YEARS: And people were sick of them.

And that's it really. As John Keats would have put it, 'that is all ye know on Earth, and all ye need to know.' (I've left out the bits about beauty and truth, these have no place in any sort of political discussion).

Much else will be said and written about the election in the coming days, particularly as the final outcome is still undecided as I write, but you need to look little further than 'Point 1' for an explanation as to the outcome. Labor had been in power for more than a decade in Victoria and was past it's use by date. Even a casual study of recent Governments in this country, state and Federal, will bear out the fact that once a party has been in power for 10 plus years, they live on borrowed time (see John Howard as a prime recent example of this).

So that's it.

I'd like to alert our network affiliates that we'll be finishing a little early tonight, tune in tomorrow when our topic will be 'What is the one true faith?'

(Brief Pause)

Well, actually, it's raining out and I've got nothing else to do right now, so let's have a few of the minor points from the election night result as well:

2. BIG TED - SUPER GENIUS: Big Ted Baillieu's do-nothin', say-nothin', propose nothin', smile politely campaign strategy frightened no one and so was enough for him to edge over the line once the voters had decided to give the incumbent mob a kicking. But you can expect his content-lite campaign to be described in the most glowing of terms and the man himself to be praised as some kind of modern day political superman, like a contemporary Napoleon on a roll after a big pot of coffee. I'm sure he'll be getting about in one of these soon (at least in his own time):

3. SERVICES, SERVICES, SERVICES: A companion piece to 'Point 2.' Liberal egghead analysis on election night had them winning the election based on voter dis-satisfaction with Brumby Labor's performance in delivering basic public services - public transport and health chief among these - and the Liberals superior plans to improve them. Half of which is fair enough. Labor had failed to deliver in these areas. Where we have a problem is with the other half, the bit where the Liberals enact their plans to rapidly fix these problem areas up. Because unless I was following a different election, the Liberals have no real, concrete plans to fix public transport delays, hospital waiting lists, sham urban planning processes, myki or anything else that's wrong in this state. In fact, for anyone who's interested, I'll bet a hundred bucks that these self same issues are what we'll be talking about in four years time, when Baillieu faces re-election against new Labor leader Randy the Purple Puppet:

(no one will want the job, see). I mean, wasn't Steve Bracks elected Premier largely on a promise to restore public services - public transport and health chief among them - that Jeff Kennett had neglected?

4. FEELING BLUE, I MEAN, GREEN: That the Greens pre election polling of 16 - 18% evaporated as the punters went into the booths to mark their cards should surprise no one. Relentlessly hostile press and a pseudo boycott from both major parties will do that, particularly to an under-resourced minor party largely run by well meaning volunteers.

5. THE END OF THE KENNETT ERA: Ummm... wasn't he voted out, like, 11 years ago? I remember getting drunk and partying all night as they carried his bleeding corpse out of Liberal HQ! Well, this may be but it hasn't stopped the ALP fighting every election since like Kennett was still tormenting all of us and not just the members of Hawthorn FC. But I doubt we'll see any more posters about how Kennett ruined the state at the next election. I mean... right? It's over... right?

6. THE ELECTION IS STILL UNDECIDED: Forget it, it's over.

Big Ted will be Premier, people who have committed minor criminal offences will go to jail and have their lives ruined and the States Year 9 students will rejoice that they've been spared two weeks of 'motivational camp.' Anyone who's waiting in the rain for an overdue train, or hoping that their life saving surgery will soon be approved, or watching while a large corporation builds an ugly apartment block in their midst without consulting them can expect more of the same, only with a different logo on the accompanying form letter: